By Eileen (Eraygun@aol.com)
Summary: Jimmy's father, Jack, is back, seeking Lois and Clark's help. Someone in the NIA has turned traitor, selling off super-secret weapons, some of them even designed to kill Superman. The group flies off to South America to inspect a weapons cache there.
The principal characters in this story are based on the television series "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." The usual disclaimers apply and this story is not intended to be an infringement on the rights of the corporate powers that be. This represents my second attempt at writing a fanfic. And while it's not necessary to have read 'The Perfect Gift' in order to understand this one, I do refer back to events from that earlier work in this story. I started this story several months ago as my way of combating LCWS caused by the Fourth Season hiatuses, and it was meant to fit into the period right after A/K/A Superman, but before The Lex Files. Unlike my earlier story this one does have an A-plot (a whole lot of A-plot in fact <g>) and my struggles over the last few months trying to keep the proper balance between A and B plots has only increased my admiration for the show's writers. Finally, fans of the comics, particularly those who have read "Superman: Under the Yellow Sun" will recognize a few items that were borrowed from it <g>.
Thanks again to Georgia Walden for her encouragement and editing. Feedback is appreciated.
"Here you go, hon," Clark said with a smile as he handed a sleepy-eyed Lois a large Styrofoam cup of coffee.
"Thnk yu, swtee," Lois mumbled as she yawned and leaned back against one of the walls in the deserted lobby of the Daily Planet building. Lois took a swallow of coffee, shook her head slowly, and grumbled, "I *still* can't believe Perry called and told us to meet him here at 5:00 a.m.! We worked until 1:00 o'clock last night and it's Saturday morning, for pity's sake!"
"Well, honey," Clark replied evenly as he pressed the button to summon the elevator. "You know Perry. It has to be something majorly important or he wouldn't have insisted that we meet him here." Almost on cue the elevator door sprang open and Clark shepherded Lois into the waiting compartment. "He must have a tip on a hot story."
"That tip had better lead to something approaching the level of a *Kerth award* winner or someone is going to be *really* sorry!" Lois said testily as she stabbed the button for the newsroom's floor. "After all, we've worked three weekends in a row and he promised us that we'd have this one off! I was really looking forward to spending some *quality* time with you," she continued softly, as she took Clark's free hand in hers and intertwined their fingers.
Nodding in agreement, Clark sighed, lifted Lois's hand to his lips and gently kissed it. They had both been working extremely hard the past few weeks as a result of helping to launch the Planet's new on-line edition on the World Wide Web. In fact, they'd been putting in 14, sometimes even 16- hour days at the office. And since their increase in work had been matched by a rise in the demand for Superman's special services, Clark had barely seen Lois in the few hours that they did have away from the job. But, even though he was more than a little disappointed when Perry called this morning, Clark tried to be philosophical. Smiling warmly, he lifted up Lois's chin until she faced him and said, "I know this isn't what we planned, darling, but we've had so many interruptions lately I consider *any* time with you to be quality time."
Lois gave Clark a rueful grin and took another long sip of the steaming liquid in her cup. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," she said sincerely. "I shouldn't be taking this out on you. It's not your fault." Lois yawned again and stretched. Slightly more awake, she sensually wrapped her free arm around Clark's waist, and pulled him close. Eyeing the brown paper bag in Clark's hand, she gave him a mischievous smile and said, "I don't suppose you were able to scrounge up a danish or two, or some doughnuts to go with this coffee? I'm *starving*."
"Well, I don't *see* any danish or doughnuts," Clark said teasingly as he pretended to x-ray the paper sack, "but will a blueberry muffin do?" And with a flourish, Clark opened the bag and pulled out a large muffin.
"Ohhh, my favorite!" Lois said excitedly, as she released Clark and greedily grabbed for the treat. She began to devour it almost at once. "Hmmmm! It's still warm! It must be fresh baked!" she said hurriedly in between large bites, "Where on earth did you get this? I didn't know there was a bakery around here that was open this early on Saturday."
"I didn't get it around here, I got it outside of Paris," Clark said nonchalantly.
Lois's eyes widened. "Why, sweetheart!" she said smiling sweetly, "you didn't have to go all the way to France just for me!"
Clark grinned. "Who said anything about France?" he replied teasingly. "I got the muffins and coffee from LuLu's All Night Cafe and Truck Stop, right outside of Paris, Texas. She serves the *best* homestyle breakfast in the Lone Star state. And you should taste her blueberry pie!"
Lois smirked and raised one eyebrow. "Very funny," she said. "Have I ever told you that you are waaaay too cheerful in the mornings?"
"Really?" Clark replied as he pulled Lois into his arms. Hugging her close, he looked into her eyes and asked playfully, "Well, what do you intend to do about it?"
"Just this," Lois responded as she speedily discarded her now empty coffee cup, wrapped her arms around Clark's neck and hungrily pressed her mouth to his. But before the kiss could deepen any further, the elevator door slid open and they both heard a familiar voice say:
"All right, you two lovebirds, break it up."
Lois and Clark turned to face Perry. "Morning, chief," they said in chorus, as they reluctantly disengaged and left the elevator.
"My office, now!" Perry said gruffly, "I'll be back shortly." And with that he entered the waiting elevator and left the newsroom floor.
Lois looked at Clark quizzically. Clark shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, honey," he said in response to her unspoken question. Taking Lois by the hand, he led her down the ramp and they walked through the darkened newsroom to Perry's office.
Entering the office they were surprised to find Jimmy sitting on the corner of Perry's desk, looking more than a little bewildered. "Lois, CK what are you doing here?" Jimmy asked.
"We were about to ask you the same thing," Clark responded. "Did you get a 4:00 a.m. wake up call from the chief, too?" Lois added. Jimmy shook his head affirmatively and replied, "Yeah, it was weird. He told me to get my *butt* down to the Planet ASAP. No reason, no explanation. So here I am. Do you guys know what's going on?"
Lois and Clark both shrugged. "We're as clueless as you are Jimmy," Clark answered.
"You guys don't think something's wrong with the chief, do you ?" Jimmy asked with concern. "He's been working awfully hard to get "DP Online" up and running and then there were all those problems with Jerry and his divorce just became final. Maybe all the stress …"
"Now just calm down Jimmy," Lois said reassuringly. "I know Perry's been working hard lately, but I don't believe there's any reason to think that he's gone off the deep end. You know how the chief is when he smells a hot story, it's like he has tunnel vision, the story's the only thing he focuses on."
"Gee, that sounds familiar." Clark said teasingly.
Lois took a playful swipe at Clark and continued. "Perry's always had a *stealth mode*, Jimmy. I remember when I was an intern, and he had Norcross and Judd working on that big corruption scandal involving ex-Mayor Jurgens, you practically needed a security clearance just to get on the newsroom floor." Both Clark and Jimmy chuckled. "And despite the fact that Clark and I are partners, I can remember plenty of times when Perry kept one of us in the dark about a story the other was working on and I'm sure Clark can remember some as well. Right, sweetheart?" she asked Clark.
"Sure, honey," Clark replied. "For example, there was my undercover assignment at the *Metropolis Star*." Seeing Jimmy's puzzled expression, Clark attempted to prod his friend's recollection of the events of a few years before. "You remember, Jimmy, that was the time I left the Planet and was working with Linda King." The mention of Lois' glamorous rival was enough to jog Jimmy's memory and he nodded affirmatively. Clark smiled and continued, "Why, Lois didn't know anything about that until … ".
"I'll say I didn't!" Lois interrupted, her eyes flashing. "I still can't believe you and Perry kept me in the dark about that. I was so up … "
"So you see Jimmy," Clark hastily interjected, as he eyed Lois carefully, "Lois is right. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about and Perry has a perfectly good reason for treating this like a matter of *national security*."
"Maybe, because it *is* one," a familiar voice said from behind them. Lois, Clark and Jimmy immediately spun around and there, standing in the doorway next to Perry, was Jimmy's father, Jack Olsen.
"Dad!!?" Jimmy exclaimed as he leaped from his seat on Perry's desk.
"Hi, Jimbo," Jack said as he reached over and gave his son a hug.
"Gee, Dad," Jimmy responded with a trace of embarrassment, "you haven't called me that since I was seven."
Jack gave Jimmy an apologetic smile and shook his head. "Has it really been that long, son? Seems like only yesterday. Well, Jimb … er Jim, how are things going? I'm sorry I didn't make it to Metropolis for the holidays, but things were *busy*."
"That's okay, Dad, your work's important. I understand," Jimmy said a little sadly.
Jack then turned to Lois and Clark. "It's good to see both of you again," he said affably. "I hear you're married now. I guess congratulations are in order."
"Thanks," Clark said, giving Jack a slightly perplexed look as they shook hands.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Perry took charge of the situation. "Well, now that the pleasantries are over, why don't we sit down and discuss why we're here instead of at home gettin' some well deserved beauty sleep," he said as he led the group out of his office and into the nearby conference room.
As they entered the conference room and began to take seats around the table Perry spoke:
"I guess I'll just skip the preliminaries and cut to the chase," he announced. "Jack here called me last night with an interesting proposition that would involve the four of you working together … "
"Working together? On what?" Lois interrupted.
"I was just gettin' to that, darlin'," Perry responded with just a trace of exasperation in his voice. "Do you remember that story Clark did around Christmas time about the raid the Special Crimes Unit staged on one of Intergang's arsenals?" he asked.
"Of course, chief," Clark replied. "The SCU and Superman found enough weaponry in that warehouse to outfit a small army. And some of it was a *little* unusual."
"I'll say it was," Lois responded from her perch on the side of Clark's chair. "There were some things that were so high tech they looked like they were taken from the set of the latest Star Trek movie! The SCU took some of the more bizarre stuff to Star Labs for an examination. According to Dr. Klein, Intergang had working models of weapons he'd only heard rumors about. They even had over a dozen of that new laser rifle the Army's been developing," she added.
"We've been trying to do a follow up story about where Intergang might have gotten the stuff. But our investigation has been stymied," Clark continued. "There was a rumor on the street that the weapons came from either a military base or a secret government lab, but we've been unable to confirm it. It's like all our sources have dried up." Lois nodded in agreement. Turning to Jack Clark asked, "Is that what this is all about? Are you trying to find out the source of these weapons for the NIA?"
"You're half right," Jack replied. "I am investigating this matter for the NIA, but I already know the source of the weapons. I even have a pretty good idea as to *how* they got to Metropolis. What I don't know is who is behind this."
"What!" Lois, Clark and Jimmy exclaimed in chorus. "Well, would you mind sharing your information with us, or is it *top secret*?" Lois asked pointedly .
"I don't mind sharing," Jack said with a friendly smile. "In fact, that's *one* of the reasons I'm here. The items in question came from one of our secret weapons storehouses … "
"*Our* storehouse? You mean the NIA's? I didn't know the NIA had weapon storehouses," Jimmy interrupted.
"That's not surprising son, they're supposed to be *secret*," Perry replied sharply. "I've heard rumors about secret NIA labs and weapons caches for years," he said looking directly at Jack. "They're funded out of the *black* part of your budget, aren't they? The part no one is supposed to know about except for a few folks in the White House and a couple members of the Congressional Intelligence committees."
"That's right," Jack answered matter-of-factly. "Over the years the agency has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing some *exceptional* items, and we've got a number of stockpiles in various locations around the world."
Lois gave Clark a concerned glance then quickly turned back to Jack. "Gee, it's so nice to hear about our tax dollars at work," she said sardonically.
"Are you saying that things are disappearing from these stockpiles and showing up on the streets of Metropolis!?" As Clark asked his question his concern about the implications of Jack's statements was mirrored in his face and voice.
"Not just Metropolis," Jack responded. "There's evidence of NIA weapons in several other places over the last few months, including Gotham City, London, Miami, Paris, Berlin, Cairo, even Moscow. I haven't checked the list in a few days but I would imagine that there are probably a few more problems on it by now."
"I guess we haven't heard anything about these other *problems*, for the same reason our investigation hit a dead end. The NIA's covering this up, isn't it?" Lois asked Jack directly.
"I'll admit that the NIA has pulled some strings to keep this hidden from the news media and even other law enforcement agencies," Jack replied. "But I didn't have anything to do with that. In fact that cover up is part of why I contacted Perry to see if we could team up."
"What exactly do you mean by *team up*?" Clark asked warily. "Are you talking about sharing leads and other information on this story?"
"Actually son, I think Jack and I had in mind something a bit more *structured* than that," Perry responded. "More like the four of you working together on an undercover mission to get to the bottom of whoever's selling these things."
"What!?!" Clark exclaimed. "Chief, you must be joking!"
"Way cool," Jimmy said as he flashed a huge excited grin to his father. "I've always wanted to see you in action, Dad."
"Perry you can't be serious," Lois said incredulously. "Sharing information is one thing but this is out of the question! Clark and I spent most of last year investigating the NIA and based on what we've discovered I think that little problem with Trevalian was just the tip of the iceberg!" Clark nodded vigorously in agreement. "Why there's evidence of rampant corruption, including assassinations of political leaders and private citizens, bribery of public officials … !"
"Lois honey," Perry interrupted, "I'm not discounting what you and Clark have uncovered, but we all know that covert overseas operations by our government can get *nasty*. It's a fact of life, unfortunately. Now, what information do you have about the NIA's actions here in the U.S.?"
"I *am* talking about its operations here in the U.S.!" Lois sputtered.
All eyes in the room turned to Jack, who simply shrugged.
"See," Lois said as she pointed her finger accusingly at Jack, "even he admits it's a rogue agency! And you want us to work for the NIA. It just doesn't make sen … "
"No, not *for* the NIA," Jack interrupted, "*with me*. There's a difference, trust me."
"No offense Jack, but how can we trust you?" Clark asked frankly. "You've been a loyal NIA agent for almost 20 years. You've lied, cheated and who knows what else for it. You were even willing … " Clark paused, turned to look at Jimmy and then spun back to confront Jack. "You were even willing to use your own son to get to us when you thought we were endangering it. And now suddenly, you want us to *trust* you and to believe that you've turned against it. Your story just isn't plausible."
"I'm not here to apologize for my actions or those of the Agency," Jack said smoothly. "And you've got it wrong. I'm not asking you to believe that I've suddenly turned against the NIA because I *haven't*."
"Then what the *devil* is this all about? " Lois asked testily, clearly exasperated by Jack's evasive answers.
"It's simple," Jack replied. "I want to save the NIA and I need your help to do it."
Lois, Clark and Jimmy stared at Jack in stunned silence.
"Well, that certainly got their full attention," Perry drawled.
Jack nodded and continued. "As I said earlier, these weapons are from NIA stockpiles. The location of these stockpiles is a top secret even within the Agency itself, known only to the Director, the head of the Covert Operations section and a handful of others. The fact that weapons are coming from one or more of these secret locations can only mean one thing."
"There's a high level traitor … " Clark began.
"or traitors … " Lois added.
"In the NIA!" they said simultaneously.
"Exactly," Jack answered, "and my job … " he continued.
"This seems to be a recurring problem for your employer," Lois interjected sarcastically. "Why should *we* help you solve it?"
"Now darlin'," Perry responded, "for what it's worth I had — hell, I *still have* some of the same misgivings about workin' with the NIA, as you and Clark. But I think we owe it to the man to hear him out. Go on Jack."
"As you've already guessed, it's my job to ferret out the traitor. And it has to be done as quickly and quietly as possible before any more damage can be done to the Agency's interests …" Jack continued.
"*The Agency's* interests!?" Clark interrupted. "What about the interest of the general public?! Aren't you and *the Agency* concerned about *it*?!" he asked incredulously, his voice rising in frustration. "Or the thousands of innocent people that may be in danger because of what's been happening," he continued angrily.
"*I'm* as concerned about what might happen to innocent people as you are!" Jack responded testily. "That's why I took this assignment. But I also believe that there are other interests at stake here that are equally important and that need to be protected. And one of those interests is the NIA's continued existence as a viable intelligence gathering organization. We're already reeling from deep budget cuts, and a new scandal so soon after the Trevalian incident could mean our finish unless it's properly handled."
"Considering some of the things the NIA has done both here and abroad, maybe that would be a good thing," Lois stated frankly as Clark nodded in agreement.
"I can understand why both you and Clark might feel that way, Lois," Jack replied. "But whatever the Agency may have done in the past it still played a fundamental role in winning the cold war."
"Yes, but … " Lois began.
"And remember," Jack interrupted, "since the world is *still* a dangerous place, the Agency continues to serve a useful purpose fighting drug smugglers, international terrorists and assassins. We may be rancid butter, Lois, but at least we're on your side of the bread."
"I'm not so sure about that," Lois replied as she eyed Jack skeptically. "What do you mean that this problem needs to be *properly handled*? Are you expecting us to assist you in another cover-up?" she asked suspiciously.
"Hardly," Jack replied. "I think I'm familiar enough with both you and the Planet to know that wouldn't be possible even if that's what I wanted."
"Yeah right," Lois said as she rolled her eyes.
"Look," Jack said as he rose from the table and began to pace around the room. "when I say that the matter needs to be properly handled I mean the Agency has to show that it has developed effective mechanisms to detect and deal with problems like this. It's the only way to gain back *some* of our reputation." Turning to look out the conference room window at the pre dawn city skyline he continued, "Quite frankly we'd gotten sloppy over the years and were just plain lucky in the Trevalian incident. If the Planet and Superman hadn't been involved there's no telling how far that megalomaniac might have gotten."
"But, if salvaging the Agency's reputation is your objective, wouldn't it make more sense to team up with other NIA agents? You know, keep this matter in-house?" Clark asked.
Still gazing out the window, Jack responded, "Someone was assigned to work with me, an old friend, but he's *not available* now. I think you knew him … his name was Pete Rawlins."
Clark nodded slowly as he remembered the NIA agent who had recently been killed by Deathstroke. "I'm … I'm sorry, really sorry about what happened to him," Clark said hesitantly, his voice filled with remorse. "I didn't know he was a friend of yours … he was a good guy."
"Yes, he was," Jack agreed. "I worked with him on a number of cases." He paused for a few seconds and then continued, "Pete was someone I could trust, that's rare in this business." After a few more moments of silence Jack returned to his seat at the conference table and began speaking again. "As far as a replacement is concerned, the number of field agents has been greatly reduced thanks to the cutbacks. But even if there was someone available, I'd be hesitant to use him or her."
"Because you couldn't be sure that they weren't part of the conspiracy," Clark added. Jack nodded in agreement.
"Well, you've explained why you may need help from outside the Agency, but you still haven't explained why we should be the ones to help you," Lois countered. "Why should we *want* to work with you? Why can't we just take the information you've given us and strike out on our own to uncover the truth?"
"You could do that," Jack replied, "but I don't think it would be wise." Ignoring the skeptical looks from around the room he continued. "Striking out on your own would take time — weeks, maybe even months. That could be dangerous for a lot of innocent people … including Superman."
"Superman!?!" Lois and Clark said in chorus. Lois's grip on Clark's arm tightened. Leaning across the table she stared directly at Jack and asked anxiously, "What does *he* have to do with this?"
"As I said before, the Agency has developed some *exceptional* weapons," Jack responded, his voice taking on a darker tone. "Many of them were created with Superman in mind and are quite capable of harming, maybe even *destroying* him. And if those weapons fell into the wrong hands … " Jack's voice trailed off as he looked at Lois and Clark.
For a few moments an ominous silence hung over the conference room, then Perry turned to Jimmy and said:
"Well, son, you've been pretty quiet during all this. Don't you have anything to say?"
Jimmy looked up from the conference table, glanced around the room nervously and then responded, "Gee chief, I guess I do have one or two questions."
"Well spit 'em out, son, we don't have all day," Perry said gruffly.
Turning to face his father, Jimmy asked, "Well, … this may be a dumb question since you sort of answered it before but it's just not clear to me… " Jimmy began hesitantly as Jack gave him a puzzled look. "I'd like to know why *us*? We're not spies. We're reporters, whistleblowers, er … at least Lois and Clark are. As much as I think it would be exciting to work with you, I just don't see it."
Jack gave Jimmy a warm smile. "Don't sell yourself short, Jim. I'll admit you're inexperienced, but there are more significant factors that make the three of you perfectly suited for this mission."
"Like what?" Jimmy asked.
"Well, primarily the fact I've worked with you before and I know from first hand experience that you're honest, intelligent and resourceful," Jack responded sincerely. "But if that's not enough," Jack said as he turned away from Jimmy and looked directly at Clark, "Clark has certain *talents* that may be particularly useful on this job."
"What do you mean, Jack? What talents are you talking about?" Clark asked nervously, as both he and Lois began to fidget in their shared chair.
Apparently ignoring Clark's questions, Jack continued, "I've traced the weapons that were found in Metropolis, Miami and London to one of the Agency's South American stockpiles, in Corto Maltese to be exact. I believe you're *very* familiar with that country, right Clark?" Jack asked pointedly.
"I did *a little* traveling there when I was in college," Clark said cautiously.
"More than just a little," Jack replied. "You spent two consecutive summers there while in college. You were part of Prof. Henry Ravenwood's archeological expedition which mapped and explored the Malynka ruins. So I'd say you know the region pretty well." Clark nodded slowly in agreement. "You're also fluent in Spanish and in the Malynkan Indian dialect, along with a dozen or *more* other languages, including French, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, *both* the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, Japanese, Swahili, and Hindu. That kind of linguistic talent is rare and it could come in handy on this trip," Jack said smugly.
"How did you find out all this information about me?" Clark asked as he carefully eyed Jack.
"I have my sources," Jack said cryptically, as he gave both Lois and Clark an enigmatic smile.
"Wow, CK!" Jimmy said with admiration. "That is so *cool*."
"Great shades of Elvis, son, is what Jack's saying true?" Perry asked.
"Well … chief," Clark stammered, "I … I had a lot of time on my hands … when I was traveling…It just seemed to make sense to try to learn the languages of some of the places I was visiting. You know … pick up a few key phrases. I'm not really all that fluent."
"I think you're being far *too modest*, Clark," Jack responded.
"And I think you're being far *too mysterious*!" Lois interrupted impatiently. Seizing the opportunity to divert attention from Clark, she sprang up from the side of their chair and walked over to confront Jack directly. "You came here looking for our help. Well, now you've got it!" she snapped. "So don't you think it's time you cut to the chase and told us the details of your plan and how we're supposed to work together?!"
"Now, darlin'," Perry said soothingly, "there's no need to bite the man's head off."
"That's all right, Perry," Jack said agreeably as he gave Lois a knowing smile. "Lois is right, we are wasting time. Let's get to work … team."
Later that day at Lois's and Clark's townhouse:
"Oh good, *there* it is," Lois mumbled to herself as she pulled the large, battered, brown suitcase from a back shelf in the upstairs hall closet." I thought I'd never find it!" After brushing the dust off the bag, Lois lovingly traced the gold initials "C.K." on its front and carried it into the bedroom. She then placed it on the bed next to her open bag and began to fill it with Clark's clothes.
Suddenly the room was filled with a familiar *swooshing* sound as Clark entered at superspeed through the open window. Landing on the far side of the room Clark blew the window shut and after spinning into a tee shirt and jeans came up behind Lois, wrapped his arms around her and began nuzzling her neck.
"Hmmmmm," Lois murmured appreciatively. Rotating in Clark's arms so that she could face him Lois pulled Clark closer so she could kiss him deeply, her body tingling everywhere they touched. "Welcome back, sweetheart," she said breathlessly as the kiss ended. "I've missed you. You've been gone over an hour. Did another emergency crop up besides that overturned tractor trailer on the freeway?"
"Actually, honey," Clark responded, "I stopped off at Police Headquarters for a meeting with Bill Henderson and Maggie Sawyer."
Sensing a possible story, Lois began to pepper Clark with questions. "Why? Is something the matter? Is there a new supervillain on the scene threatening the safety of Metropolis?" she asked hurriedly.
"Honey, that's not …"
Not waiting for Clark to finish his sentence, Lois continued. "That's it, isn't it? Darn it! Why does this kind of thing always happen to me? I mean us! We hunt around for weeks for a good story and now two of them fall in our laps at the same time! It's just not … "
Clark interrupted Lois's babbling with a kiss. "Calm down, darling, there's no story in this," Clark said. "I decided to see Bill and Maggie to let them know some of the details from our meeting with Jack. They've got as much of a stake in getting these NIA weapons off the street as we do."
"Oh," Lois replied, as she gave Clark a small sheepish smile, "I guess I got a *little* carried away. But it was an honest mistake."
"Of course honey, it was a perfectly natural response," Clark said teasingly as he returned Lois's smile with his own wry grin. Clark's face fell a little as he looked around their bedroom. "Wow, Lois, do you think we'll need to take this much stuff?" he asked.
"Do you really think I'm packing too much?" Lois responded, as she stepped out of Clark's embrace and walked over to one of the stacks of clothing on the bed. "I tried to limit it to just the essentials. But you never know what we might need on this trip, and we don't even know long we might be gone," she explained.
"I guess you're right, honey." Clark said as he shrugged and sat down in a nearby chair, while Lois resumed packing. "I still don't like the idea of working with the NIA," Lois continued matter-of-factly, "But at least this trip will give me a chance to wear some things I didn't use on our honeymoon." Picking up a skimpy white lace teddie, she held it up in front of her and stood before Clark. "Do you like it?" she asked coyly.
"Oh, it's very nice, hon," Clark said somewhat distractedly as he gave Lois a small smile.
Lois tossed the teddie into her bag and walked back over to Clark. "All right, sweetie, spill it," she said pointedly as she sat on the side of Clark's chair and draped her arm over his shoulders. "What are you obsessing about this time?"
Clark sighed and shook his head. "Gee honey, have you added mind reading to your list of talents or am I that transparent?"
Snuggling into Clark's lap, Lois pulled him closer until their foreheads touched. "Well it's pretty obvious that something is bothering you. You generally pay more attention when I'm modeling my lingerie!"
Clark laughed. "Okay, honey," he responded, "if you must know, I'm really worried about some of the things Jack said in our meeting this morning."
"I can't blame you, darling," Lois said with concern. "I'm worried too and *angry*! I can't believe that *our* government had an organized program to develop weapons to destroy you! I've always suspected that there might be some kind of renegade anti-Superman operation like Bureau 39 still in existence, particularly after I saw that quantum disrupter/disbander *thingee* Lex and Ethan and Eric Press used against you. But this is different, the NIA isn't run by a bunch of kooks like Trask. It takes its directions from the highest levels of our government! The fact that it wants to harm you after all the good you've done just makes my blood boil!"
"Lois, honey, I understand how you feel," Clark responded, "but that's not what I'm worried about."
"It's not?!" Lois asked incredulously.
"No it's not," Clark replied. "Lois, I don't like the fact that these weapons were developed, but I can understand why they were. When I first appeared on the scene, despite my friendly actions I was an unknown quantity. The government couldn't be certain what my real intentions were and it had to do something in case I wasn't as benevolent as I appeared to be. Developing defensive weapons was the logical thing to do."
"Logical, hmm? I think you've been watching too many Star Trek reruns," Lois replied as she shook her head and gave Clark a wry grin. "Well, then, what *is* bothering you?" she asked.
"I'm much more worried about how much Jack knew about *me*, about my background," Clark said seriously. "Honey, I tried to keep a very low profile before I came to Metropolis. When I was traveling all over the world I made a point of not attracting attention to myself and avoiding the spotlight …"
"So that no one would suspect how different you were," Lois interjected. Clark nodded in agreement. "But the fact that Jack knows so much about your past means that … " she began.
"Means that someone has been observing me for a long time," Clark finished. "And I don't know who they are, why they're doing it, and what else they may know about me."
"Do you think this *someone* knows or suspects you're Superman?" Lois asked anxiously.
"I honestly don't know, honey," Clark answered. "Jack may suspect something is up based on our reactions to him this morning. But I doubt he knows anything specific about *you know who*. I do know that I'll have to be extra careful around him on this assignment while I try to figure out exactly what he does know and who his sources are."
"You mean while *we* try to figure out his sources and what he knows. We're a team, remember, Lane *and* Kent," Lois playfully admonished.
"Yes, ma'am, I remember. I also remember that you like to be on *top*," Clark said matching her playful tone as he pulled her closer to him and began to pepper her face with soft gentle kisses. Lois sighed contentedly. "You know I've been thinking," she whispered. "We have almost five hours before we have to meet Jack and Jimmy at the airport. This would be a wonderful opportunity for a little *down payment* on that quality time you promised me."
Clark gave Lois a wide grin. "I like the way you think Ms. Lane."
"Why thank you, Mr. Kent." Lois said as she tangled her fingers in Clark's hair and pulled him close for a long, slow, deep kiss.
During the long and uneventful flight to Corto Maltese, Lois, Clark and Jimmy spent time familiarizing themselves with their cover story and the new identities Jack had prepared for them. The plane finally landed in San Tropez, Corto Maltese's lush and tropical capital city, and following an equally uneventful experience at airport customs, the group made its way to the Hotel Arguila in San Tropez's central district. Lois, Clark, Jimmy, and Jack had just finished registering at the front desk and were heading towards the elevators when they were approached by two men whose subdued dress and demeanor were in stark contrast to the bright colors and garish decor of the hotel lobby:
"Senor Jack Olsen of Olsen's Civil Engineering?" the older of the two gentlemen inquired as he carefully scrutinized each member of the group.
"Yes?" Jack replied.
"Bueno. I'm so pleased you have arrived safely," the older man said as a friendly smile crept over distinguished features. "I am Manuel Sandoval, Deputy Minister for Public Works and this … " Sandoval said as he turned and gestured at the younger man standing behind him, "is my assistant, Roberto Ortega. We've been waiting for you."
Jack eyed both men carefully as he shook first Sandoval's then Ortega's outstretched hands. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Minister Sandoval, but I must admit I'm a little surprised to see you here. It's rather late and I wasn't anticipating meeting with any members of your government until Monday morning. Is there a problem of some kind?"
"No, no, nothing of the sort," Sandoval said affably. "I apologize for our unexpected presence here at the hotel. I realize that you and your associates must be tired after your long trip. But you must forgive an old man's impatience. Your arrival in Corto Maltese means the culmination of one of my long held dreams … "
"You must mean the Cordova Valley Dam project," Clark interjected.
"Quite correct, young man," Sandoval replied. "And you are … ?"
"Now it's my turn to apologize to you and Mr. Ortega," Jack said before Clark could utter another sound. "I've been remiss in my introductions. This is my son Jim." Jack placed his hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "And allow me to introduce David Guthrie, my surveyor," he said as he pointed to Clark, "and this is Rebecca Carr, who is … "
But before Jack could complete his introduction of Lois, Ortega interrupted. "Encantado, Senorita Carr, but surely you do not expect us to believe that a *woman*, particularly one as lovely as yourself is a civil engineer!?"
Lois gave Ortega an artificially sweet smile. "Why thank you for the compliments, Senor Ortega. You're quite correct. I'm *not* a civil engineer."
"I knew it!" Ortega said smugly, as he reached for Lois's hand and kissed it.
"I'm a demolitions expert," Lois replied matter-of- factly, as she maintained the same sweet expression on her face.
"One of the best," Clark added. His expression was bland but his eyes danced with laughter as he peered over his sunglasses and met Lois's gaze. Lois, her own eyes twinkling with barely controlled amusement, raised an eyebrow before turning her attention back to Ortega, who was clearly taken aback by Lois's revelation. "Oh … oh … really," Ortega stammered in response to Clark's statement, as he quickly dropped Lois's hand and eyed her nervously. "How … *interesting.*"
After successfully suppressing his own amused grin Sandoval turned back to Jack and the others. "Well," he said, "now that the introductions are complete, perhaps we can get down to business. As you've gathered, Senor Olsen, I would like to meet with you and your colleagues to discuss the Cordova Dam Project as soon as possible. If you're available tonight I'm sure I could arrange to have one of the hotel's conference rooms set aside for our use."
Lois spoke up almost immediately. "I think that's a wonderful idea, Jack," she interjected. "Why don't you and Jimmy begin laying the ground work for the meeting with Minister Sandoval and Senor Ortega, while *Dave* and I take the luggage and the equipment up to the rooms. It shouldn't take very long, then we can join you back here in the lobby."
"An excellent idea, Senorita Carr," Sandoval replied. "That should minimize any delay and we will be able to get right to work. Don't you agree, Senor Olsen?"
Jack looked at Lois suspiciously. "I agree that it would save us some time, Minister Sandoval, but it would be *too* much trouble for *Becky* and *Dave*. I wouldn't feel right about it."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all, Jack. Right, *Dave*?" Lois replied hurriedly. Catching Clark's eye, she silently urged him to follow her lead.
"Right, … *Becky*." Clark added as he gave Lois a slightly perplexed look. "There's nothing to worry about Jack. We'll take care of everything."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Jack mumbled.
"Did you say something, Senor Olsen?" Ortega asked.
"No, no, nothing at all," Jack responded hurriedly. Resigned to the fact that he had been successfully outmaneuvered, he turned to Lois and Clark and said, "I guess we'll see you two in a few minutes," then he and Jimmy accompanied Sandoval and Ortega to the hotel manager's office.
As soon as the others had left, Clark turned to Lois. "All right, honey, what the devil was that all about?" he said giving her a look of bewilderment.
"Shsssh, lower your voice, you never know who might be listening!" Lois whispered as she cast suspicious glances at the handful of people wandering through the hotel lobby.
"What?!" Clark replied.
"Never mind," Lois continued in hushed tones as she gave Clark a mischievous smile. "I'll explain upstairs. For now just play along."
After looking around the lobby again Lois turned back to Clark and loudly announced, "Well, *Dave*, since you've got so much stuff you should take the luggage cart." And grabbing her bags from the bell captain she sprinted for the closest elevator. Just before the door closed Lois shouted across to Clark "By the way, *Dave*, I need to talk to you about an equipment problem, so stop by my room as soon as you've put the rest of the gear away."
Clark stared after Lois for a few seconds, then he shrugged and turned back to the bell captain. "—You heard the lady—," Clark said Spanish. "—Let's go.—" The bell captain nodded in agreement and he and Clark headed into the waiting elevator car.
Lois had only been in her room for a few minutes when there was a knock at her door. Peering out the small peephole, she was relieved to see Clark standing outside in the hotel corridor. Lois eagerly opened the door, pulled Clark inside and rapidly closed it behind him. Once inside she launched herself at Clark, wrapping her arms around his neck, pushing him up against the door and ravenously kissing him as she pressed her entire body against his.
"I know it's only been 12 hours or so, but God, I've missed touching you," Lois said breathlessly as the kiss ended.
"I've missed you too, sweetheart," Clark replied as he tucked Lois's head under his chin and hugged her tightly to his chest so he could enjoy the feel of her body next to his. "I didn't realize how hard it would be when we agreed with Jack's suggestion that Dave and Becky would be *just friends*," he complained. "Not being able to hold your hand, much less kiss you since we left Metropolis has been torture! I think that was the longest flight of my life!"
Lois sighed as she snuggled even closer to Clark, "It was for me too. I guess flying *Superman Express* for the past few months has spoiled me. It felt *unnatural* to be making a long trip like this without your arms wrapped around me." Clark nodded in agreement. "I'm just so *angry* at Jack Olsen and his harebrained ideas!" Lois lamented. "Here we are, away from Metropolis in a tropical paradise and you're staying down the hall! Sharing a suite with Jimmy and Jack no less!"
"Speaking of Jack, I assume your performance in the hotel lobby was for his benefit?" Clark asked as he tenderly caressed Lois's cheek. Lois nodded in agreement. "You realize, of course," Clark continued, "he probably thinks we're up here plotting against him."
"That's exactly what I want him to think," Lois responded her eyes flashing. "He deserves it for being so darn mysterious at the Planet and for manipulating us into helping him."
Clark chuckled. "Then I suppose Jack should consider this a *life lesson at no charge* courtesy of Lois Lane?"
Lois giggled. "You could say that," she said as she nodded her head affirmatively.
Smiling warmly, Clark tilted Lois's chin up until her eyes met his and gave her a tender kiss. After savoring the feel of Lois's lips on his for a few minutes Clark reluctantly broke the kiss off. "Darling," he said, "as much as *I've* enjoyed teaching Jack this particular lesson, we'd better join the others."
"Well, before we go back downstairs, there is one more thing I wanted to talk to you about in private," Lois replied as she began toying with the buttons of Clark's shirt.
"What is it honey?" Clark asked.
"Are you planning to *zoom* back to Metropolis anytime soon?" Lois asked as she gradually moved one of her hands from the front of Clark's shirt and began tracing a line with her finger tip from his cheek to his neck and back again.
Clark shivered slightly in response to Lois's touch and pulled her closer. "I was planning to sneak out and *zoom* back tonight for my regular patrol," Clark replied. "I don't think it would be wise for *you know who* to be absent from Metropolis for too long. Why, did you forget something?" he asked.
"Actually," Lois said coyly as she began to place small kisses along Clark's jawbone, "I was wondering if you could bring back some Double Fudge Crunch bars for me?"
"What?!" Clark asked.
"Clark, that creepy customs officer must have taken my entire stash of Crunch bars when he searched my luggage at the airport!" Lois replied, her voice taking on a slightly frustrated tone as she remembered what happened. "You know they're almost impossible to find outside of Metropolis and if I can't have *you* I should at least be able to have *chocolate*!"
"Gee, does that mean I rank on the same level as Double Fudge Crunch bars? I'm honored," Clark teased as he gave Lois a good-natured grin. "Okay honey, I should be able to smuggle back a few bars for you, but it won't be easy. You know the *suit* doesn't have pockets," he joked.
Lois flashed Clark a bright, pleased smile, "Thanks, sweetie, you're the best," she said as she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. The kiss quickly escalated as Clark pulled her into a close embrace and eagerly pressed his mouth to hers. But before their kiss could deepen any further there was a knock on the door and a familiar voice asked rather sheepishly: "Guys? Are you in there? Dad kinda wants you downstairs … *now*."
Despite the fact that the meeting with Sandoval and Ortega lasted several hours, Jack had the group up before dawn the next day. Dressed in beige khaki work clothes and heavy boots, they were already outside waiting when Sandoval, Ortega and the local work crew arrived for the trek into Corto Maltese's rugged interior region. Quickly loading their equipment into the trucks the group set off. About three hours later the group approached a small village, in the foothills of the San Marquez mountains just inside the Cordova Valley. The sun was barely over the horizon, yet the temperature and humidity were already high and the day promised to be a sweltering one. As the truck Lois, Clark and Jimmy were riding in pulled to a stop in a clearing, Jimmy leaped out and dashed towards a nearby patch of jungle.
"Gee," Clark said as he watched Jimmy's speedy retreat into the bushes, "considering the way he drives and all the wild rides he takes on his motorcycle, I never expected Jimmy to get carsick."
"I'm not surprised, this heat would make anyone queasy," Lois said wearily as she slid to the ground and leaned back against the side of the truck. "My head is pounding and my stomach feels like it's doing the Macarena," she continued as she placed her head on her knees and began to rock slowly back and forth.
Clark crouched down next to Lois and gently placed his arm around her shoulder. "Can I get you anything hon … er, *Becky*?" he asked with concern.
"Thanks *Dave*. A cool drink would be nice," Lois responded as she gave Clark a weak smile. Almost before she finished her sentence Clark had located the canteen in the truck and had handed it to her. Lois took a small swallow from it and grimaced. "Ugh," she said, "I just wish this water wasn't so tepid."
Clark took the canteen from Lois, and after carefully looking around the area to make sure that they were not being observed, he chilled it with a quick blast of his superbreath and returned it to her. Lois gave Clark a warm smile and took a long sip of the now cool water. "I don't know what I'd do without you, sweetheart," she whispered.
Before Clark could respond, Jimmy reappeared from the jungle clearing. Pale and a little unsteady on his feet he staggered to the truck and without a word climbed into its back, and curled up into a near-fetal position.
"Is he okay?" Lois asked nervously as Clark climbed into the back of the truck to check on Jimmy. "His pulse, respiration and temperature are just about normal," Clark responded as he scanned his friend's prone figure with his supersenses. "I think he's just asleep." Clark's diagnosis was confirmed moments later, when Jimmy rolled onto his back and began to snore.
"Well, I can't really blame him," Lois replied as she removed her baseball cap and began fanning herself. "We really haven't had much sleep in the last couple of days," Stifling a yawn, she continued, "I could use a nap myself."
Clark smiled and repositioned himself on the ground next to Lois so that she could rest her head on his shoulder. Lois closed her eyes and snuggled closer to Clark. The sound of his steady heartbeat and his rhythmic breathing had just begun to lull her to sleep when Jack, Sandoval and Ortega walked over to the truck.
"Sorry to disturb you two," Jack said in a voice tinged with irritation, "but have you seen Jim?"
Clark sighed and pointed over his shoulder to the back of the truck, as he rose to his feet.
"What?!" Jack responded as he and Sandoval quickly moved to the rear of the truck to check on Jimmy.
"Jimmy isn't feeling very well and neither is Becky, for that matter," Clark said as he joined Jack and Sandoval. "I don't think it's anything serious, probably just a combination of jet lag and this heat. After all it's almost 90 degrees here and it's just 8:00 in the morning. That takes some getting used to."
"That is very true Senor Guthrie. Our weather is *intense* and it often has this affect on visitors," Sandoval said sympathetically. "But you do not seem to be bothered by it at all! In fact you're not even sweating!" he added in amazement.
Squirming a little, Clark chose his words carefully and hoped that Jack was too intent on determining Jimmy's condition to notice Sandoval's comments. "Well I've traveled quite a bit in tropical parts of the world, so I guess I've gotten used to this kind of weather. I've always been very … *adaptable*."
"You are very lucky to be so *adaptable*, my young friend," Sandoval responded. "I'm sure your companions wish they shared this trait."
"You can say that again," Lois declared as she wearily rose from her spot on the ground.
Ortega moved closer to Lois and took her by the hand. "I am terribly sorry that you are not feeling well, Rebecca," he said unctuously. "Perhaps now you'll reconsider my offer and ride with me. I'm certain my Range Rover is more comfortable than this flatbed truck."
"That's very kind of you, Roberto," Lois said with a tight smile as she deftly removed her hand from his, "but as I explained before, I like to be near my *equipment* and since I don't think you're willing to carry my explosives and detonators too," Ortega gave Lois a nervous look and nodded in agreement, "I guess I'll just have to stay where I am." A sly smile crept over Lois's face and she surreptitiously winked at Clark. "But I wouldn't want your generous offer to go to waste," she continued smoothly. "Maybe someone else could take my place? I'm sure Jimmy would appreciate a kinder, gentler ride. Right, Jim?"
"Huh!?" Jimmy groggily replied. Even though he was now in an upright position, Jimmy was still dazed and confused as he leaned against the truck's side railing, holding his head in his hands.
Jack quickly exited the truck and went to Jimmy's side. It was clear that he was still concerned about Jimmy's condition and he placed a strong arm around his son's shoulder to steady him. Jack was rewarded for his actions with a weak smile and a quick wink from Jimmy which Jack acknowledged with a wink of his own before he turned back to join the others. "I think this discussion is basically moot," he declared firmly. "No one is going to be *riding* anywhere in this kind of terrain. "We'll be on foot until we reach the proposed site for the dam. So I suggest we rest up a little and then get ready for a *long* walk."
"Gee, a 75-mile hike through a steamy, bug-infested jungle. You really know how to show a lady a good time, Jack," Lois interjected acidly.
"I know you're not at 100 percent right now, Becky," Clark said with concern as he struggled to remain in character and mask the depth of his true feelings for Lois. "Do you think you can handle that?" Lois smiled reassuringly and nodded. "How about you, Jim?" Clark asked as he looked back at the younger man still leaning against the side of the truck.
"Sure, C … er, Dave, … I'm fine," Jimmy replied shakily. "But I sure wish I had the number of that truck."
Jack gave Jimmy a warm smile "You mean the one that hit you, right son?"
"Gee, Dad, it didn't just hit me. I think it backed up and ran over me a few times just for the heck of it," Jimmy joked. "But I'll be okay, just give me a few minutes to clear my head."
"Sure Jim," Jack said affectionately. "You and Becky rest up. Dave and I will take care of the equipment."
"There would be no need to undertake this arduous journey if we were to follow *my* suggestion and build the dam near here," Ortega stated petulantly.
"As I've told you before, Roberto, that is not an option," Sandoval replied evenly. "There are simply too many villages in this area. Constructing the dam here would destroy those homes and farms."
"Stupid peasants," Ortega responded. "Their worthless homes and farms could easily be relocated. This area is clearly the best location for the dam and they are simply standing in the way of progress!"
"Actually," Clark observed, "After studying the maps and the geography of this region, it's pretty clear that the best location for the dam would be further up the Cordova River, about 80 miles or so to the northwest of here. I think the area is part of the Quinada Plantation?"
Ortega blanched. "That … that location is simply not available," he sputtered. "It … it is a very hazardous region."
"Politically hazardous is what you really mean," Sandoval countered. Turning to face Clark he continued, "You are correct, Senor Guthrie. The best location for the dam would be on that part of the Quinada plantation. But that would not sit well with its owner, *Preston Trager*." The normally congenial Sandoval almost spat out Trager's name.
Observing this change in Sandoval's demeanor, Lois sprang to life. "Who's Preston Trager? What does he have to do with this project?"
"Preston Trager is one of Corto Maltese's leading residents and philanthropists," Ortega answered. "He owns mining and farming interests in this country and he has a considerable fortune which … "
"Which he has used to buy power and influence at the highest levels of our government!" Sandoval interrupted angrily.
"Gee, that sounds vaguely familiar," Lois quipped as Jack shot her a look of disapproval.
Sandoval sighed and gave Lois a rueful grin. "I realize that this kind of thing is fairly commonplace, Senorita Carr, but that doesn't make it any easier to tolerate," he replied. "Despite the fact that it will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of my countrymen, the Cordova Dam project has been delayed for years because of the action of men like Preston Trager, who place their interests above all others. In this case I'm afraid that his greed and selfishness has placed my country in the untenable position of having to endanger the treasures of its past if it wishes to move forward into the future."
"What do you mean?" Lois asked.
"Exploratory excavations in the area suggest that the ruins of the fabled Malynkan city of Xinatocha are located close to the proposed dam site. While the proximity such a significant archaeological find would normally render the site unacceptable, in this case, thanks to Trager and his friends in high places, we have no choice. The dam *must* be built there, or it will not be built at all. Even though I want the dam project to be completed, it greatly disturbs me that we may have to make this kind of sacrifice."
"I think we all realize that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the common good," Jack replied as he stole a quick glance in Jimmy's direction. "But I can also understand your concerns in this matter Minister Sandoval," he continued smoothly. "Rest assured that we will do everything we can to ensure that the Cordova dam's negative impact on the surrounding countryside will be minimal. In fact after we have completed our survey of the dam site, I suggest that we visit the area containing the Xinatocha ruins as well, to determine how best to protect them. At no extra charge over our base fee of course."
"You would be willing to do this?" Sandoval asked eagerly.
"Of course, just part of the full range of services provided by Olsen Civil Engineering," Jack said with a smile.
"Excellente, Senor Olsen!" Sandoval responded happily. "That would be wonderful, just wonderful! Such an examination would certainly assuage some of my misgivings about the proposed dam site. Roberto and I will see if we can obtain extra supplies for the trip at that village."
As Sandoval and Ortega quickly headed into the nearby village, Jack turned back to Lois, Clark and Jimmy.
"Gee, Jack, thanks a lot," Lois said testily as she took off her cap and waved it around to disperse the cloud of insects buzzing around her head. "Your little side trip is certain to extend our stay in this godforsaken jungle!"
"Well, it can't be helped, our storehouse is in the same general area," Jack said evenly. "We can use the fake environmental impact study as cover and be able to examine it without attracting any additional attention to ourselves."
"You mean your study will be a fake?! Clark said with alarm. "But that site might contain priceless pre-Columbian artifacts. Sandoval is depending on us to come up with a way to protect them."
"I know, but there simply isn't enough time to do it," Jack replied coolly.
"But if we don't do *something* everything in that area will end up under 500 feet of water!" Lois interjected.
"We can't worry about that now," Jack said tersely.
"But … " Lois and Clark said in unison.
"Look," Jack replied curtly, "in case you've forgotten, our mission is to find out who's stealing NIA weapons and to put a stop to it. To do that I'm willing to put Xinatocha, the Sphinx, or even the *Washington Monument* under 500 feet of water! Now, we've got a job to do! So let's get moving."
Leaving behind some men to guard the trucks, the work team set out. Despite Lois's and Jimmy's weakened physical condition (and Ortega's constant complaints), they were able to make good time to the proposed dam site. Once there the work went quickly, thanks to Jack's engineering skills and Clark's well-timed (but secret) use of his superpowers. Upon completion of their work up river, the group split up, with the bulk of the work team returning to the base camp back at the village, while Lois, Clark, Jimmy, Jack, Sandoval and Ortega, along with two guides, went further into the dense jungle, until they reached the abandoned archeological dig that marked the purported location of Xinatocha's ruins. Arriving during a driving rain storm, they made camp in a nearby clearing, ate a soggy meal and then turned in for the night hoping that the dawn would bring drier weather.
Later, after the storms had finally cleared out, Clark left his tent and silently made his way to the river. Finding a spot in a clearing close to the water's edge Clark sat down, expanded his supersenses, and drank in the myriad sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding jungle. The yellow crescent moon hung low in the sky and the surface of the river glistened like a sheet of black ice. After a few minutes there was a slight rustling in the bushes behind him. A small smile crept over Clark's face as he recognized the sound of Lois's heartbeat and he turned to face her just as she entered the clearing.
"I should know by now that it's pointless to try and sneak up on you," Lois said with a wry smile as she joined Clark at the riverbank.
"That's very true." Clark replied as he returned her smile with one of his own, "but I think you should keep trying. It brings some excitement into our *dull and mundane* lives. And besides, I *love* surprises."
Lois laughed. "That's not what you said last month after Perry threw that surprise birthday party for you," she teased as she moved closer to Clark so that she was standing directly over him.
"Well, there are surprises," Clark answered as he playfully grabbed Lois by the arm and quickly pulled her into his lap, "and then there are *surprises*."
Lois giggled as she wrapped her arms around Clark's neck. Pulling face closer to hers she slowly brushed her lips against his, enjoying the texture and the tantilizing sensation of his warm breath on her face. As the kiss ended Lois sighed, and nestled in closer to Clark, resting her head on his bare chest. "So," she whispered, "what are you doing up? You snuck out to Metropolis last night, I've still got a few crunch bars left to prove it," she teased.
"Two words," Clark replied. "Jimmy's snoring."
"Well," Lois snickered, "I did warn you. I had an earful when I stayed at his place a few years ago. After a while even his heavy metal music is preferable."
Clark chuckled. "I can believe that." he replied. "So, what brings you out at this time of night?" he asked with just a tinge of concern in his voice.
Lois shrugged. "I don't know," she responded, "just restless, maybe. To be perfectly honest, I haven't really slept well on this trip. I guess I've missed sleeping next to you."
Clark drew back slightly from their embrace so he could cup Lois's cheek in his hand. "Darling," he said, "when we get back home, we are going away on a *real* vacation. Just the two of us." Lois nodded in agreement and snuggled back into Clark's chest. "Maybe we could *finally* go to Hawaii?" she asked teasingly.
Clark smiled and nodded. "Or Paris. Or we could even go somewhere closer to home, like the beach or the mountains," Clark replied. "But I guess after this trip you won't want to go *camping with Clark* for a long time," he added with a grin.
"Sweetheart, being alone with you *anywhere* sounds wonderful," Lois said sincerely, her eyes sparkling. "And don't worry, I'd love to go *camping with Clark* anytime. It's camping with Jimmy and Jack and Manuel and Roberto and Jose and Eduardo I never want to do again!"
"Well, I think that can be arranged," Clark chuckled, as he pulled Lois into an even closer embrace and tucked her head under his chin. Then looking up at the night sky, Clark sighed and said, "I hate to bring this up, but I'm afraid we'd better get back to our tents. It's getting late and Jack will probably want us up at the crack of dawn tomorrow."
"I've got an idea," Lois replied with a sly grin. "Instead of you going back to your tent and me going back to mine, why don't you just come back to *my tent*? I promise *I* won't snore."
"Honey, you know Becky and Dave are supposed to be just friends. What if someone sees us together?" Clark asked with concern.
"Oh, come on Clark, that's not going to happen. If they can sleep through Jimmy's snoring they won't notice us at all," Lois countered. "Besides even if someone other than Jimmy or Jack did see us together, what of it? They'd just think that we've become *closer* friends over the course of this trip. Soooo—" she drawled coquettishly as she began to plant small kisses on Clark's neck and chest and tangle her fingers in his hair. "Why don't you come back to my place *Dave*? I don't have pizza or movies there but I'm sure we could think of *something* to do for entertainment."
Clark hesitated for a few seconds. "I think I've got a better idea." he replied. Then he stood up, scooped Lois up into his arms and began to slowly levitate into the nearby treetops. Lois giggled and her eyes grew wider. "Where are we going?!" she asked breathlessly.
"Well, instead of movies I thought that we'd do a little role playing to *entertain* ourselves," Clark replied as he gave a Lois a huge grin. "Have you ever seen *Tarzan and his Mate*?" he asked playfully. Lois giggled again and nodded affirmatively as she snuggled closer to Clark and pressed her lips to his. As they floated higher and their kisses deepened, Lois felt her awareness of the outside world fade away and time itself seemed to stand still creating a cocoon of silence around her and Clark.
Lois and Clark returned to camp hours later. Their return was as undetected as their absence and they were able to slip back into their respective tents for a few hours' sleep before dawn. As expected, the next morning Jack had everyone up at first light. Leaving Eduardo behind to guard the camp, the rest of the team hiked to the actual site of the ruins and began their examination. An hour or so into the process, Jack was able to sneak away from the others. Not long after this disappearance, Jack returned to the clearing and quickly walked over the to area where Lois, Clark and Jimmy were working.
"You must have found what you were looking for." Clark said quietly to Jack as he looked up from a large tablet of Malynkan hieroglyphics.
Jack nodded affirmatively. He quickly surveyed the area then turned back to Clark and asked, "Where are Sandoval and Jose?"
"They went to the smaller site we found nearby. They should be back in about an hour," Clark replied.
"Good that gives us some time," Jack responded. "I need you to come with me right now."
"Great," Lois interjected as she stood up and brushed dirt from her hands. "I was getting tired of looking at stone tablets and broken pottery."
"Not you Lois, just Clark and Jim," Jack said brusquely.
"What?!" Clark and Jimmy said in unison.
"Now wait just a damn minute Jack," Lois hissed. "I thought I was a part of this team!"
"You are, but … " Jack began.
"Then *why* isn't she coming with us?" Clark asked.
"Because she has an important job to do right here." Jack replied.
"What kind of job?" Lois asked suspiciously.
"We can't let the others know about the storehouse, it's *top secret*. Even if Sandoval and Jose are gone, Ortega's still here and I'm sure he's already suspicious enough because of my initial disappearance," Jack said as he watched Ortega observing them from across the site. "We can't all leave at the same time, someone has got to distract him."
"And that's my job?!" Lois asked incredulously. "Why do I have to be the one to distract him?! Why not Jimmy or Clark?"
"Simple, they're not his *type*," Jack responded.
"What the *hell* do you mean by that, Jack!?" Clark interjected, his voice rising in anger.
"Lower you voice for god's sake!" Jack said in hushed tones. "I'm not asking her to do anything improper. It's just very clear that Ortega is attracted to Lois and I want her to use that attraction to our advantage." Turning to directly face Lois, Jack continued. "All you have to do is smile, chat about the weather or the ruins—whatever!. Just keep him occupied and out of our hair while we do a preliminary examination."
Both Lois and Clark gave Jack skeptical frowns. "If there was any other way to do this, I'd use it but there just isn't. I *need* you to do this Lois," Jack pleaded.
Lois gave Clark a questioning look. Clark shrugged in response. Lois nodded and then turned back to face Jack. "All right, I'll do it. But it will *cost* you.," she replied pointedly. "In addition to this story, the Planet gets an *exclusive* interview with the NIA's Director of Covert Operations as a part of our series."
"What?!" Jack replied. "No one has *ever* interviewed the DCO in the entire history of the Agency!"
"You heard me," Lois answered sharply. "I only do this if you use your influence to get us that interview."
"You drive a hard bargain, but it's a deal," Jack responded begrudgingly.
"Good," Lois replied as she began to make her way to the far side if the clearing where Ortega was working. Then suddenly she spun back around to face Jack. "By the way, I hope you're not thinking of double crossing us on this interview later. You really wouldn't want to get either Clark or *me* angry. It wouldn't be *pretty*." The underlying menace in Lois's voice contrasted with the sweet smile on her face.
"Don't worry Lois, I'll keep my word, a deal's a deal," Jack responded.
"It had better be," Clark said sharply.
Lois nodded in agreement and then headed off in Ortega's direction. As she neared his work area she called out, "Oh Roberto!" in a sweet voice.
"Yes, Rebecca!?" Ortega responded eagerly.
"Whatever are you working on? It looks … just fascinating?!" Lois said as she sauntered up to Ortega and leaned in close to him. Ortega smiled broadly, and began to show Lois around the section of the site he had been examining.
Jack smiled wolfishly. "Let's go, it looks like she's got things under control here."
"All right. But Roberto had better keep his hands to himself," Clark seethed.
"There's nothing to worry about, Clark. I may not have worked with her for long but it's pretty clear to me Lois can take care of herself. That's *some* wife you have," Jack said admiringly.
"I know she can take care of herself. But that doesn't mean I don't worry about her," Clark responded. "And she's more than just my *wife*, she's my partner and my best friend," he added pointedly.
"Yes she is, isn't she?" Jack acknowledged. "You're a lucky man. Sometimes I wish … " Jack was silent for a few moments, then continued, "but never mind, we'd better hurry before the others get back."
With Lois providing the necessary diversion, Jack, Clark and Jimmy slipped away from the worksite. They made their way through the dense rainforest until they reached the foothills of the mountains. Once there, they followed a dirt path that led to the entrance of a large cave.
"This is it," Jack said as he led Clark and Jimmy inside.
"Gee Dad," Jimmy said with a trace of disappointment, "I thought the storehouse would be more impressive. You know really high tech."
Clark secretly scanned the area with his X-ray vision. Discovering that he was unable to see through any of the cave's walls, he quickly activated his superhearing and was able to detect a muffled mechanical hum, emanating from behind the rocks. "I don't know, Jim," Clark said warily "I think there's a lot more here than meets the eye."
Jack nodded in agreement, and passed his hand over a small rock that was protruding from one of the walls. Suddenly a small section of the wall sprang open and a panel appeared. Jack approached the panel and punched in a long series of numbers and letters. As he completed the last of his entries, a large section of the rock wall about 50 feet ahead of them began to shimmer until it transformed into a futuristic looking doorway.
"Oh man this is flat out amazing, Dad!" Jimmy said excitedly as a broad grin split his face.
"It is pretty spectacular, isn't it, son?" Jack replied warmly, his face wearing an identical grin. "You'll never guess how it was done! These rock walls aren't real at all it's a … "
"Hologram!" Clark interjected, in a voice tinged with awe. "This cave is entirely manmade out of some lead based alloy and it uses a hologram to simulate a natural interior! But I've never seen one of such high quality on this kind of scale before!"
Both Jimmy and Jack turned back and looked at Clark. "That's exactly right!?" Jack replied in amazement. "Look, I can understand how you *might* figure out that this cave is a holographic display, but how the devil could you know that these walls are made with a titanium steel/lead alloy?!" he asked incredulously.
"It was just a *lucky* guess," Clark replied quickly. "I figured that if the NIA stored weapons here to use against Superman the walls would be made of or contain lead so that he couldn't find it."
"Smooth deductive reasoning, CK," Jimmy said admiringly.
"Yes, it was a very good guess," Jack said as he eyed Clark suspiciously. "I'd be very interested in hearing any other *guesses* you might have, particularly about this situation and who could be responsible for it."
"Sure thing Jack," Clark replied. "But don't you think it would be better if we finished our investigation of the storehouse first. I mean, we're kind of on the clock here. If we don't get back soon, Sandoval or Ortega might get curious and come looking for us."
Jack nodded affirmatively and turned back to the doorway. As he neared the entrance, the door slid open automatically and the lights came on. "It will be interesting to see how much they've actually removed from here," he said to Clark and Jimmy. "According to the latest inventory this place was pretty well-stocked."
"Well-stocked is not quite the description I'd use for this place now," Clark commented as he stepped through the doorway and quickly surveyed the area.
"Wow, Dad, this place has been … " Jimmy started.
"Picked clean!!" Jack interrupted, his voice rising in a combination of frustration and amazement. "Everything is gone! There were several hundred weapons here. Someone must have used a small army to do it."
"And it must have happened just recently," Clark added.
"What makes you say that, CK?" Jimmy asked.
"Look at the floor, Jimmy," Clark said as he pointed downward.
"It's covered with muddy footprints?!" Jimmy responded. "But so what? There's dirt outside and it rains a lot in the jungle."
"True, but this is *fresh* mud!" Jack interjected as Clark nodded in agreement. "It's barely dried, that means it must have been tracked in here within the last 4 to 6 hours."
"That also means that the people responsible for raiding this storehouse might still be in the area! Lois and the others could be in danger!" Clark said with alarm. "We'd better get back to camp now!"
Clark quickly turned and headed out the doorway towards the mouth of the cave, trying to run at something akin to the speed of a normal human, with Jack and Jimmy in close pursuit. As they reached the cave's entrance a bullet whizzed past Clark's head and ricocheted off the far wall, stopping them in their tracks.
"What the —!?!" Clark exclaimed.
"You in the cave," a strange male voice shouted in unaccented English. "Toss out your weapons and come out slowly, with your hands up!"
"Looks like we've got company," Jack said coolly as he reached into his backpack and pulled out a 9 millimeter semi- automatic pistol. "Clark, you and Jim go back to the storeroom. I think there might be a back way out of this cave in there. If not you can hide there until this is *over*.
"Jack, you aren't thinking of trying hold them off alone, are you?!" Clark asked with alarm.
"I'm damn well going to try," Jack replied grimly. "It may be the only chance you two have."
"Dad you can't, I won't let you … " Jimmy began.
"Look, this sacrifice isn't necessary!" Clark interrupted. "There's a better way to do this. *Trust* me."
"Oh really," Jack replied skeptically. "What do you suggest?"
Clark hesitated for a few moments, then he sighed heavily, placed his hand on the side of his glasses, and said, "Jack, you don't have to do this because I … "
Just then the voice from outside interrupted. "All right, I guess you need a little incentive to get moving!" he said angrily. "If you're not out here in two minutes, things are going to get pretty *nasty* for your friends."
Clark, Jimmy and Jack exchanged looks of concern. "You two stay back," Clark announced. "I'll take a look to see if I can find out what's going on out there."
Since the lead based alloy in the walls hampered his vision powers, Clark crouched down so he could look out the cave entrance undetected. As he peered outside, he was able to see at least 25 men armed with automatic weapons clustered around the cave. While most of the men had their weapons aimed at the cave, five or six of them had their weapons pointed directly at five figures sitting cross legged on the ground with their hands on their heads in a clearing not far from the mouth of the cave.
"There are about 25 of them, armed to the teeth and they've got *Lois* and the others," Clark called back to Jack and Jimmy. Clark's voice was tight and he could barely contain his anger and frustration.
Jack acknowledged Clark's statements with a curt nod and walking to the cave's entrance he called out, "All right, you win. Hold your fire, we're coming out." Then Jack tossed his gun outside, placed his hands on his head and stepped out of the cave with Clark and Jimmy following close behind.
"It's about time you got your sorry butts out here!" said a short and stocky blonde man as they exited from the cave. Clearly the leader of the gang, he scowled as his men searched Clark, Jack and Jimmy. "Hurry up we don't have all day!" he continued. "The *boss* is waiting!" Then, smiling evilly he leveled his weapon at the trio. "You're real lucky that he wants to talk to you. If it was up to me, I'd finish all of you off *right now*," he quipped. Then he turned and walked away, joining a smaller group of men inside the cave.
Jack, Clark and Jimmy were led away by their captors to the small clearing where the others were being held. Lois visibly brightened when she saw Clark. "Boy am I glad to see you," she whispered as he sat down on the ground next to her. Clark nodded as he gave her a small smile. "What happened, honey?" he asked in hushed tones.
"A half hour after you left, about ten of these clowns showed up at the ruins," Lois whispered. "They didn't offer any explanation for their actions, they just brandished their weapons and said that they would shoot to kill if we tried anything funny. A few minutes later the rest of the gang showed up with Sandoval and the guides plus all our stuff from the campsite. Then they lined us up and marched us here. End of story, unless you want to hear about Ortega's whining along the way."
As she spoke, Lois shifted position slightly so that more of her face was turned towards Clark and he noticed that a large and ugly bruise was forming on the right side of her face. Clark's eyes narrowed. "That's not everything and you know it, Lois. Tell me which one of them did *that* to you," he demanded.
"Clark, it's all right," Lois answered evasively.
"No, it's *not* all right, Lois!" Clark replied, his brown eyes flashing with anger. "How did it happen!"
"Promise me you won't do anything *crazy*, at least not yet," Lois replied.
"What!? Lo-is!" Clark said sharply.
"Clark!" Lois responded.
They stared at each other in silence for a few moments until Clark relented. "All right, I promise, now tell me," he said.
Lois sighed and angled her head towards a tall, hefty man with dark hair who was talking to the gang leader. "That one, they call him Mike," she said. "His hands *roamed* while he was searching me so I *connected* my knee with his inseam. When he recovered, he backhanded me."
Clark winced. "Go on," he said hoarsely.
"There's not much more to tell," Lois replied. "The blond guy, I think they call him Jamie, came over and chewed Mike out. Told him to keep his hands to himself and to remember it was always business before pleasure. Then Sandoval helped me up and that was it."
As Lois finished recounting her story, Jack edged closer to where she was sitting with Clark. "Have you two finished your family reunion yet?" he asked. "I need to talk to Lois."
"You know, Jack, you're almost as good at interfering with our private conversations as Jimmy," Lois replied with a wry smile. "Do you think this could be a *genetic* problem?"
Jack smirked. "We can debate the existence of an *Olsen Interupptus* gene later, provided we're still *around* later and are able to carry on any kind of discussion. Right now I need your help."
"What do you need me to do?" Lois asked warily.
"I just want you to tell me what you've observed about our captors. Every detail no matter how small."
"Might I ask why?" Lois asked.
"Knowledge precedes victory, ignorance precedes defeat," Jack replied cryptically.
"Sun Tzu's *The Art of War*," Clark whispered. "The more you know about them, the better your chance of figuring out a way to defeat them."
Jack gave Clark a wolfish grin. "Exactly." Turning back to Lois he continued, "Sandoval and the guides were able to give me some general information, but since you're a trained observer of people, you should be able to provide me with something more useful."
"You mean information about how they interact? Whether there are any personal weak spots or cracks in their armor that we could use against them. That kind of thing?" Lois asked.
Jack nodded affirmatively.
"Okay," Lois began, "for one thing I think only two or three of them speak English." Tilting her head in the direction of the men guarding them, Lois continued. "I'm pretty sure these guys don't. And it's caused some problems on our hike over here, since Jamie doesn't appear to speak anything but English."
"That's good to know," Jack responded. "We may be able to use it to our advantage somehow."
Lois nodded affirmatively and continued, "Also Jamie seems very insecure and he's … "
"Uh-oh, we've got company," Clark interrupted as Jamie and several of the others approached the group.
Jamie and his men entered the clearing and stopped directly in front of Lois, Clark and Jack. "Which one of you is *Jack Olsen*?" he sneered.
Both Jack and Clark stood up. "Why do you want to know?" Clark asked.
"Look pal," Jamie said angrily, "I don't have time to play games. Now whichever one of you is Olsen better come clean now or I'm going to let the guys have a little target practice, with your friends as the targets!"
"You're bluffing," Jack replied. "You know you can't do that. You said your boss wanted us alive for questioning."
"That's true," Jamie replied as he caressed the handle of the 357 Magnum he had protruding from his waistband, "but *accidents* can happen. I wonder who we should use first? The old man? The babe? Maybe the kid?"
Jack sighed heavily. "There's no need for that, *I'm* Jack Olsen," he said.
"Now, that wasn't so bad was it, Jack?" Jamie said as he gave Jack a predatory smile. "And don't look so gloomy," he continued as he led Jack away from the rest of the group. "I just want to have a *chat* with you."
As Clark started off after Jack and Jamie, two other gang members blocked the way and leveled their rifles at him. "Sorry, pal, this a *private* conversation. Just take your seat," Jamie said as he and Jack disappeared from sight. Moments later two shots rang out from the area where Jack was taken and within seconds, two of the guards dragged Jack back to the clearing and dumped him on the ground directly in front of Lois and Clark.
"Dad!" Jimmy shouted out as he scrambled closer to his father. "CK, Lois, he's not …"
"No Jimmy, he's still alive … he's breathing and I can feel a pulse," Clark responded as he and Lois knelt around Jack's prostrate form. "But he's got nasty gunshot wounds in his shoulder and leg, and we've got to stop that bleeding!"
Sandoval moved in closer and placed a comforting hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "You should come back with me and sit down, Jim. They will need room to work on your father."
Hollow-eyed and close to tears, Jimmy nodded and shifted position to allow Lois and Clark freer access to Jack. With Jimmy out of the way Clark was able to secretly examine Jack's wounds using his X-ray vision. Once his examination was over he whispered to Lois, "There's a bullet lodged in Jack's shoulder, but I think we'll be able to remove it, if we get a medical kit. The bigger problem is one of the bullets severed an artery in Jack's leg. I know direct pressure alone won't be enough to stop it."
"Then, what can we do?" Lois asked as she tore away Jack's bloody clothing from his wounds.
"If you can provide some cover I might be able to cauterize the leg wound with my heat vision," Clark replied. Lois nodded her head slightly and then shifted her body so that she partially blocked the view of Clark and Jack. Once he was shielded, Clark directed a quick burst of his heat vision at Jack's thigh. Lois steadied Jack's body as it jerked involuntary from the pain created when the twin beams of radiant energy sealed his spurting blood vessel. As Jack's spasms subsided, Clark switched to his x-ray vision and checked the area again to confirm that he had been successful.
A few moments later, Jack's eyes flickered open. "Jim?" he called weakly.
"I'm … right here, Dad," Jimmy replied, as he quickly returned to his father's side.
"Don't be too worried, son." Jack said as he grimaced in pain. "This happens to me a lot. I guess you could call it one of the major drawbacks of the job," Jack chuckled weakly. Jimmy managed a weak smile which Jack responded to with a wink, just before he slipped back into unconsciousness.
"Dad, no!" Jimmy cried.
"He's still with us, Jimmy," Lois said reassuringly. "But I think he may be going into shock from the pain and blood loss."
Clark nodded. "It is very possible. We may have gotten the bleeding under control, but we really need to get that bullet out of his shoulder. And he's going to need something for the pain." A look of determination came into Clark's eyes and he stood up and headed to the edge of the clearing where Jamie was loitering with some of his men.
"Hey!" Clark called out, "I need to talk to you!"
Jamie looked over at Clark. "You got a problem?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yeah, I've got a problem! This man is injured and I need our medical kit right now! Where is it?!" Clark replied.
"You need the medical kit?!" Jamie asked as he moved up to the edge of the clearing until he came within an arm's length of Clark. "Well ain't that just too bad," he said as he gave an evil laugh, "cuz you ain't gettin' it, big guy! So sit down and shut up!"
"Look," Clark responded angrily, "I don't have time to play macho games with you. This man's life may be at stake. Now where's that medical kit?"
"Well, it looks like we've got us a *hero*," Jamie said mockingly as he turned to his men. Turning back to face Clark he pulled his pistol from his waistband and stuck it into Clark's midsection. "Look, *hero*, as long I've got the gun, I give the orders! Now *I said* sit down and shut up!" he shouted as he continually jabbed the gun into Clark's stomach for emphasis.
Ignoring the gun, Clark stared unwaveringly at Jamie. "And *I said* this man needs medical attention," he stated in a calm steady voice. "Now are you going to let one of us go and get our medical kit or are you going to send one of your lackeys to do it?"
For tense seconds Clark and Jamie faced off, then, clearly unsettled by Clark's calm demeanor, Jamie lowered his weapon. "All right," he acquiesced.
"No sense having *two* accidents to explain to the boss. You can have the damn kit!"
"Great, I'll just go … " Clark began.
"Oh no, not you.. " Jamie interrupted. "Her!" he said pointing at Lois. "You're not going anywhere, *hero*."
"Now wait a minute!" Clark said with concern.
Lois nodded and stood up from Jack's side, "It's all right. I'll go."
"Good." Jamie replied. Noticing Clark's look of concern he smirked and turned back to his men. "And Mike, you go with her," he added hastily.
Mike blanched. "What?! Why me? I don't want to tangle with that hellcat again! Once was enough!" he protested.
"Quit your complaining!" Jamie countered. "You've got a gun. If she gives you any problems, you *know* what to do."
Mike nodded slowly, unshouldered his automatic rifle and pointed it at Lois. "Let's go. But don't try anything funny," he said warily.
"Don't worry. You should be safe. You've got that *nice big gun* to protect you," Lois remarked icily as she gave Mike a withering glance.
As Lois and Mike disappeared from view, Jamie turned back to Clark. "When your girlfriend gets back here, you'd better patch Olsen up fast! Our ride will be here soon and I don't like keeping the boss waiting," he said callously.
"What kind of ride? What are you talking about?" Clark asked.
"You'll find out," Jamie called smugly over his shoulder as he left the clearing.
As Jamie left, Sandoval and the guides rushed to Clark's side. "*Madre Dios* my friend, that was one of the *bravest* things I have ever seen!" Sandoval said sincerely.
"You mean it was one of the most *foolish!*" Ortega countered. "He should be spending his time and energy on convincing our captors to release us."
"Roberto, you cannot mean that!" Sandoval said with dismay. "What about Senor Olsen?"
Ortega glanced down at Jimmy and Jack and then turned back to the others. "He is as good as dead. And why should we risk our lives for a dead man? We must think of ourselves and our welfare. We are important government officials!"
Fists clinched, Jimmy leaped up from Jack's side and charged straight at Ortega. "Easy, Jimmy," Clark said as he deftly grabbed and restrained the younger man. "He's not worth it."
"I'm sorry if my candor has offended you," Ortega announced as he cowered behind Sandoval. "But it is time that you and Senor Guthrie faced reality and concentrated on securing our release."
"If you think negotiating with our captors is so important, why don't *you* start? The rest of us can *waste* our time with Jack," Clark replied sharply.
Ortega turned pale. "Me? Begin negotiations with those animals?!" he said incredulously. "No, no, that is not possible! Besides the leaders are obviously Americans, *your* countrymen! They will undoubtedly listen to you!"
"Be silent Roberto," Sandoval chastened. "I doubt these men will listen to Senor Guthrie or anyone else. They are clearly mercenaries and I am certain that they have no intention of releasing us until we have been questioned by their *boss*."
Clark nodded in agreement. "I just wonder … " he began. But before he could complete his sentence, Lois returned with the medical kit, and all other discussion stopped as they began preparations to operate on Jack's shoulder.
With the others out of the way, Lois swiftly cleaned and bandaged Jack's leg wound while Clark, using his x-ray vision, quickly located and removed the bullet lodged in Jack's shoulder. As Lois began to wrap the shoulder wound, Jack stirred to life and tried to sit up.
"Careful!" Lois said as she tried to stop Jack by gently placing her hand on his good shoulder.
"Arrghh!" Jack gasped, as his face contorted in pain. Then, after staring wordlessly at Clark and Lois for a few seconds he sank back down to the ground. "Well, that was obviously a mistake," he said matter-of-factly as he gave them both a wry grin.
Both Lois and Clark chuckled. "I'll see what we've got for pain," Clark said as he quickly began to examine the contents of the medical kit.
With Lois's help Jack sat up a little. "You guys did a pretty good job of patching me up," he mumbled appreciatively as he eyed his bandaged shoulder and leg. Despite the improvement in his condition, Jack's breathing was labored and his words came in short gasps. "But it won't count for much if we don't get out of this mess." Jack closed his eyes and was silent. Then after a few moments he spoke again. "How's Jim holding up?" he asked quietly.
"Pretty good, I think. But why don't you ask him yourself," Lois replied as she observed Clark pulling a small bottle of pills out of the medical kit. "Oh Jimmy," she called over her shoulder.
In an instant Jimmy was back at Jack's side. "Is something wrong, Lois?" he asked with concern.
"No Jim, I just need you to watch your Dad for a few minutes," Lois answered.
Lois exchanged places with Jimmy and then turned back to Clark. "I think we need some water for Jack," she announced. "And I need to talk to you alone!" she added in a voice only Clark could hear.
Clark nodded in agreement, picked up their canteens and walked over to the group of men guarding them. "-We need water-." he stated in Spanish.
After eyeing Clark and Lois carefully, the guard turned back to his cohorts and mumbled a few words in Spanish. When the other men finally nodded their respective heads affirmatively, the guard turned back to Clark and said "Si." The guard then motioned to two of the other men, who unshouldered their weapons and fell into step behind him as he marched Lois and Clark away from the clearing and towards the spot where a freshwater spring bubbled to the surface.
"Just what were you trying to do back there!" Lois whispered angrily after they reached the spring and began to slowly fill the canteens. "I know Jack needed medical attention, but your secret could have been discovered during that little face off with Jamie!"
"I realize that honey, but … Jack's life was at stake! … I couldn't just sit around! I had to do something! … *anything*!" Clark replied in a hoarse whisper.
"But did you have to do something that was so risky? It's just not like you!" Lois asked with concern.
"It's … just this … whole situation is so … so … so aggravating! The last time I felt this frustrated was when we were held hostage by those terrorists at the Planet!" Clark replied, his voice tight with pent up anger.
Lois sighed. "That's what this is really about isn't it?" she asked. "I never realized how much that whole incident bothered you. I have to admit I behaved pretty badly that night. Belittling you and then cuddling up to*Lex*." Lois shuddered slightly at the mention of Luthor's name. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "But you shouldn't let what happened that night influence your judgment now. You always tell me *what's past is past* remember?."
"Honey, what happened at the Planet that night is not why I'm acting or feeling this way," Clark replied.
"It's not?" Lois asked skeptically as she brushed a wayward lock of hair out of Clark's eyes.
"All right, maybe it is," Clark conceded with a slight smile, "but it's not the *only* reason." Sighing heavily, he gently caressed Lois's bruised cheek. "Whenever something like this happens it just makes me wonder what good are my powers, all the remarkable things I can do, if I can't protect the people I care about the most?"
"I know, sweetheart, It just doesn't seem fair somehow, does it?" Lois replied.
Clark nodded in agreement. "I'm just not going to stand idly by and let you get hurt again! Even if it means that everyone here finds out about *you know who*," Clark said firmly.
"Don't worry, it won't come to that. We're getting out of this situation *soon*," Lois said reassuringly.
"What makes you so sure, honey? Have you got a plan?" Clark asked hopefully.
"I've got *something*," Lois whispered cryptically. "Just x-ray my right pants' pocket."
"What?!" Clark replied.
"Shssh, not so loud! Those guys may not speak English, but I still don't want to attract their attention," Lois answered as she glanced at the three guards resting over in the shade. "Now, just x-ray my pocket!"
Clark gave Lois a perplexed look and then scanned her pocket with his x-ray vision. "What the … !" he exclaimed "You've got some of the detonator caps! How did you manage that!? Wasn't Mike with you when you got the medical kit?!"
"He was," Lois replied with a wicked grin. "But our earlier *encounter* made him a little nervous about being alone with me. He gave me plenty of space, which gave me the chance to grab a few detonators."
Clark returned Lois's grin. "Those detonators may be small but they pack quite a punch. They could give us just the chance we need, *if* we can set them off at the proper time. The only questions are where and when," he responded.
"I've got an idea or two about that," Lois answered. "I think … " but before she could complete her thoughts, another gang member entered the clearing and ran over to the shady spot where the three guards were resting. The new man and the leader of the guards exchanged some terse words in Spanish and then all four men suddenly turned and approached Lois and Clark with their weapons drawn.
"Uh oh," Lois said tensely, "what's wrong now? Did they overhear us and figure out what we were planning somehow!? Should we make a run for it!?"
"No, no, that's not it," Clark whispered. "Jamie's just issuing orders again. He wants us back at the clearing right away. So, as much as I'd like to make a break for it, I think we'd better cooperate. It's the only way we can be sure that the others are safe. Besides we still need to find out who, or what is behind all this."
Lois nodded in agreement and quickly helped Clark pick up the rest of the canteens. Then the group walked back to edge of the clearing where Jamie, Mike and the rest of the gang members were waiting.
"Well, it looks like our *hero* and his girlfriend have finally decided to join the party," Jamie said sarcastically. "What kept you?"
"We needed some water for Jack," Clark explained as he knelt down next to Jimmy and gave Jack the pain killers from the medical kit and some water.
"Look *hero*, I told you we're on a tight schedule and I'm not in the mood for any more trouble from you," Jamie said menacingly. "Now have you finished patching up Olsen ?!"
"More or less, but we still need to … " Clark began.
"Good," Jamie interrupted. "Then get him on his feet and let's move it!"
"What!?" Lois exclaimed, "Are you crazy?! He can't walk in his condition!"
"Well then I guess one of you will just have to carry him! Unless of course … you want to leave him here," Jamie sneered as he fingered the handle of the gun stuck in his belt.
"Perhaps that would be for the best?" Ortega interjected. "After all we do not wish to slow these gentlemen down."
Sandoval gave Ortega a look of contempt. "Be quiet you fool," he ordered. Suitably chastened Ortega fell silent and drifted to the back of the group. "We have no intention of leaving Senor Olsen behind," Sandoval announced. "He will come with us, even if I have to carry him *myself*."
"There's no need for that," Jack replied as he struggled to his feet with assistance from Jimmy and Clark. Grimacing in pain, he leaned on Jimmy for support. "With a little help I should be able to make it."
"Don't worry Dad, you've got some," Jimmy said as he gave Jack a wink and a small smile and then wrapped his arm around his father's waist. Clark nodded in agreement and then quickly placed his arm around Jack's shoulder, carefully shifting his position until was carrying the bulk of Jack's weight.
"I'm glad you're all being so cooperative," Jamie replied with a smirk. Returning to the front of his men, he then called back to Jack and the others over his shoulder. "But I'm warning you Olsen, you'd better not slow us down! Not if you know what's good for you!"
Jamie set a blistering pace through the dense jungle growth but with Clark's *super* help Jack was able to keep up with the rest of the group as they made their way to the riverbank. When the group finally arrived at the river, three large rubber boats similar to the ones used by the military for staging amphibious assaults were waiting for them in the shallow waters just off the bank.
As he helped Jack get situated into the second boat, Clark noticed that Jamie and Mike were engaged in a heated *conversation* in a clearing about 75 yards away from the rest of the group. Curious about what the gang leader could be discussing with his chief henchman, Clark adjusted his hearing so he could pick up their tete-a-tete.
" … but why can't I just take a few of the men on the overland route and meet you at the Plantation?" Mike complained.
"I told you before, it'll take too much time and the boss wants us back pronto!" Jamie responded.
"But I hate boats! I get motion sickness! Just looking at the water makes me sick!" Mike whined.
"Look, you're not going to get sick! The river's as smooth as glass!" Jamie countered angrily. "So quit your belly-aching and get in that boat before I decide to make you swim back!"
After a few moments of hesitation, Clark saw Mike nod in agreement and follow Jamie back to the first boat. Once Jamie and Mike had boarded, all three boats slowly pulled away from the shore, and began making their way up the river.
A few minutes into the trip Lois leaned closer to Clark. "Okay, I saw the*look* on your face a few minutes ago, what did you overhear?" she whispered.
"Nothing important, just a little background information about Mike," Clark replied with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "But when I put it to use, I should be able to provide our *friends* in that first boat with a *very interesting* trip *and* it might give us the edge we'll need when we finally make our move."
"What exactly do you mean?" Lois asked warily.
"Don't worry honey, just sit back and enjoy the show," Clark said with a slight smile, as he repositioned himself so that he had an unobstructed view of the boat containing Jamie and Mike. Lois watched as Clark carefully directed a puff of his super breath at the first boat and it began to bob furiously up and down in the water.
Lois smiled. "You're right. This will be *very interesting*. Too bad we don't have any popcorn." she said as she snuggled in closer to Clark.
The boats traveled for over an hour, until they came to a large wooden pier jutting out into the river. As the first boat docked, Lois and Clark observed that most of its occupants, including Jamie, appeared to be pale and sweating. Lois took great pleasure in seeing that the last to leave the boat was Mike, who staggered onto the pier and made his way to a clearing not far from the riverbank. Once there Mike fell to his knees and proceeded to *kiss* the ground not once, but several times.
"Gee," Jimmy said as he observed the events occurring on shore. "I wonder what's wrong with them. The water wasn't that choppy."
"I don't know Jim." Clark replied with a hint of a smile. "They must have run into some *unexpected* turbulence."
Jimmy shrugged and then turned back to help Clark carry Jack out of the boat. As soon as Jack was out, the others quickly followed, until they were all standing on the dock.
Lois approached Jamie who was sitting on a nearby wooden piling. "Gee you don't look so good," she said matter- of-factly. "Did you have a rough ride? Maybe we have something in our medical kit that could help you."
"Shut up and get back in line!" Jamie snarled in response.
Lois's eye's widened in feigned innocence as she returned to Clark and the others. "There's no need to be nasty," she replied, "I was just trying to be helpful."
Clark took Lois aside. "That was very cruel of you, honey," he playfully admonished.
Pleased that Clark had relaxed enough about their current situation to be able to tease her, Lois smiled inwardly. "*I'm cruel*?" she countered in a voice barely above a whisper. "Now wait just one minute, you started this! And besides, I know you're not above making bad guys *squirm* a little."
"What are you talking about honey?!" Clark replied as he gave her a puzzled look.
"Don't try that *innocent* farmboy routine on me," Lois said with artificial sterness. "Not too long ago you confessed that you felt some *satisfaction* that time you *zapped* Lex with your heat vision, *remember*?"
Clark flushed with embarrassment "But honey, I wasn't trying to hurt Luthor on purpose," he protested.
"Uh-huh," Lois answered as she folded her arms across her chest.
"Honest honey, I *had* to do it to stop his bleeding!" Clark asserted.
"Face it, Clark, despite your reputation as a *goody two-shoes* you've got something of a vindictive streak," Lois teased.
"But … but … " Clark stammered.
"And I absolutely *love* it." Lois added with a sly smile and a wicked gleam in her eye.
When the third boat finally docked, the group reassembled and began to make its way up a long path leading from the riverbank. Still weakened by his ordeal on the river, Jamie's pace was slower and the group made several stops along the way in order to rest. Finally, the dirt path they were walking on became a gravel road and they saw in the distance a large white mansion. Surrounded by neatly trimmed lawns that were in stark contrast to the wild jungle growth, the mansion almost gleamed in the intense sunlight.
"Well, that's certainly impressive," Lois commented to the group as she spied the house through the lush vegetation. "Whoever the *boss* is he certainly likes to live in the lap of luxury!"
Clark nodded in agreement. "I'll say. That house is *huge*, it must have cost a fortune just to bring the materials to construct it to an area this remote. Not to mention the cost of the labor."
"I doubt that cost posed any problem for its owner! I *know* he has ample resources available to him!" Sandoval said with disgust. "That is Quinada Plantation's main house!"
"That is impossible! You must be mistaken!" Ortega interjected.
"There is no mistake!" Sandoval responded. "I would know that house anywhere!"
"Quinada Plantation! Isn't that Preston Trager's home?" Lois asked.
Sandoval nodded affirmatively. "Yes it is," he replied. "And it would appear he is the one we have to *thank* for our current situation!"
The group divided once it reached the main house and Jamie and Mike along with about ten of the gang members herded Lois, Clark and the others inside while the remainder of the men sat outside on the large verandah baking in the tropical heat.
As the group entered the foyer of the house, Jamie separated from them and hurriedly ran down a long hall to a double doorway. Lois and Clark watched as Jamie opened the doors and quickly slipped inside the room leaving the group to wait in the entry way. The air conditioned interior of the house initially offered a welcome respite from the steamy jungle, but after a few of minutes of waiting, Lois, who was wearing shorts and a short sleeved tee shirt, began to shiver slightly.
"Are you okay honey?" Clark asked with concern.
"I'm freezing!" Lois whispered. "It must be at least 40 degrees cooler in here! I've got goosebumps!"
"I'm sorry, darling." Clark replied in a low voice. "There's not much I can do about it right now. But I promise to help you warm up later!"
Lois gave Clark a small smile and raised one eyebrow. "Really?!" she responded. "You promise?!" Clark nodded affirmatively. "Well then, I've got a few ideas on how we can … "
"Lo-is," Clark interrupted.
"All right, knock off the chatter!" Jamie snapped as he suddenly returned to the group. "The boss is ready to see you now and it's not a moment too soon! From my point of view, you've all been *class A* pains in the butt! Especially you two!" he said as he pointed at Lois and Clark. "I can't wait 'til I can take care of you *my way*," he said with an evil grin.
The group followed Jamie through the doorway into a massive, elegantly furnished room. At the far end of it was a huge fireplace that was in use despite the furnace-like heat outside. A massive rattan chair with a peacock back was positioned near the fireplace directly in front of french doors that led out of the study and on to a large patio area complete with an Olympic size swimming pool. Lois and Clark instantly recognized the huge man dressed in a white linen suit who was lounging in the chair, sipping a glass of white wine.
"Trevalian!" Lois and Clark said in unison.
"Bravo! It's a pleasure to see that such esteemed members of the fourth estate remember me," the discredited former head of NIA covert operations responded. Acknowledging Lois's and Clark's observation with a slight bow of his head, he continued, "After all I was merely a *humble civil servant*."
"But … but … this is Preston Trager!" Sandoval interjected. "I've seen his picture in our local newspapers!"
Ignoring Sandoval's comments, Trevalian turned instead and looked directly at Jack. "It's so nice to see you again, my dear boy," he said, "but it would appear that you're a *bit* under the weather. Please, please sit down!"
"I thought it might be you behind all this," Jack said weakly as Jimmy and Clark lowered him to the nearby love seat. "But I was hoping I was wrong."
"I don't understand this!" Lois interjected "The last time we checked you were being held in custody and awaiting trial! When did you escape from jail?"
"It's very simple, my dear. I was never *in* jail," Trevalian replied. "In fact I was barely in custody."
"What!?" Jimmy said in amazement. "But how is that possible?"
"One of the advantages of being the *man with all the secrets*, no doubt," Clark replied with disgust.
"Precisely!" Trevalian said smugly. "Several high level elected officials and key members of the Agency felt that it would be *embarrassing* if I were actually to go to trial, so they arranged for the authorities to *misplace* me."
"What happened to Sweet Tart?" Clark asked. "Did the authorities *misplace* her too?"
"Yes, they did. But I'm afraid that Ms. Tart met with an unfortunate and *fatal* accident on our way here," Trevalian replied, "so I was forced to travel on alone."
"So where is the 'real' Preston Trager?" Lois asked, "Did you dispose of him and take over his identity?"
"Hardly anything like that, my dear girl." Trevalian answered. "You see Minister Sandoval is correct, I *am* Preston Trager. I bought this plantation using NIA funds over 20 years ago and I established the Trager identity at that time."
"Have you been planning to betray the Agency and your country for that long?" Jack asked contemptuously.
"Jack, you *wound* me. You really do," Trevalian said smoothly. "My little sideline business as an arms dealer wasn't about politics. It was about money, pure and simple. And through the years this house and the Trager identity have proved very profitable for me *and* the NIA. But of course money wasn't the only reason I decided to create a Preston Trager."
"What else is there?" Clark asked.
"Everyone needs a hobby," Trevalian answered blithely. "I created Trager purely on a whim, but I found having a second life, a secret identity *fun*, rather exhilarating in fact. But I wouldn't expect someone like *you* to understand that."
"You'd be surprised." Clark replied flatly.
"In addition, despite the *beastly* weather here, I rather like this little country," Trevalian continued. "And I've enjoyed *dabbling* in Corto Maltese's politics. It's given me the opportunity to hone my skills."
"*Dabbling*!" Sandoval said angrily. "You call the rampant high level corruption and bribery you promoted *dabbling*!"
"Calm down Minister Sandoval," Trevalian replied silkily. "What I did happens all the time and you *know* it. Over the years I've found that almost everyone has a price, although, it may not be strictly a *monetary* one."
"Speaking of *prices*," Jack interrupted, "I'm pretty sure Singer, the new DCO must have known you were at large and probably behind all of this when he sent me on this mission. Was he in on your release? What do you have on him?"
Trevalian began rolling his wine glass in his corpulent hands. "Oh not very much, just some incriminating photographs that were taken of him and *several* young women in a hotel room in Madagascar," he replied. "They're rather ordinary, in fact in this day and age, some would say that they're almost *quaint*. But for a person in Singer's position they would be devastating. And it's really quite amazing what he's been willing to do to keep them hidden."
"He's been tipping you off about us all along, hasn't he?" Jack asked wearily.
"That's very astute of you, Jack," Trevalian answered jovially. "Yes he has. Every time you reported in, Singer relayed the information directly to me. That's why I was able to have my *little* reception committee waiting for you. By the way, I'm awfully sorry about your little *unpleasantness* with Jamie. When I told him that you were very resourceful and that he should take steps to incapacitate you if possible, I had no idea he would take such extreme measures."
"Well, it's hard to find good help these days," Lois said sardonically.
"Precisely," Trevalian replied.
"So what happens now?" Jack queried. "Do you intend to torture us? Kill us?"
"Actually Jack, I have a proposition for you," Trevalian replied.
"What kind of proposition?" Jack asked.
"With Ms. Tart out of the picture, I'm clearly in need of some assistance in running this operation. I'd like you to take the job," Trevalian said matter-of-factly.
"What!?" Jack replied, "You *must* be out of your mind!"
"Now, now, my dear boy, don't be so shocked," Trevalian replied. "We both know you're a bit of a rotten egg. This will give you an opportunity to put that *dark side* of yours to work. Think of all the fun you could have thumbing your nose at all those NIA desk jockeys and petty Washington bureaucrats."
Jack hesitated for a few seconds before responding. "What happens to the others?" he asked.
"I was afraid you'd ask that. I'm sorry Jack but my offer is only for you," Trevalian replied with a slight tinge of remorse. "Although I admire their intelligence and skill, I doubt the *intrepid* investigative team of Lane and Kent would be interested in joining me. And Minister Sandoval besides being a dull bureaucrat is also, for all intents and purposes, incorruptible, although, heavens knows I tried."
Jack gave a heavy sigh. "What about Jim?" he asked.
Trevalian eyed Jimmy up and down. "Well I could use someone with computer skills and I'll admit that whelp of yours showed some promise in that area during our first encounter," he replied, "but I've been keeping track of his activities since then and I'm afraid he's just another chronic do-gooder like *these two*," Trevalian said as he pointed at Lois and Clark. "But why should it matter what happens to *him*, Jack? You've always been a *lone wolf*, why change now?"
Waving away Jimmy's assistance, Jack got up from the love seat and stood directly in front of Trevalian. "It'll be a cold day in *hell* before I work for you!" he said icily.
Trevalian slowly shook his head. "What a shame. I was so looking forward to working with a *true* professional again," he said to Jack as he cast a disparaging look at Jamie and his men. "But I see you're still the *good soldier."
"Old habits die hard," Jack said stoically.
Trevalian shrugged slightly, then turned to face Jamie. "I suppose they're yours now, Jamie," he sighed. "But please try not to mess things up as much this time. I just had the carpets in the hallway cleaned."
"Sure boss, no problem. We'll take it *nice and easy*," Jamie said as he smiled wolfishly. "'Specially since I already know who's going to get it first. We've got some unfinished business, right, *hero*?" he said as he pointed his weapon directly at Clark and started to pull the trigger.
"Wait!" Lois yelled as she placed herself in front of Clark. "Aren't you forgetting about Superman?!"
"What about him, my dear?" Trevalian asked.
"If you kill us, you *know* he'll hunt you down and bring you to justice," Lois answered. "I've seen him bend steel with his bare hands! Just imagine what he could do to you. Do you really want him as an enemy?!"
Trevalian shrugged again. "My dear Ms. Lane, under normal circumstances I would agree with you that Superman would be a formidable adversary. But I doubt I'll have to worry about him looking for me and my associates. In a very short time he'll be out of the picture."
"Why? What sort of secret NIA weapon do you intend to use against him? Do you have it here now?!" Lois asked hurriedly as she stole a worried glance at Clark.
"Oh I have something much better than a simple weapon. I have this!" Trevalian replied smugly as he pulled a floppy disk out of his pocket.
"What is it?" Clark asked apprehensively.
"This disk contains the *only* copy of the formula for *synthetic* Kryptonite," Trevalian answered cheerfully.
"What?!" Clark replied, "I didn't think that was possible! Where did it come from?"
"An NIA scientist came up with the formula a few years ago based on research started at LexLabs." Trevalian responded. "After he met with a *sudden accident* I took charge of his discovery to make sure it wouldn't *fall into the wrong hands*. After I parted company with the NIA I simply took it with me."
"What do you intend to do with it now?" Lois asked anxiously.
"Why I intend to sell it, my dear girl!" Trevalian said blithely. "Intergang has offered me one *billion* dollars for the formula. With that money I will be able to go *anywhere* and to do *anything.* And when Intergang uses the synthetic Kryptonite to destroy that *overgrown boy scout* no one will be able to stop me. It's a *fool-proof plan*."
"Don't be too sure about that," Clark said pointedly. "Superman *could* capture you before you turned that formula over to Intergang."
"Yes, I suppose that is a possibility," Trevalian admitted. "But to do that, Superman would have to know about the formula and the sale," he countered. "I can assure you *I'm* not about to alert him. And I'm afraid that in a few minutes none of you will be able to contact him or anyone else for that matter. Isn't that right Jamie?"
"Right boss," Jamie said with an evil smile as he raised his weapon again and pointed it at Clark.
"Well then, lunch is in a few minutes and cook is preparing Hasenpfeffer, one of my favorite dishes. It's a pity that none of you will be able to join me, the man is a true *artist*. Ah well, c'est la vie," Trevalian said nonchalantly as he lifted his massive bulk out of the chair, and began lumbering towards the door. "Jamie, they're all yours," he called over his shoulder.
As Jamie's finger moved towards the trigger, Ortega suddenly cried out, "Wait Senor Trager … I mean … Senor Trevalian. Please wait!"
Trevalian stopped. Turning back to face the group, he slowly approached Ortega. "What do you want *little man*!?" he growled.
"Senor, I have been an … an … *admirer* of yours, … I mean *Preston Trager* … for a very long time … You have done wonderful things here in Corto Maltese … and I … " Ortega began hesitantly.
"Yes?" Trevalian replied impatiently.
"And I can understand why you might feel the need to resolve your disagreement with Senor Olsen and the others violently," Ortega continued. "But there is no need for you to involve *me* in this resolution. Particularly when I can perform a *valuable* service for you."
"What!?" Sandoval interjected. "I cannot believe this! Roberto, you are beneath contempt!"
"Shut-up you old fool! You may feel that it is necessary to die with these *gringos*, but I am not willing to sacrifice myself," Ortega replied angrily. Then, turning his back on Sandoval and the others he spoke directly to Trevalian. "Might I be allowed to explain myself, senor."
"Certainly, Roberto, please continue," Trevalian said, "you *intrigue* me. Exactly what kind of *valuable service* can you provide."
Ortega smiled. "I will be *evidence*."
"Evidence? What kind of evidence?" Trevalian asked.
"It is very simple, Senor Trevalian," Ortega answered. "If our work party simply vanishes, there will be a huge investigation of this entire area. Hundreds of people will search this jungle hoping to find some clue to our disappearance."
"I realize that," Trevalian replied, "and while I hate the thought of the disruption, it simply can't be helped."
"But senor, if I am alive, I can tell the authorities that we were attacked by bandits and that I was the only survivor. I will be *living proof*. That way there will be no need for an official investigation and your life will be undisturbed."
"You do have a point," Trevalian admitted. "But what would you want in return for your role as *evidence*?" he asked warily.
"Nothing, nothing at all … except … perhaps a *small* stipend," Ortega said timidly.
"Well, Roberto," Trevalian announced after a few moments of silence, "you have certainly presented me with an interesting proposition. But I hope you understand that I will expect your *full cooperation* in this endeavor."
"Of course, Senor. I will *fully* cooperate!" Ortega said eagerly.
"Good I'm very glad to hear that," Trevalian responded as he pulled a small caliber handgun out of his pocket and pointed it at Ortega.
"Senor Trager … uh Trevalian!? What are you doing?!" Ortega exclaimed.
"Well, my dear Roberto, in my business the only time one can be assured of *full cooperation* from an associate is when the associate is *dead*," Trevalian said coolly. "So you might say I'm facilitating your cooperation."
"But, you can't! I …" Ortega began.
Trevalian cut the protest short by firing a single shot, which struck Ortega right between the eyes. As blood gushed from the small entry wound, Ortega's head jerked back, then as if pulled by an invisible string he fell forward. Lois, Clark and the others stood nearby in stunned silence as Ortega's lifeless body collapsed at Trevalian's feet.
"Now that we've taken care of that matter, I trust there will be no more interruptions," Trevalian announced as he gracefully stepped over Ortega's body. "And Jamie, I would suggest that after you finish here you take the bodies to … "
"Actually there is one *more* thing," Lois interjected.
"And exactly what might that *be* Ms. Lane!?" Trevalian asked angrily as he pointed his gun directly at her. "This had better be *important* and not just an attempt to delay us in hopes that Superman will come to your rescue!"
"No, no, I know it's too late for that," Lois said evenly. "I just wanted to ask if you might grant a last request."
"Well what is it?" Trevalian asked gruffly.
"I want to kiss Clark goodbye," Lois replied softly as a single tear rolled down her face.
"Oh," Trevalian said after a few moments of silence. "Well, I suppose there's no harm in allowing you to share one last moment together. But after that there will be no more delays! My lunch is getting cold."
Lois nodded and moved to Clark's side. "Honey, what's going on?" Clark whispered with concern.
"Shsssh, don't worry everything will be all right," Lois whispered back. As they moved away from the group and closer to the fireplace, she continued to speak in a voice only Clark could hear. "Just remember, I get a crack at either Jamie or Mike, you can't have all the fun!"
Clark gave Lois a small smile and took her hands in his, which allowed her to secretly slip him one of the detonators from her pocket. Clark crumpled the small paper container, allowing the explosive powders within it to mix. Then he quickly tossed it into the raging fire, making sure as he did to shift their positions so that his body would bear the brunt of the explosion.
"I love you Clark." Lois whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a close embrace.
"I love you too, honey," Clark murmured against her lips, "and you can have Jamie. I'll make sure he's still standing when the party's over."
As their lips met there was a loud explosion and the fireplace belched thick, acrid smoke, which enveloped the room and its occupants. The smoke blinded everyone but Clark, who amid the noise and confusion that followed, intercepted the stray bullets fired by Trevalian's men and then used his super strength and speed to disarm and subdue most of the gang members, making it appear that they had collided with each other in the panic caused by the explosion. Then at superspeed he dashed to the verandah, and quickly disabled the remaining gang members, making sure to drag their unconscious bodies into the smoke filled room as well, so it would appear that they had succumbed to their own ineptness when they attempted to aid their compatriots.
The room gradually began to clear. Bleary eyed and still gasping for air, Jamie and Trevalian surveyed the fallen bodies of their men, and came to the sudden realization that they were alone, and therefore outnumbered by Lois, Clark and the other members of the work team.
"Ah jeez! What the hell happened?" Jamie asked hoarsely.
"I'll tell you what happened, you cretin!" Trevalian croaked. "Your men are so clumsy they ran into each other! The Keystone Kops would make better bodyguards!"
"That's what you get for hiring your mercenaries out of the Yellow Pages," Jack quipped. "Look's like the game is over for you two."
"*I* don't think so! Not as long as I have this!" Jamie replied as he pulled his handgun from his waist band. "Now I'm getting out of here! And I'm taking the babe with me to make sure the rest of you back off," Jamie yelled as he reached for Lois.
"No!" Lois replied, "*I* don't think so!" And she deftly grabbed Jamie by the arm, spun him around and shoved him into a nearby end table. Both Jamie and a large vase that had been resting on the table crashed to the floor and the vase shattered into hundreds of pieces.
"That Ming Dynasty vase was over 500 years old! It was one of a kind, a 15th century masterpiece," Trevalian exclaimed.
"Well, now it's 20th century junk," Lois observed wryly.
"As I was saying, the game is *over*," Jack declared firmly as he picked up one of the gang members' discarded weapons and pointed it at Trevalian.
"It would appear that you are correct, Jack," Trevalian replied as he slowly raised his hands above his head. "But," he sighed, "it was fun while it lasted. I suppose you'll be turning me over to the authorities now?"
Jack gave a wolfish grin and nodded affirmatively.
"How dull," Trevalian replied with a bored shrug.
"This has been great, Dad!" Jimmy said excitedly. "Not only have I finally gotten to see you in action, but we beat the bad guys without Superman's help. That is just *totally cool*!"
"Speaking of Superman," Trevalian interjected, "haven't you forgotten something?"
"Oh, that's right," Jack replied. "The synthetic Kryptonite formula. Hand it over."
"To do that I'd have to lower my hands. Do you want to take that risk, Jack?" Trevalian taunted.
Jack hesitated for a few seconds, "Don't worry Dad," Jimmy said as he moved within an arm's length of Trevalian, "I'll search him."
"NO Jimmy!" Jack, Lois and Clark cried in unison.
Despite his bulk, Trevalian sprang forward with lightning fast reflexes and nabbed Jimmy by the throat. Then out of his sleeve pocket he produced a derringer and pointed it directly at Jimmy's head. "Looks like I still have a few more moves to make before this game is *over*, Jack," he gloated. "Now I would advise all of you to stay perfectly still if you want to keep young Mr. Olsen alive and well."
"Let him go, Trevalian! It's me you want not him!" Jack shouted.
"Nonsense, my boy. You'd make a terrible hostage. Far too resourceful even in your weakened condition. Besides who would I match wits with after I got rid of you," Trevalian replied. "No, young James is the perfect *disposable* traveling companion for this particular trip." And with the gun steadily aimed at Jimmy, Trevalian inched his way to the french doors.
"Give it up Trevalian," Clark said as he moved in a little closer. "You've no where to run to."
"I said *stay back*!" Trevelian snarled as he pressed the gun to Jimmy's temple. "At this range I can't miss!" And kicking the french doors open, Trevalian and Jimmy slowly backed outside.
For tense minutes Trevalian held Jack, Lois and Clark at bay as he made his way across the patio. Then suddenly, as they neared the edge of the pool, Jimmy slammed his foot down on Trevalian's instep and the rammed his elbow into his captor's massive stomach. Caught off balance, Trevalian dropped his gun and tumbled head first into the pool creating a tremendous splash that drenched Jimmy and the others.
"Jimmy, are you all right!?" Jack asked anxiously as he limped to his son's side.
"I'm fine Dad," Jimmy announced as he gave Jack a hug. "But I think I'm *really* ready to go back to Metropolis."
One week later, Lois and Clark, Jimmy and Perry waited outside of the Daily Planet building in the warm spring sunshine as Jack walked up the sidewalk. Despite the fact that his right arm was in a sling and he was limping, Jack looked relaxed and happy, as he carried a medium sized cardboard box under his good arm and gave the group a bright smile.
"Gee, Dad let me have that!" Jimmy declared as he took the box from under Jack's arm. "You really shouldn't try to do so much, you're still recovering from everything that happened in Corto Maltese."
"That's right, Jack," Lois admonished. "You need to rest more. I don't even know why you insisted on coming down to the Planet, we could have met at the restaurant for lunch. It would have saved you the trip."
"I'm afraid that I can't make lunch," Jack said.
"You mean you've got a new assignment already?!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Something like that," Jack answered. "I've just been made the acting Director of Covert Operations at the NIA."
"But Dad, I thought you didn't want a desk job," Jimmy said.
"I thought so too, son. But now that Singer has resigned the Agency needs a person with experience in the position and it looks like that person is me. Besides I'm getting too *old* for field work," Jack said with a wry smile.
"Congratulations, Jack," Clark said warmly. "I can't think of a better man for the job."
"I couldn't agree more," Lois added. "Particularly since your new position guarantees we'll get our *exclusive* interview with the DCO. Right, Jack?"
"Right Lois. A deal's a deal," Jack replied with an affectionate smile. "Come down to Washington anytime, my door is always open to you and Clark. In fact if you ever get tired of the newspaper business, I'm sure I could find a place for you in the NIA."
"Hey now, cut that out, Jack," Perry interjected jovially. "I've got a hard enough time trying to stop my competition here in Metropolis from stealing Lois and Clark. Don't tell me I'll have to start fighting off the U.S. Government too."
Jack laughed. "Well you can't blame a guy for trying, Perry. Having these two on your team is almost as good as having *Superman*," he said sincerely. "And speaking of Superman, I have something I'd like you to give him." Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a floppy disk. "It got a little damp when it fell in the pool with Trevalian so that may have damaged the information," he said as he handed it to Clark. "But just the same I'd feel better if he had *this*. I know it'll be safe with him."
Clark gave Jack a warm smile. "Thanks Jack, I'll make sure he gets it right away. And by the way, I got a call from Minister Sandoval this morning, and he wanted me to thank you."
"Thank me? For what?" Jack asked.
"Well apparently the Cordova Dam project's location has been shifted to that spot on the Quinada Plantation. Which means the Xinatocha ruins will be saved," Clark replied. "I guess he assumes that you're responsible for the change since the plantation is NIA property."
Jack flushed a little with embarrassment. "Well, it only seemed right. Trevalian caused a lot of trouble down there," he said sheepishly.
Lois gave Jack a wry grin. "Well, well, well, Jack. You certainly are full of surprises," she said as she gave him a slight peck on the cheek.
"Why, Lois, does this mean you've changed your opinion about me?" Jack asked.
"Let's just say I've discovered that there are uses for rancid butter," Lois replied jokingly.
The group's laughter was interrupted by the beeping of a car horn. "That's my ride. I'd better be going," Jack said. Reaching over to Jimmy he pulled him into a warm hug. "Good- bye son. I expect to see you in Washington for a visit *real soon*. No excuses now, it's only a couple of hours away."
"No excuses, Dad. I'll be there," Jimmy replied as he gave his father another hug.
Jack turned back to face Lois and Clark. "Before I go I've got some things for you two. Just little thank you gifts for everything you did."
"Jack you didn't have to do that. We had a great time and got a great story out of it," Clark said sincerely.
"That's right, Jack," Lois agreed. "Even though I love presents, you didn't have to get us anything."
"Well it's too late now. You'll have to take them. I'm leaving town and I don't have time to return them," Jack announced with a sly smile. "Jim, could you give Lois and Clark that box."
Jimmy handed the box to Clark and as Clark peered inside his mouth dropped open. There tied in a bright red ribbon was *his* autographed baseball, the one he had sold to buy Lois's Christmas gift a few months ago.
"Lois, it's my Steve Bradley baseball!" Clark exclaimed.
"Clark that's impossible! It was sold the next day. We've spent months looking for it so we could buy it back remember! But it disappeared off the face of the earth just like Aunt Kate's bracelet," Lois asserted.
"I know, Lois, but this is *it*. I'd know it anywhere," Clark replied.
"What else is in the box?" Lois asked anxiously.
"Just this," Clark replied as he handed her a small jewelry case.
Lois's hands shook slightly as she opened the case. "Clark, I can't believe it! It's *Aunt Kate's* ruby and pearl bracelet! The one I sold last Christmas! But how?!"
"I told you. I've got my sources," Jack replied, then he jumped in the sleek black sports car, gave the beautiful blonde driving it a kiss on the cheek and sped away down the busy Metropolis street.