By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: March 2004
Summary: This story is a sequel to "Without A Superman (Clark Kent's Quest)." Alt-Lois takes a leave of absence from her job at the Daily Planet to search for… well, she isn't exactly certain. Will she find what she's looking for, and what dangers and surprises might await her along the way?
This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm borrowing these characters for a little fun and not for any profit. Special thanks go out to the writers of the following episodes: 'The Green, Green Glow of Home,' 'Operation Blackout,' 'The Foundling' and 'Strange Visitor.' For complete disclaimer, go to: http://www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm
I wrote this story in two parts since there are really two parts to Lois Lane's quest. However, both parts one and two are included in this posting.
My gratitude, as usual, goes out to Gerry Anklewicz and Carol Malo for their support and assistance. They are the best Beta readers I could hope to have. And my thanks for the patience and assistance provided to me by everyone on the Fanfic Message Boards. You were incredibly helpful answering all of my questions. And my thanks to Jeanne Pare for editing this story for the archives.
This story picks up where 'Without A Superman (Clark Kent's Quest)' left off. You can find Clark Kent's Quest here: http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories/2004/withouta.txt . If you don't want to read Clark Kent's Quest or just want a refresher, I will give you a brief synopsis which will allow you to pick up with this story. Do not read the following if you don't want to know what happened in 'Without A Superman (Clark Kent's Quest)'.
SPOILER FOR 'WITHOUT A SUPERMAN (CLARK KENT'S QUEST)': Through the manipulations of Tempus, our very married Clark Kent found himself in an alternate universe where he discovered that his alternate self, Martha and Jonathan had been killed when alt-Clark was eleven. Judging by the story Wayne Irig told Clark, it seemed as if Jason Trask was the one responsible for his alternate's death and the death of his parents.
In Clark's quest to get back to his own universe, he contacted the alternate universe's Lois Lane who at the time was engaged to be married to Lex Luthor. Clark knew he had to stop the marriage, given how dangerous Lex Luthor was bound to be in any universe, and so Clark led Lois through an investigation that ended in her discovering the truth about the man she was planing to marry. During the final stages of the investigation, Luthor was shot and killed by the police.
In the end, Clark was taken back to his universe by H.G. Wells who had discovered that Clark Kent was in the wrong dimension, leaving a heart broken alt-Lois behind. And so, we begin our story in this alternate universe with alt-Lois as she begins her quest…
Lois stood, transfixed by the sight of the coffin, waiting for it to be lowered into the ground. She was so lost in thought that she wasn't aware that Bill Henderson was standing in the rain in order to hold the umbrella over her and Catherine.
Catherine. Lois reached over and slipped her arm through the arm of her friend and boss, glad that the woman had come with her today. After all, except for Catherine, Bill and Jimmy, no one else had bothered — or dared? — to come. Except for the press of course — who were so far maintaining a respectful distance, cameras focused on the pitiful scene.
It was an ironic ending for the second richest man in the world. In life, Lex Luthor had commanded the attention of some of the most powerful business, political and religious leaders of the day. In death… only Lois' friends had seen fit to stand with her in the pouring rain as the once powerful man was laid to rest.
Not that any of this surprised Lois. After all, since his death, it seemed that every few hours new facts emerged about the extent of Lex's criminal activities. At first, the revelations had centered around the extent to which Lex had been using slave labor in his factories. The ships had been arriving for months. And when the people who had been smuggled in were found, it became obvious that they were being held against their wills, forced to live in subhuman conditions and work without pay in Lex's factories.
Lois had quickly discovered that the refugees consisted of both men and women who were being sought by their government in connection to the uprising in Tiananmen Square only a few years previously. Of course, Immigration's initial reaction had been to return the people to China. But Lois had contacted Perry, begging him to look into the situation. Perry had listened to Lois' pleas and had considered the situation, finally deciding that political asylum would be granted to whoever wanted it.
But the illegal immigrant scheme had turned out only to be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Lex had been involved in so many criminal enterprises that Lois had finally lost count. And with the uncovering of another scheme, another group of people seemed to disavow ever knowing the man — or at least claiming that they had suspected Lex was dirty for years.
As a result, it seemed that she was the only one who had felt a need to come to his funeral — to say good-bye. Of course, she had considered staying away — given some of the things she'd learned on the day of his death. But Lex had been a big part of her life for the past year and her feelings for him had been genuine. And as she thought back, she was certain that in his own way, he had loved her, too. So now she stood in the rain, Catherine by her side, staring at the casket which would soon be lowered into the ground.
She gave a small sigh. She felt bad that Lex was dead. That certainly hadn't been her intention. But she felt no where near as bad about Lex's death as she did about losing Clark. A sad smile twisted at the corner of her mouth as thoughts of Clark ran through her mind. She was jolted out of her thoughts when the bright flash of a lightbulb went off in her face. She looked up and glared momentarily at the photographer who had just taken a picture.
Just then a minister joined them at the grave side and the brief ceremony began.
Lois stared at the abstract pattern her screen saver was making on her computer monitor. It had been two weeks since Lex's funeral and it was now official. She had lost her edge. Although stories continued to emerge about Lex, Catherine had taken her off the story. Given the fact that Lex's death and the events surrounding it had been her story, she was supposed to have her choice of follow-up stories. And there were still plenty of those. But when she had arrived at the Planet this morning, Catherine had taken her into her office and told her that from now on, any stories to do with Lex would be going to Dan Scardino.
Lois had protested, but the protest had been half-hearted. Lois knew that Catherine was right. Since Lex's death, she had become more and more lethargic about her job. It seemed that even reporters from the Star were beating her to stories. And what scared Lois the most was that she hardly cared.
Of course, everyone was attributing the change of attitude to her 'heartbreak' over Lex. That suited Lois just fine. After all, she couldn't very well tell them what really had her feeling so empty inside — that she had, in a matter of days, managed to fall in love with a man only to lose him to an alternate universe, to an alternate version of herself. And the worst part was that rather than getting easier to live without him, it seemed that each day she died a little more inside.
She was startled out of her depressing thoughts when the phone on her desk rang. For a moment, she was confused by the sudden noise. It suddenly struck her that she was supposed to pick up the phone.
"Lois Lane," she said half-heartedly into the receiver.
"Ms. Lane, this is Sheldon Bender. I was a lawyer for Lex Luthor," said the voice on the other end of the line.
"I think you want to talk to Dan Scardino," Lois interrupted. "He's handling all of the Lex Luthor stories for the Planet now. Hang on. I'll transfer you."
"No, Ms. Lane. I need to talk to you."
Lois sighed. "Fine. What can I do for you, Mr. Bender?"
"Before he died, Mr. Luthor set up a bank account in your name. He called it a little mad money."
"I'm not interested," Lois responded immediately. "Why don't you just give it to a charity or something?"
"You don't understand, Ms. Lane. There is two hundred million dollars in the account."
Lois was silent for a long moment.
"Are you there, Ms. Lane?" the voice asked, snapping her out of her stunned stupor.
"Umm… yeah. Did you say…" She swallowed hard. "…two hundred million dollars?"
"In a bank account in my name? And he called it mad money?"
"Yes, Ms. Lane. You're a very wealthy woman. Now I need to meet with you as soon as possible to…"
"I don't want it."
"I don't want it. Give it to charity. Or give it to Lex's victims. But I don't want it."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"What's to understand? I don't want it."
"Umm… okay," he said after a long moment, as if still not quite able to comprehend what she had told him. "I'll draft up the necessary releases and send them over for you to sign."
"Fine," Lois responded. Without bothering to say good-bye, she hung up the phone.
"You told him what?" Catherine demanded.
"I told him I didn't want Lex's blood money," Lois responded. "Why is it that everyone seems to have such a problem understanding that?"
Catherine shook her head in disbelief. "Sometimes I really don't comprehend how your mind works. If you don't want the money, then give it to charity yourself. At least you will be able to choose the charity. If you sign it over to that lawyer, do you think one penny will find its way to any charity? He'll bill it in such a way that all that will be left over will be chump change."
"And how is that my problem?" Lois asked. "Besides, it's two hundred million dollars, Catherine. Do you really think Lex intended to give me two hundred million dollars for mad money? There had to be another reason he opened that account. I don't like it and I don't feel comfortable taking it." Lois took a deep breath. "Look, I didn't come in here to fight with you. I just wanted to let you know that I think I need a few days off — you know, to get my edge back."
Catherine slumped down behind her desk.
"Are you sure about this, Lois?" she asked softly. "I know you've been a little off your game since Lex… Well, since Lex. But what will you do with time off? I don't see lying on a beach somewhere as being very good for you right now. For as long as I've known you, throwing yourself into your work has been… What do you call it now?"
"Good medicine," Lois responded. She let out a breath. "I just don't think that's going to do it this time. I need to get away."
"Where will you go?"
Lois walked over to the window to the newsroom and, for a long moment, stood staring at her co-workers rushing around. Where was she going to go? She shook her head slightly when she suddenly realized where she needed to go. She had been able to say good-bye to Lex at his funeral. But for Clark, there had been no closure.
"Smallville, Kansas," Lois finally responded.
Lois curled up in her recliner, using the blanket she kept on the arm of the chair to cover herself. She closed her eyes, attempting to make her mind go blank. Her flight to Wichita was tomorrow. From there she would have to drive to Smallville.
She was just starting to relax when there was a knock at the door. Confused, she rose from her chair. She wasn't expecting anyone.
She made her way to the door, her eyebrows going up in surprise when she saw who was standing on the other side. Quickly undoing the locks, she threw open the door.
"Lucy, what are you doing here?" she asked the woman standing on her steps, two suitcases and a laptop beside her. "I thought you were in Washington."
"Oh, I was. I just decided that maybe it was time to pay my big sister a visit."
Lois narrowed her eyes. "Did Catherine call you?"
"Maybe a short call," Lucy responded.
Lois tried to look annoyed, but in truth, she was glad to see her sister. They were only a year apart in age. As a result, the competition between them over the years had been fierce. But, if the truth were told, no sister could be prouder of the other's accomplishments. Lucy had, for the past few years, been working on President White's legal team.
"Are you upset with Catherine?" asked Lucy.
Lois let out a short breath. "No. Actually, it's awfully good to see you," she responded, stepping forward and getting a much needed hug from her sister.
The next few minutes were spent getting Lucy inside, making tea and small talk. They both had their tea and had settled in the living room before talk turned serious.
"Catherine told me that you took time off work," Lucy began. "It must have really hurt when Lex was killed."
Lois shifted uncomfortably. It was one thing letting friends and colleagues think that her listlessness was connected to Lex. It was another letting her sister think that. Never before had she lied to Lucy about something important.
Should she tell Lucy what was really going on? It would be good to be able to talk to someone about everything that had happened. And her sister was the logical choice. She trusted her sister's opinions and perspectives. But was she betraying Clark by talking to Lucy about everything she had learned? No. After all, Clark had gone back to his universe. And there was no Clark Kent in this universe so it wasn't as if she were betraying him.
Of course, there was always the fear that Lucy would have her committed — aliens and alternate universes. She would be asking an awful lot of her sister. But she needed to talk to someone. And if she couldn't trust her sister, who could she trust?
"What is it, Lois?" Lucy asked, obviously sensing her sister's distress. "You can tell me anything, you know."
"Can I?" Lois asked in return.
"You know you can. Come on, who else has more blackmail material on me than you?"
Lois smiled. "True. Tell me, have you told your husband yet what really happened that weekend we went to Lutsen to ski?"
Lucy shifted uncomfortably, causing Lois to stifle a giggle. Lois' near chuckle was answered by a small giggle from Lucy. And suddenly, both women found themselves laughing. The laughter escalated and soon the two women were laughing uncontrollably, tears rolling down their cheeks at the inside joke.
"It wasn't my fault," Lucy finally said when she finally got enough control of her laughter to speak.
"No, of course not. That naked man just ended up in your room by accident. That was your story at the time, wasn't it?"
Lucy gave Lois a swat, causing Lois to laugh again. She trusted her sister's story implicitly. Lucy knew that — not that Lois would ever admit it. It was much more fun teasing Lucy about the naked man in her room.
"You know what happened," Lucy objected right on cue. "Come on, Lois. That guy was butt ugly. I never would have…"
"Butt ugly?" asked Lois, before doubling over in laughter again.
"You are so bad," Lucy said, trying to sound indignant. "He was drunk. He thought my room was his and so, when his key wouldn't work, he kicked in the door to my room, stepped inside and began stripping out of his clothes. You know that. You're the one who came running when I screamed."
"Well, yeah. I came running. But I didn't see him kick in the door. How do I know that you didn't…"
"Lois!" Lucy exclaimed before chuckling again. "I must admit, although the moment was terrifying, the really terrifying thing was…"
"…seeing him passed out, doubled over the couch…"
"…with his naked butt sticking up in the air," Lucy concluded. "Tell me, is there a law or something that says that you can't have a cute butt if you are going to pass out like that in some woman's room?"
"I still have nightmares about it," Lois responded, shivering dramatically. "And the look of disgust on your face when I rushed into your room to see you staring at…"
"Don't remind me," Lucy said, cutting her off.
"It's good to laugh again, isn't it," said Lucy. When Lois nodded, Lucy continued. "You haven't been doing enough of that lately, have you? So why don't you tell your little sister all about it? Come on, Lois. You know you can tell me anything."
Lois nodded slowly. She could tell Lucy anything, but… "I'm sort of afraid that you'll have me committed."
"If I recall correctly from law school, there are only two things that can get you committed against your will."
"And those are?"
"Being a danger to yourself or being a danger to others. So as long as you're not going to tell me something that makes me think you're a danger to yourself or others, I can't have you committed — no matter how much of a nutcase you turn out to be."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. No. I'm not a danger to myself. And I'm not a danger to others. But…"
Lois took a deep breath. "You better strap on your seat belt, sis, because this is going to be a bumpy ride," Lois said before proceeding to tell her sister the whole story. Clark Kent. Alternate universes. Flying aliens. The death of this universe's Clark. The feelings she had for Clark and the role he had played in exposing Lex. Everything. Lucy sat mostly in silence throughout — only interrupting occasionally to ask for clarification.
"So," began Lois when she had finally finished telling her story, "what do you think? Am I ready for the loony bin?"
Lucy narrowed her eyes as she considered Lois' question. "There is a quote used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his books about Sherlock Homes which says: 'When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"
"And you're telling me this because…?"
"There are, as I see it, only four possibilities."
"Either you're lying…"
"Either you're lying," Lucy reiterated, cutting Lois off, "or you're crazy or someone has fooled you or you're telling the truth. So let's examine the evidence."
"Why did my sister have to become a lawyer?" Lois mumbled just loud enough for her sister to hear her.
Lucy ignored the comment. "Okay, so are you lying?"
"I told you, I'm not…"
"Now I know you've lied to me in the past, but never about anything big. Besides, what possible motive could you have for lying to me now? After all, if this is a lie, it's the craziest lie you've ever told. There is no upside to it, no benefit you could hope to derive from telling me this crazy story. No. The way I see it is that you aren't lying."
Lois leaned back in her seat, intrigued now by the way her sister was working her way through the problem.
"So are you crazy? Did the events surrounding Lex Luthor's death cause you to go over the deep end?" She stared silently at Lois for a long moment. "No. I don't see that happening either. This isn't the first time you've had someone close to you die. When our folks died, you were the one who was strong for me. Lois, you are probably the sanest person I've ever known.
"So then, what's the next possibility? That someone has fooled you. Now I've known you all my life and if there is one thing I know, it's that it's not easy to pull the wool over the eyes of Lois Lane. I suspect that you've already asked all the questions, done the research. And if you believe that this is true, then I believe that you've done the investigation necessary to be sure you aren't the victim of some elaborate hoax.
"So, where does that leave us? We've eliminated all the impossibilities. That means that whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. So I guess I have no choice but to believe you."
"You believe me?"
"Isn't that what I just said?"
A tear slipped slowly down Lois' cheek. "Thank you," she whispered, amazed at how much she had needed to hear Lucy say that she believed her.
"Hey, don't thank me," Lucy said playfully. "I just evaluated the evidence and came to the only logical conclusion."
Lois gave a slightly watery laugh causing Lucy to give Lois another hug.
"I'm glad you're here, Lucy," Lois finally said, sniffing slightly before pulling back to look at her sister again.
"So am I. So what's next?"
Lois let out a slow breath. "I'm booked on a flight to Wichita for tomorrow morning."
"I was able to say good-bye to Lex at the funeral…"
"Sorry I couldn't be here for that."
"I understand. Besides, it wasn't that bad."
"So what does that have to do with going to Wichita?"
"Actually, Wichita is just the first stop. My destination is Smallville, Kansas."
"And what's in Smallville? Is that a real name?"
Lois gave a slight laugh. "Yeah, it is. I looked it up on the map and everything. Smallville, Kansas was Clark's hometown. I guess I just think that if I go there, maybe visit his grave, I'll be able to let Clark go, too — the way I did with Lex." Lois let out a slow breath. "Throwing myself into my work hasn't been helping. Maybe it's crazy, but I just thought…" She shrugged.
Lucy nodded thoughtfully. "Do you want some company?"
Lois smiled. "Thanks for the offer. I just think this is something I need to do alone."
"How long will you be gone?"
"A couple of days."
"Well, I took the whole week off. So what do you say I stick around until you get back?"
"Have I told you lately that you're a great sister?"
"Well, yeah. But you can always feel free to say it again."
"You're a great sister." Lois was silent for a moment. "So how's that husband of yours doing?"
Lucy chuckled. "I think Bernie is privately going crazy that he can't do any research. But when the President of the United States wants you for his science advisor, you don't exactly say no. But you know him. He's not exactly… umm… comfortable about all the functions we have to attend. If the discussion isn't about science, he's somewhat anti-social. I sometimes wonder if he would be happier if he had continued working at Lex Labs."
"But then you wouldn't be able to be together."
"That's what he says, too. But science is so much a part of his life. Although I have to admit that when he gets on one of his science tangents, even I have problems staying interested."
"Sort of like his dad."
"Exactly like his dad."
Lois shook her head slowly. "You know, I sometimes still have problems believing that you married Bernard Klein's son."
Lucy laughed. "Me, too. But his heart is in the right place. And he loves me to death. Sometimes it reminds me of the way Dad loved Mom."
Lois nodded. "Yeah. But he's so much like his dad."
"Except he has more hair."
Lois laughed. "Well, he's young. And given his father's hair situation, I suspect it's just a matter of time before he loses his hair, too."
"So you're telling me I have something to look forward to," Lucy responded with a groan.
Lois almost missed the turn off to Smallville due to the combination of the dark night sky and the rain pelting against the windshield of the rental vehicle. She had flown into Wichita and then rented a car for her pilgrimage. As she slowed the vehicle on the road heading into the small community, she found herself wondering about her decision to come. It had made perfect sense to her when she had talked to her sister about coming here. Now it all seemed rather strange.
What was she doing in this hick town? It wasn't even as if the Clark she had met had ever lived in this town. And this universe's Clark Kent had died when he was eleven. People might have a vague memory of him, but surely nothing that would give her… Give her what? What exactly did she hope this trip would accomplish?
She spotted a gas station up ahead and looked down at her gas gage. She could use a fill. Putting her questions about why she had come out of her mind, she pulled up to the pump, lowered her window and turned off the engine. She was instantly soaked by the pouring rain.
"Agg," she yelled, fumbling to get the key back in the ignition so that she could put the window back up. Didn't these people believe in putting roofs over their gas pumps?
"Can I help you?" asked a woman's voice from outside the vehicle just as Lois got the window back up.
She cracked open the door. "Yeah. You could get a hammer and nails and build…" She let out a breath. "Could you fill it up?"
A young woman nodded and pulled the collar up on her raincoat as she turned to the pumps.
Lois took a deep breath as she attempted to brush the rain off her clothing. "What am I doing here?" she asked herself again.
There was a knock at her window, causing Lois to once again open the door.
"That will be twenty dollars," the woman said.
Lois fished in her wallet for a moment. "Could you tell me where I could find a place to stay?" she asked.
"What kind of place?"
"You know. Places that rent out rooms for the night. They're usually called motels or ho…"
"I just meant, are you wanting a motel or a bed and breakfast?"
"Because Maisie has this great little bed and breakfast about ten miles up the road. On the other hand, the motel… Well, it leaves a little something to be desired."
Lois hesitated. A motel was much more anonymous — assuming anyone could be anonymous in a small town. On the other hand… "How much to be desired?"
The other woman laughed. "Trust me. Stay at the bed and breakfast."
Lois handed the woman the money for the gas as she in turn gave Lois directions to the bed and breakfast.
"So what are you doing in Smallville?" the woman asked as they were concluding their business.
Lois looked around the dinky gas station for a minute before responding. "I'm not exactly sure."
Lois laughed when he slipped his arm around her waist and flipped her over onto the bed. Reaching up, she tangled her hands in his hair, loving the feel of soft hair between her fingers as he looked down at her affectionately.
"Lois," he whispered, the name sounding almost reverential on his lips.
Her insides felt as if they were jelly as she pulled him forward, sighing softly when his lips began exploring hers. He tasted slightly of chocolate, pure, rich, Swiss chocolate. Even if it hadn't been her favorite taste before, it would be forever in the future. And his scent… There was nothing phony about it. Unlike her former fiance, he smelled real, natural and so incredibly male. Never before had she realized that smell was such a powerful aphrodisiac. She almost felt as if it were spinning a web around her.
And in a way it was. There were no questions this time. No second thoughts. For the first time in her life, she knew where she belonged, and more importantly, to whom she belonged. It wasn't an act of surrender; it was surrender — body, heart and soul. And never had she known that surrender could be so absolutely wonderful.
His lips left hers and he began nibbling on her neck, sending jolts of electricity through her body with every light nip of his teeth against her sensitive skin. She pushed her head further into the mattress and, closing her eyes, moaned. She heard a soft growl come from the back of his throat in response, causing a tremor to ripple through her body.
She pulled him away from her neck to look into his eyes once again. Her hand came up to his cheek as she began a slow exploration of the face of the man she loved. He patiently allowed her investigation.
"Make love to me," she breathed.
"It's time to get up," he responded.
"What?" she asked in confusion.
"It's time to get up," said a distinctly female voice.
Then there was the sound of knocking on wood, pulling a reluctant Lois out of her dream. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold on to her dream for just a few moments longer. But it was no use. The sound of the woman's voice persisted.
"Ms. Lane, you said you wanted a wake up call at seven. Well, it's seven. Are you awake in there?"
"I'm awake," growled Lois, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the door. "I'm awake. I'm awake." The final two sentences were said under her breath.
"Oh, good. Well, breakfast will be ready in half an hour."
"Thanks," Lois said before rolling over and burying her head under her pillow. She closed her eyes, searching for the remnants of her dream — but the magic was gone. After a moment, she sighed and pulled the pillow down.
She'd had the same dream at least half a dozen times since Clark had left almost three weeks ago. And it always ended the same — at least in so far as her waking up both alone and frustrated.
It was obvious, given what had happened that one night with Clark in her apartment, that the man in her dreams was Clark. But there was something about the dream that always seemed odd. She wasn't entirely sure why, but although she knew it was Clark, his face looked different somehow — as if she didn't know him. Only his eyes looked familiar.
She shook off the thought. There was no point in lying here puzzling over the workings of the subconscious mind. She might as well get up and get on with her day — figure out exactly what it was that had brought her to Smallville.
She hesitated for a moment. She knew what had brought her to Smallville. She was here to say good-bye. But what if saying good-bye ended her dreams? After all, even though her dreams left her feeling alone and frustrated, the idea of losing him completely, even in her subconscious, was unbearable. Maybe she should just forget this pilgrimage and head back to Metropolis.
No. She was here now. She would at least visit the cemetery where he was buried. She wasn't sure where that would be. Maybe Maisie would know the answer to that question. After all, when Lois had arrived last night she had definitely got the impression that Maisie took pride in knowing everything there was to know about Smallville. At least it was a place to start.
The main room of the small lodge had a half dozen people helping themselves to breakfast when Lois finally made an appearance. It seemed that most knew each other, and all of them knew Maisie as she made her rounds among people, inquiring after the family or business that had brought them to Smallville. Lois suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. Maybe she should have stayed at the motel. If she had to be in Smallville again tonight, maybe she would — inspite of the comments made by the woman at the gas station.
She took a deep breath and headed towards the coffee machine.
"Well, Ms. Lane," Maisie bubbled, "I'm glad that you made it down. I was afraid that you might have gone back to sleep."
Lois gave her what she hoped looked like a friendly smile as she poured herself a cup of coffee. This morning maybe she'd treat herself by having some cream in her coffee. Real cream. He took real cream in his coffee. She sighed.
"Is everything all right?" Maisie asked.
"Hmm? Oh, fine."
Lois picked up her coffee, made her way to a table and sat down.
"We got you checked in so quickly last night that I never had a chance to ask what you were doing in Smallville," Maisie continued, following Lois to the table.
"No, you didn't," Lois said, offering nothing more as she reached over and picked up a muffin off the table. She plucked a piece off the muffin and put it in her mouth. "These are great," she said when she swallowed, hoping to deflect Maisie's inquiries. "Are they homemade?"
Unfortunately, Maisie took the question as an invitation to sit down beside Lois.
"Yes. Not my home, unfortunately, but Betty-Sue Miller makes the best homemade muffins in the whole county. She makes them for me. I've been trying for years to get the recipe from her. But she just won't give it up. Not that I can say that I blame her. Did you know that she has won the blue ribbon for her blueberry muffins at the Smallville corn festival for the past four years?"
"You don't say," Lois responded, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
"Oh, yes. And she's got some stiff competition, too. Why just last year Nora Sutter entered a carrot muffin that was to die for. So tell me, what brings you to Smallville?"
Lois was taken back by the abrupt change of subject. She glanced around. The room, which had formerly been alive with conversation, was suddenly deadly silent — as everyone seemed to wait for her answer. She hesitated for a moment. There was no way she was about to tell a room full of strangers that she was visiting the town to say good-bye to a man from an alternate universe.
"Umm…" She sought in her mind for an explanation before suddenly being struck by an inspiration. "I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet," she began. "Twenty years ago there was a tragic fire out at… I believe it was the Kent farm. I thought I'd look into it."
"You think there's a story there after twenty years?" asked Maisie.
"Well," Lois continued, as the idea began to take hold, "the actual story is about unsolved crimes in the past which might have been solved if modern day forensics had been available." Oh, this was good. On a roll now, she continued. "I'm going to find out if there are things that would have been done differently today and see where that might take me. Who knows, maybe I can even find out who was responsible. If I can, maybe I can convince the authorities to look into some more of these unsolved cases using modern forensic techniques. My editor thought it might make a good human interest piece," Lois lied, wondering what Cath would think if she found out that Lois had claimed that doing a 'human interest' piece was her reason for being in Hicksville… umm… Smallville.
"Oh, my," said Maisie. "Well, I'll be. I don't think there is a person in Smallville who couldn't tell you a story or two about that time. It was awful. I can still remember when it happened. Don't you, Kyle?" she asked, directing the question to one of the guests.
"Yeah, it was a horrible time," Kyle responded.
"Well, I was thinking of starting by taking a trip down to the Kents' graves," Lois said, deciding that she might as well get the information she needed since the whole town would probably know the story she had just told within the hour.
"Oh, dear," said Maisie. "Hasn't anyone told you?"
"There wasn't enough left of the bodies to bury," said Kyle. "There are no graves."
Lois felt her stomach lurch. She quickly set down her muffin — no longer feeling particularly hungry. It seemed that Clark had left out a detail or two about the story, assuming that he was even aware of this fact. So what now? There was no grave for her to visit. There was no place where she could say good-bye.
"Maybe you'd like to take a trip out to visit the house," Maisie suggested, as if upset to see her guest looking so lost.
"It's still there?" asked Lois.
"What was left of it after the fire. Kyle, why don't you draw a map for Ms. Lane?"
"Why don't you call me Lois?" Lois asked, feeling somewhat uncomfortable hearing herself addressed as 'Ms. Lane' when these people were being so friendly.
Kyle immediately began drawing a map on one of the napkins. Maisie patted her arm in a familial way before getting up to pour anyone who wanted it some more coffee.
Lois reached over and picked up the flowers she had purchased on impulse before opening the door of the rented vehicle and getting out. She stopped at the mailbox, running her fingers absently across the name which was clearly visible in spite of the dirt covering the rest of the box. She was at the right place.
Raising her eyes from the mail box, she looked at the ruins of the old farm house. It was almost peaceful, belying the violent act which had caused its destruction. She took small steps as she made her way closer.
This was where it had happened. This was where this universe's Clark Kent had lost his life. When she reached the beginnings of what appeared to be steps, she stooped over, silently laying the flowers down before sinking to her knees beside the ruin, tears beginning to form in her eyes. Reaching up, she hastily brushed them away.
Still, the tears persisted, forcing her to brush them away a second time, and a pain began to form in the back of her throat. No. She wasn't doing this. She wasn't going to break down. She hadn't broken down at Lex's funeral and she wasn't going to break down here. She had just come to say good-bye to Clark so that she could close this chapter of her life and get on with living. She was not…
A small sob escaped from the back of her throat. To be followed by a second one. Not even certain how to put into words what she was feeling, she shook her head, trying to gain control over her emotions. Her chest felt tight as her shoulders began to shake. She forced herself to take several deep breaths, trying to calm the involuntary reaction she seemed to be having to this place. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on breathing, trying to regain control.
But to no avail. Soon the tears came in earnest. Unable to stop the tidal wave of emotions, she gave up, finally allowing herself to give in to the unstoppable force.
She had no idea how much time passed before the tears subsided. But they eventually did, leaving in their wake a dull pain in her chest. Letting out a slow, steady breath through her mouth, she finally opened her eyes. She relaxed slightly, pleased that she now seemed more in control of the powerful and unexpected emotions which had been brought on by this place.
She took a moment to allow herself to settle by concentrating on the tranquility of her surroundings. A slight wind whispered through the surrounding trees. She focused on the feel of the gentle breeze on her face. She could tell that this had been a good place for a child to grow up. She had images of a happy child, perhaps chasing a dog around the yard or hunting for buried treasure. The thought made her smile.
Had they grown wheat? Or maybe corn? It appeared that the fields around were now being used to grow wheat. But had that always been the case? Perhaps they had had animals — cows maybe. Or perhaps a horse. She spotted the barn in the distance.
Hadn't Clark said that he had spent one night in the hayloft? Forcing herself to her feet, she headed towards the decrepit building. Pushing the door open, she stepped inside. It appeared that the building had been stripped bare years ago, leaving only the shell behind. Her eyes rose and she looked at the hayloft. It was really the only thing worth seeing these days in the old barn. She was headed through the shadows to the ladder leading to the hayloft when something else caught her attention. There was a strange light coming from some cracks in the barn floor.
Walking over, she realized that the light was coming through what appeared to be a trap door in the floor. She got down on her knees and began pushing dirt out of the way until she confirmed her initial impression. There was a trap door and emanating from the cracks was a light of some kind.
Intrigued now, she began digging out the trap door until she was finally able to get a hold of a large iron ring. She grabbed onto the ring and, using all her strength, pulled. When the door didn't move, she got to her feet and put her back into the effort, being rewarded by the door slowly moving. Taking another breath, she redoubled her efforts. Suddenly, the door gave, swinging open and throwing Lois back onto the ground.
She stared mutinously at the door as she recovered her breath. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?" she finally demanded of the silent door. When the door didn't answer, she let out a breath and rose to her feet, making her way over to the hole which was suddenly left in the floor.
She peered down into the hole for a moment, seeing if she could figure out where the light was coming from. When she couldn't make that determination, she turned around and climbed down the ladder.
She found herself in a musty cellar. There were shelves, still full of canned preserves, probably where Mrs. Kent had kept her excess canned items. There were also tools down there, unlike the barn which had quite obviously been picked dry. But Lois wasn't particularly interested in any of it. Instead, she looked around until she spotted a half- rotten wooden box from which the strange light was originating. She quickly made her way over, opening the box.
Much to her surprise, the light appeared to be coming from a small globe, which dimmed the instant the box was open. She supposed it could be battery operated, but if that were the case, why hadn't the batteries gone dead during the past twenty years? Almost as if it had read her thoughts, the light suddenly went out.
"Great timing," Lois mumbled, reaching through the darkness to find the globe with her hands. She knew the instant she found it. It was still warm — she suspected as a result of the light it had been giving off.
Determined to figure out what it was, she picked it up before turning towards the ladder which had brought her down into the cellar. The path back was dark.
"I don't suppose you'd mind glowing again — you know, just to help me get out of here?" she asked the globe, but it ignored her request.
Letting out a breath through her nose, she began the return trip, feeling her way though the unfamiliar cellar.
Lois blinked when she emerged into the sunlight outside the barn. It somehow didn't seem right that the sun should be shining. She glanced down at what now looked more like a child's toy than anything that might be of interest to her. Still, she didn't put it down. There was something odd about this toy. How had the batteries managed to stay good all these years? Clark hadn't mentioned anything about a light coming from beneath the barn. That would indicate that someone had been down there recently. Still, that didn't make sense either. After all, that trap door had certainly not been disturbed in years.
She was still puzzling over the small question when she heard something coming down the gravel road. Then suddenly, a four wheel drive pulled into view, the markings making it clear that it was a police vehicle. When it came to a stop, a woman stepped out.
"I'm just looking around, officer," Lois quickly explained.
"You're Lois Lane. Right?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Lois responded.
"Maisie called. She said you were looking into the Kent fire."
"That's right," Lois responded cautiously, wondering where the officer was going with this.
"Well, I'm the Sheriff around here. Rachel Harris."
"Sheriff Harris, I'm not here to cause any trouble. I just wanted to…"
"I used to play with Clark when I was little," Rachel interrupted. "I know who you are. You're one of the best reporters in the world. If you think you can find out who killed Clark… I guess I just wanted to offer you my assistance."
Lois felt a moment of guilt. That was the story she had given Maisie this morning. But it wasn't true. She had just come to Smallville to say good-bye to a good friend. Nothing more.
"Listen, Sheriff…" Lois began.
"I'm so glad that someone is finally taking this case seriously. It was obvious when the volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene that the Kents had been deliberately trapped in the house. Yet the Smallville police were taken off the case quite quickly twenty years ago. It was turned over to the FBI. I tried to look into the investigation shortly after I was elected Sheriff — you know, just because it was the one major case that had never been solved — but the Feds stonewalled me."
Lois had been trying to cut into the Sheriff's speech since the woman had started talking, to explain to her that she wasn't really looking into the death of the Kents. But something about the woman's comments about the Feds stonewalling the Sheriff peaked her interest. She was seriously listening when Rachel Harris continued.
"I haven't had time to do anything else on the case," Harris explained. "But it has always bothered me. Maybe you have sources that I don't. You certainly have more experience. Usually, I end up looking for some grandpa with Alzheimers who has wandered off. Or dealing with a domestic assault. You know, that sort of thing. There hasn't been a murder here the whole time I've been Sheriff. I don't even know where to start.
"Anyway, I assembled a file of all the information I could find about the fire," Rachel continued. "If you want to follow me back to the station, I'll show it to you. I've looked through it a dozen times, trying to find any hints about what happened all those years ago. Maybe you'll see something I've missed."
"Thank you, Sheriff," Lois said, completely surprised by this turn of events. Usually the police saw her as someone to avoid whenever and wherever possible.
"Call me Rachel," said Rachel, holding out her hand to Lois.
"Rachel," Lois repeated with a smile while taking the offered hand. "And I'm Lois."
"Great. Well, if you're finished here…"
Lois glanced around. "Yeah. I guess I am."
Lois absently tossed the globe onto the passenger's seat of her rental vehicle and climbed inside. She waited until Sheriff Harris started her vehicle and pulled out before heading out behind her.
Lois wasn't entirely certain what she thought she was doing. But for some reason, she suddenly needed to know who was responsible for the death of the Kents as much as the Sheriff did. At least, she could take a look at what Sheriff Harris had before making a decision about whether or not to pursue it. Still, for the first time since Clark had left this dimension, Lois felt the familiar stirring in her gut which told her she was on to a story. And she had to admit that it felt good. Maybe looking for the person or people who were responsible for Clark's death was exactly what she needed to get back on her game. At the very least, it couldn't hurt.
Lois was confused when, only a couple of miles down the road, Rachel's truck turned onto the road to another farm. Lois hesitated for a moment, wondering why they weren't going back into town, before following the police vehicle.
"Why are we here?" asked Lois when both vehicles stopped and their occupants emerged.
"This is the home of Wayne and Helen Irig. They were good friends with the Kents. And Wayne was one of the first people on the scene at the time. I had the station call ahead and they said they could see you now. I thought you'd want to talk to them."
"Yes. Definitely," said Lois, amazed once again by what appeared to be the best cooperation she had ever received from the police while investigating a story. Of course, she wasn't actually investigating a story. She pushed that little detail to the back of her mind. After all, if she did find out who killed the Kents, she was certain Catherine would run the story.
As Lois and Rachel approached the house, the door opened and an older man and woman appeared in the doorway. Rachel took a moment to introduce Lois to the older couple before they were invited inside.
"So we understand you want to know about the fire at the Kent's," said Wayne.
"Yes. I'm hoping to find out exactly what happened," Lois responded.
"Funny how that goes," said Wayne.
"Well, it's just that we had a man here asking questions about the fire a few weeks ago," said Helen.
"What?" asked Lois.
"Yeah," Wayne responded. "What was his name again, honey?"
"Umm… Scarson… No. Scardino. I'm sorry I don't remember his first…"
"Dan Scardino?" Lois interrupted.
"That's him," said Helen. "Is he connected to you?"
"Umm… No. But…" Her voice trailed off as she attempted to get a handle on the possible implications of Dan Scardino being there, asking questions about the fire. When they had first mentioned someone asking about the fire, she thought they were going to tell her that Clark had been there. But Dan?
Her mind flashed back to what she had begun to suspect about Dan during her investigation of Lex — that he was leaking information to Lex. She still had no proof of that. And with Lex dead, it hadn't been a high priority. But with this new information… The thought trailed off as a new possibility struck her.
"What did this man look like?" she asked.
"Thirtyish. Dark. Good build," said Wayne.
"Very good looking," Helen put in, provoking a look from Wayne that caused Lois to smile.
"Good build?" Lois asked. Although Dan fit the remaining description, he wasn't exactly what she would consider a muscle man.
"Very good build," said Helen. "He could have been a professional athlete."
Lois nodded. Clark. It had to be.
"Anyway," Helen continued, "we told him what we knew and he took off out of here like we'd killed his parents."
Lois nodded. Definitely Clark. "What did you tell him?" she asked and then pulled out her notepad and began taking notes as Wayne and Helen filled her in.
In essence, she was told about the green crystal Wayne had found, how he had sent a piece to Metropolis for testing, how government men had shown up the next week asking questions, how he had given the rest of the rock to Jonathan Kent for safe keeping and then how he had received an emergency call in the middle of the night telling all volunteer firefighters to get to the Kent farm.
"Did the government men say what they were looking for?" asked Lois when Wayne and Helen finished their recitation of the tale.
"Something about environmental contamination," Wayne said. "But I didn't believe it."
"I grew up on this farm. I know everything there is to know about every inch of it. I knew there was no environmental contamination. Now, if they were to come by today, I might take a different view — acid rain, erosion of the ozone layer, illegal dumping of toxic materials. You know, things like that. But this was the seventies."
"Can you remember what branch of the government they were from — or any of their names?"
"They said they were from the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time, I just figured I'd never heard of it before, but…"
"Well, the EPA wasn't created until the early eighties. I know, because when they announced the creation of the agency, it confirmed my thoughts that the men who were snooping around back in 1977 weren't legitimate," said Wayne.
Lois' eyebrows rose and she glanced over at Rachel who was finding Wayne's revelation as interesting as she was.
"Did you tell anyone this?" asked Rachel.
"Who was I going to tell? The investigation had died years before. Besides, I told the FBI at the time what I'm telling you now — that the men said they were from the Environmental Protection Agency. So they could have made the connection as easily as I could."
"What else can you tell me? Do you remember any of the men's names?" Lois asked.
Wayne and Helen looked at each other for a moment before shaking their heads. "Sorry, it was too long ago."
"Would you recognize their pictures?" Lois asked.
"Maybe. I'm really not sure."
Lois nodded. "Okay, well you've been a big help."
"If we think of anything else, should we call Maisie's?" asked Helen.
"How did you know… Never mind. I'll probably be working out of the police station today. I'm not sure where I'll be staying tonight."
"Oh, you're not thinking of staying at the motel, are you?" asked Helen, the disgust obvious in her tone.
"It might be a bit more convenient to the police station, but trust me, honey, you don't want to stay there," Helen continued.
"No. No. It's not that," Lois lied, not wanting Maisie to find out that she had been thinking about staying at the motel — not after how helpful Maisie had been earlier. "I just meant that I hadn't decided whether I was going to stay in Smallville another night. But…" She hesitated. She probably would need at least another day to find out everything she could in Smallville. "But you're probably right. I think I'll need to stay at least one more day. So I guess… if you have any information for me and I'm not at the station, call Maisie's. But only leave a message for me to call. I can't stress enough how important this is. You can't give information to anyone else. It could compromise our investigation," Lois said, figuring that she really had no choice now but to stay at Maisie's. "If I'm gone, leave the information with Rachel. I'll make sure she knows how to get in touch with me."
Helen and Wayne looked over at Rachel who nodded her agreement.
"Well, okay," Wayne responded.
"Tell me something," said Lois as she followed Rachel into the police station.
"Well, don't you find it sort of odd that the FBI handled the investigation? What interest would the federal government have with a murder in a small town? It wasn't as if it took place on federal property or that there was a federal interest of some kind involved."
"I find it very odd," Rachel said. "In fact, I asked the federal agent I spoke to about it."
"And he said that the Sheriff at the time, George Hines, specifically requested FBI involvement — told them he didn't have the experience to handle something this big. They say they did it as a favor, a gesture of inter-agency cooperation."
Rachel nodded, looking as skeptical as Lois felt. She gestured Lois to take a seat at a table as she walked over to a large file cabinet and opened it.
"Did you run this by Sheriff Hines?" Lois asked as Rachel reached into the file cabinet and removed a manilla file.
"No. Sheriff Hines died in a car accident a few years after the murders," Rachel said, closing the file cabinet and turning back to Lois.
Lois nodded slowly. "Interesting."
"You don't think there's a connection — between the Sheriff's death and…"
"No. Well, I don't know. It's just…"
Rachel took a seat at the table, pushing the file folder across to Lois. When Lois reached out to take it, Rachel kept her hand firmly on the folder, forcing Lois to meet her eyes.
"You know something you're not telling me, don't you?" Rachel asked, although it was not exactly a question.
Lois was hit by how sharp this hick Sheriff seemed to be. Lois was absolutely certain she hadn't given any hint that she might have some inside information — but still Rachel had somehow sensed that she was withholding something. But could Rachel be trusted — at least with partial disclosure? After all, if there was one thing Lois had learned during the course of the day was that there was no such thing as a secret in a small town. Still, Lois liked Rachel. She had a personal interest in finding the men who had killed Clark.
Not that Lois had any intention of telling Rachel the whole story. She had got lucky with her sister. She had no intention of having this woman think she was crazy with talk of alternate universes and flying aliens. Still, it might be worthwhile providing Rachel with as much information as possible so that Rachel could be as much help as possible.
Glancing around, Lois noticed that the door to the room was open. And given the fact that there had been two other officers in the station when they had arrived, it might be best if they had this discussion behind closed doors. As if she read Lois' thoughts, Rachel got up, made her way to the door and closed it.
"Okay," said Lois slowly, gesturing Rachel back to her seat. "I had a tip about this case."
"What sort of tip?"
"I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is that this source has reason to believe that the military was involved in the attack on the Kents. The bureau involved is called Bureau 39. Have you heard of it?"
Rachel shook her head.
"He also mentioned someone named Jason Trask. Does that name mean anything to you?"
Rachel furrowed her eyebrows. "He's the man I was directed to when I contacted the FBI for information about the Kent fire."
"What?" gasped Lois, lurching forward in her chair. "He works for the FBI?"
"I guess. I called Langley and was put on hold while they transferred me to Jason Trask. He's the one who stonewalled me. You think he's involved in this?"
"My source thought so."
"But why would the FBI or this Bureau 39 want the Kents dead?"
Lois shrugged. That question was getting dangerously close to the information she was trying to avoid telling the Sheriff.
"So what do you have for me?" asked Lois, directing her attention to the file Rachel had brought over earlier.
"Well, there's not a lot in here. We only had the case for a few days before the Feds took it over. Fortunately, before he handed the case over to them, Sheriff Hines made copies of everything he had to that point."
She pushed the file across to Lois who immediately flipped it open. She quickly skimmed the first few pages. Then she came across something that surprised her.
"Medical reports?" she asked. "I thought… Well, I guess I didn't figure there would be any medical reports — given the fact that Maisie told me that there wasn't anything left of the bodies."
"Nothing left is a bit of an overstatement."
"There were the odd… umm… body parts — seriously burned but still identifiable as body parts. Nothing big, of course. But they were there, mixed in with the ashes of the house."
Lois' stomach lurched. Keeping her eyes firmly on the medical report, she fought against the feeling of nausea. Suddenly, she noticed something that definitely caused her heart to leap into her throat. Forcing herself to calm down, she took a moment to make sure she hadn't missed something.
"Why are there no DNA reports?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from trembling.
"Come on, Lois. This was the seventies. There was no DNA analysis."
"But there are only two blood types listed here. What makes you so convinced that there were three victims?"
Lois paced around her room at Maisie's, lost in thought. She had finished going through what little Rachel had been able to give her, even taking a copy of the entire file. Then Rachel had introduced her to everyone who had been in some way involved in the investigation at the time. But through it all, Lois' mind kept coming back to one very simple revelation. There had only been two blood types found.
Of course, Rachel had presented a fairly convincing argument for there being three victims. The fire had taken place in the middle of the night — when the entire family would have been home. No one had turned up afterwards — not Martha or Jonathan or Clark. Surely if they had been alive, they would have sought help from someone in town. Firefighters and police officers had thoroughly searched the area around the house, looking for clues. If one of the Kents had gotten out of the house and been hurt, surely he or she would have been found then — or the body would have been found since.
But there was one small fact that Rachel didn't know. One detail that could very well point to a survivor. Clark's alien origins. Would he even have a blood type similar to humans? That could mean either that they hadn't found his blood or that they had and hadn't recognized it as blood.
Still, Lois couldn't help but feel… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say she couldn't help but hope that… She couldn't complete the thought — almost afraid that if she completed it, all the flaws in her theory would appear, making hope impossible.
So now what should she do? If the survivor, assuming there was a survivor, had been Martha or Jonathan Kent, surely they would have turned to a neighbor. The only one who might not have done so was Clark — not if what he had seen those men do to his parents had scared him badly enough. But he was only an eleven year old boy. So where would he have gone?
Suddenly, Lois quit pacing. There was another possibility. What if Jason Trask hadn't killed Clark but had only captured him — to study the alien? The very thought made her shiver. After a moment, she shook her head. They wouldn't have been able to hold him — not once he had developed his powers anyway.
Unless… Both Clark and Irig had mentioned a green crystal. Clark had called it kryptonite and informed her that it could kill him. One would assume that meant it could incapacitate him as well. Nothing in the file she had received from Rachel had mentioned anything about some strange, green crystal being found at the scene. So Trask could have found it and taken it with him — couldn't he? And if that were the case, it was entirely possible that Trask had taken Clark and been keeping him captive all these years — treating him like a lab rat, studying him, testing him. The thought made Lois almost hope that Clark was dead.
So now what did she do? Jason Trask. The FBI. Bureau 39. She had to find out if they had Clark. But how did she do that? Her thought trailed off as an idea began to form. Making her way to the phone, she picked it up.
"What?" asked Lucy.
"There is a possibility that Clark is still alive," Lois reiterated into the phone.
"But if that's true, where has he been all these years?"
"I think he might have been taken by the government bureau I told you about. Listen, I need your help."
There was a long moment of silence. Lois held her breath as she waited for her sister to evaluate what she had been told.
"What do you need me to do?" Lucy finally asked.
Lois let out her breath. "Do you know anyone at the FBI who owes you a favor? Surely in your job in Washington there have been times when you've done business together."
"And if I know someone like that, what do you want me to do?"
"Have him check out Jason Trask. In Clark's world, he was a member of a military bureau. I suppose it's possible that here he works for the FBI. Either way, I need to know."
Lucy let out a long, slow breath. "Okay, I'll see what I can do."
Lucy stared silently at the phone for a long moment. She had accepted her sister's comments about alternate universes and flying aliens the other night because she had realized how important it was to Lois to be believed.
But now that her sister seemed intent on doing more than simply visiting a graveyard and saying good-bye, Lucy was beginning to have second thoughts. It felt a little as if she had entered the twilight zone. How far exactly should she let her sister pursue this matter?
Her hand landed on the phone as she continued to think. It was just a phone call, after all. And maybe it would put this matter to rest.
Besides, she knew just the person to call at the FBI. She was fairly certain the man had a crush on her. He was always falling all over himself to impress her. Not that she shared his feelings. He was kinda cute, but she loved her husband too much to consider cheating on him. Still, Corbin's crush had its uses. She picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.
"FBI. Can I help you?"
"May I speak to Johnny Corbin, please?"
Lois made her way down to the main room in Maisie's bed and breakfast. It was late, but she really could use a bite to eat — chocolate, preferably. She hadn't seen any place where she could buy a Double Fudge Crunch bar, but maybe Maisie could point her in the appropriate direction.
The main room was empty when Lois arrived. She heard noises coming from the kitchen and made her way over. She hesitated slightly. It was obvious that the kitchen was off limits to guests.
"Hello," Lois called.
"I'm in here," Massie responded, giving Lois unvoiced permission to enter the kitchen.
When she did, she was confronted by an unexpected smell — and boy did it smell good. Her stomach gave a slight rumble. Maisie looked over her shoulder from where she was buried in her cooking.
"Fudge," she said, giving Lois a wink. "It isn't finished yet but… Well, I need someone to clean the bowl. Are you up to it?"
"Definitely," Lois said, making her way closer. Maisie finished pouring the liquid fudge into a pan and then handed the bowl and spoon to Lois. "You have no idea how much I need this," Lois said, raising the spoon to her lips. "Mmmm," she moaned, closing her eyes and allowing all of her senses to enjoy the moment. "This is better than a Double Fudge Crunch bar."
Maisie laughed. "I'm glad you like it. By the way, I wanted to say that we all thought it was very sweet what you did today."
"You know. The flowers. Sandy Bower called this afternoon — she's the woman who owns the flower store. Anyway, it was really thoughtful of you to take flowers with you when you went to the Kent house."
"Oh. Umm… Thanks," Lois responded, feeling more than a little sheepish. It wasn't exactly the professional image she wanted to portray. Why had she bought flowers, anyway?
"It's just that so many city folk come out here, thinking that we're just a bunch of backward hicks and don't seem to realize that we care about each other, take care of one another. Your gesture told us that you're one of us. Between that and your efforts to find out who killed the Kents… Well, if there is ever anything you need, you just feel free to let us know. You'll always have friends in Smallville."
A small lump formed in Lois' throat. She directed her attention back to the bowl of fudge, running a finger inside to collect some of the sweet substance. She stuttered out an embarrassed expression of gratitude. She wasn't at all sure why she felt so touched by Maisie's words, or the idea that she had been accepted as an honorary member of the Smallville community.
"Oh, there's one more thing," said Maisie. "When I was looking for my fudge recipe, I came across something I thought you might like."
She walked over to a counter and picked up two four by six index cards and brought them back over, handing them to Lois. "Do you cook?" Maisie asked.
"One is Martha Kent's recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. The other, her recipe for lasagna. They are both delicious."
"Thanks," Lois responded, looking carefully at the recipes. Both looked simple enough and for some strange reason, she could hardly wait to find out what kind of cook Martha Kent had been.
Tempus, known to this universe as J.D. Templeton, caressed the document as if he were running his hands over a woman's body. He finally had it. Luthor Towers was now his. All his. And later tonight he would be meeting with the demolition expert to plan how and when the building would be leveled. Oh, there were still those nasty permits to take care of, but Templeton wouldn't let anyone or anything stand in the way of turning that testament to Lex Luthor into a pile of rubbish.
After all, this was the reward for his brilliance. He had manipulated the other universe's Clark Kent into destroying this universe's Lex Luthor. Destroying Lex Towers was Templeton's reward for a job well done. And he intended to enjoy every moment. Besides, his brilliant plan had managed to accomplish so much more than the destruction of Lex Luthor.
A slow smile made its way across his face. Not only had he managed to destroy Luthor, he also had dismantled the threat known as Lois Lane. She hadn't produced a single quality story since Luthor's death. Templeton wasn't entirely sure whether it was the death of her fiance, the knowledge that Luthor had made such a fool of her or meeting and then losing the other universe's Clark Kent.
Kent. He had to wonder exactly what had happened between Lane and Kent in this universe. If he had been thinking, he would have installed surveillance cameras in Lane's apartment before 'inviting' Kent to this dimension. Of course, it was no big loss. After all, the Kent of the other universe had been married, and Templeton doubted that the big blue boy scout would have taken advantage of having another woman throwing herself at his feet. But he had to admit he was curious. After all, would the two women make love the same? Or were those the types of things that would differ with each universe? And most importantly, did Clark Kent now know the answer to that question? If Templeton had set up a camera, he would now know. And he was certain he could find a way to sneak such a tape back to the other universe's Lois Lane.
He sighed at the thought of the missed opportunity.
Oh, well. It had still proven to be a brilliant plan.
His thoughts were interrupted by a buzzing from the phone on his office's desk. Making his way over, he pressed the intercom button.
"Yes?" Templeton asked, somewhat annoyed about being interrupted in his musings.
"Excuse me, sir," said his secretary over his intercom. "But there is a man named Nigel St. John here to see you. Do you have time to see him?"
Templeton's eyebrows rose. What did Luthor's number one man want? Intrigued, he responded. "Send him in."
Only seconds later, Nigel entered Templeton's inner sanctuary. Templeton walked behind his desk and took a seat, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on his desk. "So what does Luthor's number one henchman want with me?" he asked, pursing his fingers in front of him.
"I seem to find myself recently unemployed," Nigel responded.
"And what does that have to do with me?" Templeton asked.
"I was wondering if I might be of service to you."
"And why would I hire a man who let his employer go down in smoke — or gunshot, so to speak. I'm not looking for a trash collector at the moment. After all, with the death of your boss, I don't have any competition left in this city. So why would I need someone with your unique… talents?"
"That's true, sir. But one need not have competition to find that dangers lie beyond every corner."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Templeton responded, his feet finally leaving his desk to settle on the floor.
"Pfff," Templeton responded. "In case you haven't heard, Lois Lane isn't quite herself these days."
"So I have heard. But you and I both know that it's only a matter of time before she's back. And when she does come back, you will continue being her target."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I'm the one responsible for making you her target in the first place."
"And you think this is going to convince me to give you a job?" asked Templeton, somewhat amused.
"Actually, I do, sir. Given my past activities, I could be a most valuable asset to you. I have a source close to Ms. Lane. You would always know what she was working on so that you could cover your tracks before she became a serious problem. And I know many of her sources. In fact, most of them work for me. Those could be used to direct her attention elsewhere.
"Besides, I'm sure I have other talents you might find particularly useful," Nigel continued. "Before I worked for Mr. Luthor, I was employed for MI6."
"And you want to work for me now?" Templeton asked, settling back into his chair, impressed by the lengths Luthor had gone to in order to control that troublesome reporter.
"For the right price."
"And just what price would be right?"
"I need employment, sir."
Templeton pursed his fingers together again. He knew from the history books that Nigel St. John had betrayed Luthor in the other universe. That meant that the man could not be trusted. On the other hand, his offer was intriguing. He'd always thought it might be nice to have a man Friday. There was only one problem.
"Is there anyway authorities can track Luthor's activities back to you?"
"No, sir. Trust me, any loose ends have been tied up. I'm very thorough."
Templeton smiled. "Have a seat, Nigel. We have to discuss the details of your new job."
"You're giving up?" asked Rachel of the woman in front of her later the next afternoon. There was no mistaking the disappointment in her voice.
"No!" Lois responded immediately. "I just think it's time for me to go back to Metropolis. I have a few leads to follow up. And I think I've got all the information here that I can. I've talked to so many people now who remember that time that I feel a little overloaded. It's time to follow up on what I have. I can do that best from Metropolis."
Rachel nodded slowly, if a bit skeptically.
"I will find out who did this, Rachel," Lois said, keeping her eyes firmly on the other woman's.
"Sorry," Rachel finally responded. "We're just used to hearing that a lot. There was so much hope when the FBI took over the investigation. That was the end of what we were told. When I ran for Sheriff, one of my main goals was to try to find out what happened to the Kents. You're the best chance we've had in years."
Lois nodded, wondering if people in Metropolis would still desperately want those responsible brought to justice after twenty years if she were killed.
"If there is anything we can do to help, please let me know," Rachel continued.
"Thanks, Rachel," Lois responded. "I will. I certainly wouldn't be anywhere at all without the help you've given me so far."
"I don't know if this goes against your professional ethics, but I'd really appreciate if you would keep me informed about your investigation."
Lois opened her mouth to say that she would, but then hesitated. How could she promise that? She wasn't even telling Rachel everything now. And after how helpful Rachel had been, Lois couldn't justify lying to the woman.
"I'll do my best," Lois finally responded.
Lucy paced back and forth in Lois' apartment at 344 Clinton Ave., staring at the papers in her hands. Lois was due back any minute. As soon as that happened, Lucy was determined to confront her sister about this development. Had Lois completely lost her mind?
Hearing noise outside the apartment, Lucy turned towards the door just in time to see the door pushed open and Lois step into the apartment, in one hand her suitcase, in the other a bag of groceries.
"Would you mind explaining this?" Lucy demanded immediately, holding the papers up in the air in accusation.
"Umm… Hello to you too, sis," Lois responded setting down her suitcase and carrying the groceries into the kitchen.
Lucy let out a breath.
"Hi," Lucy conceded. "Now would you mind explaining exactly what you think you're doing?"
"Trying to get the groceries put away?"
"Ha, ha. No. I mean these," Lucy said, waving the papers in the air once again. "They arrived about an hour ago."
Lois made her way to her sister. Taking the documents, she looked at them before rolling her eyes. "Oh, that."
"What the hell does that mean? Lo, I can't believe that you're giving that much money to some lawyer."
Lois made her way back to the kitchen. "You're a lawyer."
"Yeah, well. If you wanted to leave it to me, I might have a different perspective. But do you even know this guy? If he was Lex's lawyer, chances are he's dirty. Why would you give him the money to…" She grabbed the documents back from Lois and flipped through them for a moment before finding the phrase she was looking for. "…dispense with as he, in his sole and absolute discretion, deems appropriate?"
"He's planning to dispense the money to himself."
Lois closed her eyes. Why was everyone giving her such a hard time about this? "Lucy…"
"I want you to think about this for a moment. Lois, you're a reporter. That's not exactly a high profit profession. Are you telling me that you couldn't put this money to better use than some scumbag lawyer?"
"At least tell me you'll think about this before signing these documents?"
Lois let out a long slow breath. "Fine. I'll think about it."
Lucy looked at Lois for a long moment before nodding.
"So what did your friend at the FBI have to say?" Lois asked.
Lucy let out a breath. This conversation wasn't over. But for now, having Lois promise to think about what she was doing before signing those papers was enough. "Apparently there is no one named Jason Trask working for the FBI."
"So it's a dead end," responded Lois, the defeat in her voice obvious.
"Well, he did a little additional research and found out that there is a standing memo that if anyone inquires about the fire at the Kent farm, they are to be forwarded to a man named Jason Trask who is connected with military intelligence."
"So if a person were to call the FBI asking about the Kent fire, they would be connected with Trask — thinking that they were still talking to the FBI?"
"That's the gist of it."
"Is this common?"
"Not according to Corbin. In fact, he doesn't know of any other case where anything like that is done."
Lois chewed on her lower lip as she considered the new information. "Military intelligence, huh? Isn't that kind of a contradiction in terms?"
"Lois, what are you thinking?"
"Does Corbin know the exact number these calls are forwarded to?"
"I suspect he could get it. Why?"
"Well, I'm thinking that a little snooping might be in order. And if I have the phone number, I can back trace it to an address."
"Lo, breaking and entering is still a crime."
"And if I'm understanding you correctly, you're thinking about breaking into a military installation."
"I have to know, Luc."
Lucy looked at her sister for a long time before responding. "I'll call Corbin," she said, making her way to the phone.
Lois smiled. "Thanks, sis."
"One of these days I expect to get a call from you saying that you've gone one step too far and need me to bail you out of jail."
"You'd do that for me?" asked Lois, a mocking humor in her voice.
"It would depend on whether or not I had something better to do — like washing my hair." There was a moment of silence before Lucy spoke again — this time into the phone. "Johnny Corbin, please."
"Look, while you make your call, I think I'm going to try a new lasagna recipe I got."
Lois straightened her tight fitting skirt and stepped out of the rental car. She picked up a pack and swung it over her shoulder. Popping open the hood, she used the rod to hold it up. Almost instantly, the sound of screeching tires could be heard. Lois glanced up in time to see a pick-up truck come to an abrupt halt on the street next to her. She sighed. It was too early. Besides, the young man was not what she was looking for.
"Can I be off any assistance?" he asked, his eyes slowly undressing every portion of her body.
"Yeah, you can call my husband at the next gas station."
The young man seemed to lose interest and a moment later the pick-up truck disappeared down the road. Lois shook her head and turned back to the engine. Reaching inside she removed the distributor cap, took out a screw driver and loosened one of the screws underneath. Fastening the distributor cap again, she returned to the car and tried to start it. Nothing. Perfect.
Getting out of the car, she removed her gloves and stuck them in her pack. Once again she buried her head in the engine, as if trying to figure out what was wrong.
Only a minute or two later another vehicle could be heard approaching. She glanced up to see an army jeep making its way down the road in her direction. Perfect. Smiling, she pulled her head out of the engine, stepped further into the road and waved down the approaching vehicle.
A soldier pulled to a stop. Lois smiled. He couldn't be much more than the eighteen years he had to be to enlist. He was exactly what she was looking for.
"Thanks for stopping," Lois said, using her best 'dumb blonde' voice. "I seem to have a teensy-weensy problem. My car won't start. And I don't have a clue how to make these things work. Could you help me?" She smiled helplessly at the young man who was quite obviously hesitant.
"I really can't help. I was ordered to go…"
Lois put her best pout on her face, running a hand down her hip to emphasize her curves. His eyes followed the course her hand was taking. "Please? I'm sort of scared being stranded out here alone."
The young man looked her over for a moment before pulling the army jeep off to the side of the road and putting it in park. "Okay," he said, stepping out of the vehicle, "what seems to be the problem?"
"Well, I just don't know." She followed the young man to the front of her car. "It just quit."
She waited until he was checking the engine before slipping quietly towards his jeep. A moment later, she was driving away. She could hear the man yelling after her, could see him chasing her in the rearview mirror. She hit the gas and was soon out of sight of the man still following her.
She drove another ten minutes down the road before pulling off to the side. Taking a quick look in the rearview mirror, she proceeded to open the pack she had brought with her. It only took her a minute to get changed into the army uniform she'd had made years ago while conducting an investigation at Fort Truman. It had gained her access to the base then. She hoped it would again. After all, when she had traced the number Johnny Corbin had given her sister, it had led her to the same military base — one which coincidentally was located just outside Metropolis. Given the fact that she knew the base as a result of her previous adventure, she was fairly certain she knew which building to investigate. All she needed to do was to convince the officers on guard outside the military installation that she had a right to be there.
Reaching into the pocket of her uniform, she withdrew the phoney orders she had obtained from Billy Ink-Fingers that morning. She checked them one final time before putting the jeep back in drive and heading towards Fort Truman. She just had to remember the correct hand for saluting. That was what had given her away the last time. She just hoped that no one at the base remembered her.
She rounded a corner and came to a screeching halt. No more than twenty feet in front of her, in the middle of the road were a flock of wild geese. She honked her horn, but that accomplished little more than provoking a couple of dirty looks from the geese. Slowly stepping on the gas, she inched forward, eventually chasing the geese out of the way.
Shaking her head, she continued towards Fort Truman.
Ducking into the shadow between file cabinets, Lois held her breath as the voices got closer. Getting onto the base and into the warehouse had been easier than anticipated. The problem seemed to be how to get back out.
When she had first entered the warehouse, she had been stunned. The building had been filled with odd, dust covered metallic piles of junk. But it was junk as she had never seen. Most of the items appeared to be space ships. But whether or not they were, Lois had no idea. Only when she turned back one sheet and discovered a small craft, only big enough for a very small child, did she know she was on the right track. On the hood of this particular craft was a predominantly displayed symbol, the same symbol she had seen on Clark's chest when he had spun into the Superman suit for her.
In addition to the 'crafts,' if that was what they were, were rows of filing cabinets. Opening the first one, she saw photos of what appeared to be U.F.O.s. Again, real or not, she had no idea. But she continued to search through the cabinets until she came across a file marked 'Smallville 1966.' Her heart had raced as she'd removed the file.
She again felt for the file she had stuffed under her shirt when she had heard the sound of people approaching the room. She wished she'd had time to read it before taking refuge in her hiding place. In fact, she could hardly stand staying hidden, waiting to read it. After all, this file might well tell her where they were holding her Clark. She closed her eyes briefly wondering when he had become her Clark.
Of course, there was always the possibility that this file would confirm that Clark was dead. Even if he hadn't died at the house, there was nothing saying that they couldn't have killed him later — after they had finished with their experiments. She quickly shook the thought off. Until she had definitive proof to the contrary, Clark Kent was alive. She refused to believe otherwise.
The thought retreated to the back of her mind as the voices which had forced her into her hiding place entered the room.
"But what makes you think that the intruder was looking for this place, Colonel Trask?" the first man asked.
"Our contact at the FBI tells me that someone accessed the computer last night to get the phone number here. The only thing that number is used for is to redirect inquiries into the Kent fire. That a woman hijacked an army jeep this morning and entered the base is too much of a coincidence to believe the two events are not connected," came the reply.
Lois chanced a quick glance around the file cabinet. She really wanted to see what this Trask character looked like. Unfortunately, the two men were facing away from her.
"Any idea who was making the inquiries?"
"Not yet. But we better find out fast. If the truth ever came out… Well, let's just say that the American public doesn't have the stomach to do what needs to be done to protect the planet. That's why they assign the job to people like us. And that's why we don't give them the details of our activities. But those same people wake up safe everyday because of the work we do."
"And the Kents, sir?"
"Collateral damage. Regrettable, but unavoidable."
The two men took one final look around the room before heading off to search elsewhere. Lois let out a breath. Now there was just the problem of getting out of the complex without getting caught. But, hey, that was her specialty.
She glanced at her watch. Her sister should be driving her jeep past this place in about thirty minutes. That gave her some time to get out of there. Now, if only she knew how to accomplish that.
Lucy sat in Lois' parked jeep, looking at her watch every ten seconds. Lois had given her very specific instructions. It all depended on her following the time line Lois had given her to the second. Lois had even insisted that they synchronize their watches before starting. Although exactly how Lois could know how long stealing a jeep, breaking into Fort Truman, searching for classified documents and busting out again was going to take, Lucy had no idea. Still… she checked her watch again.
At least for the first time, Lucy was actually being trusted behind the wheel of Lois' baby. She reached out and gently patted the steering wheel. Of course, was that really enough to make up for the fact that Lucy would get disbarred if she were caught helping Lois in this adventure? Then who would bail her big sister out of jail when she was charged for breaking and entering?
This whole adventure was getting more and more out of hand. The problem was that Lois seemed capable of making the idea that Clark Kent was alive seem… almost plausible. There were only two blood types found at the scene. Surely someone would have picked up on the idea that a third blood type was… alien. Then there was the whole matter with the FBI. Lois had mentioned a Jason Trask before that name had come up in her investigation. And if Lois was right about a man — maybe not human, but a man nonetheless — being held against his will for scientific experimentation… Well, the idea didn't sit any better with Lucy than it did with Lois.
The problem was that Lucy didn't think Lois was exactly on an errand of mercy. How much were the feelings Lois had developed for the alternate Clark affecting her decision to search for this Clark? And was that healthy? After all, if this Clark Kent had by some miracle survived, what type of man might he be? Years of captivity, experimentation and even torture had to have left some pretty deep scars. Was Lois only setting herself up to get hurt?
Lucy checked her watch again. Only a few more minutes before she was supposed to go.
What was Lucy supposed to do if this search didn't provide the information Lois needed? Did Lucy continue helping Lois, even though the search itself was somewhere just north of pure madness? Or did she try to intervene? Not that she necessarily could anyway. But the idea of watching her sister's obsession with a man she didn't even know worried Lucy. On the other hand, when she had first arrived at Lois' apartment, Lucy had been scared by the lack of color in her sister's face and the lack of animation in her eyes. This quest, or whatever it was, that Lois seemed to be on was giving her sister purpose. Did she really have the right to take it away?
Well, there was probably no point in borrowing trouble. Maybe this trip to Fort Truman would give Lois what she needed. If not… Well, was there really anything else that could be done in this investigation? One way or another, wasn't this their final lead?
Lucy checked her watch. Time to go. Her only hope was that her sister was on schedule. After all, she didn't particularly relish the idea of waiting down the road from Fort Truman in hopes that her sister would show up.
Lois crouched down beside the building, wishing the sun wasn't quite so bright this afternoon. Still, the afternoon shadows appeared to be providing her with some cover beside this building.
She could tell that security at the front entrance of the military post had been doubled. There was no way that she was going to be able to bluff her way out. On the other hand, she doubted that they would shoot if she were to make a run for it. Trask might, of course. But then Trask wasn't there. At least, she didn't think he was. She hadn't been able to get a look at his face. But no one matching his build, hair color and rank appeared to be present. So if she timed this just right, maybe there was a chance that she could get out of this.
She checked her watch again as the final seconds ticked off. She hoped her sister hadn't been delayed somehow — by a wayward flock of wild geese perhaps? This adventure was also dependant on whether her estimations of the time it would take her sister to drive to the base were correct.
Time. Taking a deep breath, she began the final run towards the front entrance to the base. Fortunately, although the number of men at the entrance had increased, the only barrier was still the pole that went across the road. She kept her eyes focused on the road on the other side of the barrier as she put all of her strength into her running. She could hear voices shouting in the background. In her peripheral vision, she could see men running in her direction.
The pole crossing the road continued to get larger. Only a few more yards now. She felt a hand grasp onto the shoulder of her uniform. She refused to slow her pace, feeling a little like a football player trying to run through a tackle. The material at her shoulder pulled tight, she put her arms back and continued racing forward. She felt the material go tighter still until, suddenly and unexpectedly, the buttons on the poorly made uniform ripped open and the shirt pulled off her body, leaving only the low cut black shirt she had used to flag down the man with the jeep earlier.
Her run continued. She jumped the pole and a white Jeep Cherokee slammed to a halt only a few feet in front of her. She didn't look back as she tore open the door and threw herself across the back seat.
"Go!" she yelled without pulling the door closed.
Lucy didn't hesitate. She hit the gas, sending Lois further into the seat and closing the jeep door. Lois closed her eyes and sighed as the jeep picked up speed, taking her and her sister further away from the angry voices.
Lucy didn't give her sister more than a moment to recover before beginning the inquisition. "Did you get it?"
"Well? Is he alive?"
"I haven't had a chance to look. But…" Lois reached down and pulled out the file which she had taken care to ensure was not only tucked safely in her army top, but was being held in place by her black shirt, her belt and even by her bra. She shoved it between the seats so that Lucy could clearly see the brown manilla file with 'SECRET GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS — EYES ONLY' written on it.
"Great," muttered Lucy. "Not only are we guilty of breaking and entering. But now you've added theft of classified documents to the list."
Lois chucked in satisfaction.
"Does anyone know it was you?" Lucy continued.
"Na. The car wasn't rented in my name. The kid who stopped, allowing me to… borrow his jeep, doesn't know my name. And the men who were chasing me don't know my name."
"So unless they got the license plate number…"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Oh, right. I forgot to mention. I… borrowed someone's license plates. I need to return them."
Lucy groaned. "What about the car rental? Surely they have your name."
"And how did you accomplish that? Or wait! Do I want to know?"
"Probably not. But during the trip I made to see Billy Ink- Fingers, I sort of picked up some other identity documents. That's what the rental company was shown."
"And fraud," Lucy muttered.
"You can be such a kill-joy. Did you know that? When did that happen? I thought my sister was more fun than this. It was that 'becoming a lawyer thing' wasn't it? What you call 'breaking and entering,' I call… snooping. What you call 'fraud,' I call pretending. It's all a matter of perspective."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "So where to?"
"My place. I'm dying to take a look at this file. I've got a really good feeling about this. I think we're only hours away from finding my Clark."
"Since when did he become 'your Clark?'"
Lois didn't respond.
"Well?" demanded Trask when his second in command entered his office.
"The plates on the jeep were stolen," Major Edward Dawson responded. "So no indication of who broke onto the base from that."
"And the rental car?"
"There were no prints inside the car. The woman must have been wearing gloves. And the identity documents used to rent the car were phoney."
"So we have no idea who was here?"
"Not exactly. I got the rental agreement."
"Reporter for the Daily Planet? That Lois Lane?"
Lois' eyes closed as her head sank into her hands. Dead. How was that possible? She had been so certain that he was alive. There wasn't exactly anything definitive that she could put her finger on as the reason for her belief. It was more a… feeling than anything else.
Not that she usually believed in feelings. In fact, until this moment she would have denied that her intellect was in any way being affected by her feelings in this case. But the documents she had found seemed pretty definitive. This universe's Clark Kent… her Clark Kent was dead.
Apparently, Jason Trask and some others, under the orders of a General George Thompson, had gone to Smallville to check out a meteor find, as a result of Wayne Irig sending a piece of an unknown crystal to Luthor Labs. They had found a space ship which would hold a creature no larger than a human infant. As a result, they had become convinced that an alien could be found in that small, backwoods community known as Smallville.
After learning about the green crystal, Trask didn't take long to come to the conclusion that the Kent child, a child who had come from nowhere at the time of a meteor shower in 1966, was the alien. His belief had been reinforced by the reaction the creature had to the green crystal. As a result, they had approached the Kents with the intention of taking the alien for study and, eventually, dissection. What they hadn't anticipated was the ferociousness with which the Kents had chosen to protect the 'child' — even when confronted with the knowledge that the 'child' they were hiding was actually the frontrunner of an alien invasion, sent to grow up and blend in on Earth in order to prepare it to lead an invading alien force.
Shots had been fired and both Martha and Jonathan had been killed. The child had been captured and the fire had been started with the express purpose of covering up the crime. Unfortunately, Trask and his men hadn't exactly been experts at making a fire appear accidental. They had removed the bullets which had killed the Kents — to ensure that they would not be found — but had then proceeded to use gasoline to start the fire.
Then the unexpected had happened. The alien, even though weakened by the green meteor they had discovered, had dashed into his house apparently in the hopes of saving the humans who had given it aide and comfort — and never came out.
Trask and his men had watched from the surrounding fields as the Smallville volunteer firefighters had arrived at the scene. As a result, they had seen the entire building burn to the ground. It wasn't until the firefighters had left that Trask and his men had again approached — only to discover that the fire had consumed everything — the house, the furniture, the humans and the alien.
They had taken the meteor — in order to ensure that they had a weapon when the masses followed the alien later. But otherwise, their only remaining option had been to sweep the case under the carpet. That had taken a little finesse. But it had worked. No one had questioned the involvement of the FBI. No one had questioned the conclusion that the perpetrators were drifters who would likely never be caught. In point of fact, no investigation had ever been done. All the evidence sent by the Smallville Sheriff's office had been destroyed. And all inquiries about the case had been directed to Bureau 39 — and subsequently buried.
Lois had cringed every time she had come across words like 'creature,' 'it,' and 'alien.' But she had nearly broken down when she had realized that the papers were proof of Clark's death.
"I'm so sorry, Lo," came Lucy's voice as she sat down next to Lois and handed her a glass of brandy.
Lois looked at the brandy for a moment before downing the entire contents of the glass.
"I know how much you wanted him to be alive."
Lois looked at her sister and half attempted at a smile. When the effort failed, she turned her eyes back to her empty glass — as if staring at it would give her something to focus on other than the deep, cutting pain inside.
"Look, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to turn in," said Lois.
"That's probably a good idea."
Still, Lois continued to sit there, staring silently into her empty glass. Where did all this pain come from? How could she be hurting so deeply over the death of a man she had never met? For all she knew, he was nothing like the Clark Kent from the other universe. How could he be? Even if he had survived, been captured by Trask, the experience would have forever scarred him. She shook her head slightly. Still… what she wouldn't give to look in his eyes just once.
"I'm going to bed," said Lois again, this time rising to her feet and slowly making her way towards her bedroom, each step feeling as if she were trying to climb Mount Everest. She stumbled slightly and suddenly, her sister was there, helping her, steadying her. Loving hands pulled back the covers on the bed and it wasn't long before Lois felt her clothes being gently removed and being settled in bed. The blissful darkness came almost immediately.
Dawson handed the address to his two men.
"What do we do if the broad tries to stop us?" asked Parker.
"Whatever is necessary. Just make sure you don't kill her. Colonel Trask doesn't want the cops probing around into her murder. She's too high profile — what with being a reporter and the 'widow' of Lex Luthor."
"But roughing her up a little is all right?" asked Freddy.
"Just get the file," Dawson growled before turning and leaving the room.
"Well, pal, up for a little midnight snooping in the apartment of a beautiful woman?"
"Only if I get first dibs on her underwear drawer."
"Fine. But I get first dibs on the woman," Parker responded, giving a gesture that clearly communicated his attention. "After all, Dawson did say we could rough her up a little."
Freddy laughed, nodding vigorously. It was good to have fun with one's job.
Lucy's hand hovered over the phone. The information Lois had managed to obtain was definitely damning. There were incriminating, hand-written or signed documents linking George Thompson, Jason Trask and a number of other individuals to the murder of Jonathan, Martha and Clark Kent. There was also enough in that file to justify a congressional investigation into the branch of the military known as Bureau 39.
Okay, so the FBI were involved. But exactly who was involved and what their role was, Lucy didn't know. But then she didn't need the FBI to follow up on this. She knew people in the Attorney General's office.
There was only one thing holding her back. Lois. She really should talk to Lois before making this call. She backed away from the phone. She would talk to Lois in the morning. There was no reason this call needed to be made tonight.
It was always safer to search an apartment when no one was there. On the other hand, it was much more exciting when a beautiful woman was inside who might wake up at any moment. With that in mind, Parker and Freddy made their way up the steps to Lois Lane's apartment.
The living room lights had gone out some time ago — indicating that the woman inside must have gone to bed. Dawson had told them she lived alone, so if the file they were looking for was in the living room, they should be able to be in and out before she even knew they were there. It got tricker if she had taken the file into her bedroom. On the other hand, 'tricky' merely meant 'more of a challenge.' And it wasn't as if either Parker and Freddy didn't know what to do with a beautiful woman — especially one who was fighting back.
Freddy removed a couple of small tools and knelt down in front of the door while Parker looked around, cautiously evaluating any threats from without. The only sound was when the small click announced that Freddy had managed to get the first lock on the door undone.
Lucy opened her eyes briefly. What was that clicking sound? Looking into the darkness, she dismissed the sound as a product of her half-asleep mind, rolled over and closed her eyes.
The door was soon unlocked. Very cautiously, Freddy turned the handle and both he and Parker stepped noiselessly into the apartment.
Trask waited impatiently to hear from his men. Getting up from behind his desk, he began to pace.
"How badly can that file hurt us?" came a voice from the doorway.
Spinning towards the voice, Trask looked at the man standing in the doorway.
"George," Trask said in acknowledgment of George Thompson's arrival at his office. "Don't worry. I've got two of my best men on it."
"That wasn't what I asked," Thompson growled. "How badly can it hurt us?"
"We'll get it back."
"What was it still doing in existence, anyway? I thought I told you quite some time ago to destroy everything we found in Smallville."
"We don't know when the rest of the creature's species will show up. For all we know, their life span might be a thousand years. It is critical that future generations have all of our information for when the invasion begins. We can't destroy it."
Thompson let out a slow breath. "Then how did you let it fall into the hands of that reporter?"
"Would you relax? We'll get it back."
Inspector Bill Henderson stepped cautiously into the apartment and looked around. The place looked as if it had been completely trashed, as if World War III had suddenly erupted in this small corner of the universe and demolished only one apartment — or more accurately, one room of one apartment. As far as he could tell from his position near the door, the bedroom looked fine.
"Anyone want to tell me exactly what happened here?" he asked.
Lois and Lucy looked at each other sheepishly.
"Do you mean, why my apartment is a mess? Well, that can be explained by my poor housekeeping techniques," said Lois. "Or are you referring to why there are two men tied up in the middle of my living room?" asked Lois. "That's simple. It's just the Lane sisters on the prowl again."
"Yes, Inspector," Lucy continued with a slight giggle, "this is just our idea of dating."
"Hmph," Henderson responded, stepping further into the room and taking a look at the two men lying unconscious on the floor. "Well, so much for questioning the suspects." He squatted down next to them and checked pulses.
"They'll be fine, Inspector," Lois said. "We never kill our dates. Just maim them a bit."
There was another chuckle from Lucy.
"Okay, if you two are done with feeling pleased with yourselves, how about some straight answers?"
"Sorry, Inspector," said Lucy. "It's my sister's fault. She seemed to bring out the worst in me. These two men broke into her apartment while we were sleeping."
"Well, our dad always insisted that his daughters know self defense," Lois said.
"Smart man, your dad. So you two went from fully asleep to fighting these two and winning?"
"It wasn't much of a fight," Lois responded. "In case you didn't know this, Henderson, men have a weak spot. We just…" Lois began, starting to raise her knee in explanation.
"…took advantage of it," Lucy completed, giving Lois a swat.
"A couple of well placed hand movements more and…" Lois pointed to the two unconscious men on the floor. "So we tied them up and called you."
"Any idea if they were after anything in particular? Or was this just a random break and enter?"
Lucy looked over at Lois. This was her decision. After all, Lucy had no idea whether Henderson could be trusted — given the apparent government involvement in the Kent murders. Only Lois could answer the question of how much information to give Henderson.
"I suspect they were after this," Lois said without hesitation, walking over to the kitchen table where the file was lying. She picked it up and handed it to Henderson.
"And what's this?"
Lois and Lucy shared a look before Lois gestured Henderson to take a seat. This was going to take some time. Lucy let Lois take the lead. After all, there were certain… elements to the story which were probably best left out. Bill Henderson didn't appear to be the type to be overly impressed by alternate universes or flying aliens. On the other hand, the look on his face as Lois filled him in on what the file proved told Lucy that he was the type to be very interested in an unsolved triple homicide.
"So you think the Kents were killed because these deranged alien hunters, authorized by the government, thought that this family were aliens?" asked Henderson in disbelief when Lois had finished her explanation.
"Not the entire family. They only thought the child was an alien. But yes. That's why they did it. And that file proves it."
"Wow!" Henderson said, looking at the file. "I guess these guys were real nuts. Anyway, can I take this?" asked Henderson, indicating the file. "It seems that they know you have it. If it is as damaging as you say, they will try again. I'd rather not have the evidence here. In fact, I suggest that the two of you find other accommodations for the next couple of days."
"I think we'll be fine…"
"I think that's a good idea, Inspector," Lucy interrupted, giving her sister a silencing glare. "If you need to get hold of us, we'll be spending the rest of the night at the Lexor."
"I do need a copy of that file, Bill," said Lois. "Catherine would kill me if I let a story like this just go."
Henderson smiled and then nodded. "I thought you were off work for a while. How did you stumble across this?"
"It's a long story."
"It always is," Henderson responded. He glanced down at the file. "Well, however you happened across it, thanks. It's out of my jurisdiction, but I'll be sure the original falls into the right hands." He rose to his feet.
"Thank you, Inspector. And could you give the Sheriff in Smallville a call? She was incredibly helpful in uncovering this. I'm sure she'd appreciate being kept in the loop," Lois concluded, rising to her feet as well.
The bed seemed incredibly empty. Lois curled up at the side and buried her face in the pillow, allowing it to sop up the silent tears which seemed to go on forever. He was dead. In fact, at this moment Henderson was probably obtaining arrest warrants. Murder in the first in the deaths of Martha, Jonathan and… Clark Kent. A small sob rose in the back of Lois' throat. Closing her tear-filled eyes, she buried her head even deeper in the pillow — determined to lose herself to the oblivion of sleep.
"Hey, what's wrong?" came a strong, gentle voice from the doorway.
She glanced up just in time to see him take a seat on the bed beside her.
"You're alive," she breathed.
He smiled. His beautiful, devastating smile.
"I thought…" Her voice trailed off.
"I'm not that easy to kill," came the response.
Suddenly, his large hands were on her face. With the pads of his thumbs, he gently brushed away her tears before lowering his head to hers.
The kiss was soft, a gentle brushing of lips against each other — reassurance that he was indeed alive. He pulled back slightly to look again in her eyes. Her hand came up and buried itself in the hair on the back of his head in order to pull him to her again.
This second kiss was unlike the first, full of unspoken passion. Her tongue brushed not so gently against his lower lip, demanding a response. He gave it, opening his mouth to allow her to taste him.
She moaned. God, she loved the way he tasted. But this time, his taste was more intoxicating than she remembered. She had thought him dead. The fact that he wasn't, that he was safely in her arms, was like an aphrodisiac. Her free hand began fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, undoing them so that she could slip her hand inside. He groaned when her hand conformed itself to the shape of his chest, gliding easily over the smooth planes. He was hard and yet yielding. She could feel his muscles flex under the gentle pressure of her hand. She traced her hand over every muscle before allowing her second hand to join the first in running over his stomach.
"God, Lois," he breathed, breaking contact with her lips and sucking in air — although she had the distinct impression that a lack of air was not what was making him breathless.
She slipped her arms around him, underneath the confines of his shirt, and pulled him to her. He came willingly, conforming his body to fit with hers. She could feel the warmth of his chest through the thin confines of her sleep apparel, enforcing in her mind the simple truth that he wasn't dead. He was here — with her. He was exactly where he should be. Finally.
It felt as if she had waited her whole life for this moment. It was right. She knew it. Her hands began to move across his back as she sought to know every inch of his body by touch. His head dropped into the sensitive skin of her throat and he began nibbling. Her entire focus became centered on the activities of his lips on her neck. She tilted her head to the side and whimpered, silently begging him to continue, to explore further, to persist in provoking these endless sparks of electricity in her body. A series of soft moans escaped from the back of her throat as he continued to find new territory to investigate.
She felt his hands begin maneuvering their way under the edge of the t-shirt she was wearing as he sought greater contact with her body. The broken whimper she gave in response seemed to further encourage his actions and his hands became bolder as he sought to know every inch of her.
"Yes," was her single breathed word before all was lost in the tidal waves of sensations poured on top of sensations which flooded through her body, wiping all further conscious thought from her mind as she allowed herself to simply feel and respond to his increasingly intimate caresses and demands of his body, and her own.
After that, images faded to be replaced by flashes and feelings.
Templeton stared for a long, silent moment at the man in front of him.
"Smallville, Kansas?" he repeated, just to be sure that he had heard the man correctly.
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded. "My source overheard a conversation between Ms. Lane and her boss."
"Do you know why?"
"No, sir. I could put some resources on into finding out, though, if you like."
Templeton leaned back in his chair and considered the question. He supposed it was natural that Lois would decide to make a trip to Smallville. After all, Templeton didn't know exactly what the other universe's Clark Kent had told her about where he came from. And besides, even if she did go to Smallville, it wasn't as if she was going to be able to find Clark Kent. Templeton had been very careful in his research before deciding to settle in this universe. There was absolutely no doubt that this universe's Clark Kent was dead.
When he had arrived in this dimension, Templeton had even gone into the future to make sure that there was no mention of Clark Kent in the history books. And given the fact that he was absent even there, Templeton had no doubts about Lois Lane's inability to find her 'hero' in Smallville. And if she were in Smallville as Nigel was indicating, she wasn't bothering him. So Smallville was as good a place for her as anywhere.
"Na. It doesn't matter. What matters is that she's not in Metropolis. I do want to know, however, the moment she returns to the Daily Planet."
For the first time since the Clark Kent she had known had left this dimension, Lois Lane didn't wake up in the morning feeling lost. She felt… content. For the first time, her dream had left her feeling complete. Of course, it was also the first time that their relationship had actually been consummated before she had woken up. Not that she could remember any of the details, of course, but the feeling of contentment was still there. She purred and slowly stretched, looking around the unfamiliar room. The Lexor. They had come to the Lexor. Right.
Just then, the door joining her room to that of her sister's opened.
"You awake," asked Lucy from the doorway.
"Yeah, sis. Just woke up."
"I was just going to order some breakfast. You up to having something to eat?"
Lois sat up in bed and stretched again. "I'm more than up to it. I need something to eat. And then I've got to think about what my next step is."
"For finding Clark."
"Lo, Clark's dead."
"Why do you think that? Because of some file written by a bunch of xenophobic Nazis? Pfff. He's alive, Luc. I know it. I just need to figure out where he went after his parents were killed."
Lucy stared at her in disbelief.
"So what are you waiting for? Go order us some breakfast. I've got to start figuring out my next move."
Lois was scribbling on the pad of paper in front of her as she took a bite of the bagel. If Clark had somehow escaped Trask, where would he have gone? He was only eleven. That meant, according to the other Clark, that he didn't have all his powers yet. And if the other Clark were anything to go by, it seemed that Clark's thinking processes were much like those of any human — whether that meant that kryptonians and humans thought the same or that being raised by humans made Clark that way, she didn't know. However, what that did mean was that she had to think like an eleven year old boy. Since she had never been an eleven year old boy, that did present something of a challenge. What did an eleven year old boy think about? Sex? No, he would have been too young for that — wouldn't he? Besides, even if he did think about sex, how did that help her find Clark?
"Where would an eleven year old boy go if his parents were killed?" Lois asked, looking up at her sister.
"Lo, this is crazy. He's dead. You've got to come to terms with…"
"No! Lucy, he's not dead. You didn't feel it. My dream last night. It was so real. I woke up just knowing that…"
"Would you listen to yourself? Have you lost your mind? It's been twenty years. He would have let someone know…"
"Not if he saw his parents killed because they were trying to 'protect the alien'." The last phrase was emphasized by Lois cocking her fingers. "He might very well have decided that he couldn't risk any other lives."
"He was eleven. Do you really think he would have been worrying about his neighbors' safety?"
"Okay, then. How about this? He didn't know who he could trust. He just wanted to get as far away as possible. So he…"
"I don't believe this. I was hoping you were right when you went to Bureau 39. But he's dead, Lois. I know you think he's the great 'love of your life,' but…"
"This isn't about me." Lois let out a breath. "Okay, so maybe it is a little. I just need to know. One way or the other. Maybe I'll meet him and think he's the biggest jerk who ever walked the face of the earth. Or maybe I'll find out that he's some criminal or…" Her voice trailed off.
"What?" asked Lucy.
"He was a boy. He couldn't get a job. He would have had to steal food to live — wouldn't he? He might have a criminal record. Even if he doesn't, his fingerprints might have turned up somewhere. A driver's license. The army. Somewhere."
"His fingerprints. If he and the other Clark are exact duplicates physically, and judging by what he knew about my body, I'm guessing they are…"
"You never mentioned this."
"It's not important. The important thing is that they probably have the same fingerprints."
Lucy leaned back in her chair and looked at her sister as if she had lost her mind. "It's been… What, three weeks since he went back to his universe. Where are you going to get his prints?"
Damn! Good question. It wasn't as if she had saved his wine glass on the off chance that she might need his prints. She'd washed the glass. She'd remade the sofa bed — her sister had even spent a few nights there. Anything he would have touched at the Daily Planet would have been touched by others a hundred times since then.
"Look, Lo, I've tried to support you in this. I've been understanding, I've even done things which could get me disbarred. But it's over. I know you don't want to accept this, but Clark Kent is dead. You've got to let this go."
"He's not dead. I told you my dream…"
"Are you even listening to yourself? A dream? What's next? Cutting open lambs and reading entrails? This isn't the Lois Lane I know. The one I know is a pro at finding the facts — at keeping her emotions, her feelings and most especially her dreams out of her investigations. I can't keep supporting this."
"If I could prove that he is still alive…"
"And how are you going to do that?"
"If I could, would you support my continuing the search?"
Lucy hesitated. Even if Clark Kent were alive, finding him might take years. Did she really want to encourage her sister to throw her life away chasing this shadow?
"Even if he is alive, how would you go about finding him? One person on a planet of six billion — or is that seven billion? In any event, if what you told me is true, if he really can fly, he could be absolutely anywhere.
"And what are you going to do? Do you really think you will be able to hold down your job at the Planet and conduct a world wide search for a man who doesn't want to be found? Where are you going to get the funds for this? It's not exactly as if you've been able to save a lot of money during your years as a reporter."
Lois listened to her sister's comments. She raised some good points. A man who could fly could be anywhere on the planet. He might not have been able to fly when he was eleven, but now… He could be living in seclusion in the middle of the Sahara desert. There was no way, even if she could discover where he was living that she would ever be able to afford to travel to most of these places. Hell, she'd just managed to save enough last year for a trip to Tahiti. She was currently working on saving enough for a trip to Hawaii.
"Lex!" Lois exclaimed.
"The two hundred million dollars."
"I thought you weren't prepared to take any of that money."
"Well, I am entitled to change my mind, aren't I? Hey, you're the one who's been pushing me to reconsider."
"To make your life a little easier. Or to decide what charities to give it to. Not to finance some wild goose chase all over the world."
"I thought it was my money — to do with whatever I see fit."
"It is. I just…" Lucy's voice trailed off.
"Then if I can prove to you that he's alive, will you support me?"
Lucy let out a slow breath, informing Lois that she had outmaneuvered her sister.
"To a point," Lucy finally responded.
Lois jumped to her feet. "Well, come on. We need to get dressed. I know where we can find his fingerprints."
"My Pulitzer. Clark touched my Pulitzer. I knew that award would come in handy someday."
Lois was just finishing up in the bathroom when the phone in her room began to ring. "Could you get that, Luc?" she yelled through the door.
"Got it," came her sister's response. There was a moment of silence before Lucy spoke again. "Lo, it's for you. Inspector Henderson."
"Great! Just the man I needed to talk to," Lois responded, pulling open the bathroom door and making her way to the phone.
"Bill?" she asked when she took the phone from her sister. "Why are you calling at this time in the morning?"
"I thought I should let you know that arrest warrants have been issued and that most of the culprits are in custody."
"Most? Who escaped?"
"We can't find Jason Trask or his second in command, Edward Dawson. But I don't want you to worry, we expect to have them in custody by the end of the day."
"That's great, but…"
"It's just… Well, I need a favor."
"A favor? From me?"
"Is this a personal favor or a work type favor?"
"So I take it you want this off the record. Quite a switch coming from a reporter."
Lois let out a slow breath.
"Are you okay, Lois?" came the suddenly serious voice on the other end of the line, as if taken back that she hadn't responded with some smart-ass come-back.
"Yeah. I just need some help."
"What do you need?"
"If I bring something to you, can you have it dusted for prints and then trace the prints for me?"
There was a moment of silence, during which Lois held her breath.
"Bring it by," Henderson finally said.
"Thanks, Bill," Lois responded, unable to believe quite how much of a relief it was having him agree to do this. She supposed she could always hire a firm. But she trusted Bill. He and Catherine had been good friends to her for years. If there was anyone she could trust as much as her sister, it was them.
Feeling re-energized, she headed back to the bathroom to finish getting ready. Time to prove that Clark was still alive.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror. "Please let him be alive," she breathed, voicing the fear she hadn't admitted to her sister.
"Would you sit down?" demanded Lucy. "You're beginning to make me nervous."
"I'm okay. I'm just wondering what is taking so long," Lois responded, stopping only long enough to respond to her sister before starting her restless pacing in Bill Henderson's office again. The Inspector had left them there over an hour earlier. Since that time, Lois had fingered every picture and nick-nack the inspector had in his office.
"Well, first they had to dust the frame for prints," Lucy continued. "Then I suspect they have to run them through a number of different fingerprint databases. After all, I doubt there is some sort of central fingerprinting database. Then…"
Lucy's voice trailed off when Bill Henderson opened the door and stepped into the office.
"Well?" asked Lois, her heart in her throat.
"I'm not sure why you want this, but…"
Lois didn't wait. Seeing the handwritten paper in his hands, she grabbed it, scanning the document for herself. After a moment, she closed her eyes and seemed to recommence breathing.
"Charles King. Born February 28, 1966. It's him," Lois said, finally seeming to recover the power of speech. She looked over at Lucy. "He's alive."
"What exactly does it say?" asked Lucy.
Henderson was the one who answered. "The prints were traced to the youth record for a Charles King. I'm not sure if it's what you want, however. It is between fifteen and twenty years old."
"August of 1978 was the first conviction — which suggests he was actually charged sometime before then. His last conviction was in May 1983 — when he was seventeen."
"Where is the record from?" asked Lucy, rising to her feet.
"Rapid City, South Dakota. I'm sorry it took so long. But youth records are sealed. Fortunately, I have a friend who works for the Rapid City Police Department. Although they can seal records, they can't seal police officers' memories. So I called my friend and he did some digging. That's what he came up with," he concluded, pointing to the handwritten criminal record Lois had swiped from him.
"He is still asking around, trying to get more information surrounding this kid's record. If you look at what he was able to tell me, you'll notice that Charles King has been convicted of theft, trespassing and breaking and entering. There are also numerous convictions for breaching probation orders and failing to appear for court. I expect he'll have more details for me in a couple more minutes."
"Is there anything else, Inspector?" asked Lucy.
"Yeah. When King was picked up the first time, he was unfathomably thin. Child services were contacted. They tried to find out who his parents were. He refused to tell them — even though they held him in custody for almost a month trying to get that information from him. He would only tell them that his name was Charles King and that he was born on February 28, 1966.
"They searched for quite some time for his parents. But they couldn't even find anything in missing persons. There was no birth certificate or anything else identifying him as Charles King. But eventually, they had no choice but to accept him by that name.
"Given his age, child services put him in foster care. He stayed only long enough to gain a little weight before running away.
"That pattern continued for years. He would be picked up on some charge, sentenced, put in foster care and then, after a few weeks, disappear again — until the next time he was picked up on some new charge. Is this what you wanted to know?"
"Yes," Lois breathed. "Thanks, Bill."
"Just keep in mind that this is a youth record. It can't be published. In fact, I shouldn't be providing it to you in the first place."
"Don't worry. I needed this for personal reasons."
"Well, if you want to wait around a little while longer, I might have more information on those charges."
"I don't think that's necessary," said Lois.
"How's that?" asked Lucy.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it. He would be charged with theft when he stole clothing or food. He would get charged with breaking and entering or trespass when he was looking for a place to sleep. He couldn't keep a court date because he'd run away from another foster home. And he broke probation orders for the same reason."
Lucy and Henderson shared a look.
"I guess that's why she's the reporter," said Lucy, provoking a chuckle from Henderson.
"Thanks, Bill," Lois said again, before turning and making her way to the door. Lucy followed.
Both women had just exited the station when Lois' legs seemed to give out beneath her. Lucy grabbed her sister as she fought to regain her footing.
"He's alive," Lois breathed. When Lucy nodded, Lois' eyes filled up with tears.
"Hey, what's this? I thought you already knew he was alive. Isn't that what you've been telling me all morning?"
"I lied," Lois responded, her voice totally unrepentant. "I guess I just needed to keep believing it long enough to find the proof." She gave her sister a slightly wobbly if entirely genuine smile.
"Do you want something to drink?"
The question snapped Lois out of her thoughts. She focused on the woman in the airline uniform, standing by the cart in the aisle next to her.
"Do you have diet cream soda?" she asked.
"No. We do have diet coke."
"Of course you have diet coke. Everyone has diet coke. Doesn't anyone have any imagination anymore? That's why the coke company is so big. They've cornered the market simply because no one makes anything else available. It's not a free market system; it's a corner the market system. What do they do — give you kick backs if you only make diet coke available? Surely…" Her voice trailed off when she noticed the stewardess' eyebrows go up. She glanced around to see that everyone nearby was now looking at her. "Diet coke sounds good."
Lois' thoughts drifted as the stewardess opened a can of diet coke and, after adding a couple of ice cubes, began pouring the liquid into a plastic glass. It had taken Lois a few days to get out of Metropolis to commence her search. Finding out that Clark was alive had been wonderful. But it was only the beginning. And before she could dedicate herself to the search to find him, there had been a number of details she'd had to address.
"Wait a minute," said Lois when the stewardess handed her the glass of coke and turned her attention to the next passenger.
"Is there a problem?" asked the stewardess.
"I'm just wondering where my peanuts are."
The stewardess smiled and handed Lois a small packet of peanuts.
"Thanks," Lois responded, suppressing her immediate desire to question the flight attendant about why packets of peanuts were so small on airplanes. Instead, Lois ripped open the package and reached in. Withdrawing a single peanut, she popped it in her mouth as her thoughts drifted once again.
The hardest thing she'd done during the past few days was putting Lucy on the plane to Washington. Lois knew her sister had been torn about leaving, but she'd only been able to take a week off work.
Lois wasn't entirely certain why sending Lucy home had been so painful. Maybe it was because Lucy had been such a wonderful support over the past week. Maybe it was because she felt closer to her sister now than she ever had before. Whatever it was, being in the airport today had brought that sense of loss to the forefront of Lois' mind.
They had been sitting in one of the restaurants at the airport drinking coffee. Lois kept shifting around in her chair, unable to let go of something which had been bothering her. When she had told Lucy everything that the other Clark had told her, she had thought this universe's Clark Kent was dead. Now that they knew that he wasn't… It wasn't that she regretted her decision to tell Lucy. She had desperately needed the support her sister had given her. In fact, she wasn't entirely sure she would have made it through the week without Lucy. But it was critical that no one else discovered what they knew about Clark.
Lois had stirred her coffee as she'd thought about how to bring up the subject with Lucy without making it sound as if she didn't trust her sister.
"Okay, what is it?" Lucy had finally asked.
"Nothing." It had been an automatic response.
"Okay, it's just that…" Lois fumbled for a few seconds before continuing. "Now that we know that Clark is alive… I assume you know how important it is that no one know about his… ancestors."
"You mean that he's from…" Lucy's voice dropped to not much more than a breath. "…another planet."
"Among other things. I mean, when I find him, I don't want anyone to know who he is or what he can do. It's the only way he can continue to have a life."
"A life with you?" Lucy asked before taking a sip of her coffee, watching Lois over the rim of her cup.
"Not necessarily," Lois responded immediately. "This search isn't about me. It's an act of… civic responsibility."
Lucy almost choked on her coffee. "Civic responsibility?" she asked once she finally recovered.
"Look, after what I found out from the other Clark, I realized that the world would be a better place if it had a Superman."
"And your finding this universe's Clark is going to make him realize that he needs to become Superman?"
"Well… yeah. I think he just needs someone who has an idea about how he can use his powers to help others without jeopardizing his own life."
Lucy had stared silently at Lois for a long moment.
"I won't tell anyone about Clark, Lo. I know how people are. They don't always respond in the most positive fashion to anyone who is different. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize this man's life. But, Lois… are you sure you want to do this?"
"You're looking for a man who probably doesn't want to be found. I know you think he's this beacon of virtue. But think about that for a minute? He probably saw his parents killed in front of him. He spent his teenage years being bounced from foster home to foster home, stealing to live when he was between homes. How would that affect a child?
"Besides, this could be a hell of a long search. You're walking away from everything that has ever mattered to you so that you can search for a man you've never even met. And for all you know, he could be living on the other side of the world. I just hate to see you throwing your life away."
Lois had felt a flash of anger towards her sister. "I'm not throwing my life away. And even if I am, it's my life. I can do with it whatever I want. It's not as if I'm hurting anyone. And you of all people should understand how much good this man could do for our world."
"I just meant…"
"I know what you meant," Lois continued, her tone instantly apologetic as the anger passed as quickly as it had come. "I'm sorry, Luc. I do know what you meant. But I have to do this."
Lucy looked at her for a long moment before nodding.
"And I really have appreciated your help," Lois continued, a lump forming in her throat. "I'm not sure I would have gotten through this past week without you."
Lucy's smile told Lois that all was forgiven. "Hey, it's been fun. After all, when am I going to have the chance to help my sister break into a fortified military base again."
Lois smiled even now as she thought back. She really did have an incredible sister.
Of course, taking Lucy to the airport hadn't been the only thing she'd had to do over the past few days. Lois had contacted Sheldon Bender and, much to his disappointment, informed him that she had changed her mind. She'd gone to the bank and signed the necessary documents to claim her two hundred million dollars. It had been a heady experience. It was so much money that it hardly seemed real.
Lois chuckled slightly, ignoring the strange look the passenger next to her was giving her, as she thought back to the trip to the bank. Bank personnel had insisted on sitting down with Lois to discuss investment strategies and other such nonsense. Well, not nonsense exactly, but something Lois had no time or inclination to consider at the moment.
Still, there had been moments when she'd had doubts about whether she was doing the right thing in accepting the money. But there was no choice. Lucy was right. She didn't have enough money to find Clark without Lex's gift. It briefly crossed her mind to wonder what Lex had in mind when he'd opened the account. Maybe he'd been trying to hide money from the Internal Revenue Service. Not that she was likely to ever know now. No matter. She'd use it to find Clark. Charity would get whatever remained.
After her trip to the bank, she'd gone to the Daily Planet to talk to Catherine. It was a meeting she had not looked forward to. Before she left to go to Smallville, she had told Catherine that she needed a few days. This time she wanted an unpaid leave of absence — for how long, she had no idea.
Taking a deep breath, Lois thought back to that meeting. Cath might be her friend. But Catherine was her boss. And although her friend had welcomed her into her office, her boss had responded to her request.
She had managed to sneak into the Daily Planet virtually unnoticed. When Cath looked up from her desk to see Lois standing in her doorway, her face broke into a smile.
"Hey, kid. You look better. I take it your trip was a success?"
"Yeah. I'm glad I went. It was exactly what I needed to do," Lois responded.
Catherine had risen from behind her desk and come around to sit on the corner. "So when you coming back to work?"
Catherine had been absolutely silent. The answer was not what she had been expecting.
"At least, not for a while," Lois went on to clarify.
Catherine had risen from the corner of the desk and walked to the window to stare out into the newsroom. The silence dragged on until Lois had been unable to stand it anymore.
"Look, I'm not giving you my resignation," Lois began.
"No? That's certainly not how it sounds to me," Catherine responded, finally turning around to face Lois.
"I just want a leave of absence."
"For how long?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know."
"Look, I'm not asking to be paid. I just need the time off."
Lois had shifted nervously. This was the question she had been dreading. She'd spent the good part of an hour that morning trying to think up an answer that Cath would buy. And all she'd been able to come up with was…
"I can't tell you."
Catherine gave a wry laugh. "Let me get this straight. You want a leave of absence. You can't tell me how long you'll be gone or why you need it. I can't agree. If you leave, I need to find another top notch reporter to fill your spot. I can't just hold your job open indefinitely. Either you work here or you don't. It's as simple as that."
Lois bristled. "Then I guess I don't work here."
There had been a tense moment of silence while the two women glared at each other. Catherine was the one to break eye contact first.
"I take it you accepted Lex Luthor's money," Catherine finally said.
The comment had struck Lois as an accusation. Taking the money had left Lois with a number of ethical quandaries as it was. Having Catherine throw it back in her face was like throwing a lit match on gasoline.
"So what if I did?" Lois responded. Setting her briefcase down, she opened it and took out the story she'd written about the Kent murders. Walking over to Catherine's desk, she slapped it down. "I guess that's my final story," she said, turning and heading for the door.
"Lois, wait," Catherine responded immediately.
Lois had stopped and turned around to look at her boss. She crossed her arms across her chest as she waited for Catherine's next attack. But it never came. Instead, Catherine walked to the door to the office and closed it. She gestured for Lois to take a seat. Lois stood defiantly before letting out a breath and accepting a chair. Catherine walked back behind her desk and took a seat. She picked up the story Lois had given her and perused it quickly.
Lois let out a slow breath as she thought about that story now. She had seriously struggled about whether to submit it. After all, now that she knew that Clark was alive, she wasn't exactly comfortable publicizing Bureau 39's belief that Clark was an alien. The problem was that now that the charges had been laid, it was only a matter of time before the story broke anyway. At least by breaking the story herself, she had been able to emphasize Trask and his cohort's insanity.
It had taken her a long time to write the story — so desperate was she to get the emphasis right. By the time she submitted the story, she had changed every sentence at least once. After all, this was probably the most important story she had ever written. It had the power to destroy Clark's life if it wasn't composed just right. But she had finally been satisfied.
After Catherine had finished reading the story, she looked up at Lois. "So this is what Bill was hinting about the other night."
Catherine narrowed her eyes and studied Lois for a long moment before she'd spoken again. "There's no way I can talk you out of this?"
"No. I'm sorry, Cath. I know this puts you in a tight spot. But this is something I have to do."
Catherine nodded slowly. "Well, I guess the boys upstairs would rather have you coming back eventually then lose you to another paper."
Lois took another sip of her diet coke, emptying the glass, as she reflected on how grateful she was to Catherine for agreeing to the leave of absence. Not exactly that she'd been given a choice. Still, although Lois had been prepared to give her resignation, she was glad that Catherine had backed down. After all, the Daily Planet was the only paper she had ever wanted to work for.
Lois set the glass down and looked around. Some people were engrossed in books. Others were nodding off. Looking at her watch, Lois took note of the time. In another half hour or so her search for Clark Kent would begin. Rapid City. There might not be any record that Clark had been there since 1983. But it was the only lead she had. And she was determined to follow wherever it might take her.
She knew Lucy was worried about her determination to find Clark. Lois understood her sister's concern. And to tell the truth, Lois had serious reservations about her decision herself. But there was something inside her which couldn't let it go. She couldn't put into words why she felt this way. And there was a part of her that was reluctant to try.
She rebelled against the thought that she was pursuing this dimension's Clark Kent because she had fallen in love with the other Clark Kent. No. She wasn't that naive. After all, this dimension's Clark Kent might not be anything like the one from the other dimension. Besides, he was over thirty. What were the odds that he wouldn't already have a wife and perhaps even a family? No. What was pushing her was… something more. What, she wasn't sure. But it drove her, it consumed her and it had become, for all intents and purposes, the all absorbing motivation in her life. She had to find Clark Kent.
Lois stuffed her VISA back in her wallet and accepted the keys of the rental vehicle before turning towards the airport's exit. She was all set. She'd purchased a map and obtained the address of child services as well as a moderately priced motel in the same area. It crossed her mind that it would be easier taking a cab. But if she were going to do any real investigation, she was going to need her own transportation. Besides, if she could drive in Metropolis, she could drive anywhere. Right? Right.
As she made her way to her car, Lois wondered again exactly how she was going to get the information she needed from child services. After all, like youth records, child welfare records tended to be sealed. As a reporter, she had no right to that information.
Well, she supposed she'd try the direct approach first. At least it would give her a chance to learn the layout of the building. She could always make an… unofficial visit later tonight if necessary. But it was critical that she find out what homes Clark had been placed in when younger. After all, it was entirely possible that one of the people he had lived with would know where he was or what he was doing. Her job was to find that person and convince them to talk. Simple.
"She what?" asked Templeton in disbelief.
"Took an indefinite leave of absence from the paper," Nigel repeated.
Templeton leaned back in his chair. This was almost too good to be true. In fact, it was too good to be true. Lois Lane had, in essence, quit her job at the Daily Planet. So what was the catch? News this good had to have a catch.
"Is there anything else?" he asked, bracing himself to hear Nigel say that Lois had become the chief of police or something else equally damaging.
"Well, I've also heard through another source that she accepted a large sum of money from Mr. Luthor."
"Six months ago Mr. Luthor set up an account in Ms. Lane's name. It had two hundred million dollars in it. Perhaps Ms. Lane decided to take it easy now that she's rich."
"I could only be so lucky," Tempus muttered.
"What's that, sir?"
"Nothing. No. If Lois Lane took Luthor's money, there has to be a reason. I want to know that reason."
"By the way, Nigel, why would Luthor set up an account in Lois' name? He didn't seem like the type to want his wife to have that much independence."
"He wasn't, sir. He opened that account in case his own accounts were ever frozen. He never intended to tell Ms. Lane about it. He figured he'd worry about getting her to remove the money for him in the event that he ever needed it."
Templeton nodded. It was good thinking. Maybe he should do something similar. He almost laughed, wondering what Lois Lane would think if he died and she discovered that he had set up an account in her name. And, like Luthor, he could always 'persuade' Lois to help him access that account if it were ever necessary.
"Find out what she's up to, Nigel," Templeton continued, bringing his mind back to the subject at hand. "Lois Lane doesn't quit her job at the Daily Planet unless she has something else in mind. Find out what it is."
"Very good, sir."
Lois sank further into the shadows of a building across from the child services offices as the lights of a car approached. As she had suspected, help had not been forthcoming from the officials at the office. Of course, she had no intention of allowing that to stop her.
Once the car passed, she exited her hiding place and crossed the road, slipping in behind the building. It would probably be less obvious if she were to break in via a back door. There were too many lights out front. And given the traffic that continued to pass down the street, she was only asking to be caught if she tried to break in through the front door.
Making her way down the side of the building, she stayed in the shadows until she came to a door. Trying the doorknob, she discovered, as expected, that it was locked. She removed her lock-picking equipment and was soon making short order of the locks. Only a matter of minutes later she was inside the building.
As she closed the door behind her, her eyes were directed to a small flashing light near the door.
"Damn," she breathed.
The door was rigged with some kind of security device, and it had clearly taken note of her entrance. Well, there wasn't much she could do about that — except hurry, of course. Taking advantage of the night lights which created a half light in the hallway, she quickly made her way to the room she had earlier identified as the most likely spot for Clark's… Charles' file to be stored — the room for dead files.
Although the room was huge, it didn't take long for her to determine that the files were organized by name, making it easy enough to locate the appropriate filing cabinets. She had just begun searching the cabinets which contained the files for names starting with 'K' when she heard police alarms outside. She didn't even glance up from her task. She had to find the file for 'Kent.' No. She shook her head. She was looking for a file marked 'King.'
She resumed her task of finding the file. 'Kelly.' 'Kennedy.' 'Kilborn.' 'King.' Yes. She continued to search through a number of 'King' files until she found the appropriate one. She pulled out the file and opened it, glancing up briefly when she heard the distant echoes of footsteps which informed her that the police had likely entered the building.
Okay, so now what did she do? If she tried to make a run for it with the file, she stood the chance of being caught. If that were to happen, the file would be taken. She doubted they would give her a second chance to get the file. There was only one choice. She flipped open the file and began searching it.
Bertha and Franklin Fox. 555-1897. 239 Gertrude St. She closed her eyes and committed the information to memory. Then, looking back at the file, she found another name. Alma and Tom O'Sullivan. 555-8943. 1128 Princess Avenue.
She glanced up again when she heard the police officers getting closer. Did she have time for one more? She had been careful not to mention Charles King's name when she had visited the offices earlier in the day. Given her concern about protecting Clark's identity, she didn't particularly want anyone to know exactly what she was looking for unless absolutely necessary in order to assist in her search. As a result, she really didn't want to get caught with this file. She had two leads. Should she content herself with that or take a chance at finding more?
One more. Surely she had time for one more. Susan and Brian Lee. 555-4356. 28…
"Freeze!" a voice commanded from the doorway.
Lois stuffed the file back into the file cabinet and closed the door before raising her hands in the air.
"Turn around very slowly," the voice continued.
She did as instructed.
"Something I can do for you, officer?" she asked.
Lois paced in the cell at the police station, repeating the names, numbers and addresses of the people mentioned in Clark's file. She had been offered a chance to place a phone call, but declined. Her sister had just returned to Washington and Lois wasn't keen on hearing her sister's reaction to learning of her arrest.
She had to admit, she hated being arrested. She hated the search. She hated the smell of the cells. After all, this wasn't the first time Lois had found herself on the wrong side of the law. Yet the humiliation was never any easier to endure. The loss of her jewelry, identification, even her shoe laces left her feeling as if she'd been stripped of her humanity.
Of course, she still might need to call Lucy. But right now, she figured her best bet was to see if she could talk her way out of this. She wasn't entirely certain how she was going to accomplish that. But, as they said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
She turned towards the cell door when a noise alerted Lois to the presence of another person. A man with longish hair wearing a suit and cheap shoes was standing outside. He looked like he would be more comfortable hanging out at the beach than wearing a suit and standing outside a jail cell. In fact, if Lois asked to describe the man, she would probably have called him an aging hippy.
"Ms. Lane?" the man asked, looking from her to what she recognized as the Daily Planet press pass which they had taken from her when they confiscated all of her identification. It almost appeared as if he were seeking to be sure he was addressing the right person.
"Yes?" Lois answered.
"My name is Byron Rogers. I believe we have a mutual friend."
Lois made her way closer to the door. "And who might that be?"
"This doesn't make sense," said Jason Trask thoughtfully, as he folded the paper up and set it on the table in front of him.
"What's that, sir?" Edward Dawson responded.
"Lois Lane. She's down playing the story about the Kent murders — making it sound as if a few lunatics in some obscure government bureau had gone off the deep end."
Trask leaned back in his chair and stared at his fellow fugitive for a long moment. "Well, if she wanted to, she could be emphasizing government involvement or even the fact that the government has, for years, been concerned about alien invasion. That would make this a top rated story. It would be picked up by every news organization in the world. The way she's written it, I'd be surprised if any other news organizations even bother following up on it."
Dawson shrugged and sank down on a chair of his own. "Should we really be questioning a little good luck? After all, the fact that she isn't sensationalizing the story means that our picture won't be posted everywhere, making it easier for us to evade capture. I, for one, have no problem with that. Why would you?"
"Because it tells me she is up to something. There has to be a reason behind her emphasis."
"Maybe she just wants to keep the follow-up stories to herself."
"But what follow-up stories? What is she hiding? We have to find out what she's up to."
Dawson took a sip of coffee. "What would you have me do, sir?"
"What equipment did we bring with us from Fort Truman when we disappeared?"
"What are you looking for?"
"Surveillance equipment. I want to know what's going on with Lois Lane."
Lois took a seat in the comfortable office.
"So do you mind telling me what you were doing breaking into child services?" Rogers asked.
Lois let out a slow breath. "I was looking for something."
"Uh huh," Rogers responded. "Care to be more specific?"
"I take it that's a 'no,'" Rogers said.
"Sorry, Detective. I'd like to help you out, but it's personal."
"How personal will it be if you find yourself charged with breaking and entering?"
Lois shrugged again.
Rogers let out a breath and sank into the chair behind his desk. Picking up a pipe, he stuck the end in his mouth and took a long drag, although Lois noted that the pipe wasn't lit. There were a couple of long minutes of silence during which Lois fought the urge to squirm under the intense gaze of the man in front of her.
"So how do you know Bill Henderson?" Rogers finally asked.
"He's married to my boss."
"Uh, yes. I forgot. His wife is the editor of the Daily Planet." He studied Lois in silence for another long moment. "If I let you go, am I going to regret it?"
"You're going to let me go, Detective?" Lois asked in disbelief.
"I'm not sure yet. But call me Byron. After all, if I'm going to get my head handed to me on a platter, it might as well be for someone I'm on a first name basis with." He silently chewed on his pipe for another minute. "You didn't answer my question. If I let you go, am I going to regret it?"
He cocked his head to the side. "How long do you plan to be in Rapid City?"
"I'll be gone in a couple of days."
"And you don't have any plans to return?"
Rogers nodded slowly. "Then get," he said, gesturing to the doorway. "Just don't make me regret this."
Lois smiled. "You won't."
"Right," Rogers responded, sounding less than convinced.
Lois got up and made her way to the door. When she arrived, she turned back around. "Might I know why you're doing this?"
"Shortly after I first became a cop, I was working in Metropolis. I was young and careless. Bill Henderson saved my life. So when he asks for a favor…"
"He asked you to let me go?"
"Well, when I heard that the Lois Lane who is a reporter for the Daily Planet had been arrested, I called Bill — to ask what he knew about you. He said that sometimes you have a habit of going about things the wrong way, but that your heart is in the right place. Then he asked that I drop the charges."
"Thanks, Byron," Lois said, making a mental note to thank Bill as well. He had really gone above and beyond the call of friendship on this one.
"Don't thank me. Just don't make me regret it. Finish up what you need to do and then get out of my city."
Lois smiled. "Will do," she responded, reminding herself to add Rapid City to her list of places where she was no longer welcome.
Lois pulled the rental vehicle off to the side of the road on Gertrude Street. She looked around. Gertrude Street was not one of the most luxurious neighborhoods in the city. In fact, it was probably one of the worst. The houses were marked with pealing paint and unmowed lawns. There was the odd house which was well cared for, but they were few and far between. She looked at the red house with the number 239 prominently displayed on the door. She checked again, hoping that she was on the wrong street, but she wasn't.
Trying to push any prejudgments out of her mind, she made her way to the house and knocked on the door. After all, just because the neighborhood left something to be desired didn't mean that this couple wouldn't make decent foster parents. It took a second knock before the door was answered by a young girl no more than ten.
"Is your mom or dad home?" asked Lois.
"Mom!" the girl called into the house.
A chubby woman in her late thirties appeared momentarily.
"Yes?" the woman asked, coming to the door.
"Are you Bertha Fox?"
"Could you tell me when she'll be home?"
"She hasn't lived here for close to ten years. We bought the house from her and her husband."
"Oh. Do you know where she moved to?"
The woman shook her head.
"Would your husband?"
Lois stepped back and looked around the neighborhood again. "Who among your neighbors would you say is the most likely to know where they moved to?"
"I'm sorry. I really don't know my neighbors. Now if you'll excuse me…"
And with those words, Lois suddenly found herself standing alone on the steps of the house. She glanced around the neighborhood, wondering which one of the neighbors looked like the most promising candidate.
Lois felt more than a little frustrated when she returned to her car some time later and, after checking her map, headed towards Princess Avenue. How was it possible that none of the neighbors knew where the Foxes had moved? She let out a breath. Could she say she knew her neighbors? A few maybe. But not many. And she didn't know where any had moved after leaving her neighborhood.
Her thoughts turned to Smallville. Chances were that they would know such things. She supposed that was the difference between a small town and a city.
When she saw the sign to Princess Avenue, she turned the car onto the street. She spotted the number 1128 and pulled over to the side. This neighborhood was an obvious step up from the last one. Parking the car, she stepped out — feeling much more optimistic about this neighborhood. As she approached the house, she noticed that there were bikes, baseball equipment and a skipping rope in the yard, all of which signified that children lived there.
She knocked. She could hear yelling inside before a beleaguered, older woman answered the door, shocking Lois. The woman's hair was in disarray and her clothing disheveled. She looked to be in her late fifties.
"Yes?" the woman of the house asked.
"I'm looking for Tom and Alma O'Sullivan," Lois said, hoping this wasn't the woman she was looking for.
"I'm Alma," the woman responded, stepping back to allow Lois to enter.
"What do you want?" asked a man from the living room, directing Lois' attention further into the house. If she thought the woman looked bad, it was nothing compared to the man who was rising from the couch. He was a large man with an extremely obvious beer belly. He was wearing a white muscle shirt which didn't look as if it had been changed in days and a pair of jeans which were practically falling off.
As he approached the door, Lois took an involuntary step back in response to the smell of alcohol which radiated off his body. The woman visibly cowered at his approach. Lois' attention was diverted momentarily when she heard the sound of children coming from further in the house.
"Would you shut up in there?" the man yelled behind him. The words were instantly followed by silence.
Lois swallowed hard. The thought of Clark living in this place, being raised by these people, was appalling.
"I'm trying to locate a young man who lived with you… probably twenty years ago now."
"Do you have any idea how many kids have lived with us over the past twenty years?" asked the man.
"I know it's a long shot. But I hoped that you might…"
"What's his name?" the man asked, cutting Lois off.
"Na, I don't remember him." He gestured Lois towards the door, obviously inviting her to leave.
Lois didn't hesitate. Even if Clark had lived here, she doubted that he would have kept in touch with these people. She exited the house and headed immediately back to her car, only looking back when she was safely ensconced inside. She could no longer see the woman, although the man was watching her carefully from the doorway. She didn't hesitate in starting the car and heading away from this domestic hell.
"South Dakota?" asked Templeton.
"Yes, sir. She purchased a ticket to Rapid City, South Dakota."
"That I was unable to determine."
"What about that source you have that's close to Lane? Wasn't he able to tell you anything?"
"Since she left her job at the Daily Planet, he hasn't heard anything, sir. But I have instructed him to get close to the people who might hear from her. I'm hoping he will have something for me in a couple of days. After all, the Daily Planet has been her life for years. She'll have to contact someone there eventually."
"In the mean time, I planted listening devices in her apartment."
"But you still don't know why she's in South Dakota."
Templeton leaned back in his chair. "What's the point in keeping you on the payroll if you can't deliver on your promises?"
"I'll find out what she's doing, sir."
Templeton narrowed his eyes. Lois Lane probably wasn't doing anything overly important anyway. After all, there wasn't anything important in South Dakota. Still, it was sort of fun keeping Nigel dangling. And one should always try to have fun with his work.
"You better. Otherwise, I can find better ways to spend my money than paying you."
Lois stopped at a gas station and looked in the phone book in an effort to find the address of Susan and Brian Lee. There were a lot of Lees. There were some S. Lees and some B. Lees. Not knowing which address might be for the couple she was looking for, she decided to return to her motel in an effort to figure out her next move.
Pulling the car up in front of her motel room, she turned it off. She sat in the car lost in thought. Her first step was to try calling the phone number she had obtained from the file at child services. If that was no help, she would try calling all the Lees in the phone book to see if she could find Susan and Brian. After that, she had no idea.
She set her chin defiantly. She still had some leads to chase down. She would not allow herself to worry about what came next unless it was necessary. Strengthening her resolve, Lois got out of the car and made her way into her motel room.
Upon entering the room, she quickly pushed back the curtains, to drive the darkness both from the room and from her mind. She wasn't entirely sure why she'd chosen such a gloomy room in a second-rate motel. She was rich, after all. But she couldn't quite let go of the idea that the money she had accepted from Lex was tainted. Not that giving it back was an option. Money was the one thing that could help her find Clark. Without it, she had to worry about when she was going to go back to work, not to mention how she was going to pay for hotel rooms, airline tickets and rental cars.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and began to make phone calls, trying to find Susan and Brian Lee. By the time she had called every Lee in the phone book, starting with all the B. Lees, frustration had set in.
"Now what?" she asked into the silence of the room.
Jimmy! She grabbed the phone and placed a call to the Daily Planet.
"Jimmy," she said when a familiar voice was suddenly heard on the other end.
"Hey, Lois," came Jimmy's happy voice. "I didn't think I was ever going to hear from you again. Where are you?"
"Rapid City, South Dakota. Listen, Jimmy. How would you like to make a little extra money?"
"Always. What did you have in mind?"
"I need you to do some research for me. Since this isn't for the Daily Planet, I'll pay you for it."
"Look, Lois. I'll do the research. But you don't need to pay…"
"Are you telling me you don't need the money?"
"I know you need the money, Jimmy. And I'm sure you've heard. I have money."
There was a moment of silence. "Yeah, I heard. I thought it was just another rumor though. But that doesn't mean you need to pay…"
Lois smiled. "Look, you jerk, I've got the money. I need some research done. And I'm willing to pay. So would you just listen to what I need and accept my money?"
Jimmy laughed. "Okay, you're the boss. What do you need?"
Lois wiped her hands against her slacks. She could hardly believe how nervous she was. Jimmy had managed to locate Bertha and Franklin Fox. He'd had no luck yet with the Lees — although he'd promised to keep looking. But Bertha and Franklin Fox had apparently moved to Silver City, a smaller community not far from Rapid City. Lois had called and spoken to Bertha Fox, asking if she could meet with her and her husband. Franklin Fox had died of a heart attack a couple of years ago, but Bertha had agreed to meet with her.
Lois had driven out and, as the sun was starting to set, arrived at a small, but well cared for house on a quiet street in Silver City, surprising Lois. She rang the bell, half expecting a woman who looked as haggard as Alma O'Sullivan, and was greeted immediately by a woman in her sixties. The woman was petite, with obviously dyed hair, dressed in a nice sweater and a pair of slacks.
She invited Lois in and served coffee, making small talk about the weather and the drive from Rapid City. Lois found out that the Foxes had left Rapid City just as the neighborhood they were living in began to deteriorate. And Lois had explained that she worked for the Daily Planet and needed some information for a story. When Bertha indicated that she wouldn't mind answering some questions, Lois began.
"You used to work as a foster parent in Rapid City."
"That's right," Bertha responded. "My husband and I couldn't have children. So we became foster parents."
"How long did you do that?"
"About ten years. Then my sister and her husband died. We took in their three children. At that point, we stopped doing work as foster parents — except on occasions."
"Except on occasions?"
"When a child would come into care that required a bit of special attention, we would be contacted to see if we would take him or her. We'd get the child's background and then make a decision. If we felt we could help, we'd agree."
"Did you care for a child named Charles King?"
"Charles King," Bertha said, a soft smile suddenly appearing on her lips. "Yes. We did."
Lois felt her heart began to pound. "Can you tell me about him?"
"Sure. We got the call from child services. Apparently, they were having problems getting him to stay with any of his placements. He'd stay for a few months, long enough to recover from his latest adventure on his own, and then he'd be gone again. They thought he might do better with us. We agreed to give it a try."
"And did it work?"
"Charlie was very reserved, kept to himself. We tried to bring him out, get him to bond with our family. But whatever had happened in his past… Let's just say that it proved to be a bit of a challenge. I had more success than my husband. Charlie seemed to cringe when my husband would as much as utter a word."
"Could your husband have given him some reason to be afraid of him?" Lois asked, although she was well aware that the woman seated across from her could take offense to the question. Still, it was a question which had to be asked. Lois was relieved when Bertha's response was to chuckle.
"I'm sorry," Bertha finally said. "I guess you had to know Frank. He was a big teddy bear. I don't think Charlie's reaction had anything to do with Frank. Although, I definitely had the impression that Charlie had been beaten by some man somewhere along the way. Still, he refused to talk to me about anything in his past. We sent him to counselors, but it didn't do any good. He still wouldn't talk. But he was very self-conscious about the burns."
"Oh, didn't I mention it? He had some terrible burns. Down his right arm and covering part of his back. He was obviously in a terrible fire — even if he would never tell us about it.
"Still, he was a good kid. I'd be working in the kitchen and I'd look up to see him taking out the garbage or helping with the dishes. We had a lot of kids stay with us over the years. But none of them ever did anything like that. He seemed content in our home. We were really starting to think that we were reaching him. We even started to make arrangements to adopt him, hoping that having a real home might help him to open up. After all, we cared about him as much as we did my sister's kids. And he, in his quiet way, seemed to care about us, too. In fact, he seemed to support the idea of letting us adopt him. We never would have attempted it if we didn't think he wanted to be part of our family."
"Before the adoption could go through, he disappeared."
"Any idea where he went?"
Bertha shook her head sadly. "He never contacted us again. We reported his disappearance to the police. We even hired a private investigator, but…" She sighed. "I think that was the last time child services ever heard from him again as well. Of course, he was eighteen when he left us so child services wouldn't have been contacted if he got into trouble again. So why exactly do you want to know all this?"
"I'm doing a story about children who have been through the foster care system and what has happened to them since."
"Surely there are a lot of kids in Metropolis who you could use as examples. What brought you all the way out here?"
"Umm…" Lois paused, trying to think fast. "Well, that was my choice. I have friends in the area who I wanted to see. So I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone, so to speak."
"And your boss didn't object? I would think that would be an awfully expensive and time consuming way to get a story."
"I paid the plane fare myself and I took a few days off, so no."
Bertha nodded thoughtfully, although obviously not convinced by Lois' cover story. Lois kicked herself for not taking the time to come up with something better.
"Well," Bertha said after a moment, "could you do me a favor?"
"If you do find Charlie, could you ask him to let me know that he's all right?"
Dawson pulled at the collar of his jacket, trying not to look as nervous as he felt. Normally, he had men to do this sort of thing. But since he and Trask had been tipped off about the arrest warrants and gone into hiding, he was low man on the totem pole.
He wished he'd been able to convince Trask to leave Metropolis. But Trask seemed to be obsessed with finding out what Lois Lane was up to. Dawson had no idea why. After all, surely Lois Lane had everything she needed.
Still, he was a soldier. And he'd been given an order by his superior officer. That took precedence over everything else. He didn't have to understand. He only had to obey.
Making his way up the steps to Lois Lane's apartment, he glanced nervously around. No one seemed to be nearby. And the apartment itself was dark. It was critical that no evidence of his break-in be left behind. Trask had made that more than clear earlier. Still, with every extra minute it took him to break the locks, the greater the chances that he would be caught.
When no one had caught him when he managed to open the final lock, he quickly opened the door and slipped inside. He removed a large flashlight from his jacket and turned it on.
Once he had placed three such devices in what he deemed to be the best spots, he made his way to the telephone. He screwed off the cap on the earpiece. He was about to place the bug inside when he noticed something he hadn't expected. Shining the flashlight's beam at the earpiece, he reached in and removed what was obviously another such device. It appeared that he was not the only one bugging Lois Lane's apartment.
He leaned back in his chair and examined the small device. If there was a bug in the phone, there were probably others in the apartment. He reached into his pocket and removed a small scanning device which he had brought along in case he accidently dropped one of the bugs.
It only took a matter of minutes for him to locate four such devices in the apartment. So now what did he do? Did he leave the devices where they were or did he remove them? He thought about the question for a long moment before finally making a decision.
Without even bothering to turn on the lights, Lois collapsed into the one large chair in her motel room, feeling absolutely drained. It was almost one o'clock in the morning.
There was still the possibility that Jimmy might find the last names on her list. Susan and Brian Lee. But unlike her previous optimism, Lois was no longer sure that there was any point in talking to the Lees. After all, if even half of what Bertha had told her was true, then she was the one who would be most likely to still have contact with Clark.
And yet she didn't. So what should Lois do now? How did she find one man, one man who was able to fly anywhere in the world and survive on next to nothing? Where did she even start?
The problem went round and round in her mind for several minutes with no resolution. She curled up in the chair and closed her eyes. Maybe she'd be able to think better after a few minutes of sleep. Still, she couldn't sleep. The question of how to find Clark kept troubling her. She felt her muscles begin to tense up as the question remained unanswered.
She got up out of the chair and made her way to the bed. Maybe she'd be more comfortable there. Without even bothering to get undressed, she pulled down the blankets on the bed and crawled in. She tossed and turned in bed for a good half hour before again sitting up. If only she could find someway to get Clark out of her head, even if only for a few hours. Maybe she'd be able to get a fresh outlook if she weren't so exhausted.
What was she doing here anyway? Her mother had always told her not to chase after men. And yet here she was, chasing after a man who didn't even want to be found. She supposed she might be able to get Jimmy to run a search for all the Charles Kings in the country — or perhaps, the world. Of course, that assumed he was even using the name Charles King. He'd changed identities once. And if he had left the Foxes, it had to be for a reason. Something must have spooked him. And if that was the case, he might well have chosen another name all together.
Besides, Lois wasn't sure how much information she wanted Jimmy to have about her search. She trusted the kid. But he wasn't always the most discrete.
And even if she did obtain the address of every Charles King in the world, she would have to fly to each and every location to find the right one. Considering the fact that there was probably at least one Charles King in every city in the country, not to mention the towns and those in other countries, such a search could take years. And that was assuming that he didn't change locations while she was searching.
So where did that leave her? Growling slightly, she got out of bed. She needed a distraction, something that would make her thoughts about Clark retreat long enough for her to get some sleep. She could start at this again tomorrow. Assuming she should start this again tomorrow. After all, her sister was right. This was insane. What exactly did she think she was doing?
She reached over onto the dresser and picked up the remote control. Some television should do the trick — something to get her mind off this stupid search.
Flicking on the television, she sat back on the bed and put her feet up. A waffle machine. She hated paid programing. Flicking through the channels, she finally found LNN. Given the fact that it was almost two, she figured she'd watch the news at the top of the hour. It would at least give her something to think about other than Clark.
Clark. She let out a small sigh as thoughts of the wayward lock of hair on his forehead invaded her mind. That lock of hair probably behaved that way for one solitary reason — to drive her absolutely wild. Like the Sirens in Greek mythology — sea nymphs who sang, a sound so sweet that sailors were lured to their deaths when they jumped from cliffs and boats in order to get closer to where the nymphs were singing — that lock of hair seemed to lure her, drawing her to him, calling to her to touch him.
She suddenly shook her head. What did she think she was doing? She forced herself to focus on the television. The news. She'd missed the first news story entirely while she'd been lost in her fanciful thoughts. So what was happening in the world?
"The mud slide is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people," the correspondent was informing his audience.
The television camera broke from the correspondent to focus on the destruction of the ocean front town on the west coast of Peru. She watched in horror at the sight of a large river of mud pushing over a building while people scrambled to get out of the way of the unstoppable force. Her mind took a moment to come back to the continuing commentary.
"You said earlier that there was a danger of the entire side of the mountain coming down," the anchor was saying. "Is there any word on that yet?"
"That's the only good news. Specialists here are stunned. The people are saying that it's a miracle. Some are even claiming that an angel saved them. When the mud washed out, it appeared that the entire side of the mountain was about to crumble. Of course, that would have made the mudslide look moderate. The rock slide would have caused fatalities in the thousands. But specialists are now predicting that the side of the mountain will hold. Somehow the side of the mountain has miraculously reinforced itself."
'…an angel saved them.' The words kept rolling around in Lois' mind. There was something about the comment that struck her as familiar. But why? 'It almost sounds like the angel has struck again.' She could almost hear Henderson's voice. 'You him. You save us.' An oriental man's voice followed on the heels of the first voice.
"Superman," she breathed, leaning more intently towards the television.
No. That was crazy. There was no Superman in this dimension. On the other hand, when the alternate Clark had been in this dimension, he had been unable to stop himself from using his powers to help others. What if…
"Yes! Of course!" she exclaimed into the silent room. That was how she was going to find Clark Kent — follow the disasters. He was quietly doing what he could to help.
She forced her excitement down. Was she being rational? After all, there was no proof that Clark had been in Peru this evening. Still, it gave her a place to start.
Of course, whereas he could fly to anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes, her pursuit was more limited. If only she had a jet at her beck and call… The thought trailed off. After all, why couldn't she have a jet at her beck and call? Wasn't that the reason she had accepted Lex's money?
Excited and revitalized by her new thoughts, she began to plot out her next step. Jimmy. She needed Jimmy.
She had just picked up the remote to turn off the television when she noticed the next news story. Something about the migration habits of wild geese. Shaking her head slightly at the abrupt change of subject, she turned it off.
In essence, there were two different investigations she would have to conduct. From what the alternate Clark had told her, before he had settled in Metropolis, he had moved around to keep from having his secret discovered. What if her Clark were doing the same thing? That would mean that many of the 'miracles' would be centered around wherever he was living at the time, until, of course, he moved on. If she mapped out all such incidents, she might be able to figure out where he was living. Although she would have to be careful about how much she told him, Jimmy could definitely be useful in this new search.
The big emergencies would be the second part of her investigation. She would have to be prepared to fly out at a moment's notice the instant any big emergencies happened in the world. She could always use the trips to write ad- hoc pieces for the Daily Planet. Catherine might wonder what she was doing chasing emergencies, but at least getting the story would give her an excuse with the local authorities for being there. And if she got lucky…
She bit down on her lower lip. Why hadn't she thought of this before? It might take a little luck, but… she would swear that Clark had been in Peru tonight. Next time he attended at a disaster, she would be there, too.
Jimmy was half asleep even as he stumbled out of bed and grabbed the phone to stop its insistent ringing. Couldn't the person on the other end take a hint? If the phone rang more than a dozen times, it meant that the caller should hang up. Anyone would certainly take that hint. Well, anyone except…
"Hello, Lois," he said into the phone.
"How did you know it was me?"
"Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Jimmy stumbled over his answer. Truth was, he had no idea. "I was asleep. I don't usually keep track of the time when I'm sleeping."
"Jimmy, I need your help."
"I wasn't able to find the last name on your list."
"That doesn't matter. Listen, I need you to do some research for me when you get a chance."
Jimmy let out a slow breath. At least she wasn't asking for it in the next ten minutes. "Okay, shoot."
"I want you to find every reference to miracles or angels or the like when an accident, disaster or some other event occurred."
"What type of event?"
"Natural disasters, traffic accidents, criminal activities. Both in the United States and abroad. Everything."
"Lois, that could be a huge search. What exactly are you looking for?"
"Just that. Also, organize them by date and location. Start with the past two years. Look, I need you not to ask any questions and not to make any assumptions. That's one of my conditions for having you work for me."
"Okay, I'll work on it over my lunch break tomorrow and get something to you as soon as possible. It might take some time. After all, I'm probably going to have to write a new program if you want this search to be thorough."
"I do. And thanks, Jimmy. Try to get some sleep, huh. You shouldn't be up this late when you have to work in the morning."
Jimmy growled into the phone before saying good-bye and hanging up. He was practically asleep before he even crawled back into bed.
Lois chuckled as she hung up the phone. Then she looked around the motel room, wishing there was something she could do tonight. Having come up with a new plan to find Clark, she felt positively energetic. Of course, there would be a lot to do tomorrow and she really should get some sleep. But she knew there was little point in even trying.
Making her way to her suitcase, she opened it and withdrew the small globe she had taken from the barn in Smallville and sat down on the edge of her bed. She still hadn't managed to figure it out. At times, she found herself wondering if she had been mistaken about seeing it glow. After all, she still hadn't been able to figure out how it worked. There didn't seem to be a place to insert batteries. In fact, there didn't seem to be any seams to it.
The strange thing was that although the continents were recognizable as that of Earth when tilted in one direction, the continents seemed to change when the light caught it from certain angles. She tilted it back and forth for a couple of minutes, wondering if she were seeing things. But no. The globe was quite obviously different from different angles. It crossed her mind to wonder if what she was seeing was the land masses of Krypton — wasn't that the place that the other Clark had told her about? Maybe this was something more than a child's toy. But what it did and why it had been in the barn, she had no idea.
Still, it was the only link she had to Clark. If she found him and he had some boring explanation for this item, she was going to feel extremely disappointed. Even so, she would rather find him and have him tell her that she was a fool for keeping this globe than not to find him at all.
She set the globe back in her suitcase and got changed before climbing back into bed. Had it really only been yesterday that she had come to Rapid City? It seemed as if an eternity had passed. She thought back over everything she had learned during her visits to the O'Sullivans and the Foxes. Talk about the two extremes of the child welfare system.
If Alma and Tom O'Sullivan were the worst the system had to offer, Bertha and Frankin Fox represented the best. Just thinking about what life must have been like for Clark living with the O'Sullivans was enough to cause Lois to shudder. On the other hand, Lois couldn't imagine a better home to grow up in than the Foxes.
So then why had Clark disappeared from the Foxes' home when he had been within inches of having a new family? She tapped her fingers together as she considered the question. Maybe Clark had seen someone or something that had spooked him. It was the most likely possibility. But who? After all, Bureau 39 was convinced that Clark had been killed in the fire. Suddenly, she drew in a breath. There was another possibility. What if he had left precisely because he was starting to feel as if he were part of a family? After all, his former family had been slaughtered trying to protect him. Maybe leaving had been Clark's attempt to protect the Foxes.
She felt a stab of pain in her heart. What that young man must have gone through. Believing that caring about him was the cause of his parents' deaths, he had run away from the only other home he had likely ever known. Had he been running away ever since? Or had he finally allowed himself to settle down? As much as the idea of Clark finding love without her hurt, the idea that he hadn't allowed himself that luxury hurt even more.
And then there were the scars which Bertha had told her about. Something about that struck Lois as odd. The Clark from the other universe was invulnerable. Of course, he had also said that his invulnerability had developed over time. So maybe the scars had healed since he was eighteen. She ran her hand subconsciously down her arm, the arm that Bertha had indicated had been burned. Were those scars the only scars he bore? Likely not. Although the idea of that perfect body being marred was sad, it was the scars that couldn't be seen — the scars to the soul that would have been caused by seeing his parents killed, by living in homes like the O'Sullivans and by having to hide who he really was from the world — that really troubled Lois.
That was the real reason she had to find Clark. She had to look in his eyes, just once, and know that he was okay, that he had found peace. If she could just have that, she would be satisfied.
Lying down in bed, she pulled up the covers and finally was able to drift off to sleep.
The news room was mostly empty as Jimmy stared at the papers spread across the conference room table. He'd managed to find over a hundred references to angels, other supernatural beings, or miraculous interventions, during his search. In most cases, these 'angels' or 'miracles' seemed to be quite unsubstantial — a person claiming that his guardian angel must have been looking out for him or that his St. Christopher's medal had protected him. On other occasions, people seemed to think they actually saw something or someone supernatural. But without knowing exactly what Lois was looking for, he had no way of separating the herring from the backbone, as Perry would say.
Why would Lois need any of this? He knew she had told him not to speculate and he had promised he wouldn't. But that wasn't exactly possible. Had Lois developed some sort of interest in religion since Lex's death?
He supposed it wasn't his business. Lois had made it very clear that she was paying him to do research — not to question what she was searching for. That meant he still had to sort all these documents according to… What was it now? Right. Date and location.
He glanced up at the clock. It was almost eleven o'clock at night. He'd spent his entire evening working on this task.
"Hey, what'cha working on?" a man's voice said from the doorway.
Jimmy glanced over his shoulder in time to see Dan Scardino enter the conference room.
"Nothing, Dan," Jimmy replied, directing his attention back to the documents on the table.
"Miracle of the Mudslide?" Dan said, picking up one of the newspaper clippings from the table and reading the headline.
Jimmy turned towards him, snapping the paper out of his hands. "Do you mind? I've got to get these in some kind of order."
"Guardian Angel Saves Traffic Accident Victims. Angelic Worker at Earthquake," Dan continued, this time reading the headlines without disturbing the paper. "What is this? You taken some sort of interest in the miraculous, Jimmy?"
"Yeah. I've taken an interest in the miraculous," Jimmy replied sarcastically. "Look, it's just something that Lois asked me to look into. Now, if you don't mind…"
"Lois? You've heard from Lois? What's she up to these days?"
"Nothing. Look, Dan, I really have to…" He gestured to the documents on the table.
"Oh, right. Sorry," Dan replied, turning and making his way out of the conference room. He stopped at the doorway and looked back for a moment, before closing the door and heading towards the elevators.
Lois stuffed the empty suitcase under her bed. Her bed. There was something comforting about sleeping in her own bed. She had arrived home later in the evening than anticipated, mainly because once she'd landed in Metropolis airport after her flight back from Rapid City, she'd decided to look into either renting or purchasing a jet.
Of course, since she couldn't fly, she'd also had to look into hiring a pilot who would be on call twenty-four hours a day. After all, she would have to move quickly to any disaster if she hoped to get there while Clark was still around.
She'd finally managed to find a small company which leased planes, primarily to CEO's or companies who wanted the image or convenience of having a private jet at their beck and call. When she'd explained what she was looking for, using the excuse that she was currently freelancing for the Daily Planet and wanted to be able to get to the stories quickly, they had been skeptical. It wasn't until they realized who she was — Lex Luthor's bereaved fiancee — that they had taken her seriously. In fact, she went in an instant to being treated like a most valued customer. She had considered walking away, disgusted by the change in attitude. Still, they could provide her with a solution. A Learjet and pilot would be standing by for her at a moment's notice.
It wasn't until she met the pilot they were proposing to make available to her, Sean McDonald — who didn't seem impressed with her past relationship with Lex Luthor — that she had decided to stay with the company. Sean was a bear of a man in his mid-forties. In fact, he reminded Lois of a grizzly bear, standing on his hind feet. If he grew a beard, Lois might have had difficulty distinguishing between the two. And yet, the image of a ferocious animal was instantly undermined when one looked in his eyes. They actually seemed to sparkle, as if he was constantly thinking about an amusing story. Lois had liked him immediately.
She'd peppered him with questions, not only about the plane and the company, but about his own life and how he felt about being on standby twenty-four hour a day. He had told her that his children were in college and that his wife had died a couple of years previously. She'd also managed to find out that he hadn't always been a pilot; he had actually started out by going to medical school. But when he'd been finishing up his residency and thinking about the future, he'd realized that he had become a doctor to please his parents and that where he really wanted to be was at thirty-thousand feet. As soon as he'd finished his residency, he had quit medicine to become a pilot and had never looked back. Still, Lois had liked the idea of having a pilot who could, in an emergency, provide medical assistance.
Once the company's owner realized that his employee was making a good impression, he had left Lois in Sean's capable hands. Sean had taken pride in showing her all the features the airplane had to offer — almost as if he were introducing her to his favorite child. Having been in Lex's private jet on more than one occasion, she wasn't easily impressed with flashy displays of wealth. But this plane had been customized to provide sleeping quarters. In addition to the sitting quarters, there was a room with a large, comfortable, double bed. Given the fact that she might find herself flying off to a disaster in the middle of the night, she had definitely found that feature impressive.
She also had to admit she liked Sean's promise that he would personally ensure that the bar was always stocked with diet cream soda and reasonably sized peanut packets. This was definitely the way to fly. In fact, the only thing she really hadn't liked about the airplane was the name. The Wild Goose. No matter. The plane itself, in spite of the name, was perfect for her.
Having finished with her unpacking, Lois made her way to the phone. Now that she had a new plan for finding Clark, she wanted to share it with her sister.
Edward Dawson was beginning to nod off, thinking that Lois was simply getting ready for bed when the sound of the phone being removed from its cradle caught his attention.
He gave his head a shake to clear the cobwebs and turned on the recording device. While he waited for the phone to be answered, he glanced over at the blanket in which he'd placed the listening devices he'd found in Lane's apartment on the evening he'd planted bugs. He hadn't disabled them, not wanting whoever had planted them in the first place to be aware that he had removed them. After all, it might simply encourage this unknown third party to plant more bugs in her apartment. In fact, on occasion, when Lois was watching television, Dawson planned to unwrap the bugs to maintain the illusion that the bugs were still operational.
"Hello?" asked a man's voice, causing Dawson to bring his attention back to the large recorder sitting on his desk.
"Hi, Bernie. It's Lois."
"Hi, Lois. I bet you want to talk to your sister."
"Yeah. If she's available."
"Just a second."
Dawson leaned back in his chair, stifling a yawn. He picked up a can of coke and took a swig.
"Hey, Lo," said a new woman's voice. "So how did it go in Rapid City?"
"Not so good, Luc. But I wanted to tell you the idea I came up with. I think I know how to find Clark Kent."
Dawson spit out his coke all over the tape recorder. Grabbing some napkins, he began frantically cleaning up.
"How?" asked Lucy.
"I think Clark is trying to help out — discretely, of course — when there are emergencies. I'm just going to make sure that I'm there when he is. I'll pretend I'm doing… piece work for the Daily Planet. I'm sure Catherine would be more than happy to publish the stories, so it's not exactly a lie. And that will allow me to use my press pass. So what do you think?"
"How are you going to get there? Or are you just going to cover local emergencies?"
"I got a private jet today."
"Oh, wow. That's quite the purchase. It must be nice to be rich."
Lois laughed. "It's just leased. But it will get me where I need to go. As soon as I hear about an emergency, I'll call the pilot. He'll get me there fast."
Lucy let out a long slow breath. "Well, I guess if anyone can pull this off, you can."
"Thanks, Luc," Lois responded. "I know you still have doubts about this. But trust me."
"I do. And, hey, good luck, Lo."
"Thanks. And don't worry. This will work."
Then the two women said their good-byes and hung up. Dawson stared at the recording device for a long minute before the reality of what he had just heard sunk in. Lois Lane thought Clark Kent was still alive and was searching for him. He wasn't sure why she'd be planning to attend at emergencies in her effort to find the alien. Maybe she had reason to believe that he was involved with a relief organization or something, but didn't know which one. No matter. What she was looking for was clear enough. Clark Kent. She believed he was still alive.
Trask would want to know about this new development immediately.
"Apparently Ms. Lane has asked that young researcher at the Planet to do some work for her," Nigel informed his employer.
"What type of research?" Templeton asked while taking a practice shot with the putter.
"It's rather strange, sir. I'm not entirely sure what she's hoping to find."
"I don't expect you to," said Templeton, stepping forward and focusing on the small white ball lying on the office floor. "That's why I get the big bucks." He looked up at Nigel. "Now, just tell me what she's got the kid looking for."
"She has him digging up everything he can find about miraculous occurrences," Nigel said just as Templeton was taking his shot. Templeton sliced the ball, sending it skidding sideways across the floor.
"What?" Templeton demanded, looking at Nigel as if he had grown another head.
"I'm telling you. She thinks Clark Kent is still alive," Dawson said again.
"That's impossible!" Trask exclaimed. "I was there. I saw Clark Kent rush back into that building. I saw the building go up in flames. I looked through the ashes. The alien is dead."
"Are you sure, sir? I mean, I don't want to sound impudent. But Lois Lane must have some reason to think that Clark Kent is alive."
"Of course, I'm sure." Trask leaned back in his chair as a slow smile spread across his face. "Actually, Edward, this might not be a bad thing. After all, if she thinks Clark Kent is still alive, this wild goose chase will likely keep her occupied for a while. And if that's the case, then we don't need to worry about Lois Lane. She won't prove to be a hindrance to our disappearance.
"That was my main concern when Lois Lane's story came out," Trask continued. "I wondered if she was holding back on the story because she thought she had found a way to track us and didn't want other reporters on her trail. Now that we know that isn't the case, our work here is done. Get this stuff packed up. Lois Lane is no longer our concern."
Templeton stared at Nigel in disbelief for a long moment.
"I haven't received a report yet from the men manning the recording devices in her apartment," Nigel eventually continued, not entirely certain how to interpret the look on his employer's face.
"I don't believe it," Templeton finally said. "The irony of it all."
"I bring Kent here. I take him away. And not only do I manage to bring down your previous employer and still get rid of Kent, I drive Lois Lane over the edge. Now she's out looking for her dead hero. It's the stuff novels are based on." He placed his hand dramatically over his heart. "It's almost touching enough to bring a tear to my eye."
"Never mind," said Templeton. "Give up your surveillance of Lois Lane. She's no longer my concern. Keep your source at the Daily Planet, however. I do want to know immediately if she returns. In the mean time, I have a task for you."
Tempus walked around his desk and pulled a small device about the size and shape of a cell phone out of a drawer. "I just closed the deal to purchase Lex Labs from your dead boss' estate — which reminds me, it needs a new name. Something original. Something dramatic. Something which commands attention and respect. I know. Templeton Labs."
"Very appropriate, sir."
"Take this to Dr. Hamilton and have him duplicate it," Templeton said, handing the device to Nigel before sinking down into the chair behind his desk, a small smile on his face. "Lois Lane searching for her hero. Too bad he's dead. God, I love irony."
Templeton looked up at Nigel. "So what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? Go!"
"Yes, sir," Nigel said, turning to leave the room.
"Cretan," Templeton muttered under his breath.
He watched Nigel leave the room before spinning his chair around and looking out the window of his office. He could still hardly believe it. Lois Lane was obviously searching for Clark Kent. But Tempus knew he was dead. After all, he had been to the future. He knew there was no Superman. Could he have missed something?
No. Superman wasn't exactly… easy to hide. He smiled. He hadn't expected this when he'd invited Clark to this universe. Lois Lane had literally gone out of her mind with grief. Life could really be wonderful at times.
Later that night, one man stood staring silently out the window.
"You wanted to see me, sir," his underling asked from behind.
"I've changed my mind. I want to know everything Lois Lane does."
THREE MONTHS LATER
Lois' knuckles were white from clutching the steering wheel of the old car. The forest fire had suddenly changed direction, trapping the people at the base camp — reporters, firefighters, medics, cooks and police. Over a hundred people in all. There had been a few very terrifying hours while she'd listen to people argue over how to get them to safety as the fire rushed ever closer.
That was when it had happened. Clouds had appeared, apparently out of nowhere, and rain had poured down in sheets. As a result, the road to Armstrong, Ontario, was open once again.
Of course, opening the road did not mean that the fire was out. Fire continued to burn in trees and logs on either side of the road. Still, the experts had decided that driving through the fire was the best way out of the killing zone. And as a result, Lois now found herself on a gravel road, trees burning on either side, as she followed the taillights of the car in front of her — hopefully on her way to safety.
Her passengers were as silent as she, each watching in fascinated horror the sight outside the car. The red of the flames, contrasting sharply with the dark of the night. The eerie light made driving an unpleasant task as it created weird shadows which obscured the view of the road. Only the taillights of the car in front of her made following the road possible. Lois took a deep breath, removing one hand from the wheel and flexing it. She placed it back on the wheel and removed the other to do the same.
Given the need to move people out fast, there had been no choice but to pack each car with as many people as possible. Lois' car had been no exception. She wasn't entirely sure, since she didn't dare take her eyes off the road long enough to check, but she thought four people had piled into the back seat — one taking his or her seat on the lap of another.
She tried to remember how long it had taken her to get to the base camp after her jet had landed in Armstrong. She thought it had been about forty-five minutes. Not that that knowledge did her any good now. After all, a look at the speedometer informed her that she was going no more than forty kilometers an hour — whatever that meant. It felt slow. And she had no way of knowing the time anyway — unless she looked at her watch. No. Finding out the time wasn't a reason to risk taking her eyes off the road. After all, what if one of the burning trees fell, blocking the road? What if the car in front of her came to an unexpected stop? It was far better just to concentrate on the task of driving the car.
Still, focusing on her driving did not stop the questions going through her mind. Where had the rain clouds suddenly come from? The meteorologists had said there was a zero percent possibility of rain for the next two weeks. Not that meteorologists couldn't be wrong. But Lois had heard the word 'miracle' used several times during the course of the past hour. Had Clark somehow managed to bring the clouds in? And if so, how had he done it?
She had been chasing disasters for the past three months. And she'd certainly seen enough of these 'miracles.' But she had not yet had as much as a glimpse of Clark Kent. Either he had become an expert at being invisible, or… and this was the part she feared …he had simply not been there. No. There were too many times when she had seen the impossible happen. The rain clouds today were just the latest example.
She'd seen lava racing down the side of a mountain suddenly change directions so that it missed a town. She'd seen flood waters build, only to recede again when the rivers were unexpectedly deep enough to contain the excess water — only to be the same depths when the flooding was over. She'd witnessed people, trapped in a mine, find an unexpected route out of their living grave.
Her stories to the Daily Planet, which Catherine had been more than happy to publish, had never included those little details, of course. After all, she didn't particularly want to alert anyone to what she was doing — or, more importantly, to what Clark Kent was doing.
Not that she could have proven that Clark was responsible for these miracles. He seemed to be simply doing those things that couldn't be done by others and then disappearing — leaving behind not even the smallest piece of evidence that he had even been there. She'd looked for his face on every emergency worker she encountered. She'd wandered among the refugees from whatever disaster they were attending, looking for a sign that he had become one of them in order to help. Yet she had never seen him.
Every disappointment was hard to take. To be so close and yet so far away was extremely disheartening. If it hadn't been for Sean, she'd have broken down by now. He had been her rock. He took everything in stride. And he always looked out for her, making sure she made the time to take care of herself. He had quickly become the big brother she had never had. Renting the jet had gotten her to the disasters. Getting Sean as her pilot had gotten her through the disasters. After all, being constantly exposed to heartbreak and human suffering was draining. Without Sean, she wasn't entirely sure she would have survived this long.
During any down time she had, Lois studied the information she'd obtained from Jimmy, looking for any patterns to the occurrences of angels or other miraculous interventions. But she'd had no luck finding a pattern. She had even cross referenced the miraculous occurrences with references to Charles King. But it seemed that Clark Kent was being very careful not to do anything which might give away his home base. As a result, she had no idea where he was living — the United States, Europe, or even the middle of the Sahara Desert.
The burning trees on the sides of the road got further apart. Soon the road ahead was black and Lois' focus shifted to the rain which was still falling. She was relieved when the lights of Armstrong finally came into view. She followed the car ahead until it pulled to a stop in front of the ARDC, the Armstrong Resources Development Center.
The building had been converted from its normal business activities to become the headquarters for fighting the fire — and tonight it was a hubbub of activity. Lois waited for her passengers to disembark before turning the engine off and getting out herself. She slowly entered the building, stepping aside when necessary in an attempt to stay out of the way of the mass of people rushing around.
"Hey, kid," a familiar voice said from behind her.
She turned around and found herself lost in a large bear hug. "Hi, Sean," she mumbled against his massive chest.
"You really scared us," he continued, letting her go. "Earlier today, they weren't giving a snowball's chance for your survival."
"Aww, you were concerned about me," Lois replied, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Hell, no. I was just concerned about being unemployed. You die and I lose my job." He winked at her, causing her to burst out laughing. He put his arm around her shoulders and began leading her down the hall.
"So what are you doing here?" Lois asked slipping her arm around his waist. "I figured they'd have you flying people out."
"What? And dirty up your nice clean jet with all those people?" Sean answered in mock horror.
Lois rolled her eyes. After three months of attending at disasters, Sean was well aware of how she would have responded to any request to use the jet to help. It had started at their first disaster site. While there, both found themselves pitching in, helping emergency workers. It was a trend they had replicated at disaster after disaster.
When they would leave, Lois would write up the story and send it on to Catherine. But until that time, they were workers like anyone else.
"Actually," Sean continued, "they asked if I could help out in a different capacity. They've had Beaver airplanes evacuating people. And the highway to Thunder Bay has been open, so they've been able to get people out that way. They have more bush pilots up here than you can shake a stick at. What they don't have up here is a doctor."
"So they recruited you."
"Yeah," he said, leading her to a large room at the end of the hall. It had been converted into a makeshift hospital. There were only a few people in the room. "The only people here at the moment are some hunters who got trapped by the fire. They finally managed to get them out of there, but there were some injuries and smoke inhalation." They stopped at the doorway. "So, what's next? I imagine you have what you need for your story. Are you wanting to leave? I can make arrangements to get us out of here first thing in the morning."
"But don't they still need you here?"
Sean shook his head. "Now that the medics from the base camp are back, they don't need me. So I'm at your beck and call, my lady."
Lois stepped away from him, moving further into the room as she considered his suggestion. Clark had been at the fire today. Would he be back or was it time to move on? Being back in Armstrong, and hence further away from the fire, it would be even more difficult for her to find him. Should she just write this one off and head back to Metropolis? "Anything else happening in the world?" she asked.
Sean shook his head. "I figured you'd be asking that when they said you were returning here. So I listened to the news. It's pretty quiet at the moment."
Lois shrugged. "Well, why don't we stay here a bit longer? I'm sure they could use a couple of extra hands."
Sean nodded. "So when are you going to tell me why we're really doing this?" he asked.
"You know why I'm doing this. I'm a reporter. This is what I do. I've got to make a living just like everyone else."
Sean snorted. "I'm not stupid, Lois. Don't treat me like I am. You leased a private jet. You hired a pilot. Not the Daily Planet. You. Sure you send in stories. And sure they get published. But that's not what's going on here.
"You spend, and even give away, more money getting the stories than the Daily Planet could possibly be paying you for them," Sean continued. "And given the number of times I've seen you take out that cheque book or yours and write another cheque to help out, I know that you aren't here for the story. By the way you're going, it won't matter how rich you are, you're going to be broke soon enough. So what are you really looking for?"
Lois ignored the question, stepping past him to get into the hallway. She spotted a door and headed towards it, stepping outside. The rain was letting up and the sky was clearing.
Sean had asked that question, or similar ones, a few times now. But how was she supposed to answer without sounding as if she were totally insane? Besides, she really didn't want anyone else to know what she was looking for. Whether she was ever going to find it anyway, she was no longer certain. Maybe this was a fool's errand. Maybe she should just forget it and get on with her life.
Wasn't there some great philosophy which stated that if you were meant to be with someone, they would happen into your plane of existence? Maybe she should just get on with her life and hope that if she and Clark were meant to meet that they would.
Her insides rebelled against the idea. She had never sat back and let life come to her. She had gone out and attacked life, changing those things which she didn't like, searching for those things which she considered essential to her happiness.
But this time, she wasn't entirely sure that life wasn't asking for a little more than she was able to give. Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and accept that her sister was right. Clark Kent didn't want to be found — even by a stubborn brunette who was convinced that they were supposed to be part of each other's lives. In what capacity, she didn't know — although she had to admit, her fantasies these days were getting pretty damn explicit. But life wasn't a fantasy. And maybe a fantasy was what she had been chasing.
She took a deep breath and looked out towards the horizon. There was a soft, red glow above the trees, reminding her of the powerful fire roaring not too far away.
"Hey, kid," said Sean's voice behind her. "You okay?"
She let out a slow breath before turning towards him. "Yeah. I'm just tired."
"Well, I figured you might be. When I found out you were on your way back here, I made a reservation for you at the McKenzie Inn. I've been staying there the past couple of days and it's really quite nice."
"It's only a couple of miles out town. But it doesn't have a restaurant. So how about we go to E & J's first? It's a restaurant here in town. While you were out chasing the fire, I discovered that it has great food. So let's get some food in you and then we'll head out to the lodge for the night."
She nodded slowly. Sleep. That was all she needed. She'd be at the top of her game again tomorrow. She just needed to sleep.
Lois collapsed in a crumpled heap on the couch. Throwing her arm across her eyes, she took a deep breath. She was home. It was the first time she'd seen the inside of her apartment in almost two weeks. The fire had taxed the resources of the firefighters to the limit. And she and Sean had fought along side them — doing whatever was necessary to pitch in, from making meals to bandaging wounds. But the fire had finally been defeated and the small town of Armstrong had been saved.
Catherine had been more than thrilled with the series of stories Lois had managed to submit. She'd called the series The Life Of A Forest Firefighter. It had been, at times, thrilling, at times, scary, and in the end, victorious. Lois had to admit, she was proud of the series. She was fairly certain she had managed to convey the feelings and experiences of fighting a large forest fire. She had included stories of survival, stories of loss and stories which merely amused. For example, two fishermen had abandoned their car when the fire had gotten too close, taking a boat to safer ground — only to be rescued by firefighters and taken to Armstrong. When they had finally returned two weeks later, the fish in their trunk had rotted. Lois wasn't entirely sure that they would ever be able to get the smell out of their car. The fishermen's only comment had been, 'But it was packed in ice when we left.'
She'd also done her best to describe the eerie feeling that settled in the pit of her belly when she watched the glow of the fire on the horizon at night. Or the suffocating smoke when the wind was coming from the wrong direction. Or the white, snow-like soot which was covering the ground every morning. And according to Catherine, she had succeeded. The readers were apparently following every move, living vicariously through her and, even more importantly, sending in donations of money to relieve the beleaguered community.
In addition to the miraculous rainstorm which had materialized out of nowhere shortly after she had arrived, there had been a number of other unexplained events. None as dramatic as that first miracle, however. Still, various interventions of a supernatural nature had definitely occurred — telling Lois that Clark was at work behind the scenes. Lois had investigated each and every instance as thoroughly as possible, but with no sign of Clark. Lois had taken great care not to include these events in her stories.
When the fire was finally out, a party was held in the ARDC to celebrate their success. But Lois hadn't been in the mood for a party. So she had convinced Sean that it was time to come back to Metropolis. They had arrived in the city about an hour ago. She had come straight home.
She let out a long slow breath. The fire wasn't the only thing defeated. During the past two weeks, Lois had come to a painful realization. She was on a wild goose chase. Pursuing disasters had taken everything out of her. It was time to admit that she wasn't going to find Clark. She had fought it. She had argued against it. But there was no longer any point in denying it. Clark Kent was not about to be found. And she could no longer stand to look into the faces of the victims of disaster, watching as their lives disintegrated around them. She had spent almost four months living at disaster sites and it was no longer possible for her to continue. Time had come to give up the search.
After relaxing for a few more minutes, Lois dragged herself to her feet and made her way over to the phone. She'd checked her answering machine a few times while she'd been away. But it had been a few days since the last time she had called in. Might as well see if anyone interesting had called.
The machine was flashing. Pushing the button on the machine, she picked up the mail she had tossed on the table and began sorting through it as the messages droned on. She had just finished seeing what letters had come when a familiar voice filled the room. Bill Henderson. She set down the mail and turned towards the machine.
"I know you're out of town. Hopefully you're checking your messages. Listen, the reason I'm calling is that… Well, I'm not sure if you're interested. But after I ran those prints you brought in, I put a flag on the file — you know, to see what might turn up."
Lois swallowed hard, her heart rate suddenly testing fully the capacity of her heart to push blood through her veins.
"Anyway, I got a call a little while ago that might interest you. Give me a shout when you get this message."
Lois hit the stop button on the answering machine and grabbed the phone. Her fingers trembled as she punched in the number for Bill Henderson. It seemed to take forever before Henderson came on the line.
"Hi, Lois. Did you have a good trip?" asked Henderson the moment Lois identified herself.
"What did you find?" Lois asked rather than answering Henderson's question.
"Oh, right. Charles King."
"What about him?"
"He was arrested three days ago for murder."
To Be Continued…
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Call a local lawyer and make an appointment to do your will before reading part two of Lois Lane's Quest. <g>
LOIS LANE'S QUEST — PART TWO
Charles King stared at the ceiling of the small cell, counting the cracks. How had he gotten himself in this mess? It was his own fault, of course. He should have learned by now that no good deed went unpunished. So why had he done it? He shifted on the hard cot. Because he was an idiot, that was why.
Well, it was just a matter of time before they had to transport him somewhere. They couldn't be planning to hold him in this two cell police station for the rest of his life. In fact, he was sort of surprised he was still in Bushville. He suspected it was because they wanted to keep him under their control as long as possible.
Still, the time would come when they would move him. He would make his break then. And once out, he'd be gone faster than a speeding bullet. It wasn't as if he couldn't break out of his cell. The problem was that it would be hard to do so without someone realizing that he had some… unusual abilities. So he'd bide his time until they transported him and then, he'd take advantage of the opportunity.
So what if Sharon Rose's murder went unsolved? It wasn't his problem. It wasn't as if it would make any difference if he did find out who the murderer was. So why even bother? He was the one they wanted to convict. And they were the ones with the power. So he'd just let things be. It wasn't as if it made any difference to him, after all.
Of course, he might have to change his name, move out of the States and live on the run. He shook his head. What was new about that? It wasn't as if he really had a life in this hick town anyway — or anywhere else for that matter. And it wasn't as if he couldn't pick up everything he owned and relocate somewhere else — the other side of the world was looking mighty good right about now.
Charlie looked towards the sound of a woman's voice. He quickly moved to a seated position when he saw the very attractive woman standing by the bars. She had long, dark hair, pulled back into a simple ponytail, and was wearing a professional business suit, even if the skirt was a little short. Not that Charlie was complaining. He couldn't say he didn't appreciate seeing a woman's legs, especially ones that were that fine.
He slowly rose to his feet and began approaching the bars.
"Yeah. I'm Charles King," Charlie responded. "And you are…?"
"I'm your lawyer."
Charlie's eyebrows rose. "My lawyer," he repeated, making sure that he had understood her correctly. When she nodded, he continued. "I don't have a lawyer."
"You do now," the woman informed him.
"Are you with the public defender's office?"
Charlie chuckled. "Then trust me, you're not my lawyer."
"Did you specifically want someone from the public defender's office?"
"No, but I can't afford to pay a lawyer."
"Don't worry about it. It's pro bono." She turned and looked at the officer standing at the end of the short hall. "Officer Ross, I need to talk to my client alone. Surely you have some place where we can sit and talk, so that I can take some notes."
"Umm…" the officer began.
"You aren't denying this man the right to speak to his counsel, are you officer?" the woman asked.
"No. No. It's just…"
"Good! Then find us a place where I can conduct a proper interview. I'm not about to stand outside these bars, trying to balance my notebook while I talk to my client. And I'm not about to talk to him in front of you. So go!"
"Right," the man responded before turning to do as instructed.
Charlie smirked as he watched the youngest member of the Bushville sheriff's department in the great State of Minnesota scurry to do as instructed. He looked back at the woman on the other side of the bars.
"So why don't you start by telling me your name?" Charlie suggested. "And then you can tell me who you're really working for."
The woman bristled. "I work for you, Mr. King. And my name… My name is Lucy Lane."
Charlie watched the woman on the other side of the table as she removed a notepad and pen from her briefcase before putting on a pair of reading glasses. Where had she come from? And why would she be prepared to represent him pro bono? Someone must be paying her bill. There really was only one possible explanation — they were paying her. He had to admit he was curious about why they would have sent him a lawyer.
"So, Mr. King," Lucy began, "if I'm going to help you, I need to know how you intend to respond to the charges."
"Funny. I would have thought you might want to know if I did it."
Lucy looked up at him, removing her reading glasses. She studied him for a long moment before responding. "Not necessarily. After all, if you tell me you did it, I'm limited in what I can do to represent you. So…"
"I didn't do it."
She was silent again.
"You don't believe me," he added after a moment.
"It's not my job to believe or not believe you. It's my job to present your case and pick holes in the prosecution's case."
"How can you represent me if…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head.
Lucy chewed on the end of her glasses for a minute before seeming to come to a decision. "Okay, fine," she said. "If you didn't do it then answer some questions for me. I've reviewed your file. How did Ms. Rose's blood end up on your shirt, a shirt which was found stuffed in the back of your closet?"
"I was set up."
Charlie shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He had his suspicions, but did he really want to tell this stranger? He wasn't sure. After all, if she had been sent by them, it might be that her sole purpose for being here was to find out exactly how much he knew about their involvement.
"I don't know," he finally responded.
Lucy put her reading glasses back on and looked back at her notepad. "Then maybe you can tell me where you were at the time of her murder."
"I was at home."
"Then why is it that shortly after Ms. Rose's body was found, the police attended at your place and you weren't there?"
"I was. I was just out back."
"They say they looked out back."
"It's not as if I have an actual back yard. I have a little cabin out by the lake. I was there." Charlie shifted again in his chair, not at all comfortable with this line of questioning. It wasn't as if he could tell her where he really was, after all.
"Really," Lucy said, her voice flat, clearly not buying his answer. "What about the knife with your finger prints on it?"
"Her place was in the back of the lodge. I was there all the time. I could have left those prints any one of those times."
"Okay, so what about the fight? A number of people saw the two of you fighting earlier that night. She was pretty ticked off from what witnesses said."
"Look, I was warning her…" Again, his voice trailed off. He had been warning her about them. She hadn't wanted to listen. As a result, they had fought.
Lucy studied him silently for a long moment. "So what exactly was your relationship with Sharon Rose?"
"She was my employer."
Lucy raised her eyebrows. "She was about your age. She was very pretty. And from what I saw in the police file, people saw you together, eating meals as well as other things, on a regular basis."
"Okay, so we were also friends," Charlie responded, knowing he sounded defensive.
"Yes." Charlie let out a breath. "Look, I know it looks bad. But you have to believe me. I didn't do this. I wouldn't do this. I cared about Sharon. I wouldn't have hurt her."
Lucy studied him for a long moment, not making a commitment to believing him or disbelieving him. Finally, she let out a long, slow breath. "Okay, look. We can talk about the evidence later. Right now I need some information. I've arranged a bail hearing for you in about an hour. We need to prepare for that."
"Bail?" he asked in disbelief. Didn't she know that there was no way that these men were going to let him out?
"Yes, bail," she responded.
He let out a breath. Well, he might as well go along. She'd realize the futility of trying to get him out soon enough. "Fine. What do you need to know?"
Charlie watched in what was almost abstract fascination as his lawyer eloquently argued for his release. His gaze drifted from Lucy Lane to Sheriff Derek Johns who was smirking on the other side of the courtroom — which was nothing more than a medium size room in the town's police station. He shook his head slightly. He wasn't entirely sure why this lawyer was trying so hard. It was obvious that the deck was stacked against him. Having a bail hearing was an exercise in futility.
Still, if she were able to argue his way to freedom, he would be gone. He had no intention of hanging around for the kangaroo court he knew would follow. He was already guilty as far as everyone here was concerned. If he was released, he wasn't about to waste the opportunity to get away from Bushville as fast as possible.
"Ms. Lane," Judge Randal said, his patience obviously being tested to the limit, "we're talking about a first degree murder charge. You can't just expect me to throw open the cell doors and let this murderer walk out of here."
"Alleged murderer," Lucy immediately corrected.
"Fine. Alleged murderer," the judge conceded. "I still can't let him walk out of here."
"Then fix bail."
"Why? It's not as if he can come up with a sufficient amount for bail."
Lucy let out a breath, giving the distinct impression that she was conceding defeat. "Still, to deny bail altogether denies hope. Surely…"
"Say no more," the judge said, cutting her off. "I'll tell you what. I'll set bail at a million dollars. Just never let it be said that I'd deny this poor alleged murderer hope."
Charlie looked over when he heard the sheriff stifle a laugh. All that work, all that arguing, and his lawyer's request had effectively been denied. After all, bail wasn't really bail if the defendant would never be able to raise it. Charlie suspected that the judge had simply set bail at a million dollars to get his lawyer to shut up.
He looked over at Lucy, who was chewing on her lower lip, obviously trying to come up with a response, a way to convince the judge to lower the amount of bail. Finally, she gave a small sigh and looked up again.
"Anything else, Ms. Lane?" the judge asked, obviously pleased at his ability to deny her request by granting it.
"No, your honor," Lucy replied.
"Fine. Then I guess that concludes today's business."
"All rise," said the court clerk. The occupants of the courtroom rose to their feet, followed by the judge leaving the room. "This sitting of the court is now closed."
Charlie felt arms behind him, directing him towards the door back to the cells. Lucy's hand on his arm stopped him. She leaned in and whispered something. And then he was pulled away. As he disappeared through the doors, he shook his head. He must have misunderstood her. After all, he could swear she'd said that it would take a few minutes to get the paperwork complete.
Had his lawyer completely lost her mind? He didn't have a million dollars for bail. He didn't have a thousand dollars for bail. Hell, he'd be hard pressed to come up with much more than a hundred dollars for bail. So what was the point in doing up the paperwork?
"What?" he asked in confusion, glancing back at the doors that were separating him from his lawyer.
"Keep moving, King," growled the Sheriff behind him, giving him a slight push in the appropriate direction.
"Well?" asked Lois the moment her sister reappeared.
"It's done. They want a million dollars."
"Nice round number," Lois responded before looking over at Sean. She'd made arrangements to take two million dollars out of the bank before coming today. Having Sean carry the money had seemed prudent. After all, who would mess with someone with his overbearing stature?
"I'll take care of it," said Sean before heading towards the counter.
Lois took out a tissue and blew her nose. Why did she have to come down with a cold today of all days?
"You okay?" her sister asked.
"Yeah." She finished blowing her nose and looked back at Lucy. "So? What did he tell you?"
"I can't tell you what we discussed," Lucy responded. "Attorney-client privilege," Lucy continued when Lois raised her eyebrows.
"You're not serious."
"I'm deadly serious. Just because you begged me to represent him…"
"Persuaded you," Lois corrected.
"Begged me," Lucy reiterated. "I don't work for you. I work for him."
"Come on. You've got to be able to tell me something."
Lucy looked at her sister for a long moment. "Okay, well I can tell you that he's claiming to be innocent. After all, I used that in my argument for bail so it's a matter of public record. Oh. And I know you don't care, but he also said he's single."
"Did you believe him? About his innocence, I mean," Lois clarified when her sister smirked.
Lucy chewed for a moment on her lower lip. "I don't know. Let's just say that I didn't not believe him."
"I didn't say I believe him. There is still a lot of evidence against him."
"But you didn't not believe him."
Lucy chuckled. "I didn't not believe him." Her smile faded and she continued. "But, Lois, I want you to be careful here."
"I'm serious, Lo. You're my sister. And I don't want to be picking up your pieces if you're wrong."
"You won't be. I promise. So when is he going to be released?"
"It will take a few minutes. Do you want me here when you meet with him?"
Lois shook her head. "I think this is something I need to do alone. Why don't you get Sean to fly you back to Washington? You can always come back when…"
"I'm not leaving Bushville right now," Lucy interrupted. "I'll wait at the plane with Sean. If you're not back by supper time, I'm coming to find you."
"Yes, mother," Lois responded.
Lois paced nervously in the lobby at the police station, waiting for Clark to appear. Charlie! She was going to have to think of him as Charlie. Otherwise, she was going to mess up and let him know what she knew about him before he was ready to hear it. Charlie. She repeated the name to herself several times.
She couldn't believe how nervous she was. She had spent so much time trying to figure out how to find Charlie that she hadn't contemplated in any real way what she was going to do, what she was going to say, once she did. What had she expected? That he would take one look at her and pledge his eternal love? It was crazy.
Making her way over to a chair, she sank down into it. Her hand found its way to her mouth and she chewed nervously on a knuckle. It came on her without warning. She barely had time to raise the tissue in her free hand to cover her nose and mouth before she sneezed.
Lucy had claimed that Lois had begged her to come to Bushville to represent Charlie. It wasn't true, of course. She had simply pointed out the obvious. That Charlie needed a lawyer. Lucy had objected on the basis that she hadn't practiced criminal defense work since she had joined Perry's legal team. Lois, expecting this argument, had reminded Lucy that before that had occurred, she had been one of the best criminal defense counsels at Potter, Lewis and Flinch. And it was like riding a bicycle, after all — wasn't it?
Lois suspected that Lucy had finally agreed more in an effort to get her own read on Charlie King, and make sure that her sister wasn't plunging headfirst into disaster, than out of any real belief in Charlie's innocence. In fact, during their trip to Bushville, Lucy had insisted on telling Lois, in detail, the gruesome nature of Sharon Rose's murder — emphasizing once again to Lois that the Clark Kent of this universe might not be the man Lois was expecting to meet. Still, whatever her reasons, Lois was relieved that her sister had agreed to help out.
Lois sneezed again. Great. This was supposed to be the scene where Charlie would take one look at her and fall madly in love. How was he supposed to do that when she felt as if she were death warmed over — and probably looked even worse? She raised a hand to her forehead. Great. She had a fever. What else could go wrong?
Not that she had any intention of leaving. It was about to happen. After months of searching, meeting her Clark was only a matter of minutes away. She wouldn't miss this if they had to carry her in on a stretcher. Clark… Charlie! Charlie would be walking through the door on the other side of the room momentarily. And if she didn't approach him immediately, she might not get another chance. After all, if Charlie was suspicious of her sister's involvement then he might simply decide to disappear the instant he walked out of the police station. Lois had no intention of letting that happen.
Lois looked up from behind her tissue when she heard someone approaching. She felt an immediate jump in her heart rate. Clark was standing no more than twenty feet in front of her. His hair was the same as she remembered as were his face and eyes. He was even wearing a suit and tie similar to the one she had seen on the other Clark. On trembling legs, she rose slowly to her feet as he came ever closer. Quickly, she stuffed the tissue in her pocket.
Her introduction was cut off when he pulled her possessively into his arms and claimed ownership of her mouth. She froze momentarily, not quite able to believe that this was happening, before responding to his passion with a depth of emotion which equaled or even exceeded his own. Her arms snaked around his neck and her hands swept through his hair as she allowed the contact of their bodies to increase, her soft body surrendering to the demands of his hard one. She felt one of his hands slide down her back until it was massaging her buttocks.
She wasn't conscious of anything or anyone around. It was as if the world had faded into the background as she allowed herself to respond to the man whose hands were touching her with a lover's intimacy. Her head…
…lurched up when she heard the door on the far side of the room open. She shook her head forcefully, trying to pull her mind out of her fantasy. She let out a breath, her heart rate dropping dramatically, when she saw the shaggy, bearded man wearing a flannel shirt and jeans who stepped through the door. It wasn't Clark. At least that gave her a little more time to compose herself before… She crinkled her eyes and looked again at the man who was staring in disbelief at a document in his hands.
Suddenly, the blood was again pumping through her veins. She rose to her feet.
"Cl… Charlie," she breathed, her voice trembling ever so slightly on the single word.
When his head snapped up and he looked in her direction, she knew she was right. She swallowed hard when his eyes met hers, trying to convince her suddenly parched mouth to produce moisture. The clothes might not be familiar. His hair might be in need of a trim, as was the beard covering his face. But she'd know those eyes anywhere — even though the incarnation of Clark Kent now standing on the other side of the room didn't wear glasses.
She was unsure how long they stood there, staring at each other across the room. It briefly registered in her mind that she was staring and should look away — until she realized that he seemed unable to break eye contact as well. It wasn't until a sudden sneeze which forced her to close her eyes, broke the contact between them.
When she looked at him again, he was examining the bail papers in his hand. Almost as if she could read his mind, she saw the questions and suspicions set in. Questions like who she was and why she had put up his bail. What must he be thinking? After all, as far as he was concerned, she didn't even know him. Why would she put up a million dollars to bail him out?
She seemed unable to move as he slowly, cautiously approached.
"Hi," she said when he was finally standing a few feet in front of her. She silently cursed herself when the word came out more as a croak. She cleared her throat and tried again. "I take it you're Charlie King."
"That's right," Charlie replied, keeping his eyes suspiciously on her.
"My name is Lois Lane. I'd shake your hand, but as you can see…" She gestured to her tissue. "I seem to have come down with a cold or something."
Charlie nodded slowly.
"Not quite the impression I was hoping to make," she added.
"Oh, and what impression is that? Listen, it's not going to work. You can just go back and tell your boss that I wasn't fooled."
"Fooled?" she asked, wiping her nose with the tissue before looking up at him with runny eyes.
Charlie seemed to stumble over his next words. "Umm… I… Umm…" he began, before losing his line of thought.
Lois quickly pulled herself together. This was the moment of truth — the moment that had the power to make him listen to her or to drive him to the other side of the world. She chose her words carefully. "Listen, I'm sure you have questions about why I put up your bail. But…" She blew her nose. "Do you think we could go somewhere where I can get a cup of tea or something? I'm really not feeling very good. I promise I'll tell you everything. I just need to… umm… sit down or…"
She stumbled slightly — suddenly feeling a little light headed. His arms were instantly around her, pulling her against his chest, steadying her. Lois' breath caught in her throat. His face was only inches from hers. She could feel his breath on her face. His eyes caught hers and she was instantly lost. It would take almost no effort for her to kiss him. Without conscious thought, her body leaned closer.
Looking shocked by what was happening, Charlie suddenly released her, stepping away. She quickly broke eye contact.
"I'm sorry. Like I said, I'm not feeling very well. I didn't mean to…"
"No. No problem. Umm… Look, why don't we continue this conversation somewhere where you can sit down? My truck is probably still parked in front of the hardware store — where they arrested me. My cabin's only a few miles up the road. If that doesn't make you nervous, of course. We could always go to the restaurant…"
"Your place is fine," Lois interrupted turning and heading for the door. She had no intention of starting off this conversation by giving him any reason to think she didn't trust him — regardless of what her sister would say. Besides, this was a conversation she really would rather have in private. A quick look over her shoulder told her that Charlie was following as she left the police station.
She mentally chastised herself for almost kissing him. She was going to have to be careful or she was going to end up scaring this guy off. It was one thing letting him know that she wasn't scared of him. It was another completely letting him know… think!… think that she was gaga about him. After all, in spite of the other Clark's comment that he had fallen for his Lois the moment he first laid eyes on her, that was obviously not the case between her and Charlie. She was the one who was completely smitten. His reaction to their almost kiss made his lack of interest painfully obvious. And she still had her pride, after all.
"Okay, let me get this straight," said Charlie, when Lois returned. She had explained her reasons for bailing him out and then taken a trip to the bathroom while he made tea, giving him a chance to digest what she had told him. He poured the tea. Walking over to the table, he handed Lois a cup and offered her honey. "My mom used to put honey in her tea when she was sick," he said by way of explanation.
He took a seat at the table before continuing. "Let me see if I understand. You're a reporter for the Daily Planet?"
"And you're working on a story about Sharon's murder?"
"So you asked your sister to represent me and put up a million dollars for my bail because… I'm sorry. This is the part that gets a little confusing."
"I don't think you're guilty. And I have a gut instinct that you can help me solve this case — get the truth out to the American public."
Charlie looked down at his cup, absently stirring it while he considered her words. He had thought her name was familiar when she first told it to him. It was on their way to his cabin that who she was had hit him. After all, Lois Lane was the reporter who had broken the story about who had killed his parents. He had read every word of that story at least a hundred times — desperately trying to glean every scrap of information it contained. When he realized the identity of the woman bailing him out, he was instantly suspicious. What were the chances that her presence in his cabin had nothing to do with that story?
Of course, he'd been suspicious of her motives for bailing him out even before he'd realized who she was. Not that his suspicions had stopped him from almost kissing her. What on earth had he been thinking? Sometimes he really was a shmuck. It had just been such a long time since he'd had a beautiful woman in his arms, he'd reacted without thinking. He supposed it was a normal reaction.
Of course, he had pictured Lois Lane quite differently from the stunning, even if she was sick, woman currently sitting at his table. In fact, how did he even know that she was Lois Lane? Maybe this was just some elaborate hoax to find out how much he knew about Sharon's murder.
"Do you have your press pass?" he asked.
"Umm… Yeah. Sure." She picked up her purse and removed the requested item, handing it to him.
He studied the card carefully, but even with his special visual capacities, he couldn't find any evidence of tampering. And it was definitely her picture. He handed the card back to her. "And that's the whole story?" he asked.
She looked straight in his eyes. "What else could I want?"
He instantly broke eye contact, looking again at his tea. There was a long moment of silence.
"So will you help me find Ms. Rose's murderer?" Lois finally asked.
He looked up at her again. "No."
"No? Don't you care? Don't you want to find out who killed your friend? Don't you even care that she's dead?"
"Of course I care that she's dead. But finding out who killed her isn't going to bring her back."
"What about justice? Don't you at least want her to get justice?"
Charlie snorted. "You can't really be that naive. There is no such thing as justice. Why does it even matter who killed her? Chances are they'll just hire some smart lawyer who will get them off on a technicality anyway."
"But what about your case? Even if you aren't interested in justice for Ms. Rose, you're the one who has been charged with her murder. You must want…" Her voice suddenly died. Charlie looked up and their eyes met before she continued, her voice not much more than a whisper. "You're planning to skip out on your bail, aren't you?"
He immediately looked back at his tea as if it was the most fascinating shade of brown.
"Fine!" she said, rising to her feet and heading for the kitchen. She dumped her tea down the sink.
"Didn't you like the tea?" he asked.
"The tea?" she asked in return, utter disbelief in her voice. "It was fi… Actually, no. It was probably the worst tea I've ever had. Did you even bother to let the water come to a boil?"
"It was hot."
She snorted before heading towards the door. Maybe her sister was right. The Clark she had briefly gotten to know would never walk away from something like this — and he could cook, too. Charlie King wasn't someone she was sure she even wanted to know, let alone… Well, whatever.
"Wait a minute," said Charlie, rising to his feet. "What are you going to do?"
"Do? Oh, you mean, am I going to report your plan to disappear to the police? Don't worry, Mr. King. I don't give a damn about losing the money. I'll find out who killed Sharon Rose without your help."
"You're still going to look into this?"
"Of course I'm still going to look into this! It might not matter to you who killed Ms. Rose. But it matters a hell of a lot to me. So if you'll excuse me…"
She grabbed her jacket and began putting it on. She wasn't entirely certain she had ever been so bitterly disappointed in her life. Suddenly, Charlie was there. She gasped when she found herself pushed up against the wall, Charlie standing in front of her, his body pinning her to the wall, his hands wrapped around her wrists. She instinctively began struggling against him but with no success.
"Do you want to know who murdered Sharon?" he asked, his tone definitely threatening.
"What do you think you're… Yes. Yes I want to know."
"I did it. I killed her." One of his hands let go of her wrist to come up to her throat. "And do you want to know how I did it?"
Her free hand automatically latched onto his arm, trying to pull it away from where it was lightly wrapped around her neck while she continued to struggle as much as possible with the remainder of her body. But no matter how much she squirmed or how hard she kicked, he would not be budged.
"I held her much the way I'm holding you now," he continued without waiting for her response. "And then I simply tightened my hand." He marginally tightened his hold on her throat.
Lois went still as fear flooded her body for the first time. Given what she knew about this man's abilities, there was no way for her to escape. Was it possible that she was wrong about him? After all, she didn't really know him. Maybe he was the murderer. She saw the look of triumph that instantly appeared in his eyes and all at once she knew. This man, the man who had been secretly helping out at disasters, was no murderer. So why was he going to such great lengths to convince her that he was? She had an idea about that. Her hand relaxed from where it had been desperately pulling on his arm.
"Once she lost consciousness," Charlie continued, "I went to the kitchen, took her butcher knife and finished the job. It was wonderful seeing the blood. It was everywhere. So is that enough for you? Or do you want me to describe her desperate pleas for mercy as I choked the life out of her? Or what it was like to see her body go limp?"
"I don't believe you. You didn't hurt her and you won't hurt me," she responded. "Now," she began softly, "get your damn hands off me!" She slammed the palm of her hand against his chest.
The sudden attack caught him off guard and he stumbled back, looking startled. And she knew she was right. He was trying to protect her, trying to get her to give up the search for Sharon's murderer by scaring the living daylights out of her — and by getting her to believe that the Bushville sheriff's department had the right man.
"So," she began, her hand coming up to lightly rub her throat, "are you going to help me or not? Because, whether you like it or not, Mr. King, I'm going to find out who murdered Sharon Rose."
She cocked her head to the side and studied him. He ran his hand through his hair, looking more than a little distressed. And Lois felt the anger she'd experienced at his barbaric attempt to protect her drain from her body.
"Look, Lois," he said, speaking very slowly, his eyes directed at the floor. "You really should let it go. These guys are dangerous. They won't let you get close enough to find out what's going on."
"I'm not asking for their permission."
He looked up then, his eyes full of anguish. "You're really not going to let this go, are you?"
He raked his hand through his hair once again before letting out a breath. "So, do you still want my help?"
Lois smiled — and then closed her eyes and desperately began searching in her pockets before… Charlie handed her a fresh tissue and she sneezed.
Charlie pulled his dusty laptop computer out from where it was stored under his bed. It had been a long time since he'd needed it. He was glad now that he'd kept up his internet connection. After all, before their meeting later this evening, he wanted to find out everything he could about Lois Lane. It was just so… unbelievable that she would end up by accident in his corner of the world, bringing her sister along to act as his lawyer and putting up the money for his bail. There was something else going on here. He was determined to find out what it was.
He berated himself again for agreeing to help find Sharon's murderer. He shouldn't even be staying in Bushville. He was a marked man. It really didn't matter who had killed Sharon. Regardless of what he and Lois found, the murderer would never see the inside of the courtroom. Not that he knew who had killed Sharon. But he had his suspicions. And if it was whom he suspected, he owned this town. He owned the police. He owned the judiciary. And he owned or terrified all the potential witnesses. He wasn't sure if Lois was simply naive or if she just didn't understand how things worked in Bushville.
He finished getting his computer plugged in and then waited as it booted up.
After he had agreed to help Lois, she had announced that she needed to go back to her jet. Her jet? Who was this woman? Since she hadn't owned a car, he had driven her to the airport himself. She had invited him to join them for supper. But he had declined. It was probably best that they keep their relationship strictly professional.
Of course, she'd made him promise to return in the evening so that they could begin their investigation. He was quickly learning that Lois Lane was a hard woman to turn down. Charlie sighed. It wasn't so much that Lois Lane was a hard woman to turn down. It was more that he didn't want to turn her down. He had absolutely hated the look in her eyes when he'd said he wouldn't help her find Sharon's murderer. She'd looked disappointed in him. Why her opinion of him mattered, he had no idea. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
He wasn't attracted to her. He wasn't! Okay, so maybe she was beautiful. And maybe, just maybe, he was slightly intrigued by her spirit. Any other woman would have been out of his cabin and on her way back to town the instant she had an opportunity if he had attacked her. This woman had come to his cabin with a purpose. And she had refused to leave until she'd achieved her goal. But that didn't mean he was attracted to her. After all, he couldn't have a life with her. He couldn't have a life with any woman. He knew that. He'd always known that. He had even come to terms with it.
So was he attracted to Lois Lane? Did she make his heart race just by looking in his eyes? No! Absolutely not! Never!
He was pulled out of his thoughts when the sounds of the computer informed him that he was ready to proceed. Focusing on his task, he began pulling up everything he could find about Lois Lane. He was amazed at the amount about her on the internet. He was thoroughly impressed when he stumbled across an article about her Pulitzer prize.
Her picture was featured in the article. He slowly traced the lines of her face with the pointer of the mouse. When he realized what he was doing, he clicked on the next link. 'Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Lois Lane, To Wed Billionaire Businessman, Lex Luthor.' She had been engaged to be married to Lex Luthor. He leaned back in his chair as he tried to digest that tidbit of information. No wonder she had a million dollars for bail. No wonder she had a private jet at her disposal. But hadn't he heard that Lex Luthor had turned out to be some sort of master criminal? What did that say about the woman he had met today?
Then Charlie eventually stumbled across a picture from Lex Luthor's funeral. He stared at it for a long time. In the center of the small, pitiful group was Lois Lane, staring absently at the casket about to be lowered into the ground. He let out a long slow breath. The look of sadness on her face said more than any words could. She had obviously really loved Lex Luthor. The pointer on his mouse found itself again absently tracing the woman on the monitor.
He continued his search for a time before he found a new and shocking pattern. He wasn't entirely sure why he hadn't noticed it before. After all, he stood in newsstands and devoured every news article which was written after he performed a rescue just to make sure that no one had seen him. Maybe the reason he hadn't connected Lois Lane with those articles was that he looked at papers from all over the world, written by hundreds of different reporters. But it seemed as if Lois had started, a few months ago, covering many of the disasters he had been attending. Was it possible that she had been looking for him? No. That was crazy. After all, even if she had discovered that Clark Kent had survived and that he was now living as Charlie King, there was no way she could possibly know about his powers and therefore, couldn't know that he would be at those disasters.
He pulled his eyes away and leaned back in his chair. Raising his hand to his face, he raked it through his beard. It suddenly felt extremely shaggy. So did his hair for that matter. He really could use a trim. Without allowing himself to contemplate why he suddenly needed a trim, he rose to his feet. After all, cutting his hair and trimming his beard would only take a few minutes.
"So?" asked Lucy, the moment Sean left to go into town and fetch supper.
"So?" asked Lois in response.
Lucy reached over and swatted her sister. "How did it go?"
Lucy let out a breath of frustration.
"Okay, okay," Lois conceded. "It was… interesting."
"Could you try being just a little more specific?"
Lois shrugged again. "Well, he's innocent of the charges."
"And how on earth do you know that? I suppose he said he didn't do it."
"Actually, he attacked me."
"What?" gasped Lucy.
"Take it easy. He was just trying to convince me that he was guilty."
"I guess attacking you would sort of do that."
"Would you relax! He didn't hurt me. He wouldn't hurt me. He was just trying to make me think he was guilty so that I wouldn't start digging around into who the real killer is."
"Because he was afraid I'd get hurt."
Lucy studied her sister for a long minute. "I guess you've got to sort of admire him for that. I've been trying to get you to be more careful for years. Although, I do sort of question his methods."
"So now that he's here to watch out for me, I guess that means that you'll be going back to Washington."
"Slow down. Just because he didn't hurt you doesn't mean he won't. I don't like this, Lo. I really don't. I think it might be best if I…"
"I'll tell you what," said Lois, cutting Lucy off. "He's coming here this evening to start our investigation. Why don't you stick around and help out? Make up your mind afterwards." She picked up a tissue and blew her nose while she waited for her sister's response.
Lucy chewed on her lower lip as she considered Lois' suggestion. "Fair enough." There was a moment of silence before the corner of Lucy's lip twitched up. "So is he the one?"
"Don't give me that! You know exactly what I mean! Come on. I want the dirt. Did he make your heart race? Did you make his heart race?"
Lois shifted uncomfortably.
"What? Come on, Lo. You've never been coy before. I'm your sister. You can tell me anything. I thought we established that when you told me about the alternate Clark."
"I know. I know. It's just… Well, he definitely made my heart race. It almost made what I felt for the alternate Clark seem more like… a crush."
"That's good, isn't it?" Lucy asked, confused by the lack of excitement in her sister's voice.
"He didn't seem to feel the same way about me."
Lois let out a long slow sigh. "Can I ask you something?" she finally asked. "It's just… I'm not quite sure how to let him know that I'm sort of interested in exploring something more. Don't laugh!" she exclaimed when Lucy burst out laughing.
"Lois, you only met this guy a few hours ago. What did you want? Him to take one look at you and…"
"I know all that. I just thought… Well, I've never had to let a guy know that I'm interested. I mean, every man I've ever dated pursued me."
"What about Claude? Or Paul for that matter?"
"Yeah. And you know how well I did with both of those. One date each. Face it, the only times I've had any real relationships it's been the man who's been pursuing me. I don't know what to do in this situation."
Lucy chuckled. "You'll figure it out, sis."
"You're a lot of help," muttered Lois.
Lucy's smile faded. "Seriously, though. Be careful. Just let things happen naturally. Get to know this guy before jumping into something."
A slightly wicked smile spread across Lois' face. "Would you quit worrying. When am I ever not careful?"
Charlie felt inexplicitly nervous as he climbed the steps leading up to the entranceway of the private jet. He stopped at the top, raking his hands through his newly cut hair. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the hatch. Was this really where she wanted to meet?
He stepped back quickly when the barrier was suddenly thrust aside and an intimidating looking man was standing in front of him. Had it not been for a little judicious use of his superpowers, he might have fallen backwards down the steps.
"I'm looking for Lois Lane," he informed his greeter.
The man didn't respond. Instead he slowly ran his eyes over Charlie, as if assessing the risk. Charlie shifted on his feet, realizing that not everyone in Lois Lane's party was convinced of his innocence. Had they all heard about his attack on her? Possibly. How could he ever explain that it had been for her own good? Not that it had worked. If it had, he might be sitting down for breakfast in Australia right about now.
Before things had time to get any more awkward, a voice sounded from inside the jet.
"Come on in," said Lois, appearing in the doorway beside the man. "This is Sean. He's my pilot and he's… a little over protective at times," she concluded, pushing Sean slightly out of the way so that Charlie could get past him. "The beard looks good," she added as he made his way into the plane.
"Thanks," he said self-consciously, brushing a hand through the neatly trimmed hair on his face as he wondered once again why trimming it had been so important.
"And you know my sister, Lucy," Lois continued, gesturing to her sister who was seated at a table inside, his file spread out before her. "I hope you don't mind, but we've already started."
Charlie nodded nervously at Lucy and followed Lois as she went to join her sister.
"I'll just go check on the weather," grumbled Sean, heading reluctantly out of the plane.
Charlie glanced back for a second, wondering if Sean had been told to leave him alone with the women so they could work. Obviously, he wasn't at all happy about the prospect of leaving. Regardless, he disappeared down the stairs.
"Now," continued Lois, gesturing him to a seat, "I want to know who you think killed Sharon Rose and why you tried to warn me off."
Charlie sank into a chair at the table. He looked at the photos of the crime scene on the table before him. He'd seen them briefly during his interrogation, but it was still hard looking at them. "That's why." He gestured to the photos. His eyes focused on one particularly brutal photo. "She was a warm, witty, intelligent woman."
Lois began rifling through the photos, finally pulling out a picture of Sharon before the murder and depositing it in front of him. "Not to mention, beautiful," she said, sinking into a chair beside Charlie.
Charlie focused on the picture, images of better days flashing through his mind. He slowly reached out and reverentially touched the picture. It was a moment before he looked up at Lois again. She was watching him closely. The unspoken question seemed to hang between them.
"Look, as I told your sister, Sharon and I were just friends."
"Really," Lois responded, her voice flat.
Lois could hardly believe the unexpected surge of jealousy she felt when Charlie looked affectionately at Sharon's picture. The woman was dead, for crying out loud. The envy intensified when Charlie stated that they were just friends. Lois was certain that wasn't the whole story.
Charlie let out a breath. "Okay, what was my relationship with Sharon Rose?" He got a far off look in his eyes. "I'm not sure how much you know so I'll just start at the beginning."
He paused again, as if trying to organize his thoughts and Lois felt that same piercing jealousy. She knew nothing about this woman and already she disliked her.
"I came to Bushville about… I guess it would have been about fourteen months ago now," Charlie began. "Sharon's father had owned the Rose Resort. Its main lodge is just outside of town. From there, guides take groups further into the bush — you know, for hunting and fishing. When he died a couple of years ago, Sharon took over the operation."
Lois wiped her nose self-consciously as she looked again at the picture of the beautiful blonde. She would never have pictured that woman as someone who would have owned and operated a wilderness resort.
"I know, she doesn't look like the type," Charlie said, as if reading Lois' thoughts. "Actually, she worked as a model in Metropolis for a couple of years. But then her mother got cancer. Sharon had to quit to help care for her. When her mom died, she stayed and began helping her father in the business. She didn't have any siblings and took her responsibility to her family very seriously.
"Anyway, when I was passing through town last summer, I stopped at Buck's Bar and Grill for breakfast. While I was there, I found out that Sharon was hiring guides."
"Had you worked as a guide before?"
He shook his head. "I've done a lot of different things over the years, but I'd never worked as a guide. But it sounded sort of interesting. And I needed a job, so I made my way to the lodge and applied. Sharon decided to take a chance on me."
"Why?" Lois asked somewhat suspiciously. Charlie was a good-looking guy. Was that Sharon's motivation?
Charlie shrugged. "To tell the truth, since her father's death, the lodge had been having financial problems. There wasn't much competition for the job."
"So you're telling me it was strictly a professional decision?" Lois asked skeptically.
Color rose in Charlie's cheeks. "Mostly," he responded softly, this time avoiding eye contact. "Look, it was… complicated with Sharon." He ran his hand through his hair.
"I thought you told me that you were just friends," said Lucy, jumping on his contradictory statements.
He looked between Lucy and Lois, struggling with how to answer. "When she was killed, we were only friends. There was a time… It didn't last long. She wanted more from a relationship than I could give. So we went back to being friends. And I think her decision to hire me as a guide was simply a matter of her needing someone — and I was there."
"But if you weren't even from the area, how were you going to be a guide?" asked Lois.
"I could read a navigation map. So all I had to do was learn where the best hunting and fishing spots were. It wasn't that hard."
Lois narrowed her eyes and studied him for a long moment. She supposed it wouldn't be hard for someone who could look into the water to see where the fish were, or through trees to see where the animals were, or even to fly above the trees to figure out where he was if he got lost.
"So the lodge was having financial problems. Could that have something to do with the reason Ms. Rose was killed?" Lois asked.
"Actually, over the course of the past year, Sharon had managed to turn things around. She even managed to keep the lodge open last winter — catering to cross country skiers. It was really starting to make money. That's what made Ken Marsh interested."
"Ken Marsh?" Lois asked.
"He owns Bushville."
"Owns it?" Lucy asked.
"Lock, stock and barrel. The only reason that judge set bail was because he was certain that I couldn't raise it — and I think he got tired of arguing with you," he added, looking at Lucy. "He would never have set bail for me otherwise. I'm their scapegoat. They won't let me walk away from this. No way."
"Wait a minute," said Lucy. "Are you trying to claim that everyone is in on this? The police, the judge, everyone?" She sounded skeptical.
"That's exactly what I'm saying. For the past few months, Marsh has been trying to get Sharon to sell him the lodge. I tried to warn her about him. That's what we were fighting about on the evening she was killed." Charlie picked up the picture of Sharon. "Still, my warnings just made her mad. If I had done what I should have done, it would have been more effective. But I wanted… If it hadn't been for me, she'd probably have agreed. She'd have gotten out of this crummy town, maybe with a few bucks in her pocket. She'd never have wanted to stay. And she'd never have been killed." He stared at the picture of Sharon, completely lost in his own thoughts and guilt.
"What do you mean if it hadn't been for you?" Lois asked.
"Sharon kept asking what I'd do if she sold the lodge. I told her not to worry about me — I'd just move on. I'm not sure it was the answer she was looking for. But what could I…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "Besides, that wasn't the only reason to sell. The lodge started having problems a couple of months ago."
"What sort of problems?"
"People cancelling their reservations at the last minute. Problems with supplies. Boats breaking down. Things like that."
"And you think this Marsh character was behind it?"
"I know he was. But I couldn't prove it to save my life." He let out a slow breath. "I should have just stayed out of it. I should have packed my bags and just left — forced the issue," he concluded on a whisper, a troubled expression settling on his face. "At least she'd be alive today."
"What happened?" Lois asked softly, reaching over and laying a hand on his arm, responding instinctively to the need to comfort him.
As if he had suddenly been burnt, he shifted, dislodging her hand. She pulled her hand back self consciously. "What happened?" she asked again, trying not to display her hurt at his obvious rejection.
Charlie let out a slow breath as he thought back to the last time he had seen Ken Marsh. As usual, Marsh had arrived at the lodge followed by his son, Junior, and his entourage, a mixture of tough looking men wearing business suits and sunglasses, as if they had watched too many old gangster movies.
Junior had rushed ahead, opening the door of the lodge to allow his father to enter. Charlie listened carefully, while repairing a motor for one of the boats. Ken Marsh Senior entered the lodge, followed by his son and two of the men. The others waited outside, looking appropriately intimidating.
One of the men had approached Charlie, kicking the motor so that it fell over. Charlie rose to his feet, moved closer to the man and glared at him until the smirk disappeared off his face. Setting the motor upright, Charlie returned to his task, all the while keeping his hearing focused on the house.
"No. It doesn't matter how many times you ask. The answer is still no," Sharon was saying.
"Your employees are leaving. Your supplies aren't reaching you. And from what I hear, even your patrons are deserting you," Ken Marsh Sr. responded. "If I were you, I'd sell now, while your lodge is still worth something."
"And I bet you're responsible for all of it," Sharon spat back. "I will not be intimidated into selling to you, Mr. Marsh. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can quit wasting your money trying to ruin my business. And as for your advice, it's just as well you're not me. 'Cause if you were, your thugs outside would be throwing your ass off my property."
A corner of Charlie's mouth had tilted up. He had to admit, Sharon could be a formidable opponent when she chose to be. It was one of the things he really liked about her. He looked through the wall in time to see the smirk on Ken Marsh Sr.'s face fade.
"You'll change your tune soon enough," he responded, before turning to leave the house, Junior rushing to make it to the door before his father. He failed and received a glare from his father when the older man had to open the door himself.
Stepping outside, his eyes settled on Charlie.
"You'd do well to find other employment," Marsh informed Charlie.
"Oh, and why's that?" asked Charlie, rising to his feet and approaching the older man.
"Because there's no future here."
Charlie had narrowed his eyes and leaned close enough to Marsh to whisper in his ear. "You hurt her and you'll answer to me. And trust me, it won't be pretty."
Marsh had pulled back, stared directly into Charlie's eyes, before turning and heading off the property.
Charlie related the story to Lois and Lucy, being deliberately vague about how he had heard the conversation inside the lodge. He was relieved that they let that part of the story go unchallenged. When he had finally finished, he picked up the picture of Sharon, remembering the vibrant woman she had been. He was pulled out of his thoughts by Lois' voice.
"You threatened him?" Lois asked, wiping her nose with a tissue.
"It was stupid. I know that. I just didn't want… I guess it backfired. He looked furious when he left. At the time, I thought it was a victory, that maybe it would make him think twice before hurting Sharon." He shook his head. "I just didn't want him to hurt her. And then I wasn't there when it really mattered."
Lois reached over and picked a paper out of the file, looking at the date and time of Sharon's murder. Her breath instantly caught in her throat as she wondered why she hadn't noticed it before. She knew the reason Charlie hadn't been there when Sharon had been killed — he had been rescuing her and a hundred other people from a raging forest fire. She opened her mouth to tell him that she understood before closing it again, not sure how he would respond if she told him what she knew.
Passing the document to Lucy, she tapped her finger lightly on the date. Lucy crinkled her eyebrows, obviously trying to understand Lois' unspoken message. Lois knew the instant Lucy made the connection.
"What?" asked Charlie.
"Nothing," Lucy immediately responded, meeting her sister's eyes. A moment of silent understanding passed between them as Lucy wordlessly acknowledged Charlie's innocence.
"Look," said Lucy after a moment, "if you guys don't mind, I think I'll go find Sean. I'm going to see if he can fly me back to Washington tonight. I think you two have this well in hand."
At Lois' nod, Lucy got up and left Lois and Charlie alone.
"You can't be everywhere, Charlie," Lois said when her sister was gone. "It wasn't your fault. From what you're telling me, it's Ken Marsh's fault."
His facial expression told her that he wasn't buying it.
"Look, Charlie," she continued, "all any of us can do is try to help, no matter how strong or smart or fast we are. Sometimes it's simply not enough."
He gave her a slightly sad smile.
"Well, look. All we can really do now is find a way to prove that Ken Marsh killed her. I think she would have wanted it. It doesn't sound as if she was the type to just give up."
"Well, I agree with you there," said Charlie.
"And I think you might rest easier if Ken Marsh were behind bars, too."
Charlie got up and ran his hand through his hair before looking at Lois. "You still don't get it, do you? Even if we find the proof that Ken Marsh is responsible, you aren't going to get anyone in this town to do anything about it."
"Even if the truth is splashed across the front page of the biggest paper in the country?"
Charlie opened his mouth to respond before closing it again. "It might work," he finally conceded.
"Good!" Lois responded.
"So where do we start?"
"Well… I was just thinking. Maybe we need to start with a trip to the crime scene."
"But it's been sealed off."
"Pfff," was Lois' only response, causing the corner of Charlie's mouth to twitch.
"What?" Kenneth Marsh exclaimed, jumping to his feet. He was a short, slightly over-weight man in his early fifties who was balding badly. His greatest asset over the years had been his ability to stare down his opponents, bending them to his desires by the sheer force of his will. He placed the palms of his hands on his desk and leaned on them as he glared at the Sheriff Johns. The man shifted uncomfortably under Marsh's gaze. "How did this happen?"
"I don't know. Both myself and Judge Randal were floored. I think he set bail at a million dollars just to get that stupid lawyer to shut up."
"So where did King get the money?"
"Some woman showed up and paid it."
"Some woman? Some woman? What woman?"
"Her name is Lois Lane."
Marsh pushed himself back off his desk. "Lane. That name seems familiar somehow." Ignoring Sheriff Johns, Marsh walked around his desk, lost in thought. "Where do I know that name?" he muttered. Suddenly, he spun around. "Wasn't there a Lois Lane who was supposed to marry Lex Luthor?"
The sheriff shrugged.
"Well, find out!" Marsh bellowed, sending the sheriff scurrying from the room to do as ordered.
Marsh looked out the window for another long moment. Luthor might be dead. Still, who knew if his reach extended beyond the grave? And if Lois Lane had been his fiancee…
"Do you want her taken care of?" asked his son's voice behind him.
"No, you moron. If she was engaged to Lex Luthor, we should be cautious. Make sure she doesn't get the warmest reception in Bushville. Let her know who owns this town. And put some men on to follow her. But don't touch her. Not yet. Not until I figure out what's going on."
"Can I help?" Junior asked.
Marsh finally turned around, sweeping his eyes slowly down his son's body before meeting his eyes in disbelief. "You? Don't you think you've done enough already?"
Lois stood just inside the grungy motel room and looked around. According to Charlie, there were only two motels in Bushville — and this one hadn't been on the top of the list. But when Lucy had taken the jet back to Washington, Lois had needed a place to stay.
Since she didn't have a car, Charlie had given her a lift to the better of the two motels. Fortunately he had insisted on staying until she was safely ensconced in her room, otherwise she might not have known what to do when, once she had given the man at the reception desk her name, he had promptly informed her that they didn't have any more rooms. Since he had been in the process of filling out a registration form for her when she told him his name, Lois had known that he was lying. But knowing he was lying didn't get her a room — even after one of her famous displays of Lane temper.
So Charlie had brought her here, apologizing the entire time for the motel. She had assured him that in her years as a reporter, she'd stayed in places that were undoubtedly worse. But now that she was here, she wasn't entirely certain she hadn't been lying.
Walking gingerly over to the bed, she reached out and, with only a thumb and forefinger, pulled back the covers to look at the sheets. She instantly balked at the idea of sleeping there. It didn't even look as if the sheets had been changed since the last occupant had left. Her gaze drifted to the pillow. How was she supposed to put her head on that?
Letting out a breath of frustration, she looked around the room. A hard wooden chair looked relatively safe. Making her way over, she removed one of the tissues in her pocket and wiped the chair before sitting down. Pulling out another tissue, she blew her nose.
She was sick. All she really wanted to do was to crawl into bed and have a good night's sleep. And yet she didn't even dare sit down on the bed.
So now what did she do? Apparently, Ken Marsh had made it clear that she was not welcome in the only decent motel in town. So she was stuck here. Unless, of course, she hiked out to Clark's place — Charlie's place! she reminded herself forcefully — appeared on his doorstep with her suitcase and begged for a place to sleep where she wouldn't have to worry about catching something during the night.
She had to admit, the idea had some appeal. How could he turn away a… damsel in distress? She felt an involuntary chuckle rise in her throat. The hero sacrificing his bed to save the princess. Wasn't that the stuff fairytales were made of? The chuckle became a laugh. Of course, maybe he wouldn't have to exactly sacrifice his bed. Maybe they could…
Woah! She pulled her mind away from that thought before it could progress any further. It was probably not wise to indulge in fantasies right now — especially given Charlie King's lack of interest in her. Besides, there was still the question of how she was going to deal with her current predicament. She wasn't about to crawl into that bed — not even fully dressed. And she couldn't exactly sleep in this hard wooden chair all night. So where did that leave her?
She heard a knock at the door. Confused, she rose to her feet and made her way to it.
"Yes?" she asked through the door.
"It's Charlie," came the answer.
She quickly unbolted the door and pulled it open to see Charlie standing outside, his arms stacked full of…
"Oh, thank god," Lois breathed, reaching out and taking the pillow and blankets on top of the pile so that she could see his face.
"I thought you might need some fresh…"
"You thought right!" Lois exclaimed, gingerly sniffing and then burying her face in the pillow. It smelled faintly of a wood fire. "Oh, these are wonderful. Has anyone ever told you that you're an angel? Thank you."
"You're welcome," Charlie replied, looking somewhat uncomfortable by her reaction.
She glanced at him from over the pillow, trying to figure out what she'd said wrong. When it hit her, she buried her face once again in the pillow to hide her grin. She'd asked if anyone had ever told him he was an angel. Given the number of times she'd heard him referred to in exactly those terms over the past few months, it was obvious the expression made him uncomfortable.
"Umm… Why don't I just…" He gestured in the direction of the bed.
"That's really not nec…" Her voice trailed off when he began stripping the bedclothes off the bed.
She walked closer, watching in fascination as he completed his task, remaking the bed, starting by putting on a mattress pad and then the clean sheets.
"You've obviously done this before," Lois said, watching his efficiency in making the bed.
"Well, it was one of the things my mom insisted on when I was growing up," he said as he finished putting the blankets on top. "I was required to make the bed as soon as I got up. I used to complain that I was just going to be climbing into it again a few hours later. But that was mom."
Lois wasn't entirely sure it wasn't her imagination, but to her ears he suddenly sounded a little wistful. "Was?"
"She died when I was quite young."
"I'm sorry. How did she die?"
"She and my dad died in a car accident," he replied without hesitation.
She nodded slowly. At least now she knew the standard cover story. "So what happened to you?"
He shrugged. "I just sort of bounced around." He gave a wry laugh. "You know the foster care system."
"I'm so sorry, Charlie. Are you okay?"
He shrugged again, not meeting her eyes. "Like I said, it was a long time ago."
Realizing immediately that he wasn't comfortable talking about this, she changed the subject. "Anyway, thanks for bringing over the bedding. I was about to pick up my suitcase, hike out to your place and demand that you provide me with a place to sleep."
"Really? Perhaps I should take this stuff back then. After all, I do have a big bed — plenty of room to share."
Lois blinked. Was he flirting with her? He was! It took her a moment to formulate a response. "Too late," she responded. "Now that I have a nice clean bed, why would I want to share one with you?"
Charlie cleared his throat nervously, almost as if he couldn't quite believe what he had just said. "Anyway," he continued, "have you checked out the bathroom yet?"
"I haven't dared," Lois said with a shiver.
"Would you permit me?"
"Be my guest," Lois said, gesturing in the direction of the bathroom.
Charlie picked up some cleaning items he'd brought and walked over to the door of the bathroom. He cautiously pushed it open. "Hey, it's not so bad in here," he said.
Lois crinkled her eyebrows and began walking towards the bathroom.
"Do you mind if I use it?" Charlie asked before, without waiting for an answer, walking inside and closing the door.
"Huh?" asked Lois, coming to a stop. There was something going on. She just couldn't quite put a finger on what it was. Given the general condition of the motel, she couldn't believe that anyone would have taken care to ensure that the bathroom was clean. And there was something strange about Charlie's sudden need to make use of the facilities. Before she could figure out what was up, Charlie exited the bathroom.
"Tell me something. How did you know that I would have been worrying about the cleanliness of this place?"
Charlie shrugged. "I've worked in the tourist industry for the past year. I know that a woman's biggest concern is cleanliness. So I figured…" He shrugged again. "Anyway, I should get going. I'll see you tomorrow," he said, heading towards the door.
"Thanks again," said Lois.
Lois smiled as the door closed behind Charlie. He had been flirting with her. Of course, he had backed off almost immediately, but that didn't take back what had happened. He had actually been flirting with her.
And when she thought about it now, there were other signs that he wasn't exactly indifferent to her. He had come to her motel room, bearing fresh sheets and blankets. He might work in the tourist business, but would he really have thought to come here if he wasn't at least thinking about her? He was a man, after all.
And she had definitely noticed the change in Charlie's appearance when he had arrived at the jet earlier. She had to admit, he cleaned up well. Hell, he was drop dead gorgeous. She really liked the nicely trimmed beard. She was glad that he hadn't shaved it off completely. It made it easier to think of him as Charlie. He definitely looked like a Charlie in the beard. Her Charlie.
It was progress. Maybe her sister was right. Maybe she just had to be patient. And contrary to what people seemed to think, Lois Lane could do patient. Continuing to smile, she began walking towards the bathroom. She pushed open the door and flicked on the light. Her mouth immediately fell open. The bathroom was clean. In fact, it was positively sparkling. But how was that possible?
Suddenly, images of the other Clark cleaning up after supper invaded her mind.
"You brat," she whispered, looking back at the door where she had last seen Charlie. And then she was laughing. He could be very handy to have around.
Never in Charlie's life had sex been this good.
"Charlie." Her single word was no more than a breath.
He looked at the woman beneath him. The electricity that seemed to jump between them nearly pushed him over the edge. He closed his eyes as their lovemaking continued, unable to deal with the intense emotions she was provoking in him.
It wasn't long before the world dissolved in a swirl of multi-color lights and…
…he jolted awake, crashing back to the bed, breathing hard and covered in sweat.
Charlie lay back in his bed, still recovering from the aftereffects of the powerful dream. It had been so real. Making love to Lois… No. It was just imagining what it would be like to make love to Lois that had been so mind- blowing.
He shook his head slightly. He supposed there was little point in trying to deny it anymore — trying to deny the overwhelming attraction he had felt for Lois Lane from the first moment he had laid eyes on her. If only it were in the cards for him to have a life, he would pursue that woman with a single minded determination that would put a professional athlete to shame. But he couldn't have a life. The truth was that they couldn't even become lovers.
He'd had a few lovers over the years — when his constant feeling of isolation from the rest of humanity drove him into the arms of some willing woman. But he'd learned years ago that the isolation he felt afterwards made the entire exercise pointless. After all, he wasn't even able to spend the night with the woman — given his fear that he might float in his sleep.
The sense of isolation which he knew would follow intimacy was what had finally driven him to break off his short- lived relationship with Sharon. Otherwise, she would have begun to question his hesitation to step over that threshold with her. Besides, she was probably the first person he'd really allowed himself to become friends with in years. He had been reluctant to risk that for what he knew would be a fleeting moment of passion.
Still, he had to wonder what it was about Lois Lane that seemed to be able to make his heart race — make him burn for something more. Sharon had tried for almost a year to make him feel this way, but without success. And yet this brunette had walked in and, in one afternoon, managed to stir up feelings, the likes of which he hadn't believed himself capable.
Besides, in his dream… What was he thinking? That things would be different with Lois Lane because he'd had a dream? He shook his head. It was just his subconscious playing tricks on him. That sense that he was different would still be there with Lois — maybe even worse than it had been previously — because she wouldn't know the truth about him. She didn't even know his real name…
That thought stopped him dead in his tracks. In his dream, she had called him Clark. What did that mean?
He snorted. Nothing. It meant absolutely nothing. He couldn't let it mean anything.
Lois felt much better the following morning. It seemed that a good night's sleep was all she needed to shake off the cold she'd had the day before. Charlie had met her at the motel and they had come together to the lodge.
As she got out of the truck and approached the building, she noticed that yellow tape was affixed to the front door. Lois studied it for a moment, wondering if she should just go ahead and cut it. The problem with that idea was that it would notify the police that someone had been there. And if Charlie were right that the police were suppressing evidence, did they really want the police to know what they were doing?
After all, she and Charlie had gone to a great deal of trouble this morning losing the men who were waiting for them outside Lois' motel room. Charlie had been very useful in that endeavor. Of course, he could have been even more useful if he'd just flown them out of the motel. But since he wasn't telling her he had that power, she had to settle for his ability to see through the corners instead of around them.
She glanced back at Charlie who was watching her curiously.
"Is there another way in?" she asked.
"Umm… yeah. There's a window on the other side of the lodge that never closes right. We can probably get in that way."
"Then why didn't you say that before?"
Charlie shrugged. "I wanted to see what you would do."
She stuttered for a moment, trying to find an appropriate response. His next comment kept that from happening.
"This way," he said, leading her around the building. When they arrived at the window, they both put on gloves before Charlie reached for the window. He jiggled it slightly and it opened. He made his hands into a step for her. She placed a hand on his shoulder and a foot in his hand and was through the window quickly. He followed, easily hoisting himself in behind her.
"Sharon mentioned once that this window was how she snuck out as a teenager. Fixing it was on my list of things to do. I just never got around to it."
"Good thing you didn't. It was the perfect way in," Lois responded, making her way to the door of what was obviously a storage room. She turned the handle and opened the door. It led to a kitchen. "Which way?" she asked. "The file said she was killed in the doorway to her bedroom."
"Come on," Charlie responded, taking the lead.
Lois bristled slightly. It seemed Charlie was well acquainted with the way to Sharon's bedroom. Not that it meant anything. After all, Sharon had lived in the back of the lodge so Charlie would have plenty of reason to know the premises — other than the one that leapt instantly to mind. And he had admitted to having a relationship with her at one time. He had probably been in that bedroom many times. The thought still caused her to shudder.
"Are you okay?" asked Charlie glancing back at her.
She blinked. The other Clark hadn't said anything about being able to read minds. Could he have simply neglected to mention that as one of his powers? Or had something else given away how much she was hating the fact that Charlie seemed very comfortable here? Some change in her that only he could hear or smell? He was waiting for an answer so she quickly pushed her questions to the back of her mind. "I just don't like murder scenes very much."
"Well, there's still time to change your mind."
"Nice try, buster. Lead on."
He nodded and continued to act as her guide through the quaint residence. Even Lois had to concede that Sharon had decorated the place very nicely — assuming it was her and not her mother or father. The entire place had a rustic country charm, very much in keeping with Lois' best images of a hunting and fishing lodge.
She was so engrossed in her surroundings that when Charlie suddenly stopped, Lois had to react quickly to avoid bumping into him.
"What is it?" she asked.
When he didn't answer, she stepped up beside him and suddenly understood the reason they were no longer moving forward. The floor ahead was stained with dried blood. A chalk outline on the hardwood showed quite clearly where the police had discovered Sharon's body.
Lois briefly laid a hand on Charlie's arm before stepping past him, carefully making her way around the blood stain. The photos from the crime scene hadn't been misleading in their portrayal of the amount of blood. According to the police report, Sharon had died of asphyxiation from strangling. But then, after her death, the killer had taken a butcher knife from the kitchen and slashed her with it again and again in a fit of rage. That was part of the reason why it was assumed that the killer was someone close to her. The act seemed personal — an act of passion. The knife was, after all, a weapon of opportunity — which signified that the killer had not intended to kill her when he had entered her residence that night.
Lois stepped around the corner and into the bedroom. She stopped immediately. The room was clean, except for the bed. It looked as if…
"Charlie, did Sharon usually make her bed?" she called behind her.
Charlie was there almost immediately. "How would I know?" he asked.
She glanced back at him. "Well, I thought… Never mind." She stepped further into the room. "This doesn't look to me as if it's just messy because she didn't make it that morning." She was silent for a moment. "Was Sharon involved with someone?" she asked.
"No way," Charlie responded immediately.
"How can you be sure? Maybe she just didn't tell you about him."
"She would have told me. We were friends."
"Even friends don't always tell each other everything."
"Something like this, she would have told me."
"Why? How can you be so sure?"
"You don't understand. Sharon wouldn't have kept something like this from me."
"Did you keep things about yourself from her?"
Charlie shifted uncomfortably. "What are you talking about?"
"I just mean all of us keep secrets. Secrets we don't even tell our friends. Maybe…"
"No. I would have known. Besides, just because her bed isn't made doesn't mean…"
His voice trailed off and Lois noticed that he was staring at the sheet.
"Maybe she was raped," Charlie finally said.
She tilted her head to the side. What was he saying? Could his eyesight pick up some evidence that sex had taken place on the bed? Of course, he couldn't tell her if he had without telling her how he knew. Lois stepped closer, but couldn't see anything on the sheets. Still, the fact that Charlie was no longer arguing against sex indicated that he was aware of something which was beyond her senses.
"The police report didn't say anything about rape," she reminded him.
"But it wouldn't if they didn't want anyone looking for evidence of rape. After all, if she was raped, any DNA evidence wouldn't point to me."
"You're sure?" she asked carefully. She felt extremely uncomfortable probing into this, but she had to know. If he and Sharon had been intimate shortly before her death and she started demanding DNA analysis, they could end up making the case against Charlie so much worse — not to mention that Charlie's DNA could point to his unusual origins. "There's no possibility that your DNA could be found?"
"What are you asking?"
"I think you know what I'm asking. I know you didn't rape her or kill her but…"
"Lois, Sharon and I were never… never intimate."
She nodded slowly, the nausea in her gut abating. "Okay, then. I don't know if she was raped, but I think there's a real possibility that she was with someone. We need to find out who that person was." She fell silent as she considered how they did that. After all, it wasn't as if they had access to the body.
"Come on," she said. She headed into the bathroom just off the bedroom, looking in the trash for a condom. No. Either he hadn't used a condom or it had been otherwise disposed of, so how… Yes! She made her way back into the bedroom.
"What are you doing?" asked Charlie as she began circling the bed.
"I'm taking the sheet off her bed."
"If she was with someone here, there's going to be DNA evidence on that sheet." She made her way to the head of the bed. When Charlie stepped closer, she spoke again. "Stay there! I don't want you anywhere near this sheet," she said, staring again at the sheet. "Do you know where Sharon keeps her garbage bags?"
"Yeah, they're in…"
"Could you get one for me?" she interrupted.
"Sure," Charlie responded, leaving the room to do as instructed.
It was only a minute later before she had the sheet carefully stuffed into a garbage bag. Once she had done so, she looked around for Charlie — but he had left after handing her the bag. She made her way into the main part of the house to find Charlie examining the door leading outside.
"What?" she asked, making her way over to the door.
"I'm looking for any signs of forced entry. It might tell us if the murderer was someone Sharon would have let in willingly."
"But this is a lodge. Couldn't the killer just walk in the front door?"
Charlie shook his head. "It was eleven o'clock at night when she was killed. Sharon usually called it a night at about ten. Mornings here come early. And she always locked up her residence at night."
Lois nodded slowly. It certainly couldn't hurt to check out the doors. It was a few minutes later before they finally established that none of the doors or windows had been jimmied.
"Well, couldn't the killer have come in the way we did?"
"Yes. But how would he have known about it? The window has to be jiggled just right to come open. By the way, did the file say how the police found out about this?"
Lois nodded. "Apparently, one of the women from a group who were here bear hunting came by the residence for some reason shortly after midnight. When she saw that the light was on and that the door was open, she came in. She called from just inside the front door. When no one answered, she came further in. That was when she saw the body and called the police."
Charlie nodded slowly.
"I think that's about all we're going to learn here at the moment," said Lois. When Charlie agreed, they began making their way out of the lodge.
"There's one thing that confuses me," said Lois as they headed outside.
"Well, why didn't the police take the sheet during their investigation?"
Charlie snorted. "What investigation, Lois? I told you before that the police didn't conduct an investigation. They simply framed me."
Lois rolled the idea around in her mind, deciding that he was probably right — assuming, of course, that Charlie's theory about police involvement was correct. As soon as they were back in Charlie's truck, Lois pulled out her cell phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"I have a friend who works for the Metropolis Police Department. I'm going to see if he can run a DNA analysis on the sheet for us." There was a brief pause as Lois played with her phone. "I think something is wrong with my phone," she finally said. "I can't get a signal."
"That's because we don't get cell service here."
"Then why didn't you say so."
"Sorry," Charlie responded, pulling the truck to the side of the road. He opened the glove compartment and pulled out another phone.
"I thought you said you don't have cell service."
"This is a satellite phone," Charlie explained before opening the truck door and climbing out. Lois followed.
"What are we doing?"
"You need to be on a clear line of sight to a satellite in order for a satellite phone to work," he explained before getting the phone set up and handing it to Lois.
"Inspector Henderson, please," Lois said after placing her call.
"Hey, kid," said Henderson when he came on the line. "Speak of the devil."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I got a call about you this morning," Henderson responded.
"A sheriff in Minnesota. His name was… Sheriff Derek Johns, I think. Anyway, I thought for a minute that you had gotten yourself in trouble again. But he said he was just running a background check. When he called the MPD, they transferred him to me."
"So what type of questions did he ask?"
"Just the standard. Did I know you? Were you trouble? Things like that. Don't worry, I said you were an upstanding citizen who was never in trouble. In other words, I lied through my teeth."
"So what's going on? How did you attract the sheriff's attention?"
"It's a long story."
"It always is," Henderson mumbled.
"Let's just say that I think the sheriff might be involved in the Rose murder — you know the one you told me that Charles King was being charged with."
"Well, involved might be overstating things a bit. But there is reason to think he might be involved in a cover- up. Anyway, that's why I'm calling you. I have a sheet which might have some DNA evidence on it which could potentially tell us who the killer is. I need you to analyze it and then run it against the DNA database."
Henderson let out a long slow breath. "And how did you end up with a sheet with DNA evidence on it?"
"You don't want to know. Anyway, can you do it?"
"Send it on," Henderson said, a note of resignation in his voice. "Where should I contact you when I have some results?"
Lois looked over at Charlie for a minute, mouthing the words 'phone number?' When he gave it to her, she passed it on to Henderson.
"Thanks, Bill," Lois said with a smile before saying goodbye and hanging up.
"So where to now?" asked Charlie, heading back to the truck.
"The airport. Sean said he'd be flying back at nine. He should be at the airport by now. We'll give him the sheet and send him back to Metropolis to give it to Henderson. Then I'm going to tell him that he might as well stay in Metropolis. I'll call him again when I need him."
Charlie shook his head in amusement.
"I'm just amazed at how good you are at this."
Lois beamed. "Thanks," she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Are you ready to go?" asked Charlie when Lois didn't get back in the truck.
She looked at the satellite phone again before placing another call.
"Who are you calling now?" asked Charlie.
"Jimmy. He's my research assistant. I'm just thinking that I might ask him to do some research into Ken Marsh." There was a moment of silence. "Hi, Jimmy," she said into the phone before telling the young man what she needed and asking him to send whatever he found to her email address. "You do have an internet connection, don't you?" she asked Charlie when she hung up.
"Yeah. By the way, I've been thinking as well," Charlie responded as they finally climbed back into his truck. "If Marsh killed Sharon to get the lodge, maybe we should find out who is going to inherit the lodge now that she's dead. It might help us prove that it will be easier for Marsh to buy the lodge now if it's some distant relatives who wouldn't have any interest in managing the lodge themselves. Maybe we could even contact them — have them let us know if they do hear from Marsh."
"Good thinking," Lois responded. "Do you know anything about her will?"
"No. But there's only one lawyer in town. So if she had a will, he was probably the one who did it."
"Then I guess we know our next stop. You're not too bad at this yourself, partner."
Lois moved protectively closer to Charlie when she saw the way the receptionist in the lawyer's office was reacting to him. It wasn't anything in particular. But it was obvious that the young woman believed that a vicious killer had just entered the premises.
"We want to see Robert Atkins," Lois announced to the young woman.
"Do you have an appointment?" she asked, not taking her eyes off Charlie.
"No. But what we need to discuss with him will only take a minute," Lois said.
"Maybe I should make an appointment for you."
"Maybe you should ask him if he can see us now."
The woman finally looked at Lois, before looking back at Charlie. "I don't know."
"Look, he's not going to jump over the desk and strangle you," Lois finally said in exasperation.
The comment shocked the receptionist. "I just… I didn't… Maybe I should just…" She gestured behind her and then darted from the room.
"For crying out loud," said Lois. "She works in a lawyer's office. Hasn't she ever heard of innocent until proven guilty?"
"It's okay, Lois. There aren't a lot of murders here. I suspect she's just nervous."
"But to treat a prospective client that way…"
"I'm not a prospective client."
"No. But she doesn't know that. Besides, you didn't do it, Charlie. I can't stand…" Her voice trailed off and she shook her head.
Charlie laid a hand on her arm, directing Lois' attention to him. "It's okay, Lois. I'm okay."
Lois looked at Charlie and was completely bewitched by the look in his eyes. She searched for something to say, but the only thing that came to mind was how deep his eyes seemed to be and how easy it would be for her to get lost in them.
"I'm Robert Atkins. Can I help you?" asked a man from behind, snapping Lois out of her thoughts.
"Umm… Yeah," Lois finally said. "My name is Lois Lane and this is Charlie King. We just need a few minutes of your time."
"Come on in."
Lois and Charlie followed him into a simple office.
"I imagine you're looking for a lawyer," Atkins said, gesturing Lois and Charlie to the chairs in front of his desk while taking a seat behind it.
"Actually, no," said Charlie while sitting down. "Ms. Lane is helping me try to find out who killed Sharon Rose. To do that, we need to know who would have benefitted from her death. I assume that you prepared her will."
"Yes," Atkins said, suddenly cautious.
"Could we see a copy of it?" asked Charlie.
Atkins looked back and forth between the two people in his office. "I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Why?" asked Lois. "Surely you've been in touch with her beneficiaries by now. So there is no attorney-client privilege."
"I'm not sure that's exactly true," Atkins responded. "But in answer to your question, I haven't contacted the beneficiary yet."
Charlie pulled a package of gum out of his shirt pocket and offered some to both Lois and Atkins. When both declined, he unwrapped a stick and popped it in his mouth.
"Why haven't you contacted the beneficiaries?" asked Lois. "It's been almost three weeks. Surely…"
"I was asked by the sheriff to keep it under my hat for a while. He said it would compromise the investigation."
"We're looking for the same thing as the sheriff — the killer. So how would giving us the information compromise the investigation?" said Lois. "One of the people named in the will might turn out to be the killer. After all, he or she would have motive."
"I'm sorry. That's all I can tell you." Atkins rose to his feet. "Now if you'll excuse me, I really do have a very busy day."
"But…" Lois began.
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Atkins," Charlie responded, cutting Lois off. "When the sheriff tells you that it's acceptable to contact the beneficiaries, would you let us know?"
"Certainly," Atkins responded.
Lois followed Charlie out of the office. "Why did you…" she began when they stepped into the reception area.
"Shh," Charlie hissed.
Lois fumed as she allowed Charlie to escort her out of the lawyer's office. He better have one hell of an explanation for dragging her out of there.
"Okay, talk!" she demanded once they were back in Charlie's truck.
"He wasn't about to tell us anything. And I didn't want him to know that we weren't accepting his word as the end of the discussion," Charlie informed her.
"Right now, Mr. Atkins thinks that although we aren't happy with his decision not to tell us, we accept his reasons."
"And we want him to think this because…?"
"Because then we won't be the most likely suspects if he realizes that someone placed gum in the lock to his door — to keep it from locking properly."
A slow smile spread across Lois' face. "I like the way your mind works," she informed him. "Although, if you had asked, I could have told you that I can pick most locks."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Charlie mumbled.
"So I take it we're going to take a trip back there later tonight?"
"Unless you have something better to do. By the way, did you notice that he said he hadn't contacted the beneficiary yet."
"Of course. Wasn't that the whole point of what he was saying?"
"I just meant that he used the singular. Beneficiary, Lois. Not Beneficiaries."
"There's only one?"
Charlie shrugged. "That's the impression I got."
"Interesting. Then we really do need that name."
"What do you mean, lost her?" Marsh demanded into the phone.
"Just that, sir. We saw King go in. When neither of them came out an hour or so later, we decided to send someone to the room — claiming to be the cleaning service."
"Cleaning service? At that motel?"
"I don't understand."
"Of course you don't. Never mind. What did you find out when you got to the room?"
"No one was there. We did take the opportunity to search her room."
"And what did you find?"
"Not much. A suitcase full of clothes, mostly. Oh, and some sort of child's toy."
"A child's toy?"
"Yeah. It looks kinda like a small globe."
"Hmph," Marsh responded.
"So what do you want us to do?"
"What you've been doing? Watching an empty motel room! When she comes back, follow her. And this time don't lose her!"
Marsh slammed down the phone and looked back at the man sitting on the other side of his desk. "Well? I hope you have better news."
"Not exactly, Mr. Marsh," responded Sheriff Johns.
"Great!" said Marsh, tossing his arms in frustration. "What do you have?"
"I found out who Lois Lane is. She's a reporter for the Daily Planet."
"A what?" Marsh demanded.
The sheriff cleared his throat nervously. "She has worked for the Daily Planet for her entire professional life. She's regarded by most as the best reporter the Daily Planet ever had. And you were right. She was engaged to Lex Luthor. Apparently, after his death she took a leave of absence. But she's been doing freelance work for them ever since."
Marsh let out a slow breath, leaning back in his chair. "So what's she doing here?"
"That's all I can tell you, Mr. Marsh. I've still got some feelers out, trying to find out exactly how much she knew about Luthor's business and how deeply involved she was. I can tell you that during their involvement, Lane didn't write any expos,s about Luthor's business."
"Which would indicate that she was involved."
"Right. On the other hand, when I contacted the MPD, I spoke to an inspector who left me with the impression that she is above reproach. So either she wasn't involved in Luthor's business or…"
"Or she's still involved. So involved that people are scared to talk."
"It would appear so."
"Any idea what her connection is to King?"
"Okay, then we need to be cautious for now. But let me know if you get any indication about what Lois Lane is doing in Bushville."
"Wow! This friend of yours is really something," Charlie said as page after page of Lois' email rolled off his small printer. "If you had told me what to expect, I would have stopped in town to get more paper."
Lois laughed. "I think what you have there will be enough." She reached over and took some of the papers out of the printer. "It probably doesn't matter exactly where we start since it looks like each page is a different article or document."
"Yeah," said Charlie, making his way over to a chair while Lois headed for the couch. "How did he manage to find all this stuff on a small time crook like Ken Marsh?"
"Never ask a genius to reveal his tricks," Lois said, settling down on the couch to begin devouring the first article.
Lois rose from the couch and stretched. Finished. It had taken them all afternoon, but they had finally managed to go through all the information Jimmy had sent them. Not that the information had proven all that useful — except for discovering that Marsh had previously had some questionable business dealings with Lex.
"I've got to go out," said Charlie, rising from his chair and heading towards the door. "It's starting to get cold at night. And I heat with wood. So I need to chop some wood. Will you be all right here?"
She waved him away. When he was gone, she began looking around his cabin. The log cabin was small, but tidy. Not that she could tell whether that was because Charlie was a tidy person or simply because he had far too few possessions to create a mess. She suspected that the furniture, and even the three pictures on the walls, had been in the cabin before Charlie moved in. Otherwise, there were no trinkets, no family or vacation pictures, nothing which could be classified as personal.
The cabin itself consisted of a main room which contained the kitchen and living room. There was a bathroom and a closet. There was only one door which was of particular interest to her. She made her way to the door at the back of the cabin and, after a moment of hesitation, she pushed it open. If he hadn't wanted her nosing around, he shouldn't have left her alone. What else did he expect, after all?
Given what he had told her the previous night she wasn't surprised to discover that his bed was made. She smiled as she walked into the room to look around. Like the main room, there was little in this room that was personal. It looked more like he was visiting than that he was living there. There were a few books, but only cheap paperbacks which appeared to have been purchased in a dime store — the type that he could quickly dispose of if he moved.
She made her way over to the books, intent on seeing what kind of literature he liked to read. She saw the classic, Hamlet, by Dr. Seuss and a book of poetry by Robert Service and another one by She shook her head slightly. She hadn't expected that.
Then she noticed one book which didn't fit with the others. It was an old, hard-cover book, obviously well read. She took it out from where it was being held up between two cheap paperbacks. Lassie Come Home by William Shakespeare. A children's book. She flipped it open and looked at the cover page. It was a first edition. It was the single truly personal item in the room.
A piece of paper suddenly fluttered to the ground. Bending over she picked it up and gently opened the tattered newsprint. She drew in a sharp breath. It was a copy of her article about the death of his parents, almost falling apart from being opened and refolded so many times. Given the fact that the article was only a few months old, he must have looked at it a hundred times. She supposed that answered the question of whether he knew who she was. Not that there were anything she could do about that.
Accompanying the article, she had included a picture of his parents, a small snapshot which she had obtained from Maisie. She wondered if this were the only picture of his parents he had.
She carefully put the newspaper article back inside the cover and turned her attention to the book. She'd read it when she was young. If she recalled correctly, it was about a dog's quest to get back home. She opened the book and began to read in the middle.
'Lassie stood in indecision, and then another sense began to waken. It was the homing sense — one of the strongest of all instincts in animals. Home was a cottage where she lay on the rug before the fire, where there was warmth and where voices and hands caressed her. That was where she would go.
'She lifted her head as the desire for her true home woke in her. She scented the breeze as if asking directions. Then, without hesitation, she struck down the road to the south. Do not ask any human being to explain how she should know this. Not with all his brain development can man tell how a bird or an animal can be crated, taken miles away in darkness, and when released, strike straight back towards home. Man only knows that animals can do what he can neither do himself nor explain.
'And in Lassie there was no hesitation. Her senses were now aware of a great satisfaction, for there was peace inside her being. She was going home. She was happy.
'There was no one to tell her, and no way for her to learn that what she was attempting was almost in the realm of the impossible — that there were hundreds of miles to go over wild land — a journey that would baffle most men going afoot.
'Happily Lassie set out. The journey had begun.'
Lois very gently closed the book, feeling as if she had just trespassed into Charlie's heart. Given the fact that this single book seemed to be all he had which he truly treasured, the words cut with all the force of a finely sharpened knife. Home. An incredibly powerful concept. One which had alluded Charlie most of his life. No wonder the book was so cherished.
She wished there was something that she could do to give him back his home. Suddenly, she had an idea. Making her way out of the bedroom, she closed the door. It only took her a minute to find her coat and the keys to Charlie's truck.
She was heading towards the truck before she suddenly remembered Charlie. She really should let him know where she was going before simply disappearing in his truck.
She headed around the side of the cabin to where Charlie was chopping wood. He had his back to her as he wielded the large chopping axe as if it were a child's toy. But what caught Lois' attention was that he had removed his shirt. Down his right arm and the right side of his back were the scars Mrs. Fox had told her about. She wondered why the scars hadn't healed. He was invulnerable after all. Before she could come up with any theories, he seemed to sense her presence and turn around.
"I need to borrow your truck," she said, holding up the keys for him to see.
"You going somewhere?" he asked, grabbing his shirt and, much to Lois' disappointment, putting it on as he approached.
"I thought I'd go pick us up some supper."
"Do you want me to do it?"
Lois shook her head. "I'm tired of restaurant food. And given the skill you demonstrated while making tea, I'll make supper if you don't mind."
"Sounds great. What are we having?"
"Lasagna," she responded, glad now that she'd put Martha's recipe for lasagna in her briefcase. Now all she needed was the ingredients and she'd give Charlie a little taste of home. After all, hadn't she heard somewhere that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach.
"I still can't believe how good that lasagna was," said Charlie, breaking the silence as they headed together towards Robert Atkin's office. "You're a great cook."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Lois replied softly.
"It sort of reminded me of the lasagna my mom used to make when I was little," Charlie continued.
Lois said nothing but was glad that her smile was hidden by the darkness in the truck. Part of her ached to tell him the truth — that it was his mother's recipe — but another part knew that he wasn't ready to hear that yet. If he found out that she knew about him before he was convinced that he could trust her, there was no way she'd be able to hold on to him. And if he disappeared now, Lois had no doubt that he would make sure that she never found him again.
"Here we are," Charlie added, pulling the truck over to a stop in an alley about a block from their destination. Both Lois and Charlie pulled on their gloves. "How did you know to bring something black with you?" he asked, gesturing to her black jeans and black, turtleneck sweater as they got out of the truck.
"Please!" said Lois dismissively, provoking a chuckle from Charlie.
As they headed in silence towards the lawyer's office, Lois glanced over at Charlie. He was looking nervous. In spite of his inspiration of putting gum in the door, it was obvious that he didn't do this sort of thing often. But then, that could probably be said of most people. Still, he was doing his part, keeping his eyes on their surroundings, looking for threats.
They arrived at the door to discover that the gum had worked. Lois began to pull on the door when Charlie grabbed her. She had no time to react before she found herself pushed against the outside of the door and… he was kissing her! His lips were at first gentle on hers and then harder, more demanding. She responded automatically, running her hands up his chest to tangle them around his neck and, doing what she'd wanted to since she'd first met him, burying her hands in his hair and surrendering to the desires of her heart. His hair was as soft as she thought it would be. So was the beard, brushing gently against her face. But his taste… His taste was like the finest merlot, and just as intoxicating.
And then his lips were gone.
"What…?" she gasped.
"They're gone," he responded.
Lois blinked a couple of times, seeing for the first time the taillights of the car which had passed them. Their first kiss — and it had been nothing but a cover. Shaking her head slightly to push down her disappointment, she turned back towards the door. Taking a deep breath, she pulled it open and stepped inside.
It wasn't long before they were rifling though file cabinets.
"Here it is," said Charlie, after a couple of minutes of searching.
Lois rushed over as he pulled out a file. This might be their first break. After all, if Marsh had contacted the beneficiary after the lawyer had specifically told them that the contents of the will were being kept quiet, it would be the first nail in the man's coffin. Or, if Charlie were wrong, the beneficiary could be the murderer. Either way, it would give them a place to start. She quickly ran her eyes down the page until they settled on a name she had not expected to see.
"What the…" Charlie breathed.
"Did you know about this?" asked Lois.
"I had no idea."
Charlie stood braced against the sink, looking at himself in the mirror of his bathroom. Why had she done it? Looking for her beneficiary and seeing his own name had been one of the most shocking moments of his life.
He had known Sharon was fond of him, maybe even fancied herself in love with him, but this… He thought she had at least understood that they were never going to be more than friends. So what had possessed her to change her will about six months ago to leave everything to him?
He placed his hand under the running water and splashed some on his face. There was only so long he could stand in here, composing himself. After all, Lois was waiting for him in his living room.
Lois. There was another problem. He never should have kissed her earlier. It had been a cover, to keep the people in the passing car from realizing that they were breaking into Atkin's office. But it had still been a mistake. It had been… He searched for a long moment, trying to find a way to describe what he had felt while kissing that woman, but words failed him. He was glad that it had been dark — otherwise Lois might have realized just how much the kiss had affected him.
He splashed some more water on his face, pushing the thought out of his mind. It was not smart to be thinking about that kiss while she was in the other room. He grabbed a towel and dried his face before turning towards the bathroom door. He rested his hand on the doorknob for a moment before taking a deep breath and stepping outside.
He spotted her quickly. She was sitting on the couch, her back to him, obviously rereading one of the articles they had obtained from her research assistant earlier. He stopped and watched for a minute, wondering what it was about her that touched his heart so profoundly. She seemed to hear something because suddenly she turned around, settling her arms on the back of the couch and resting her head in her hand. He stood there, completely transfixed when she gave him a soft smile.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Umm… Yeah," he responded, struggling to get his bearings back. Why did she have to be so painfully beautiful? And why could she do things to his heart that no other woman had ever seemed able to do?
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
He froze. Had she somehow been able to read his thoughts? Then he relaxed when it struck him that she was asking if he wanted to talk about what they had discovered in Sharon's will.
"I just don't get it," he finally said, heading into the living room and taking a seat on a chair across from her. "I don't understand why Sharon made me her beneficiary."
"She liked you. She thought of you as family."
"I guess. It's just…" His voice trailed off.
"It's just that she wanted something from you that you weren't able to give."
He let out a breath. "I guess I just feel a little guilty."
"You shouldn't, Charlie. You should actually be flattered that you're the one she wanted to have take over the lodge. Given what you've told me so far, she loved that place. And she wanted you to have it if anything happened to her. You shouldn't feel guilty. You should feel honored. Besides, I'm sure she didn't blame you. None of us can control where our heart chooses to go."
There was a long moment of silence before Lois spoke again. "I guess the question I have here is why the sheriff is keeping this information under wraps. After all, it would certainly be incriminating for you if the beneficiary of Sharon's will was made known."
"True. On the other hand, maybe Marsh doesn't think I'd be willing to sell the lodge to him. Maybe he's planning to get rid of the will. Then, given the fact that Sharon didn't have any family, the lodge would become government property and he'd pick it up at fire sale prices."
"But if you're convicted of her murder, then you can't benefit from her death."
"No. But he can't be sure yet that I'm going to be convicted. Maybe he's sitting on it for the time being."
"Of course, if Marsh found out that you're the beneficiary, that might explain why he would want you framed for her murder — other than your little run in with him."
Lois suddenly yawned.
"Look, it's late," said Charlie. "And it's obvious that you're tired. Why don't I give you a ride back to the motel? We can continue this tomorrow."
Lois lay on the bed in her motel room, fully clothed. If she looked at this situation objectively, she had to admit that everything they knew now seemed to point to Charlie as the killer. His prints on the murder weapon. His name on the will. His fight with Sharon the night before. Even the fact that Sharon had likely been with a man before being killed.
Getting up, she made her way over to her briefcase and pulled out the file she had obtained from her sister. Opening it, she removed one of the pictures of the crime scene, this time focusing on the sexy robe Sharon had been wearing. There was no nightgown underneath. She hadn't thought much about Sharon's attire before. But given the condition of the bed, Sharon's attire — or lack there of — took on an entirely different meaning. Charlie seemed to think that she might have been raped — Lois wasn't so certain.
If Sharon wasn't involved with anyone else, then the logical assumption would be that Sharon and Charlie had been lovers. That was certainly the assumption the police had made — and so it was likely that the entire town thought they were involved. And if that were true, then it was entirely possible that Charlie could be the killer. There were only two things that kept Lois from believing that — neither of which could be used in court.
First, there was the timing of Sharon's death. Charlie had been fighting a forest fire in Canada when Sharon had been murdered. Not that they could use that as an alibi, of course.
The second reason Lois didn't believe that Charlie was the murderer was because of the man himself. She'd only known him for a little more than a day, but her gut told her that he would never do something like this. Once again, however, her gut wasn't proof.
So how did they go about proving that Charlie didn't commit this horrible crime — or finding out who had? She had her doubts about Charlie's assumption that Ken Marsh was the murderer. After all, would Sharon have invited Marsh into her bed? That seemed highly unlikely. And if she had been raped, would the room have been in such pristine condition — except for the bed, of course. So if it wasn't Charlie and it wasn't Ken Marsh, who was Sharon's mysterious lover?
Of course, there was always the DNA analysis of the sheet. But unless the murderer had a record for violence or had committed another crime where he had left DNA behind, it still wouldn't tell them who Sharon's lover had been. They needed a suspect for comparison. So who could it be?
Well, she wasn't going to find out sitting here. She wondered if the owner of this dump would consider loaning her his car. She suspected she could persuade him — after all, it wasn't as if she couldn't afford to pay enough to make it worth his while.
She'd paid the motel's owner enough to rent as she would have paid to buy his car. Her next step had been to make sure she wasn't being followed. Not that it had been difficult. She was fairly certain that the men sleeping in the car across the street from the motel were the ones who were supposed to be watching her. Obviously, they had thought she was safely ensconced in her room for the night. Hopefully, they would still be sleeping when she returned. But even if they weren't, it wouldn't be the end of the world. After all, they would have no idea where she had gone.
Getting back into the lodge was easy enough as well and soon she was once again standing in the entranceway to Sharon's room. So where did she start? As she considered the question, she pushed her gloves more securely onto her hands. The bathroom. In Lois' experience, the bathroom said more about a female occupant than any other room in a house.
When she made her way into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet, Lois was amazed. The medicine cabinet was as clean as the rest of the room. Sharon Rose must have been a real neat-freak. Taking a closer look at some of the bottles, she realized that none were past the expiry date.
She thought about her own medicine cabinet. Lois considered herself a decent housekeeper, but this… this was too much. Then one thing in particular caught her eye. Reaching in, she pulled out a half used container of birth control pills. The last day Sharon took one was on a Tuesday. Sharon had died on a Tuesday.
None of that necessarily meant anything. After all, there were reasons for being on the pill other than birth control. And just because the last pill had been taken on a Tuesday didn't mean that it was the Tuesday Sharon had died.
She placed the birth control pills back in the cabinet and looked around in frustration. There had to be something which would tell her who this mysterious man was. She made her way to the bed and looked underneath, looking for a shoe or a sock or some man's underwear, preferably with the man's name sewn inside. But there was nothing there.
Of course, Sharon could have been sleeping when the murderer appeared. But given the way they had found the bed, it didn't appear to be a simple case of Sharon being disturbed in her sleep — unless she was a very, very restless sleeper. Perhaps she was attacked while sleeping. That would explain the condition of the bed. Still, Sharon had managed to get out of bed, grab her robe and make it as far as the doorway before being killed. Wouldn't the rest of the room exhibit more signs of a struggle if there had been one. But no lamps or pictures had been knocked over. There was just the messed-up bed and a dead body in the doorway to the bedroom.
Lois made her way around the bed, looking at it from every angle, silently begging it to let go of its secrets so that she could clear Charlie. When she arrived at the night stand, she noticed for the first time that it had a drawer. Pulling it carefully open, she looked inside and a slow smile spread across her face. It appeared that Sharon Rose kept a journal.
Maybe Charlie was right. The police had obviously done a very sloppy job on this investigation if they had missed the little gem. The only way it made any sense was if there had been no real investigation. The police had only gathered evidence that could be used to incriminate Charlie. Hopefully, that would be their downfall.
Lois reached into the drawer to claim her prize.
"Thank you, Sharon," she whispered into the quiet of the room when the leather bound book was safely in her hands.
Ken Marsh paced around his office, waiting for his son to arrive.
"You wanted to see me, father." Junior's cowering voice came from behind him.
He spun towards the sound, wondering, and not for the first time, how that particular sperm had managed to beat out the others.
"Yes. I think it's time to find out what's going on with Lois Lane. She's obviously looking into Rose's death. I want to know why and how much she might know."
"Do you want me to send a man?"
"No. I'll go myself. You will come with me."
"I'd really rather not."
"You'll come with me!" Marsh repeated, this time leaving no room for argument.
Charlie turned over in bed, trying to find a more comfortable position. He had been trying to get comfortable enough to sleep for the past hour — but with no success. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to get Lois out of his mind. At times he would almost think that he was succeeding, but then she would reappear, leaning over the back of the couch, smiling at him. Of course, in his fantasy he didn't just stand there like a fool — he went to her and she welcomed him with open arms.
He closed his eyes again, trying to banish the image. He let out a breath of relief when that image faded only to groan in agony when he could again taste her kiss, feel her hands running up his chest and through his hair.
He pushed back the covers and sat up on the side of the bed, running his hand absently though his hair. This was ridiculous.
There were still so many unanswered questions. Who was this woman? What did she really want? Oh, he knew what she said, but… There were just so many things that made no sense to him. On the one hand, it was obvious that she was doing everything in her power to find Sharon's murderer. On the other, she was the reporter who had uncovered the story about his parents. On the one hand, she was both caring and compassionate — to a degree that put him to shame. On the other, she had been engaged to one of the biggest crooks the world had ever seen. Everything about her was a contradiction. She intrigued him. She terrified him.
Then his thoughts took a different turn. Ken Marsh. It was obvious from the phone conversation which had taken place between Lois and her inspector friend in Metropolis, which Charlie had listened in on, that Ken Marsh was having her investigated. The men who had been waiting outside her motel room also attested to that fact. Could Lois be in danger?
Charlie was instantly out of bed and dressed. He had to make sure she was okay. Without thinking further, he took off at top speed in the direction of Lois' motel room.
Lois slipped the over-sized sleep-shirt over her head and pulled back the covers on the bed. She made herself comfortable, propping the pillow up behind her to lean against it before picking up the leather-bound book. She went to open it and a photo fell from the inside cover. She picked it up and turned it over to see a picture of Sharon Rose with her arm wrapped around the waist of Charlie King. Both were wearing heavy ski-suits, looking at the camera and laughing.
As she looked at the picture, Lois felt that same piercing jealousy she had felt the first time Charlie had spoken about Sharon. Charlie had, of course, told her that he and Sharon had never been intimate. But given the fact that Sharon kept a picture of the two of them inside her journal, Lois was fairly certain that had not been Sharon's choice. She studied the woman in the photo. She was certainly pretty enough. Hell, even Lois had to admit, she was drop dead gorgeous. Her blond hair even looked natural. If a woman like that had been unable to get Charlie's attention, what chance did Lois realistically have?
Pushing the depressing thought out of her mind, she stuck the photo of the 'happy couple' back inside the front of the journal and opened the book to the first page. The first entry was dated January third.
For a moment, Lois hesitated. She was about to intrude on this woman's private thoughts. Still, given what they had learned tonight when they had broken into Atkin's office, Lois was fairly confident that Sharon would want Charlie cleared of her murder. And although the book wouldn't likely tell them who the murderer was, it might give them a hint about where to look. If their situations were reversed, as embarrassing as the thought might be, Lois would want Sharon to read her journal.
Having settled that moral question to her satisfaction, she began reading.
'The situation at the lodge has finally begun to settle down. We were positively inundated with guests overNew Year's — mostly college students, which made things interesting. I'm not sure I remember having quite that much energy when I was their age — but then again, who knows. There were times when I wondered why I thought canvassing all the colleges in the state to entice revelers to spend theirNew Year's here was even a good idea.
'Charlie has been my only saving grace. But then I should have expected that. Hiring him was probably the best decision I've ever made. Just when I would think I couldn't handle another moment of the craziness, he'd give me one of his famous smiles and everything would seem okay. I even have hope that maybe he's coming around. After we broke up back in September, I was certain we would never even be friends again. But onNew Year's Eve, he dragged me onto the dance floor and even kissed me at midnight. I guess only time will tell.'
Lois leaned back against the headboard for a moment. It seemed that Charlie was telling the truth about a short period of dating. Not that she had exactly doubted him, but it was always good to have confirmation. Taking a deep breath, she turned her attention to the next entry.
Charlie carefully examined his surroundings from the shadows behind the motel. Satisfied that no one was around, he took a small leap, landing almost silently on the roof of the building. Walking to approximately where he thought Lois' room should be, he glanced through the roof — just for a second and just to be sure she was all right, he assured himself.
His breath caught in his throat and he was unable to look away when he saw her sitting in bed, her knees pulled up to her chest and her long night-shirt with a picture of Bugs Bunny on the front pulled over her knees, completely covering her legs. She was reading and she looked… absolutely adorable. It didn't even occur to him to look away as he sat down on the roof and watched while she silently read her book.
Lois rubbed her eyes sleepily. Maybe she should give this a rest for tonight. So far, everything Charlie had told her seemed to be verified by Sharon's journal. There didn't seem to be another man — although it was obvious that the woman had truly fallen in love with Charlie.
She turned her attention back to the book. She would just read a couple more entries and then she'd call it a night. She focused on the date. June 26th.
'I haven't written for a while because I kept thinking that if I didn't write it down it wouldn't really have happened. It's amazing how easy it is to go back — to slip into the same destructive patterns.
'I still can't quite understand why I did it. I love Charlie. I really do. It's just… He seems so distant at times. There are occasions when I think he's finally ready to step over that line between friendship and something more. And then he withdraws again, almost as quickly. And I have to admit, it was nice to feel wanted again.
'Not that I'm blaming any of this on Charlie. That wouldn't be fair. But if he ever found out, he would be so disappointed in me. In fact, sitting here right now, I can almost see the look in his eyes. That's why he can never find out. And that's why it can never, ever happen again.'
The page ended and Lois quickly turned to the next page, the sleepiness of only minutes ago now completely gone.
"What?" she gasped, making very sure she hadn't skipped a page. But she hadn't. The entry ended as mystifyingly as it had begun. "What did you do?" she asked the non-responsive pages.
All thoughts of leaving this until morning were suddenly gone as she continued reading. But the next few entries gave no clue as to what Sharon had done that she was afraid to tell Charlie.
Lois was just about to lament ever finding out the meaning of that cryptic entry when she came across another entry which caught her interest.
'What the hell am I doing?'
Lois' breath caught in her throat, as the feeling of anticipation rose in her again.
'I swore it wouldn't happen again. And then, over the course of the past week, it has happened twice. Charlie was away in St. Paul, getting supplies, when I ran into him again.'
"You can't use 'him' there!" Lois exclaimed. "It's not grammatically correct. Every pronoun needs an antecedent. You have to use the man's name!" But the journal ignored her. Letting out a frustrated breath, she continued to read.
'I've been going out of my way to avoid him for the past couple of months — ever since that night. When he asked if he could come over, it immediately flashed through my mind that Charlie was out of town. Now not only do I feel like I'm cheating on Charlie, I'm acting like it, too.
'It's like I'm in high school all over again. He's still acting as if he's afraid to tell his father about us and I'm still acting as if I'm scared that Dad is going to find out. Only this time, instead of 'Dad', I'm lying to Charlie.
'It's not even like it's leading anywhere — no more than it was when we were in high school. The second time, he even snuck in the same window we used to get together back then. I should have thrown him out. I really should have. But I'm an idiot. It is just so easy to go back.'
And then the entry ended. "What's his name?" Lois demanded again of the uncooperative book.
Lois continued to read. The following entries seemed to focus primarily on Sharon berating herself for continuing her involvement with this unnamed man, and the lengths to which she was going to keep Charlie from finding out. But nowhere was the man's name mentioned.
As she came to the last entry in the book, Lois closed her eyes and silently beseeched whatever deities might be listening to reveal the information they so desperately needed. She opened her eyes and began reading. The entry was dated a few days before Sharon's death.
'He came over again early yesterday evening — this time unannounced. I told him that he couldn't stay. That Charlie was coming by to watch a movie in an hour. He simply smirked and said that he didn't need more than an hour.
'Why I didn't kick him out immediately, I don't know. But, like the idiot I am, I didn't. Then, when he was getting dressed, he dropped the bombshell — he's getting married. But apparently I'm not supposed to worry about it because he'll still make sure he has time for me. He actually said that! I sputtered for a minute, unsure how I could possibly respond. It was only after he was gone that a million different responses came to mind. Isn't that the way it always is?
'Still, I'm going to tell him that it's over the next time I see him. I might even come clean with Charlie. I just can't stand the feeling of guilt I have every time I see Charlie now. I hope he can forgive me, but even if he can't, it's something I have to do for me. And I think telling Charlie will give me the strength I need to break it off for good this time.'
Lois closed the book and leaned again against the headboard. She had to admit that she felt sorry for the woman. It was obvious from her journal how conflicted that she was about what she was doing. And by the sounds of it, the guy was a real creep. But what guy? That was what she didn't know.
Still, Lois now knew a lot more than she had previously. Surely there was enough in Sharon's journal to allow her and Charlie to figure out who the mystery man was. It at least gave them a place to start. Putting the book down, she turned out the light beside her bed and crawled under the covers. There would be plenty of time to evaluate all of this tomorrow.
Charlie was disoriented when he woke in the morning. Where was he? It took him a moment to remember that he'd fallen asleep on top of the motel, watching Lois read her book. It was fascinating to see how involved she got in her reading — even going so far as to yell at the book at times. A small smile made its way onto his face at the memory.
He probably shouldn't have kept watching. She was just so adorable. He shook his head forcefully. That wasn't the reason he had been watching. He had been making sure she was safe.
To that end, he stretched out with his hearing to listen to the rhythmic beating of her heart. He lay back down on the roof and stared up at the sky as the gentle sound enveloped him.
He had almost succumbed to sleep once again when a sudden knocking brought him instantly awake. He sat up and looked through the roof. Lois wrapped a robe around her as she made her way to the door.
"Just a minute, Charlie," she said before throwing the door open.
Charlie was instantly on his feet when he saw Ken Marsh, along with the usual suspects, standing just outside the door to Lois' room. He realized that Lois was also shocked, probably given her assumption it was him and, therefore, her failure to take standard precautionary measures, like asking who was there before opening the door.
His entire body tensed, like a huge spring, ready to take action if Lois found herself in danger.
"I'm sorry," said Lois. "Do I know you?"
"I'm Ken Marsh," the man standing in the doorway responded.
Lois was silent for a moment. "Is that supposed to mean something to me?"
Charlie smiled. She was good. The question seemed to throw Marsh slightly off balance. Charlie crept to the edge of the roof and glanced over, trying to figure out how best to insert himself into the mix of people standing outside the door to Lois' room.
"I'm mayor of Bushville and I think it's time we got to know each other."
"And why is that?"
"I was a friend of your former fiance," Marsh responded.
Charlie looked back through the roof, shocked by the comment and anxious to discover how Lois responded to it. After all, this woman's relationship to the former billionaire was also something of great interest to him.
"Really," Lois replied, her voice flat.
"Yes. And as such, I thought it was my duty to come by to see if there is anything I can do to make your stay in Bushville more pleasant. Could I come in?"
Lois stared at the man for a long moment before responding, at no point stepping aside to allow Marsh to enter the room. "If what you tell me is true, Mr. Marsh, if you and Lex really were friends, then you're no friend of mine. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get dressed."
Charlie silently cheered and cursed Lois. If she was wanting to make a powerful enemy, he was certain she had managed to succeed. On the other hand, and his thoughts these days seemed to have a lot of other hands, he felt a surge of relief that she wanted nothing to do with any advantages her former association with Luthor could give her.
"Whether that's true or not, I still think it's about time we talked," Marsh responded, obviously not pleased with her dismissive attitude.
"I'm not sure that's necessary. And even if it were, I'm not about to invite you into my room," Lois responded, a new steel coming into her voice.
Charlie pushed all the possible implications of Lois' comments about Luthor to the back of his mind. He had to find a way to insert himself into this situation immediately — before things got out of hand. He glanced over the edge of the motel again. Now only Marsh and his son were standing directly in the doorway. The other men had fanned out, probably watching to see that their boss' discussion went undisturbed.
The men who had been in the car the night before were out of their car, busy talking and sharing a smoke with a couple of Marsh's other goons. No one was looking towards the room. Taking a deep breath, he hopped over the side of the roof, landing silently behind Marsh.
"Is this a private party or can anyone join?" Charlie asked, pushing past a startled Kenneth Marsh to step into Lois' room, inserting himself between Lois and the two men standing in the doorway. His actions forced her to step back further into her room. He wasn't entirely certain how Lois would react to his interference and was pleased when he heard her heart rate slow down.
"Mr. King," Marsh said, his tone conveying how displeased he was with the man's sudden appearance. "You do have a habit of sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Charlie responded. He turned his head slightly to where Lois was standing behind him while at the same time being careful not to take his eyes off Marsh. "Do you want me to go, Lois?"
"You're always welcome here, Charlie. Besides, I think Mr. Marsh was just about to leave."
Marsh's eyes darted between Lois and Charlie before he responded. "Later," he said to Lois before turning to leave, his son close on his heels.
Charlie watched carefully as Marsh headed away before closing the door and turning around, not entirely sure what would face him.
"I could have handled him without your interference," Lois said coolly.
"Of course," Charlie responded, looking down at the floor in front of his feet. This was the reaction he had feared. This woman was fearless. If she thought he was being overprotective, she might never forgive him.
She looked at him hard for a long moment before continuing. "But I must admit, you do have great timing."
He looked up at that and relaxed when he saw the softness in her eyes. It almost made him think that her first comment had been more for show, to make sure he understood that protecting her was not his job, but wanting to assure him that she appreciated the help. He let out a breath of relief — although he didn't think he'd mention that he'd spent the night on the roof of the motel to make sure that she was safe.
"Well, they do say it's all in the timing," Charlie responded, provoking a genuine smile from Lois.
Then the smile faded. "If you'll just give me a moment to…"
"Oh. Do you want me to wait outside?"
"No. I'll just…" She gestured towards the bathroom, before grabbing her suitcase and heading behind closed doors.
Charlie paced nervously in the room. He came to an abrupt halt when his hearing picked up the shower running in the bathroom. Suddenly, his imagination was working overtime. Would it really be so wrong for him to just take one quick look? After all, it wasn't really a violation if she didn't know it was happening — was it? Without debating the morality further, he allowed the wall separating him from the bathroom to disappear from view.
His heart came to an abrupt halt at the sight of the beautiful woman about to step into the shower. He groaned.
'Clark Jerome Kent! What do you think you're doing?' At the unexpected memory of his mother's words, the sight before him disappeared behind the wall to the bathroom. He could almost feel his mother grabbing his ear and leading him out to the woodshed.
He gave his head a shake. What the hell had he been doing? Looking through that wall had been wrong. He had no right to take what she wasn't offering. He suddenly felt ashamed. He turned towards the window, pushing the curtains slightly aside to look outside.
Still, the image of her stepping into the shower stayed in his mind. He shifted uncomfortably as he stood looking out the window — trying to get his mind away from the moment he had stolen from the woman currently in the shower.
He heard the shower stop and turned around to stare at the wall separating him from the object of his desire, the demon on his shoulder telling him that he could have one more look. After an excruciating moment of indecision, he closed his eyes tight and stifled the urge to yell.
He quickly turned back towards the window, looking outside. It was obvious that the men were still watching Lois' motel room. He supposed that meant slipping out the back window again today.
He shook his head slightly. How could these people be so stupid as to fall for the same trick two mornings in a row. He made his way to the back window. Damn! He should have known that would be too easy.
"What'cha lookin' at?" asked Lois, coming up behind him.
"We seem to have a little company out back this morning," he responded.
Lois placed a hand on his back and leaned against him as she looked out the window. He held his breath. Her hand felt as if it was burning its mark into his back, the image of her again invading his mind.
"Well, they couldn't have been stupid enough to give us the same escape route twice," she said.
Suddenly, a knot formed in his stomach. She didn't understand. She really didn't. She only saw this as an inconvenience to be solved. She didn't understand the seriousness of the situation. "I don't think you understand. Marsh's visit was a warning. He wants you gone," he said, turning around to look at her. His thoughts were jumbled again when he realized she was in her robe. She looked up from under the towel she was using to dry her hair and a stab of desire shot through him.
"I'm not an idiot, Charlie. I know that."
He ran his hand through his hair in frustration — whether it was frustration with what the woman was saying or sexual frustration he didn't know. "Women," he mumbled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lois demanded.
"You're all the same," Charlie responded. He knew he was picking a fight, but all of a sudden, he couldn't help himself. He wanted to push her away. He needed to push her away. After all, he was alone in a motel room with a woman he wanted more than he had ever wanted a woman. "All of you. You think you're indestructible. Well, news flash, Lois. You're not indestructible. Do you have any idea at all how easy it will be for him to kill you?" He saw her eyes flash in anger and pushed on, feeding off her anger. "And he will kill you. If you don't give up this stupid idea of making everything right in the world, he will kill you. Or if he doesn't, someone else will. You're just like Sharon… or my mo… You're all the same!"
Lois opened her mouth to respond, but then, for a reason Charlie couldn't quite fathom, closed it again, giving him a chance to continue.
"I don't know what it is. Why you all seem to think you're invulnerable. But you're not. Humans only hold on to life by a mere thread — a single beat of the heart. Once that's gone… Well, that's it. I'm not about to stand by and watch. If you're so determined to dangle above the jaws of death, I'm not going to hang around long enough to see you fall." As his tirade continued, he began marching towards the door. "I'm out of here. You're on your own." He finished, throwing open the door and stepping outside, slamming the door behind him.
Lois stood staring at the door to the motel room in stunned silence. When his tirade had first begun, she'd been furious — until the sentence he hadn't quite finished penetrated her mind. 'You're just like Sharon… or my mo…' And suddenly, the anger drained from her body. His mother. This wasn't about her — at least not entirely.
Knowing how strong and indestructible Charlie was, it was hard to think of him as vulnerable. But in some ways, he was probably the most vulnerable man Lois had ever known. He'd lost his friend — that Charlie blamed himself completely for Sharon's death was obvious. But more than that, he'd lost his mother. Lois suddenly wondered exactly what had happened when Trask had entered that farmhouse so many years ago.
Charlie truly believed that she was going to be killed as well. It was almost flattering to realize that he was scared of losing her. Of course, that didn't mean she was about to give up her independence and let him simply dominate her life in his attempt to protect her. Still, his fear had been a clear indication in Lois' mind that he at least cared about her and that was good.
Maybe that was what had caused him to run away from the Fox residence as well. He had found a family that cared about him — so he'd left before he could lose them. Of course, if that were true, then she was going to have to be careful. After all, he could decide to do the same thing now that he had done back then — and simply disappear. She felt a moment of fear. After all, wasn't that exactly what he had just done?
She rushed for the door to her room, throwing it open, and stepped outside. Looking around, she let out a breath of relief. It seemed that Charlie's flight had taken him no further than a few feet from her room. He was sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the building, his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands.
"Come back inside, Charlie," she said softly.
Almost with a sense of resignation, he rose and made his way back into her room. She closed the door softly behind him.
"So are you finished or do you have anything else you want to say to try to scare me?" When he didn't say anything, she continued. "Fine. Then if you'll just give me a moment to get dressed…" He didn't respond and after a moment she turned and, once again, headed towards the bathroom. "In the mean time, you might want to take a look at that." She pointed towards the brown book she had been reading last night.
Charlie wasn't sure he'd ever felt quite as foolish as he did when he followed Lois back into the motel room. He had no clear idea about what had brought about his tirade. Of course, he was terrified that she was going to be killed — just like everyone else he'd ever cared about. Except for the Foxes of course. But then that was because he'd come to his senses at the last moment and left. That was exactly what he should do with Lois — would do if he cared about her at all. He closed his eyes at the sudden emptiness that seemed to engulf him.
Surely he was quick enough to keep Lois safe during the remainder of this investigation. After all, he was no longer the little boy who had been unable to save his parents. And he wasn't the absent friend who had been unable to save Sharon. Of course, once the investigation was over, he had to move on — before she too fell victim to the curse of caring about him — a curse that would ultimately result in her death.
But his fear for her safety wasn't the only thing that had provoked his tirade. His real fear was of himself. Never in his life — or at least not since he was a teenage boy, unable to control his own urges — had he violated a woman's privacy that way. It was just the overwhelming pull he felt to this woman. Every word she spoke, every gesture she made, felt as if she were teasing him with what he could never have. So he'd lashed out.
Why she hadn't responded in kind, he had no idea. It was only one more thing to add to his list of things he didn't understand about this woman, things that scared him. Well, he probably wasn't going to be able to figure it out before she emerged from the… The thought trailed off as he realized once again where she was and what she was probably doing. In fact, he could hear the soft brush of the material of her robe brushing against her smooth skin as she allowed it to fall from her body and puddle around her feet.
He looked around the room in desperation, looking for something, anything to distract his thoughts. He spotted the book she had pointed to during her exit and quickly grabbed it, only to have a photo fall from the pages. He snatched up the photo before it hit the floor.
He blinked when a picture of him and Sharon was suddenly looking up at him. What was this? Curious now, he turned his attention to the book. When he had seen Lois reading it the previous night, he had assumed it was a novel or something. But it wasn't. It was someone's journal. But whose?
He opened the book and stared in disbelief at the familiar handwriting. Sharon? How… Where had Lois found this? He sank down onto the side of the bed as he began to read, reading faster and faster as he devoured every word. It was only when he was nearing the end and heard the door to the bathroom open again that he slowed down to a normal pace.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, when he had finally finished reading the last entry.
"I went back to the lodge after you dropped me off last night," she responded.
"Don't start," she warned.
They stared at each other for a long moment before Charlie broke eye contact.
"Did you at least read it?" she asked, gesturing to the book.
"I skimmed it," he responded, knowing there was no way a normal person would have been able to read the book in such a short amount of time.
"Do you know who she's talking about? Did she ever talk about guys she'd dated in high school? Or is there someone around who has recently gotten engaged?" she asked, almost as if she assumed that he had carefully read every entry.
"She seemed to avoid discussions about high school. And I don't know of anyone who has gotten engaged," he responded, too distracted by what he had just read to pretend he didn't know exactly what she was talking about.
"Then we need to find out who this mystery man is."
"Hmph. And how exactly do you suggest we do that?" Charlie scoffed.
Lois smiled. "Where do the women in town go to get their hair done? I'm suddenly thinking I need a trim."
"What?" asked Charlie, taken back by the non-sequitur.
Down the street from Lois' apartment in Metropolis was a small beauty salon. Shortly after she had moved in, she had decided to check out the shop. She had been amazed at how much the place was a neighborhood gossip center. She had learned things about her neighbors which she would never have learned otherwise. Since that time, she had gone there every time she had needed to get her hair done — more for the information than for the quality of the hair care. She suspected the same was the case in Bushville.
"Pick me up at the back door in half an hour," said Lois as she climbed out of Charlie's truck. "Maybe we can lose our tail."
When Lois entered the salon, a half a dozen women inside fell silent. Lois smiled. She was obviously right. The place was gossip central — and given the fact that she was a stranger, they were probably not overly comfortable continuing to talk in front of her. Well, she would just have to change that.
"Can I help you?" asked an older woman as she came over to the counter at the front of the salon.
"I was hoping to get a trim," Lois informed her. "If you're not too busy, that is," she continued, looking around at the place.
"Not at all," the woman responded. "If I can just get your name…"
The woman wrote down the name. "Do you need a wash or just a trim?"
"Just a trim."
"Then if you'll have a seat, Tammy will be with you in a few minutes, Ms. Lane."
"Please, call me Lois," Lois immediately responded.
"And I'm Agnes," the woman responded before returning to the redhead she had been giving a perm when Lois entered.
"So are you just visiting Bushville, Lois?" asked the redhead, looking at Lois in the mirror as the older woman recommenced work on her hair.
"Actually, no. I'm here on business."
"What kind of business are you in?" asked a third woman.
"I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet."
"A reporter?" asked the redhead. "That sounds exciting. What interest could a paper like the Daily Planet have in Bushville?"
"I bet she's covering Sharon Rose's murder," piped up a woman from the other side of the salon.
"That's right," Lois informed her new audience.
"Such a tragedy," said Agnes. "Sharon was such a nice young woman. Lived in Bushville most of her life."
"And the man who murdered her," another of the employees continued, shaking her head sadly. "What was his name again?"
"Charlie King. I tell you that was a huge shock to me."
"To everyone. He always struck me as such a nice young man. Quiet. Respectful. Kept to himself. To think that he could just go off that way."
Lois bit her tongue. After all, this was why she was there — to hear the gossip and maybe probe a little.
"It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for," said the redhead. "I remember seeing an interview after they caught… What was the name of the Son of Sam again?"
"Bill Clinton," Agnes informed her.
"Right. Bill Clinton. When his neighbors were interviewed, they all said the same thing. That he was a nice, respectful young man. That he never said as much as boo."
"You know I remember the same thing being said about George W. Bush, the man who shot President Amelia Earhart," said a woman who had not yet entered the conversation.
"I think they said that when they caught Jack the Ripper, too," said Agnes.
A woman came over to Lois. She assumed it was Tammy because she led Lois to a chair and asked how much Lois wanted cut off. Once they had established the work to be done, the redhead now seated directly behind her spoke again.
"So what does a reporter do when they're investigating a murder? Do you sneak into places and find evidence?"
Lois laughed. "I wish. Mostly it's just asking the police for statements and trying to get background information — stuff like that. If I get lucky, I might get an exclusive interview with the murderer."
"That sounds exciting to me," said Tammy. "Imagine. Being able to ask a murderer why he did it."
"Do you find it hard getting information, being a woman?" asked Agnes. "I mean, I can't imagine Sheriff Johns being very helpful. I swear that man has got to be the biggest chauvinist I've ever known."
"Thanks for telling me," Lois responded. "I thought it was just me. I've been having a horrible time getting information from him. I'm starting to think I'm going to have to tell my boss to send someone else. I'm really not looking forward to that. After all, my boss seems to think that a woman's place is in the kitchen anyway."
"Well, I think that's horrible," said the redhead. "What do you need to know, dear? Maybe we can help you."
"I hate to impose."
"Oh, dear, please. Don't think twice about it. We'd love to help."
Lois looked in the mirror at the reflections of the women who were now looking at her. She gave them all a grateful smile. "Actually, maybe you could help. I'm trying to get some background information about Sharon Rose — you know, what she was like growing up, what her family was like, who her friends were. Those sorts of things."
"Sharon and I went to high school together," Tammy said immediately. "We haven't spent a lot of time together since. But I can tell you what she was like back then if that's of any help."
"That would be extremely helpful," Lois responded giving Tammy a huge smile.
"Well, she was fairly quiet, a good student… Is this the type of thing you want to know?"
When Lois nodded, the redhead piped in. "I seem to remember her as a bit of a wild one in high school."
"I think that was mostly rumors," said Agnes.
"What's the rumor?" asked Lois innocently.
"Well, they say she got pregnant and had to have an abortion," said the redhead, lowering her voice in a conspiratorial manner.
"Now, Gertie, you shouldn't say things like that. After all, she's dead and it's not right to speak ill of the dead. And I'd hate to see something like that on the front page of the Daily Planet."
"Oh, I'd never print something like that," said Lois as if horrified that they might think otherwise. "I'm just looking for background material. So who was the father? After all, he might be a good person for me to talk to — you know, about what she was like."
There was a moment of silence.
"Oh for pete's sake," said Gertie. "The rumor is that she was running around with the Marsh boy."
Lois' jaw nearly hit the floor. "Ken Marsh's son?"
"I still don't believe that," said Agnes. "After all, Ken Marsh and Sharon's daddy hated each other. There's no way she would take up with Junior. Her daddy would have killed her."
"Hey, I'm just telling what I heard," Gertie said in her own defense.
"I just don't think it's right to be bringing up these old rumors — especially now."
"Because she's dead?" asked Lois.
"No, because of the engagement."
When everyone went silent, Agnes continued. "Oh right. It hasn't been announced yet. Maybe I shouldn't say… Okay, well, Elaine Marsh was in here yesterday and she told me, in the strictest confidence, of course — so none of you can say anything yet…" When all the women, including Lois, nodded, Agnes continued, "Okay, well apparently Junior is marrying Cindy Stern. She's the daughter of some bigwig in Metropolis.
"The daughter of Franklin Stern? One of the most powerful men in Metropolis?" Lois asked.
"That's him. And it wouldn't be right to drag up all these old rumors again. Besides, even if it did happen — that was years ago."
"I never believed the rumor," said another woman.
"Why's that?" asked Lois.
"Well, Junior always seemed… I don't know. He was sort of a geek. He cowered when you said more than two words to him. And Sharon was the town beauty queen. I never believed it."
"Wouldn't you cower if your father was Ken Marsh?" asked one of the woman, causing the rest of the woman to laugh.
The chatter continued, but Lois heard very little of it. Ken Marsh Jr, known to the people of Bushville as Junior was in all likelihood Sharon's mysterious lover. At least, all the pieces fit. Falling into destructive patterns. He being afraid to tell his father. She being afraid to tell hers. His upcoming marriage. No wonder Sharon was concerned that Charlie would be disappointed in her. He probably would be when Lois filled him in — unless, of course, he was listening in on the conversation right now which Lois thought was a good possibility.
Charlie sat in stunned silence. When he had driven away after dropping Lois off at the beauty parlor, he had realized that the goons who had been following had chosen to stay in front of the salon. Charlie had immediately circled around and parked behind the shop. Since then, he'd been sitting and watching, ready to take action in the event that Marsh's goons entered the building.
As a result, he'd heard the entire conversation taking place inside. Ken Marsh Junior. What the hell had Sharon been thinking? She was a wonderful, beautiful and desirable woman. So what was she doing with a creep like Junior?
He ran his hand through his hair. It was his fault. If he had just left town months ago, she would probably have sold the lodge to Marsh and moved to a place where she would have had her choice of men. Instead, she'd stayed in Bushville… for him. And when he hadn't wanted what she was offering, she'd allowed herself to be seduced by the likes of Junior.
What bothered him the most was that she hadn't felt as if she could tell him what was going on. He had thought they were friends. And yet she'd been sleeping with Junior for a couple of months and not only had she been doing it behind his back, she had made Junior an accomplice in keeping it from him. Had she really seen him as being as judgmental as her father had always been? How could he have made her feel that way?
He was so lost in thought that he almost missed Lois making her way to the front of the parlor to pay for her trim. He let out a breath of relief when he noticed that Lois' hair was not much shorter than it had been before. Not that it was any of his business. He didn't care at all if her hair was long or short or if she got it shaved off completely. After all, he wasn't the least bit interested in Lois Lane's hair. He really wasn't.
He gave a small snort. He was interested. If he had been asked to describe the perfect woman before he'd met Lois Lane, he probably couldn't have done it. But now… For some unfathomable reason that description now matched Lois Lane from the fire that flashed in her eyes when she was angry to the way she furrowed her eyebrows together when she was thinking. Her hair. Her eyes. Every line and curve of her body. The way she pushed her hair behind her ear when she was embarrassed or nervous. Lois Lane was quite simply the perfect woman. Not that it particularly mattered. After all, he wasn't in the market. He couldn't be.
He watched through the wall as she made her way towards the back entrance. As she reached the door, he shifted the truck into drive so that he was approaching just as she stepped outside.
"Good timing," she said as she opened the door and climbed in.
"So how'd it go?" he asked, forcing his mind away from his previous thoughts.
"Good," Lois responded before filling him in on what he had already overheard during her trip to the beauty parlor.
Still, he listened in silence, trying to look shocked when she informed him that Sharon's mystery lover was Junior — especially since she was watching him carefully, as if trying to determine if he had already known.
"Junior," he finally said, clearing his throat when it unexpectedly cracked. "Wow. I never would have expected that."
She continued to watch him, as if not quite certain she believed him.
"So what do you think? Junior killed Sharon. And then his father covered it up," he said, trying to take control of the conversation.
"That's exactly what I think."
"So how do we prove it?"
"Well, I was thinking. If Junior was the one with Sharon before she was killed, there had to be some evidence of it during the autopsy. That means that either the doctor who performed the autopsy is lying about what he found. Or he missed it. I think we need to talk to him. Would the autopsy have been done here or would they have sent Sharon's body to St. Paul or somewhere?"
"There's a doctor in the next town who used to be a coroner. He's mostly retired now. But he has a small practice and they call him in when there are fishing or hunting or other accidents to do the autopsy. I imagine he did Sharon's autopsy."
"I think we need to pay this doctor a visit."
Charlie nodded. "I also think we should pay Sheriff Johns a visit. He might not have much to tell us, but I suppose we might learn something by the way he doesn't answer the questions. Also, he undoubtedly knows we're looking into Sharon's murder. If we don't have some questions for him, he's going to realize we think he's involved."
"Sounds like a good idea. I'm sure I can get something out of him — get him to slip up somewhere. So, did you manage to lose the tail?" Lois asked.
Charlie nodded. "They're still sitting out front." There was a long moment of silence before Charlie spoke again. "Which brings up something I wanted to talk to you about."
Charlie shifted uncomfortably behind the wheel of his truck.
"What is it, Charlie?" Lois asked again.
"It's just… Well, they didn't even try to follow me when I dropped you off."
"That means they're following you — not us."
"Well, I'd just feel a lot better if you stayed at my place tonight. Don't worry. I'm not suggesting anything. I'll give you my bed and sleep on the couch. I'd just feel a lot better if I knew you were safe."
Lois was silent for so long that Charlie thought he'd offended her.
"Okay. On one condition," Lois finally responded.
"I'll sleep on the couch."
Charlie opened his mouth to object, but then he glanced over at her. In her mind, this was obviously the deal- breaker. "Deal," he responded. "Then why don't we swing by the motel and pick up your things before we go to see Sheriff Johns — while the tail is still sitting out in front of the beauty parlor? We won't check you out so that they expect you to go back there tonight."
"Sounds like a plan," Lois responded. "Except…"
"Well, I was thinking. Let's go to the motel, pick up my things and come back here."
"We'll pick up the tail again and take those goons with us to see Sheriff Johns. We can always lose them again later. After all, they're likely to find out from the sheriff where we are. And if they don't know we lost them at the beauty parlor, they'll be less likely to be on their guard when we do need to lose them to go see the doctor."
"I like the way you think," Charlie responded, heading towards the motel.
The trip to see Sheriff Derek Johns was, indeed, a complete and total waste of time — just as they had expected it would be. Not that Lois hadn't grilled the man — probing into every piece of evidence and method of obtaining it contained in the police report. But no matter how hard she pushed, Lois was unable to make the sheriff contradict himself.
By the time they finally left the police station, it was after noon. Charlie suggested that they go to Buck's Bar and Grill for lunch. Given that the police report had indicated that Buck's was the place where Charlie had fought with Sharon on the night of the murder, Lois suggested that she go in first and he give her fifteen minutes before joining her. Once the plan was in place, Lois climbed out of the truck and made her way to the restaurant.
Buck's Bar and Grill was not a four star restaurant. In fact, if it were rated at all, it probably would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of minus two. There were cracks on the counter tops; there were holes in the leather covering the seats of the wooden chairs. Even the floor was uneven. But Buck's was teaming with people, all of whom seemed quite comfortable in the environment.
Lois made her way over to the counter that ran along one side of Buck's.
"What can I getcha?" asked a young woman who was chewing noisily on her gum.
"Umm… I'm looking for Richard Byers," said Lois.
"Rick! Someone wants to talk to ya!" she yelled over her shoulder.
A stout, scruffy looking man emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his already filthy apron. "Yeah?" he asked as he approached Lois.
"I understand that you saw the fight between Sharon Rose and Charlie King on the day of Sharon's murder."
"I was wondering if you would tell me what you heard or saw."
"What's it to you?"
"I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet."
"The Daily Planet, huh?" he asked, the previous lack of interest in his voice instantly disappearing.
"And you want to write about what I know?"
"Absolutely," Lois responded with conviction, sensing his change of attitude and realizing that he was suddenly seeing his chance for his fifteen minutes of fame. "Let's start with your name. How do you spell Byers?"
"B-y-e-r-s," Rick said while Lois carefully wrote down the name. "So what do you want to know?"
"What did you hear during the fight?"
He shrugged. "Not much. It was obvious that they were fighting. But they were keeping their voices deliberately low."
"Then how exactly do you know they were fighting?"
"She finally got up and stormed out. He threw some money on the table and rushed after her. Both of them looked furious. Of course, if I had known he was going to kill her, I'd have done something."
Lois chewed on her lip in frustration. Surely someone must have heard or seen something that could help. But although the police report spoke about a number of witnesses, it had only provided Richard Byers' name. "Who else was here at the time?"
"Betty, do you remember who was here when Sharon was having that fight with Charlie King?" he called to a woman sitting at a booth nearby.
Lois glanced over at the woman eating her lunch.
"No one special as far as I remember," Betty answered.
"Did you overhear what the fight was about?" Lois asked Betty. If they could find someone who heard Charlie warning Sharon how dangerous Marsh was, it would help support the idea that he was trying to protect her and, hence, would never hurt her.
"No. But I never did trust Charles King. He always struck me as the violent type."
"Yeah," Rick said. "I thought that, too. But you know how it is. You don't want to stick your nose in where it doesn't belong. And I never thought he'd actually kill her."
Lois held her tongue.
"Oh, wait," said Rick. "I know how you might be able to find out who was here that night — or at least some of the people."
"You could take a look at my credit card receipts."
"Wouldn't you have already sent them in for payment?"
"Well, yeah. But there's always an extra copy. Just wait here. I'll get them for you."
Lois took a seat at the counter as she waited for Rick to return. When he did, he was carrying a brown envelope. He emptied the contents onto the counter.
"Those are the receipts for the day of the murder. Just be sure that when you write your story you say that I woulda stopped that King bastard if I'd known what he was going to do to Sharon," Rick concluded before turning and heading back into the kitchen.
"Naturally," Lois muttered before turning her attention to the receipts. A moment later she was staring at one receipt, and one signature in particular. Kenneth Marsh Junior. He had been present during the fight. She wondered briefly why Charlie hadn't mentioned it to her. Glancing around, she stuffed the receipt into her pocket.
Just then the door to the restaurant opened and Charlie entered. In her peripheral vision, Lois noticed Betty's eyebrows go up when Charlie looked around before heading straight for Lois. But Lois didn't dwell on it. Instead, she rose to her feet. When Charlie got close enough, Lois placed a hand on his chest and stood on her tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek.
"Let's go," said Lois. "I'm no longer all that hungry."
Charlie looked confused, but Lois ignored it as she slipped her arm through his and led him towards the door — entirely certain that she had just given Betty and Rick enough to talk about to keep them going through the rest of the day. Not that Lois was entirely certain why she'd kissed Charlie. Maybe it was just that Rick and Betty's assumptions and comments about Charlie had provoked her. Maybe it was because she wanted them to know that she believed in Charlie's innocence. Either way, it had been an impulse which Lois couldn't bring herself to regret.
When they arrived at the front door, Charlie stopped them.
"What?" Lois asked.
"I think we should leave through the back door," he whispered in her ear. "I parked the truck around there."
"Our friends are out front?"
He nodded before they headed towards the back door together. As they climbed into the truck, Lois spoke.
"Why didn't you tell me that Junior was around when you and Sharon had your fight?"
"Junior was there?" Charlie asked in return. "I'm sorry. I guess I wasn't paying attention at the time. Are you sure?"
Lois pulled the credit card receipt out of her pocket and held it towards him. He glanced over at the small piece of paper.
"Amazing," he said, directing his eyes back towards the road.
"You," he said, chancing a quick look at her. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, causing him to smile.
The man had been shocked when he saw Lois Lane enter the restaurant while he was eating his lunch. He had just arrived in Bushville that morning and, after some asking around, had discovered that she was staying at a rundown motel in the middle of town. But since he hadn't even known where to start looking for her, he'd decided to have lunch.
He had kept his eyes focused on his lunch while at the same time listening to the conversation. It seemed to confirm what they had suspected — that she was investigating the indictment against Charlie King.
Still, his shock at her entry into the restaurant was nothing compared to his absolute disbelief when a man entered the restaurant only to be greeted with a kiss. To the best of his knowledge, Lois Lane wasn't involved with anyone — and certainly not anyone in Bushville. He glanced around, realizing that he wasn't the only one who had noticed the kiss. He waited until Lane and the man — could he be Charlie King? — left before picking up the bill and walking up to the counter.
"Twelve seventeen," said Rick.
The man handed Rick a twenty. As Rick proceeded to make change, the man spoke. "Who was that man who just came in here? I seem to know him from somewhere."
"That was Charlie King," Rick responded. "You probably saw him in the paper. He's accused of murder."
The man collected his money while silently digesting the information. "Do you have a phone I could use?" he asked.
"Yeah. Over there." Rich gestured to a payphone on the far wall.
The man thanked Rick and made his way to the phone. His boss would want to know about this development immediately.
The sign on the door of Doctor John Holiday's office said, 'Gone Fishing.' Lois and Charlie looked around in frustration. They hadn't called before coming because they hadn't wanted to give the doctor time to prepare his answers before they arrived. But now, it seemed they had wasted a trip. The doctor was out.
They were just about to climb back in the truck to discuss their next move when a car pulled up and a man with gray hair, carrying a fishing pole, got out.
"Doctor Holiday?" asked Lois.
"Yes," the doctor asked, noticing the woman for the first time. Then his eyes caught sight of the man heading around his truck to join them.
Afterwards, Lois would swear that all of the blood drained from the doctor's face when he spotted Charlie. Knowing from years of experience that this was the time to act, before the doctor recovered his bearings, she removed a tape recorder from her pocket and made a show of turning it on.
"I'm Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your autopsy of Sharon Rose."
"Umm… Look, this is my day off," Holiday said, heading as quickly as possible towards his office. "If you would like to come back tomorrow…"
"This will only take a few minutes," Lois interrupted, following on the doctor's heels, determined not to let him get away.
"I can't discuss…"
"In particular, I want to ask why your report doesn't make any mention of Ms. Rose's sexual encounter shortly before her death."
"How did you…" the doctor began, swivelling around to look at Lois. Then he seemed to compose himself. "I don't know what you're talking about." He fumbled with his keys for a minute, trying with trembling hands to fit the small metal object into the lock.
"Who put you up to this?" Lois asked, not letting up for a minute. "Or did you do this on your own? I assume you know that it's a crime to intentionally lie on an autopsy report."
"I did no such thing!" the doctor responded, trying to sound indignant, but to Lois' ears sounding scared.
"If you come clean with us now, we'll do everything in our power to help you work something out. And if we make you out to be the hero of the story, authorities are going to be under a lot of pressure to go easy on you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Holiday said, finally getting the door open and stepping inside. "Good day." And with that, he closed the door, effectively ending the conversation.
"Well, that went well," said Charlie when they were left standing alone outside.
"That went excellent," said Lois.
"What are you talking about? He denied…"
"His lips said no no no, but his eyes and the shock on his face when he realized that we knew about Sharon's sexual encounter said yes yes yes," Lois responded. "And I assume you caught his little slip."
"You mean the 'how did you…' Of course I caught it, but it's not as if that's going to stand up as an admission in court. After all, he could just say he was going to ask, 'How did you know where to find me?' or 'How did you know I did the report?" or just about a million other 'how did you' questions."
"That's why we need to get a copy of the real report."
Charlie smiled. "I think I'm beginning to understand how you knew to bring something black with you when you came to Bushville."
Given the time it had taken them to get to the neighboring town, Lois and Charlie decided that they would go to a local restaurant for dinner before going back to Doctor Holiday's office for a little unofficial snooping.
Lois was pleasantly surprised when she stepped into a small restaurant on the outskirts of town. Given what she had seen of Buck's Bar and Grill, she hadn't been expecting much. But this restaurant could easily compete with some of the restaurants she'd been to with Lex. The log walls and fire burning in the large fireplace gave the place a kind of rustic charm. The area in front of the fire place was obviously meant to be a dance floor, with the tables positioned around it. The soft strains of the canned music of an orchestra playing over the sound system created a romantic nuance.
They were escorted to a table set for four near the back and two place settings were immediately removed. A waitress appeared, handing them menus and filling their water glasses.
"Have you been here before?" asked Lois when the waitress left them to mull over the menus.
"Sharon and I came here a couple of times — when she had something she wanted to celebrate."
"It's nice." She took a moment to examine the menu. "So what's good here?"
"This time of year… The fresh walleye."
"I'm not a big fish person."
"This is not just fish, Lois. This is…" He kissed his fingertips. "Fresh walleye. Dipped in milk and rolled in flour before being fried in butter."
She laughed. "I thought you couldn't cook."
"That's not cooking. That's being a guide to fishermen. That's man's cooking."
Again, she laughed. "Just the same… Maybe I'll try the Chicken Caesar Salad and some bread sticks."
The waitress came over and took their orders. True to her word, Lois ordered the dinner size Chicken Caesar Salad and bread sticks while Charlie ordered the Walleye.
They chatted, mainly about the case, until their dinners were served. The discussion was somewhat stilted between them and there were long periods of silence. Charlie had so many questions he wanted to ask. Lois had so much she wanted to tell him. But neither was comfortable raising the subjects most pressing on their minds. So both were relieved when the food arrived and they could concentrate on their meals.
Lois' salad was not the greatest. The chicken was a little dry and the dressing was a little bland. After a few bites, she found herself pushing it around in her bowl rather than eating.
"Something wrong?" asked Charlie.
"Nothing. It's just not the best salad I've ever had."
Charlie was silent for a moment before using his fork to break off a piece of his fish. He carefully picked up the white meat on the fork and held it out to Lois.
"I don't want…"
"Come on. At least give it a try." He moved the fork towards her mouth.
Lois looked at him for a long moment before cautiously opening her mouth, allowing him to feed her. When her mouth closed around the fork, Charlie slowly pulled back, allowing the fork to slip from her mouth. She chewed slowly. "Oh, god," she breathed, closing her eyes and allowing all her senses to focus on the taste as she finished eating the piece of fish.
Charlie had to stifle a gasp at what her simple gesture did to his heart — not to mention the rest of his body. When she finally opened her eyes, he looked away.
"You were right. That was wonderful," Lois said.
Charlie cleared his throat, decidedly uncomfortable. "Do you want some more?"
"Absolutely not. That's your supper," she responded. She picked up her fork and pushed the food around in her bowl.
Charlie let out a breath, pushing his plate towards her until it was situated between them. She looked at his plate for a minute before reaching over and breaking off a piece of his fish with her fork to pop it in her mouth. From then on, the two of them were eating his supper. And as the eating arrangements became more relaxed, so did the conversation.
It started with politics. They soon discovered that although they didn't always agree, each found the other a worthy opponent when they did disagree. From there, the discussion flowed naturally from topic to topic. Art. Music. Books. Crazy laws. Flea markets. Favorite board games. Sports. It seemed as if no topic went untouched or unchallenged.
"What do you mean you didn't see Saving Private Ryan?" Charlie asked in amazement. "I thought everyone had seen that movie."
"I just don't go in for those sappy love stories," Lois responded. "They're so unrealistic. Come on, Charlie. A movie about a man who is injured during the second world war who is nursed back to health and then falls in love with his nurse. And then they kiss and violins play as the movie fades to black. It doesn't really happen that way. I mean, when was the last time you kissed a woman and heard violins playing in the background?"
Before she knew what was happening, he wound his fingers into the hair on the back of her head, pulling her towards him. And then, his lips were on hers, lightly brushing, probing. Her heart felt as if it came to an abrupt halt and then, without any conscious thought, she responded. When the kiss finally broke, she was breathless.
"I hear violins now," said Charlie, his voice more than a little husky.
"So do I," Lois responded, realizing that she did, she really did hear violins. In fact, she was hearing an entire orchestra. Maybe… But wait! That was the music playing in the restaurant. "Charlie!" she exclaimed, swatting at his chest. The huge grin with which he answered her attack sent a smile onto Lois' face as well. "Has anyone ever told you that you really are a brat?"
"Well, you are," she said, reaching across to his plate and with her fork, stabbing the last piece of fish and popping it into her mouth. She had been leaving it there for him. But just for that, he wasn't going to get it.
She crinkled his eyebrows in confusion when he suddenly looked uncomfortable. But… there was something familiar… Suddenly, she knew where she'd seen the look before. It was the same look he'd had when he'd flirted with her the night she'd arrived. In fact, it was the same look he had every time something started to happen between them. He'd suddenly realized what he'd done and was trying to back away from it. Before he could withdraw completely, she had to do something.
"But as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," Lois began, "Saving Private Ryan, and other love stories like that create unrealistic expectations. How you can even stand watching such fluff is beyond me."
"Saving Private Ryan — fluff? Lois, some of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen about what it was like to fight in the war were in that movie."
"Pfff. That's what all you hopeless romantics say — just to justify watching it over and over again."
Charlie rolled his eyes, causing Lois to smile. The panic attack he'd had after their kiss was obviously over. She'd have to remember that technique. Tease him out of his fears.
"Anyway," Charlie continued, much more seriously, "do you want dessert or do you want to head over to Doctor Holiday's now?"
"Do they have anything good here for dessert?"
"They have a rum chocolate mousse that Sharon used to call sinful."
Lois smiled. "Then I guess it's time for me to find out if Sharon had good taste in food. I would hope so — after all, given the fact that she let you hang around, I'm beginning to question her taste in men."
Lois smiled. "So why don't you order the mousse…"
"Wait a minute! Why am I ordering the mousse?"
"So that I can get an extra spoon and steal some from you," Lois responded, sounding as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world.
"Oh, of course. How silly of me. You ate half my supper. I should have realized that entitled you to half my dessert."
Charlie knew there was a problem the instant they entered Doctor Holiday's office. As Lois began looking through file cabinets, Charlie tried to figure out where the smell was coming from.
"Here's the file," said Lois after a couple of minutes.
Charlie ignored her as he circled the desk. It was coming from around there somewhere.
"It's empty," Lois said.
Charlie's eyes landed on the metal trash can.
"He must have put the autopsy report somewhere else," Lois continued.
Charlie picked up the trash can. "I think I found it, Lois."
Lois came over quickly and looked in the trash can before looking up to meet Charlie's eyes. In the bottom of the trash can was nothing but ashes.
Lois was still fuming when Charlie opened the door to allow her to enter his cabin. The long drive had done nothing to calm her down.
"But don't you understand, Charlie? We wasted the entire day! First, we wasted the morning with that stupid sheriff and then we wasted the afternoon on the doctor."
"But we did find out who Sharon was involved with — thanks to your bright idea of going to the hair salon. And we did find out that Junior was at Bucks when I had my fight with Sharon — once again thanks to you. I think we had a pretty good day. You even got an almost admission out of Doctor Holiday."
"Almost. That's the key word here, Charlie."
Charlie smiled. "Well, tomorrow is another day."
"Where did you get that? A greeting card?"
"Ha ha. Look, why don't you take off your jacket and relax? Maybe turn on the news. And I'll get us some coffee or something."
"Coffee sounds good. Provided… You do know how to make coffee, don't you?"
"Yes, Lois," Charlie responded, sounding exasperated.
"It was a perfectly reasonable question," Lois muttered as she began walking away. "After all, you didn't know how to make tea.".
She turned on his television and grimaced at the poor reception. "Don't you get cable?" she asked.
"There's no cable out here," he responded.
"I knew there was a reason I didn't like the country," she muttered, plopping down on the couch to watch the snowy television.
"The bush, Lois," Charlie corrected from the kitchen. "Up here, we don't call it the country. We call it the bush."
"Country. Bush. What does it matter? You still get lousy television reception."
Still, in spite of the poor picture, the sound was coming through loud and clear. She allowed the tension of the day to drain from her body as she listened to some actress — wasn't her name Julia Roberts — sell gadgets for Radio Shack as she waited for the news to start. It had been a couple of days since Lois had watched the news. It would be good to find out what was happening in the world, not to mention finding out if the world had been able to find its way without her guidance.
"Coming up, nuclear submarine missing. U.S. Navy is listening to desperate S.O.S. calls but is unable to locate the source."
Charlie instantly appeared behind the couch, his eyes glued to the set. He was shifting uncomfortably. Lois looked at him and then back at the television. What was bothering him? The news about the missing sub was certainly horrible, but… Wait a minute! She glanced back at him.
"Do you think we have enough wood for the night?" she asked.
"Wood!" he responded. "Right! We need wood."
Before Lois even had a chance to respond, he was heading towards the door.
"What do you say that you get some wood while I make the coffee?" she asked.
"Right," Charlie responded, closing the door behind him as he disappeared outside.
Then Lois heard a rush of wind. She chuckled. Keeping an ear tuned to the televison, she headed towards the kitchen. Given the lateness of the hour, instead of coffee, she decided to make tea — especially when a search of Charlie's cupboards revealed that he had some nice soothing caffeine- free blends.
Not that making tea turned out to be easy. After all, no matter how hard she searched, she was unable to find a kettle. Finally, she simply filled a pot with water and put it on the stove.
It wasn't until the tea was ready that a newsflash came over the television that the submarine had been miraculously found. A moment later, Charlie reentered the cabin, a pile of wood in his arms.
"I'll just get a fire going," he said casually.
"Great. Then let's have the tea, watch the rest of the news and call it a night. We can get back to work first thing tomorrow. You do remember your promise to let me have the couch."
"I was thinking about that, Lois," Charlie responded, heading for the fireplace. "Why don't you…"
"We had a deal, Charlie. And if there's one thing I can't stand it's someone who goes back on a deal."
He opened his mouth to object and then stopped. "Fine," he finally said.
Lois opened her suitcase, pulled out her Bugs Bunny sleep shirt and headed for the bathroom. She had just arrived in the doorway when she stopped, looking down at the shirt. She couldn't wear this. If Charlie woke up and came out in the middle of the night, he'd see her. He'd think she looked stupid. Glancing back at her suitcase, she wondered if she had anything better — something sexy, perhaps. But it hadn't even occurred to her to bring something sexy. What had she been thinking? Now, grant it, she'd never needed sexy lingerie before, but… a girl should always be prepared, shouldn't she — especially when there was a chance that she was going to be meeting the man of her dreams?
Of course she could always just sleep in her birthday suit. She almost laughed when she considered his reaction if, for some reason, he came out during the night. For a moment, she was almost tempted to do it. But then she pushed the idea out of her mind. She didn't have the nerve to do something like that. Sighing, she headed into the bathroom to change into her Bugs Bunny sleep shirt.
As she brushed her teeth and changed her clothes, she thought about the day. There had definitely been times when she had wondered whether Charlie was even interested in finding Sharon's murderer. He seemed to be acting more like a bodyguard than her investigative partner. Her mind flashed back to a comment he'd made shortly after they had met — a comment about there being no such thing as justice. He couldn't really believe that? Could he?
Maybe he did. After all, from what she knew of his life, justice had often been sorely lacking. The murder of his parents — at the hands of government agents, no less. The cruel mercies of the child welfare system. A childhood spent scraping out the basic means of survival. And now, the murder of a woman whom he had obviously cared deeply about. How could anyone believe in an abstract idea like justice after all that?
And yet, there was hope. The way he had shifted around, searching for a way to leave when the report had come in about the missing submarine told Lois how much he cared about life — even the lives of strangers.
Her heart felt heavy as she finished up in the bathroom and returned to where the couch had been made up into a bed. She turned out the lights, lay down on the couch and watched the fire burning in the fireplace. When she had started this journey, she had told herself that she just needed to look into Charlie's eyes and know that he was all right. Now, after having done so, she had to conclude that he wasn't. There was such an underlying feeling of sadness about this man.
As she watched the weird shadows on the wall, she found herself wishing she knew how to make everything all right for him. He had been through so much in his life and it had obviously taken its toll on him. Common sense told her that she didn't need a man with all of Charlie's baggage.
But wisdom and common sense often didn't listen to the heart. All her heart knew with absolute certainty was that she was falling in love with Charlie. And regardless of what she did now or what else happened, that wouldn't change. All of a sudden, and for the first time in her life, Lois understood what her father had felt for her mother — and why he had stood by her, in spite of everything. After all, that was exactly how she felt about Charlie.
Charlie's lips ran slowly down Lois' throat, tenderly devouring every inch of the sensitive skin. She moaned softly. His hand came up to the top button of her blouse in its quest for additional skin to explore. But the heat of the fire distracted him.
Glancing behind him, he saw the fire snaking up the walls of his cabin. He turned back to Lois, intent on warning her, intent on getting her out of the path of danger. But before he had a chance to say a word, she pulled his head down to hers, passionately exploring his mouth. He groaned, stealing a few extra seconds of intimate contact before he again remembered the fire raging behind them.
He broke contact with her mouth and glanced over his shoulder again. The fire was getting closer. His eyes focused on the green rock sitting on the table. He had to get Lois out of here before the fire reached the rock. Almost as if it knew what he was thinking, the fire was suddenly devouring the table, snaking up the legs. And mere seconds after that, it happened. The rock exploded, sending shards in every direction.
Charlie turned his back, covering Lois' body with his own and burying his head in her shoulder as the burning shards buried themselves in his back and side. He screamed out in pain.
There was no putting this off any more. He had to get out now. He had to get Lois out now. He looked down at Lois lying beneath him.
"Come on, babe. We've got to get out of here."
When she didn't respond, he turned her face towards him. He jumped back when her lifeless eyes stared back at him. The worms were suddenly there, sliding out of her mouth.
"No!" he screamed, his hands working desperately to get rid of the worms. But for every one he disposed of, two more seemed to appear.
Lois was jerked awake when Charlie's blood-curdling scream echoed through the cabin. Jumping up from where she had been sound asleep on the couch, she rushed to the bedroom and threw open the door to see Charlie thrashing around from his floating position above the bed.
"No! Can't! Not again!" Charlie's strangled words came through loud and clear.
Lois crawled onto the bed and grabbed Charlie's shoulder. "Charlie!" she said forcefully. When he didn't wake, she shook his shoulder. "Clark!" she yelled.
He snapped awake, falling immediately back to the bed, leaving her on her knees beside him.
"Are you…" she began, sitting down on her legs. Her voice trailed off when his shaking hands came up to her face.
"You're alive," he breathed. The words were half question, half statement.
"I'm alive, Charlie," she whispered, her hands covering his as they continued to move gently over her cheeks, as if he were seeking to reassure himself that she really was alive. "You were dreaming. Do you want to talk about…"
Her voice was cut off when he pulled her onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her shoulder. She froze for a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. Then she felt him tremble against her. Instinctively her hands came up to his head. She gently stroked his hair while whispering softly into his ear. "Shh. It's okay. Everything's all right. I'm fine. It was just a dream."
She felt wetness on her shoulder and her heart felt as if it was being torn in two. He was softly crying. She felt tears come to her own eyes. This wasn't just a nightmare. This was something deeper.
"It's okay," she whispered, this time pulling his head out of her shoulder to look at his face. When she saw the tear stains on his cheeks, disappearing into his beard, she acted solely on instinct. Leaning forward, she gently kissed his forehead. The first kiss was followed by a second. "It's okay," she whispered again, this time kissing one of his closed eyelids.
He seemed to calm, encouraging her to kiss the other eyelid. His eyes opened when she pulled back this time. There was a moment of silence as Lois felt herself respond to the depth of emotion she could see in his eyes. And for the first time, she realized the intimacy of her current position. Who moved first, she would forever afterwards be uncertain. But suddenly, she felt his lips on hers. She whimpered softly as she responded.
At first, the kisses were soft, almost questioning. But it didn't take long for the kisses to escalate. Lois moaned when his tongue slipped into her mouth. Her tongue joined his as they took turns exploring each other's mouths, tasting, feeling, reveling in the cascading emotions. When their mouths finally parted, Charlie buried his face in her shoulder again, pulling her closer.
"Oh, god," she breathed, when his lips began exploring her neck. She closed her eyes in order to give herself over completely to the feel of his lips and beard on her throat. Her head fell back, giving him all the room he needed to work this strange magic on her body. His hands roamed over her back as his kisses continued. In some ways, she could hardly believe this was actually happening. It almost felt like a dream. But it was like no dream she had ever had. His questing lips and probing hands were creating the most exquisite sensations she had ever experienced.
"Yes," she whispered. His hands moved slowly up her sides, taking her sleep shirt with them until it was bunched up under her arms. She moved her arms over her head, allowing him to slip it off. He tossed it to the side and then leaned back against the headboard.
"You're gorgeous," he breathed.
Her hands trembled as she reached for his t-shirt, determined to do to him what he had just done to her. She pulled at it awkwardly for a moment, too distracted to be able to think through how she was supposed to get it off his body. She felt a brief moment of insecurity, but he seemed to understand and, reaching over his head, he grabbed the thin material, pulling it off and tossing it to the side.
Once it was gone, she ran her eyes over his bare chest. Using her fingers, she began to outline the muscles of his chest. Then, placing the palms of her hands flat against his chest, she ran them slowly down his body until she felt his stomach muscles contract. She wasn't entirely sure what she was doing, except that she wanted to feel every inch of that magnificent chest. When he groaned and pulled her back into his arms to kiss her, she was fairly confident that she had done something right.
She gasped slightly when he rolled her over onto the bed so that he was kneeling above her. He leaned over her and they stared into each other's eyes for a long moment, as if silently sharing the secrets of the universe. His hand played gently in her hair, while her hands continued to explore the wide expanse of his chest. And then, just when the desire in Lois' body couldn't be contained for a moment longer, he moved in to kiss her again.
The kissing was accompanied by a new freedom as Lois slipped her arms around his body, bringing him to rest more fully against her. She could feel his heavy breathing in her own lungs and feel the blood racing through his veins as if it were her own.
He slid down her body, breaking contact with her mouth. She opened her mouth to protest his withdrawal, but her objection died on her lips when he began kissing her neck. He continued the gentle torture until she began moving restlessly under him.
As if responding to her unspoken signal, one of his hands slid slowly down her stomach. And suddenly, although Lois' body was screaming 'yes,' a small part of her mind, the part which had held her back so many times in the past, whispered 'no.' The refusal in her mind only lasted a second before the doubts fled. She wanted this. She had always wanted this. But a second was all it seemed to take for her muscles to tighten briefly. She cursed that involuntary reaction when Charlie's head came up from her throat. He looked slightly confused.
"I'm sorry," he said, his fingers withdrawing quickly. "I thought you… wanted to."
"I do," she responded immediately, trying to pull his head back down to her throat. When he refused to be budged, she attempted to continue. "It's just…" she began before words failed her.
"What?" His voice was soft. His eyes told her that he really wanted to understand.
She felt the color in her cheeks rise. "It's just…" She lowered her gaze from his. "…I've never exactly done this before."
"Done this… Done what before?"
The color in her cheeks deepened. She was unable to look in his eyes. She wished he would just quit talking and continue with his exploration of her body.
"Done this before," she whispered.
"Done… Made love?" he asked.
"But you were engaged," he blurted out, sounding absolutely stunned.
Her eyes finally met his again. "I never wanted him the way I want you," she whispered.
He stared at her in disbelief before suddenly pulling back. "This isn't a good idea," he stammered, practically falling all over himself in his effort to get off the bed. "I think…" His voice trailed off and for a moment various emotions warred on his face. "I think I should just…" He gestured towards the door behind him. He stood there for a second more before literally fleeing the room.
"What?" asked Lois when he was gone. What had just happened? She collapsed back into the bed, trying to get her hormones under control. Never in her life had she thought that when she'd finally be ready to cross that intimacy threshold, the man would be the one to back away. She shook her head as she struggled to understand.
Maybe he just wasn't attracted to her. In automatic response to that thought, she pulled the blanket on his bed up to cover herself — suddenly self-conscious. That had to be it. He had realized what was happening and had backed away because he didn't want her, because he didn't find her attractive.
But then why had he told her that she was gorgeous? Maybe he was just being nice. She thought back to the moment when he had first seen her without her shirt on. The heat in his eyes even now spread through her. No, it wasn't that — she didn't think. Besides, Lois was fairly certain men found her desirable.
But then what… Was it her comment about how much she wanted him? Most men would consider that a turn on — wouldn't they? But that was the moment he had backed away. She chewed on her lower lip as she tried to figure out what was going on. She was missing something. But if anyone could figure out what Charlie was thinking, it was she. After all, she knew things about him that no one else did. So how did that help her here?
His parents had been killed trying to protect him when he was a child. He had bounced between foster homes and fending for himself — doing whatever he needed in order to survive. She shuddered when she thought about some of the things he might have needed to do to survive. Could something have happened in his past that made him scared of intimacy? Maybe.
Suddenly, the image of him picking a fight and storming from her motel room came back to her. He was scared of what he was feeling. He believed that everyone he got close to died. It was the reason he'd run out on the Foxes. It was the reason he had run out on her just now.
It might just be a theory, but Lois was convinced she was right. He had run away precisely because he was feeling for her the exact things she was feeling for him.
Okay, so what did she do? She wasn't entirely sure — except that she had to find a way to slow things down between them, allow him to adjust, allow him time to work through his fears. So how did she do that when every ounce of her body was screaming for him. On this bed, for the first time in her life she had known exactly what she wanted — him. But Charlie wasn't ready to hear that yet. And she cared too much about him, about them, to allow anything, especially sex, to mess this up.
Her concerns about what had driven Charlie from the room were suddenly interrupted by a new, and infinitely more terrifying, thought. He might not remember at the moment, given what had happened afterwards, but she had called him Clark while trying to wake him. And she had woken him from a floating position. When he calmed down, he'd undoubtedly remember all of that.
Oh, god! Now what did she do? All she knew was that she had to do something and she had to do it fast. If she didn't act now, she wasn't going to get a second chance. If he figured out she knew about him on his own, it was over. She would lose him. He would be gone before she could utter the word 'kryptonite.' That was the one thing about which she had absolutely no doubts.
She heard movement out on the porch. At least he hadn't gone far. That gave her a small window of opportunity. But an opportunity to do what?
Still not entirely sure what she was going to do, she pulled back the covers and crawled out of bed. Spotting her sleep shirt lying on the floor, she picked it up. She was about to put it on when she had an idea. If she was going to keep him from disappearing, she was going to have to be creative — that meant using every advantage she had. The idea both excited and terrified her.
She stared at her sleep shirt for a long moment. She needed something better to wear — something more enticing to the male libido. Why hadn't she prepared herself in case… She pushed that thought out of her mind. There wasn't time to worry about what she hadn't done. She had to figure out what to do.
She smiled when an idea struck. Making her way to his closet, she sorted through it until she found what she was looking for — although she was slightly surprised to find one. Removing the simple white dress shirt, she put it on, rolling up the sleeves. She only did up one button. She took a breath as she looked down at the new outfit. The shirt tails made the outfit almost decent — almost.
After taking a moment to brush her teeth and run a brush through her hair, she made her way to the cabin door. Never before had she even attempted something like this. But this could well be her only chance to break through Charlie's defenses. If she blew this, she might lose him forever. She was determined not to let that happen — and to that end, she would use every weapon at her disposal.
The man sank down further behind the bushes when Charlie King stepped out onto the porch of the log cabin. He barely breathed as he watched King lean against the banister surrounding the porch, staring out into the darkness.
His first thought was to try to sneak away. But then he decided that his best bet was simply to stay as still and silent as possible. It was almost two o'clock in the morning. It would be far safer just to stay where he was. King was bound to go back into the cabin soon.
Charlie was grateful for the cool air. He closed his eyes, allowing the chill of the night to combat the heat of the blood still flowing through his veins. What exactly had he thought he was doing back there?
He snorted. He knew exactly what he had been doing. It had been stupid. It had been selfish. It had been… He nearly groaned when the scent of her, which was still on his hands, rose to meet him — as if calling him to go back inside, to finish what he had started.
She wanted him. She wasn't asking for a commitment — at least that was what he initially thought. Actually, that wasn't exactly true. He hadn't been thinking when he reached for her in the dark. He had been simply acting, fulfilling his own selfish needs and desires. If she hadn't told him she was a virgin, he might very well have continued his course through to its logical conclusion. And, oh, what a sweet conclusion that would be.
No! No! He couldn't think like that. Everyone who got close to him was killed. His parents. Sharon. When he'd come to Bushville, he hadn't intended to stay more than a few months before moving on again. But he hadn't expected to care about Sharon. She'd been a great friend — even if he hadn't been able to confide everything in her, or allow a relationship to develop between them. Of course, that part of it hadn't been all that hard. Or at least, it hadn't been impossible.
In fact, in recent years he had almost come to regard celibacy as his natural state. He had told himself that he wasn't missing much. After all, the high of floating above the clouds, watching the world pass by, was as great as any high he had ever experienced with a woman. And he'd actually managed to convince himself that it was true. Until Lois Lane walked into his life.
But he couldn't do that to her. He couldn't. It wouldn't be fair. This wouldn't be a one night stand. A woman like Lois wasn't looking for a brief encounter with a virtual stranger. If she was willing to make love to him, she expected that there would be a next night, a next week, even a possible lifetime. And those were things he couldn't give her.
He tensed when he heard the door behind him open. Closing his eyes, he dug his fingers into the banister, almost reducing it to splinters before he realized what he was doing and loosened his grip. His ears, regardless of his mind's objections, heard the soft patter of bare feet as she slowly approached. He could tell that her heart rate was slightly elevated. He took a deep breath and was struck by her sweet, very feminine scent.
He looked to the heavens, praying for the strength not to turn around, not to look into her eyes. He felt her hand come up to rest tentatively on his back and had to remind himself to breath. He could feel the heat radiating off her body when she stepped closer. He tried, and failed, to stop a tremor from rippling through him when she planted a soft kiss on his shoulder.
"Come back to bed, Charlie," she breathed into his ear.
He swallowed hard. "I can't."
There was a moment of silence. She neither moved closer nor did she step away. "Is it because you don't find me attractive?"
"What?" The word had a slightly strangled tone as he gasped it out. Regardless of any intentions to the contrary, he turned around, pressing his back hard into the banister when he realized how close they were standing.
"Don't you want me?" she asked, her eyes focused firmly on his.
He searched those eyes for a meaning. How could she even think he wouldn't want her? To him she was everything that was desirable in a woman. Without thought, he reached for her, placing the backs of his fingers on her cheek. Almost as if they had a mind of their own, his fingers ran down her neck to the soft flesh between her breasts. He reveled in the way her creamy skin contrasted with the white shirt — his shirt. His fingers headed even lower until they were playing with the single button holding the material of his shirt together.
One move. One twist of his fingers was all it would take for her to be exposed to him again. His eyes were riveted to his fingers. She wouldn't stop him. Her increasingly shallow breathing told him that. In fact, she wanted him to do it. She wanted him to pop that single button out of the buttonhole. Almost of their own volition, his fingers began pushing the button through the hole.
"I can't," he said in desperation, silently begging her to understand as he turned away from her to look out into the blackness once again.
The single question hung between them for a long moment before Charlie found a response. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Thirty," she responded, the question about where this was going obvious from her tone.
He nodded slowly. "And you're a virgin."
Now she was the one struggling to find words. He could hear it in the silence that filled the air. She was trying to figure out where he was going with this line of questioning, in order to determine how to respond.
"You could always just tell me the truth," he finally said.
"Maybe no one ever wanted me before."
"Hmph." The response was instantaneous. "I know that the world is full of fools. But, Lois, they aren't that foolish. No, this has been your choice. You're the one who has been waiting. Why would you throw that away on me?"
"Because you're the first one I've wanted."
He shook his head sadly. "I can't do that to you, Lois. I can't offer you anything. I'm just not the type to stick around for the long haul. I've been moving around most of my life and I'm not about to stop now. You've been waiting for the right guy. That's not me." The silence of the night filled the air for a moment. Then, Charlie concluded on a whisper. "I can't do that to you."
He heard her sigh and step closer, bringing her body into full contact with his back. She slipped her arms around his waist, her hands making their way over his chest.
"Is it because your name is really Clark Kent?" she asked.
He was so distracted by the increased contact between them that it took a moment for her words to penetrate. But when they did, every muscle in his body went on full alert. He spun towards her, dislodging her hands.
"How…" His voice trailed off as suddenly a thousand different thoughts barraged him at once. Lois investigating his parents' deaths. Lois reporting on so many of the emergencies he had helped out at for the last few months. Lois showing up to bail him out. And with the thoughts came the panic. She knew. She knew who he was. He had to leave immediately. He should fly away. He couldn't fly in front of her. But she knew about him. No. She couldn't possibly know that he could fly. Still, he had to get away now, before he gave her any more information.
Her hands were suddenly holding his face. She was looking into his eyes and speaking to him. But he couldn't hear her words over the voices screaming in his own head. She knew. She was going to tell them. They would lock him up in a lab and dissect him like a frog — just like they had tried to do all those years ago.
He had to get away from her. But there was nowhere to go. He was backed against the banister and she was still holding his face, refusing to back away. He could tell she was still speaking because he could see her lips moving. But what was she saying? He probably needed to know what she was saying — to find out how much she actually knew about him. He focused on her, willing his heart to calm enough to make out her words. What was she saying?
"Listen to me, Charlie. I'd never hurt you. I'm falling in love with you. I promise I'd die before hurting you. Please, just listen to me."
He started shaking his head slowly. It was a trick. It was just a ploy to get him to trust her. He had to get out of here.
"Do you really think," Lois continued, sounding almost desperate, "that what almost happened between us… My god, you do? You really think I would sleep with you to… do what? Write a story? Is that really what you think of me?"
Charlie crinkled his eyebrows as his first moment of doubt set in. Nothing since he had met her had led him to believe that she would do something like that.
"Please, just give me a chance. I promise, I'll tell you everything." When he still didn't respond, she spoke again. "Please. Come back inside and talk to me. Hear what I have to say before making any rash decisions. You know I can't hurt you. I just want to explain. Besides, how can you pass up a chance like this — a reporter wants to tell you everything."
He closed his eyes. He knew he should get out of there now. She knew entirely too much about him. Still, the desperate plea in her voice was crystal clear. She was hurting as much as he was. Besides, he really needed to know how much she knew. Having no choice, he nodded.
She let out a breath. "Thank god," she breathed.
The man in the bushes let out a breath of relief when King and Lane went back into the cabin. He hadn't been able to hear the conversation which had taken place between them. However, there were some things that were abundantly clear. Given their attire, not to mention the constant touching, it was obvious that King and Lane were lovers. His boss would definitely be interested in the development. After all, that was one of the things his boss had told him to find out when they had spoken earlier.
The only remaining question was whether to stay — to see if anything else happened — or to leave now. He saw what appeared to be an increase in firelight in the cabin. Maybe he would stay just until the cabin was dark to be sure that nothing else was going to happen tonight. After all, the boss wouldn't arrive for a few more hours.
Lois shivered. When she had gone outside, she hadn't exactly noticed the cold — given the amount of heat that still seemed to be radiating off her body. Then, she'd been too absorbed in getting through to Charlie. She had seen the panic in his eyes and, for a time, had been terrified that she had blown it. It was only as she took Charlie's hand to lead him back into the cabin that she realized how cold she was.
Her attire might have been sexy — but it was too cold to be wearing it outside in the fall.
"Just give me a minute," said Charlie.
Lois walked over to where the fire was almost out in the fireplace and bent down in front of it, holding her hands over the embers. She felt a blanket being wrapped around her shoulders. In spite of the anxiety she felt about the upcoming conversation, she smiled. He had realized she was cold. She grabbed the blanket and pulled it tightly around her.
"Thanks," she said softly, glancing up at him.
He gave her a slight nod, without exactly looking at her, before taking some more wood and tending to the dying fire.
She watched his activities. When he had gone to get her a blanket, he had also put on a pair of jeans. She gave a small sigh. He had even put on a flannel shirt, although it was hanging open, not completely denying her the pleasure of seeing his chest. However, she could no longer see the burns on his arm or back. Given Bertha Fox's comments about Charlie being self-conscious of his burns, she wondered if that was the reason he had put on a shirt.
She sat down on the rug in front of the flames and directed her attention back to the fire which was now beginning to crackle with renewed life. She shifted so that she could hold her hands out to the fire without giving up the warmth of the blanket. She glanced over at Charlie who was also sitting on the rug, watching her closely.
"Going outside in one of your shirts seemed like a good idea at the time." She gave him a slightly sheepish smile before looking back at the fire.
"I could see that you were cold," he responded.
She looked over at him again. She wasn't entirely sure what he meant until she saw the blush in his cheeks as he stared intently at the fire. She was almost reassured by the familiar feeling — the almost involuntary flirting which he engaged in so easily with her until he would realize what he was doing and back off again.
Still, now wasn't the time to purse this line of thought. She'd opened a can of worms out on the porch and now she had to try to put all the worms back.
"I suppose it's my move," she said softly. When he didn't respond, she took a deep steadying breath and continued. "I guess the place to start is Lex."
Lois nodded. "From your comment about my being engaged, I suspect you did your research on me. Don't worry," she said when he looked slightly startled. "Given the way I showed up out of nowhere and took over your life, I'd be disappointed if you didn't do a little investigating." She was silent then as she struggled with how to continue.
"Did you love him?" His question preempted her.
She met his eyes. "Yes." She looked back at the fire. "But I don't think I was hopelessly in love with him. I didn't even know what that meant at the time."
"At the time?"
She wasn't sure. But if she turned his question over and studied it from just the right angle, she could almost imagine that she heard an element of hope in it. But that was probably just wishful thinking.
"At the time," she responded, using a tone of voice which preempted further such questions. He nodded and fell silent, waiting for her to continue. "Boy, I really didn't think it was going to be this hard." She took a deep breath and plowed forward. "Anyway, one day at work I met… Let's just call him a source for now. He had a tip for me about clandestine burials. There was a funeral home in Metropolis which was burying bodies without the proper death certificates. Well, to make a long story short, he and I worked together for the next couple of days and, as it turned out, the bodies were of illegal immigrants who were being brought in to work as slave labor for Lex." She took a steadying breath. "We went to the police and… Lex was killed during a sting operation they set up."
"I don't understand what any of this has to do with me."
Lois let out a slow breath. "The man who gave me the tip… He knew when he gave it to me that it would lead to Lex."
"Well, there were actually a lot of things he knew." Her mind flashed back to the birthmark he had known about. "And there were a lot of things about him that were a little different."
"When we were chasing down the lead, someone tried to kill me. He put himself between me and the bullet and yet he wasn't hurt." She glanced over at him and realized that she now had his full attention. "And he was going by the name of someone who…" She met his eyes in the firelight. "…had been, by all official reports, killed when his house had been destroyed by fire when he was eleven. He was going by the name, 'Clark Kent.'"
Lois took a deep breath. This was the moment of truth. "Charlie, have you ever read Gone With the Wind?"
"Yes, but… Alternate universes! Are you nuts?" He rose from the floor. She followed him to her feet, pulling the blanket more firmly around her.
"I know it sounds crazy. But how else would I know that you can fly, start fires with your eyes, freeze water with your breath and…" When he looked as if he was about to panic again, she reached out through the blanket and grabbed onto the edge of his shirt. "I can prove it — sort of."
"Your laptop. I need you to connect it to the internet?"
He nodded and a few minutes later they were staring at the Daily Planet's web page.
"I don't imagine you have a subscription."
He shook his head.
"Well then, it's a lucky thing I do." She typed in the appropriate password and a moment later they were staring at the article about the death of Lex Luthor.
"And this is supposed to tell me…?"
She pointed to the screen. His eyes followed her finger and he suddenly found himself staring at the byline. By Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Lois held her breath as she waited for his response.
"This doesn't mean anything."
"No? Then how else do I know all those things about you. I know you're invulnerable and that…"
"See! You don't know everything about me. I'm not invulnerable."
Lois stared at him in stunned silence. The other Clark had told her that he was invulnerable — unless confronted by kryptonite. Had he lied to her?
"I'm only partially invulnerable."
Lois' mind worked frantically to understand. What was he telling her? How could someone be partially invulnerable? "Your burns," she whispered.
"For some reason, the places that have burns are still vulnerable. But you didn't know that."
"So you see. You don't know…"
"That must be it. Something happened to you at the fire that made part of your body vulnerable. Did it have something to do with a green rock?"
"How did you know about that?" His voice was almost a whisper now.
"He told me about a green rock that could hurt him. He called it kryptonite." She made her way back to the fire and again took a seat on the floor. She waited, not speaking, until he joined her.
"Okay, let's assume that you're telling the truth, that you met an alternate version of me. God, I can't believe I just said that. Anyway, even if you did, it doesn't explain what you're doing here or what you want from me."
She nodded slowly as she continued staring at the fire. "After he went back to his own universe… Well, I decided that I'd make a trip to Smallville. I just needed… I'm not entirely sure what I needed. I guess I just needed to say goodbye."
"Lois, what exactly was your relationship with this guy? I mean, going to Smallville to 'say goodbye' as you put it sounds a little…"
"Nuts? Yeah, I know. But… There was nothing going on between us, Charlie. He was married and he was trying to find his way home. He came to me because he wanted my help to get there. And then, when he realized that I was planning to marry Lex… I guess the Lex of his world was a pretty horrible guy and he just didn't want me marrying him without knowing the truth. He didn't want me getting hurt."
"Maybe he cared about me."
She glanced over at him. The look in his eyes told her that he knew she was holding something back.
"Okay, so he told me that he was married to my alternate in his universe," she finally blurted out. "Happy now? Anyway," she continued before he could answer, "when I went to Smallville, I met Rachel Harris. When I realized how much she, and everyone else in Smallville, wanted to see the people who had started the fire at the Kent farm brought to justice, I decided to look into it. After all, I had information that no one else had. I knew about Trask. I knew about Bureau 39. The other Clark told me about them. And given the fact that you keep the resulting article inside a copy of Lassie Come Home, I'm assuming you know how that turned out."
"That still doesn't explain why you're here or how you found me."
"It's a long story. I found your fingerprints… Well, I found the alternate Clark's fingerprints. That led me to your youth record. I knew it was you because the two of you had the same birthdate. Which leads me to a question."
"When you were picked up by child services, you didn't tell them your real name. But you gave them your real birthdate. Why?"
Charlie shrugged. "I was just a kid. I gave a phoney name but it never occurred to me to give a different birthdate."
Lois nodded. She supposed that made sense. "Anyway, I don't suppose it mattered. Everyone thought you died in the fire. But I knew a few things that made me suspect that you survived."
"During the course of the investigation into your parents' deaths, I started to suspect that you hadn't died. Don't worry," she rushed to continue when she saw the look on his face, "neither Trask nor Bureau 39 know. I just realized that no DNA testing had been done and that there were only two blood types found at the scene. And I doubted, given what I know about your origins, that your DNA would…"
"What do you know about my origins?"
"You know. That you came from a planet called Krypton. That your parents, your Kryptonian parents, sent you here in a space craft because your home planet was about to be destroyed. That the Kents found you and raised you as their own.
"My first thought…" she continued, not looking at him as the words tumbled out of her mouth. She had to get this all out now, before she scared him again with exactly how much she knew about him. "…was that you had been captured by Trask. That's why I went after him. I got hold of their file and found out that they thought you were dead. And I might have let it go at that. But then I found your fingerprints… Well, you know what I mean. I found out that you were still alive and living under the name of Charles King.
"At first I tried tracking you down through your foster parents and when that didn't work, I remembered that when the alternate Clark was here he helped out secretly on a couple of occasions. He saved a little girl and her mom whose car almost went off a bridge and then he helped out at a fire at the warehouse holding the immigrants. So I started looking for you at disaster sites. But it wasn't until Inspector Henderson discovered that you had been arrested for murder that… Why are you staring at me?"
"I didn't know any of this," he whispered.
"You didn't know… what?"
"You can't be right."
"Of course I'm… What are you talking about? What can't I be right about?"
"That I'm an alien. That I'm from this Krypton place."
"You didn't know?"
"Well, the men who killed my parents said I was an alien. But I didn't know what to think. I certainly had never heard of a planet called Krypton or why my parents… Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure." Suddenly she was struck by a new thought. The globe. It had patterns on it which seemed to be of Earth and some unknown planet. Maybe if she showed it to him, he'd recognize it. Rising to her feet, she made her way to her suitcase and opened it. Removing the globe, she turned back to Charlie. He had risen to his feet.
"What's that?" asked Charlie, making his way closer.
"I found it at your parent's farm."
"What is it?"
"I don't know. I just…" Her voice trailed off when she handed the globe to Charlie and it began to glow. "Wow!"
"Does it do this all the time?"
Lois shook her head. "When I found it, it glowed — almost as if it was trying to tell me where to find it. But it hasn't done that since."
"So you don't know what it is?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine."
He looked at the globe again. "Krypton," he breathed.
"I don't know how it did it but… Krypton. You're right. I'm from a planet named Krypton."
"How do you know?"
"It just told me. I don't know how, but it did."
Both Lois and Charlie jumped back when the globe floated out of Charlie's hand. And suddenly, some sort of holographic image appeared of a man wearing white flowing robes.
"My name is Jor-El. And you are Kal-El, my son. The object you now possess has been attuned to you. That you now hear these words is proof that you survived the journey in space and have reached your full maturity. Now it is time for you to learn your heritage. To that end, I will appear to you five times. Watch for the light. Listen. And learn."
Suddenly, the image of the man faded and another appeared. This time, the image was not speaking directly to them. Instead, a voice spoke in the background while the image of a man and a woman in some kind of lab appeared.
"Time grows short and we continue to search. The immensity of space is both a blessing and a curse. In that near infinite variety there must be some place suitable. Hope and desperation drive us in equal measure. Lara works by my side. She is tireless and endlessly patient. Considering what is to come, this is my greatest consolation — that we are together."
Then there appeared to be some sort of earthquake and the image disappeared. The globe sank down until it was sitting on top of the suitcase, once again black.
Lois backed up slowly until she felt the couch against the back of her legs. Then, without looking behind her, she sank into the couch — stunned.
Charlie on the other hand, stood for the longest time just staring at the globe which once again looked like a child's toy.
"You were telling the truth," he finally said. "Kal-El," he said after another long moment, as if trying the name out for himself.
He finally looked over at Lois. "But why you? Why did it glow so that you could find it?"
"I don't know, Charlie. I… Maybe it could pick up on my feelings for you or…"
"Your feelings for me? Don't you mean, your feelings for the other Clark Kent?"
"No. I mean…"
"You hadn't even met me." He stared at her silently for a long moment. "That's the real reason you started looking for me. It was your feelings for this other Clark — the one you couldn't have because he went back to his wife. So you came searching for me — hoping that I'd be a suitable replacement. God, that's why you've been so accessible to me. You think I'm him. You want to make me into him."
"No. God, how can you even think…"
"No one runs all around the world looking for some stranger without wanting something. You want him. And now, what? Because you can't have him you think: 'What the hell. Maybe Charlie will be a good replacement.'"
"That's not what I think at all," Lois said, rising from the couch.
"Well, I'm not him, Lois. I never will be. So why don't you just go back where you belong and leave me the hell alone?"
"Charlie," Lois begged, rising to her feet and reaching out to lay a hand on his chest in a desperate move to get him to calm down. She wasn't sure if he meant what he was saying or if he was just latching onto that because with all the information he'd been inundated with during the past half hour, it was one thing to focus on. "That's not how I think of you."
"Don't!" he warned, jumping back, out of the way of her questing hand. He shook his head suddenly. "I've got to go. I've got to get out of here." He began backing towards the door.
"Don't, please. I think we need…" Her sentence trailed off when he threw open the door, stepped outside and launched himself into the air. "…to talk about this," she concluded to the now empty cabin.
She rushed for the doorway, hoping that by some chance she was wrong, that he hadn't really left. She stood there, staring into the black night, and then stepped back into the cabin, closing the door. Turning around, she leaned against the door.
"It's you I love — not him," she whispered, before closing her eyes. She let out a long slow sigh. He'd be back. And then she'd make him understand. She refused to think otherwise. She hadn't lost him. She couldn't have.
After a long moment, she headed to his bedroom. After putting the blanket over the foot of the bed, she crawled in and reached for his pillow. Burying her face in it, she breathed in the scent of him — taking comfort from it. He'd be back. It was just a misunderstanding. He'd be back.
The man in the bushes stared in absolute disbelief as Charlie King rushed from the cabin and then disappeared into the air in a rush of wind. He was unsure how long he stared at the last place he had seen the… whatever it was. Would his boss even believe that Charlie King had actually flown? Probably not. After all, he'd seen it and yet he could hardly believe it. Still, his boss had to be told — and the sooner the better.
Lois felt slightly disoriented when she woke in the morning to the sound of a ringing phone. She looked around before realizing that she was in Charlie's cabin — and more importantly, his bed. And suddenly, the events of the previous night came flooding back.
The phone rang again, sending her scrambling from the bed. She ran one hand through her hair while picking up the phone with the other.
"Charlie?" she asked into the phone.
"Damn, Lois, try not to sound so excited to hear from me."
"I'm sorry, Bill. It's just…" She let out a breath. "What's up?"
"I just thought you might want to know that you were right about the sheet."
"What'd you find?" Lois asked, sounding much more interested now.
"There was definitely semen on it."
"Was there a large enough sample to do a DNA analysis?"
"Well, don't keep me in suspense. Were you able to find a match in the DNA data base?"
"Sorry, Lois. We didn't find a match. But if you have a suspect to run the sample against, send it down. I'll put a rush on it."
There was a moment of silence. "Are you all right, Lois?"
"I'm fine. But thanks for caring. And thanks for running those tests too. I'll get back to you soon about a possible sample."
Lois hung up the phone. This was good news. The only problem was… She headed for the living room, hoping that maybe Charlie had come back and spent the rest of the night on the couch. But he wasn't there. She walked over to her suitcase and pulled out her robe. Putting it on, she headed for the door. Maybe he was outside.
It didn't take her long to determine that he was not anywhere nearby. In fact, she would be extremely surprised if he had been back at any time during the night. After all, the globe was still sitting where they had left it. If he had been back, surely he would have taken the globe. He had to come back for it — didn't he?
She shook her head. She couldn't let herself worry about it. He'd be back. In the mean time, she could use a shower and some breakfast. And then, there was still the small matter of a murder indictment to deal with. Maybe she could just tend to that while she waited for him to get over his temper tantrum and come home.
She knew she wasn't exactly being fair to Charlie. She'd hit him with a lot of stuff last night — including the fact that she'd been lying to him, at least by omission, since they had first met.
Still, why couldn't he get over it and come back so that she could give him a piece of her mind. Well, either that or wrap her arms around him and never let go. She couldn't quite decide which one she wanted to do first. There was really only one good thing she could say about the previous night — boxers or briefs, at least that question had been answered.
Still, for the time being, there was work to do — whether Charlie was there or not. Pushing her fears that Charlie would never return to the back of her mind, she set off to get ready for her day.
It wasn't long before she was behind the wheel of Charlie's old truck. She watched carefully as she left the cabin to make sure that she wasn't being followed. It wasn't until she was on the main road to town that she finally allowed herself to relax. It seemed that Marsh's men had not yet figured out that she hadn't gone back to the motel last night.
Both of the men in the car spotted Lois Lane at the same time. She was just on the outskirts of Bushville, obviously heading into town in an old truck.
"Do we continue to the cabin?" asked the man who had spent most of the previous night in the bushes outside Charlie's cabin.
The other man was silent for a moment. "No. We need her. She's the key to getting to him."
The driver immediately turned around and began following the truck — being very careful to keep his distance.
Finding out that Junior still lived with his parents wasn't exactly surprising to Lois. She parked the truck down the street from Marsh's residence and slumped down into her seat. Normally, she didn't like daytime break-ins. But private homes were different matters. Breaking into a private residence at night was, in Lois' opinion, a very bad idea. Not only was there a high likelihood of getting caught, given that the house's occupants would likely be home, but there was also the possibility of seriously scaring the people inside — perhaps provoking them to take drastic action. As a result, she was going to have to do this during the daytime.
But regardless of how she felt about invading someone's living space at any time of the day, Junior's bedroom — and given the size of his house, he might even have his own bathroom — was the best place for her to find his hairbrush and, hence, his DNA.
She saw an older woman — she suspected it was Elaine Marsh, Junior's mother — come out of the house and go into the garage. When the woman opened the garage to back her car out, Lois noticed that there were no other vehicles inside.
Deciding that her best bet was to act now, she got out of the truck and made her way to the front door of the house. She rang the bell and waited. When there was no response, she rang the bell again. Satisfied that no one was home, she turned around, returned to the truck and drove away. Not that she went far. A block away, she again pulled off to the side of the road and parked the truck. She got out and headed down the alley to the Marsh's residence — this time approaching from the back.
The fence wasn't locked, giving Lois quick access to the back yard. She jogged to the door before pulling out her lock-picking equipment. Kneeling in front of the door, she worked her magic and entered the house without difficulty.
Lois was pleasantly surprised at how quickly she found Junior's bedroom, given the size of the house. She entered the room and noticed, much to her satisfaction, that Junior did indeed have his own bathroom. This was going to be easier than she had anticipated. She headed for the bathroom, spotting Junior's hair brush as soon as she entered. Smiling at the amount of hair she saw in the brush, she pulled a plastic bag out of her pocket and put the hair inside.
Once she was finished, she placed the brush back exactly where she had found it and turned around.
Junior was standing in the doorway to the bedroom.
"What are you…" His voice trailed off when Lois made her move. She ran at Junior, plowing into him and knocking him out of the way. Not slowing down, she raced down the hall. She turned a corner knowing the front door was just ahead and…
…skidded to a sudden stop when she found herself face to face with two of Marsh's goons. Her attempt to change directions took a second — a second which she didn't have. She fought like a banshee, but to no avail. Junior joined Marsh's men in their attack. Other than leaving Junior with questions about his ability to sire children, she was unable to fight her way out of the situation. And all too soon, she found herself on the ground, with what felt like an entire army holding her down.
"Very good, Ms. Lane," said Ken Marsh Senior, making his way into the room through the front door.
The men used duct tape to secure her hands and feet before forcing her into a sitting position. She soon found herself facing Ken Marsh — and the revolver in his hands.
"You won't use that," said Lois with more confidence than she felt.
"Oh, and why's that?"
"Because you'll never be able to blame this murder on Charlie."
"I don't intend to," Marsh said with a smile before looking at Junior.
"What was she doing here?"
"I don't know. But she was in my bathroom."
"Search her," Marsh ordered.
Lois cringed as men's hands roamed her body until they discovered the plastic bag containing the hair. One of the men handed it to Marsh.
"What's this?" he asked.
"I'm collecting hair for my new wig," Lois responded. One of the men responded to her insubordination by kicking her in the stomach.
"You know, this would go a lot easier if you'd just answer the questions," said Marsh.
"Easier for you."
"Sorry, Marsh. But I've got a thing against giving out information when I'm being threatened with death. I find it… predictable somehow."
"Hmph." He studied her for a long moment before shrugging. "I suppose it doesn't matter." He reached over and picked up the phone. "Sheriff Johns, please."
Lois crinkled her eyebrows in confusion. Was he planning to have her arrested? Well, arrested was certainly better than dead. Besides, it wasn't as if she hadn't spent time in jail before. And there was always her sister to bail her out.
The youngest member of the Bushville Police Department, Officer John Ross, was lost in thought as he approached the door of the Sheriff's office. For personal reasons, he needed a few days off. He hoped Sheriff Johns was in a good mood.
As he arrived at the door, he became aware that the Sheriff was talking to someone on the phone. Knowing that it was not a good idea to interrupt the Sheriff when he was on the phone — especially when asking for a favor — he stopped outside the door to wait until the Sheriff was available. As he stood there, he couldn't help but hear Sheriff Johns' side of the conversation.
"She's there now?" Pause. "Okay, so what's your plan, Mr. Marsh? Do you want me to send some men out there to arrest her?" Pause. "Well, if she took hair, she must be trying to get DNA evidence — that would imply that she thinks she has something she can match it to." Pause. "Okay, then you take care of it. I'll head out immediately. We'll just claim you shot a burglar."
Officer Ross backed slowly away from the door, trying to figure out what he should do.
Lois swallowed hard as she watched Marsh hang up the phone. From his discussion with the sheriff, Lois had no doubt that Marsh intended to kill her. The thought of yelling, 'Help, Superman,' briefly crossed her mind. But there was no Superman. Not in this universe. She began struggling to get her hands free, but to no avail.
She watched with increasing desperation as Marsh began approaching. Words. Words. She couldn't fight. That meant that she had to talk her way out of this. But for the first time in her life, no words came to mind. She watched as Marsh raised his gun, placing the barrel on her temple.
Closing her eyes, she sent up one final prayer — not for herself. For Charlie. She didn't want him to blame himself for her death. He already lived with enough guilt. He didn't need her death on his conscience as well. She heard the gun being cocked and braced herself for what she knew would follow.
Sheriff Johns ducked down behind the cars in the driveway when he heard the sound of a gunshot split the air. Two men he didn't recognize were standing in the doorway.
Was that the shot that meant Lane had been killed? Possibly. But who were the men. He stayed low as he snuck closer to get a better look. From his new angle, he realized the men in the doorway were definitely strangers. And… he could see their guns.
Now what did he do? If he snuck back to his car to call for back-up and these were Marsh's men, he might end up bringing honest cops into a situation which could compromise Marsh. On the other hand, did the men standing in the doorway signify Marsh was in trouble?
He struggled with the question for a long moment before deciding to try to get a better look at what was going on.
Lois opened her eyes in confusion. The gun had been too close to miss. So why was she still alive? Struggling to figure out what was happening, she looked around, seeing for the first time the two men standing in the doorway, guns drawn. She glanced beside her to see Ken Marsh Senior lying in a puddle of blood.
There was a moment of frozen silence. Then one of Marsh's goons reached for his gun.
"I wouldn't," said one of the men standing in the doorway, turning his gun on the culprit.
The man who had moved froze once again.
"Good. So it seems we have your attention. Well, let's put this as simply as possible. We have no interest in any of you. It's her we're after and… we need her alive. So, as long as you don't give us any trouble, you should all live to see another day.
"As for you, Ms. Lane. I don't believe we've met — although you may have heard of me. My name is Jason Trask."
Lois wished Junior would shut up. If she had to listen to much more of his sniveling, it was going to drive her nuts. He had been crying and sputtering nonsense since they'd been locked in this small closet. She briefly wondered if she could claim self-defense if she killed him.
Before locking them up, Trask had ordered one of Marsh's men to tape Junior's hands. Then Trask had thrown her and Junior in the closet, promising that he'd be back soon — once he dealt with the other men. Lois wondered if Trask's reason for keeping Junior with her was simply to drive her nuts. Of course, it was more likely Trask wanted to keep Junior nearby in case someone arrived at the house and he needed to use Junior to get rid of them without raising suspicions. Although, Lois doubted, given Junior's severe emotional distress that he would be much use.
As Lois continued to struggle to get her hands free, she wondered exactly what Trask's plan was. He'd said he needed her alive. All she knew for certain was that whatever the plan, it wasn't going to be good for Charlie.
"It wasn't my fault," wailed Junior.
"That's wonderful," Lois responded. If only she could get free of the bindings, maybe she could pick the lock on the door. She looked over at Junior, wondering if he could help get the tape off her hands. She dismissed the idea almost immediately. He was in no shape to be of any help. She wondered briefly what Sharon could possibly have seen in him.
"He was my daddy," Junior continued.
"Of course." Once she got free, she would have to contact Charlie — warn him about Trask. Although how she was going to find him, she had no idea. This was all her fault. The only way Trask could possibly have found Charlie after all this time was if she had led Trask straight to him. How could she possibly have been so incredibly stupid?
"There was nothing I could do," Junior continued.
"Of course not." She supposed it was possible that Trask didn't know about Charlie. This might be about getting revenge on her for her story. If that was the case, it was just as well that Charlie had taken off last night. In fact, given this development, it might be best if he never came back — even if it broke her heart.
"I didn't mean for him to find out about me and Sharon."
Maybe she could… "What?" she asked when Junior's words finally registered.
"He ordered someone to follow me. I didn't know. I didn't expect him to show up that night. It wasn't my fault that he killed her."
"Wait! What are you talking about? You're the one who killed Sharon."
"No. Daddy did. We must have forgotten to lock the door. He stormed in on us. I didn't know he was going to hurt her. But he made me leave."
"Your father killed Sharon?"
"When he found us in bed together, he was furious. He made some comment about me slumming it. Sharon should have known better. She should have just kept her mouth shut. But she just had to confront him about it."
"So what happened?"
"He grabbed her around the neck and told me to leave."
"And it never occurred to you to think that he might kill her?"
"He's my dad."
"So what was the knife about?"
"He cut her up afterwards to contaminate the evidence — make sure that his fingerprints couldn't be seen on her neck. But you'll tell them, right. You'll tell them that it wasn't my fault."
"Those men. This has to do with what Daddy did to Sharon, right?"
Lois shook her head in disgust and returned her attention to getting the bindings off her hands. But before she could get free, the door to the closet opened once again.
"Well, Ms. Lane," said Trask, "you'll be pleased to know that the men who wanted you dead are now safely tied up in the basement."
"And you don't want me dead?"
"Please, I had nothing to do with her murder. It was Daddy. I didn't want him to do it," Junior babbled in a broken voice.
"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Trask.
"He killed her. Not me. Please don't hurt me. I wouldn't hurt Sharon. I loved her. I wouldn't have hurt her for anything."
"Would you shut up!" Trask finally said.
"But it wasn't my fault. You have to believe…" Junior's voice was interrupted when Trask slammed the butt of his gun into Junior's face, giving the man something new to cry about.
"Now, Lane, there's only one thing I need from you." He gestured to the man with him whom Lois suspected was Edward Dawson, the man who had escaped with Trask.
Dawson came into the closet and forced her to her feet, practically dragging her into the nearby room as the door was closed on the still slobbering Junior.
"What could you possibly want from me?" Lois asked nervously. Lois realized that Trask misinterpreted the reason she was nervous by his next comment.
"Don't worry, Lane. I wouldn't touch you if you were the last woman on Earth. After all, I know where you've been. What type of slut gives herself to a creature like Charlie King?"
Lois felt her blood dangerously approach the boiling point. "Go to hell!"
"Language. Language. Don't you know how unattractive that type of language is for a woman. No matter. I'm afraid I'm not prepared to grant your request. All I need you to do is assist me in placing a phone call. Once that's done, I'll put you back in the closet. Once it's over, someone will find you there. On the other hand, if you refuse to help or do anything to jeopardize our mission, you'll be summarily executed. Do you understand?"
Lois nodded. She did understand. This wasn't about her — which meant it was about Charlie.
"Now," continued Trask. "I'm going to place a call to Clark Kent. You're going to talk to him — tell him to come over here. I don't care what excuse you give — except the truth, of course."
"Don't give me that bullshit! We know who Charles King is."
"You think Charles King is Clark Kent?" Lois asked, putting as much incredulity into her voice as she could.
Trask clapped his hands together. "Good performance, Lane. But we know that the creature that calls himself King is also the one who used to be known as Clark Kent. Now, if you don't mind…" He picked up the phone and held it to her ear. She jerked her head away. "If you don't ask him to come over here, we'll have no further use for you."
Her eyes focused on the open briefcase sitting on the coffee table. She could see a small, green crystal. Kryptonite? It had to be. She couldn't call Charlie — she couldn't let him know anything about this. She would not risk his life.
"Fine, then I'll do it. I'm sure he won't want to lose his pet."
"He's the forerunner of an alien force. You're his pet, his plaything. You mean no more to him than a hamster would. Although…" His eyes ran lasciviously down her body. "…I imagine you're more fun than a hamster." As he spoke, he leaned in closer to Lois.
Unable to use her hands, she did the only thing she could. She felt more than a little satisfied when she saw her spittle running down his face. She stifled a cry when Dawson backhanded her across the face. In spite of the pain that shot through her head, she refused to give in to tears — she wouldn't give these animals the satisfaction.
Trask wiped the spittle off his face. "I'll give you that one. But that's the only one." He dialed a number.
Lois held her breath, hoping that Charlie hadn't returned. When she faintly heard Charlie's answering machine, she let out her breath in relief. He wasn't there.
"Hello, Mr. King. I've got something that might be of interest to you." He looked at Lois. "Your pet. Lois Lane. If you're interested in getting her back, come by Ken Marsh's place immediately. But don't wait too long. She's already indicating that she's wanting to trade up. You for me. We're working on the details now."
"It's a trap, Char…" Lois yelled, only to be cut off when Dawson fired a shot. She screamed out in pain when she felt a bullet burying itself into her stomach.
Through a blinding swirl of pain, she could hear Trask concluding his conversation.
"As you heard, Mr. King, Ms. Lane requires your immediate attendance. It really would be too bad if you're too late."
As Trask hung up the phone, everything went dark.
Officer Ross noticed the sheriff sneaking up to the house, gun drawn. Given the phone conversation he'd heard earlier, the sheriff's actions were confusing. Ross pulled his car over to the side of the road and was just getting out when he heard the sound of a gunshot coming from inside. Ducking down behind his car, he grabbed the radio and called for back-up.
Charlie landed outside his cabin, still unsure what he was going to do about Lois but knowing that he needed to talk to her. He'd been hard on her last night. He still suspected her feelings for him were no more than transference of her feelings for the other Clark. He wasn't sure he'd ever envied a man more than he currently envied the alternate version of himself. After all, if it hadn't been for him, Lois might be able to see, and perhaps even fall in love with him.
Of course, that raised another question. If she hadn't met the alternate Clark, would she have ever met him?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a gunshot coming from the cabin. He dashed into the cabin. When he didn't find anyone, he searched the rest of the area, moving at superhuman speed and yelling Lois' name. It was less than a minute before he had searched everywhere within a mile's radius — not finding either people or gunshot victims. Confused, he entered the cabin.
Where had the sound come from. He looked at the television. It wasn't on. So what… His eye caught site of the blinking red light on his answering machine. He had a message. Not having any better explanation for what he had heard, he hit the play button.
"Hello, Mr. King. I've got something here that might be of interest to you. Your pet. Lois Lane. If you're interested in getting her back, come by Ken Marsh's place immediately. But don't wait too long. She's already indicating that she's wanting to trade up. You for me. We're working on the details now."
"It's a trap, Char…" he heard Lois yell in the background followed by the sound of a gun firing and Lois crying out in pain.
Charlie didn't wait for the rest of the message. Skimming over the treetops at full speed, he headed straight for the Marsh residence. If anything happened to Lois, he didn't think he'd be able to live with himself.
He focused on the house as he approached. He saw Lois lying on the floor. He saw a man he vaguely recognized standing over her, gun in hand. He watched in horror as the man pointed the gun at Lois.
The pain was intense. In the distance she could hear Trask's voice.
"I might have let you live, Lane. It's too bad that you weren't able to follow such simple instructions. No matter. He knows we have you — thanks to your attempt to warn him. And he knows you're in trouble — thanks to your scream. So I guess we have no further use for you. Don't worry. Your alien lover will join you soon."
She heard the sound of a gunshot and felt something hit her in the chest before everything went dark.
Charlie heard the sound of breaking glass and felt small shards bury themselves in his bad shoulder as he continued towards his target. He saw the man pull the trigger and knew his only hope was to get between Lois and the bullet. He was struck immediately by virtually paralyzing pain. He ignored it, pushing towards his destination. He let out a breath of relief when he felt the bullet penetrate his shoulder as he collapsed on Lois.
The urge to surrender to the pain was overwhelming. But he could hear the man's surprised gasp as he cocked the gun a second time. Finding a final scrap of resolve from his nearly exhausted supply, he forced himself to roll over, managing to ensnare the legs of the man standing over them.
He heard the sound of a gun firing and flinched until he realized two things. His actions had knocked the man off his feet, causing the gun to fire into the air. And that the wildly fired bullet had found an unintentional target. The man who had been with the shooter was lying on the floor, blood beginning to pool around his head.
The shooter raised the gun again, a new and terrifying madness in his eyes as he stared at Charlie. Charlie prepared himself for the shot he knew was coming when suddenly the house was swarming with police. He felt a moment of relief and then tensed again when a shot rang out and Charlie's adversary fell to the floor — dead.
Charlie realized he was still lying half on Lois. He moved quickly, rolling over and then scrambling to find out if she was alive. He buried his face in her neck, only breathing when he felt her take a breath — seriously hurt, but definitely alive.
Everything was a blur. Forcing her eyes to focus, Lois saw Charlie, looking down at her. The sudden smile that lit up his face left her feeling warm inside.
"You'll have to step back, sir. We need to take her to the hospital." Lois looked at the man standing behind Charlie — a man wearing some sort of uniform.
"I'm not leaving her," Charlie responded.
"Sir, please. We've got to treat you, too. Let us do that. We'll take care of her."
"I'm not leaving her," Charlie responded, this time sounding almost angry.
"It's okay," Lois whispered. "I'm fine."
"I'm not leaving," Charlie responded, leaning over and giving her cheek a kiss.
She tried to move her hand to touch the blood on his shirt, but her hand seemed too heavy. She saw the man in the uniform give up trying to pry Charlie away from her side and instead begin working around him.
Her eyes suddenly felt heavy. She closed them again, just for a moment. She'd figure out what was going on later.
Hands lifting her up woke her. She glanced around. Charlie was still by her side, but this time her eyes focused on the sight of a young officer whom she had seen at the station on her first day in Bushville. He appeared to be escorting the sheriff out of the house. Her eyebrows rose when she noticed that the sheriff appeared to be in handcuffs.
Her focus was distracted when she heard a couple of medics comment that three men were dead — Kenneth Marsh Senior, Jason Trask and Edward Dawson.
Lois wished she could stop the insistent whimpering. Opening her eyes, she looked for the source.
"It wasn't my fault. I would have stopped him if I could. I didn't want him to kill Sharon. You have to believe me."
The voice droned on as a police officer led the man away. Lois closed her eyes. At least, given the way Junior appeared to be spouting off to anyone who would listen, the charges against Charlie would have to be dropped.
She felt the stretcher being moved. She grasped onto Charlie's hand when he crawled into the ambulance with her.
"No," Lois said, forcing her mouth to say the word.
"Ms. Lane, please. We have to perform surgery immediately."
"I'm not signing the authorization until I get the story written. Otherwise…" Her voice trailed off as she lost her train of thought. "They'll steal my story."
"Please, Ms. Lane. We really don't have time for this. We need you to sign the authorization."
"I'm not…" What was it she wasn't going to do again?
"Please, Lois," said Charlie. "Sign the form. I'll write the story. I promise. It will be ready for your approval the instant you get out of surgery."
She raised a hand to his cheek. He was so handsome.
"Just sign it, Lois. I'll take care of everything."
He took her hand, wrapped her fingers around a pen and placed her hand on a clipboard.
"Just sign," he said again.
She scribbled her signature and then closed her eyes, vaguely aware that the pen was being taken out of her hand.
"I love you, Lois," Charlie whispered into her ear before the world again faded to black.
SEVENTEEN HOURS LATER
Lois ran her tongue through her mouth, wondering about the dry, bitter taste. She attempted to move but her limbs refused to cooperate. Opening her encrusted eyes, she looked around.
"What are you doing here, Luc?" she asked.
Her sister's head snapped up and almost instantly two familiar faces were looking down at her.
"You're here too, huh, Sean," Lois said. "But tell me something?"
"What are the two of you doing in my bedroom?"
For some reason both Lucy and Sean laughed.
"Lo, you're in a hospital," Lucy informed her. "Don't you remember? You gave us quite a scare there."
Hospital. Bullet. Trask. Charlie. Marsh. Junior. Doctors. Story. Suddenly the entire sorted mess came flooding back.
"Where's Charlie?" Lois suddenly asked. He had been hurt. She was sure of it. Was he okay?
She watched with growing fear when she saw her sister share a look with Sean.
"Okay, someone better start talking or I'm going to be out of this bed in about thirty seconds. What happened to Charlie? Is he okay? He's alive, right?" Each question was more frantic than the last. "He had blood on his shirt. They kept talking about wanting to treat him but he wouldn't leave me. What happened? Did…"
"Relax, sis. He's fine."
"Then why are you looking at each other like that?"
"It's just… Well, he's the one who called us. He was here until the doctor said you were all right. Then…" Lucy shared another look with Sean.
"He hasn't been here since. We tried calling him when they said we could come sit with you. But all we got was his answering machine."
"Did he let them take care of his wound?"
Lucy nodded. "By the time we arrived, his shoulder had been bandaged. Apparently the bullet went right through him and buried itself in the floorboards of the Marsh residence. He's fine."
Lois let out a breath of relief. Charlie was fine. She didn't think she could live if something happened to him.
"He did give me this for you." Lucy handed Lois a folded piece of paper.
"Have you read it?"
Lucy shook her head.
Lois stared for a long moment at the simple white paper, folded twice. She couldn't imagine that this could possibly be good news. Good news he would have delivered personally. From the look on her sister's face, it appeared Lucy had come to the same conclusion.
"Look, you're still pretty weak," said Lucy. "Why don't you wait on this for a little while? It will keep."
Lois looked at Lucy briefly before turning her attention back to the paper. Her fingers trembled slightly as she unfolded it.
'I've just learned that you're going to be fine. And so I'm writing this now, before you wake up, knowing full well that if I look into your eyes all my best intentions will crumble and I'll never be able to do what needs to be done.
'The story, as you requested, has been written. I've given your sister my laptop. I'm not sure how good my writing is so feel free to change whatever you want before sending it on to the Daily Planet. You'll notice I left out a few details — details which I hope you weren't planning to tell anyway. I hope that's all right.
'Now I have to say good-bye. I love you, Lois. I suspect I always will. But I'm not the man you want. I can't be. I do hope you find him though. You deserve only the best.
'All my love, now and always, Charlie.
'P.S. — Thank you for showing me that sometimes there really can be justice in the world — thanks to people like you.'
Lois carefully refolded the paper as a single tear made a path down her cheek.
"Are you okay?" asked Lucy.
She gave her sister a wobbly smile. "No."
"I'm sure he'll be back, Lo."
"No, Luc. He won't," Lois responded. "He's not coming back. I've lost him."
When Lois looked on Charlie's laptop, she realized that he had actually written two stories. One about the murder of Sharon and one about Trask's attack on her.
As Lois read through the stories, it occurred to her to wonder what Charlie's education was. She suspected he didn't even have his high school diploma. In spite of that, he seemed to have a natural flare for writing. The stories were both good.
He had even included elements of the stories which she hadn't known about. It seemed that the charges against Charlie had been dropped in the light of Junior's statements. Sheriff Johns had been suspended and an investigation into his activities was being conducted.
She smiled when she realized that when it came to Trask's involvement, Charlie implied that, although the reasons were not known, it was suspected that he was trying to exact revenge on Lois for breaking the story about Bureau 39. Although it wasn't true, she didn't touch that paragraph. In fact, other than the odd grammatical error and problem with sentence structure, she left the story the way Charlie had written it.
In fact, she made only one change of any substance. Charlie had put her name alone on the stories. When she sent them to Catherine, the stories were under the byline of Lois Lane and Charlie King.
THREE WEEKS LATER
Lucy pointed the car towards Lois' apartment building. It had been three weeks now since Lois had been shot and although she seemed to be recovering nicely, Lucy wanted to be around until she was satisfied that Lois would be all right. It wasn't so much the physical injuries Lois had received. There was a difference in her sister — a difference which scared Lucy.
It wasn't that Lois was spending all her time crying over Charlie. In fact, Lucy hadn't seen Lois cry at all. That was what worried her. She wished her sister would just grieve and then get past it. But her sister seemed determined not to even admit that her heart was broken.
In some ways, Lucy just didn't get it. Lois had only known the alternate Clark Kent for a few days and she'd known Charlie King for about the same length of time, but it was obvious that her sister had fallen deeply in love — only to get her heart broken twice.
"Why did you tell Sean you wanted to cancel the contract for the plane?" Lucy asked.
Lois shrugged. "I don't really need it anymore."
Lucy glanced over at her sister. "You know, you could always try looking for him again."
Lois gave a humorless chuckle. "There's no point, sis. He'd never let me find him."
There was a long moment of silence.
"Oh, you never did tell me what you found out about the lodge. Who is going to get it?"
"Apparently, before he left, Charlie signed over everything he owned to an AA group in the area. It looks as if the lodge will be used to help people dry out."
"What about the globe?"
"I assume he must have taken it with him because when I went back to his cabin for my suitcase, the globe was gone."
"Oh, did you manage to get that green rock?"
Lois nodded. "I just told them that Trask had stolen it from me. They didn't question it."
"So what did you do with it?"
"I took a walk out into the bush and buried it. I doubt anyone will ever find it."
The silence again enveloped them.
"Look, Lois," Lucy finally said, unable to stand the heaviness which seemed to envelope the car, "there are a lot of really great guys out there. I'm sure…"
"No, Luc. I belong with him. If he doesn't want me…" She shrugged. "…I guess I was just meant to be alone."
"Don't say…" Lucy's voice trailed off when they rounded the corner to Lois' apartment building. On the top step to Lois' apartment… It couldn't be. But it was. Charlie King was sitting on the steps, looking as lost as Lois did.
She glanced over at her sister to realize that Lois' eyes were riveted on Charlie. Lucy pulled the car over to the side of the road and put it in park.
"You know, if you don't mind, I have a few things I want to do while I'm in Metropolis. Why don't you go on up? I'll see you later," Lucy suggested.
Lois nodded abstractly as if she hadn't heard a word Lucy had said, but then she opened the door and stepped out of the car, still not taking her eyes off Charlie, who had risen to his feet on the steps to the building.
Lois' heart was pounding so loudly that it drowned out every other sound. Not entirely sure she wasn't hallucinating, she allowed her feet to carry her across the street and up the steps to her apartment. Yet the image didn't fade.
Not knowing how she was supposed to react, she ignored him as she fumbled to get her key in the door.
"What are you doing here?" she asked as she pushed open the door, amazed by how distant her own voice sounded in her ears.
"I don't know," came the equally distant reply.
She nodded slowly before stepping into the apartment. She made her way to the banister and grabbed onto it, steadying herself. He wasn't here. It was just her imagination playing tricks on her.
Bracing herself for the impact of discovering that he wasn't here, she turned around. Her jaw trembled when she realized that he was standing silently inside her apartment, the door closed behind him. It was then that the tears came in earnest, all the tears she'd refused to cry after she read his note, all the tears she had refused to cry since seemed unable to be contained for a moment longer.
He instantly stepped forward and gathered her into his arms. She allowed herself to draw strength from his solid body holding her close, his gentle voice whispering into her ear. Then what he'd done to her, what he had put her through by leaving her with nothing but a good-bye note came flooding back. And without her making a decision to do so, she was suddenly lashing out at him, pounding against his chest with her fists with every ounce of energy and anger she possessed.
"How dare you!" she gasped out between strikes.
He simply tightened his arms around her, making it more difficult for her to hit him effectively. She continued to fight him, she wasn't sure for how long. She struggled to get out of his grasp, but only managed to exhaust herself. She pounded against him a couple more times for good measure before collapsing against him.
"How dare you," she breathed this time.
Still, she didn't resist when he picked her up in his arms and carried her further into the apartment. He hesitated at the bottom of the stairs before carrying her into her bedroom and laying her on the bed. He backed up slowly until he was standing in the doorway. She watched him cautiously.
"Maybe this wasn't a good idea," he said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you more pain. Maybe I should just…"
He froze, neither approaching nor leaving. She stared at him for a long moment. "Why are you here?" she asked again.
He gave a slight shrug and seemed to struggle for words for a moment. "I couldn't stay away." He looked down at the floor, almost as if ashamed of himself.
She got off the bed. "Not good enough. Why are you here?" She began approaching slowly.
"I… I didn't know where else to go."
She shook her head. "Try again. Why are you here?"
His mouth moved for a moment without any sound coming out before words could again be heard. "I love you. I couldn't stand the thought of losing you."
She let out a breath and closed her eyes. "Good answer."
"But, Lois, I don't know…"
"This is nuts. I shouldn't be here. I don't have anything to offer you."
"All I need is you."
"But I can't even promise you that."
She closed the remaining distance between them and reached out to lay her hands gently on his chest. His hands came up to cover hers.
"Everyone I've ever loved has died. It's not fair to start something that I don't know if I can finish."
"Shhh," she whispered, standing up on her toes to place a gentle kiss against his lips.
"You deserve so much more than that. You deserve a man who can promise you forever. I'm not that man."
She leaned in and kissed his neck. He groaned.
"You deserve a husband and a family. You deserve a man who doesn't have to constantly hide who he is from the rest of the world, a man who can promise to be there for you."
She pulled back slightly so that she could look in his eyes. "I know you can't promise me forever, Charlie. I know you're not anywhere near being able to talk about things like forever or marriage or children. And you know what?"
He shook his head.
"I'm not asking for those things. There are only two things I need from you. If you can't give me both, then you can walk out that door right now. Otherwise, I want you to stay."
"What do you need?"
"I need you to love me."
"Good. And I need you to promise me that if you ever do leave again you will not do it by way of a note. If you're going to leave, I need you to do it like a man and talk to me. Can you promise me that?"
He closed his eyes and nodded.
Satisfied that he'd been sufficiently chastised for the way he had left earlier, Lois let out a breath. "Then, if you don't have anything better to do, would you mind greatly giving me a kiss?"
She saw a tear roll down his cheek as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her with a hunger and a need that took her breath away. She responded in kind, feeling his need and making it her own. She loved and wanted this man in a way she had never believed possible. And regardless of what tomorrow might hold, she was determined to seize today.
She broke the kiss and backed away, taking his hands as she led him towards her bed.
"We don't have to rush this," said Charlie. "I mean, if you don't want…"
"What planet are you from?" asked Lois before pulling him with her onto the bed. "Welcome home, Charlie," she whispered before beginning to undo the buttons on his shirt.
Templeton stared in silent contemplation at the front page of the Daily Planet. The byline showed the names of Lois Lane and Charles King. Charles King. There was something about that name that bothered him — and it wasn't just the initials.
Making his way over to his desk, he sank down into his chair as his mind searched through what he knew of the Kent family history from the other world. Suddenly, he sat straight up. Charlie King was the undercover name Kent had often used in his pursuit of a story.
Not that that meant anything. Except… He looked at the front page of the paper again. It was quite a coincidence that this Lois Lane was on a byline with Charles King.
But it couldn't be. After all, the Clark Kent of this universe was dead. Templeton had even gone into the future and yet there was no mention of either Clark Kent or Superman in the history books. Not to mention that the future of this dimension was no utopia.
Suddenly, he was struck by a terrifying thought. What if his actions in bringing the other Clark Kent to this universe had changed things? After all, he hadn't been to the future of this universe for quite some time — not since he had brought the other Clark Kent to this universe.
He opened his desk drawer and pulled out two small devices about the size and shape of cell phones. Templeton Labs had finally finished the back-up copy of the time travel device. He hadn't had time yet to make sure it worked. Maybe a little trip to the future was in order — just to check things out.
He was probably over reacting. After all, Bureau 39 had made sure that the future Superman was dead. And it probably was just a coincidence that Lois Lane had written a story with someone named Charles King. Still, it couldn't hurt to be sure. Besides, the byline of Lois Lane and Charlie King was on a story about the death of Jason Trask. Could that really be a coincidence?
Lucy stood in the doorway to her sister's bedroom, a slow smile making its way across her face. In the half-light of the room, she could see her sister entangled in sleep with Charlie King. The light from the window was falling across Lois' face allowing Lucy to observe her peaceful, almost happy expression. Maybe it was time for Lucy to go home. After all, it appeared that her sister's quest had finally come to an end.
In our universe, Erik Knight, not William Shakespeare, wrote Lassie Come Home. Dr. Seuss didn't write Hamlet. William Shakespeare did. (Although you will note that both Dr. Seuss and William Shakespeare were poets <g>). As for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush… no comment <g>.