By Dandello <email@example.com>
Submitted November 2008
Summary: Lois's world is turned upside down when Luthor takes his dive from the balcony and Clark is found injured in Luthor's cage.
Disclaimer: The usual. No copyright infringement is intended. No money is being made from this.
The House of Luthor was written by Dan Levine & Deborah Joy Levine
Madame Ex was written by Tony Blake & Paul Jackson
Wall of Sound was written by John McNamara
Luthor's screams still echoed in Lois's nightmares. His screams as he fell from the penthouse level of the tallest building in Metropolis. His screams of rage when she told him 'no, I won't' instead of 'I do' at the altar, when his world of power and pleasure turned upside down.
But it was silence that echoed in her days. Superman was missing, and although Clark was sitting beside her, he seemed to be missing as well.
After two months, the Daily Planet was back on the newsstands. Nearly all the staff had returned with a few notable exceptions. Cat Grant had gone to NewsTime. Jack Miner and his brother had moved away from the city. Most of the wounds were healing, at least the physical ones. The emotional ones would take longer. And some scars were deeper than others.
Lois Lane gave her partner a sidelong glance. Clark had his phone tucked against his jaw and was typing at the same time. He was a puzzle, a conundrum -- she knew from Perry and Jimmy that Clark had been the one spearheading the effort to discover the truth behind the destruction of the Daily Planet only weeks after Luthor had purchased it. But since the newsroom reopened a few days ago, Clark had been keeping his distance from everyone, including her. They were still partners but something was missing. There was no joy in Clark these days. He did his work, followed the stories. But there was a slump in his posture that hadn't been there before, a pain in his eyes that he thought she didn't see when he looked at her.
"Lois, when I thought about losing my job at the Planet, saying goodbye to Perry, Jimmy, everyone..." Clark had told her only days after Luthor shut down the Planet. "I realized something. I realized I could lose all that and still go on. I realized there was only one thing I didn't want to live without... and that was you. Seeing you every morning, working with you, being with you..."
"That's why you should..." she had protested. Lex had given her a great job at LNN and told her she could hire whomever she wanted for her staff. She wanted to hire Clark.
"No. Lois, listen to me," he said, cutting her off. "I'm not talking about the partnership. I'm talking about us. I've been in love with you for a long time." His brown eyes searched her face. "You must have known."
"I knew... well, I knew that you liked me, were attracted to me, but... I'm sorry. I don't think about you in that way... romantically," she told him, watching his face fall and hating herself for it. "Clark, you're my best friend, the only partner I could ever stand to work with. I admire you, respect you, and I do love you, but only as a friend."
She knew that telling him that she was considering Luthor's proposal had hurt him. Even worse was that she had asked Clark to relay the message to Superman that she wanted to talk to the superhero.
She'd heard Superman's arrival before she saw him. The familiar 'whoosh' through her window. She had gotten ready for bed and had settled in to watch television for a bit as she waited for him to show up.
"Superman!" She got up from her sofa to greet him but he was stiff, stoic, arms folded over his chest as he looked at her.
"I heard you wanted to see me." His voice was cool. Like Clark's had been when he left her that afternoon. She hadn't been sure what to expect when she asked Clark to contact him, but she knew it wasn't this cold aloofness.
"Yes. I'm just trying to figure out... well, there've been a lot of changes going on in my life and I'm trying to make the right decisions, but I can't until I know... how you feel." She stepped over to him and placed her hand against the emblem on his chest. It was slight, but it almost seemed like he flinched at her touch. She pulled her hand away.
"Superman, is there any hope for us? You and me? I'm so completely in love with you that I can't do anything else without knowing."
He shook his head, his expression softening. "Lois, I do care for you. But there are things about me you don't know, that you may never know."
"It doesn't matter," she told him. "I know *you*. And I don't mean you the 'celebrity' or you the 'superhero'. If you had *no* powers, if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I'd love you just the same. Can't you believe that?"
"I wish I could, Lois," he said. There was an incredible sadness in his face. "But, under the circumstances, I don't see how I can."
She turned away from him. She was Lois Lane. The last thing she wanted was for him to see her cry.
That was the last time she'd seen the Man of Steel. His last public appearance had been two days later when he responded to a bank alarm that had gone off accidentally. The bank guard had reported that Superman looked ill before he left. There had been no miraculous rescues, no sightings, nothing of Superman since that day. That had been over a month ago.
She listened in on Clark's side of the phone conversation. "Yes, I agree it's past time an announcement was made... I'll take care of it... No, I'm fine, thanks. Keeping busy... Thanks Inspector, I will," Clark said to the person on the phone before hanging up. Clark sighed and looked over what was on his screen. Lois moved over to peer over his shoulder. In the 'old days', it would have been Clark reading over her shoulder, correcting spelling and grammar and attributions.
She gasped as she read the lead-in. *'Police Believe Superman Dead -- Following an intensive forensic examination of the sub-basement in the Lex Tower where Lex Luthor ran in his attempt to elude capture just prior to his suicide leap from the penthouse, MPD homicide detectives and forensic analysts have concluded that much of the blood and tissue found in the sub-basement were in fact Superman's. Additional evidence includes a bloody Superman suit and blood splatters on Luthor's wedding clothing, indicating that even on his wedding day, Lex Luthor was involved in unsavory matters...'*
"Why didn't you tell me they thought Lex was involved with Superman's disappearance?" Lois asked. She felt her heart pounding, her knees going weak.
She managed to grab her chair and pulled it over to Clark's desk so she could sit down. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Henderson didn't want to say anything until the forensic analysis was complete and he wanted to give Superman time to come back, to show that he was okay," Clark told her. His voice was quiet, solemn. "He hasn't come back. There's more than enough evidence to have charged Luthor with murder-one, assuming Luthor hadn't taken his dive off the balcony first."
"Lex murdered Superman?" Lois asked, trying to keep the horror out of her voice. *Superman was murdered? But Superman was invulnerable. Superman was... super. He couldn't be dead. Then another small voice pointed out, 'Where is he? And why haven't you noticed?'*
Clark shrugged, not seeing her inner struggle. "Superman went to see Luthor a couple days before the ceremony was scheduled. I know because Luthor asked me to relay the message to him."
"And that's when Superman disappeared," Lois completed for herself.
Clark nodded, taking a shaky breath. "He was going to come back and tell me what Luthor was up to, only he didn't come back. After a while I got worried and went to talk to Luthor myself. He was very cordial, invited me down to the wine cellar so he could show off his newest acquisition. He swore that he and Superman had simply chatted and Superman had taken off to handle some emergency elsewhere. Luthor was pressing me to come to the wedding. He kept saying he wanted it to be your happiest day. I was actually at the point of considering showing up when I saw that cage he had set up in the middle of the room."
"Clark, why would he have a cage in a wine cellar?" Lois asked. She had heard bits of Clark's story from Perry, who got it from his sources, but this part was new. *How much has he refused to share until now?*
Clark shifted in his chair, an uncomfortable look on his face. "As a temporary holding pen for troublesome people, I suppose."
"Was Superman there?" Lois asked softly.
Clark shrugged, staring down at his hands. Lois noticed, not for the first time, the faint scars on his palms and fingers, almost like old burn scars.
"If he was, I didn't see him," Clark told her, voice low, almost monotone. "The next thing I knew, I was inside the cage and the door was locked and Luthor was gloating about how he planned to have the wedding service piped down so I could hear it. He went on about what he planned to do to you on your wedding night, that you were too independent and needed to learn who your master was. He was quite brutally explicit."
Lois went cold at Clark's description. Over the weeks since Luthor's death more and more information concerning his questionable, even illegal, business practices had come out. At first she'd tried to deny it, but as the evidence accumulated, as more and more former employees came forward, the fact that Luthor had been a criminal mastermind, possibly even a psychotic one, became undeniable.
Clark's head was still down as he continued. "I don't actually remember much after that, except for Luthor beating the crap out of me."
"That's what happened to your hands?" Lois asked softly.
Clark nodded. "The bars were electrified. Henderson told me they probably wouldn't have even found my body if Luthor hadn't been so anxious to finish me off. He led them right to me. You know the rest. When I finally came to, I was in the hospital and Luthor was dead."
Lois did know the rest. But it was nice to hear Clark's side finally. This was the first time he had really opened up to her since his declaration of love for her after the Planet's destruction. Even in the hospital he had refused to talk about who had hurt him badly enough for him to end up in the hospital. She had tried everything she could think of to get him to talk to her. She even told him she had lied about only caring about him as a friend. Told him why she had said 'no' to Luthor. But that had happened days later. At the time the police found Clark, Lois was simply numb with shock.
Perry and Jimmy had escorted her out of the chapel and out of the building. "Where's Clark?" she had asked when she saw that he wasn't with them.
Perry shook his head. "We haven't seen him in a couple days. Not since Luthor called him to arrange a meeting with Superman. No one's seen Superman either."
They were interrupted by a scream from overhead: Luthor diving off the penthouse balcony. Then Inspector Henderson came out of the building to tell Perry something privately. She'd watched Perry actually go pale at the news.
"Lois, hon', the police just found Clark in Luthor's wine cellar. They're taking him to the hospital now," Perry told her gently.
"Clark...? The hospital...?" Nothing was making sense. "Why was Clark in Lex's wine cellar?" she had asked finally.
"That's a very good question, Miss Lane," Henderson said. "One that I hope Mister Kent can answer, assuming he lives."
Clark sat back in his chair. Even telling the abridged version of the story left him shaking. He had been barely conscious, lying face down in his own blood and vomit, unable to move when Luthor had come into the wine cellar that last time. He heard Luthor's foul ranting, but could do nothing. The kryptonite had sapped his strength, left him with only an unending agony deep in his bones. At that moment all he hoped for was for Luthor to make his death a quick one.
Footsteps, then other voices. Luthor swearing, a scuffle, then a man's shout. "Oh my God... Inspector! Down here!"
He heard more footsteps, the key turning in the lock, a horrified whisper. "That's not... that's not Superman, is it?"
Fingers on his wrist then at his throat. He tried to keep from moaning. Another voice, one he recognized -- Bill Henderson, MPD. "Superman's invulnerable... The suit is one of Luthor's sick tricks..." Henderson's voice came closer. "Just rest easy, son. Help is on its way."
A little further away, another shout. "Where the devil is that medic?"
Clark managed to croak out one word. "Lois...?"
"She's okay son," Henderson told him from somewhere close. "Just hang in there, Kent..." Clark didn't have enough energy to wonder how Henderson knew his name.
The next few hours were a confused blur. He had vague recollections of being strapped to a gurney, of sirens and lights, the smell of antiseptics, the touch of a damp towel wiping blood and vomit from his face, gentle voices talking to him, reassuring him. When he finally regained consciousness, he was in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors and I.V.s. His powers were gone. Luthor had gotten his wish: Superman was dead.
"Clark...?" Lois's voice intruded and brought him back to the here and now: the Daily Planet newsroom. "Are you okay?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah..." He glanced at the article on the screen and hit the print icon. "At least the nightmares have mostly stopped."
Perry strode out of his office followed by a well-dressed forty-something woman. Perry stopped between Lois's and Clark's desks.
"What are you two still doing here? I thought you were going out to cover the murder of that plastic surgeon," he demanded.
"We're just heading out," Clark assured him. "I needed to finish this," he added, handing the printed-out sheet to the editor. Perry glanced at it then stopped, reading the piece more closely.
"This is confirmed?" Perry asked.
"Inspector Henderson called me himself to give me the details," Clark told him. "There are a few things he didn't want made public, but the consensus is that if Superman had survived his last encounter with Luthor, he would have contacted me or Lois and he hasn't."
The woman took the article from Perry's hand and skimmed it. "You're accusing Lex Luthor, this city's greatest benefactor, of murdering an alien?" she asked. She seemed to be trying to keep her voice sweet, but there was an edge of outraged hostility to it.
"That's what the physical evidence points to," Clark said, quietly. "Witnesses saw Superman with Luthor heading for a sub-basement that had only one exit. No one has come forward saying they saw Superman leave. The surveillance tapes of the day in question were erased. Rather conveniently, to some people's thinking. Now, if you'll excuse us, Lois and I have a murder to look into." With that, Clark turned on his heel and headed toward the elevators. He didn't look back to see if Lois was following.
"Hold on a minute, Clark, Lois," Perry called out. Clark stopped and looked back at Perry. "This is something you need to know, too." Perry took a deep breath and looked around the newsroom. "All right everybody, gather 'round," he said loudly enough to be heard over the ambient noise of the newsroom. "I have an announcement to make... As you know, we've all been through some difficult times recently and our new owner feels that, well, some of us might be suffering from stress. You know... irritability, short fuses..." Perry looked pointedly at Clark. "So, as of today the Daily Planet has its own staff psychologist."
"What? He can't be serious?" Lois murmured to Clark.
"Doesn't sound like such a bad idea," Jimmy muttered to her.
"You want to spend your time on a couch listening to psychobabble, go ahead," Lois groused. "I've got..."
"Many of you might be familiar with this woman from her syndicated column we've been running," Perry said, ignoring Lois. "...Healing the, uh, Inner Self."
"Yeah. They yanked the Jumble Puzzle for that," Jimmy muttered. "And I was just gettin' good at that game."
"Frankly," Perry continued, "not being one for all that touchy feely stuff myself, I don't much care for her column. But, it's increased circulation significantly and the good doctor has convinced our publisher that she can be of some help here." As he spoke he indicated the woman with him. "Doctor Carlin."
The woman smiled. "Well, I'm looking forward to meeting all of you over the next several days. Please feel free to drop in to my office any time."
Her announcement was met by near silence.
"Okay people, we've got blank pages to fill," Perry yelled. The staff dispersed amid low mutters.
Carlin stepped closer to Lois and Clark. "Miss Lane, Mister Kent. I'm especially looking forward to meeting with the two of you."
Lois snorted. "Doctor Carlin, a lot of people have tried to get me on a couch. And after all this time, I'm not about to start with a head shrinker."
Perry raised one eyebrow at Lois's statement but refrained from saying anything.
"In my experience it's the people who say they're fine that need help the most," Carlin said sweetly.
Lois smiled at Carlin, but there was no humor in it as she took Clark's arm and turned to head for the elevators. "If you'll excuse us. *We* have work to do."
Lois was still fuming when they reached the alley where Heller's body had been found.
"Do we know if he was murdered here or just dumped here?" Clark asked.
Lois stared at the ground. She had a bad feeling about Carlin, a little niggle in the back of her brain that said something was very wrong. With an abrupt growl of annoyance she kicked an empty soda can out of her way.
"That Carlin woman! I can't believe her gall," Lois spat. "'In my experience it's the people who say they're fine that need help the most,'" she mimicked.
"She is a professional. She might know a little more about it than we do," Clark said.
"Clark, we've both been through rough scrapes before," Lois told him with a more gentle tone. Clark wasn't the enemy. He was at least as stressed as she was and he had finally come out of his shell enough to notice what was happening around him, enough to talk about it, to talk to her.
"It's part of the job," she added. "And yes, we're both acting a little stressed. I mean, Luthor put you in the hospital. The man I thought I wanted to marry turned out to be the head of the East Coast underworld and it looks like he murdered Superman."
"But she just has our best interests at heart, don't you think?" Clark said. "I mean she is a professional psychologist."
"Clark, after more than a year in the city, you are still a na´ve boy scout," Lois commented. "No, I don't believe she has our best interests at heart. In fact, I know I've seen her somewhere, or maybe her picture and it wasn't in connection with anything good. Besides, I don't trust anyone who refers to Superman as an 'alien'. Just because his national origin was a different planet doesn't mean he shouldn't be treated with the same respect as everybody else."
She stopped and studied his face. His expression seemed to have brightened a little when she started defending Superman. "Clark, do you really think he's dead? I mean, there's no body."
"I don't know, Lois," he said. "I honestly don't know. But if he hasn't come back yet... Lois, would you be really upset if he really is gone?"
The question surprised her. "I'd be upset, yes," she admitted after a moment's thought. "Because he was, is, a good and caring man. But after the whole... after everything, I've come to a realization. I made a fool of myself. Superman was like a movie star, unobtainable, safe and I behaved like a crazed fan. I knew I could be hopelessly in love with the fantasy of him, and nothing would happen because that's all it was, that's all *he* was. A fantasy. Even Lex was a fantasy. Twelve car garage, manor house in the country, servants. Every little girl's dream. I was going to be a princess."
"Only he turned out to be Bluebeard?"
"Close enough," Lois admitted. "And then, when I was getting ready to walk down the aisle, I realized I didn't really want to live in a fantasy. I realized that real life includes coffee breath and leftovers, laundry, arguments, making up afterwards. I wasn't going to have those with Lex or with Superman." She studied his face and saw confusion and hope battling it out. "Am I making any sense?"
"Yeah, I think so," Clark told her.
They continued down the alley in silence and stopped near the yellow police tape that marked off the area around the dumpster where the victim had been found. The side of the dumpster still showed traces of fingerprint dust. Lois looked over the area.
"It's ironic isn't it? Someone whose work it was to make people beautiful ends up in a dumpster," she mused. "Could a patient be so unhappy with their tummy tuck they'd kill their doctor?"
There was the sound of movement behind the dumpster and they both moved to the other side. A man dressed in drab rags was rummaging around in a pile of discarded vegetable crates.
"Excuse me..." Lois said to get his attention.
He looked up at her, eyes going wide in terror. Then he took off down the alley.
"Hey! Wait!" Clark yelled after him. He began to give chase but stopped at the alley entrance.
"I lost him," Clark said. He sounded tired and discouraged. "He must have ducked into one of the doorways."
"Why do you think he ran?" Lois asked.
"I don't know. But he looked scared to death."
"I'll put the word out that we want to talk to him," Lois said, checking her watch. "Lex's will reading is in about two hours. We have time to actually sit down for lunch if you want."
"Lois, you don't have to go to the will reading if you don't want to," Clark told her as the waiter filled their coffee cups one last time and Clark took care of the check.
"But I do want to," she said. "It's a little more closure for one. Two, the Planet is doing a series on the breakup of LexCorp and the will is definitely part of that, and three, Bender, the attorney handling it, called me this morning and asked me specifically to be there. He also asked me to keep it quiet, so I told Perry I was going to have you handle it for me."
"And what were you supposed to be doing while *I* attend the will reading?"
"Looking for that homeless guy who ran," Lois answered.
Lois and Clark stayed to the back of the room as Luthor's attorney sat at the ornate desk in the late billionaire's office and read the will. The other listeners consisted of members of the press who were taking notes as well as men and women in business suits. The whole group reminded Clark of vultures circling.
"And to the Metropolis Arts Council, Mr. Luthor bequeaths the sum of..." Bender's voice was a low drone. More donations to museums and schools. Even in death, Luthor wanted to go down in history as Metropolis's biggest philanthropist.
"As for Mr. Luthor's controlling shares of LexCorp, he has instructed that they be assigned to a special trust, to be administered by my law firm and will be liquidated in due course."
A buzz filled the room at that announcement. Luthor's shares were to be liquidated and set aside, leaving millions, if not billions, of dollars sitting in an account somewhere, for someone.
"All of Mr. Luthor's personal property, including his artwork and jewelry will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be split between ACL Corporation, which administers an annuity for his ex-wife and LLL Corporation which will administer an annuity for his widow," Bender continued. "A scholarship in Mr. Luthor's name will be established..."
Lois sat back in her chair, stunned as Bender droned on. Clark noticed and leaned close to her.
"Are you okay?"
"I can't believe it... he never said a word about..." Lois began. "He was married, Clark! All those times he told me I was his first true love... You tried to warn me and I didn't listen..." Her eyes widened as the niggle that had been bothering her came into focus. "Arianna Carlin. I saw her picture in Lex's office once and the next time I went in it was gone. I asked his assistant about the photo and she said the woman had been Lex's assistant and maybe more, but it was over a long time ago. She said it had gotten messy and Lex didn't like being reminded of it. But then why was her photo in his office?"
"ACL Corporation," Clark mused. "Arianna Carlin *Luthor*? We'll need proof before we take this to Perry."
"Wait a minute," Lois murmured as she started looking through her purse for a second notepad. She found it and pulled it out. "The police were going through Heller's records and contacting his patients to see if there was some link to his death there. His last patient..." Lois's voice had dropped as she tried to sort out her notes and her thoughts. "His last patient was a woman, full facial reconstruction but no name in the records. Treatment was paid for by ACL Corp. I put Jimmy on looking into the company but no joy so far. Maybe this is the break we've been looking for."
Bender was finally finished reading the will. The other members of the press filed out, followed by the business people.
"Mrs. Luthor," Bender called out as Lois and Clark got to their feet to follow everyone else out of the room.
"My name is Lane," Lois reminded the attorney. "The ceremony wasn't completed. Lex and I were never married."
"Yes, quite," Bender responded. "In any case, a corporation was set up in your name to handle an annuity that is designed to give you a comfortable income for the rest of your life, assuming the marriage didn't work out. This was Mister Luthor's standard procedure. By accepting the annuity, you agree not to contest the will or make any further claims against the Luthor estate."
"I signed a pre-nuptial agreement," Lois told him. "I have no claim on his estate. I don't want any part of his blood money."
Bender sighed. "You may dispose of your income check any way you choose, Miss Lane. Your predecessor likes to travel and write."
"Miss Lane's predecessor? That's Arianna Carlin, isn't it?" Clark asked. "ACL?"
Bender nodded. "The marriage lasted about a year."
"I cannot believe the gall of that man," Lois was still fuming as she and Clark entered the elevator to head for the newsroom floor. "Even dead he's trying to control my life..."
"Uh, Lois, did you notice the funny looks we were getting when we walked in?" Clark asked. The people in the lobby had shied away from them, and the security guard sitting at his station had grabbed the phone as they passed. Without super-hearing Clark couldn't actually hear what the guard said into the phone, but he suspected it wasn't good.
"No, why?" Lois answered as the elevator doors opened. It was as if a switch had been thrown. The normal chatter of the bullpen died to near silence as people looked up to see them exit the elevator. A very worried-looking Perry walked up the stairs to meet them.
"Uh, Lois, honey," Perry began as though afraid of her reaction. "We don't want a repeat of what happened earlier... But if you feel the need to talk, Doctor Carlin's here and so am I."
"Perry, what are you talking about?" Lois asked.
Carlin walked up to stand beside Perry. "It's exactly as I warned... Severe post traumatic stress," she murmured.
"Lois, you don't remember coming in here with a gun and threatening everyone?" Perry asked gently.
"Why should she, since she wasn't here?" Clark asked.
Carlin shook her head, expression full of pity. "He's simply enabling her..."
"I don't know what happened here, Perry," Lois said. "But Clark and I have been together since we left here this morning, and we have witnesses."
Carlin just shook her head again. "It's worse than I thought... complete denial. Both of them."
"I don't know what your game is, Doctor, but I'm tired of it," Clark stated. He ignored Perry's surprised expression at the tone of his voice as he addressed Carlin. "But Lois and I have spent the past two hours at the reading of Lex Luthor's will. Every business reporter on the east coast was there."
"Lois, is that true?" Perry asked.
"Yeah, Lex even left me something in his will," Lois told him. "An annuity like he had set up for his ex-wife. Turns out the corporation handling her annuity was also involved with that dead plastic surgeon, paid for the work he did on his last patient. Oh, and yes, the police know about the connection."
"Luthor was married before?" Perry asked.
"Uh huh. Arianna Carlin Luthor," Clark said, looking straight at Carlin. Even without his powers he could tell her heart rate was up and she was sweating. And it didn't take superpowers to see the gun she had in her hand.
"I loved him. Even after he left me for a string of younger, prettier women, I never stopped loving him," Carlin told them. "And you killed him."
"Luthor killed himself," Clark said, keeping his voice low and calm. "He chose death over facing the consequences of his actions."
"Lex Luthor was the best thing that ever happened to this city, this country," Carlin growled. The gun in her hand didn't waver as she pointed it at Lois. "He was a great man."
"He was a cold, calculating killer who made his billions from the blood of the people he ran roughshod over," Clark stated. He was inching himself closer to Lois. Even without his powers, he weighed 200 pounds and his molecular density was greater than human average. He calculated he had a greater chance of surviving a gunshot than Lois did. And even if he didn't... Every time he heard a siren, every time he went out to cover a fire or a fatal accident he died a little inside. *You let Luthor murder Superman. You knew it was a trap, you went in anyway.*
"A great man can be forgiven a few minor mistakes," Carlin said.
"No one is above the law," Clark stated. "Murder one, false imprisonment, assault with intent to kill, none of those are exactly 'minor' mistakes."
"You can't prove anything..."
"Luckily, he doesn't have to," a familiar voice said. Clark turned his head to see Bill Henderson standing at the door to the stairwell with another plainclothes officer, Ryder, and several uniformed police. "It's over Doctor Carlin. Your accomplice is in custody and she's singing like a bird."
"That's impossible," Carlin stated. "Lex's killer is standing right here. Lois Lane."
"Put down the gun, Mrs. Luthor," Ryder ordered.
"Don't ever call me that. I have not been Mrs. Luthor for fifteen years," Carlin spat. Clark turned back to watch her just as her finger pulled back the trigger. He acted more on instinct than reason, pushing Lois back and down out of the way, as he reached out to grab the speeding bullet. The slug stung as it hit his palm. Carlin swung around to face the police officers who now had their own guns out.
"Drop it now!" He heard Ryder shout at Carlin. Clark grabbed Perry and pulled the older man down. More shots, but these were from behind them. Carlin simply looked puzzled as her grip loosened on her gun and it fell to the floor. Then she dropped to the ground, eyes staring at nothing.
Henderson hurried down the steps and knelt beside the body, checking for a pulse at her throat. "I hate it when people do that," he muttered to himself. He turned and looked over at Perry, Lois and Clark. All three were climbing to their feet.
"Are you okay?"
Lois and Perry both nodded. Clark simply stood there. *What just happened?* His hand ached and he caught Henderson eyeing him as he rubbed the bruise on his palm. Clark stuck his hand in his jacket pocket to hide the mark that shouldn't have been there.
Henderson picked something small off the floor and put it in his pocket. "Lucky for you guys, she wasn't a very good shot. I expect we'll find the first slug somewhere in that far wall."
"Would somebody mind telling me what in Sam Hill is going on here?" Perry demanded.
"We got a 9-1-1 from your lobby guard that Miss Lane was back in the building, only a couple of officers had already picked up a woman matching her description robbing a gun store about three blocks from here and Lane and Kent had an airtight alibi for the entire time." Henderson grinned at Lois and Clark. "A few other facts came our way and those tied Carlin and the Lane look-alike with Heller's murder. A few things the look-alike said worried us enough for us to respond to the 9-1-1 with a few more people than we normally would."
Henderson sighed. "With this many witnesses and the other circumstances, I'd say this is pretty cut and dried. Forensics has to do their thing, but it shouldn't take too long." In fact as they spoke, officers were taking photographs, measuring out the area, and taking statements from the newsroom staff.
Henderson beckoned Clark aside and stepped over to a quieter corner. Clark's hand had stopped aching quite as much and he pulled it out of his pocket. The bruise was already fading. Henderson dropped a flattened piece of lead into Clark's hand. It was the bullet Carlin had shot at Lois.
"Good catch. So, when do you think we'll be announcing that Superman isn't dead after all?" Henderson asked softly.
Clark stared at him a moment. "Soon, I hope."
He clapped Clark on the shoulder. "Give me a call when he shows up. I'll get his statement and we can close the case." With that, Henderson walked away from him, moving to join the other officers as they worked. It still felt odd to know there were people besides his parents who knew his secret and were keeping it and even helping him.
"Clark?" Lois asked from just beside him. He hadn't heard her approach. "What did Henderson want?" She spotted the piece of metal in his hand. "And what's that...?"
"It's complicated," Clark answered.
"Clark, I'm your partner," Lois said. "Partners talk about things, right? Talking is good."
Clark nodded. The scars on his hands from the kryptonite were fading to invisibility and he could hear Lois's heartbeat. *Superman was coming back.*
"Lois, we need to talk... about Superman."
With those simple words Lois Lane's world turned upside down.
"Let's go into the conference room," Clark suggested. Lois saw the seriousness, even fear, in his face as he turned to open the door for her. She followed him in and he closed the door behind her.
After a long moment, Clark ran his hand through his hair. After nearly a year of working together Lois knew that was a sign he was worried or frustrated or simply stressed out.
"Clark, you said we needed to talk about Superman," she began after waiting for him to speak.
He turned to look out of the inside window to watch the police officers search for the bullet Carlin had fired off. "They're not going to find it," he said softly.
"The bullet Carlin fired at you." He held out the piece of metal and dropped it into her hand.
"Henderson picked it off the floor and handed it to me."
"But it looks like it hit something..." Her voice trailed off as she tried to figure out how the slug in her hand had been flattened. "You pushed me out of the way. Perry, too."
"Yeah. She was pulling the trigger."
"Clark, you wrote that the police *believed* that Superman was dead. Not that he *was* dead." She studied his face.
"You noticed that..." His voice was flat.
"Is Superman alive?"
He sighed. "If you're asking if Superman is out there somewhere flying around and rescuing kittens from trees, the answer is 'no.'"
"That wasn't exactly what I was asking." She studied the slug in her hand. "Let me rephrase. Is Superman coming back?"
"Maybe... it depends on when, if, my powers come back."
Lois went very still, not quite sure if she had heard him right. *'It depends on when, if, my powers come back.'* Suddenly she wasn't sure how she was supposed to feel. Fury that he had hidden this side of himself from her for so long, that she had been so thoroughly fooled by farm boy charm, loud ties, and a pair of glasses? Relief that Metropolis's hero wasn't dead, just... missing?
She looked up at him. His eyes were wide with worry as he watched her.
"I probably should be furious that you didn't trust me enough to let me know," she finally said. "But I think I understand."
She nodded. "First, you didn't know me well enough, and then I went and chose Lex. How shallow can a person get? How could you possibly trust someone who did that? And then..." She stopped then continued more softly, "Why bother telling me if Superman is gone?"
"You're not upset?"
"Give me some time and I'll probably be furious," she admitted. She stopped, suddenly realizing exactly what had happened in the newsroom. "You caught the bullet in your hand. You didn't even think about it, did you?"
"There wasn't time."
"You could have been badly hurt."
"I would have taken that bullet if it meant... if it meant you would be okay," Clark told her softly.
Lois took a shuddery breath. Things were changing too fast. Clark was Superman, only Lex had hurt him so badly he didn't have his powers... *but he managed to catch that bullet.* He had saved her life, again. How often had he done that for her? How many times had he stepped in without her knowing?
"It's a lot to process," she told him.
"I just thought... I thought you should know."
He looked so lost. But there was something else in his expression, a quiet determination that made her suspicious. "You're not planning on doing something stupid and noble are you? Like taking off to parts unknown because my knowing about this is too dangerous for *me*? Or that we don't need Superman, assuming he recovers from what Luthor did to him?"
The look of alarm that flickered across his face was enough to tell her she had hit home. She stepped up to him, deliberately invading his personal space. He backed away until his back was pressing against the door. She kept coming.
"Don't even think about it, farm boy," she warned. She was pressed up against him, holding him against the door. "The world needs Superman."
"The world doesn't need Superman, Lois..."
"And maybe I don't either," she said. She watched his face fall like it had before. "But I do need Clark Kent."
Hopefulness lit up his eyes.
"I need Clark Kent as my partner, my friend, and maybe, just maybe, something more."
"I can do that," he said quietly. His eyes took on a faraway look that she now recognized.
"What is it?"
"Perry and Jimmy are wondering what's taking us so long."
Lois snorted. "Jimmy's thinking we're doing the horizontal lambada in here."
Clark chuckled. Lois moved away from him so he could get the door open.
"So, did your mom really make that uniform?"
He smiled sheepishly and nodded. "She said nobody would be looking at my face."
"She's right." Color started climbing up his cheeks, but he was smiling at her as he opened the door. Lois touched his arm and he stopped. "It's good to see you smile again," she said. "It's been too long."
The next few weeks went by quickly. The expected rise in crime from the announcement of Superman's presumed death hadn't occurred, no doubt do to the diligence of both the MPD and the NIA. Lois and Clark were assigned stories together and apart. Superman wasn't back yet, but at least Clark was more his old cheerful self again. Soon it was time for the Metropolis Press Club's annual journalism awards announcements and the black tie awards dinner.
Lois and Clark had fallen back into their old habit of walking to work. Parking was scarce near Lois's apartment so she usually left her Cherokee in the parking garage beside the Planet. Neither of them lived all that far from the paper.
As was their habit, Clark had bought coffee for the two of them at one of their favorite street vendors, a fellow named 'Mike' who seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what they wanted, almost before they asked for it.
"So, you must be excited," Clark said.
"I don't know, Clark, walking to work with you isn't really the thrill it used to be," Lois glanced at him and he saw a touch of color climb into her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I keep promising I won't bring up the whole..."
"It's okay," Clark said. "Actually, I was talking about the Kerth Awards. They announce the nominees tomorrow."
"Oh, is that tomorrow?" Her tone was mischievous.
"C'mon, Lois, you get nominated every year."
"Not every year," she corrected him. "Just... every year since I've been eligible."
"I bet you get it for the Bolivian drug cartel series."
She grinned. It *was* a good series. Nobody in the city had come close to breaking a story with as much positive feedback as that one had. "Well, the awards dinner's always fun and it'd be a nice way to break in that new black dress I picked up... You rent your tux yet?"
Clark shook his head. "The dinner's just for nominees."
"And dates. If you want to go..."
"Sure, yeah." He was surprised. It hadn't occurred to him that she might actually want to be seen with him outside of work. Without Superman to fall back on, Clark Kent was just a reporter from the Midwest and certainly not in the same league as the woman who left Lex Luthor at the altar.
"Why don't you go pick out your duds?" They had just passed a formalwear shop. Lois's bank was next door. "I'll run into the bank and meet you back out here in five."
A few minutes later, Clark had his reservation slip for his tux tucked in his pocket. He stepped onto the sidewalk. Lois wasn't waiting for him in front of the bank. Maybe they were just really busy, but if she didn't hurry, they were going to be late for work. Worried, he walked into the bank to find her only to stop two steps inside.
Not a single person inside the bank was moving. The customers and employees were sprawled on the floor or slumped over their desks or counters. Lois was lying flat on her back in the middle of the floor.
He ran over to her, and cradled her in his arms. She was still breathing at least. After a few moments, her eyes fluttered open. She tried to sit up then closed her eyes to try to shake the wooziness. All around them the other people were beginning to stir. Clark looked around to find some clue as to what had happened. He didn't smell anything, even though without his powers, Clark's senses were still better than the average human's. The bank vault door was standing open, the inside drawers in disarray.
"Clark...? What happened...?" she asked.
"Somebody made a withdrawal," Clark said, nodding toward the vault.
"Last thing I remember," Lois said. "I was standing here, feeling kind of tired..."
They looked around again. Several people had not yet regained consciousness. In fact, one man in a suit was lying on the floor, snoring.
"Looks like you weren't the only one," Clark commented.
"What could've knocked us all out so fast?" Lois asked.
The first day of the investigation hadn't gotten them anywhere. Today Lois had opted to make the calls to the police department and her sources while Clark hit the street. Although he had managed to score something of a coup thanks to Henderson, he hoped Lois had come up with something as well. He waited impatiently for the elevator doors to open. He almost ran into the bullpen, clutching the security tape. "Got it!"
"What?" Lois asked as she and Jimmy followed him into the conference room. He put the videotape into the VCR and turned on the monitor above it.
"Video from the bank security cameras," Clark said. "Now maybe we'll find out why the police have such a tight lid on this thing."
"You didn't get anything either?" Lois asked.
He shook his head. "Not from the police. I got this copy from Henderson. He's hoping we spot something his people have missed. But it's strictly off the record."
A picture came on the screen. A high angle shot of the bank lobby. Everything seemed normal. Customers were standing quietly in line. Employees were at their stations. Lois was standing at a teller's window in the foreground. There was quiet chatter in the background, innocuous music.
"I thought security tapes didn't normally have audio," Jimmy commented.
"According to Inspector Henderson, it's an experimental system," Clark said. "There's still some question about how legal it is."
Then, an oddly eerie sound came out of the speakers. Seductive, a not quite melodic siren song. On the screen, both customers and employees began to drop. Clark turned up the volume. Beside him, both Lois and Jimmy both began to yawn. He turned down the volume and they both perked up.
"It's the sound..." Clark said.
"Sound?" Jimmy asked.
"What sound?" Lois looked confused.
"You didn't hear it?" Clark asked. "That weird sound in the bank, the one just that made you guys... uh, that made us *all* drowsy just... Neither of you heard it?"
Lois shook her head. Jimmy was focusing on the monitor. "Look."
On the screen, four men dressed in black walked into view of the security camera. They wore black motorcycle style helmets with dark visors pulled down to hide their faces and black leather jackets. The men moved with oiled precision, stepping over the sleeping bodies as they headed for the cash drawers and the closed vault.
The image froze.
"Whoa, check it out," Jimmy murmured.
"What?" Clark didn't see anything of significance on the screen.
"That jacket..." Jimmy pointed out. One of the jackets had ornate studding and embroidery across the back. The resolution of the tape made it impossible to make out details. "I wonder where he got it."
"Will you pay attention?" Lois said, giving Jimmy a disapproving look as she started the tape again.
On the screen they saw a guard enter the room from one of the back offices. He spotted the intruders and drew his service revolver. One of the thieves pulled out a small gun-like device from beneath his jacket. He aimed it at the guard who promptly keeled over.
"Wow," Jimmy breathed. "The first sound that can put a whole room to sleep."
"I can see why the police don't want this in the papers until they can figure out what this is," Clark said.
Outside, Perry strode into the bullpen. "All right, people, listen up!" he yelled.
Clark hit pause on the machine and followed Lois and Jimmy into the bullpen. The rest of the staff had already gathered around the editor.
"The nominations for the Kerth Investigative Journalism prize are in and I'm proud to announce that one of our own has received the nod," Perry said with a grin. "So, I want a big round of applause for..."
"He always does this, it's so embarrassing..." Lois whispered to Clark.
"...Clark Kent!" Perry said loudly.
Lois was beginning to step forward then stopped, looking back at Clark in open astonishment.
"C'mon, son, don't be shy. Get over here!" Perry urged. Lois stepped back to rejoin the crowd as Clark stepped forward to stand beside Perry. The older man clapped a proud hand on Clark's shoulder.
"I think you've got a real shot at winning. That retirement home scandal you uncovered was..."
"Wait," Lois started in open disbelief. "He got nominated for the *retirement home* series?"
Perry grinned at her. "Top grade journalism. Emotional wallop."
Lois just stared at them both, open mouthed.
"Lois? Don't you have something to say to Clark?" Perry urged.
"Right, yes. Clark, this is... ah... I'm very..." She stopped.
"Surprised?" Clark suggested.
"Stunned. Shocked. In need of oxygen," Lois corrected.
"Now Lois," Perry chided gently. "You've been nominated every year. You've won three times. Don't go getting petty. The Planet's a team. One success is everybody's success. Got it?"
"Good," Perry said, beaming at her. "Back to work everybody."
Lois and Clark were left looking everywhere but at one another as the rest of the staff went back to their desks and assignments.
Finally, Clark began, "Look, Lois..."
She nodded at the monitor and the tape. "So, what's our next step?"
"Find somebody who can tell us about sound," Clark suggested. "I know somebody over at U of M."
"Might give us a little background..."
"So, let me get this straight," Lois said. "Every object has its own natural vibration frequency. People have one frequency, this pen has a different one and so would this table. And if you can find exactly the right frequency, you can make anything, or anyone, do whatever you want? Blow up? Disappear?"
"That's a vast over simplification, Miss Lane," Dr. Arnold said. "But essentially correct. It's the specific vibration frequency that causes one building to be demolished in an earthquake while the one next to it remains standing. The demolished one was vibrating with a related frequency as the ground under it and so took damage." He turned back to the electronic equipment on the table in front of him. Denny Arnold, Ph.D. was the researcher Clark knew at the University of Metropolis. They'd been lucky to find him in his lab.
"Who's close to getting this kind of technology up and running?" Clark asked.
"Hans Schimmel over at the Vienna University of Technology, Minaru Yamamoto at the Kyoto Institute of Technology. Derek Camden was close until he cracked up, and Leonard Stoke."
"Leonard Stoke? As in Lenny Stoke the rock musician?" Lois asked.
Arnold nodded. "Brilliant mind, no discipline. I heard that he and Camden were in business together for a while, but it didn't work out."
Clark reached into his jacket and pulled out the videotape. "We think this tape has a recording of the sound the bank robbers used to knock out everybody at the bank yesterday during that robbery."
Arnold's eyebrows tried to reach his hairline. "I'm astonished the sound could be recorded by standard equipment."
"When I ran it though the TV monitor at work, something started putting people to sleep there, too. They woke up when I turned off the speakers," Clark told him.
"I assume you want me to analyze it?"
"If you could," Clark said.
Arnold took the videotape and put it into a rack-mounted VCR under a stack of sophisticated audio recording and analysis equipment. The equipment was connected to a computer.
After a few moments, a squiggle of overlapping lines appeared on the computer monitor. "That's your mysterious sound," Arnold said. "Just above normal human hearing. The dogs in the area wouldn't have liked it much."
"So, that's what put everybody to sleep?" Lois asked.
"That's the odd part," Arnold told them. "I'm not a neurologist or anything like that, but I don't think the sound alone would do it. I'll analyze it and see if I can detect any patterns. I'll also run it past some people I know over at the medical school. If this is really what put all those people to sleep, they're going to be really interested."
"You'll let us know what you come up with?" Clark said.
"Sure thing," Arnold promised. He ignored them as they headed out of the lab, already intent on his analysis.
"Do you think he'll find anything?" Lois asked as she and Clark started back to the Planet.
"I hope so," Clark said. "In the meantime, we can look into the names he gave us."
"Hans Schimmel died of a coronary thrombosis four weeks ago," Lois announced, looking up from her computer monitor.
"That counts him out. Minaru Yamamoto has been on a research trip to Antarctica for the last six months," Clark said. "How about Stoke?"
"He put out a couple albums a few years back -- great reviews, no sales. Heavy into sonic R and D. Had some bad luck financially -- patents stolen, accountants ripping him off."
"Speaker systems, new types of audio amplifiers, that sort of thing," Lois said. Clark rolled his chair over to her desk to look at her monitor. A photo of Lenny Stoke was on her screen. He looked flashy and devilishly charismatic, smiling at the camera.
"What about Camden?"
Lois brought up an article on Derek Camden. A dour face glared out of the screen at them.
"Cracked up because he tested a new kind of thought-altering process on himself. Got shipped off to the state mental hospital... released six weeks ago," Clark read off her screen. "Hey, look at this." He pointed out a section of text.
Lois skimmed the portion he was pointing out. "Well, Arnold did say that Stoke and Camden were in business together for a while. This says Stoke sued Camden for patent infringement. Camden lost everything he had, including his position at the university. Managed to get private funding for his research into the effect of sound on thought processes, though."
"Who funded it?" Clark asked.
"This doesn't say," Lois said. "You think it's important?"
"The robbers used sound that put people to sleep," Clark reminded her. "Camden was doing research on sound with mind-altering effects. Awfully big coincidence."
"But the whole robbery had a theatrical feel, don't you think?" Lois asked. "Black leather, black helmets... Almost like it was choreographed. And then there's that biker jacket Jimmy was drooling over. That all has more of the feel of somebody like Stoke."
"Let's get Jimmy to look into Camden's funding," Clark said. "Chances are he's looking for that jacket on his own."
Lois checked her watch. "Let's grab some lunch. There's a new place I've heard about near the Diamond District."
The restaurant wasn't as good as Lois had said she'd heard, but it wasn't bad. And it was right across the street from the narrow block of gem and jewelry merchants that collectively were called the Diamond District.
"Sounds like we've got two likelies," Clark reminded her as soon as they were done with their meal. They had avoided talking shop over lunch.
"So, who do we go after first?" Lois asked. "Camden or Stoke?"
"Well, actually, there was something I wanted to ask you first..." Clark began. There was an odd shyness in his tone.
"Since we already went ahead and made plans, I wondered if you wanted to go to the Kerth Awards."
Lois turned and looked at him. "You mean, as your date?"
"I was going to be *yours,*" Clark reminded her.
"You want me to hang on your arm, smile and tell everybody how proud I am of my great big reporter man?" Her eyes narrowed as she regarded him.
"Sounds good to me," Clark said. She glared at him. "Hey. Kidding? I just thought we might have a good time. And you *did* buy that new dress for the..."
"I did not buy it for the awards!" Lois protested. Co-workers at nearby desks looked up at them. She dropped her voice. "I happened to buy it... around... the time of the awards. It's a coincidence. And the more I think about it, the more I don't even like the stupid thing, so I'm returning it!"
"Lois, are you upset that I got nominated and you didn't?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. I mean, we both did good stories," she stated firmly. "Mine destroyed an international drug network and yours... really told the searing truth about... old people. And... and... I just can't believe it! There's *got* to be some mistake! They lost my story or their brains were taken over by aliens or..." She stopped, a horrified look coming into her face. "Oh, God, look at me. This is pathetic. I never thought I was this *small*. I'm sorry."
"At least you didn't accuse me of cheating, using my, you know. So... you want to go with me, or not?"
She looked away. "Clark? Can we talk about this later?"
He shrugged, trying not to show his disappointment. "Sure."
"So, who do we track down first? Camden or Stoke?" she asked.
"We could split up and do both," Clark suggested.
"Split up? What are you...?" she started. Then she reconsidered, folding her arms across her chest. "Oh, I get it. You've got some idea, some lead you're not telling me about. You're going to track it down yourself."
"Lo-is, that's not..."
"No, that's fine," she said, walking away from him. "It's fine, Clark."
"You check out Stoke," Clark said. "I'll find Camden. We'll meet back at the Planet, okay?"
"Uh-huh, right, and you've got your next prize all sewn up."
"Lo-is..." Clark looked down the street. He heard a familiar high pitched, almost musical keening and it was growing louder. As he watched, people on the crowded sidewalk began to drop, including Lois. Then the fender benders began from drivers falling asleep at the wheels of the cars. Finally, the people inside the shops were down. Clark was the only one left standing. He grabbed Lois and pulled her back into the restaurant, to relative safety.
Clark regretted that his strength and speed hadn't come back yet, although his hearing and eyesight were well on their way to being back to 'super'. X-ray and heat vision were still sporadic and unreliable.
He spotted the van as he came out of the restaurant. It was black, with blacked out windows and no license plate on the back. A large antenna, similar to the one seen in the hands of one of the robbers on the video, was mounted to the roof of the van. The antenna was rotating. As near as Clark could tell, it was the source of the eerie, sleep-inducing sound waves.
Suddenly, the side doors of the van opened. Clark ducked back into a doorway as four men in black helmets and leather jumpsuits and jackets jumped out of the van and headed toward the first jewelry store.
The men didn't seem to see him as Clark made his way closer, crouching down to stay out of sight. He watched the gang make their way around the fallen bodies, breaking display cases, emptying out drawers of gems and settings. There was no talking between them. They moved like a military unit, using hand signals.
Then, almost as a replay of what happened in the bank, someone came out of a back room. It wasn't a guard this time, but an older man. He stopped, staring at the looters dumbfounded. Then he ran toward the order counter. Clark assumed he was heading for the alarm switch, although alarms were already wailing all through the ravaged storefronts.
One of the gang members pulled out the pistol-like device and aimed it at the old man. Nothing happened. The man with the 'gun' adjusted a dial on the device and the old man screamed. Clark dove for him to knock him out of the way.
"Didn't you hear?" the man with a pistol sneered. "Superman is dead."
Clark barely heard the voice, just enough to almost make out the words and the fact that the voice was electronically masked. The noise from the pistol was screaming in his ears, resonating in his brain -- not the eerie sound of the sleep-inducer but something louder, harsher, deadlier. The sound got louder and then there was nothing as blackness engulfed him.
Lois had regained consciousness on the floor of the restaurant and had quickly realized that Clark wasn't anywhere near. Around her, everyone else was also waking up, getting woozily to their feet.
On the street several police cars were parked, their lights still flashing. The officers belonging to the cars were picking themselves off the pavement. From one of the storefronts, a woman screamed. The officers ran toward the sound with Lois right behind them.
She stopped at the sight in front of her. Clark was lying on the floor unconscious, blood trickling from both ears. Beside him was another, older, man with blood drying on his face. An officer with a first aid kit was pulling a jacket over the older man's face. The officer turned back to Clark but Lois was already on her knees beside him.
"Clark? Clark!" After what seemed to be an eternity, Clark's eyes flickered open. Lois heaved a sigh of relief. "Are you okay?"
Clark managed a nod as he struggled to sit up. The first aid officer began to check Clark over until he pushed him away.
"We should get you to the hospital..." the officer told him.
"No hospitals," Clark managed to say.
"Clark, what happened?" Lois asked.
"The thieves, I'm pretty sure it was the same bunch as at the bank, were looting the place when he..." Clark indicated the dead man. "...came in. The sleep-inducer didn't work on him, so the guy with the sound gun changed something. I tried to knock him out of the way. I wasn't fast enough, I guess."
"Can you stand?" Lois asked.
Clark seemed a little wobbly even while trying to sit up. He struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on her.
"How about we get someone to take your statement, and then you can get out of here," the officer said. He looked at Lois. "But get him to a doctor. We don't know what the long term effects are of that sound weapon these guys are using."
"I'll get you home as soon as we're done here, okay?" Lois offered.
Clark just nodded.
He was painfully late to work and he hoped Lois had covered for him. After getting to his apartment the afternoon before, Lois helped him clean most of the blood off of his face and out of his ears. After she left he managed to crawl into bed and had fallen into an exhausted sleep. When Clark finally woke up, he was already several hours late getting to the Planet. He hadn't heard the alarm clock go off at all and wasn't sure if Lois had turned it off or he had simply slept through it.
Sharp sounds still sent ice picks into his brain and his sense of balance wasn't right. But staying home simply wasn't an option.
The elevator seemed to take forever, creaking and groaning as it made its way to the bullpen floor. The doors opened and he made his way to his desk, hoping no one noticed how wobbly he was.
There was a copy of this morning's edition of the Planet on his desk. He glanced at the headline. 'THIEVES LOOT DIAMONDS -- "Sound Man" and Gang Put Whole Block to Sleep. One Man Dead.'
"Too bad Superman's gone," Jimmy said as Clark dropped into his desk chair. "He'd've taken this guy *out.*"
"Maybe," Clark said.
Perry came out of his office and walked over to Lois's desk. "Are you okay, son? Lois told us what happened."
"I'm still a little rocky, but I'll be okay," Clark assured him. Perry didn't look convinced.
"Preliminary autopsy results on the man killed in the robbery came in and Doctor Arnold called. I told him we'd be over as soon as you came in," Lois said. "Unless you still think it would be better if we divide our efforts..."
"There are still two of us and two of them..." Clark reminded her.
"There something going on between you two I should...?" Perry asked.
"No," they both said.
"Hello, Metropolis," a voice said from nowhere and everywhere. Clark recognized it. It was the same distorted voice that had said, *'Didn't you hear? Superman is dead.'* The voice of the killer in the Diamond District.
The voice continued. "For those of you who haven't read the papers, I'm the one who brought the police to their knees and cleared out the gem merchants... In celebration of that momentous event, I'm creating a new tax. A sound tax. The rate: fifty percent of all money in Metropolis banks. Seem like a high price? Then don't pay. And find out what a high price *really* is."
Lois and Clark exchanged glances. *He's already killed once.*
"The money will be bagged and waiting outside each branch by nine AM tomorrow. Oh, and one final message... to the cops... Try and stop me."
"Not exactly subtle, is he?" Perry commented.
"Lois, you said Doctor Arnold wanted to see us?" Clark asked.
She nodded. "You can read the autopsy report on the way."
The medical examiner's report was a little surprising, but then Clark realized it probably shouldn't have been. It made sense that the one person who hadn't been affected by the sleep-inducer sound had been profoundly deaf. His name was Franz Muller and he was a gem cutter. Death had been caused by his brain being reduced to mush inside his skull.
"You know, you're lucky he didn't kill you too," Lois commented.
"Lucky for me, the Sound Man wasn't gunning for Superman," Clark said. "I have a feeling his weapon could be tuned to hurt me, even if my powers were at full strength."
"You're joking, right?"
"I wish I was. My invulnerability has been back for some time, but that sound weapon knocked me for a loop. You saw that," he said. "My sense of balance still isn't right. I doubt I could fly right now, even if that had come back. I'd end up running into a building or the ground or something."
"That bad, huh?"
Clark nodded then grimaced as the vertigo returned. He took a deep breath to calm the complaints coming from his gut.
"Did Jimmy come up with anything on Camden's funding?"
Lois blew a long breath through her nose. "You're not going to believe it. When Camden lost his position at the University, he went to work for LexLabs. But he walked out on them over some sort of ethics issue. Apparently he was strictly anti-gun, anti-violence and objected when they wanted to test the non-lethal weapon he'd designed for them on animals."
"Sounds like something LexLabs would have done," Clark commented.
"When Camden left, they shelved the project, supposedly," Lois continued. "He had a non-compete contract, but then ACL Corporation -- you remember them? -- started funding him and managed to get him out of the non-compete... I've put in a call to Camden's doctor at the hospital. Hopefully he'll talk to us."
Doctor Arnold was waiting for them in his lab. "Just so you know. I've already passed my findings onto the police. The sound on the bank tape was designed to create delta waves in the hearer. According to my colleagues over in medical, delta waves are associated with deep sleep. But that's not all I found." He turned on the tape recorder on the table. A low musical voice came out of the speakers. *'You are tired. You are sleepy. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.'* The voice repeated the phrases in several languages.
"The voice is buried in the sound. I've slowed it down and removed the delta wave inducers so it can be made out," Arnold told them. "Between the delta waves and the subliminals, I'd say it was pretty effective. STAR Labs is looking into a way to combat the sound."
"You know the Sound Man killed someone yesterday, don't you?" Clark asked.
Arnold nodded, his mouth settling into a grim line. "I know. And I don't know of any technology we have that can counter it, at least nothing that's portable."
"Thank you, Doctor," Clark said, turning to leave.
"Hey, I just wish I could be more help," Arnold said.
"So, where does that leave us?" Lois asked as soon as they pulled out of the parking lot.
"Pretty much the same place we were before," Clark said. "Camden or Stoke, unless you think Doctor Arnold is involved."
Lois's cell phone chirped and Lois pulled it out. "Lois Lane...Yes, Doctor Green... We'll be right there..." She hit 'end' on her phone and dropped it back into her purse. "Camden's doctor is willing to talk. He's meeting us at the downtown Big Belly."
Lois's phone chirped again. "Lois Lane... Jimmy? Where are you...? You what...? You did...? We'll be right there." She glanced over at Clark. "Jimmy spotted that jacket *and* the van like the one you described."
"You want to drop me off at Big Belly while you chase down Jimmy?"
Lois sighed. "After everything, including you getting hurt, you want to split up?"
"Lois, that's not it," Clark protested. "We can cover more ground separately right now and you know it. I'll go talk to Camden's doctor while you find out what Jimmy's found."
"Fine," Lois spat. "You go track down Camden. You've been wanting to ever since you heard about him." The jeep screeched to a halt in front of the restaurant.
"We'll meet back at the Planet?" Clark asked.
"Doctor Green is waiting."
Lois wasn't sure why she was annoyed with Clark. It made perfectly good sense for them to split up to track down the two leads they had. Was she really afraid he'd bring in the story without her?
No, that wasn't like Clark at all. Claude might have done it to her -- hell, he *had* done it to her -- but Clark wouldn't. The Kerth committee chose his series on old people and nursing homes over her series on drugs. That's what it came out to. They hadn't even looked at what it took to get the drug cartel story, how close she had come to losing her life (Superman not withstanding), how hard it had been to get the goods on the cartel members. The committee chose to honor the investigation that had posed no danger in getting the facts, except for being bored to death. One hundred twenty hours of taped interviews, nearly twice that in time for background, off the record interviews and sources that wanted to remain anonymous. Lois had to admit she wouldn't have been able to even begin such an investigation but Clark had simply started and slogged through to the end.
Lois Lane had lost the nomination to Clark Kent. She realized that was what was irking her. She had always strived to be the best, and getting the nod from the Kerth committee these past years was simply validation that she really was the best. Now her still wet-behind-the-ears partner was being considered for that title. There was only one top spot, right? Right.
She spotted Jimmy and his old battered motorcycle in front of City Hall and pulled the jeep in behind where he was parked.
"What have you got?" Lois asked, catching his attention. Jimmy climbed into the passenger seat.
"I spotted a black van and a bunch of guys planting micro-speakers on buildings and light posts," Jimmy told her. "Got some good shots of them, too, before the cops ran me off."
"The guy with that fancy biker jacket is one of them," Jimmy continued. "I traced the jacket to one of the custom embroidery companies."
"It was ordered by a fellow named Quinn Gallagher. And guess where he works."
"Jimmy..." Lois warned.
Green was waiting at one of the outdoor tables at Big Belly, which was one of the favored haunts of Daily Planet employees, being only two blocks east of the Planet.
"Doctor Green? I'm Clark Kent, Daily Planet," Clark introduced himself. Green looked concerned. "Miss Lane sent me," Clark added. The older man gestured for Clark to take the seat opposite his.
One of the waitresses spotted him and dropped off another menu. "I'll just have coffee with cream, please," Clark said. She sauntered off.
"I assume Miss Lane told you why we're interested in Derek Camden," Clark began.
Green nodded. "You and the police are trying to locate him."
"From our research, he is one of the few people around with the knowledge and skills to design and build the weapons the Sound Man is using," Clark told him.
Green took a deep breath and picked up the valise that had been leaning against his leg. He opened the case and pulled out a slim folder. "These files are normally confidential, Mr. Kent, but under the circumstances..." He opened the file and skimmed the top sheet contents as if reacquainting himself with its contents. "Camden was released into the care of a friend. Lenny Stoke."
"Stoke? I heard they hated each other."
Green shrugged. "I spoke to Derek not long after his release. He said he and Stoke had a new business venture in the works. And the last address I had for him was..."
"Let me guess," Clark interrupted. "Stoke's." He sat back in his chair as the waitress brought him his coffee and sat Green's meal on the table.
"Doctor Green, is there anything you can tell me about Camden's condition?" Clark asked. "Without violating doctor-patient confidentiality of course, that would help us find him before things get worse for him."
Green's lips drew thin as he considered Clark's question. "Derek was a pacifist, completely against violence. I can't see that he would willingly have had anything to do with these crimes."
"Was there another doctor he was working with at the hospital? Maybe they have some thoughts on this?" Clark asked. It was a long shot. He knew that the New Troy Public Mental Health Hospital frequently had private practice physicians giving time to patients pro bono.
Green seemed to consider Clark's statement for a long time before speaking. "He was in the care of Doctor Arianna Carlin up until the time of her death. Her death set him back quite a bit."
"But he recovered quickly enough to be released six weeks ago, within a week of Carlin's death," Clark pointed out.
"She had already started the paperwork for his release," Green said. "It would have been difficult to keep him under those circumstances, especially when Mister Stoke stepped up and agreed to take care of him."
Clark and Doctor Green chatted a while longer as Green finished his meal. The psychiatrist gave him a list of names, staff members Camden had spent time talking to at the hospital, but warned him it was unlikely any of them could add any more to what Clark already knew.
It was a short walk to the Planet. Lois was nowhere to be seen. Clark wished, not for the first time in recent days, that his x-ray vision had come back. It would make it a little easier to figure out where she had gone. He hoped she wasn't planning on doing something dangerous -- Superman wasn't around to pull her fat out of the fire.
"If you're lookin' for Lois," Perry said as he saw Clark settle at his desk. "She was here for about half an hour then took off lookin' like the cat that swallowed the canary."
"Any idea where she went?" Clark asked.
Perry shook his head. "I'm just the ring master in this here circus."
Lois looked around the large, industrial-looking room. The Stoke Club's doors had opened only ten minutes before but the floor was already crowded with young women dressed in very little, and men ogling them.
The ceiling was invisible, hidden in cigarette smoke and darkness. The club was in an old municipal warehouse that was converted to a dance club not long after Stoke's first album came out -- the only commercially successful album the musician had released. The others had been well received by critics but not by the purchasing public. The club, however, remained a favorite haven for Metropolis's underground rock crowd.
The music was loud, reverberating in her chest as she made her way closer to the stage. Stoke himself was scheduled to play this evening. That was one of the reasons the club was so crowded tonight: Stoke was supposed to be here.
Someone bumped into her and a man's hand landed on her bare midriff. "Watch it," she warned, slapping the hand away. She turned around and looked up at the man who had bumped her: Clark.
"Lois? What... what are you...? Why are you dressed like that?" he managed to stammer.
"You're just too much competition, Clark, so I'm chucking my career and becoming a groupie," she said, swaying to the music. Clark just stood there, looking overdressed and out of place in his suit and tie.
"Look, I've got a lead on Camden. He was staying here and..."
"That's great, Clark, I'm really happy for you. I'm on a lead of my own, so what else is there to say but... see you at the finish line?" With that she danced away from him. As much as she wanted to hear about his lead on Camden, she wasn't about to let him blow her chance at getting to Stoke. She had done her homework. She was dressed and made-up just like his last three conquests, complete with nose ring even though he did like them younger than she was. She had a plan. She even had a bugging device with her, courtesy of Jimmy.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's time," a voice announced over the public address system. "In his first appearance on his own or any other stage in over two years... The Recluse of Rock, the Duke of Decadence... the one, the only... *Lenny Stoke*!"
The lights on the dance floor dimmed as the stage lights blazed to life. Lenny Stoke, devilish, debonair, was on stage, wearing black leather from head-to-toe. He was sporting a pair of metallic elbow length gloves as he grabbed one of the microphones, shrieking into it as the three other leather clad members of his band began their set.
Lois waved back at Clark, watching him long enough to make sure he was leaving. She smiled to herself as he plugged his ears with his fingers and shoved his way out of the club. Then she turned her attention back to Lenny Stoke. The crowd was enthralled, entranced -- especially the tightly packed groupies closest to the stage. They almost seemed drugged.
She tried to push her way to the front row, but the girls already in position shoved her back. Then the latex and spandex Amazons the Stoke Club used as 'security' dragged her to the back of the room and dropped her there without saying a word.
Lois glared at the three as they went back to their stations, watching the crowd. She stopped five big men with beards and beer guts. They weren't dancing, but they were watching the girls who were. After a moment, Lois pulled a wad of bills from her purse and waved it at them.
Within moments Lois was in front of the stage with her new body guards. The groupies who had shoved her out of the way were glaring at her from the sidelines. Thanks to some well spent cash, Lois had a space of floor all to herself. She could see that she had caught Stoke's attention. He was grinning appreciatively as she gyrated seductively in front of him. *Step one completed.*
The Stoke Club's bartender had been surprisingly helpful, pointing out the room at the back of the building, telling Clark what little he knew about Camden. "Camden was living in one of the rooms in back. Weird little guy... Jumpy. Gave me the creeps but Stoke said the guy was an old buddy of his who was goin' though some bad times."
"So, when did he leave?" Clark had asked.
"About a week ago," the bartender said. "Just up and disappeared. Stoke wasn't real happy about it. But, hey, it's a free country."
"You wouldn't happen to know where he went, would you?" Clark asked, passing the bartender the tab and a sizable tip for the pint of beer he'd been handed.
The bartender shrugged. "Can't help ya there. Sorry."
Clark had given the man his thanks and had gone to check out Camden's room. It was small, without windows. An unmade bed, a dresser, a night stand and a desk. Clark had checked the desk, keeping an ear out for intruders. Empty. There wasn't even a writing pad in the desk. Clark spotted a blotch of ink on the wall near where a phone had obviously been mounted at one time. He had just been able to make out the name and number that had been written on the wall then scribbled over using a felt-tipped marker.
That was when one of Stoke's security people found him and forcibly escorted him out of the room. Luckily for him, he was invulnerable, although that hadn't helped when he found Lois in the club, dressed like a hooker or a groupie, chasing him away from her.
A quick call to the Daily Planet research department got him an address for the phone number. It was in Suicide Slum. He found the building easily enough even though it was several blocks from the club. It was a boarding house that had seen far better days. He knocked on the door and when a sullen looking boy answered the door, he asked for Ms. Valdes. The boy disappeared inside and a few moments later a frightened-looking woman with dark hair and swarthy skin came to the door.
"Ms. Valdes? I'm Clark Kent, from the Daily Planet. I'm looking for Derek Camden," Clark said. "Your phone number was on the wall of his room."
She didn't seem to understand him.
"No ingles?" Clark asked. She shook her head. He switched to Spanish, hoping his accent wasn't too execrable. "Senorita Valdes, mi nombre es Clark Kent. Yo soy un reportero..."
Clark hurried back to the Daily Planet and arrived in about the middle of Mayor Sharp's televised press conference. Perry was still in the newsroom watching the news conference on the television in his office.
"Neither this city nor its financial institutions will cooperate with such outrageous blackmail. Furthermore..." Sharp was saying. "The Metropolis Police in conjunction with state and federal authorities are following a number of strong leads and we expect to have this individual identified and apprehended in a very short time. Citizens are urged to remain calm..."
"Do you think he can do it?" Perry asked Clark.
"Can the Sound Man bring down a building like he says?" Clark asked in return. "Yeah, I think he can."
"Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down..." Perry quoted softly to himself. The news conference on the screen ended with a flurry of frantic activity after one of the mayor's aides whispered something to her. "Interesting..." Perry muttered, turning his attention back to Clark.
"Yeah, something's going down," Clark said. "And it can't be good."
A few minutes later the phone on Clark's desk rang.
"The Sound Man just took out that abandoned building on Ninth and Grandview," Jimmy's voice announced without preamble. "And according to the cops I talked to, he's threatening to take out the rest of the block unless the city gives in to his demands."
"Jimmy, maybe you should get back here and let the police handle this?" Clark suggested.
"CK, I'm with the cops and they're checking out the buildings in case there are people inside. It'll make a great story and I've got some good shots," Jimmy said. "Besides, I've got a good idea how he's doing it."
"Jimmy, be careful, okay?"
"Sure, CK," Jimmy promised and hung up.
"Well?" Perry prompted.
"The Sound Man took down a building on Ninth and Grandview and is threatening to take out the block," Clark told him. "Jimmy's on the scene."
Clark shook his head. "Last I saw, she was at the Stoke Club."
"The Stoke Club?"
Clark nodded. "She was following a lead there."
"And you?" Perry prompted.
Clark grinned at him as he got up from his desk chair and headed for stairs to the 'library' -- a collection of overcrowded bookshelves filled with atlases and phonebooks, as well as other frequently used references. "I have my own lead."
Lois waited impatiently for the elevator doors to open. She pulled her trench coat collar closer around her neck with one hand, rubbing her right temple with the other. Except for reinforcing her belief that Lenny Stoke was involved with 'the Sound Man' her visit to the Stoke Club had been a bust. She had managed to get Stoke's attention. She had even got him alone at a table for a drink, even though she was sure that if looks could kill, the looks she got from the security women and the groupies would have put her in the hospital at the very least.
Stoke had lived down to his reputation as a ladies' man. She had told him her name was Linda but he couldn't remember it, spouting off nonsense about fated meetings and instant connections and uncontrollable desire while peering down the front of her halter-top. She had pretended not to notice -- the airhead she was portraying wouldn't have noticed. She had even gotten close enough to him to plant the 'bug' she'd gotten from Jimmy.
Then Stoke was called away by one of the security people, a tall muscular woman with bleached blonde hair, a hard expression, and 'Security' tattooed down her arm. Stoke had asked her to stay, but as soon as he was out of the room, his security people ordered everyone out of the building.
"You too, honey," one of the Amazon women had told her, grabbing her arm and pulling her from her seat when Lois didn't move from her table.
"Lenny asked me to wait," Lois had protested.
"And I'm sure he meant it at the time," the woman told her with a sneer. "It happens, sweet-face."
Then things went from bad to worse. She had planted the listening device on Stoke. It was small enough that it was unlikely he'd find it unless he was looking for it and she knew it had been working before she'd gone into the club. But it wasn't working now -- all she was getting was static.
The elevator doors opened onto the newsroom and Lois stalked to her desk. Her head was throbbing and she grabbed a bottle of aspirin from her desk drawer before heading to the water cooler.
"Nice nose ring," Perry said from behind her. She hadn't realized he was still in the newsroom. He chuckled as she plucked the ring from her nostril and dropped it into her coat pocket. He was still chuckling as she watched him head for the elevators.
She headed back to her desk only to see Clark hurrying down the stairs from the library. He had an open road guide in his hands.
"Oh, hi," he said, noticing her.
"Hi." She fell into step with him as they both headed to their desks.
"How's the Stoke lead going?" he asked.
"I was so close," she said. "Then I rammed myself right into a dead end." She flopped into her chair and unbuttoned her coat. She was still wearing the short black leather halter and short shorts. Stoke had stared down her front, making her feel dirty. Clark was studiously watching her face.
"Clark, I've lost something..." she began.
"Your fashion sense?" Clark responded with a brief nod to her outfit.
"My edge," she corrected. "When did it happen? Is it gone forever, like socks that go in the dryer but never come out?
"Lois, you're babbling."
"I know," she told him. "See? I never babble."
"Are you kidding?" Clark responded. He sounded amused. "You're a *brook*. But that's not the point. The point is you're the same reporter you've always been: dedicated, hard working, a little over the top sometimes... you could use a few more vacations, maybe a hobby, I don't know, even a *life*..."
She glared at him. Everything he was saying was true, but he didn't have to look so happy about it. "Is this leading anywhere?"
"You're the best reporter in the city, Lois," he said. He wasn't smiling now. "You always have been and you always will be."
Clark always knew exactly what she needed. "Awww. Thanks. You really are a good friend. I'm sorry I got so wound up over a stupid award."
'Not even an award, just a nomination," Clark reminded her.
"Exactly. How ridiculous," she agreed. "So, how's the Camden search going?"
He nodded to the open road guide on his desk. "I think I know where he is."
"We?" he repeated. He was watching her as she moved over to his desk to peer at the map.
"Echo Canyon, interesting..."
"What is this 'we' stuff?"
"Didn't you just say I was the best?" she asked putting on her most innocent expression.
"Well, yeah..." he admitted.
"And who do you want for a partner, the worst?"
"Well, no, but..."
Lois buttoned up her coat and grabbed her purse. "Look, do you want to sit here and quibble or get out there and tackle our story?"
The elevator doors opened and Jimmy walked in. His head was down and he looked upset but his expression cleared a little as he caught sight of her and Clark.
"How'd the bug work out?" he asked.
"All I got was static," she told him. Jimmy gave her a puzzled look.
"What kind of static?" he asked. "A schschsch noise or a whiney sort of noise?"
"A buzzing sort of whiney noise," she said.
A thoughtful look came into Jimmy's face. "AC hum? The receiver isn't supposed to sensitive to AC hum."
"But that's all I got," Lois told him. She shrugged and turned to head for the elevators.
"Uh, CK? Can I use your computer?" Jimmy asked.
"Sure, why?" Clark said. Lois stopped to listen.
"I wanted to write a few paragraphs up for Perry about that building coming down," Jimmy explained. "The cops and the fire department got the other buildings evacuated."
"Weren't the buildings supposed to be empty?" Lois asked.
"You know how it is. They were supposed to be, but they weren't. Some homeless people were living there," Jimmy said. "And it looks like there was at least one family living in the basement of the building the Sound Man took down. According to the people I talked to, they had a couple of little kids." Jimmy's eyes were bright with tears and his lower lip was trembling. "Guys? What sort of monster would bring down a building on top of little kids?"
"Just like you said, Jimmy," Clark said quietly. "A monster."
Two hours north of Metropolis lay the Kirby Mountains, a rough spur of the Adirondacks that stretched north through New England and into Canada. The Kirby Mountains were known for their wealth in coal as well as more precious minerals.
With Lois behind the wheel of her Cherokee, they had made the trip in under 90 minutes. They had turned off the highway half an hour ago and were now wending their way over rutted and unimproved paths that barely warranted the term 'road' despite what the map said.
"Camden had a friend from the hospital, Noami Valdes. She didn't speak English too well but she told me about a place he liked to go..." Clark explained. "Canyon Del Sonido..."
"Canyon of Sound?"
"Very good," Clark commented while mentally reminding himself that grabbing the door handle wasn't going to help against either Lois's driving or the condition of the road. "Anyway, Echo Canyon's famous for the way sound can bounce and carry for miles. It's a state park -- no houses, no camping -- but there's an old ranger station up here..."
Clark checked the map again. They were about a mile from where the map indicated the ranger's station was. Lois stopped the Jeep. The road ahead was impassable.
"I guess we're walking the rest of the way," Clark commented as he climbed out of the jeep. He ignored the dark look Lois shot him.
He also ignored her muttered imprecations as she stumbled through the underbrush behind him. She had refused to stop at her apartment to change clothes, wanting to get on the road as quickly as possible. Clark was reasonably certain she was now regretting that decision.
"Ow," she muttered as she stumbled against him once again. Clark stopped suddenly as he caught sight of the crumbling shack that must have been the abandoned ranger station.
"Sorry, does my ankle shattering annoy you?" Lois muttered.
"Not me. Him."
A man in ragged clothes and a wild-eyed look in his face had stepped out from the trees behind Lois.
"The guy with the gun," Clark said.
She whirled, stumbling back against Clark's chest, one flailing hand knocking his glasses awry. A gasp escaped as Lois caught sight of the gun the man had aimed at them.
"Are you my appointment in Samarra?" the man asked.
"What?" Lois asked, straightening up and moving away from Clark.
"Are you death come to visit me?"
"No, we're reporters," Clark said, keeping his voice low and calm. "And you're Doctor Camden, right?"
"You work for *him,*" Camden announced. "You're his assassins."
"Oh, for God's sake, if we were assassins, would we be this clumsy?" Lois asked sharply.
"She's got a point," Clark said, straightening his glasses. "Do you think we could go inside and talk?"
The inside of the shack was as dilapidated as the outside. There were signs on the walls and floor of roof leaks. The glass in the small windows had disappeared long ago. The only furnishings were a table with two chairs and a sleeping bag. A camp stove sat by the front door.
Clark took a moment to tell Camden about the attacks in the Metropolis. The man became more and more agitated as Clark spoke. Camden began pacing the floor, waving his gun around.
"He stole them," Camden was muttering. "Doctor Carlin said he would and she was right and he killed her. He stole from her, too -- all her dreams, her ideas."
"But Doctor Camden..." Lois began. Clark grabbed her hand to catch her attention. He shook his head at her. Camden was in no condition to hear the truth about Arianna Carlin.
"So, those sounds that put people to sleep and blow things up...?" Clark prompted.
"Here, all from *here*..." Camden said, pointing to his own head with the hand he held the gun in.
"Doctor, be careful..." Lois said, taking a step toward him, hand out to take the gun.
Camden whirled on her, aiming the gun in her direction. "Don't touch me."
Lois backed off. "Don't worry."
"Calm down," Clark said, stepping between Lois and Camden. "We're your friends."
Camden eyed him. "He used that word, too. What does that word mean? Friends? I used to know..."
"Stoke lied to you," Clark said. "He said he was your friend just to get you out of the hospital, then stole all your inventions, right?"
"No, my dreams! He stole my dreams and hers!" Camden shouted. "He wants to end my body and keep my dreams!"
"But Stoke *is* the Sound Man?" Lois asked.
"Thief, killer, destroyer..." he muttered, almost in tears. Clark doubted Camden even remembered that he and Lois were in the room with him.
"I'll take that as a yes. Ha! I knew it! I was right!" Lois exulted.
"We were both right," Clark reminded her, keeping his voice low.
"Doctor Camden, what about that frequency that kills people? Was that your dream, too?" Lois asked, more quietly this time.
Camden was shaking his head. "Never wanted to hurt, no hurting... theories, play, circles in the air... but not Lenny. Lenny has the power."
"What power?" Clark asked.
"The power, the power... it's all about power... doesn't work without power. Where's he getting the power? I never found the power. But Lenny... he found the power. He *stole* the power," Camden said, his words coming in disjointed gasps as he crouched in the corner of the room. "And he's coming... for me, for you, for everybody... and nothing can stop him. Not even Superman."
Lois was tired, annoyed, and her ankle hurt as she drove her jeep through the dawn streets of Metropolis. They had managed to get away from Camden. Hopefully he wouldn't do anything to hurt himself.
The news had announced that the Sound Man had made another extortion call to the mayor and had made more threats. He seemed to be laughing at them.
Clark wanted to call the police with what they had. She wanted more information.
"I agree," Lois was saying. "A tactical police team could infiltrate Stoke's place and pull his plug but come on, do we *really* have enough evidence to go to them?"
"Camden said..." Clark began. He was being obtuse.
"The Nutty Professor?" Lois scoffed. "Come on."
Clark sat back in the passenger seat. He looked as tired as she felt. "All right, what do you have in mind? Something reckless, dangerous? The kind of fly by the seat of your pants plan guaranteed to get you killed? Superman's not going to be flying in to the rescue, remember?"
"I remember," she assured him. She stopped the car across the street from Stoke's club. "But, since Jimmy's gizmo didn't work... how's your hearing these days?"
"Okay," Clark admitted. "But are you sure Jimmy's gizmo wasn't working?"
"All there was was static," she reminded him.
"Turn it on anyway," Clark suggested. He was eyeing the club across the street and she followed his look. In the morning light, the concrete building looked dark, foreboding -- even ominous.
She pulled the tiny receiver out of her coat pocket and turned the miniature knob on the front to turn it on. Then she fitted the ear piece into her ear.
"Hang on, I'm getting something..." she murmured in surprise.
"Are the speakers set?" Stoke was saying.
"Two more minutes..." another voice said. "... and City Hall will be ready to fall."
"Clark, what do we do...?" Lois asked. Things were spinning out of control.*Maybe I should have let Clark call the police.* At that moment, the tiny speaker in her ear began to screech. She jerked it away.
"That's AC hum," Clark commented.
"It means something?"
Clark nodded. "Camden said 'He stole the power.'" Lois watched as Clark lowered his glasses and his eyes went unfocussed -- or rather he was focussing on something she couldn't see. "Stoke's people have tapped into the city's main power lines. They're accessing the vault from the building's basement."
"So, if we could cut his power..."
"Exactly. We have to get into the club."
"But no Superman?" Lois asked as they climbed out of the car.
"Pity," Lois commented. "This kinda' looks like a job for Superman."
"Tell me about it."
Lois couldn't help put notice the glum note in his voice.
She tested the front door to the club. It was locked, naturally. Only fools, criminals, and farmers were up this early. She started pounding on the door with her fist while Clark stood out of sight.
After a long moment, the three female security guards appeared at the door. Lois had forgotten exactly how huge they were. The shortest one was six feet tall without heels.
"Hi. I just thought I'd give you girls a tip," Lois began chattily. "Lenny told me he really likes his women to be... well... how should I put this? Smaller than your average milk cow? So, if I were you, I'd either drop some poundage, or graze someplace else."
The three women glared at her.
"I'm sorry, should I be using smaller words...?" Lois continued brightly.
Clark watched in silent amazement as the first Amazon lunged at Lois who sidestepped, grabbed the woman's wrist and flipped her onto her back without breaking stride. He'd watched Lois practicing her Tae Kwon Do moves before, but it had never occurred to him exactly how proficient she really was.
The other two women came at her. She blocked, kicked and retreated, luring them away from the open door. He saw his chance and took it, slipping inside the building while the guards were otherwise occupied.
Clark hadn't tested his super-speed for several days. He tried it now and found that although he wasn't as fast as he had been before, he was much faster than a normal human. He sped through the backstage door and down the stairs into the basement.
The two men he'd seen with his x-ray vision were still standing over the power conduits, watching dials on the control console they had set up in the junction vault. The two men looked up as he stopped behind them. There wasn't time for niceties. He grabbed them and banged their heads together. He let go and they dropped to the floor, unconscious.
After a moment's consideration, he grabbed the cables feeding the console and yanked. They came free with a shower of sparks.
Overhead, he could hear Stoke swearing at the loss of power.
Clark took a quick look around and found a spool of electrical tape. He used it to secure the two men before heading back upstairs to see what was happening with Lois.
She was waiting just outside the door to Stoke's music room. There was a triumphant gleam in her eyes. "I called Inspector Henderson."
"Shall we?" Clark took hold of the door handle. It too was locked, but a quick twist of the handle opened the door. Clark slammed it open.
"Rude not to knock," Stoke said. He was sitting behind a complex console, the emergency lights casting eerie highlights into his face. He glared at Lois. "I guess the girls were right to not trust you."
"You're the one who needs to learn some manners," Lois told him.
Suddenly, the lights on the console came back on. Stoke grinned. "No, I think *you're* the one with a bit to learn. For instance, if you rely on power, always have a backup generator," Stoke told them. He indicated a tall cylindrical device set in the corner by the door. Lights played across gauges on the top.
"You're obviously not my usual fans," Stoke stated conversationally. "Who are you?"
"Lane and Kent, Daily Planet," Lois answered, hands on her hips. Clark stepped away from her, toward the generator.
The head Amazon ran into the room gun in hand. The woman took only a moment to assess the situation, turning her gun on Lois and gesturing for Clark to move away from the generator. Clark chose not to comply. The woman grimaced, taking her attention off of Lois for a fraction of a second.
That was enough for the smaller woman. A spin-kick knocked the gun out of the Amazon's hand, sending it flying. The Amazon reached for Lois, but Clark was there first. She tripped and went down hard as Lois and Stoke both dove for the gun.
Lois managed to get there first. She had the gun and rolled away from Stoke as she aimed for the generator. Four shots rang out and four neat holes appeared in the generator's control console. The room went dark again except for the emergency lighting.
Stoke charged at Lois, grabbing her wrist and pulling her towards his body. Despite her attempts to break free, he twisted the gun out of her hand and put it to her head.
Clark stepped forward. Lois shook her head, a slight move that someone else might have missed in the near dark. Her heart was racing.
Clark considered their options -- his speed was nearly back and x-ray vision was finally back as well. He had a suspicion that heat vision had returned but he hadn't had a chance to test it. He still felt heavy -- no levitation, no flying -- at least not yet.
He hoped Lois wasn't planning on doing something foolish. She wasn't invulnerable.
Stoke grinned at him. "Darling, please," Stoke murmured to Lois as he pulled back the hammer on the pistol. She froze, eyes wide with fear. Stoke pulled his free hand away from her and held it up, gloved palm outward. Clark hadn't had a chance to look at the gloves before. They were made of a chain-mail-like material and the gauntlets reached half-way up Stoke's forearm. Clark couldn't see what was hidden in the gloves -- there was lead in the mesh.
Stoke flexed his fingers and a strange, high-pitched warbling filled the room. The air around Lois and Stoke seemed to shiver like the air above a flame but there was no heat.
Clark reached out a hand to touch the air. He could see through it, but it felt solid.
"Surprise," Stoke said. He pushed Lois into the chair at the console. She sat down hard, glaring at Stoke. "As you can see, these gloves aren't just an affectation," Stoke continued. "Little something I dreamed up called the Wall of Sound. A sonic barrier so dense nothing can get through it, not even Superman. Pity he's dead. I'd love to have seen his face when he fell on his face trying. And there's no plug to pull -- independent power supply."
The Amazon had managed to climb to her feet.
"Get him out of here my dear," Stoke ordered. "Then get downstairs and hook us back into the city main..."
Clark didn't budge, even though the Amazon had grabbed his arm.
"You've got five seconds," Stoke warned. "Five, four, three, two..."
Clark allowed his shoulders to slump as the Amazon pulled him out of the room. Behind him, he could hear Lois murmuring, "No..."
"I know, darling, but really, you'll see," Stoke said as his chief security woman led Clark out. "I'm *much* more fun than your fuddy-duddy partner."
"Look, Lenny, this is..." Lois began.
"Oh, come on, you're not going to say something tiresome like, 'You can't possibly get away with this,' are you?"
"Well..." Lois admitted.
"Just keep those happy little greeting card thoughts to yourself, hmm?" Stoke ordered. He cracked his knuckles as he began pacing the area around the chair. The 'wall' moved with him but he stayed close enough to her that she stayed inside the barrier.
"You know, they never did find his body," Lois said with a calmness she didn't feel.
"What?" Stoke asked, giving her a puzzled look.
"Superman... They never found his body."
"Darling, your Pollyanna attitude is really getting quite tiresome."
Then, even the emergency lights went out.
The Amazon had closed the door to Stoke's 'music room' behind her, hiding her and Clark from Stoke's observation. The Amazon pulled Clark into the main room. The emergency lighting cast eerie shadows on the dance floor. He could hear activity outside and a quick look with x-ray vision confirmed that the police were surrounding the building. They had no idea they were now facing a hostage situation.
One of the other Amazons appeared, this one carrying a gun. "Take care of him," the first woman ordered, shoving him in the direction of her subordinate.
"You know he's not going to get away with this," Clark began.
The lead Amazon chuckled. "And who's gonna stop him? You, pretty boy?"
"Why not?" Clark asked. Both women started laughing.
The vast cavern of the main room went dark and he moved. Both women were unconscious on the ground before it could even register that he was no longer between them. Then he sped to the door of Stoke's control center. He could see the heat of Stoke's body and the odd pattern of energy coming off his gloves.
Lois was out of sight and Clark assumed she was behind the console. Stoke had his hands out as if searching for something. The gun was nowhere to be seen.
"Do you really think a little power outage will stop me?" Stoke yelled. The air in front of him still shivered. "You can't stop me!"
"Give it up, Stoke," Clark ordered. He had dropped his voice to Superman's lower registers, even though he wasn't wearing the 'suit'.
"Superman?" Stoke gasped. "You're dead!" Then Stoke screamed as Lois kicked him in the knee and grabbed at one of the gloves. The shimmer seemed to flicker a moment, then Stoke managed to shove Lois away from him. She bounced off the wall of sound and disappeared under the console again. The shimmer stabilized.
He could hear Lois breathing and she didn't sound hurt, but there was no way to say how long it would take for Stoke to find her. Clark knew he wasn't going to be able to simply power his way through the wall of sound. But... *I can see him and if I can see him*...
Within seconds, Stoke screamed again. Sparks flew from the metallic gloves and Stoke tore them off. The shimmer in the air died.
"Miss Lane, are you all right?" Clark asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Lois said, coming out from under the console. Stoke tried to grab her but Clark sped between them, staying out of reach of Stoke while guiding Lois away from him. Then Clark brought both fists down on the console. It shattered with a satisfying crack.
"Like I was saying," Lois said conversationally in the darkness. "They never found his body." Clark could see her grin, even if Stoke couldn't.
"But how...?" Stoke sputtered. "The wall...?"
"Simple," Clark said, still using Superman's voice. "Maybe matter couldn't get through your wall of sound, but light certainly could, and did. Lasers are synchronized light."
"You should know... I get air sick."
Clark and Lois were already out the door as police officers with flashlights fanned out through the building.
"Look on the bright side," a familiar voice said. It was Inspector Bill Henderson, MPD. He had a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other as he entered the ruin of Stoke's control room followed by two other officers.
"You won't be worrying about that for a very long time, Mister Stoke," Henderson added. "Did I forget to mention? You're under arrest... You have the right to remain silent..."
"Son, I'm as proud as a papa," Perry said as Lois and Clark came out of the press club building. Clark had won the coveted Metropolis Press Club's Kerth award for investigative journalism. Perry was beaming as he shook the younger man's hand.
"Not as proud as I am," Lois told their editor. She looked up at Clark, handsome in his tuxedo. "Your speech was great."
Perry gave her a surprised look. "Well, that's a nice little attitude adjustment. What brought that on?"
"I'm just... glad I have such a good partner," Lois told them. She grabbed Clark's arm as Alice White called her husband's name.
"Comin', honey!" he yelled back. He gave Lois a wink. "Every time Alice sees me in a monkey suit, she can't wait to get me home and tear it off. 'Night, you two." He hurried off to the limousine where his wife was waiting.
"I really am glad I have such a good partner," Lois said. "Especially one who does such a mean impersonation of Superman. You know Stoke is still swearing it was Superman who broke through his wall of sound."
"Well, it really helped that you let Henderson know what we found so Met Power could cut the power to that section of the grid. And it certainly didn't hurt that you managed to disarm him," Clark reminded her. "I don't know what we would have done if Stoke had gotten the power back."
"Luckily, we didn't have to find out," Lois said. "So, how did I rate as a date?"
"A-plus," Clark replied. He hefted the cut crystal sculpture in his hand and she knew he was wondering where she was leading.
"I hung on your arm decoratively?" she asked coyly.
"Absolutely," he agreed.
"And then just faded into the background during your big moment."
He started to chuckle. "You were beautiful, yet invisible."
Lois flashed him her brightest smile. "Make me go through another night like this and I'll rip out your spleen."
"Fair enough," Clark agreed. He studied his prize. "It's smaller than I thought."
"And not quite as shiny close up," she said. She shrugged. "You win a few of these, you find out they don't mean much. A quick rush, a few pats on the back, then you're back on the beat, only as good as your next story."
"I suppose that's true," Clark said. They were approaching her car. "But at least the dinner wasn't too bad."
"Very true," Lois said. "They did a better job than usual. And the dancing wasn't bad either."
She watched as a mischievous grin lit Clark's face. He looked around then took her in his arms, dancing to a tune only he could hear. "That wasn't dancing, Lois," he said softly. "*This* is dancing." She looked away from his face and realized they were no longer on the ground. They were flying.
"Superman is back."