Dawning III, or Some Days in the Life…

by Debby Stark [Debby@swcp.com]

March 1, 1995

Summary: Rumors fly around the Daily Planet about Lois and Clark's relationship. Clark does some babysitting, and Lois gets a notice about a meeting to discuss the condition of her apartment building after the Slime Monster attack.

This continues the story started in Dawning and continued in Dawning II. If you missed either of those, ask me or majordomo@vger.rutgers.edu for them. All recognizable characters mentioned below are the property of their respective owners, but most of the ideas are mine, *all mine!*


"She rose with the majestic, pale, silent, inexorable speed of boiling milk."

- Ursula Wyndham

Nah, Clark Kent thought when he overheard Misi D'Ore, the Daily Planet's poet laureate, comment from way across the newsroom about Lois Lane's entrance. No, not Lois, never in a million years, and then not unless it was for a big story guaranteed a Kerth at minimum and a good shot at a Pulitzer, and *definitely* not if she had to worry about sauce pans of overheated milk…

Lois, at least an hour late, was emerging from the elevator. She left in her wake some poor, sweat-soaked account exec cowering in a corner, praying the doors would close before that woman turned back to give him what-for some more.

"The *nerve* of some people!" she announced to no one in parti- cular, though of course everyone in the newsroom zeroed in on the statement and made it a point not to crack a smile within a mile radius. If she was aware of their attention, she gave no clue.

Clark then became acutely aware that a major portion of those very people were easing about secretly and glancing in his direction. Each one was expecting some reaction from him to Lois's return after a long weekend that had her anywhere from Geneva, Switzerland to the Australian outback and points in between, none of those points, so far as he had heard and to his immense relief, the right one. It seemed no one had heard or, more likely, believed what she had babbled on delightedly about before leaving on Friday.

And here now they expected him to be *less* circumspect in his reaction than they were, considering his long-time, even record survival as her working partner?

He never thought he'd have to admit that there were drawbacks to the Planet's newsroom crew being like one big family, a family that, unlike his happy little Kent family, seemed at times to thrive on rumor, innuendo, and the occasional bloodletting among its own. Look what they had said about Jack when he'd gotten the scholarship to the Sorbonne. No one (but Clark) had entertained any thoughts of the street kid being such a talented artist once personal survival had become less of an issue for him and his brother. Even after Jack's triumph had become a front-page spread in a Sunday "Youth in Transition" section many had reacted with pure disbelief.

"Oh, they're all jealous," Lois had said and let it go, just like that. Sometimes--no, often, actually, particularly since her New Year's resolution--it seemed to Clark that she had all her ducks in a row and could breezily deal with every emergency in the world. She'd been calmer and yet sharper and even nicer in the last eight or nine months than the whole four years he had known her, and that was so promising.

Then there were the other times, as his father might quip, she was as irrational as mouse selling catnip and pissed that she wasn't getting any customers.

And how had absolutely *everyone* discovered out that Lois had spent Wednesday and Thursday nights at his place last week? It wasn't like they'd *done* anything, hardly, but people were always imagining the wildest scenarios, and most of those same people (the vocal male contingent, anyhow) were cheering him on to some unspecified but strongly hinted at victory. Were the women in the newsroom giving Lois their opinions? Were they saying the same kind of things? Would she have listened anyhow?

Then Cat Grant, lately commuting between London, Paris and Rome covering the gala parties and fashion shows and the wealthy who frequented them, had discovered the sordid truth. She called him, she said, specially. "Set the date yet?"

"Date for what?"

"You don't have to play innocent with me, Sugar, this is *Cat* you're talking to, remember?"

"I thought I recognized your voice."

"Clark, you spent two wonderful nights with the woman of your… dreams, does that ring a few cathedral bells for you?"

"Oh, that. Nothing happened, *nothing*. She needed a place to stay, that's all, and I do mean *all*."


He'd rolled his eyes. "Cat--"

"I knew you weren't saving yourself for *me*--"


"Need some pointers on what drives women wild?"


"I didn't *think* so, Tiger!"

"Nice to hear from you, Cat--goodbye!" and he'd transferred her to Perry's clerk Laurie (who could sort what wheat there was from the silo load of chaff) because he couldn't bring himself to make up an extension number to which to send the gutsy woman.

Good grief. Before there could be any thought of an engagement, of all things, there had to be an actual *relationship* going on between Lois and himself, and none of this dicey up and down do-we, don't-we, are-we aren't-we stuff.

While things had looked quite promising on Friday before noon-- the last time Clark had seen Lois--the more he had thought about it since, in the harsh light of a busy day, the harsher fluorescent light of evening in the quiet newsroom, and the subdued light of his startlingly inert apartment, the less likely it seemed one of those delicate things would ever get off the ground.

Lois had been under a lot of stress, what with her independence yanked out from under her because she'd been unable to seek refuge in her home and was forced to accept his hospitality. Add to it the worry about her fish and, to top that, the sheer size of what had happened to Metropolis on Wednesday and the insatiable need she always felt to cover every aspect of a story. So she simply hadn't been herself.

Besides, she always got romantic, even passionate under stress, a way to distract herself, he figured, to let off excess energy while her logical mind was elsewhere. Even the phone call Sunday evening didn't count because she was after all experiencing the stress of being a guest in a far-away place, and he couldn't imagine her getting much rest despite her claim that the sounds of the country- side were relaxing. It had been nice to talk to her though, and she had sounded upbeat for the most part. He was glad now that his mom had divined his real reason for calling and shoved him into talking to Lois. His folks hadn't had to come to his rescue in a long time; it was a good thing his mom hadn't forgotten how.

Now he figured that if any of Lois's unusual feelings toward him remained after she was settled in again and back to normal, then that might be something to work on. After all, there were the improvements she had made in her outlook and approach to life to take into consi- deration, she couldn't just lose all that. It was something that had built up slowly, bit by bit, and somehow it seemed to have a lasting quality. It wasn't a one-note type of thing, like the several long, long months after the Diana Stride affair during which Lois had spent her spare time trying to "prove you're Superman, Clark!" as she'd put it after a particularly rough night staking out the overwhelmingly fragrant MetroChoc Candy Factory Warehouse and capturing there a malignant marzipan magnate.

Eventually, unsuccessful in her pursuit, she had lost interest and had started treating him like a normal person again, which could range from utterly ignoring him to depending on him for her very life. If only she'd grabbed him when he'd been in the suit and declared "Watch out, big fellow, I'm going to prove you're Clark!" That would have been okay, even meaningful. Actually, he wondered why she hadn't seen through his innocent-as-a-newborn-(though extremely powerful)-lamb expression every time she had dropped hints that she was after him, through Clark this time as well as directly.

But she had gone at it all the wrong way. Had she taken the better route, he might have considered helping her since they had been running neck-and-neck in the who-saves-whose-life-this-time race, and he wouldn't have had to say, under pressure, "Yes, Lois, I'm secretly Bicycle Repairman, but the world must never know!" Unfortunately, she hadn't gotten the joke. She seemed to be one of those who thought Superman had no time for or was perhaps too noble to have a sense of humor.

She had pursued her quest in a pragmatic, businesslike manner, with the occasional look in her eye that said she dearly wanted to rip off his clothing and expose him--and not for more pleasurable pursuits (otherwise, he thought, he might have encouraged her). That as much as Stride's discoveries had prompted Clark to experiment with hyperspace as a place to hide things.

Lois had controlled herself though, and had not, as far as he had been able to discover, even started composing the story of her world- shattering discovery (a story that would shatter Clark's world, anyway), if only because it was just too easy to break into her computer. Not that he really thought she'd write it up: she had kept it between him and herself, not letting on even to Perry that she was working on it. (Clark didn't think Perry had caught on, but one never knew what or how much that man was privy to.) She'd probably planned to spring her final proof on Clark and then to accuse him of not trusting her enough to tell her and all that, how *could* he, what kind of man was he--and don't say Kryptonian!--and when did he plan to get around to actually *telling* her, anyway, huh? When they were both decrepid, toothless and drooling pablum in the Old Reporters Rest Home, was *that* when?

Ah, no…

All in all a real turn off in the l'affaire de coeur department.

The only positive aspect of the whole uncomfortable interlude had been, as his mother had put it, to force Clark to clean up his act and, his father had added, since Clark couldn't bring himself to take charge of the situation, at least he'd learned to stay out of Lois's way until she wound down.

Here and now though, if she could get back on that smooth level she'd been coasting upward on for all this time since New Years, that would be terrific. It could even be the signal he needed to act upon. Once things hit that right point--and he was pretty sure he'd know what point that was, he'd feel it or something (and not depend on the widely varying opinions of his "friends," for example)--he'd formulate a strategy which would probably include a truly romantic candlelit surprise dinner at his place (because she didn't need the stress of cooking). During that, or perhaps after it, he would lay it all out and have serious talk with her about the suit, the danger, everything. Then she could consider it for a time and come to some meaningful, quite possibly positive conclusion about their future together.

"Clarkent thinks too much," he'd muttered to himself in Mandarin at about then, but still it felt good to have resolved this much. The last time he'd seen the chance to tell her The Truth had been back in June. Lois had gotten all teary eyed at the wedding of a mutual friend and she had been particularly close to and confidential with him throughout the morning without being under any particular personal stress at all. That seemed to indicate that she had some deep feelings for him and he had revelled in the idea, thrown caution to the wind, and asked her out to dinner that evening. *And* she had accepted!

But then, late in the afternoon, just as they were about to go on their first real, honest-to-God date that no one back at the office knew anything about, they heard over her jeep radio that Metallo VI had turned up in Metropolis City Plaza and started making a mess of things. They had mutually agreed to postpone dinner to check out the new menace which, as it turned out, had only been stopped after Jimmy's friend Tad spilled a Coke on the powerful villain. That was how Clark had discovered that the latest lab-coated Frankensteins, following in martyr Rolly Vale's footsteps, had forgotten to Scotch- guard their creation. Superman had hosed down the pitiable mechanism and employed Jimmy and Tad to recover the Kryptonite powering it (though only a small amount, indicating that the scientists were able to get more out of less). But by then the momentum in Clark's emotional interactions with Lois had been lost because she had rushed away to file the story. It hadn't been a total loss: he had done a bit of research and provided some critical background information; she had shared the byline; and they had shared locally obtained Chinese takeout yet again.

Now, with fond memories of Thursday's and Friday's near intimacy with her to spur him on, and with the reasonable possibility she might be receptive in a realistic manner, he felt almost ready again for that in depth discussion.

But, as Lois stalked toward her desk, which was also in his direction, Clark didn't see the chance for that occurring any time soon, like maybe not in this lifetime, despite how he felt about it. And somehow that was a rather comforting thought. He was, he told himself, getting used to being a bachelor.

She yanked open her desk drawer, threw her purse in, and kick- slammed the drawer shut. She frowned at her desk, saw her mail, grabbed up part of it to sort through, and began mumbling: "Junk, advertisement, news release, junk, invitation, Ed McMahon, news release--Damn! Paper cut!"

Clark took another three nanoseconds, this time to ponder his approach, decided to get it over with, and sat back so he could be more easily seen. "Good morning?"

She looked up, focused on him… and seemed to lighten up a bit. "Oh, good morning, Clark. Actually, it hasn't been very good, but it's nice to see you. I'm glad we got to talk last night, when I was in a better mood…"

Wow, he thought, she was noticing her own mood (like she might have, say, two weeks ago) and how it was less than the "splendid!" she always proclaimed it to be during even the most trying of situations.

The night before she had called around "to all his favorite haunts," as she had put it, which, when he thought about it, meant home, work, and Smallville that she'd know about, so she'd probably made at most only two calls. She had found him here in the newsroom, working his current story to a standstill. But they hadn't been able to talk for more than a few moments. As the conversation had begun, he had overheard someone mention a just-in wire report about a sniper menacing a church social function in Cleveland and he realized he had to try to help out. While that had ultimately turned out all right, with no one but the gunman getting hurt (he shot himself in his own foot) and all the children having had the times of their lives, it had meant Clark had had to cut the conversation short with some admittedly flimsy excuse when he would have preferred to hear more about her adventures in Smallville.

Yet, she hadn't seemed upset, saying something about feeding Maxine and then getting her beauty sleep. He had almost warned about the feeding but didn't, hoping instead she'd see the detailed instructions he'd left taped to the front of the tank. Besides, she'd probably hesitate to touch freeze-dried brine shrimp, maybe asking him to visit and show her how. Later, while flying back from Cleve- land and thinking over the short conversation from its beginning to its hasty end, he congratulated himself on the inspiration to have said off-handedly that she wouldn't need much sleep at all if it was beauty she was after. He could hear that had tickled her, and he could easily imagine her smile.

So maybe, if she remembered being tickled, he could claim permission to help her vent some of her current anger, whatever its reason, and cool off. "Something go wrong?"

"A little more than 'something.' Everything was just fine until I woke up this morning. There was no water. The phone lines were acting up, too, when I tried to call the building manager, and my cell phone's battery was dead and it's a new battery." She reopened her drawer, pawed though her purse, and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I found this on my door when I left, it may have something to do with the water and the phone lines."

He glanced over the paper. It was a hand-written, photocopied announcement of a tenants' meeting scheduled for Wednesday night to be held in the courtyard of the apartment building. He wondered why they weren't having it in the auditorium she had once mentioned was in the basement and that he'd seen in his Thursday scan of the building for structural damage. "So this makes you suspicious?"

"The building is fine, I'm sure of it. You said--even *you* said it looked fine."

Well, there was that. "It looked fine structurally, it wasn't leaning over and there were no big cracks running down the walls…"

"I don't think there are any cracks inside, either, or anything else wrong with that building that a little soap and water won't take care of. So either management's giving us a warning not to go to this meeting--and they're not letting us have the auditorium, they say it was 'damaged,' ha!--or things were a lot worse over the weekend than I heard about--which I doubt. And here it could rain and there we'd be, stuck outside, and I'm not going to invite all those people up to *my* apartment…"

"So you're going?"

"Of course! Well, it's true I haven't been that interested in my neighbors, I haven't been home that much, but this is the first time a monster's tentacle has ever landed on a place where I lived and I should be investigating all the ramifications. Besides, I want to give certain people a piece of my mind."

He could imagine, then wished he hadn't. "Well, the water worked fine over the weekend and on Monday morning." "Look at the date and time on that memo. I think the tenants' association board of directors decided on all this last night then got the memo out. Management got wind of it and--wham! At least I had a nice shower when I got home yesterday evening--and Maxine's tank looks great, you did a lot better than the guys who set it up. I want to know why you put in that frilly green plant, and where you got that ceramic frog wearing a chef's hat and holding that frying pan like it wants to eat my fish, and what the heck brine shrimp is and is it as icky as it sounds. We'll have to talk about it later. But if you ever quit being a reporter, there's the job for you: fish tank interior decorating."

"I'll ask you for a letter of recommendation."

"Any time. So, anyway, the water was out and the phone, and I decided I couldn't trust the elevator, so I got my exercise for today walking down the stairs, avoiding bags of trash the cleaning service didn't pick up because I heard they were let go. Then I didn't want to leave my Jeep there because the parking structure really was damaged, so I drove in and the traffic was awful, as usual, so I'm late, and *then*," she sighed, winding up to the final insult, "somebody took my parking space!"

"The guy in the elevator?"

She glanced toward the foyer and then back at him. Oh, yes, there was no direct line of sight, and it would have taken someone with really good hearing to have caught her heated, one-sided "talk" with that poor fellow.

But she'd probably think he had been standing up and seen her enter and she just hadn't noticed him, which wasn't unusual. If she wondered if and how he had overheard her, she'd probably also think she had been shouting in the elevator because she often did so. He therefore didn't count this as one of those unfortunate slips of the tongue that would make her suspicious and start that awful Search for Superman mess again.

She said, "Ah, no, but he said he knew the woman whose car it was, so… Well, the day can only head up from here. Did you bring back my Circus files?"

"Under your desk. I cross referenced them for you. You have a lot of material but it's all…" how to put this politely… "disjointed. It's not so much any more now."

"Oh, good, thanks. I hope it didn't take you long."

"No, not at all." Three minutes, and in there somewhere he'd paused to take a drink of soda and change TV channels with the remote.

"I would have done it myself, but…" She looked up, toward Perry White's office. Clark swiveled in his chair to see their editor motion at both of them to come see him. "It's assignment time. Darn, I wish I hadn't missed the budget meeting this morning…"

"I'm working on something, maybe he'll assign you to help me," and Clark smiled at the idea of that turnabout--one that it occurred to him suddenly he didn't want to come true: he was enjoying working alone on the story.

She gave him a gentle "Yeah, right, some year. I've only been away to the most quiet place in the world for a few days, not a few decades, so there's nothing to catch up on. Of course, if you need help because you've run out of leads…"

"Me, Ms. Bigtop Peewee?"

"You, Mr. Boring *Borneo Gazette*, and I know all about that now, you can't pull anything over on *me*."

"I guess not." So his mother had let her read his expurgated scrap books, which were, after all, right there in the bookcase in his old room. But her seeing them was okay, particularly if she'd enjoyed what she'd read. And hadn't fallen asleep. More than two or three times.

As they approached Perry's office and Clark sensed they were far enough away from the nearest ears, in almost a zone of silence, he whispered, "Lois?"


"If your apartment managers give you any trouble, you know I'll help you, you know where you can crash…"

The warm, personal little smile that grew on her face brightened up the entire day. Heck, the whole week looked fine suddenly. And, rather than deny she would require any form of help, she said closely and with a twinkle, "I hoped you'd say that…"

He began to wonder if he twinkled, too, upon hearing that; it felt like he was. "Consider it said."

She nodded and apparently felt no urge to top him with the final word or any qualifications. Wow.

When the two reporters were in his office and the door was closed, Perry handed Clark a raggedly-torn half-sheet of lined yellow notepad paper. "Memorize that name. That person, whose name I don't think is real because it could be a she because she or he was disguising his or her voice--hell, it could have been a child, there was someone whispering in the background--whoever it was asked to talk to you about Sunday morning's fire at City Hall, probably because you wrote it up."

Clark looked at the unisex name with the Mr. in front of it and handed the paper back. "Maybe I should make note of this, too, Chief…"

"City Hall?" Lois asked.

"All right, all right, so it's an easy name, but I get so much information in here I could have lost it, so" gently but firmly, "no wise cracks from *you*."

"No, sir, especially if it's the break I need, what with the fire investigator's report still being written, if it's even that far along."

"Don't get your hopes up, you know these things don't always pan out." Perry glanced at the paper again, perhaps deciphering the other scribbles on it that Clark hadn't known how to read, and then he stuck the paper into the shredder. "Your contact expects you at Mama Mia's Bar and Grill down on Washington Avenue at 10 a.m. sharp. You know where that is? Good. He… or she will be wearing a red plaid shirt and a blue jacket with a Lexco Gas Station emblem on the back. He or she will expect to see only you, but take Lois with you anyhow and fill her in on the way."

"Well, Perry, I think Clark's source would sort of *notice* me tagging along, and I'm sure I can find my own angle on whatever's happening at City Hall--"

"Lois, Clark's on to something that could, with a little more work, turn out to be big and he'll be needing your experience."

Huh? After he had worked all weekend on it already, his research stalled at the moment because he couldn't get into most government offices until today, when they were officially open again--and all this *without* her pointing out everything she was sure could be done better, faster, sneakier? A brilliant thought occurred to him. "Actually, Chief…"

Perry gave him his long-practiced "I'm trying to *help* you, son" look.

Clark ignored it. "I think she should be talking to Raul."

"Raul?" Now Lois was confused. "What's Raul got to do with City Hall?"

Perry knew as well as Clark did that Lois being in a confused state of mind was not good for anyone's mental health. "Nothing," he said quickly and then explained, "Raul's looking into landlords gouging tenants in the barrio after the Slime Monster damage."

"But *I* don't live in El Rinconcito--and what is this with City Hall, as in *City Council,* as in *Councilor Smith*, hmmm?"

Clark said, "I haven't found any connection between Smith and what I'm looking into, but Raul will be interested in your story because you may be experiencing some landlord harassment."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Lois, I thought your building survived that tentacle falling on it."

"Oh, it did, Perry, as far as I'm concerned. You can't even smell it any more. But I've heard rumors that the rent's going up and they're going to do some rebuilding and they want to throw a scare into us. It's nothing new."

"But Clark's right, it *is* news. You go talk to Raul for a few minutes and Clark can go see his source on his own," and he picked up his phone to alert Raul Velasquez. "I'll tell him you'll meet him at his desk."

"Okay, okay…" She got up as Clark did and turned to him, just missing seeing him sigh with relief. "Clark, really, what gives with this City Council thing?"

"City Hall, *not* City Council." He glanced at his watch for effect because he knew it was 8:29. Not much time to get to Mama Mia's considering he'd have to take a bus because he'd never be able catch a cab at this time of morning and there was probably too much traffic to fly and hope to get away unseen. It wasn't an emergency anyhow and he liked bus travel and taking the opportunity to talk to people. He had gotten several interesting stories that way. "I'll tell you about it later," perhaps sometime after the Kerth award ceremony. "Oh, and do you have my key with you?"

She blinked. "Your key?"

Perry looked up at that, too.

Clark suddenly had an inkling about where some of the past four days' worth of rumors had gotten their start. He opened the office door and indicated that Lois should be moving right through it ahead of him, now. Fortunately, she caught on without having to be coaxed physically, and as she passed him, he whispered, "I need my apartment key."

Her attitude, which the promise of work had helped inflate to at least semiboyancy, seemed to falter. "Your key." Her demeanor suddenly became distant and she avoided looking at him. "You want your key back…" she said carefully under her breath, but she gave every indication of wanting to kick something or someone and growl ferociously while doing it. Miraculously she contained herself as she then charged across the newsroom floor, just avoiding running into Jimmy, and attacked and ripped that drawer open yet again.

Now what? Clark thought; I wish she'd slow down…

She pulled out her key ring, found the key in question, worked it off, and held it out to Clark as he caught up. She said quietly, coolly: "Your key, *sir*…" and she dropped it into his hand without touching him.

Maybe… he was reading too much into this, he told himself. Just because he was surprised at her sudden change in attitude upon his simple request, it didn't mean there was actually anything to under- stand about it. After all, she frequently surprised him. She was probably still upset about all the irritating things that had happened to her already this morning, and then hearing nothing new about the Circus in his City Hall story hadn't helped any.

Yeah, that was it.

He hoped. "Thanks."

He quickly fit the key on his own key ring. Now he had five keys: besides his own was the one to his folks' house, the one to a back entry into the Planet Building, a joke rubber key to the executive men's room at Lexcorp corporate offices, and the last a mystery key he hadn't brought himself to get rid of yet.

A glance told him several heads had turned in their direction and were snapping away again. Three (not counting Perry), meaning probably only five people had heard anything and that it would have turned into no less than eight different stories by the time he returned, but that was the news biz.

"What about mine?" she whispered pointedly, regaining his attention. "Do you have mine with you?"

"No, they're at my place," in the kitchen behind the refrigerator on that big strong nail, where he had put them after checking on Maxine Monday morning before work.

"Then you can get them for me at lunch, can't you?"

That wasn't a question but a demand, and he had better expect no explanation because he should obviously understand her rising anger. Well, they were her keys, he understood that much. "Sure, no problem."

He noticed then that Raul Velasquez was approaching. Raul was a handsome young intern new to the Daily Planet . He looked eager to get to work and hadn't wanted to wait for Lois to come to him. Good luck, Clark thought. He smiled at the man and they shook hands briefly. "Buenos, muy buenos…"

"Your Spanish is getting better every day, Clark. Am I going to get to interview you, too?"

"No, not this time, I have to go. Bye, Lois."

She didn't reply but just gave him a narrow, definitely disappointed look that she then forced into a smile for Raul.

Maybe it was something in the water, Clark thought as he pulled on his jacket and headed for the elevator. Even though Smallville's aquifer was threatened (and he was working on a way to alleviate that), the water there was a lot better than what Metropolis had to offer, and here Lois had been drinking big city water most of her life…

Mama Mia's Bar and Grill was dark, cool and practically uninhabited as he entered the front door at 8:58. His eyes adjusted instantly, and he saw imitation stucco walls decorated by dusty plastic grape vines and faded posters promising pristine beaches and uncrowded tourist attractions in the old country that the Korean waitress who greeted him probably knew nothing about. He told her he was waiting for someone; she nodded and left him alone, though from a distance kept an eye on him in case he needed assistance.

He looked over the immediate area (the "bar and grill") for anyone wearing the telltale clothing. No one here, male or female, fit the description. There were only four people, though: two were customers who had their backs to him; the third was the barkeeper who was watching him expectantly, and the fourth was the waitress waiting for him to make up his mind. He did see the right color of jacket hanging on a coat rack there near the entrance, but that didn't help.

He noticed the place actually had a dining room, so he took a quick look through the entry way to it, but he saw only a sleepy waiter slowly setting the tables in preparation for the lunch crowd that couldn't be expected for another hour or so. He heard the sounds of people shouting over rushing, steamy water and pans clattering from the kitchen in the back of the establishment, and he caught the scent of garlic and tomatoes. He told himself he'd have to come back for lunch some time. Maybe Lois would be interested, if she decided to talk to him ever again (he thought now that she was in one of those kind of snits). Fortunately, he told himself, he was too busy to worry about all that other than entertaining the brief thought that she was, at least, returning to a kind of "normal" he knew how to deal with: hands off and from a distance when possible.

But there was still no sign of the person who wanted to contact a Daily Planet reporter, him specifically. Well, he thought, he'd chased down plenty of false leads in his time, a whole lot of them personal…

A thirty-something black woman dressed in a dark skirt and business-like long-sleeved white blouse approached the bar and asked for a refill of her cherry Coke. She then turned and looked at him. "Clark." "Mrs. Farber?" He couldn't quite believe it was her, Jonesabeth "Jonesy" Farber, but that could explain the "Jones" name Perry had been asked to pass on. More than a coincidence? An obscure clue? "What are you doing here?" This woman was a down-the-street neighbor who had two children to raise on her own and for whom he had babysat several times. He knew she had a full-time job, but not where, he had never thought to ask. City Hall? "Unless you were supposed to be wearing plaid…"

"I was, but I wanted to see if they'd send you since I asked them to. If they didn't or couldn't, I wanted to see that whoever they sent looked okay and didn't have unexpected 'friends' following them."

Hmm, she assumed he wouldn't have let that happen. Good for her-- and good thing he'd suggested something else for Lois to do. "You think you're in danger?"

"No, not really, but I am going outside of regular channels and it makes me a little nervous. Get something to drink and come sit with me."

He ordered a ginger ale, told the barkeeper that leaving it in the can was fine, and then he sat down across from her in her booth, well away from the bar and the restaurant's only other patron. She asked, somewhat wary but not nervous that he could tell, if he was going to take any notes. He told her he usually relied on his memory.

"No hidden tape recorder?"

"They make terrible recordings," he told her.

"Well, that's true," she nodded. "I've had to transcribe tapes made from them."

"So you're in a clerical position at City Hall?"

No, she was an office manager there, in Administration, a division that oversaw just about every other department. She dropped the kids off at daycare early, went to work, left late, picked up the kids again, and still managed to make a home. He nodded, remembering on occasion having seen her leave and return and he knew how well behaved her children were, even the three year old.

He eased her on to the topic at hand and she explained that she hadn't been in the building on Sunday morning to see the fire start or be put out. He said he had arrived on the scene as the fire- fighters were mopping up (he had determined earlier that the fire hadn't been big or dangerous enough to help out with in the suit; besides, the fabric his mom was using lately seemed to soak up smoke and its smell). He had directed Jimmy to take dozens of pictures, many of them close up and full of detail, because his intuition said it would be a good idea and, besides, the young man had enjoyed politely poking his way in among the sleepy fire investigators once Clark had set the example.

Jonesy went on to say that she had witnessed a lot of the earlier repair work performed by the contractors. She had even been nearby when the original damage had been done by a sliver of crystalline Slime Monster claw material piercing the roof of the low-slung eastern wing of City Hall and jamming down three stories nearly to the basement.

"They were supposed to have evacuated that building," Clark said, just managing to keep his alarm to himself. "Everyone in the downtown area was warned out of there because the monster seemed to want to snack on the marble…"

"Well, it did look like it had a calcium deficiency," she smiled. "And we did evacuate, I was just one of the last people out. *Some- body* had to turn off the computers properly. But no one got hurt and it *was* exciting, I told my kids all about it. They wanted to know if I got Superman's autograph, as though he had time for that kind of thing."

"Ah, I can get one for them, I know him."

"I know you do, but don't worry about it, there's no hurry, they're more interested in the Power Rangers at the moment."

"Oh. I thought those actors had hit puberty and retired…"

"I wish! They hired new ones and added Power Dog and Power Horse or whatever they're called, and Vanessa is entranced and Cody's had to tell her all about the original cast members… I'd *rather* they were interested in Superman. Those commercials he's in encouraging kids to read are good--you know the one where he's flying along and sees that big boat floating away and he looks puzzled and he goes to the library to read a book on knot tying so he can tie the ship up to the harbor properly?"

"I've seen it." It had been his idea to hold up the library card for the camera and say "Don't leave home without it," though there had been some argument about that being a copyrighted phrase and should he use it or could they get away with it due to the nonprofit subject matter. He argued it was funnier than what they had scripted, and, anyway, as always, he had final script approval and he'd refused to say "*I* can read at superspeed but you don't need to" because it sounded negative. Now he just hoped there were plenty of books about ropes and knots in Metropolis libraries.

"Cody wants to go to the library all the time now, except he only wants to read about the Power Rangers."

"At least he's reading. Well, I know that Singher Construction did that particular repair work on City Hall…"

"That's right. Do you know how much damage to the building there actually was?"

"That hasn't been released to the media yet, but I suppose there hasn't been much time to gather that information."

"Oh, there's been plenty of time! Risk Assessment's frightened of employees faking injuries so they demanded we close down parts of the building longer than we had to while they did a survey, and yesterday they were scared out of their wits. They didn't even want to open us up today but they had to because people need our services. Then Finance and Budget and all those fellows are sitting on their thumbs because they spent that money off budget on redundant office furniture earlier this year. I can get you all kinds of information; you'd be surprised what passes over my desk on the way to the file cabinets and the computers. You'll probably want contractor invoices and progress reports, that kind of thing."

Clark smiled. "I do, to check some things. Photocopies would be fine, and it sounds like you know what's pertinent. As long as you don't feel you'll get in any trouble for doing this…"

"No, the more I think of it, the more I realize how easy it will be. It's technically all a matter of public record and I'm just helping it move along a little faster than it might."

"I'll say. But let me know if you feel any kind of threat."

She gave him a motherly look, though she was only a year or two older than he. "Now *you* stop worrying, Clark."

"It comes with the territory. You wouldn't happen to want a job at the Daily Planet, would you? Your sources are looking better than mine."

"No, honey, I don't think a job there wouldn't pay me as well as the one I have now, or give me as good a benefits package."

That was probably so.

She went on to tell him her impressions of the Bob Singher Construction Company, which had won several of the "instant purchase orders" to do on-the-spot repair work so City Hall and other govern- ment buildings could open for business again first thing Monday morning, though the fire Sunday morning and other problems had put crimps in those optimistic plans. The fire had occurred in one of the bigger repair jobs on which BSCC had worked, in the electrical conduits under the second floor. "Interesting, hmmm?"

"Very interesting." Clark already knew that BSCC had been all over the city, stepping in with some of the lowest bids on all kinds of work, from cleaning HVAC systems of slime to erecting walls and pouring concrete to rewiring and testing. They had made promises of the fastest work available--and were apparently providing it. But the quality of the work was another question, one for which Clark hadn't been able to come up with enough specifics about to give weight to his suspicions until now.

When he had first caught wind of their activities Friday afternoon, there in what he could access of City Hall while looking for Counselor Smith on Lois's behalf, some sixth sense told him there was something a little odd about the whole instant repair thing. It wasn't that City Hall couldn't have been caught in a fraud, it happened all the time and still was worth writing up. It just seemed there was more to be hunted down about the story and particularly Singher Construction.

He was, he had to admit, less certain about his hunch on this than Lois was about the nebulous Circus from the Stars, but his story had the advantage of being more down to earth and believable. Too, there were several other companies winning instant contracts, particularly Brinx All-Weather Construction and ZoomRay's Building Contractors, but BSCC was winning a larger number of the bids and was the only one he had such suspicions about.

They talked for about an hour, with him skillfully coaxing her to remember a good number of details. She repeated her promise to get that material and told him that he shouldn't worry about how she decided to deliver it to him. He said he wouldn't, as long as she didn't plan to have Cody or anyone else under age do the leg work. If an impasse occurred, he said, he could send Jimmy to collect it or, more likely, come himself.

"No, don't do that. I'll tell you what: can you come over and sit tomorrow night? I was thinking of asking you anyway because I could use a night off. I can pay you with a lot of paper…"

He generally didn't accept any payment from her, insisting that if she wanted to part with the money she should put it in the kids' college funds. Sitting wasn't a chore anyhow. He took some books to read or maybe his computer, made popcorn with the kids if it was a weekend afternoon or Friday or Saturday night that he didn't have to work, and watched TV until their bed times, which was early on school nights for Cody. The rest of the evening was usually peaceful since he didn't turn on any media sources that would alert him to some problem he'd worry about not being able to attend to. He told himself he could also use a night like that about now. "You've got a deal. If something comes up and I can't do it, I'll leave a message on your machine."

She understood that, probably chalking it up more to his job than the possibility of his being a lusty young guy with other things on his mind, and agreed to the terms. She had some suggestions about their parting ways, and now he could be the agreeable one. She left the bar first and then, five minutes later, he paid the small tab and left as well.

But he didn't get in a car or catch a taxi or the bus. Instead he slipped into the nearest convenient alleyway, and in a twinkling plucked the suit out of 2.5 seconds into the future, changed, stuffed his regular clothing into that same 2.5-second leeway, and took off, fast and virtually invisible until he was safe at about 2,000 feet and could begin to do a bit of daily patrolling. He had a plan for continuing to follow up on the BSCC story, but it could go into effect after lunch, assuming he didn't get caught up in something else before then.

The patrol produced the usual results. He alighted silently several yards behind a little old lady being threatened by a mugger. When the mugger paused in shock, the little old lady knocked him out with several blows from her purse, pulled out her police whistle, and started blowing for all she was worth without once turning to see who had given her the break she'd taken advantage of. He said nothing, noted that she was beginning to draw a crowd that would help her, gestured "Shhh…" to them, and glided away. Next he flew down a drive-by shooter who had fortunately missed his target and whose remaining bullets wound up in a tight ball of steaming metal after they were caught in midair. A police squad car pulled up to take over at that point (some city services were working today). After that, he rescued a two water pipe layers caught in a landslide when the walls of the trench in which they were working in gave way.

All in a day's work.

At 12:40, Clark headed home, slipped inside, stripped off the suit, threw it in the hyperspace hamper alongside his clean backup one, showered off the bit of mud he'd picked up in the rescue, and changed back into his street clothes. He looked through the refrigerator, pulled out this and that, and made himself a big sandwich. Standing there near them reminded him of Lois's keys. He plucked them off the nail and put them in his pocket. He'd only used them to enter normally that Monday morning because on a day when a lot of people would be out on their ways to work he hadn't thought it prudent to glide through her living room window, which she'd left wide open despite everything she had said about cool weather and closing it. And at this rate he'd probably not need the keys ever again either. He sighed.

On his way back to the Daily Planet he ran a few errands and arrived at 1:30, a little late, but lunch time was usually flexible.

There was no sign of Lois, but that was okay with him. It meant she wouldn't be badgering him into revealing his source and then offering the benefit of her "experience" in dealing with that person (like how not to get him or her killed) and the best use of the new information. He noticed his ambivalence about the possibility of being the recipient of her assistance, and he wasn't sure why he was feeling that way other than having his very own little story to work on felt just fine. It wasn't a big flashy one like those she pre- ferred and did so well on, and it would have bored her eventually. But Perry thought it was worth the effort, Clark respected Perry tremendously, and exposing corruption, even a little bit of it, would do some good in the long run, which was all Clark really cared about. At his desk he pulled out a sheet of typing paper, a large envelope, and some tape. On the top half of the paper he taped his key and wrote the word "mine" by it with an arrow in case the word alone wasn't obvious enough. Below it he taped her keys (it took several pieces of tape) and wrote "yours" and added another arrow. He thought about drawing a smiley face under all this but sometimes they didn't come out quite right (his mom really was the artist in the family), so he refrained. Instead he wrote "CK"; that would explain it all. He wrote "Lois" on the outside of the envelope, sealed the paper and keys inside it, and dropped the whole thing into her purse drawer, where he noted there was no purse, so she was out of the office, as he had thought.

About two minutes later Jimmy wandered up, pretending to be reading a photography magazine. He half sat on a clear corner of Clark's desk and tried a conversational "How's tricks?"

"Fine, I guess. Those pictures you took Sunday morning? I need copies of them. 8x10s, and I want to see detail, particularly of the damage. I don't need the shots of the firefighters looking noble though. And if anyone took any pictures of the original damage at City Hall and any clean up, I'd like those, too."

"Sure, no sweat, they're yours. First thing in the morning okay?"

"Yes." He wasn't sure when or how he would need them, it just seemed like a good idea to have them.

"Will do." Jimmy smiled engagingly and then glanced around a little too casually. "Oh, look, no Lois…"

Hmm? "Nope."

"I wonder where she went…"

"Probably to lunch with Raul." He sat back in his chair and looked at Jimmy pointedly.

Jimmy didn't notice. He said "Ah-ha…" as though something were up.

I always have trouble with looking pointedly at anything, Clark thought. It worked when he was in the suit because that attracted people's attention anyhow, but he could hardly ever pull it off in real life no matter how much he pursed his lips. He'd have to try something else to discourage Jimmy because the young man was obviously trying to pump him for personal information and find the chance to pass on some of his usual advice for the lovelorn. But a good plan just didn't want to come, so Clark said simply, "I suspect he's trying to convince her to help him with a story."

"Wow… and you don't care?"



"No. Is there an echo in here?"

"No. I mean, it's all right with you if she works with Raul?"

"Sure. A story's a story," and Raul needed a mentor, too, just like he, Clark had, at one time, a *long* time ago. Also, it could keep Lois busy for a while, and if Counselor Smith was hiding in El Rinconcito, she'd find him.

"Wow. Maybe they'll need me to take pictures of them--I mean, of whatever their story's about and then I can show you and… and…"


"And then you'll know."

"I already know."

"Wow… and you don't care…"

"Not at all."

"Well… I've got some film developing, I better go check on it."

"Be seeing you."

"And I'll get those prints for you."


"Any time, CK, *I'm* your friend."

"Good." Whatever.

Jimmy hesitated (you better not pat me on the shoulder in a sympathetic manner, Clark thought), but then the young man rushed away. Clark shook his head, figuring that whether or not he really wanted to he'd probably find out soon enough what Jimmy had in mind to help him. He pulled up to his desk, found a memo pad and wrote up for Perry what his next moves would be in tracking down his current story, namely hitting the state, county and city offices where business incorporation and other such records were kept to track down the legal nitty-gritty on the companies he suspected. Since even the most timid of government services was reopening now after a week of damage assessment, it was the first chance he'd had to do this less- than-desirable part of the investigation, and the sooner it was over with, the better.

At the same time, despite himself, he listen-trailed along after Jimmy until the photographer stopped at the water cooler on the other side of the newsroom and there encountered Yusef, Linda and Dave, and perhaps others, though those were the only ones Clark heard actually speak.

Jimmy told them in hushed, excited tones the latest in the on- going saga of the eccentric affair (he was sure it was love, he said, for the 643rd time since Clark had met him) between two of the Daily Planet's more noteworthy reporters. "He begged her not to go to Raul, you should have seen the look in his eyes!"

What look? Clark thought. He immediately wondered about acquiring plastic glasses with an attached bulbous nose and bushy eyebrows, but he doubted a disguise would help at all.

"Raul's new and has new ideas, no wonder she…"

"Clark's all right, she's…"

"…always on the ball, can't stop her."

"…probably broken his heart…"

"…probably hasn't noticed…"

"…he was here all weekend."

"He's always a workaholic when she's gone…"

"…getting some rest."

"…in Bogota, I hear."

"Not Havana?"

"Good for her…"

Grasping the thread of the conversation, Clark fled before it got any worse and he had a hard time not reacting, not barging over there and telling them to mind their own business. But of course they'd turn that into a horrendous rumor, too…

And his dad would say, "Son, look at it this way: it means they care. If they didn't, you wouldn't hear a thing and you'd wonder if they noticed at all."

Right, Dad, whatever you say…

He folded his memo, stuck it in an interoffice envelope, crossed out his name and wrote Perry's name as the next recipient, dropped it into Perry's in box, grabbed up a fresh note pad to look like business, and headed out toward City Plaza and the Court House.


"Clark, what *is* this thing you have about keys?"

"Lois, do you know what time it is?"

"It's… it's the time I got back from the block meeting at the Chico Mendez Community Center. I can't find my watch--I don't think it was stolen though--and the electricity has been out here again so all my clocks are blinking, blinking, blinking, it's driving me crazy."

"I can tell."

"Thanks, Clark, I needed that."

Wrong thing to say, even if there were extenuating circumstances. "Oh, well, it's 10:32," so she could set at least one clock. It was an hour earlier down in Mexico City, which, according to BBC World Radio, had just experienced a minor but significant earthquake that had "Superman needed here" written all over it. He'd pulled on the suit he'd worn that morning, still damp from washing but dry soon enough when he got some speed going, and been half way out his window when the phone had rung and something had told him he'd better answer it. He'd zipped into the living room, grabbed up the phone, and discovered the "something" just might have been wrong, considering Lois's mood. His mom's advice to follow his intuition didn't always come in handy.

"Lois, I'm glad you're working with Raul," he continued, deciding to get that over with in the remote event she wondered about his opinion, "but can we talk about this in the morning? I put in a long day and I… I've got eye strain," which was a logical thing to have after spending hours pouring over reams of small print until they'd tossed him out of the Courthouse 30 seconds before closing time. Tomorrow, the state agencies. Whoopie. "And I have to get some sleep."

"Eye strain," she said, as though adding it to some mental list. "Okay. You rest, and we'll have a little talk tomorrow."

"Fine--No, wait," because he had just remembered and it felt like a ray of sunshine had fallen upon him out of the gloom. "I forgot, tomorrow's my day off, and I'm taking it. I deserve it since I didn't get it last Wednesday. We can talk--no, Thursday's your day off."

"Not this week since I took Monday. How about tomorrow night? Raul's going with me to the tenants' meeting, so maybe you'd like to go, too, and snoop around for us while everyone else is at the meeting. Then you and I could find a nice quite place to talk after that…"

No, no way. First, he didn't want to do any snooping for her, she had Raul for that, and, as for afterwards, as interesting and potentially romantic as even he could tell Lois was straining to make it sound, Jonesy liked to stay out late when she got the chance. "I can't. I…" he smiled at the thought, "I have a date."


"Yep. Young, cute…" both the kids, but particularly… "Her name's Vanessa, I'm sure you'd like her…"

"I see… like her…" carefully: "You'll have to introduce us…" Her pause sounded like the one she sometimes remembered to employ to collect her thoughts in order to forestall an outburst she knew she might later regret. "We'll talk Thursday then, and we do *have* to talk, it's important."

She'd said this before. Lots of times. "It's always important," at least it was to her, and it often involved entangling him in one of her investigations above and beyond the unwritten terms of their partnership. Admittedly they were usually at least interesting though just as often also turned out to be life threatening. And here it was less than six weeks until his vacation; he didn't know how many of her "important" talks he wanted to worry about surviving before then. His own quiet little investigation was about the speed he wanted to be going at right now.

"Well, this time," she said with determination, as though he had a thick head, "it's *really* important."

He sighed. "I'm not leaving town," not Thursday anyhow, and not after he got back from Mexico City, whenever that would be, but one never knew, particularly if someone like Luthor was hatching a plot from wherever he was holed up or down these days since his prison break, but maybe he was giving Metropolis a break after the Slime Monster. "So I'm sure we'll find time to talk, okay?" But he wasn't going to let her have his story, no way, she could work with Raul and find her own story and that was all there was to it.

"Okay. Good night, Clark. And… have a good time tomorrow night with… Vanessa."

"Oh, we'll probably spend most of the evening on the couch in front of the TV."

She drew a sharp breath. Before she could say anything though (like: "but that's what *we* do!" as though it were a proprietary action or something), he said, "Good night, Lois," and rung off immediately, having caught himself in time and not adding "I hope you get some sleep," particularly after the beauty rest wishes of the night before. Well, he thought, it's been a long and torturous trail, but I'm learning.

Besides, it was his turn to tease her, assuming now that was what she had been trying to work up to this morning but hadn't been able to pull off due to all the distractions.

His Mexico City visit wasn't much fun. He usually enjoyed visiting the teeming valley, which was weighed heavy with all kinds of history. It could be pretty, particularly after the rains when the sky was washed clean of pollution for a short time and one could appreciate the view of the volcanos from the observation deck of the Torre Latinoamerica (or higher) or while having dinner atop the Hotel Mexico. The Bellas Artes was a sight to behold both inside and out, and he liked strolling down Avenida Madero and looking in the shops that could have been there for centuries. He always made it a point to see the exhibits at the Museo de Antropologia and, afterward, take a stroll through Chapultepec Park, purchasing fresh helado and other snacks from vendors and watching the families picnicking.

But here it was fall, there were no rains, and the quake had shaken down some already shaky buildings and people had been killed. Fortunately, more could be rescued, either directly by removing debris from atop or tunneling in to them, or by x-ray spotting them and pointing them out for others to reach. He did what he could, until dawn fell over the dusty city and the command center near the Pino Suarez Metro station. At that time regular folks started crowding around him to offer him food and flowers, touch him, practically kiss his cape, and ask him to consider their photos of the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This last came uncomfortably close to being appalling (he shied away from it, claiming "She's much more powerful than me"), and as it strongly indicated that he was no longer needed, he escaped, found and said buenos dias to the Chief of Police (who wrung Superhombre's hand with thanks) and headed home.

He threw his suit (it was covered with dust and grime all over again and would need to be retired soon) in the metaphorical hamper and hit the sack for several hours of deep sleep. Upon awaking some time around ten, he pulled on comfortable clothing and, rather than fixing breakfast, went out to enjoy someone else making it at the deli on the corner. They had a TV and on it some talk show that was fascinating for a few moments (how many women really did *that* and enjoy it, too? He didn't think he wanted to know). A news break showed him in Mexico City, but the film wasn't very good due to the time of night it had been taken. He'd seen better amateur videos of the UFO floating over la Capital during the July '91 solar eclipse. Nothing else was happening that he figured he in particular should worry about, so nothing to hinder his plan to relax. He went home and washed the suit yet again, shook it dry this time and hid it away. He cleaned up around the apartment, went out once more, visited the library, and used a pay phone there to call his (Superman's) agent. He keyed in his ID number for messages and heard Murray Brown's exuberant voice ask him to come in at his leisure, as long as it was before the end of the month, and sign some of the usual legal and tax documents. There were also rumors of a book being written about the Slime Monster and therefore a possible movie-of-the-week deal out of it. Nothing firm, just rumors. Clark ignored all that; there were a thousand such rumors for every one that turned into something that could concern him, the use of his image, and work for Murray.

He replied that he would be in to do the paperwork but not today. Probably early Saturday morning, as usual, when it was quieter in the man's office building. He'd call first.

In the park adjacent to the Metropolis Zoo, Clark picked up a Paris paper from a newsstand, got an Italian ice at another stand, took all these into the Zoo, walked the quarter mile to the gorilla exhibit, found a bench to sit on there, and simply relaxed. This whole place had been on his top priority list to protect the week before during the monster mess, and today was a good day to spend some time enjoying it.

He particularly liked the gorillas. He had met a few in the wild and now did what he could to help the species (including one public service spot that had generated some needed funding), but there was always some war or famine in Africa that threatened the poor animals' habitat and lives. Metropolis Zoo was doing a fine job raising several family groups, though, and giving them a good deal of privacy, with only one public viewing spot open. So in front of that was where Clark sat, enjoying the midday sun, and soon he was pleased to see that the Zoo's premier adult silverback had sensed his presence. Jambo came out, settled under a jungle-gym awning near the edge of the ditch/moat and watched him right back.

Clark figured that if anyone really knew everything, it had to be Jambo. Eventually two equally knowledgeable but smaller adult females, an adolescent female, and two infants of undetermined sex joined Jambo to notice, watch and also speculate about Clark, and Clark didn't mind at all. Shared looks, shared secrets. The male gorilla made a vague motion at him. "Come here now, here, here," he said. "We'll arm wrestle for a bit, dig up grubs to go with some of this yummy ape chow and have bananas for desert. Then we'll play with the kids to wear them out, and take a well-deserved nap in this warm afternoon sun. What do you say? What else is life for?"

"Umm, grubs!" Clark smiled back; he was sure he hadn't eaten grubs since he was two years old and probably not then. Even his excellent memory had blank spots, thank goodness. "Thanks but some other time."

All the humans who came by snapped pictures, took videos, or also sat and watched the little family thought themselves incredibly lucky to see a scene of Africa at play and didn't relate it at all to the fellow relaxing on the bench reading the French-language newspaper.

Neither was anyone particularly surprised to hear a distant female voice scream "Stop, thief!" or to hear the sound of someone running in their direction. The purse snatcher, a tall, slender teenager, wormed his way through the gorilla-watching crowd, and probably thought he had it made when he hit a clear spot and a straight-away loomed ahead. Instead he found himself lifted by a microburst of wind into the thorny rose bushes behind the sturdy picket fence, both of which were intended to act as barriers between humankind and gorillas. He screamed, struggled, and in a few moments fell over into the ditch/moat that was the barrier meant to stop the gorillas.

Clark hadn't expected that, but he wasn't alarmed about it, either. He stood up and joined those who were now trying to see what had happened to the purse snatcher. The consensus was that the thief had tripped and fallen over the fence and into the roses of his own accord. The water twelve feet down in the moat was only about a foot deep, enough to discourage the shy gorillas from breaking out and becoming, say, TV network executives, but not enough to drown one if a youngster fell in, or cause much danger to the human, who was still in one piece after the wet landing.

No, Clark was more worried about Jambo, who had cautioned his family back and was looking over the side, down into the moat and at the terrified human there. Jambo bared his teeth in warning: come up here and I'll whop you a good one, just see if I don't. The teenager screamed.

The crowd observing all this seemed to be of the overwhelming opinion that the purse snatcher deserved whatever Jambo, the poor, put-upon beast, decided to give him and those with cameras hoped it would be graphic or at least funny. Clark wondered if he should slip away, dawn his auxiliary suit (the one with the run up the inside right ankle that didn't show because of his boots), return and give Jambo some support because the gorilla was looking nervous and no doubt feeling outnumbered. He could picture himself hunkered down beside Jambo, looking into the moat as well, and coming to some mutual agreement with the gorilla about what to do.

That might have been fun and the pictures would have been terrific, but there were no Daily Planet photographers anywhere in sight and he didn't want a rival newspaper to get the shots. Too, there was something easier he could try first to ease Jambo's fears. Quietly, and most likely unheard by the growing number of talkative people around and behind him, Clark said to Jambo something like "chuck, chuck, chuck" in comforting tones.

The gorilla looked at him for a long moment, understood every- thing in the world, which included that he wasn't alone in this, and he sat back and assumed a relaxed yet alert posture and simply watched the frightened person wading around in the moat screaming his silly head off. Jambo's family relaxed, too, and the little ones started playing again, much to the pleasure of the crowd, which was becoming bored with the purse snatcher.

Within minutes, Zoo security, the woman whose purse had been stolen, several keepers, and the media (TV in this case) arrived to clear away the crowd and consider how best to remove the purse snatcher (who still clutched the evidence of his crime) and, foremost, protect the gorillas. Jambo looked at Clark, sighed, and herded his family away from the moat and toward the doorway that lead to the large private family area. The crowd was disappointed.

Clark decided that there was no more relaxing to be had here. He didn't want to get caught on anyone's amateur or professional video because the TV stations might broadcast it and Perry would spy him out and ask why he hadn't called in the story, as small as it was. So he gathered up his newspaper and wandered away toward the elephants, who he knew would be as amused at him as the gorillas had been, they always were. Why is it, he wondered, I can have deep, challenging exchange of ideas with a 500-pound gorilla and I can't have a civil conversation with a 117-pound-soaking-wet Lois Lane?

He spent the rest of the afternoon at the Zoo and left as the clouds were building from the west. It looked like rain, as Lois had feared, but he didn't feel that the humidity or the air pressure indicated there would be much, if any, precipitation. He ate dinner out at the same deli, wondering if he were in a rut even though the food was good and the menu always varied. Stopping by home, he checked his answering machine but there were no messages other than a computer trying to talk him into buying a carpet cleaning contract and giving up in programmed frustration. No emergency call from the Planet, and certainly none from Lois, but he hadn't really expected to hear from her. She didn't like being teased without also being able to extract revenge quickly and decisively.

He tossed into a carrying bag a book on DOS programming, a collection of Marcos Almazan columns in Spanish, and a biography of P. G. Wodehouse in case the evening turned dull and he needed a laugh, and he turned up at Jonesy Farber's front door at 6:45.

"I thought you might come early for some dinner."

"And wash dishes, too, hmm?"

She nodded, "That, too. You're easy to talk into it."

I'm a push over, Clark thought; feed me and I'll do anything… but although Jonesy's children were bright and thriving, she could cook only somewhat better than Lois, and he didn't want to stress his neighbor's already busy life.

Cody was at the computer table playing a violent but reputedly educational Power Rangers game of some kind and, until she spotted Clark, Vanessa was in front of the television, enchanted by Vanna White. The usually quiet and reserved little girl jumped up and ran toward Clark, squealing one long "Claaaaarrrrrk!" all the way. Before she could collide with him and possibly hurt herself, he shouldered his book bag, plucked her up for a hug and wondered, ever so briefly, if Lois would ever… nah, she only gave any indication of even thinking of doing that when he was in the suit. Vanessa, on the other hand, brilliant judge of character that she was, liked him for himself. But he warned her, "I didn't bring you anything."

"Good," her mother said. "They don't need any more exotic toys, not on your salary, anyhow."

"You don't know my salary," nor, of course, did she know he usually picked out their gifts cheap on site, not at some import store.

She looked him up and down. "I can guess it pretty well, honey. Well, the routine's normal for tonight. Let me show you where I put those papers though…"

Clark followed her into the den, carrying Vanessa because it was easier than trying to peel her off and anyway she was comfortable and weighed about as much as two pieces of lint stuck together with a dozen heavy-duty electrons. On the desk was an inch-thick manilla folder full of photocopies and wrapped tight with rubber bands. Jonesy laid her hand flat on it. "This is what I could get today."

"That's incredible! How could you possibly have gotten that much?"

"Oh, they want at least a dozen copies of everything, so I just added another for myself each time something looked interesting, it was easy. And this is a fraction of the paper we see every day. That's a whole other article for your newspaper. Keep what you want of this and I'll recycle the rest. I can get more tomorrow if this looks like what you want. You let me know tonight when I get home."

He nodded and when she said "Come here, baby," handed Vanessa over for a good night hug and a warning to be good.

As much as he wanted to look through the paperwork then and there, it could wait until the kids were in bed asleep. He left Jonesy and Vanessa alone for a few moments and went back out into the cozy living room and looked over Cody's shoulder. "Is that the next level?"

"Where you been, man? This is *three* levels more than the last time."

"That's 'where have you been…'"

Cody gave him a look that said "You're so *old*" and repeated: "'Where have you been…'"

"Good. Last time you were in the second subbasement."

"I'm in the southwest tower now. There's some cool monsters, almost like that one we saw last week."

"You didn't get too close to that one, did you?" It had seemed children had been everywhere…

"No, it was scared of me. My mom got close, but she wasn't scared neither."



"You can play until 7:15 and then it's something truly educational or a book."


It had taken only one gentle scolding from Jonesy to make Clark realize he had to be firm with the boy or Cody would take him for all he was worth and make Clark sign an IOU while he was at it. Had he been that way himself when seven years old? He didn't think so, but his perspective had been different then, too. "Them's the rules."

"'Those are the rules.'"

"Right, those are the rules."

"Can we make popcorn?"

Popcorn required staying up to eat it. "No, it's a school night."

"Mother said I can stay up until nine now."

"Which mother was that?" his mother asked from the door. She entered and gave her son a kiss and hug. "Eight o'clock and no later." She looked at Clark, "Unless of course there's something like a moon landing on TV that they should watch."

"I haven't heard of anything like that about to happen."

"Neither have I." She took her purse and a light jacket from the coat closet near the front door. "Bingo Bonanza's number is on the fridge, and if you're hungry, help yourself."


"And do I have to repeat my lecture about letting them give you any trouble and that you're smarter than they are?"

"No, ma'am, please, I learned my lesson, they won't get away with *any*thing ever again…"

Cody laughed knowingly, but it may have been due to winning more points in his game.

Jonesy smiled at them both. "Clark, you're irresistible. Why don't I ever see you with any nice young women?"

"Well…" I don't know any nice ones? he thought, but that wasn't true. Lois was certainly nice enough most times.

"What about that woman you work with? It's always her name then your name under those articles you write…"

"She likes being on top."

"Get outta here!"

"That's what she told me!"

"You don't *know?*"

He gave her a narrow look then put a hand to his ear, cupping it. "I seem to hear a bingo card calling your name…"

"I hear half a dozen of them and *I* feel lucky tonight. You will, too, soon, I'm sure."

She opened the door and dashed down the steps to her car, and from the door Clark and Vanessa watched her get in and drive away. Clark eased the girl back inside, closed and locked the door (because that was part of the explicit instructions from the very beginning), and then he looked way down at the child. "Now what?"

"Read a book!"

"Go pick one." It turned into a typical week night baby sitting stint. The television was turned off, and Vanessa picked her new favorite book, which was large, light weight and colorful, and proceeded to read to him from it. Her limited vocabulary didn't match the words in the book even after he turned it right side up, but she was creative and appreciated curling up warmly under his arm and how he paid close attention. Until 7:15, when he apologized and had to ease away and make sure Cody shut down the game correctly. The boy sighed but didn't complain about Clark initiating the lock out program he had written to allow Jonesy to control the use of the games; Cody had tried to get away with playing without permission once too often. He was then instructed to get started on the next assignment, his choice. Vanessa kept "reading" aloud about the princess, the frog, the golden shoes, and at least three of her daycare buddies. Cody complained about the noise, put on some ear phones, and picked out a CD that claimed to be able to teach about composers, musical instruments and reading sheet music.

As expected, Vanessa wore herself out by 7:30 and Clark put her to bed. She wasn't completely out of it, though: as soon as he tucked her in, she wanted another story. He pulled up a chair, turned the bed light down low, and said, "Okay, how about the one about the strong handsome prince and the ditzy newspaper reporter?"

"No! The bears!"

"No, not the bears again. The brave handsome prince and the scary slime monster?"

She sat up and look at him close, practically nose to nose, right in the eye, her breath smelling of toothpaste. "No! That's scary! Bears!"

"But I learned one about the handsome prince and the wise gorilla today…"

She flopped back down and pulled the covers over her head quickly and shouted, muffled, "Bears!"

"I don't remember about the bears. You'll have tell me."

Uncovered, with a big smile: "Okay." That was the way the game was played. He'd only ever gotten to make up two prince stories and she'd fallen asleep during both of them. Critics were hard sometimes; he was better at nonfiction, he decided.

She got about four-and-a-half convoluted sentences into the story before she dropped off. He retucked her in, turned off the light, and watched her for another five minutes to assure himself she wasn't faking. He'd been fooled once and had been forced to play hide and seek with her, a game that, while one could use x-ray vision to find her hiding places, super speed couldn't easily be employed with such a small, fragile target. She had giggled all over the apartment and wound up in bed wide awake and bouncing for almost an hour after.

Cody kept himself busy until eight, didn't want a bedtime story, and took over preparing himself for bed though he didn't mind Clark hanging about watching to make sure he got it all done in reasonable order. Cody stretched the time by talking about his day at school, what he was studying, what he and his friends were doing. Clark sat by his bed, too, and lent an ear and gave some encouraging words (picked up from one of his mom's psychology books) a good twenty minutes past the due-in-bed time. Then he glanced at his watch, acted shocked, and announced "Lights out!" Cody agreed reluctantly and fell asleep within ten minutes of that.

So Clark had the rest of the evening--in effect and though confined to the house--free. He would keep an ear on the kids, but they rarely gave him any trouble once they were down.

He retrieved the file from the den, went by the kitchen (where the tangy scent of canned spaghetti sauce was still evident in the air), found an apple, and camped out on the couch. Rather than zip through the papers, maybe miss something and then wonder what he'd do with the rest of the evening, he went through them at what he figured was a slow human speed. Right off the bat he saw that he could begin dividing the papers into categories and degrees of importance. After an hour he had several stacks and a satisfied feeling about what he had discovered. No smoking guns, not quite, not for his story, but there was proof he was on the right track. Now if he could get in to see the fire damage close up and obtain an expert's opinion on it and the other work that had been done…

He went through the papers again, marking things with a purple highlighter, developed some questions for Jonesy, then put it all aside and picked up one of his books.

Jonesy returned at almost 11, fifty dollars wealthier and in a good mood. Before she could listen to his assessment of what she brought for him, she said with a sparkle in her eyes: "While I was driving home I was thinking about tomorrow and I remembered that a building inspector is supposed to come by and meet with an insurance adjustor and they're going to look at the damage again. I think they'll be the same ones who where there last Thursday morning and then the work was done Thursday evening and Friday."

"Done too fast and with the wrong materials maybe?"

"Exactly. Their meeting should be open to the public, but of course they'll make all kinds of excuses to keep everyone out. I think I can get you in if you'd like to try a little subterfuge…"

If there was anything working with Lois had taught him, Clark figured it was to jump at the chance to sneak into someplace forbidden and learn more. "It would be great to see them inspect the damage and hear what they have to say, it would make my story," though if he went undercover, he couldn't get direct quotes… Some- thing would occur to him to straighten that out, though, he was sure.

"Then I'll give you a call as soon as I hear when either of them are on their way. Did you find anything interesting in those papers?"

He showed her the trends he had picked up so that she could, if possible, find more along that line. He kept most of the photocopies and she said she would recycle the rest. Then she heard his report on the kids, said he had done well (adding "Good practice for when you have your own, hmmm?") and pushed him out the door. He was home by 11:30 and in bed a few minutes later, congratulating himself on having done a good job on the story over the last 48 hours as well as enjoying a satisfying day off. His personal life seemed to be at a stand still as far as Lois was concerned, but that was nothing new really… He flipped on the sleep button on his radio and let an all- news station, its volume turned very low, lull him to sleep.


In preparation for the daily budget meeting, he was in the Planet's photocopying room at eight the next morning, using one of the big noisy machines there to copy some of Jonesy's material. That was where Perry caught him. Clark felt trapped, especially when he saw that certain look Perry had in his eye. Clark wished the copy room were in somewhere else (like in the Afghanistan bureau) and not so near the elevators that serviced the parking garage. Perry looked like he had just come in and not even been to his desk yet.

"There you are, Clark. I didn't have time to give these to you yesterday."

"I wasn't here yesterday."

"Oh, right, right," Perry said, obviously thrown off course in his approach. "That's probably why it was so quiet around here."

Quiet? It was quiet when he wasn't at work? How about that. He thought that only applied to Lois… In fact, he was pretty sure it did, that Perry's was an off-the-top-of-his-head remark, so Clark didn't ask for an explanation. "What didn't you have time to me?" he asked instead as he stapled together another set of copies.

Perry patted his pockets, opened his jacket and from the vest pocket on his left produced a colorful envelope.

"The last tickets to the Metrostars and Garters Women's Softball Team final home game."


Perry took on a pained expression. "Don't look so excited…"

"Believe me, I'm just… bursting inside."

"I can see that." Perry pressed the envelope of tickets on him. "Now you like to go to baseball games…"

"Sure, and softball, too, but that one's tomorrow night."

"And they're playing the Coast City Cloudbursts. Should be *some* game, unless you already had something else planned…"

Perry knew better than that, Clark was sure he did. He sighed to himself and decided to play along, because not only could Perry get more insistent than, say, Vanessa, but the man signed his paychecks. "Does it include a press pass to the locker rooms?"

"That's my boy--but no, I'm giving that to Jimmy and he's taking Angela, she'll keep him in line."

"Angela's taken him back?"

"Yes, that girl is either a sucker for punishment or sees something in him we don't."

"Jimmy's got some great hidden talents, I'm sure. Maybe Yusef would like to go."

"No, you know he likes to hang around police headquarters on Friday nights, it's safer than home apparently."

"Oh, right. You? Would you like to go?"

"Clark, do I have to spell it out for you?"


"Lois loves softball--or she should, considering how good a captain she is. Take her. Butter her up and she'll let you play closer than outfield next season, if you get my drift…"

"Ah, yes, sir. But she may have something planned already for Friday night."

"I doubt it. *Ask* her. I'll make sure you get a chance. The budget meeting's in fifteen minutes," and he was gone before Clark could ask how Perry planned to make sure he got the chance to talk to Lois when it was a simple enough matter for Clark to take care of it himself. Theoretically, anyway.

But she wasn't at her desk, though there were signs that she had stopped by it briefly: her mail was scattered (she would have called it sorted) on the clearer left-hand side of her desk. Maybe, Clark thought, something would come up and Perry would forget about his matchmaking attempt.

Nearly all the chairs in the conference room were taken when Clark finally got there. He had to take a seat in the back, but that was all right since he didn't have much that he wanted to divulge about his story right then anyhow. Lois and Raul were sitting together over on the other side of the table. Apparently Lois was awaiting his arrival because she sat back and watched him take a chair. Clark couldn't figure out the look on her face. She wasn't full of joy to see him (that was rare but it had happened), but she wasn't frowning either. Her expression was speculative perhaps, and to add to that she looked away as soon as their eyes met.

Raul, who had noticed the silent transaction, Clark thought, leaned over and said something to her about their story. No, stories. They were working on a series, as was also indicated by the story in this morning's paper. That was good, it would keep her busy. But maybe that's why she was acting the way she was: *maybe* she felt uncomfortable working with someone else… nah, Raul was a fine person and smart enough to take advantage of Lois's experience. She'd be back dragging him, Clark, out on some new story as soon as her current work was wrapped up, he didn't doubt that.

He didn't eavesdrop on them further, if only because it was a bit of an effort in the noisy room and he didn't want to give the least hint that he was even mildly interested or she'd catch him, he was sure of it, and use it against him to make him run errands for her.

Perry came in and the meeting got started. It rolled along typically, with the editor asking for progress reports, giving advice, asking that stories be wrapped up or worked on harder. Before he could get to Clark, though, Laurie opened the door a crack and looked into the room, pointed, Swenson, on Clark's right, touched Clark's arm, and Clark saw Laurie make a "you've got a call" sign.

He excused himself quietly after noting Perry's "go get it" nod. He was able to slip out without bothering anyone, a good thing after all about having arrived late. He took the call at Laurie's desk.

"Do I have to identify myself?" Jonesy said in nearly a whisper.

Clark could hear that there were other people in the office with his source, but it also sounded like they were some distance away, that the room she was in was large. "No, go ahead."

Jonesy's voice rose a bit, as though those nearby had moved on. "The inspector, a Tom Takara, and the adjustor, Ann Walthall, they're supposed to be here at 10, but I hear they're so angry at each other about all this they may arrive early to try to get the advantage. I'll have a pass badge for you at the front desk, but in your own name since the receptionist may recognize you. The Inspector and the Adjustor probably won't, so you can say you're from a county office out in Midvale, that you're a trainee, here to observe in the exchange program."

"Exchange program?"

"I made that up. Don't worry, they'll never know. You just tag along. If you need help you can call me, I carry a lot of weight around here. I can go along and complain about almost being hurt. That will throw a scare into them and they probably won't even notice you."

He wanted to be noticed but not conspicuous (that kind of thing was best left to, and handled by, Lois). He thanked Jonesy for the information, which he had memorized and not committed to paper, and said he'd try to be there early.

He slipped back into the budget meeting in time to hear Swenson report on his investigation into the state of the damage to the city's water system after the events of the week before. The reservoir looked just fine, Swenson said. He was told to have something publishable by that evening, no more putzing around, find out about the in-city water *delivery* system and no more taking company cars out into the countryside.

Clark, up next, reported that Tuesday he'd met with a source, gotten some interesting information, then spent Tuesday afternoon in the Court House's record department. Wednesday, his source (who he did not refer to even by sex, though the mention alone of the day caught Lois's attention) passed on to him some documents he thought indicated he was on the right track. He stood up, leaned carefully between the two people sitting in front of him, and slid a representative sampling of the documents toward Perry. Perry glanced over them and began to nod. "So this is what you were copying… This is good, keep at it."

"I'm seeing some more people about it this morning."

"Fine." Perry paused at one page, smiled briefly, finished looking through the sample, and then slid the papers back. Clark would have given odds on precisely what item on what page had caught his editor's eye. Perry said, "Keep me posted."

"Yes, sir."

The reports continued around the table, Perry was largely satisfied at everyone's progress, and he closed the meeting by nine. As everyone was rising, Clark heard what he didn't want to hear: "Lois? Clark? Stay a moment, will you?"

Heads turned; more rumors were born. The room cleared but for three people, and one of them, Perry, was standing by the door, ready to leave, too. He looked at Clark. "I think there's something in those papers you showed me that you wanted to show Lois…?"

So much for surprises. "Yes, there is."

"Well, I'll leave you two alone," and he shut the door behind him.

The conference room was paneled in something at least resembling mahogany and there were no windows looking out into newsroom (so no one could look in, either). The walls were secure and sound proof. He could scream to be let out but no one would hear unless he really turned up the volume… Then again he might freeze first because the temperature seemed to have dropped a good ten degrees since the room had cleared out.

"What have you got?" Lois said in a professional manner that Clark easily guessed hid a whole range of emotions and a good number of things she would rather have said.

"This." He slid the sample way across the broad, dark, highly polished table to her.

She picked the stack up and began leafing through it. "The old fraud-against-local-government story, hmm?"

He knew: she'd written it a thousand times, and better, and in her sleep, too. "Something like that."

"So your source is in City Hall."

"Could be."

She gave him a brief, narrow look: he was supposed to share things with his partner, but he had learned a lot about that from her, too, and maybe that occurred to her. She returned to the papers and now looked like her examining them was done as mere charity on her part, he should be grateful.

That is, until the fifth page of the first stapled-together stack. Her eyes widened as she glanced at the bottom of the page. "Alloicius Smith signed off on this?"


"Why didn't you tell me!" and with renewed interest she began looking through the rest of the papers for the same thing. If she was sharp, she'd find that name five times signed and another four typed out.

She found all the signatures, but the typed parts tended to blend in and weren't as important as the former Councilman's splashy John Hancock.

"I just got this information last night."

"From… 'Vanessa'?" with, oddly, a little hope in her voice, as though she realized she might have an angle on prying the name of his source out of him.


She backtracked. "You could have called me, you know."

"I didn't get home until late--"

"Not too late for something like this! I'm sure *Vanessa* wouldn't have minded if you'd taken a few minutes to call me."

"She doesn't know anything about this, and I didn't want to call from her place, it might have woken her up," since Jonesy's phone was in the hall and Vanessa's bedroom was right there.

"'It might have…' So you were with *her* when you got this information…" Lois said in as emotionless a manner as she could muster, and she could muster quite well when she put her mind to it, he thought.

She was jumping to some wild conclusions, but, of course, he reminded himself, he had pointed her in that direction by not explaining just who Vanessa was.

He should do so, he told himself.

Real soon.

"I was holding her when I first saw the papers, but she didn't know what they were, she wasn't interested in *them*…" no, Vanessa had found a worn area in the neckline of his T-shirt and had tried to make it into a hole to see how the thing was sewn together.

"I see…" Lois said, plainly not seeing. She restacked the papers and moved to slide them back to him.

He said quickly, "You can have those if you want, I'm not working on that angle."

"Of course not," she said faintly. "But thanks, I'll see what I can do with them…"

As Lois was trying to decide what to do next (that was plain to see), and as it was doubtful now that she would be interested in attending a simple softball game, he rose. "Well, I have to go see if Jimmy found the pictures I asked for."

The idea that he planned to leave seemed to startle her. "Wait a minute, wait, wait, wait…"

"I don't have a lot of time if it's that 'important' discussion you wanted to have…"

She sighed as though she had a headache. "No, I don't want to have it *here*… What about your key? I don't understand that. First you give it to me and then you want it back and now you've given it to me all over again. What gives? Explain *that* to me."

Oh, that? "I lost my spare on Sunday and needed to get the original one copied."

"Lost your…? But you have a… an excellent memory!"

"Thanks, but not all the time. It just slipped out somewhere, and then I realized it was gone," though he suspected it was probably somewhere deep in the northern Pacific Ocean. Early Sunday morning the assistant editor had called him to cover the City Hall fire and he in turn had called and roused Jimmy out of bed. As the fire was being put out and they were getting pictures and statements, Clark had noticed the time, done some quick math and realized he had about an hour to get home, clean up, change, and get to Tokyo (where it was the coming evening). There he was to address a graduation ceremony in Japanese and receive an honorary degree in diplomacy. He thought now that maybe he had been careless, potential being breached in some small way, and the key (which fortunately he had kept on the spare key ring and not with the important keys), had fallen out of hyper- space and into the deep, blue drink. Hyperspace, what he understood of it, was not always the most trustworthy of spaces to keep small things. At least neither the key nor the ring had any markings on them that would identify him as their owner. "Since I don't like to break into my own place, I needed to make a copy, that's all."

She rolled her eyes. "Why didn't you *say* so!?"

"Well, I was going to but you marched right off and looked like you were going to punch someone out and I didn't really want it to be me--"

"I didn't do that!"

"Yes, you did." He almost added that even if he had spoken up she probably wouldn't have listened to him anyhow, she rarely did when she was in a bad mood.

"No, I didn't--Don't argue with me, I don't want to argue. This has all been a big misunderstanding."

"I'll say."

"Because you wouldn't speak your mind! Next time press your case! I'll listen! *And* I won't hit you! I promise!" She sighed and with effort composed herself. "Now I don't have my spare keys with me, but I'll get them and I want you to take them back, too."

Huh? "You do?"


"Well, I probably won't use them--"

"Well, you *might*! Having them won't *hurt* you, you're… big and strong."

"Okay, if you insist--"

"I do!" And she frowned at him, then seemed to think that looking pissed was probably not the best expression to have and so she looked away in the general direction of where Perry had been sitting.

Perry. The tickets. Perry would want to know how that had come out. Clark sighed. He had to try, and as things weren't so… tense (by about 2 percent) between him and Lois at the moment, now might be about the best chance he'd get. "Perry gave me tickets to tomorrow night's big softball game. Do you want to go?"

She turned her somewhat cooled-off look back on him, reviewed what he had asked, and appeared surprised again. "The Stars and Garters game? You have tickets? I've been searching *everywhere* for tickets to that game!"

"Then you want to go--"

"Of course I want to go! I'll pick you up at six or we'll never find a parking space. Can I see them? The tickets? I can't believe it, but of course if it was Perry…"

Yeah, Clark agreed, he himself wouldn't have thought about the need to track some down… He pulled them out and handed them over. "Keep them for me in case I can't make it."

"You *better* make it! This will be a great game."

"I hope so…"

She pulled the tickets out of their envelope, apparently checking to see if they were genuine. "This is a good way to end the week…"

"Ah… do you think this is a date?"

"Ah?" She looked at him, turned it into a long moment of thought, a bitten lip, a touch of resignation, "No, I don't think so… do you?"

"It doesn't… feel like one. I mean, we're in *this* building…" Dates initiated in the Daily Planet building never seemed to work out right.

"Yeah… Then it isn't. But we *will* have one."

"I want to."

"You'll have to ask Vanessa about it, I suppose…"

"What she doesn't know won't hurt her."

"Well, *I* wouldn't want to think you were going out with someone behind *my* back…"

Huh? But didn't she think he already was doing that, or upon second thought did she think it unlikely, that he couldn't get a date with someone else, let alone her?

Stop thinking so much, he told himself. "There is that…" he said in a noncommittal tone. Then he thought to check internally for the time and glanced at his watch, which agreed. 9:15 already. He stood up. "I'd like to stay and chat but I really do have to go."

"Okay. We'll find time to talk."

"I'm sure we will." Before Thanksgiving, probably. Or Christmas. Of this year.


Jimmy had come through with the pictures. On Clark's desk there was an envelope full of them that hadn't been there earlier. After checking his mail and making a few calls in connection with the story, he leafed through the photographs.

Most were the detailed close-ups that had been taken Sunday morning, but among them were two that someone, maybe even Jimmy, had gotten from the inside of the building of the claw in situ and then in the process of being removed with only its jagged tip showing. The pictures were sharp and clear and they displayed the damage that had been done in no uncertain terms. There were also several general pictures someone had captured on the day before, that Wednesday of last week: one had a view of the back side (or maybe it was the front) of the Slime Monster floating over City Plaza, perhaps contemplating munching on the Bank of Metropolis's marble gargoyles, and another showed the discarded claw actually sticking out of the eastern wing of City Hall. For no other reason than that they were dramatic shots, Clark kept them with the stack, fit them back into the envelope, grabbed a note pad and his jacket and headed toward the elevator.

Raul Velasquez raced him for it. "I'm going to the morgue," he explained as he entered on Clark's heels.

"More research?"

"Yes, much more. There is a lot of research in this job, isn't there? Lois says you're good at that. Clark, you don't mind that she is working with me?"

"No. You're doing a fine job. I liked your articles yesterday and this morning."

"Thank you."

Clark's floor arrived a moment later, the door opened, he stepped out, and as the door closed he heard Raul say, "I'll tell her you approve."

Clark turned and stopped the door from closing. It would have done so automatically upon sensing his pressing the guard, but it really had no choice. "Raul, that is not precisely what I said. You asked if I minded, and I said no, because I don't. I have no approval to give, and, besides, when she's finished helping you she'll be back" bossing me around? "working with me. That's the way things are." Then why be so obviously concerned about it? he wondered.

Raul, who had looked surprised at Clark's turning back and then settled down to listen, now smiled at the clear hints that the challenge had been accepted. "That's what I thought you said. Don't worry, compadre, she is in safe hands with *me*."

Clark decided not to comment on that as he let the door close. He didn't see any challenge in any of this at all. Other than proving himself to be a good reporter, the only thing Raul had in common with Lois was his size, being only an inch or two taller than the woman. If he tried anything Lois didn't expect from him, size would make no difference and he would be the one needing safe hands and good health insurance coverage.

Clark strolled the four blocks to City Plaza, stopping along the way to pick up a cup of coffee and a donut from a favorite vendor. The streets were busy, everyone taking in stride the extra hassle provided by the rebuilding projects going on around the city, parti- cularly this part of it. It was probably all good for the economy, he thought, though it would certainly have been easier to have evacuated the central square mile, knocked down a random number of structures, and started from scratch. No one would have been hurt that way, and the image of Metropolis would have been less tarnished by the new nickname some clever national TV anchorman had given it, "Slime City," without mentioning the obvious fertilizing benefits the slime was having on the landscape. At least the newest appellation made "The City that Really *Needs* a Superman" sound a little better.

The receptionist at City Hall did recognize him, as Jonesy had foreseen, so he worked with that. "I'm here to meet with Mr. Takara and Ms. Walthall. Has either one of them come in yet?"

"You just missed them," she said as she handed him the pass badge. He noted that while it announced "Clark Kent" on it, it didn't say anything about his being with the press. Maybe he wouldn't have to mention what he did for a living and could just tag along. The receptionist pointed. "They went thataway, toward the east wing. Should I get someone to help you find them?" He told her that wasn't necessary, he knew his way around, thanked her and headed down the main, east-bound corridor. In moments he knew he wasn't late to the actual inspection because among all the normal noise-generating activities one could find in such a building he picked out the sound of an argument. Not a heated one but one containing enough key words that he knew the two having at each other were the two he sought.

Clark found them at the last junction before they would see the fire damage. They were giving each other what for in a manner that sounded like they had gone over the same territory already. Walthall was a woman nearing 40 perhaps, dressed for quiet business activities, but with substantial presence and using it to her advantage in the argument. She stood right up to Takara, an Asian- American of about the same age and only somewhat taller than she but physically stronger, which was visible because he was wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, ready for work. She clearly thought he had been practically criminally negligent in not supervising the repairs and thus allowing the conditions that led to the fire. Takara countered with the fact that he had the specs on all the work and the work itself had looked just fine to him, *and* she had been on the scene to see the original damage and he had yet to see anything she had written up on it. They glowered at each other.

Where have I heard this before? Clark wondered. It must be love… He cleared his throat.

They both looked at him sharply. "Who are you?" Takara barked.

"I was here Sunday. The fire occurred in the next room and broke out into the hall, I believe."

"That's right," Walthall said. She turned on Takara again. "It's a good thing your security people have evacuated this wing--"

"On my suggestion!"

"You should have suggested that first thing on Monday, *not* Tuesday!"

Apparently Clark's presence goaded them to move their argument down the hall and into the big storage room in question. A wall panel had blown out in the fire, exposing electrical conduits and, now, charred wire and insulation. Takara proceeded to point out to Walthall where the claw had intersected this room and pierced right down through the wall. She said she remembered it clearly because she had been here to see it on Thursday. Clark discretely removed the picture he had of the claw in situ and held it between the two. Takara grasped it and used it to show Walthall what the room had looked like when the dust had cleared by Thursday morning when after all she had visited the site first on Thursday afternoon. Walthall examined it closely and turned a critical eye on Clark. "Where did you get this picture?"

"The Daily Planet."

She glanced at his pass badge. "Kent, that sounds familiar..,"

So much for passing incognito. "I work there."

"Clark Kent…" Takara said, wary. "I've heard of you…"

"I'm investigating the contractor who did this work, *not* the people who unwittingly signed off on it or who are expected to pay for it."

"For a newspaper story?"

Clark nodded.

"You know, you don't look like Superman…" Takara said.

Clark mentally rolled his eyes. It had been months and months since the last person had mentioned anything relating to that hasty press conference. It had been broadcast live only by the station hosting Top Copy (which had again been mashed in the ratings by Roseanne) and his broadcast had taken on, and failed miserably against, NYPD Blue. All the stations with late news broadcasts had given both bits of news some air time. Fortunately none had gotten good pictures of "Superman" since he and his folks had purposely planned to keep "him" just out of camera range but close enough so that a bit of superventriloquism had done the trick to give the image a voice. But the stations and the next day's papers, even the Planet, had preferred to concentrate on Diana Stride's unveiling as an assassin and therefore thoroughly untrustworthy person. Even the nationals had focused on that aspect of the story.

"Well," Clark said, for what felt like the millionth time, "he's taller than me."

"Oh, he's at *least* 6-5."

"And his eyes are sky blue…" Walthall smiled, then added quickly, "Not that *yours* aren't nice, but…"

"And his shoulders are broader," Takara said, indicating a physique the width and breadth of Texas.

"And that tan!"

Reference to a tan was a new one, but considering the time of year it made some sense. Also considering it was getting hard to keep a straight face, maybe it was time to ease the subject to safer grounds. "Ah, yeah, and while he's quotable he can't write, whereas I need to know--"

"That woman reporter writes about him all the time, doesn't she?" Walthall said.

"Yes, she's an expert, knows all about him," or as much as he'd let her, up to the time when it was just right for her to know everything.

"Lois," Takara smiled, "Lois Lane, I've seen pictures of her and I read everything she writes. What a beautiful woman…!"

"That's true."

"Do you think there's any chance I could get her autograph?"

"Well, maybe, but--"

"I'd frame it. Could I get a picture of her, too, do you think?"

"I don't know, maybe--"

"Do you think *she'd* come here?"

"Then we'd really get no work done," Walthall said drily. She looked at Clark, who was glad she hadn't asked if he could get anything for her. "It seems you're investigating this fire."

"I'm investigating the contractors who did the original work on places like this."

"Do you have a lot of evidence of wrong doing already?"

"This is the best so far, if there is any. But Singher Construc- tion, which fixed this originally, has been doing a lot of work all over the city, particularly on government property…"

"I suppose you want to see what we find," she frowned.

"I'd like to, yes, to get an accurate picture, but I won't quote you without your permission, and I didn't bring a camera."

The Insurance Adjustor and the Building Inspector exchanged glances. Takara said quietly, "I suppose we better let him…"

Walthall glanced at Clark. "I've read your work, you seem to be fair." Takara nodded grudgingly. At least they could agree on one thing. "Do you have any more of those pictures? *Some* one was supposed to have taken a lot of them…"

"My camera was stolen out of my car!"

"I have a lot of pictures," Clark said quickly and he handed the envelope to Takara. "You can use these if you'd like. According to the contract, though, Singher was supposed to have taken pictures throughout the repair process and provided them to you."

"Hey, that's right!" Takara said. "They may not have had time to get them to us though… These are good pictures. So you were here on Sunday, I think I remember seeing you…"

The two compared the pictures to what they faced now and the Inspector put on gloves, the Adjuster insisted that they all wear a face masks against the insulation (they had a spare so Clark got it), and they began poking around in the mess. As Clark had hoped and expected, Takara and Walthall began to find that the contractor had used good-looking but suspicious, possibly substandard materials in the repair work. They made scads of notes, wrote all over the pictures (Clark later got photocopies of these), and after an hour of looking at the damage from several angles they came to the not exactly unexpected conclusion that the contractor was at fault.

The two were friends by now (having found a common enemy the insurance company could quite possibly sue--that was off the record), and they had accepted Clark's presence without question. Indeed, they told him they both had preliminary reports due by 4 o'clock Friday afternoon and he was welcome to come by their offices for copies. He thanked them for that and asked where they were headed next. Another damaged city building that had been repaired but had, as yet, suffered no breakdown. Did he want to come along on that inspection, too?

So he spent the rest of the day with them, which included a brief cafeteria meal at City Hall (where from a distance Jonesy spotted and winked at him) and travelling from site to site in an official city vehicle that needed a brake job and new windshield wipers.

Clark took all this new information back to the Planet and began writing it up, getting a good jump on the story he could see fitting nicely on the first page of the Sunday edition. He created a second document with his notes and expectations of what more he needed before the story (or, he hoped, two- or three-part series) was ready, like the two preliminary reports and more background information on Brinx All-Weather Construction and ZoomRay's Building Contractors, which had done some perhaps too-hasty work for the city as well. He LANed it to Perry's desk so the editor could read it in the morning. He shut down his computer then, sat back, sat up, reached over for and turned on his radio, sat back again, and listened to the seven o'clock news.

There was an as-yet small government scandal with all parties blaming all other parties; a new flu vaccine was announced; two planes had danced almost fatally over Madrid; the famous actor's retrial was having trouble finding yet another jury; there were new problems on the set of Star Trek X: Nimoy out, Frakes in as director; Shatner (for lack of Stewart) guest starring, maybe; Spiner was still holding out, but Avery Brooks was interested as was Majel Barrett.

Clark yawned. I'm hungry, he thought. He rose, turned off the radio, and walked over to the wire room where he read the last hour's worth of news in about a minute because there was no one nearby in the sparsely populated newsroom to see him do so that quickly. But he found no reason why he shouldn't call it a day and get something good to eat on the way home. It looked like no one needed Superman and that he, Clark, could have a quiet night.


"Lois, dear, do you know what time it is?"

"What? Isn't it only about 6 there?"

"Yes, but we're eating dinner."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I'll--I'll call back--"

"No, no, just hold on."



[hold music: McCartney/Lennon: "I Will"]



"There, I've moved, Jonathan can't hear me."

"I don't want to interrupt your dinner…"

"That's all right, Lois, it was the same old meatloaf with a nice porcini mushroom sauce--and it will keep. You should feel free to call any time. If I really can't talk, I'll tell you."

"Well, okay, but it won't take long, I have to leave in a few minutes."

"Oh? Are you doing some thing with Clark?"

"No, it's something to do with work, a story I'm working on, it's nothing really. Actually, I didn't call about him, except…"


"He's driving me up the wall!"


"Who else?"

"Well, I don't know, Perry maybe?"

"No, I can handle *him*. Of course it's Clark! We haven't had a chance to say more than a dozen words to each other and we've already almost had a fight!"

"Oh, my…"

"Wait, Martha, it's not really that bad, we already cleared up one thing, sort of. Do you, ah, do you know anything about someone named Vanessa?"


"Do you know if he's seeing someone by that name?"

"Lois, I thought he was seeing *you*, dear, at least in the… unique sort of way you two have of doing that…"

"*That's* a good way to put it. Well, don't worry, I'll find out, leave it up to me."

"I will. So things aren't quite flowing…"

"No, we hit the rapids right off--but we're going to a big softball game tomorrow night, it was *his* idea--well, actually it was Perry's--but he ran with it and that should straighten things out again."

"That sounds good, you'll have a chance to talk."

"I *hope* so--not the big talk, you know, but just talk talk, just have a nice conversation to start with, that will be good. And I have another idea, it's really great: do you remember telling me about your cookie recipe? The chocolate chip and nut one? Walnuts, I think it was? Would you mind faxing that to me? Just call my number with your fax and my machine will take care of everything, and I'll pay you back, don't worry about that."

"I'm not worried. You're going to try baking them?"

"No, not exactly--Oh, there's Raul, he's always on time."


"Yes, I'm working with him--and it was *Clark's* idea, can you imagine that?"

"No, I--"

"But there's nothing between us, it's all work, one story, that's all, but considering Clark has this *Vanessa* person, well, if he thinks I'm interested in someone else, it will serve him right, hmm?"

"If you say so, dear. You better get going, and I'll send the recipe later on this evening."

"Thanks, Martha, you're a life saver! Bye!"

*** Clark caught a bus right away, got off in front of the deli up the street from his home (I *am* in a rut, he thought), and got a big sandwich, a can of exotic Chinese soda pop, and sizable wedge of chocolate cake, all to go. The cake made him think of Lois. He wondered if he should call her but he couldn't think of any reason other than he felt the unusual urge to chat and, yes, explain Vanessa. The joke had gone on long enough, and he didn't really like to see Lois squirm, even though the jealousy aspect of it was admittedly pleasing. That he would give in so easily, though, he thought, was why she could pull the real teases: while she wasn't any meaner that he was, she didn't have such compunctions and wouldn't stop tickling until the tickle-ee yelled "calf rope!" the way his Great Uncle Duane had always insisted.

Too, the more he thought about it, the better the idea of simply talking to her sounded. Maybe there were good times to think too much. He did like hearing her voice when she was calm. For some reason she had been pleased with the key explanation (he still couldn't imagine why she had been angry about the whole thing in the first place), and his having the tickets had practically floored her. She'd probably be in a good enough mood to talk, at least about what she had been doing, her latest story and her condo problems, but that was okay. She might ask how he was doing, he could explain Vanessa, she's say "I knew that all along, Clark, do you think I just fell off the hay wagon?" and then the conversation might become a little more personal, and he told himself he could do with that.

He arrived home and found between the screen door and the front door a package from Jonesy. Once inside, he unloaded his dinner on the kitchen table, got into the freezer for some ice to chill the soda (blowing it cold was an uncertain operation with the aluminum can and he was in no hurry anyhow), unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. Yes, buying dinner had been a good idea, though there was always room if, say, Lois wondered about a late-night snack. He picked up the phone and dialed.

She wasn't at home; Henny Youngman answered and, after some ancient quip, asked him to leave a message, let his fax talk, or go away and take his wife, please.

Darn. He told her machine, "It's just me, Clark." He always identified himself in the remote event she might think the other guy was calling her. He had yet to do so while in tights, but she still might possibly mistake one voice for the other and that could get her thinking again in directions he preferred that she didn't. Some day it might be a good idea to plant a real suspicion in her mind, on purpose, as part of an grand overall plan to ease her carefully into the idea because he didn't look forward to what could otherwise be an accusatory confrontation. He'd gotten his fill of worrying about that after the Stride Affair. It definitely wouldn't be romantic, and he wanted it to be romantic.

"I haven't found anything more on Councilman Smith today." She'd expect him to say that, not "Where are you when I wanted to talk?" He continued, somewhat less neutrally, "I hope you're doing okay. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye," and he rung off quickly. He didn't like to talk to recorders; one couldn't take one's words back afterwards except by breaking in and swiping the tape, though that would be easy because he was sure her window would still be wide open.

So it looked like she was out for the third night in a row with Raul. Well, really that was to be expected. There would be neighbor- hood meetings all over Metropolis and the two would probably split up to cover more territory, so she might not be with Raul at all, and Raul wouldn't have the chance to ply her with wine and song… or tequila and tacos or whatever he thought would get her attention.

Why am I worried about that? he wondered; we're going to the game tomorrow night. But that didn't sound particularly exciting any more.

Hopes built up and stalled out, his appetite gone and him wide awake, Clark decided to wrap up the remainder of his sandwich for lunch the next day and then go out and find something useful for Superman to do for a few hours.

He considered looking for some fresh air and heading to Yellow- stone National Park to see if he could catch anymore wolf poachers. But the last two checks he had made, at two-week intervals, had been fruitless, thank goodness, and no more wolves had been found shot to death since he had caught the trio of hunters, turned them in, and, with his acquiescence, his assistance had been made public. What with it raining there now and snow probable in the high country, he doubted he needed to go a third time. Mexico City was limping back to its usual state of being and didn't need him. News reports had told him of no ships in the process of sinking, no avalanches sliding dangerously along, no unusual villains harassing people. Things were just generally pretty quiet around the globe. He should have been happy, he told himself.

He floated along at an altitude that put him above all but the tallest of buildings (giving him a chance to do a little fancy flying that he alone would know about), looking for signs of suspicious activity. And finding none. He headed out for the suburbs as an idea occurred to him. Perhaps there would be some outdoor rally (the one at the Chico Mendez Community Center had been outside) and he'd catch a glimpse of Lois and see how she was approaching her story. He didn't dare turn up as Clark or she'd blast him for horning in without express permission, but he could watch from a distance, quite a distance, just to see if she was getting into any trouble, which wasn't exactly an unheard of possibility.

In various areas of the city's suburbs, he found three block parties (why hadn't his block had a party yet? because, he reminded himself, his block hadn't been visited by the Slime Monster), two late-night quasifootball scrimmages lighted by car headlights, several basketball games, and four rallies, which were what he was looking for. He listened for a while to each one. The speakers were all people complaining of their newly damaged circumstances and how they weren't receiving the services they had paid for and were entitled to, that kind of thing. But nothing unmanageably angry or life threatening that he could determine. Everyone was well mannered enough considering their circumstances and his stepping in without good reason would have been pointless and possibly misconstrued as grandstanding, which he was loath to do.

Anyway, there really wasn't anything he could do about the economics of their problems while in the suit; that was a job for Superreporter (actually, for Lois mostly this time). So he simply floated way overhead and scanned the crowds, one after the other, for her and/or Raul. Naturally, he didn't find them until he checked out the fourth rally. He should, he told himself, have tried the Rinconcito first even though they had already had a rally on Tuesday night. The feisty article Raul and she had written, the second in the series in today's Planet, had probably encouraged and generated this even larger gathering.

He listened to the speakers for a short time, mostly keeping an eye on Lois in the event (he told himself) that she was in the process of attracting trouble, this time due to her assistance in writing the articles, though there hadn't been anything particularly inflammatory in them. His own story might be considered that, depending on if and how Perry edited his final submission.

He saw her look up and frown into the sky. Not at him, not directly, yet as though she might be feeling his presence, which had happen before a few times. He couldn't recall noticing her do that, feel him nearby when he was dressed in regular clothes though.

But it was more likely, he thought, as he saw Raul take her hand and say something close that made her look at the impromptu stage, that she had been checking out the weather. Clark could easily see that there were rain clouds in the distant west, complete with silent lightning, and he felt that the wind was picking up, causing him to drift. It would probably rain before midnight. There was little he could do about it--or wanted to do about it: the area needed the moisture, and he wasn't about to try to move another storm front just so a few friends wouldn't get wet…

As this wasn't getting him anywhere, he let the breeze float him away and then took over his flight and eased around Metropolis for one last check. He waved at a newscopter that didn't look busy either, noticed a jewelry store being robbed, dropped in, used a warmed and stretched out bar from the uselessly barred windows to wrap up the startled burglars, set off the burglar alarm they had circumvented, left, and headed home.


Friday morning, while speeding through Jonesy's latest batch of photocopies and trying to think of something to make for breakfast, Clark heard the radio news announced that I-95 outside of Midvale had been closed due to a gasoline tanker truck turn over. No explosion or fire, yet, but… Clark saw that he could make himself useful. It required about half an hour's time to clear up and as he was about to leave, he heard Highway Patrol officers and investigators speculate about what could have caused the mishap. They all looked at Superman, obviously hoping he'd volunteer to help out there, too, but he said "I don't fix brakes, I'm not a mechanic." Clark noticed evidence of shoddy upkeep and repair, though, and overheard enough expert conjecture to the same effect to write some copy about it when he made it in to work ten minutes late. After that deposited his lunch in the city room's kitchen refrigerator and wondered if he would be here at noon to eat it, what with the last several days being so busy and this one looking the same.

He made photocopies for Lois of some more documents Smith had signed off on. At his desk he went through his mail and the other things dropped off there during the night, then checked to see if Perry had left him any messages since he was going to skip the budget meeting and no doubt the Chief had foreseen that. There was a brief message in his computer's inbox from his editor to the effect that his story was looking good and he should indeed await the preliminary reports and go after more information on the other two contracting companies. Perry expected him to have the story as firm as possible by Saturday afternoon at the latest as he, Perry, wanted to editor- ialize based on several aspects of it. That was pleasing to read. Yep, he told himself, his was going to be an inflammatory story…

Clark decided that he wanted to see more of the other sites that the three contractors had worked on, taking a particularly close look at them if conditions permitted, and that meant another visit to the Court House Records to look for building permits for the larger projects. Those would give him a better idea of where to look, though he suspected the bulk of the contractors had converged on the wealthier parts of town, where there was money available to pay immediately for their services. The records clerks had cringed when he first requested on Tuesday to see what they had: the paperwork was looking overwhelming already and so much was yet unfiled. But he had helped out there, leaving things in better than shape than he had found them, so when he turned up again on this morning, the clerk in charge smiled, pointed and said "go for it," and no one even hassled him when he wanted to make photocopies.

He spent an hour in Records, then hit the road, travelling here and there by bus and drawing conversations out of the other riders about how they were coping with the latest crisis in Metropolis. This garnered him several new leads. To relax, he suited up and patrolled for a while around lunch time, his major chore turning out to be helping to sort out a big traffic jam on one of the expressway inter- changes and disarming two unhappy campers. He stopped by the Planet at about one to draft up the new information he had obtained and eat his sandwich. He caught a glimpse of Lois, who had only enough time to confirm their six o'clock meeting time and say it loudly enough that he could practically see it jump right into the rumor mill. He wondered how many components of the mill also noticed the almost exasperated I-wish-I-could-slow-down-and-we-could-have-lunch-together look she gave him before Raul pulled her into the elevator, off to some breaking event no doubt critical to their story.

Wow, he thought… Suddenly going to the game tonight sounded exciting after all.

[we now break for a commercial]

to be continued…


[author's notes: Thanks to Laurie, Mel, Kay and Marie for proofing. And there really were UFOs videotaped over Mexico City during the '91 eclipse; I have a tape of them and you may have seen them recently on "Sightings."]

Debby@swcp.com submitted March 1, 1995