By Mobile Richard <email@example.com>
Submitted September 1998
Summary: Lois and Clark explore a politician's shady past — both separately and then together. Standard disclaimers apply.
LOBBY IN DAILY PLANET BUILDING
"And remember, Lois can't know anything about this."
Lois Lane froze in the act of picking up the magazine that had fallen to the floor behind the counter. She remained crouched in her position as Jimmy Olsen's voice replied, "You can trust me on this one, Penny. She won't know nuthin' about it."
Lois raised herself cautiously to peer at the young couple as Penny kissed Jimmy good-bye and hurried off to work. She waited impatiently behind the counter for Jimmy to disappear into the elevator before following him upstairs. She was intrigued and a little hurt that Jimmy was conspiring with Penny to hide something from her.
When she stepped off the elevator she saw that Jimmy was deep in conversation with her husband and partner, Clark Kent. Lois's suspicions were aroused immediately when she noticed that Jimmy abruptly broke off the conversation and hurried away as soon as he spotted her. She walked purposefully toward Clark, putting her hands on her husband's arm as she rose on tiptoe to give him a light kiss.
"What was that all about?" she asked, looking at him penetratingly.
"Oh," Clark looked embarrassed, "That was — uh — Jimmy just wanted to know — uh — that is, he wanted to give me tickets to the ball game on Friday, but I told him 'no.'"
"Oh, I'd love to go to the game," said Lois brightly. "Let's do that. Are Jimmy and Penny going, too?"
Clark thought quickly. There were no ball game tickets, so he'd have to squelch the ball game idea real fast. "Uh, no, that is, at least — honey, I thought we might go to a movie on Friday. There's one I've been wanting to see for a long time …"
"Oh, Clark, I didn't know that you've been longing to see a movie," said Lois sweetly. "We're supposed to be telling each other *everything* now and I didn't have an inkling that you've had this unfulfilled wish. I feel terrible. Where's the movie playing?"
"At the — at the Strand," Clark blurted out, watching Lois uneasily. He hadn't been too pleased at Jimmy's insistence that their conversation be kept secret from Lois. She was too sharp by half and was sure to ferret out that he was hiding something from her. In fact, it looked like she was already on the scent, and he had been keeping the secret for less than five minutes. He watched as Lois took the paper and shook it open to the entertainment section. He had named the Strand Theater because it was famous for running avant garde films for short runs only. He hoped fervently that this would distract Lois from the ball game.
"Three Teenagers in a Blender," Lois read. "That's what you've been 'wanting to see for a long time??" She raised her eyebrows in faint incredulity, noting that Clark was squirming uncomfortably. "It sounds lovely, Clark, but I'd really prefer to go to the game. Tell Jimmy we'll be glad to take the tickets." She smiled sweetly at her husband, then turned to her computer. She pretended to write on her notepad while she thought about the conversation with rising indignation. "Three Teenagers in a Blender" indeed! Really! Clark should know better than to try to lie to her; he was the sorriest liar she had ever met! She pressed down hard on the pencil, breaking the point. With an impatient sigh, she flounced over to the pencil sharpener.
Clark gazed at his wife thoughtfully, wondering how she had picked up the scent so quickly. He wished that he could tell her the truth, but Jimmy had already extracted his reluctant promise not to mention it. And now, to back up his lie about ball game tickets, Clark was going to have to come up with tickets somehow. And they wouldn't be cheap, assuming he could find any at all. He sighed and bent his head over his desk.
Lois was quiet and rather formal with Clark all morning, confirming his belief that she knew something was up. He'd have to talk to Jimmy at lunch and see if he could get him to relent on the secrecy bit.
It was nearly noon when Jimmy signed across the room to Clark as he nonchalantly strolled to the elevators. Clark nodded unobtrusively, and Lois saw him give her a sidelong glance. Within minutes, Clark rose from his desk, picking up his jacket. "I'm going to see if I can find something on that petition from the Metro prisoners," Clark said to Lois. She turned toward him quickly. It was on the tip of her tongue to say that she'd go with him, just to see him try to wriggle out of it, but she decided at the last minute to let him go. An idea was beginning to form in her mind.
"Okay," she said coolly, flashing him a bright smile. Clark bent to kiss her, grateful that she wasn't giving him a hard time about this.
"I'll see you later," he said.
Lois sat at her desk and waited until the doors had closed behind him, then shot to her feet and dashed for the elevator. She hoped that Clark was going as Clark and not as Superman so she'd be able to follow him.
Downstairs, she went through the revolving doors slowly, then peered cautiously up and down the street. There he was! She was in luck; he was going as Clark. Keeping a discreet distance, she trailed him to the Outdoor Cafe, where he joined Jimmy and Penny at their table. It was the other person who sat down at the same time, a strikingly handsome middle-aged woman, who caught Lois's eye. Lois fished in her bag for a pair of binoculars and focused them on the woman. She was a regal blond and she looked enough like Penny to be her mother.
Lois watched through the glasses as Jimmy and Penny introduced the woman to Clark. Hmmm, the woman seemed nervous, but just wait 'til Clark hits her with that boyish smile that makes women melt … Yes, here it comes … first the smile, then that self-deprecating laugh … yes, it's working; the woman's thawing visibly. She's smiling at Clark. Another second and she'll resemble a Dali watch … Lois curled her lip sardonically. Trust Mr. Charm to thaw an iceberg. They were ordering now … the woman was looking more comfortable … oops, Clark was getting apologetically to his feet, making some lame excuse, no doubt — probably telling them he had an urgent need to check on his Cheese of the Month — or watch "Three Teenagers in a Blender." The blond woman was obviously disconcerted by his disappearance, but Jimmy and Penny, used to his abrupt departures, were smoothing things over … "Lois, what are you doing here?" said a voice behind her. Lois turned to face Clark, who was looking at her with exasperated affection.
"Clark!" said Lois, and she didn't have to affect surprise. "I was just, um, I went out to get a Double Crudge Funch bar, I mean a Double Fudge Crunch bar and — ."
"Lo-is! You followed me here. Did you think I wouldn't hear you? I'd know your footsteps anywhere!"
He'd heard her with his super hearing! She might have known he'd spot her somehow — might as well try to hide from a dog.
She pulled a long face. "O-oh, Clark! Why are you being so secretive? Who is that woman and why did Jimmy and Penny bring you here to meet her? Are they setting you up for a date with her?"
Clark couldn't help smiling at this interpretation of the lunch meeting. "Aren't we getting a wee bit paranoid?" he said gently. "I'm not going on a date with her and I can't tell you any more, okay? I have to go back." He lightly kissed her pouting lips and then he was gone. Lois watched him reappear at the restaurant seconds later. She wanted to stay and try to learn more, but she knew that the overgrown bird dog would hear her with his super hearing, or spot her through the pillar behind which she had retreated, so she reluctantly gathered her things together and went back to the office, stopping only to pick up a sandwich at the deli.
"Ms Powers, is there something I can help you with?" asked Clark, trying to get Penny's aunt to open up about what was bothering her. They had eaten their way through bread, salad, and entree, and were almost finished with dessert, and she still hadn't revealed why she had wanted to meet with him. She gave him a warning look that had him on the alert immediately.
"I'd better be going now," she said, fumbling with her purse under the table. She turned partway toward Clark, who almost jumped as he felt her hand reach for his under cover of the tablecloth. She pressed a piece of paper into his palm, then stood up, looking at him steadily. Her eyes seemed to be pleading with him. Clark folded his fingers over the paper, then slipped his hand into his pocket, depositing the note inside as he rose to his feet. Ms Powers nodded, apparently relieved that he wasn't going to try to read the note now. "It's been nice meeting you, Mr. Kent," she said, extending her hand. She walked rapidly away, her heels clicking on the sidewalk.
Clark glanced at Jimmy and Penny for enlightenment, but they looked as confused as he was. Evidently they didn't know anything about the note Penny's aunt had given him. "I'd better go, too," said Clark. "See you at the office, Jimmy."
"Uh, thanks, CK," Jimmy called after him.
Lois was apparently absorbed in her work when Clark entered the newsroom. She gave him a perfunctory smile when he bent to kiss her. She was still annoyed with him but she wasn't going to make a big deal out of it or anything. Actually, she was more annoyed with Jimmy and Penny than with her husband. Why could they trust Clark and not her?
If only she had known, Clark was still as much in the dark as she. His only advantage over her was that he knew the woman's name, Sabrina Powers, and that she was Penny's mother's sister. And, oh, yes, he had the note. He waited until Lois was occupied at the coffee machine before pulling the note from his pocket and reading it.
Will you please contact Superman for me? I need to see him as soon as possible to talk to him privately. It is very important that no one know that I'm trying to contact him. And I can't be seen talking to him, either. This is going to be difficult since I am watched all the time. My apartment is being bugged and I'm sure my phone is being tapped, too. Please, if you or Superman can think of a way that I can meet with him privately, I would be most grateful. NO ONE CAN KNOW ABOUT THIS, ESPECIALLY NOT LOIS LANE!
At the bottom of the note was a list of stores, with a date and time listed next to each store. "I will make a point of shopping at these stores at these times this week. If you could 'bump into me' at one of the designated places and let me know how I can talk to Superman, I would appreciate it. -S.P."
Clark thoughtfully folded the note and put it back in his pocket, wondering what kind of situation she had gotten herself into.
It's going to be tricky having Superman meet her clandestinely, especially if she really is being followed, he thought.
He leaned back in his chair, considering the possibilities.
The simplest way to have Superman meet her secretly would be to have Superman wear a disguise, but he hated going that route because he didn't like to have Superman appear in street clothes — if anyone noticed the resemblance to Clark Kent, it would be disastrous, and besides, the Superman uniform did have its effect on people, an effect that worked to his advantage.
Clark sighed. How could Superman meet privately with anyone? His appearances were all public and attendant with much fanfare. He shook his head and went back to wrestling with the story he was writing.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
Two evenings later, Clark got up from the dinner table and spun into his Superman suit. "Go," said Lois, throwing up her hands. There went the quiet evening she had wanted to spend with him.
"Leave the dishes," said Clark. "I'll do them later." He bent to kiss her. "I won't be long," he said. "I mean I hope I won't be long," he amended, seeing Lois's look of surprise. He zipped from the house before she could give voice to any questions. Lois's suspicions were immediately aroused, as much by the look of guilt on his face as by his betrayal of the fact that he knew ahead of time that he wouldn't be gone long.
Clark flew over Metropolis, heading for the Swank District. He paused above a posh apartment building to get his bearings, then swooped into an open window on the 19th floor. The startled face of Sabrina Powers greeted him when he landed. "Oh, thank goodness!" she exclaimed. "I was afraid you weren't going to show up. I … thank you for coming, Mr …Superman." Superman inclined his head courteously. "It was very clever of Mr. Kent to suggest that I use a friend's apartment to meet with you," she went on nervously. "Tell him that, won't you please?"
Superman nodded again. "Can you tell me what this is about, Ms Powers?" he asked. He hoped it wasn't going to be an embarrassing revelation of obsessed love for him or anything like that. There had been nothing lover-like in Ms Powers's behavior so far, but you never knew — and her niece had once had a crush on Superman which she had gone to great lengths to indulge.
"Sabrina, please," said Ms Powers.
"Okay, Sabrina," said Superman, beginning to get uneasy.
"I-I hardly know where to start," said Sabrina, stepping forward. Superman backed away involuntarily, afraid that she was going to embrace him. Sabrina continued, "You see, I … know … something about someone … but I don't want to — it would ruin it, his career, I mean, and — but — they're threatening me and I don't know what —"
Superman, relieved that this wasn't going to be an awkward love scene after all, latched onto the only phrase that made any sense. "Who's threatening you?" he asked.
"I don't know. Well, not exactly," faltered Sabrina.
Superman sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. This was going to take longer than he'd hoped. He tried not to think of Lois waiting for him at home.
"If you're getting threats, the police could —"
"No!" exclaimed Sabrina. "No police! If this got into the papers it would defeat the whole purpose of … " her voice trailed off.
"Maybe you'd better start at the beginning, Ms — Sabrina," Superman said firmly.
Sabrina took a deep breath and turned slightly away. "You're right. Okay, it's like this. You see, more than twenty years ago, I … that is … " she stopped again, staring at the floor as she tried to regain control. Superman rolled his eyes, but when he spoke his voice was gentle.
"I can see this is causing you some distress," he said. "Could you write it down and have Clark Kent give it to me?"
"No!" said Sabrina in the same tone she had used when he had mentioned police. "This can't be written — ever! If it fell into the wrong hands … " she stopped again, then began speaking in a rush. "You see, it could ruin a man's career. And it's something that happened so long ago, and he didn't even know," she was crying softly. Superman put a hand on her shoulder and guided her to a chair, then went into the kitchen and poured a glass of water. He hated it when women cried around him; he felt uncustomarily helpless.
"Drink this," he said gently. He stood for a minute, watching her, then sat down, hoping to make himself appear less intimidating.
Sabrina gulped at the water, then began to speak in a hard, dry voice, not looking at him. "Twenty-some years ago I had a-a relationship with a married man. It didn't last very long and we parted afterward with no hard feelings on either side." She swallowed. "I hadn't thought about it at all in years until recently someone found out about it and —"
"You're being blackmailed," said Superman.
"No! Well, yes, but not exactly. You see, they want me to tell the story."
Superman's eyes narrowed. "They want you to tell the story," he repeated. "Who wants you to tell the story? And why?"
"I don't know. That is, I don't know *who* wants me to tell, although I could make some good guesses. The 'why' is that he's running for public office."
"I — see. And I see why you can make some 'good guesses' as to who's trying to force you to tell your story. How are they threatening you? Letters? Phone calls?"
"No, it's more subtle than that." Sabrina looked at him as if she were half afraid of his reaction to her next statement. "Strangers are always coming up behind me when I'm in stores and saying things like 'we'll make you tell,' and 'your dog's going to die,' and … " she peered nervously at Superman. "I know it sounds crazy," she said uncertainly. "But you've got to believe me!"
"I believe you," Superman said unexpectedly. "Businessmen and politicians who don't want anyone to be able to prove that they're the ones threatening you, or even that you're being threatened at all, often do this to extort people like you. You can't prove who's doing it, so you can't blow the whistle on them." He was silent while he thought about the men and women who had come forward and complained about being intimidated in this manner after Lex Luthor's demise. The people being blackmailed had been sure that Luthor was the man behind the threats, but they had never been able to substantiate it. "So they've threatened your dog," he said after a moment. "What else?"
"My dog is dead," said Sabrina flatly. "She died last week. But first Penny's cat died mysteriously, and they said that was a warning to me, then Mitzi died and … " her voice trailed off again. "But now you see," she said. "Why I can't go to the police. Not about the threats, not about anything. If the police believed me at all, they might do an investigation; and if they did, they'd find out *everything* and *his* career would be ruined! And let me tell you, this is one man who I'd like to see in office — he could do a lot of good as the Dis — uh — if he wins the office he's running for."
"Are you sure his career would be ruined?" asked Superman. "Other politicians have survived worse scandals —"
"No," said Sabrina. "That's not it … not the whole story." She took a deep breath. "You see, I was — I was not quite seventeen when it happened." Superman didn't say anything. "So, you see. Statutory … And the worst of it is that he didn't even know. I lied to him about my age. I was attending a summer course at the University and he never knew that I was just a high school student. It's not his fault at all." She wrung her hands in despair as Superman looked at her soberly. "I don't know what to do. So I thought … Jimmy Olsen said I could trust you, and you don't seem to be connected to any political organization … so I thought maybe you could help me somehow. Lately the threats have been getting worse. They've been threatening to have me disfigured. Dismembered. Paralyzed." She drew a shaky breath.
"Please, can you help me?" she implored.
Superman looked into her eyes. "I'll do what I can," he promised her as he rose to his feet. "In the meantime, can you work with Clark Kent on this? He can —"
"No, not Clark Kent. No press, please. That's just what 'they' would want — exposure of the affair and —"
"You can trust Clark Kent not to reveal the man's secret — or yours," said Superman.
"I'm to trust a reporter?" asked Sabrina skeptically, getting to her feet and pacing around the room. Superman rose with her.
"You can trust him as much as you'd trust me," he assured her.
"Maybe I can trust *him*," said Sabrina, unconvinced, "but not his wife, Lois Lane. And he wouldn't be able to keep a secret from her — I've heard that she twists him around her little finger."
Superman took a step back, hoping his color hadn't risen. "I-I think that he could keep a secret, even from his wife," he stammered. "And even if she found out, she might be more help than you'd think —"
"Not a chance!" said Sabrina energetically. "I know her reputation. She's ruthless when it comes to getting a story! Even if she kept quiet while trying to get the scoop on the men threatening me, if she couldn't find anything on *them*, she'd go for the story she *does* have — a nice, juicy sex scandal. No! Lois Lane can't know anything about this!"
Clark kicked restlessly at the blankets that had wrapped themselves around his legs again, hunting hopelessly for a comfortable position. The couch really wasn't long enough for him, but unless he decided to float, it was either the couch or the floor, since the bed in the spare room had been temporarily dismantled and Lois had shut him out of their bedroom.
It had been after midnight when he got back to the house and Lois hadn't been in a good mood to begin with, demanding to know where he'd been all this time. Then she'd nearly exploded when he had refused to tell her.
So Lois had thrown him out of the bedroom, saying sweetly, "either we share everything, or we share nothing," and slammed the door in his face.
Clark rolled onto his stomach, burying his face in the pillow. Why did he have to be sworn to secrecy in this matter? But he couldn't open his mouth about it now, not after Sabrina had said that he couldn't keep a secret from Lois. He felt as if he had been challenged to keep the secret.
Streaks of light were appearing in the sky before Clark finally fell into an exhausted sleep. He was awakened by the clatter of utensils in the kitchen. He found Lois in the kitchen, already dressed for work and stirring a cup of coffee and blowing on it. He got up and walked tentatively toward her. "Lois … ," he began. She didn't hear him. Or see him. She walked right past him on the way to the refrigerator, pulled out a carton of milk, and poured some into her coffee. Clark groaned and sat at the table with his back to her, dropping his head into his arms. He heard the refrigerator door opening and closing again, then Lois approaching him from behind. Crack! He felt something hard thud against his head, then wet dribble began trickling down his neck. He reached up and felt his hair. An egg! Had Lois just broken a raw egg on his head? He turned and looked incredulously at her. She had backed away a few steps, and was gazing at him with a mixture of amusement at the sight of raw egg on his head, and disbelief at her own actions.
"Lo-is," Clark groaned, moving to the sink and sticking his head under the faucet so he could rinse the egg from his hair. Lois set down her cup of coffee and approached Clark from behind. She pressed her body against his hips and, slipping her hands under his shirt, ran her fingers lightly up his bare chest.
"Ah-ahhh!" Clark's heart thudded against his ribs and he whirled to face her, his head barely missing the faucet as it came out from underneath the spray of water. As he twisted his body and came fully upright, the water from his drenched hair showered Lois with a stream of water.
"Clark!" said Lois. "Watch — oh, no!" she shrieked as the water soaked into her hair and suit. "Clark! Look at me! Now I have to change my clothes!" She stalked up to the bedroom, Clark following her closely. She removed her wet suit jacket and hung it on a chair, then stepped out of her skirt, aware that her husband's hungry gaze was watching her every move. She tossed her damp head, spraying a shower of water across the room, then sashayed up to Clark. She threw her arms around his neck and gazed up into his eyes.
"Aren't you going to apologize?" she asked sweetly. Clark put his arms around her, letting his right hand roam slowly up her back and come to rest at the base of her head.
"Apologize? For having raw egg dumped in my hair?" he asked, pulling her closer. He could feel the heat of her body burning through the wet fabric still clinging to her shapely form. A moan escaped him as Lois pressed closer to him, pushing her hips against his body. He slid his left hand down her back and gripped her legs behind her knees. Supporting her head with his right hand, he swung her onto the bed, gently settling his body on hers.
"Clark!" Lois giggled, "We can't! We'll be late … " her voice dropped to an indistinguishable murmur as Clark rasped his lips down the side of his neck.
"Mmmm?" whispered Clark. "Whaja say, honey?" But for once, Lois was silenced.
Lois sighed and rolled onto Clark's chest, smiling mistily down at him. "Let's not fight any more."
"Let's not — !" began Clark in exasperation. "You're the one who … oh, okay, I won't if you won't." He smiled good-naturedly. "What time is it?" he asked, twisting to look at the clock. "We should be —"
Lois started. "Look at the time!" she shrieked. "We're going to be late for work! And the staff meeting!" She raced for the bathroom.
Somewhat more than an hour later, two reporters stepped off the elevator into the deserted newsroom. Seeing that the others were gathered around the table in the conference room, they exchanged guilty glances, then hurried to join the meeting.
Perry stopped talking as soon as they had opened the door, and maintained a stony silence as Clark pulled out a chair and held it for Lois. There was an uncomfortable silence as Perry kept them under his eye while they tried to seat themselves unobtrusively. He stood without speaking for another minute until he was sure that they were thoroughly discomfited. When Perry finally broke the silence, Clark wished that he hadn't. "Uh, I guess I should be glad you two decided to honor us with your presence," he said with heavy sarcasm.
Clark shifted uncomfortably. "Chief," he began.
Perry held up a restraining hand. "I'll see you two in my office later," he said.
Clark was bent over his desk when he heard the cry for help. Moving swiftly to Lois's desk, he said "I'm going —" and made a flying motion with his hand. Lois nodded automatically, then looked at him quickly, her eyes narrowing as she searched his face. He wasn't lying to her again, was he? Clark caught the look and gave her a reassuring grin which he hoped wasn't as sickly as it felt. "Honest," he whispered. He dashed from the newsroom, with Lois staring thoughtfully after him until Perry came charging out of his office. Seeing Perry's baleful glare, she hastily began typing again. It just wasn't the day to cross Perry. He was more than a little annoyed with his two star reporters; they'd been scooped four times in the last week alone and he'd been threatening again to move them to the dog show beat.
As soon as Perry exited the danger zone, she saved the story she was working on, then with a few quick keystrokes went back to the program she had started this morning when Clark wasn't watching. She had tapped into the Department of Motor Vehicles and was searching their database of drivers by physical characteristics, looking for people who fit the description of the woman who had eaten lunch with Jimmy, Penny, and Clark. Lois had already learned that despite the woman's resemblance to Penny, she wasn't Penny's mother, who lived in Florida and was not currently visiting her daughter. The program had indicated that there were 57,628 blond women between the ages of 35 and 50 who lived in Metropolis and now Lois was trying to think of a way to narrow the list down somewhat. It's too bad she couldn't use Jimmy to do this research for her, but at least he had taught her how to query the database.
She paused, tapping a pencil against her teeth. The woman was well-dressed, make that *very* well-dressed, and had a self-assured air that indicated she wasn't wearing borrowed clothes. That meant money, and probably an address in one of the nicer sections of town. So she could exclude all the zip codes in the lower-income sections of Metropolis. Lois began typing with renewed energy.
Superman followed the cries for help, hoping they weren't coming from the Gang District. As he drew nearer, however, he realized that is exactly where the screams emanated from. He paused and surveyed the scene below: two teenaged boys, surrounded by a group of ten or fifteen other youths, were engaged in a fierce battle. No weapons other than the boys' fists were in evidence. Clark looked cautiously at the spectators' hands; ever since Superman had avowed his intention of putting a stop to the gang wars, the boys had taken to pelting him with soft vegetables and other garbage every time he intervened in one of their battles. The egg that Lois had broken on his head that morning had not been the first raw egg he had encountered this week.
On the occasions when he was attacked by the boys in this manner he could, and usually did, catch the garbage before it struck his body, but a rotten egg or partially decayed tomato in the hand isn't noticeably less offensive than a rotten tomato landing elsewhere on the body.
Although Superman could technically have charged the boys with assault, so far he had resisted doing so; the boys' actions were as harmless as a pie in the face and he couldn't justify handing them over to the law.
He landed softly next to the guys who were fighting and, placing a firm hand on each boy's shoulder, held the two combatants apart. "Fighting is not the best way to solve a disagreement," he began.
"Hey, Supes," said a voice behind him. Superman turned to face the boy who had hailed him and was met by a stream of foul-smelling fluid from a squirt gun in the boy's hand. At the same time, the other boys encircling Superman drew squirt guns from their pockets, too, and he found himself the target of fifteen streams of fluid aimed at various parts of his body. He confiscated all the squirt guns at super-speed, but not before a goodly volume of the foul-smelling liquid had made contact with his body.
As he took the boys' guns from them, they ran for cover, with the last one to leave shouting, "Next time, mind your own business!" Superman sighed as he crushed the guns to a powder. Now he'd have to go home and shower before returning to the office. His usually good-tempered face was set in a scowl as he rose in the air.
Lois glanced at her watch, frowning. Clark was supposed to attend a press conference at 4, and it was almost 3:30 now. If he didn't appear soon, she'd have to decide whether or not to go in his place. She was relieved when she heard his familiar voice greeting Jimmy from behind the coffee machine. "Yeah, I put them on your desk, CK," Jimmy said in reply to a question from Clark. "Page me if you need anything else. I'm takin' off for —" The rest of his sentence was lost as the elevator doors closed behind him.
Clark loped over to Lois's desk, coming up behind her and dropping a kiss on her head. "Make much headway?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Mmm," said Lois, taking his hand and drawing it toward her lips. "Phew!" she said, wrinkling her nose involuntarily. "What's that smell!"
"Does it still smell?" asked Clark. "I tried to wash it off in the shower." In a hushed voice he related to Lois the events that had occurred in the Gang District.
"Oh, Clark, how horrible," said Lois sympathetically. "You say you showered?"
"Twice," said Clark ruefully. "The first time at super-speed, and the second time more slowly. I hoped that standing under a stream of hot water for half an hour would clean off any residue, but I guess it didn't."
"I'm so sorry, Clark," whispered Lois, drawing his head down and kissing him lightly on the lips. "Mmmm, well at least they didn't spray you on your mouth … or your cheek …," she moved her head, continuing to press her lips to his face, " … or your ear … "
"Lo-is," whispered Clark. "I'd love to have you explore all the parts of my body they didn't spray, but this isn't exactly the time —"
"I'll look forward to it," murmured Lois. Glancing behind Clark, she pulled back slightly. "Uh-oh, here comes Perry."
"Uh — Clark?" said Perry. "Is your desk okay?"
"My desk?" said Clark, glancing at it involuntarily.
"Yes, your desk. The place where you're supposed to write your stories? You do — uh — remember it, don't you?"
Clark grimaced; there didn't seem to be anything to say to that.
"'Cause I don't think I've seen you there much lately. You're either at Lois's desk —"
"We've been working on a lot of stories together, Chief, so —"
"Uh-huh. You've been working on a lot of stories together. Like the Armstrong-Tabicle debate?"
"Well, no, *I've* been handling —"
"And the jewel robberies in the Swank District?"
"Actually, Lois has —"
"Uh-huh. And the Jenkins murder? You two have that one wrapped up, I take it?"
"Chief, I —"
"And were you uh — planning on going to that press conference? 'Cause —"
"I'm on my way, Chief," Clark said guiltily, heading for the elevator.
"Were you planning on getting there before it's over?" called Perry. But his words hit the closing elevator door. "How in Sam Hill does that boy think he's going to make it across town in metro traffic in … " he looked at his watch, " … less than fifteen minutes?!" Not waiting for Lois to answer him, he shook his head irritably and went in search of a fresh victim.
FARMHOUSE IN SMALLVILLE, KANSAS
" … so Perry's mad because we haven't gotten a scoop in more than a week; I get … garbage … thrown at me whenever I go to the Gang District; and now I have to keep this secret from Lois involving a problem that I could really use her help in solving," Clark finished. He had flown out to have dinner with his parents while Lois was attending the National Women Journalists's annual banquet and had just finished pouring out his current woes into their sympathetic ears.
"How's Lois taking it?" asked Martha. "Your keeping a secret from her, I mean."
Clark sighed. "She says she understands how I can't go back on my word, but … " Clark shook his head, "she's just a leetle bit distant. She's not trying to make me feel guilty or anything, but it's just always there, between us."
"Forgiven but not forgotten," said Jonathan.
"Yes, that's it exactly," said Clark.
"What are you going to do about the gang wars?" asked Martha.
"I'm not sure yet," said Clark.
"Can't you take the boys to the police?" asked Jonathan.
"No, they haven't been doing any real damage to me or to themselves. They never have guns or other weapons on them when I go there … "
"It sounds like they're deliberately setting you up," said Jonathan.
"And being careful that they don't do anything you can get them arrested for," chimed in Martha. "They want to discourage you from interfering in their fights. Could you do something that would scare them without really hurting them?"
"I've thought of that, but I'm afraid it'll just make things worse. Everything I can think of doing to them just sounds so mean — especially if Superman does it to them. I mean, how would it look if a grown man, and an invulnerable one at that, started picking on a bunch of teenagers just because they've thrown a little garbage at him? It would create sympathy for them; maybe even make heroes out of them. No, I'll just have to think of something else."
"I'm sure you will, son," said Jonathan.
"In the meantime, you need to get rid of that smell," said Martha.
"Does is still smell?" asked Clark. "Is it bad?"
"I wasn't going to say anything about it, honey, but it stinks," said Martha frankly.
"But don't worry, it's only when someone gets this close," she said, hugging him and wrinkling her nose at the same time.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
At the sound of the familiar "whoosh," Lois exited from the program she was running on the computer. "How are Jonathan and Martha?" she asked as her husband entered the room and put his hands on her shoulders. She leaned back and lifted her face for a kiss, then recoiled. Clark backed away immediately.
"It's that smell, isn't it?" he said.
"I'm sorry, Clark, it's just so … so … "
"Obnoxious?" said Clark ruefully.
"Come here," said Lois contritely. "Let's try that again. This time I'll hold my breath." She stood up and turned to face him, gathering him into her arms. They stood silently for several minutes, then Lois looked up into his eyes. "What time is the ball game tomorrow?" she asked innocently.
Clark stiffened, then seeing the mischievous gleam in her eye, smiled a little sheepishly. "Don't tell me the best investigative reporter in Metropolis hasn't figured out that I don't really have tickets to the ball game," he said, dropping a kiss on her hair.
Lois had made substantial progress in trying to learn the identity of Clark's mystery woman. Deciding that she didn't want to spend ten years trying to locate the woman by examining driver's license photos, Lois had enlisted Eugene Latterman's aid in tapping into the personnel records of Penny's employer. She hoped that Penny's file would hold a clue to the woman's identity. Lois was sure that the two women were related — the resemblance was too striking for that not to be the case.
She was elated when she found that Penny had listed an aunt, a Sabrina Powers, as someone to notify in case of emergency. And Sabrina Powers had a Metropolis address! Lois tapped into the Motor Vehicles records again and found the photo of Sabrina Powers, exalting when she recognized the woman in the picture as the same woman who had eaten lunch with Clark, Jimmy, and Penny. Now I know who Clark's dealing with, she thought; I just have to find out why.
Lois mentioned none of this to Clark, however.
"You wanted to see me?" Superman stood before Sabrina Powers with his arms folded across his chest.
"Yes, I wanted to ask you if you think it'll be all right … ," Sabrina stepped up to him and laid a hand on his arm, then retreated again almost immediately, an expression of distaste on her face. Superman felt his face flush slightly. It's that smell again! I really need to do something about it, he thought.
Sabrina had recovered enough to be able to speak by this time. "I'm thinking about hiring a security firm to check my telephone and condo for bugs," she began.
"I can do that for you," Superman interrupted.
Sabrina's face brightened briefly, then clouded. "No, I can't let them see that I've asked you for help," she said, shaking her head. "If they saw you in my apartment —"
"They won't see me," he assured her. "If I move at super-speed even cameras can't detect me."
"Can you really do that? It would be wonderful if I could just have proof that someone is doing something to me! I'm afraid no one would believe me —"
"I'll check for bugs right now," Superman interrupted. He vanished, reappearing only minutes later. Sabrina looked at him hopefully. He shook his head.
"I didn't find anything, but … ," he forestalled a comment she was about to make, "just because they're not bugging you now doesn't mean they never do it. I want to check it sometime when you're there. Sometimes the criminal element bugs you intermittently, or removes the electronic eavesdropping equipment when you're away in order to decrease the likelihood of detection. Do you have an answering machine?" Sabrina looked startled at the question.
"Call your condo now and let the answering machine answer. I'll listen to your line and see if I can detect any abnormalities."
Sabrina did as he asked and was relieved when he nodded grimly at the conclusion of the experiment. "They have a tap on your line," he said.
"Oh, thank goodness! Now I have proof!" Sabrina said, expelling her breath noisily.
"I have to go now, but I'll be in touch," said Superman, turning to leave as his sensitive ears caught a cry for help.
"Wait, I almost forgot why I wanted to talk to you in the first place," said Sabrina, starting toward him, then backing away quickly. Superman waited. "I wanted to tell you … I've decided to trust Clark Kent. So you can fill him in on the story."
Superman nodded, pleased with her decision, and disappeared into the night.
AN ALLEY IN METROPOLIS
"What did you bring me?" asked Bobby Bigmouth, eyeing the bags greedily.
"Moo Shu Pork," said Lois, handing him one of the take-out cartons.
"Plum sauce?" asked Bobby, peering at the contents. "You didn't forget the plum sauce, did you?"
"It's there," said Lois impatiently. "In the bottom of the bag. Now, what do you have for us?" But Bobby was not to be hurried. He took a pancake out of the carton and spread it with plum sauce, then covered it with the pork mixture. Rolling it up, he inserted a large portion into his mouth, tearing off a hefty chunk. For several minutes he occupied himself with chewing and swallowing.
"You're not getting another bite until you tell us what you have," said Lois, finally losing patience and ignoring the restraining hand Clark put on her arm.
"Since you guys are such good friends of Superman, why don't you give me the scoop on his new girlfriend first," countered Bobby, reaching into the bag for another pancake.
"We came here to ask *you* for information," said Clark hastily.
"Superman's new girlfriend?" Lois asked faintly, frantically searching her memory for any indiscreet behavior she may have displayed around Superman recently.
"Yeah," said Bobby with his mouth full. "That cool blond babe he's been meeting secretly. I hear she's a real looker. Ow! Clark, that was my foot!"
"What's your information?" asked Clark, trying desperately to turn the subject.
"Wait a minute! Tell me about Superman's girlfriend," said Lois, pulling the bag away from Bobby.
"You mean you didn't know?" said Bobby. "Why are you looking like that, Lois? You dumped him years ago; dja expect him to go into mourning forever?" He reached for the bag. "Ow, Clark!" he said again.
"No, you're not getting the rest of it until you tell me about the 'cool blond babe,'" said Lois, holding the food out of his grasp.
"Honey-" began Clark.
"Lois, look at Clark," protested Bobby. "You're hurting his feelings by showing all this interest in Superman."
"I'm sure Clark is just as interested in learning about Superman's new girlfriend as I am," Lois rejoined promptly. "Unless … " she shot Clark a dark look, "he already knows about her!"
Clark grimaced and shook his head. "I don't know about any girlfriend," he said. "And, Bobby, we didn't come here to talk about Superman," he added. A pained look crossed his face as he struck a "listening" attitude. Why did he have to hear a cry for help right now? "I have to go now," he said, "My — that is — I —"
"You told the cabdriver to wait for you," said Lois helpfully.
"Yes," said Clark, jogging down the street backwards. He gestured to Bobby behind Lois's back, holding a finger to his lips.
"Now, about the 'cool blond babe,'" said Lois grimly after Clark had disappeared.
"Uh, there ain't much to say," said Bobby, who had finally realized why Clark had been hitting, kicking and stepping on him. "Just guy talk, I guess. Probably nothing in it."
Lois's eyes narrowed as she gazed suspiciously at Bobby. She had been quick to catch on to the reason behind the nudges Clark was giving Bobby and she was furious that Bobby had finally taken Clark's hint and clammed up.
"You'd better tell me something good, then," she said. "Perry's been getting pressure from the guys in suits, so Clark and I need to get a scoop pretty soon, or … "
"Relax," said Bobby, digging happily into the bag of food again. "Word on the street is that if you look into Frank Trustright's past, you'll find somethin' that'll blow this town away."
"Frank Trustright?" said Lois. "The man running for District Attorney?"
"That's the one," said Bobby, taking a huge bite out of his pancake.
"He has something in his past?" said Lois incredulously. "The man's a saint!"
"Nobody's a saint," said Bobby with his mouth full. "Even Superman," he couldn't resist adding.
"Bobby, I don't believe it! All this gossip! First Superman, then Frank Trustright — Where are you going … you can't leave me with that!"
"Tha's all I have," said Bobby with his mouth full. "Check it out." He disappeared down a dim alley.
Lois sighed, then squared her shoulders and headed back to the Planet.
"Jimmy, I need some background on Frank Trustright," said Lois almost as soon as she had entered the newsroom.
"Frank Trustright? Running for D.A.? Got it!" said Jimmy, striding briskly away.
DAILY PLANET NEWSROOM
Lois looked up as the elevator doors opened and Clark strolled into the newsroom, whistling softly. She bent over her work again immediately, hiding the expression of pleasure that had crossed her face. She couldn't believe how her heart still jumped at sight of her husband, even when she was mad at him. She pretended to be engrossed in editing her copy as Clark sauntered up and stood behind her. Placing his hands on the back of her chair, he leaned over her shoulder. "Whatcha got?" he asked, peering at her screen.
With his head next to hers, Lois couldn't help tilting her head to the right and touching her cheek to his. That touch was all it took for her to forget her story completely. She gave a little gasp, then, turning fully toward Clark, she placed her hands on either side of his face and planted a kiss directly on his lips, her tongue darting from her mouth to just touch his lower lip.
"Mmmm!" he knelt quickly by her side, his breathing quickening. His heart had been in his throat the whole afternoon as he pondered the consequences of Bobby revealing to Lois the "cool blond babe" that Superman had been "seeing." Of all the reactions Lois could have had, this one was the least expected — and most welcome. He wondered fleetingly if he was ever going to understand her.
"Mmmm, yourself," responded Lois. "Mmmm, you smell good." She sat up straight as she realized the significance of what she had just said. "Clark!" she whispered. "That smell! How did you get rid of it?"
Clark smiled broadly. "Star Labs," he whispered back. "Dr. Klein took a scraping of the residue on my skin and developed a chemical to neutralize the odor."
"Kudos to Dr. Klein!" she said happily.
"Honey, we need to talk," whispered Clark urgently, still crouching by her chair. "About Superman and that blond, you know, she's — there's — he doesn't have a girlfriend —"
Lois laughed softly. "I know," she said. "Did you think I'd listen to idle street gossip, Clark?"
Clark let his breath out in a long sigh. "What other news did Bobby Bigmouth have?" he asked after a minute.
"Nothing," she said. "He clammed up right after you left." Clark nodded, relieved beyond words, and returned to his desk, unaware that Lois was watching him thoughtfully. She wasn't quite sure why she had lied to Clark about the additional information Bobby had given her, except that she had some subconscious urge to even the score. He wasn't the only one who could have secrets! Let Superman keep company with the "cool blond babe" he was evidently assisting in some way! She was going to unravel the truth about would-be District Attorney Trustright!
SOMEWHERE IN METROPOLIS
"Mr. Kent, are you saying that I should report to the police that someone has been tapping my phone?" Sabrina asked. "I don't think that's a wise course of action, in light of the threats I've —"
"It might not be a bad idea," said Clark uncomfortably. "Superman can't bodyguard you, and if you alert the police that there's a problem, it might forestall 'them' from taking any further action against you."
"I don't think you understand," said Sabrina, speaking clearly and distinctly, as if to a child. "I can't afford any publicity. I can't afford *anything* that may lead to an investigation into my past. Disclosure of the-the *thing* would give 'them' exactly what they want!"
Clark sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. "That's another thing," he said. "You need to tell me the name of the man involved in this. If I know who he is, I'll have a good idea of who his enemies are, and then I can start trying to find out who it is that's threatening you."
"And what good will that do?" challenged Sabrina. "Even if we know who they are we can't turn them into the police or threaten them with exposure."
"At least we'll be able to stop referring to 'them' as 'them' and give them a name," Clark said with unaccustomed irritation. He wanted to help this woman, but so far she had vetoed his every suggestion … Sabrina shook her head. "Mr. Kent, are you quite sure you're on board with me in this?" Clark stared at her, speechless. "And can you tell me something," she continued. "Ever since you met me here you've been looking around, sneaking furtive glances at everyone who walks past. Do you have something to hide? You don't have a reason not to be seen talking to me, do you?"
Clark flushed. "No," he said. "And, yes, I want to help you. If you'll let me."
"Well, then, you have to understand that there cannot be any public attention on me at all. I can't afford —"
"Superman found the eavesdropping device in your condo," Clark said. She stared at him and he suddenly realized that he had been rude. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you," he apologized.
"Where is the device?" asked Sabrina.
"It's not actually in the condo," said Clark. The men in the condo next to you have drilled a hole almost all the way through the concrete wall separating your two apartments and they insert the listening device in the hole whenever you're at home. It's in your living room wall," he finished.
Sabrina let out her breath quickly. "So," she said quietly. "I was right."
"You need to report this to the police," said Clark. "Your life may be in danger and even Superman may not be able to save you."
"They won't kill me; I'm their witness," said Sabrina, a steely glint in her eyes. "And I'm not reporting anything. I've already explained it to you."
DAILY PLANET NEWSROOM
"Olsen! You pick up those photos from the lab yet?" bellowed Perry.
"I'm on my way, Chief!" Jimmy sprinted for the elevators, giving Lois a wide berth. She was in one of her moods today and he didn't want to take a chance on running into her. When she got into these irascible humors, the whole office, even Perry, took great care to avoid her. Jimmy didn't know what the problem was this time, except that she was pretty steamed about the "Consulting Editor," Bernard Vane, who was to fill in for Perry while he was on vacation. Come to think of it, Perry didn't seem too keen on Vane either. Jimmy gathered that the Consulting Editor had been forced on Perry by "the Suits."
Unfortunately, the precautions Jimmy took to avoid Lois didn't work; some papers blew off her desk when he dashed past, and she rose to her feet and glared at him, saying something about how "some people think that —" The rest of her sentence was lost as he ducked into the elevator after mumbling an apology, and Jimmy couldn't say he was sorry not to have to hear it.
He wished CK would come back to the office. CK was the one person who could snap Lois out of these moods. And even if he couldn't cheer her up, he was still seemingly unaffected by them. Unflappable — that's the word. In fact, if Jimmy didn't know better, he'd swear that CK sometimes seemed to be amused by her — not that Clark ever let Lois see that.
When Jimmy got back to the office he craned his neck to see Lois's desk. Oof! He hadn't seen her coming and he'd bumped right into her while she was carrying a cup of coffee! Uh-oh. Step back and wait for the explosion! "S-sorry, Lois," he stammered. "I d-didn't see —"
"It's okay, Jimmy," said Lois sweetly. "Some of my coffee spilled on the floor, but luckily it didn't spill on my dress." She patted him on the arm, then retreated toward her desk, carrying the cup with its remaining coffee held carefully away from her body. Jimmy stared after her. He wondered what had happened to effect this change; he'd only been gone fifteen minutes! Oh, he might have known — CK was back, and (Jimmy's eyes almost started from his head at that point), Lois was bringing the coffee to CK! He went back to his desk, shaking his head at the unusual event.
"Jimmy?" Jimmy became aware that Lois was standing directly in front of him. "Did you come up with anything on Frank Trustright yet?"
"Yeah!" Jimmy said. "I put it on your desk half an hour ago!"
"Oh, I didn't see it … I'll go check. Thank you." Jimmy shook his head in amazement at the change in her mood.
Lois was indeed in better spirits than she had been during her whole miserable day. She had been out of the newsroom for the entire morning, chasing leads which had all petered out to nothing. Clark had disappeared twice when they were investigating — once to respond to a call from the Gang District, and the second time — Lois wasn't sure about this, but she suspected it — he had gone to meet Sabrina Powers again.
Lois wasn't making much headway in that department, either. She had been feverishly checking on Powers's background whenever Clark and Jimmy weren't around, but so far she hadn't turned up much. Powers was a graduate of State U. Recently separated from her husband of many years, Dr. Robert Powers. She had been employed by Razz Associates, and had been laid off quite recently. Nothing in any of that to indicate why she would have an urgent need for Superman's assistance. Lois missed Clark's input on this investigation, but of course she wasn't going to get it, since he was the subject of investigation himself — sort of.
The topper on her frustrating day, though, came when the beastly Consulting Editor, Bernard Vane, had made mincemeat of her story. He had been quite nasty to her, too — openly twitting her on her and Clark's failure to come up with a good scoop yet this week. He had hinted at reassignment and even unemployment! As one of the Daily Planet's star reporters, Lois wasn't used to being treated in this manner by punk new employees and she wasn't going to stand for it!
When she had returned to the office after her fruitless search for leads, she had been disappointed to learn that Clark hadn't shown up yet. During the whole long afternoon, which found her writing and rewriting her latest story several times, she kept looking up each time the elevator doors opened, hoping to see Clark striding jauntily out, heading for her desk for a quick kiss. She felt quite "down" today and longed to feel his strong arms encircling her.
In the end she had missed his entrance completely; she must have been in the ladies' room when he got back. It wasn't until she felt the warmth of his body as he bent over her chair that she became aware of his return. "Whatcha got?" Clark said in some trepidation — he had been warned about her mood.
"Clark!" she said tremulously, "I thought you'd never get back!" She tilted her head to one side and rested it on his shoulder. Clark reached out a hand and gently stroked her silky hair.
"Fire in the Garment District," he said briefly. "I don't smell, do I?" he asked anxiously.
Lois sniffed him surreptitiously, shaking her head. "Floral Garden shampoo," she pronounced. Then she sat up straight in her chair. "Clark this story just won't *go*!" she said in disgust. "I've re-written it three times and it still isn't right!"
"Let me take a look." Clark peered at her screen. "Hmmm, why don't you … " He began offering suggestions. Then Lois, her brain stimulated as much by her increased relaxation as by Clark's input, began coming up with ideas of her own.
"You're the greatest, Clark," Lois smiled as she finished the story and sent it to the new editor. She looked over at Clark, who had returned to his desk, and said with a smile, "Let me buy you a cup of coffee." Anxious to show her gratitude, she seized his coffee cup and walked briskly to the coffee machine, running into Jimmy on the way back.
Back at her desk, she picked up the file on Frank Trustright and began leafing through it. Valedictorian of high school class. College. Law school. Taught at State U. Went into private practice twenty years ago. Began working in District Attorney's office five years ago. Nothing extraordinary there. Now he's taking a shot at D.A. himself. Running on an anti-Intergang ticket. Hmmm. He sounds like a decent sort — and tough enough to stand up to Intergang. Lois chewed on her pencil thoughtfully.
"Clark." Clark looked up to see Lois standing in front of his desk with her briefcase and jacket in one hand. "I'm going to chase down some leads. Hopefully I'll have better luck than we did this morning."
"I'll come with —" began Clark, then his face changed as his gaze dropped to the papers on his desk. "No, I guess I can't come with you," he said regretfully. "I really need to finish this story."
"It's all right," said Lois, secretly relieved that it hadn't been necessary to dissuade him from accompanying her. "I'll see you at the house this evening." Clark got to his feet and leaned over his desk to kiss her.
"Hope you find something," he said.
"Hey, who're you talking to?" she asked boastfully. Clark smiled. It was good to see her like this — brash and confident. He gave her another quick kiss before letting her go, his eyes following her all the way to the elevator.
At the house that evening Clark related his Superman stories to her: the fight in the Gang District (no guns or knives, as usual — just that obnoxious fluid, which he had blown onto his assailants *this* time); the fire in the Garment District; and the rescue of a little girl's kitten. "Uh, huh," said Lois. "And what were you doing between ten and eleven?"
"Oh, yeah, I-" Clark stopped, his face reddening.
"You weren't keeping company with a certain 'cool blond babe,' were you?"
"Lois, Superman does not —" began Clark.
Seeing the frustration in his face, Lois placed a finger over his lips. "I know you've given your word not to tell me anything about it," she said. "If Superman is meeting with this woman to help her with something you can't talk about, that's okay; but I don't like being shut out completely. Just tell me that Superman met with her and —"
"Actually, it was me, Clark. *I* met with her today." Clark said, then as Lois's face changed he wished that he could retract his confession.
"*You* met with her? Clark Kent? Oh, no; did anyone see you?"
"I don't know," said Clark. "Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters," said Lois with some asperity. "It's one thing to have everyone on the street saying that Superman's seeing someone, but do you think I want people saying that Clark Kent, who also happens to be my husband, has a babe, too?" Clark smiled, relieved that it was just the possibility of gossip that was worrying her.
"Nobody will see me with her," he assured her. "And if they do, they'll just assume that she's one of my sources on a story. Anyway, why would anyone think that she's my babe when I already have one?" His arm stole around her waist and he pulled her toward him with a roguish smile.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
"Why don't we have breakfast at Calder's," suggested Clark the next morning as he and Lois climbed into the jeep.
"Why not?" said Lois, turning to smile at him. "We have time this morning for a change." She pulled the jeep into the parking lot next to Calder's and jumped out, striding purposefully toward the restaurant, with Clark jogging to keep up with her. Lois stopped only to pull a copy of the Daily Planet from the machine before preceding Clark into the small eatery. "Plain bagel. Lightly toasted with cream cheese. And a cup of coffee," she told Clark, seating herself at a table near the window as he sauntered up to the counter to place their order. He had just picked up their coffee when he heard Lois scream. In a flash he was at her side.
"Lois?" he said.
"Clark! Look at what he did to my story!" exclaimed Lois.
"Your story! Is that all?" said Clark, torn between relief that she was okay and annoyance that she had scared him like that.
"Is that all???" said Lois. "Just look at what that sneaky editor did!"
Clark winced. "Lois, could you keep it down!" he said, acutely aware of the annoyed looks they were receiving from the eatery's other customers, who apparently didn't relish hearing Lois's loud voice so early in the morning.
"Clark!" said Lois again. Clark sighed and put his hand lightly on Lois's shoulder. She hadn't lowered her voice one iota … "Just look at this! He took my perfectly good copy and butchered it. And look at the headline! See! 'A Matter of Trust, Right?' What kind of headline is that?
It doesn't even begin to convey a sense of what the story is about! And look at this —"
"Lois, could we discuss this a little more quietly?" begged Clark.
Lois gave him a look. "Quietly?" she said as if she had never heard of the word. "Clark, this is important!"
Clark slid into the seat next to hers. "Okay, show me," he said in resignation.
"First, the headline — but I already told you about that — and look at this! 'Frankly, we'll get you more information as it becomes available! Clark, what does it mean?"
"It means," said Clark, rolling his eyes, "that we'll get more information as it —"
"Clark, don't be funny!" commanded Lois. "Listen to this: 'Even the powers-that-be are helpless on this one.' Vane has butchered my copy! I turned in perfectly good prose and he's edited it beyond recognition!"
"Not beyond recognition, Lois; he just changed —"
"I'm going to go in there right now and tell him what —"
"Lois!" Clark called to her retreating back. He started to follow her, then seeing the waiter at his elbow, threw a hurried, "Could we have that to go, please?" over his shoulder. Snatching the bagels from the tray and carrying the styrofoam cups of coffee in the crook of his arm, he sprinted from the eatery.
Lois hurried into the Daily Planet building, with Clark running after her. "Lois," he said in an urgent undertone when he had caught up with her, "Why don't you wait to have this confrontation?" He stepped back to let Lois precede him into the elevator. "Maybe you should just try and cool off first." Lois turned slightly away from him and gazed intently at the elevator buttons. Clark lapsed into silence as several more people got on with them.
When they arrived at their floor, Lois charged into Bernard Vane's office. Clark, still hoping to be able to restrain her somehow, prepared to follow, but had to stop when Jimmy hailed him. "Hey, CK, the Chief wants to see you in his office right away," he called. "He says it's important." Clark hesitated briefly, then scowled as he turned to go into Perry's office.
While Perry was grilling him about one of the stories he was working on, he tried to keep tabs on Lois's conversation with Vane, which apparently wasn't going too well. His inattention did not go unnoticed. "Clark, are you listening to me?" asked Perry after he had asked Clark a question for the third time. He caught Clark's sidelong glance in the direction of Vane and Lois. "Oh, hell's bells," he said impatiently. "What is that woman up to now?" He stood up. "Clark, when Lois gets through with the Charge of the Light Brigade, tell her I want to see her, okay? Now go on out there and bag us a story — and it's got to be a big one or we'll all be on the street!"
Clark stepped out of Perry's office and took a few hesitant steps toward Lois and Vane, wondering if he should go in there and try to smooth things over. Too late! Lois had stormed out of Vane's office and was heading for the elevators. "Lois, wait," he waved, trying to catch her eye as he ran after her.
"Kent, may I have a word with you, please?" called Vane. Clark watched the elevator doors close in front of Lois, then turned to Vane, sighing. It was going to be a long day.
It did indeed turn out to be a long day. After receiving a reprimand from Vane for not coming up with any scoops lately, and putting up with threats of unemployment, he had been forced to go out to pursue some leads alone, when he would much rather have had Lois at his side.
Then his appointment with Sabrina Powers went horribly. She had met him at the agreed-upon place, but had been visibly upset. She had refused to discuss her situation with him at all, saying rather hysterically that she wanted to talk to Superman. It had taken all his considerable powers of persuasion to keep her from running away from him. He had been unable to determine the cause of her distress; she had merely said hysterically that she couldn't trust him. He had gathered that it had something to do with an article that Lois had written, but she wouldn't tell him which one.
Finally he left in frustration, on the verge of telling her that he was going to wash his hands of the whole matter.
When Clark stepped off the elevator into the Daily Planet newsroom later that afternoon his sensitive ears picked up Lois's voice immediately. "So that's all you have? What about — shhh! Here he comes." His curiosity aroused, Clark surveyed the newsroom, finally spotting Lois in a remote corner, talking to Jack.
"Lois, what's the big deal? He can't hear us way over here!" said Jack in a low voice. Then something seemed to dawn on him. "Oh," he said, and became silent instantly. Lois, knowing that Clark believed that Jack suspected he was really Superman, realized that she had blundered.
"N-no, he can't hear us; it's just that I don't want anyone else to hear — it might get back to him," she whispered in a desperate attempt to cover up her mistake. That was all she was able to say before Clark was upon them, walking over with his light tread to greet Jack.
"Jack," he said, holding out a hand. "What brings you to the Daily Planet?"
"I was just-uh-" Jack glanced at Lois as he shook Clark's hand, "I just dropped by to say hello."
"Jack!" said Jimmy, spying the youth when he entered the newsroom. "How ya doin', man?"
"Nice to see you, Jimmy," said Jack, extending his hand. "You've sure changed since I worked here."
"Yeah, well, I —"
"Jimmy! You plan on bringing me those photos today?"
"I've got them right here, Chief!" called Jimmy. "Duty calls," he said to Jack. "See ya around."
"Jack," said Clark after Jimmy left, "Do you have any news we can print? Anything at all?"
"Yes," added Lois, "We've kind of been scraping the bottom of the barrel around here lately. We need something big."
"I don't hear much any more," said Jack regretfully. "I'm pretty busy going to school and working full time." He looked speculatively at Clark. "I've been hearing about the war between Superman and the gangs in the District, though."
"Oh, yeah, Superman's told me about that," said Clark. "It seems to be a losing battle for him."
"Tell him not to give up yet," said Jack, looking Clark directly in the eye. "Some of the guys are starting to side with Superman. They think he's bein' a real sport takin' all the stuff they've been throwing at him and not retaliatin' or anything. Some of them are starting to respect him."
"Thanks," said Clark, his face lightening. "I'll be sure and tell him that."
After Jack had gone, Clark escorted Lois back to their desks. "Are we keeping secrets, Lois?" asked Clark with his teasing smile. "I thought we agreed to tell each other everything?"
"We agreed not to lie," amended Lois, avoiding his eye. "You're not telling me everything, so why should —"
"Clark!" said a voice behind him. "*Who* was that leggy blond I saw you with at Lindy's Lingerie?"
Clark groaned inwardly as he turned toward Ralph. Why did the little pest have to see him with Sabrina? And why did he have to mention it — especially in front of Lois? Some of what he was thinking must have been reflected in his face, because Ralph backed away hurriedly.
"Oh, I guess I shouldn't have … sorry, fella, I didn't mean to give anything away."
Looking at Clark to see his reaction to Ralph's question, Lois almost laughed at the consternation on his face; he looked like a little boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Served him right!
But she couldn't let that little twerp Ralph embarrass him, so she turned to Clark with a smile. "Oh, did you meet with her today, Clark? I thought you weren't going to see her again until tomorrow. Did you get any good information?" She placed her hands on his arm.
"Not really," said Clark gratefully. "I'll tell you about it later. See you later, Ralph."
Clark put his arm around Lois as Ralph scuttled away. "Did I ever tell you how classy you are?" he murmured in her ear.
"I think you mentioned it once or twice," Lois cooed, "but you could tell me again."
"I'll *show* you what I think about you … later," murmured Clark with his mouth against Lois's ear. "And now, about Jack —"
"Oh, no," said Lois, slipping out of his arms. "You owe me one for rescuing you from Ralph's clutches. And was I right or was I right? Didn't I tell you that someone was bound to see you with her? And what they'd think?"
"There's no reason for anyone to think-"
"Any time a nice-looking man is seen keeping company with a — a *kind* of good-looking woman, people think there's reason to talk." She pulled her chair away from her desk in preparation for sitting down. "A 'leggy blond,' huh? Well, I guess he couldn't help noticing how long her legs are; the way she flaunts them in those short skirts she wears. You'd think that, at her age —"
"Lois," said Clark as he seated himself on the edge of her desk.
"Oh, okay — meow," said Lois. "I won't say any more." She took a sip of coffee. "Clark," she said, as something occurred to her. "What do you suppose Ralph was doing in Lindy's Lingerie?"
Before Clark could answer, his attention was caught by the sight of Perry bearing down on them rapidly. "Chief," he began, sliding guiltily off Lois's desk as he prepared to defend himself for being away from his own desk again. But Perry had something else on his mind.
"Clark," he said, beaming at the reporter, "Who was that woman you were talking to in Lindy's Lingerie?"
"Um —" said Clark.
"That was a great-looking woman!" exclaimed Perry enthusiastically. "Is she — uh — seeing anyone?" Fortunately, Clark was spared the necessity of replying by Perry receiving a phone call at that moment.
"Did everyone in the newsroom have business in Lindy's Lingerie today?" asked Clark irritably. Lois smothered a laugh. "And don't look like that, Lois," Clark added.
"Like what?" asked Lois, raising her innocent gaze to his face.
"Like that!" he said. "That's your 'I'm not going to say I told you so, but I told you so!' look. Do you want me to admit that you were right when you said everyone would see us together? Okay, you're right!"
Lois giggled and drew his face toward hers until their noses touched. "You're kinda cute when you're eating crow," she purred.
Lois was finally making headway on the Frank Trustright story. She had discovered that there was old gossip about him at State U: apparently he had displayed quite an eye for the ladies in his younger days. Lois had spent most of the morning chasing down leads. She thought she was on to something now — there had been rumors about Trustright having an affair with one of his students more than 20 years ago. Now she just needed to learn the name of the student, get confirmation from several sources and she would be on her way to getting the scoop Vane was pressuring her to get. Tomorrow, she thought. I'll check it out tomorrow.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
At home that evening, Lois pushed her hair behind one ear when she heard the familiar whoosh that signaled that her husband was back. She felt, rather than heard, him come up behind her to drop a kiss on her head. "Lois," he said with his head close to hers, "When you and Jack —"
"Cat Grant called while you were out," she interrupted quickly.
"That's nice," said Clark, straightening. He went into the kitchen and removed a soft drink from the refrigerator. Coming back into the room, he stood in the doorway and popped open the can. "So, Lois, about Jack —"
"Aren't you going to ask me why she called?" asked Lois sweetly.
"Okay, why did Cat Grant call?" said Clark, taking a swig from the can.
"She wanted to tell us how much her mother enjoyed meeting us at the art show last week," said Lois.
"Her mother is an … interesting person," said Clark. "I can see where Cat gets her … vivacity."
"Yes, the resemblance is striking. And you seem to have made quite an impression on her." Lois tilted her head back so she could see Clark behind her across the room, "She wants to know if you have an older brother."
"She wants to know if I have an older brother?" repeated Clark, puzzled. He saw the quizzical look Lois was giving him and flushed as he understood the implication. "Oh," he said, dropping his head in embarrassment. He looked up again almost immediately as it dawned on him how deftly Lois had turned the conversation from his questions about Jack. "Lois, what are you and Jack cooking up?" he asked directly. He seated himself next to her on the sofa, turning to look at her searchingly.
"Clark, what are you and Sabrina Powers cooking up?" Lois responded coyly.
"Lois, you know I can't — wa-ait a minute! How did you know her name?"
"Hm-mm," Lois smiled mysteriously. "You tell your secrets and I'll tell mine," she said coyly. She leaned forward and kissed him teasingly.
"Uh-uh-uh-uh," said Clark, drawing back. He smiled down at her. "You're trying to distract me; I'm on to you now."
"Really?" Lois said, moving closer and sliding her arms around his neck while she pressed her soft lips against his face.
"Really," Clark laughed, abandoning all attempts to avoid being distracted.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
Lois clutched her bag as she ran out the door the next morning. She'd better hurry or she'd be late for staff meeting. She hoped Clark had been able to deal successfully with whatever emergency had called him out right before breakfast, so he'd be able to attend the staff meeting also, and learn about the Frank Trustright story she was working on. She was starting to feel a little guilty about holding out on Clark; she had almost told him the whole story last night. He was being so sweet about the whole thing, really; he knew that she was just being secretive in retaliation for his reticence concerning Sabrina Powers; a reticence that he was being *forced* to maintain, as she was obliged to admit when she was in one of her more rational moods. She decided that if Clark didn't make it to the staff meeting today, where she planned to discuss the project, then she would tell him about it later.
As it turned out, however, she never got a chance to discuss her investigation of Frank Trustright; Clark never showed up for staff meeting and Bernard Vane, who was leading the meeting, made such an issue of his absence, even after Lois explained that he was out covering a Superman story, that somehow Lois never got around to talking about the stories she was working on.
After the meeting, Lois left the newsroom in a rage due to the fact that Vane had cornered her at the meeting's close and told her that attendance at staff meetings was mandatory, no exceptions. "— even for pretty-boy Kent," Vane had sneered. "Kent's coming's and goings have not gone unnoticed," he had continued, "and whatever Perry White may have been willing to put up with, I'm not going to stand for it. So I'm putting a stop to it. As of now." He had finished by telling Lois outright that if she or Kent didn't come up with a front-page story soon, they would both be out on the street.
Lois gave as good as she got, of course, and after that, there was nothing to do but put as much distance between herself and Vane as she could. Before leaving on vacation yesterday, Perry had taken her aside and told her to watch her step with Bernard Vane since he had full authority to hire and fire while Perry was gone — and even Perry wouldn't be able to help her if she ran afoul of the Consulting Editor. Perry had refused to say more, but it was apparent that some political force from outside the Daily Planet was holding powerful sway here.
Pale with fury after her conversation with Vane, Lois left the office and went to the University to track down the leads she had garnered yesterday. Only the knowledge that she was beginning to close in on her quarry snapped her out of her dark mood. She had finally unearthed the tale that Trustright had once had a relationship with one of his students — a blond co-ed named Sabrina Brown, by all reports.
She spent the afternoon poring over old yearbooks, and when she eventually found Sabrina Brown in a group of high school Accelerated Learning students, she dropped the book and gaped at the photo.
Sabrina. The face of Penny stared up at her. Penny's aunt, Sabrina Brown, now Mrs. Sabrina Powers. The woman who had turned to Superman and Clark for help, refusing to allow Lois Lane in on the secret that she had once had an affair with Frank Trustright. The secret that Frank Trustright was — (here Lois did some calculating based on the facts she had dug up about Sabrina Powers — yes, she would have been sixteen years old when this picture was taken) — was in fact guilty of a crime.
Lois made a photocopy of the picture, then went back to her source and verified that the young woman in the picture was the co-ed with whom Frank Trustright had carried on a sexual relationship that year.
Lois looked at her watch and decided to try to get in touch with Ms Powers before going home to Clark. She knew he wouldn't like this, and she wanted to gather as many facts as she could before confronting him with the information. She wondered why Ms Powers had sought his help — had sought Superman's help. What could Superman do for her? Did she want to reveal the affair but was afraid of retaliation from Trustright? Did she think Superman could offer her protection?
Lois chased down a cab and gave the driver the address of Sabrina's condo tower. "How much?" she said when she exited the cab. "Wait! No! See that blond woman getting into the cab across the street? Follow that cab, and here's an extra twenty if you don't lose it!" Her driver, eager to make the extra tip, followed Sabrina's taxi closely. When it stopped at the art museum Lois thrust the money into her driver's hand and exited hastily. She ran after Ms Powers, who was walking briskly into the museum. Lois hurried after her.
"Ms Powers," she called, "May I have a word with you, please?" Sabrina looked over her shoulder at Lois then turned to face the reporter.
"Lois Lane?" said Sabrina, backing away.
"Yes, Ms Powers, I'm Lois Lane. I'd like to talk to you, please," said Lois, speaking rapidly. "Can you give me a statement concerning your alleged relationship with a Mr. Frank Trustright, an instructor at State U when you were attending a class there as a high school student?"
"Ms Lane, I don't have anything to say to you," said Sabrina, backing away.
"Ms Powers, I'm —" Lois stopped as a familiar figure rounded the corner of the museum corridor. "Clark!" she said.
"Lois!" For once, Clark didn't look pleased to see her.
"I knew I couldn't trust you!" Sabrina hissed at him. She turned on her heel.
"No, Sabrina, I didn't — she must have —"
"I have nothing more to say to either of you! I might have known —"
"Wait, I need to know —" began Lois.
"— found out on her own," finished Clark. He looked very unhappy with Lois. "Wait, please, Sabrina; I think we'd better tell her everything unless you want to see this story all over the front page tomorrow," he added. He wasn't looking at Lois. Sabrina had slowed her pace, his statement obviously having an effect on her. "Let's go into the courtyard," Clark added.
"Tell me what?" said Lois. Clark put up a silencing hand before stepping up to Sabrina and gently taking her arm as he guided her out the door. After they had walked in silence for several minutes Lois saw her husband lift his head in the familiar "listening" posture.
"Could you excuse me for a minute?" he said. "I have to —" he gestured toward the public restrooms.
Lois turned toward Sabrina and opened her mouth to ask the older woman a question when a whoosh sound came from in back of them. There was a surprised grunt from behind a tree and Superman emerged, holding a lanky man by the collar. "I'm afraid you women were being followed," said Superman, "and eavesdropped on! And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take this man for a ride — a long one!" He disappeared skyward, carrying the man with him.
Sabrina stared after him in awe. Clark came jogging toward them several minutes later, straightening his tie. "Are you two all right?" he asked. "I saw Superman —"
"He caught someone following me and eavesdropping on our conversation!" said Sabrina excitedly. She looked around nervously. "I hope we can talk safely now."
"Superman will continue to look after us," Clark assured her with a smile. He glanced at Lois, and the light that usually appeared in his eyes when he looked at her was missing. Lois dropped her bag, spilling the contents on the ground.
"Oh, I can't believe it — what a mess!" she said stooping to pick up the papers. She continued to mutter to herself as she began gathering the papers, pencils, and other paraphernalia that lay scattered on the ground. "Clark, I know you're mad at me," she said in a low voice that she knew only her husband could hear. "But I didn't come here to check up on you. I've been tracking down leads based on a tip I received the other day in connection with Frank Trustright —"
At this point, Clark, who was now kneeling and helping her pick up the papers, raised his head and looked at her. "I didn't know my tip would lead to Sabrina until an hour ago," Lois continued, "and I followed her here so I could talk to her and it had nothing to do with you and I wasn't investigating you or her — at least I didn't know it would turn out to be her — and —"
Clark touched her arm gently. "Okay, Lois," he said, smiling at her in the old way. They rose to their feet together. "Here you are," he said gallantly as he handed her the papers with a flourish.
Sabrina had stood to one side and watched the by-play. She seemed more relaxed since Superman's intervention, but her gaze was still wary when it rested on Lois.
"Why was that man following you, Ms Powers?" said Lois. "Was he one of Trustright's goons?"
"Lois, I think you need to hear what Ms Powers has been going through; and I'd like to hear what you've found out about Frank Trustright. Why don't we sit at this picnic table, pool our knowledge and see if we can figure out what's going on," suggested Clark.
"Let me start by telling you what led me to you, Ms Powers," said Lois, anxious to clear that part up for Clark. "I received a tip the other day that Frank Trustright's background could bear investigating." Aware of Clark's intent gaze on her face, Lois avoided looking at him — she knew he must be wondering where she got the tip and why she hadn't told him about it. Lois went on to relate how she had sent Jack and Jimmy Olsen to do investigative work, how it had led to State U, and how she had discovered, "your alleged relationship when you were a high school student … " Lois stopped as Sabrina put her face in her hands.
"You see," said Sabrina, raising a face that, although strained, was devoid of tears, "Someone gave her a tip. They want to make sure that this thing gets out." She looked at Clark.
"'Make sure this thing *gets out*?'" said Lois. "Wouldn't he be more anxious to keep you quiet?"
"Lois, it's not the Assistant D.A. who's threatening her," said Clark.
"So someone is threatening her! Is that why she went to Superman for help?"
"I thought you said you didn't tell her!" said Sabrina reproachfully.
"I didn't; she found out on her own," said Clark briefly. He added, not without a touch of pride, "I guess it was too much to hope that the best investigative journalist in Metropolis wouldn't find out about it." Lois smiled at Clark, acknowledging the compliment.
"Yes, well, never mind that now," she said. "Tell me about these threats." She listened in growing horror as Sabrina described the stalking, the eavesdropping, the threats, and finally, the dead pets.
"And this brings us to what I 'overheard' in the office today," said Clark. Lois looked intently at him — had he been eavesdropping with that super hearing again? "I heard someone on the phone tell our Consulting Editor, Vane, that he had 'put Lane on the scent,' and Vane said that he had made sure that Lane would publish whatever she found." He stopped; both Lois and Sabrina were staring at him.
"So that's why —" gasped Lois, as the pieces fell into place — Vane putting pressure on Clark and her to get a scoop, and the carefully-planted information that Bobby Bigmouth had picked up and relayed to her.
But Sabrina had something else on her mind. "Your Consulting Editor must be stupid to talk that way in front of you," she said.
Lois repressed a smile at Clark's look of discomposure. "Bernard Vane is stupid. Very stupid," she said, coming to Clark's rescue. "Although I suppose Vane didn't exactly know that Clark was in a position to eavesdrop."
"So your editor's been putting pressure on you both," said Sabrina. "Is that why you wrote that story about Trustright?"
Lois stared at her. "I haven't written a story about Trustright," she said. "Not yet."
"Not *about Trustright,*" said Sabrina. "In your story the other day — something about 'a matter of trust — '"
"Lois! I know what she's talking about!" said Clark in excitement. "Your story! The one Vane edited!" Lois looked at him blankly. "Here, I'll show you! Let me get a copy!" Sabrina watched his retreating back as he disappeared behind the nearby trees.
"Where's he going to get a copy of an old newspaper now?" she asked. "He's not going back to the newspaper office, is he?"
"He — oh, he has some sources he can get it from," stammered Lois. "See, here he is already!" She peered at the newspaper Clark had in his hand, reading the headline from her story.
"'A Matter of Trust, Right?'" she said, quoting the headline. "Clark, how does this —?" Her eyes widened. "Trustright!" she breathed. "Is this a subliminal message?" She read the story rapidly. "'Frankly, we'll get you more information —'"
"Frankly, we'll get you," said Clark flatly, giving Lois a meaning look.
"Frank Trustright, we'll get you," said Lois, nodding in sudden understanding.
Clark turned to Sabrina. "Is this what upset you?"
Sabrina nodded slowly. "I take it this isn't the way you wrote it," she said to Lois.
"Believe me, Lois was as upset as you were when she saw what Vane did to her copy," said Clark drily.
"No, this isn't what I wrote," Lois said to Sabrina. "Vane butchered my story. The headline is his, of course, and I never said anything like 'frankly, we'll get you more information —'"
"What about this?" said Sabrina. She read from the column. "'Even the powers-that-be are helpless on this one.'"
Lois shook her head. "No, but what does that have to do with — oh! The 'powers' that's you, Sabrina Powers — 'are helpless.' He's talking about you — sending you a message!" Sabrina nodded, letting out her breath in a long sigh. "So it wasn't you. You weren't sending me these messages. It was your editor all along." She turned to Lois. "Are you going to publish my story?" she asked almost challengingly.
Lois reflected. "I can promise you there won't be anything in tomorrow's paper or the next day's either," she said. "After that —" she shrugged off Clark's look of disappointment. "I need to look into this some more before I decide," she said firmly.
Sabrina got to her feet, displeasure showing on her face. "I have not confirmed that story," she warned Lois. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Kent, and," her face softened, "Will you please thank Superman also and tell him how grateful I am and-"
"Let me escort you home," said Clark, rising. "I want to make sure you get there safely."
"Thank you but that won't be necessary," said Sabrina with dignity. She walked away with her head high. After shooting her a worried glance, Clark sat down again.
"Honey, I'm worried about her. I think I'm going to —" he made a flying motion with his hand.
"Okay. Fine," said Lois shortly, turning her face away from him.
"What is it?" asked Clark. "Why are you looking like that?"
"Like what?" said Lois. Clark sighed.
"Honey, I have to go," he said. "I'll meet you at the house and we can talk about this, okay? You *are* going back to the house, aren't you?"
"Maybe," said Lois childishly. "I haven't decided yet." Then, as Clark looked steadily at her, she snapped, "Ye-es, I'm going back to the house." Clark nodded and bent to kiss her lips, but succeeded only in grazing her cheek with his own lips as she turned her head to avoid his caress. Clark sighed again and shook his head, then disappeared.
Lois gathered her papers and started for the house, but before she had gone very far, she changed direction, feeling the sudden urge to go to Ice Cream House for double fudge chocolate ice cream; after all, although she'd told Clark that she would be returning to the house, she hadn't actually said *when*.
She dug into her ice cream with a vengeance — it had been a long time since she had indulged herself at Ice Cream House. When her husband slid into the chair across from hers, she barely looked up. "Are things that bad?" Clark asked, staring at the three empty ice cream bowls. Lois kept her eyes on her ice cream. She might have known he'd find her — how can you hide from Superman? She had a sudden urge to giggle, which she stifled when she remembered that she was mad at him.
"Honey," said Clark, gazing intently at her. "What is it?"
"What is what?" said Lois snippily.
"Come on, Lois, I know that look."
"Okay," Lois said, tossing her head. "It's that — that woman," she complained. "You're watching over her all the time, you get mad at me if you think I'm going to do anything to hurt her, you —"
"Lois, come on, you know that's not true. I'm looking after her because she requested my help! And I was mad — upset with you because — well, because I thought you cared more about getting this story than you did about me."
"What??" said Lois. "Clark, that's ridiculous! I explained to you that I didn't know that this trail would lead to Sabrina —"
"I know that now," said Clark, smiling sheepishly.
"Clark," said Lois, laying a hand on his arm as she had one of her bewildering mood changes, "Let's go back to the house and discuss this in a more —" she dropped her hand to his thigh, "private place."
Clark met her eyes, his smile widening. He liked the turn the conversation had taken. "Okay," he said. He waggled a finger at her. "But don't try anything funny," he was unable to resist adding.
But a distress call to Superman just after they arrived at the house prevented them from continuing their discussion. With a hurried "I'll be back as soon as I can," Clark spun into his Superman costume and disappeared.
It was after 11 pm when Lois heard the whoosh that heralded her husband's arrival. She had changed into a filmy nightgown before seating herself with a magazine in the armchair. She looked up when Clark came into the living room after spinning out of his Superman outfit. "What?" said Clark, seeing the expression on her face. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Only … "
"I thought you could wear your black tank top," said Lois.
Clark grinned. "One black tank top coming up," he said, racing upstairs and changing at super speed. Downstairs again, he sauntered over with his light tread and seated himself on the floor in front of her, tilting his head back into her lap.
"Cat says it isn't safe to let you out in public when you wear this shirt," said Lois, running her fingers through his hair.
"You seem to be thinking about Cat a lot lately," said Clark. "You wouldn't be jealous, would you, Lois?" He turned his head and grinned up at her.
"Jealous?" snorted Lois. "Of Cat? I hope you have better taste, Clark! I keep mentioning her because I've been talking to her so much lately. She called again tonight and said her mother was disappointed to learn that you don't have an older brother. Then she asked what your father's like."
Clark's head lifted out of Lois's lap as he bent over with laughter. "I don't think my father's ready for an introduction to Mrs. Grant, Lois," he choked, trying to picture a meeting between his mild father and the rapacious auburn-haired woman.
"Yes," agreed Lois. "I think she's a little *intense* for him. Besides, I think Martha may have some objection to your father dating her."
"She might," conceded Clark. "What are you doing?"
"Brushing your hair — do you want me to stop?"
"No, don't stop; it feels good," Clark leaned back again. "Now, about Sabrina Powers … "
"Oh, yes, do we have that straightened out now?" Lois had dropped the brush and was gently rubbing his ears. "'Cause if not —"
"I think so," said Clark, clearing his throat. Lois ran her hands down his neck and slid them under the neckline of his shirt, lightly rubbing his chest in a circular motion. "That feels good, honey," whispered Clark, closing his eyes. Lois leaned forward and pressed her body against the top of his head, then squealed as Clark suddenly reached up and gripped her arms. Before she had time to draw another breath, she found herself in his lap, cradled fiercely in his embrace. "Are you okay with it?" he whispered.
"Okay with what?" gasped Lois, as Clark gently pushed down the sleeve of her nightgown, baring her shoulder.
"With me helping Sabrina." Clark caressed her smooth skin with his lips. "I like this nightgown," he whispered. "You should always wear it."
"Always?" said Lois with a wicked grin. She reached up and pulled the nightgown back in place, covering her shoulder. "Are you sure?" she teased.
"Always," said Clark firmly, pushing the sleeve to one side again. "Except when —"
"Except when?" With her arms encircling him, Lois pushed up his shirt and ran her fingertips lightly over his bare back.
Clark shivered, then put a finger on her full lower lip, drawing it down until her mouth was slightly open. Removing the finger, he bent his head and gently laid his mouth on hers. And somehow, he never got around to answering her question.
"Well, you certainly managed to distract me from Sabrina Powers last night," said Lois the next morning. Clark looked at his beautiful wife, standing with hands on hips as she gazed accusingly at him.
"I thought it was you who distracted me," he said with a smile. His eyes traveled appreciatively up and down her form, noting how admirably her suit outlined her curvaceous figure. "And speaking of 'distractions,' I was hoping we could do more of the same this morning, but since you're already dressed for work … "
"I didn't know what time you'd be back," explained Lois. "While you were out saving the world I downloaded more information about Frank Trustright. When we get to the office I think we should get some background information on the man running against him, too; that's probably a good place to start looking for someone anxious to expose his youthful peccadillo."
"I like it when you say, 'we,'" said Clark, taking one of her hands in both his own and rubbing his thumb in a circular motion over her palm. "It feels good to be working with you on this."
"Just don't forget it!" said Lois firmly, trying to ignore the sensations his caresses were invoking. "Stop that or we'll be late for work again," she said as Clark bent his head over her hand and pressed his warm lips against her palm.
"Whatever you say," said Clark, releasing her reluctantly. "I'll shower and clean up my suit and then we can go to work together — or do you want me to meet you there?"
Lois hesitated. It would be nice to have his company in the car, but she really wanted to get started on the research. "You can meet me there," she sighed. "If I start now you may get there first anyway." She cupped her palms around his face and kissed him lightly, pulling away as he tried to capture her hands. "We really do have to get to work," she reminded him with regret.
"I'll see you at the office," said Clark with a sigh. ***
DAILY PLANET NEWSROOM
"Did you find anything?" asked Clark, strolling casually over to Lois's desk after exiting the elevator.
"Clark, this man Frank Trustright may not have always been a saint in his personal life, but he's been the closest thing to it in his service as Assistant D.A. He's successfully prosecuted a number of Intergang members, including several who were quite high up in the organization."
"Really?" said Clark. "If he was successful in prosecuting the big boys, he certainly must have had all his ducks in a row."
"Yes, he'd need to have almost incontrovertible proof in order to win a conviction of Intergang executives."
"Anything else?" Clark crouched next to Lois's chair and looked at the data she had pulled up on her terminal.
"He's promising to go after Intergang in a big way if he gets elected, but you probably already know that." Clark nodded. It was the first thing that had come to his mind when he had learned yesterday that Trustright was the man Sabrina had had the affair with.
"Ahh-hmm!" Jimmy coughed and stomped his feet as he rounded the corner to Lois's desk. He liked to give advance warning of his approach whenever CK was crouched beside Lois — you never knew what those two would be doing when they thought they were hidden from view, and he didn't like to be embarrassed the way he had been a couple of times when he'd caught them by surprise. Not that they groped each other in public or anything like that, but sometimes the expressions on their faces was embarrassing. Especially CK, whose countenance had reddened more than once when Jimmy had caught him unaware, leading Jimmy to believe that however innocent CK's actions might have been at that moment, his thoughts were going in a direction that — well who was he kidding, wouldn't he be thinking the same thing if he had a babe like Lois? If he didn't already have Penny, of course.
"Lois, I got that information on Sam North that you wanted," Jimmy said as he handed a folder to Lois.
"Ah, Frank Trustright's opponent for D.A.," said Lois, opening the folder eagerly.
"What are you two working on?" said a grating voice behind them. Lois and Clark looked over their shoulders at Bernard Vane.
"We're investigating Frank Trustright," said Lois. "We have some background information that we're reading through now."
Vane nodded, pleased. "Let me know as soon as you find anything," he said. "We need a scoop pretty badly — or should I say *you* need a scoop pretty badly." He gave them a meaning look before striding briskly to his office.
"I wonder why they gave him his own office instead of letting him use Perry's while he's on vacation," said Clark. "I hope they're not planning on making him a permanent fixture here. Do you know anything about it, Jimmy?" But Jimmy had melted away at first sight of Vane. He didn't want to witness another bloody battle like the one between Vane and Lois the other day.
"Clark, look at this —" began Lois, who had been studying the papers in the folders Jimmy had brought her. She stopped when she saw that Clark had adopted his listening posture. "What is it? Do you have to go?" she whispered.
"Shhh," Clark help up a silencing hand. "It's Vane," he said after a moment. "He's talking on the telephone. About us."
"Oh?" said Lois, moving closer to Clark. "Is it true that eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves?" Clark nodded, smiling, then he raised his eyebrows at something he had apparently overheard. "What is it?" asked Lois. "Is he vilifying us?"
"Not *us!*" Clark said. "*You!* He doesn't like *you*, Lois! He's calling you a — never mind! What did you *do* to him yesterday?" He looked at his wife with a mixture of amusement and awe. "You've inspired him to new heights of invective," he said.
Lois tossed her head and rolled her eyes. "Is that all?" she asked.
"He seems to be finished for now," Clark said. "He managed to say, in the midst of all that vituperation, that he has us heading in the right direction."
"Could you hear the person on the other end of the line?" asked Lois.
Clark nodded. "I didn't recognize the voice, though," he said with regret in his voice.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
That evening, Lois paced back and forth in the kitchen of their house. "What is it, Lois?" Clark asked.
"Clark, should we be withholding this information?" said Lois. "Isn't it our job to report the news? Just because we support Frank Trustright's candidacy — does that give us any right to *not* tell the public?"
"Lois, I've been thinking about that too. When I think about Sabrina and Trustright — about the harm we'd do in their lives for something they did so many years ago — something that doesn't affect his fitness for office as D.A. —"
"How do we know this won't affect his performance after he's elected?" Lois countered, "If we don't make this public now, then won't that leave Trustright open to blackmail later? What if someone uses the information to force him to drop a case, or screw it up somehow, or-"
"We can't be sure that won't happen," agreed Clark. "But the chances are greater that he could survive exposure of charges like these once he's already in office."
"Assuming he'd be *willing* to risk exposure," Lois said skeptically.
"But there's still Sabrina … "
"She's not exactly a victim, Clark; it was a consensual relationship. Shouldn't people take the consequences of their actions?"
"Actually, Lois, Sabrina *was* a victim; she was only sixteen when it happened; that's below the age of consent —"
"All the more reason to not let Trustright off the hook," Lois countered swiftly. "He should take responsibility for —"
"But he didn't know that she was only sixteen," said Clark.
"Don't you think he should have taken the time to find out?" said Lois angrily, placing her hands on her hips. "Why should he get away with —"
"Then you'd be victimizing Sabrina twice," said Clark. "The first time when it happened and the second time when someone wants to use her as a weapon in a political battle —"
"What is it with you and Sabrina?" asked Lois. "From the moment you met her you've appointed yourself her champion —"
"She asked me for help," Clark reminded her. "And why does it bother you so much that I want to help her? Are you jealous?"
"No, I'm not jealous! Okay, yes I am jealous, but it's not because I think something's going on between you two! It's because you're giving her precedence over everything in our lives! You're putting her over me, you, our careers —"
"In what way am I giving her precedence —"
"Clark! She was victimized by a man 15 years older! A man now running for public office! This is news! You're forgetting your primary responsibility as an investigative journalist —"
"No, honey, I'm just asking that we weigh the relative —"
"Clark, I've put up with a lot from you. I haven't complained about — well, I haven't complained *much* about the fact that you like Velveeta cheese, and meat loaf, and Jello —"
"Honey, what does this have to do with —"
"— and the way you like your roast well-done instead of rare, and —"
"— and you sometimes put ketchup on your hot dogs instead of mustard, and —"
"Lois, could we focus on the issue here?"
"This *is* the issue! It's your Smallville tastes … and your Smallville values … and — and how when a woman raises her tear-drenched eyes to your face you become all quaggy —"
"Quacky?" said Clark.
"Look it up!" said Lois. "The point is, Clark, that you've forgotten your responsibility to your job."
"My responsibility to my job! You forget that I have two jobs, and it was Superman who Sabrina appealed to for help!"
"That's what I mean! Why do you have to tuck the whole world under your wing?"
"I thought you liked that about me," said Clark quietly.
No, I don't like that about you!" Lois faced him, hands on hips. "I LOVE that about you!"
Clark placed his hands on her upper arms. "So what's the problem here, Lois? Sabrina doesn't want to have this incident exposed, and I'm trying to show you that there wouldn't be any good reason to expose it after all this time. It would just hurt her —"
"Why would it hurt her so much now?" asked Lois, breaking away from him. "She was sixteen years old when it happened, so she wouldn't be held responsible! Her marriage has already broken up and she's not working, so it won't affect either of those —"
"That's another thing; there's something funny about that," said Clark.
"About what?" said Lois.
"She was fired from her job last month — no reason given, but she suspects that the blackmailer leaned on her employer to get her fired, and —"
"What??" said Lois. "That's ridiculous!"
"— and there's something funny about the breakup of her marriage, too," said Clark. "I talked to Dr. Powers today and he said that he broke up with her because they started receiving a lot of telephone calls where someone hung up every time he answered, and he thought she was having an affair."
Lois was staring at him. "Dr. Powers told you that?"
"Yes, and that's not —"
"Why did he tell all that to you???"
"I asked him about his marriage and he told me," said Clark simply.
"Clark, I asked him about his marriage when I questioned him, too, and he didn't tell me any of that! Why would he tell you and not tell me?" Lois stood before him with her hands on her hips.
Clark shrugged. "Some journalists just have a knack, I guess," he said, smiling.
"My knack is as good as your knack!" flashed Lois. "What are you laughing at?"
"Nothing," said Clark, his smile widening.
"Okay, I want to know what you did to get him to open up to you!"
"Not much, really," said Clark. "I guess he just felt more comfortable talking to another guy —"
"Now, see!" said Lois. "That's exactly what I mean! I work my buns off to get information and you waltz in there and get more than I ever did just because you're a guy! That's not fair! How am I ever supposed to —"
"Honey, we're on the same team," Clark reminded her. "What difference does it make who got the information? We both have it now, so the question is, what are we going to do with it?"
"Do with what?" asked Lois, who had lost sight of what Clark had been trying to tell her.
"With the information that someone may have destroyed Sabrina's life so she would have nothing left to lose by coming forward and exposing the incident. That someone has gotten her fired from her job and has deliberately broken up her marriage." Clark stopped and looked at Lois, waiting for the knowledge to sink in. Lois's jaw dropped.
"Clark, no! That's not possible! No one would deliberately break up someone else's marr —" Lois stopped, remembering. "Yes, they would. Lex Luthor's son tried it with us. But, Clark, just because someone was hanging up when Dr. Powers answered the phone doesn't mean that the caller was doing it on purpose to break up the marriage or — Clark, maybe she really was having an affair!"
Clark shook his head. "No," he said. "Sabrina had told Superman that she believed someone was doing something to cause friction in her marriage, but she wasn't exactly sure what. Superman didn't really believe her until he-I talked to Dr. Powers about it. Superman talked to Sabrina about it this afternoon and she didn't know anything about the telephone calls and she denied having had an affair."
'And another thing," continued Clark, "Dr. Powers said that at the gala events they seem to attend constantly, Avery Payne was always coming up behind Sabrina and almost, but not quite, touching her. And he would look lovingly and possessively at Sabrina — always when her back was turned. Dr. Powers took that as a sign that Payne was the man Sabrina was having an affair with — but now he's not so sure."
Clark shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at Lois, once again waiting for her to make the connection.
"Clark!" Lois gasped. "Avery Payne works for AgCity. He was a member of former President Smith's Cabinet! There were allegations that Payne had made some decisions that benefited Intergang while he was a Cabinet Officer, but they were never proved!"
"And you always suspected that there was a connection between Intergang and —"
"AgCity!" Lois finished. "But I could never get enough evidence." She paced back and forth while Clark watched her with a smile in his eyes. "Clark, this thing could be big, really big! Wait a minute!" She stopped pacing and looked excitedly at her husband. "There was something in the information that Jimmy dug up about Trustright — where's my folder? Oh, no, I left it at the office!"
"Yes, you left it there, but I —" Clark reached behind Lois and pulled a folder off the table, "ta-da! — brought it home for you!"
Lois snatched the folder from his hands and began rummaging through the papers. "You're welcome!" singsonged Clark when Lois didn't show any disposition to thank him.
"Clark, look at this!" said Lois, ignoring his comment and waving a paper in front of him. "Last summer Trustright brought charges against Payne and AgCity and when the case went to trial —"
"The judge threw it out," finished Clark.
"I smell a rat!" said Lois. "Clark, I'm going to the courthouse to check this out!" Lois seized her bag, and stuffing the folder inside, headed for the door.
"*We're* going to the courthouse," Clark corrected her, smiling as he followed.
CAFE IN METROPOLIS
"And you think he may have deliberately broken up your marriage," said Lois, looking at Sabrina for confirmation. Sabrina nodded. "So what it looks like," Lois continued slowly, "is that someone broke up your marriage and got you fired from your job so that you would have nothing left to lose by coming forward with your story." Sabrina nodded in confirmation. "Then," continued Lois, "as an added inducement to revealing everything, they started to threaten you with dire consequences if you *didn't* come forward!" Sabrina nodded again. Come on," said Lois.
"Where are we going?" asked Sabrina as Lois began striding purposefully toward the exit.
"*You* are going back to your apartment," said Lois. "*I* am going to the roof of the apartment building across from yours to take some pictures of them spying on you. If we have hard evidence of what they're doing to you, we may be able to get them to leave you alone."
In her condo, Sabrina switched on the radio, trying not to look out the window at the apartment complex across the street. If Payne's men were watching her apartment as well as eavesdropping, she didn't want to draw any attention to Lois. She sank into an easy chair and flipped through a magazine, pretending to read. After waiting what seemed an eternity, her telephone rang. "Sabrina, I have something to tell you," said Lois's voice. "Why don't you meet me at the Daily Planet?"
Lois started talking almost as soon as Sabrina had slid into the chair next to her desk. "Got it," she said. "Let's go into the Conference Room and look at it on the VCR." She cast a quick glance around the office to make sure Vane wasn't in sight, then led the way to the Conference Room. Putting the tape into the VCR, she switched on the television set. "Look," she said proudly.
Sabrina watched the scene on the television. Lois had captured the view into the window of her condo and the condo next to hers. Sabrina saw herself enter the condo, pick up the magazine and sit in the chair; and at the same time, she saw men in the adjacent condo inserting the bug into the adjoining wall of their apartment. She watched as an image of herself appeared on a screen in the neighboring condo. They were not just eavesdropping on her; they were now videotaping her as well! Sabrina felt nauseated at the invasion.
"So what do we do now?" she asked Lois. The sound of the door opening caused them both to look at the entrance. Clark came into the room, closing the door behind him.
"What do we have?" he asked. Lois re-ran the tape for him.
"Good work!" he said. "Now we have to figure out what to do next. We can't use this tape without giving Sabrina and Trustright away."
"We keep the tape for insurance," said Lois. "On the other matter, I've been doing some digging, and one of my sources has spoken off the record about some of Payne's illegal activities; if I can get confirmation from two other sources, I may have a story we can run that may help to knock him out of his position of power."
Sabrina looked at Lois admiringly. "Superman told me you'd be a good person to have on my side," she said.
Lois looked at her in surprise. "Superman told you that?" she asked.
"Yes. He wanted me to tell you about my problem. Said you would be able to help me."
"That was nice of him!" said Lois, pleased. She hadn't known that Clark had tried to persuade Sabrina to let her in on the secret. "Wasn't that nice of him, Clark?"
Clark smiled down at her. "It's no more than the truth, Lois," he said. "There's no one I'd rather have on my side. And now, Sabrina, why don't you let me escort you home?"
"I'll come with you," said Lois. "Then we can check out these sources together, Clark."
The trio went down to the lobby in the elevator together. As they passed a newsstand, something on the counter caught Lois's eye. "Clark!" said Lois. "Look!" With trembling fingers she snatched a copy of the Metropolis Star and held it out for Clark to read. "CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY HAD LOVE NEST IN CITY," said the headline.
"Looks like we've been scooped," said Clark. "Again."
"What is it?" said Sabrina, peering over Lois's shoulder. She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand when she saw the headline. "Let me see," she said, reading rapidly through the story.
"Hello!!" said the newsstand vendor. "Are youse gonna buy that paper or what?"
"'District Attorney candidate Frank Trustright rented a room regularly at the Paradise Motel during the —"
"It's not me," said Sabrina.
"Hello!! Are youse gonna pay me? Ya think I'm runnin' a public service or somethin'?"
"What do you mean?" said Lois.
"Hey, do I get my money or do I hafta call the cops? Hey —" He subsided as Clark flipped some change onto the counter. "Thank you!!!" he said sarcastically.
"That's not where we — I mean I never went — I've never been —"
"To the Paradise Motel?" said Lois. "You mean he had another — you mean there was someone else?"
"There must have been," said Sabrina, "unless this story is a fabrication."
"Lois, didn't you tell me that Trustright was quite a ladies' man in his youth?" Clark interjected.
"Yes! That's what my sources at the university told me," said Lois.
"So there could be more than one woman," said Clark.
"Oh, dear," said Sabrina, "I hope the other woman isn't being blackmailed like I am."
Lois was lost in thought. "Clark," she said suddenly, "why don't you go ahead and take Sabrina back to her condo. I want to check this out." Clark looked at her uneasily, about to object. "Bobby Bigmouth!" she mouthed silently behind Sabrina's back. Clark nodded his acquiescence, relieved that she wasn't planning to do anything potentially dangerous.
"I'll see you at home," he said, preparing to escort Sabrina to her condominium.
AN ALLEY IN METROPOLIS
"Gina Banna," said Bobby Bigmouth, munching on one of the beignets Lois had brought him.
"Excuse me?" said Lois.
"You know, they must be using a different kind of fat to fry these in — or they're not changing their oil like they should; they just don't have the flavor —"
"Bobby! What about jinnabanna? What is it?"
"Not what; who. She was a stripper — sorry, exotic dancer. Worked at the Tips and Ashes Club back in the sixties and seventies. Runs a cafe now. She and Frank Trustright were quite an item at one time."
"Bobby, how do you know all this? When I talked to you last week the only thing you would tell me was that Trustright wasn't a saint; now you know of an exotic dancer who was 'close' to him twenty or so years ago."
Bobby shrugged. "Word gets around," he said.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
"So this is what we have," said Clark. "Avery Payne, who we believe has strong ties to Intergang, has been bribing or blackmailing at least two women to tell about former love trysts with Frank Trustright, because he wants Trustright to lose the election."
"And Frank Trustright, who everyone thought was a saint, turns out to be not so saintly after all," added Lois. "You know, Clark, the more I know about this man, the less inclined I feel to protect his secret." Clark nodded unhappily.
"I've been thinking the same thing," he said. "I'm just worried about Sabrina. And, Lois, I keep coming back to that issue — whatever Trustright's sexual peccadillos, if he's the only person who'll stand up to Payne, a suspected blackmailer and organized crime member —"
"Clark." Lois placed a hand on his arm. "I know what you mean, and I agree; but we can't just ignore Trustright's past — it's too much! If we let it go now, he'll still be at risk for blackmail later. And besides, the Metropolis Star is on the trail now, and if we don't expose Trustright, they will!"
"Lois, if we expose Trustright, we'll be giving Payne just what he wants, and he'll get away with everything he's done if there's no one to prosecute him," said Clark, folding his arms across his chest. Lois knew from the set of his jaw that he wasn't going to budge on this one.
"Clark, if we can prove a connection between Payne and the intimidation Sabrina has been subjected to, we can publish it and get Payne for that, if nothing else … "
"But if the D.A. decides not to prosecute, or botches the case so that Payne gets acquitted —"
"Clark, we're a newspaper. We can make sure that the public doesn't forget about Payne's crimes, ride the district attorney's office until they *have to* prosecute. And see to it that they don't botch the case. I know Perry will go along with us on this."
"And Vane?" said Clark, beginning to smile for the first time.
"I think we can find a way to take care of him, too," said Lois, patting his arm.
Sabrina stood at the window of her condo, surveying the street below. She had spotted Lois Lane and Clark Kent on the roof of the building across the street earlier in the afternoon, and, glancing casually out the window a minute ago, noticed that they had disappeared. She knew their intention of watching the men who were bugging her apartment and following them if they left. Yes, there was one of the men just leaving her building. She recognized him from the video Lois had taken. Making a hasty decision, she snatched her purse and prepared to follow.
She made it into the street just in time to see Lane and Kent hail a cab and take off after the man who had been bugging her apartment. She motioned to another taxi and climbed smoothly inside. "I want you to follow the cab just ahead," she instructed the driver.
"Where are they going?" she asked uneasily after riding for about fifteen minutes.
"They're heading for the Gang District," said the driver.
"I'd say we're already in the Gang District," said Sabrina, looking around apprehensively. "Oh, look! They're stopping. Pull over and let me out. Here!" She thrust some money at the driver, who shook his head as he prepared to follow the other cab out of the Gang District.
Once out of the cab, Sabrina ran toward Lane and Kent, her heels clicking on the sidewalk. The two reporters turned around and stared.
"Sabrina!" said Lois. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you going to do?" asked Sabrina. "What will you do when you prove the connection between the men bugging the apartment and Avery Payne?"
"We'll deal with that issue when we come to it," said Clark. "We haven't proven the connection yet, and each minute we stand here talking —"
"Yes, yes, let's hurry," said Lois, starting down the street. "Sabrina, I think you'd better leave this to us. Why don't you just go home."
"Not a chance," declared Sabrina, clutching her purse and tagging along with the two reporters, who were striding briskly down the sidewalk toward the alley where the man who had bugged Sabrina's apartment had disappeared.
"Shhh!" said Lois, drawing back and flattening herself against the side of the building. "There he is!"
"Uh, you two wait here; I'm going to go get the police," said Clark, preparing for one of his disappearing acts.
"Police! No, you can't!" said Sabrina frantically, but Clark had already vanished in the fading dusk. Seconds later there was a familiar whoosh sound.
"Superman!" exclaimed Sabrina with obvious relief.
"I couldn't help overhearing you two talking about following that man," began Superman.
"Yes! He's the one who was bugging my apartment!" said Sabrina.
"I think this is a job better left to me; why don't you two wait here," said Superman. He looked over at his wife. "Lois."
Sabrina peered at Lois, who was standing with arms folded across her chest, looking away from Superman.
"Lois," said Superman again, putting one hand on her shoulder as he guided her a few steps away from Sabrina. "Lois, please," he said softly. "Listen to me. Just this once. It's too dangerous."
Lois still wasn't looking at him. Her foot was tapping the ground.
"It's not because you're a woman," he said. She swivelled her head and looked daggers at him, curling her lower lip.
"It's because I'm invulnerable and you're not," he said. "And you need to get Sabrina out of here. Take her away, Lois. Please."
"All right," she whispered finally, turning to face him. "But you owe me one, Kent. Two scoops of chocolate-chocolate fudge ice cream."
Superman leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Why don't I just agree to be your love slave," he said with a gleam in his eye.
"No, I think you'd enjoy that a little too much," Lois replied. She leaned toward him. "Now go!" she said. Clark bent to kiss her, then recalling Sabrina's presence, straightened abruptly and was gone in a blur.
"What do we do now?" said Sabrina when Superman had disappeared.
"We go back and wait for Superman to tell us what happened," said Lois regretfully.
"We're going now," said Lois firmly, leading the way back up the street.
While they walked she filled in Sabrina on the progress she and Clark had made in finding out who had been threatening her. "Clark and I both talked to your former employer and got zip," she said. "So Superman paid your supervisor a visit."
"Superman!" said Sabrina in distress. "Oh, no! Now they'll know that I've gone to him for help —"
"Relax," said Lois. "Superman told him that Clark and I had asked him to look into it, so you're in the clear on this one. Anyway, at first he said he had been blackmailed into firing you. Superman wasn't satisfied with that explanation, and after pressing your supervisor, he finally admitted that he had been paid to fire you. He couldn't identify the man who bribed him, but don't worry, we're closing in on him."
Lois paused and looked around. "Should we go right or left here?" she asked.
"Right," said Sabrina, peering down the dim street.
"I think it's left," said Lois, leading the way. "We're starting to close in on the men following you, too," she continued. "We not only have a statement from the man Superman caught following you last week, but Clark and I followed you a few times this week and caught a man instructing passers by to say threatening things to you." Sabrina looked at her. "Do these phrases ring a bell?" Lois asked. "'There are worse things than death,' 'you'd be easy to poison,' and 'Penny will be skewered'?"
"People passing me in the street have said all those things to me this week," said Sabrina, pale.
Lois smiled with satisfaction. "Clark and I have videotapes of the man instructing people to say those things to you," she said. "It won't be long before we can prove who's behind it all."
"How clever of you!" said Sabrina tremulously. "I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank you." She looked around. "It's getting dark," she said nervously. "And shouldn't we have reached Main Boulevard by now? We've been walking —"
"Yes, I think we took a wrong turn somewhere," admitted Lois, scanning the darkening street.
"You ladies need some help?" said a gruff young voice from the dusk.
The two women turned cautiously and peered at the speaker who now stepped quietly out of the shadows. Sabrina breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that it was a teenager. Lois was less sanguine, but she forced herself to appear calm as she turned and addressed the youth. "Yes, could you show us the way to Main Boulevard?" she asked. "There's ten dollars in it for you."
The youth looked at her speculatively, then nodded. "Follow me," he said.
"It won't be long now," whispered Lois.
But it appeared that she was wrong. She became more and more uneasy as the boy led them through a labyrinth of streets. "How much longer before we reach Main?" she asked the youth, moving closer as she spoke. Immediately she took a quick step backward — he stank!
"Not too much farther," said the boy. "You ladies were really lost."
Lois didn't answer; she was trying to recall where she had smelled that offensive odor before. Then she remembered — Clark had smelled like that after Superman had been sprayed with the obnoxious fluid when he was intervening in gang fights. Clark had blown the fluid back onto the boys the last time they had attacked him, so this boy must have been one of the gang members who had attacked Superman! Suddenly Lois felt distinctly unwell. We've got to get away from him, she told herself, and somehow find our way back to Main Boulevard!
"It's nice of you to take us this far," she said as pleasantly as she could manage, "but I think we can find our way now. Thank you. Goodbye." Grasping Sabrina's startled arm, she pulled the woman away from the boy.
"Not so fast, lady!"
Lois half-turned and looked directly into the barrel of a pistol the size of a cannon.
"You don't think I'm gonna let two of Superman's babes get away now, do you?" the youth asked with a sneer. "I'm not gonna pass up this chance to pay back Supes for all he's done!"
"Take it easy, Shark," said a new voice. The two women watched as a seedy-looking man emerged from the shadows. "We hafta get them there in one piece — boss's orders."
"And just where are you taking us?" asked Lois boldly. "And who's the boss?"
"Never mind," said the youth. "Just start walkin'."
Superman stood in the small, dark room, staring helplessly at the screen that showed all too plainly that his beloved wife was being held prisoner in a dimly lit room similar to the one he habited. Lois stared out of the screen, looking directly at him. "Superman!" she said.
"Yes. Superman." The voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Evidently Lois heard it too, for she looked around, startled. "I regret to inform you, Ms Lane and Ms Powers, that your body guard will be unable to come to your rescue this time. The room he's in is wired to detect his body heat. If he leaves the room, it will trigger the detonator of a bomb directly below the room where you, Ms Lane and Ms Powers, are standing now. No matter how fast he is, he will not be able to find you, much less reach you, before the bomb goes off."
"Lois, I've been watching you on this closed circuit television almost since we parted," said Superman. "They had a camera and a gun following you the whole time. They told me if I tried to rescue you, they'd kill you."
"Right," said the voice of their captor. "And that threat still holds."
"Are we to know whose hospitality we are enjoying?" asked Lois sarcastically.
"I don't believe there's any need to exchange names," said the voice.
"No, there's no need," said Sabrina Powers coldly. "I recognize your voice, Avery Payne."
"How unfortunate," said Payne. "For you."
"What do you want?" said Lois.
"Ah, Ms Lane, can't you guess? I want your tapes: the recordings of the men stalking Ms Powers and bugging her apartment. We've searched your house and your desks at work, but they're not there."
"They're in a safe deposit box," said Lois, thinking rapidly. "I don't have the key with me, but if you'll let me out, I can take you —"
"Not a chance, Ms Lane! You *tell* me where the key is; we'll get the tapes out of the bank; and *then* we'll let you out."
Right, thought Lois. You're never going to let us out of this alive.
"Lois, is the key in the secret compartment Clark and I built?" interjected Superman. Sabrina looked up in amazement. Somehow she had never thought of Superman engaging in carpentry with his friends. Is that what he does on weekends, help friends build decks or work on their cars? She stifled an hysterical giggle.
"Secret compart —? Oh, yes, right," said Lois.
"Then you'll find the key in a box under the fourth board from the fireplace in the living room at the Kent's house," said Superman. "Pry away the baseboard and twist the nail —"
"The second nail, not the first," interpolated Lois helpfully. If they were going to send Payne on a wild goose chase, it might as well be a good one. Silence followed Lois's last statement. She waited in growing uneasiness, then finally said, "Payne?" There was no answer. "He must have gone," sighed Lois.
She leaned her back against the wall and slid to a sitting position. "We might as well get comfortable," she said. Sabrina nodded, then seated herself alongside her, leaning back and closing her eyes. Lois took this opportunity to study her co-prisoner and was pleased at how well Sabrina appeared to be holding up. She was pale but appeared remarkably composed considering that she was being held prisoner in the innermost part of the Gang District, seated directly over a bomb that was set to detonate if the only person in the world who could liberate her made any attempt to do so.
"How are you feeling?" asked Lois. "You okay?" Sabrina opened her eyes and smiled.
"I'm all right," she said serenely. "What do we do now? Just sit and wait for rescue?"
"Rescue??" said Lois. "Superman is as trapped as we are!" She didn't want to scare Sabrina, but she didn't want to give her false hopes, either. She didn't know the source of Sabrina's secret hope, but apparently the woman wasn't at all worried about their predicament.
Sabrina leaned over and whispered very softly. "But your husband isn't trapped." Her voice was barely audible. "And your husband went to get the police, didn't he? They should be looking for us by now."
Lois let out her breath, thinking of Clark imprisoned in a small, bare room many blocks from them. "Yes," she said in a colorless voice. "They should be looking for us by now."
Time passed slowly. "Lois," said Superman's voice. Lois looked up at the screen. "I'm going to break out of this room now. I think they're bluffing about the bomb."
Sabrina sat bolt upright, her cheeks ashen.
"Yes," said Lois deliberately, realizing that Clark had spoken in this manner in an attempt to find out if anyone was still monitoring them. "I think they're bluffing, too. Go ahead and break out." Their comments were met by silence. Lois saw Superman look directly at her, then go to work. He appeared to be staring at his surroundings, dragging his eyes over the walls and ceiling. Lois wondered if he was using his X-ray vision to scan for sensors. Suddenly he disappeared with a crash. Lois held her breath, waiting for an explosion.
When it came it caught her by surprise. She felt herself being lifted up, up, up, so rapidly it felt like she was flying. Flying. Yes, it was like flying with her husband. Then she felt his strong arm around her, holding her securely in its grasp and she knew that she really was flying with her husband.
"I knew you'd think of a way out," she murmured, opening her eyes, which she had closed when the force had first lifted her. She saw the warning look Superman gave her and observed that he was carrying Sabrina in his other arm. "It looks like you got us just in time, Superman," Lois said brightly, putting on her acquaintance face. "That explosion —"
"There was no explosion," said Superman, his arm tightening around her, "but there will be."
"How did you get us out without triggering the bomb?" asked Sabrina, puzzled.
"The sensors in my room were programmed to set off the bomb only if the temperature dropped *below* a certain point," said Superman. "So I heated the room with my heat vision before going out to look for you. The lengthy cooling-off period gave me enough time to locate you before the temperature dropped to the point of detonating the bomb."
"How — how *clever* of you!" burst out Sabrina.
"Yes, Superman always finds a way," said Lois proudly.
Clark couldn't help giving Lois a little squeeze; her faith was a continual source of sustenance for him.
"Where are we?" asked Sabrina, looking around as Superman descended slowly.
"I'm setting you down beside the Daily Planet building," said Superman. "Lois, don't go home yet; it's too dangerous," he continued, fending off one of her fiery glances. "I think Clark's here. You two will probably want to continue working on your story together."
"Wait … ," called Sabrina as Superman prepared to leave. She stepped up close to him and bestowed a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she said.
Superman inclined his head stiffly, hoping Lois wouldn't react in any visible way; she was sometimes a little careless about his secret. His hope was short-lived, for Lois, acting on the prompting of some inner devil, planted a kiss on his other cheek, slyly squeezing his arm at the same time. "Yes, Superman, thank you," she said with a wicked gleam in her eye. Clark stood stock-still, not daring to meet her eyes for fear of betraying his emotions. He wished Lois wouldn't do things like that — it was hard enough to maintain a facade of indifference toward her in public without her tantalizing him in this manner!
"You're welcome, Lois," he said at last in a strangled voice. Satisfied with the effect she had had on him, Lois stepped back and took Sabrina's arm.
"You'll be all right now," said Superman, recovering. He stretched an arm overhead and vanished with a whoosh, leaving Sabrina staring skyward with open mouth.
"He's incredible!" she gasped.
"Lois! Sabrina!" called a voice from behind them a minute later. "I saw Superman — are you all right?"
"Yes, Mr. Kent!" gasped Sabrina. "Thanks to Superman. He was wonderful! Wasn't he, Lois?"
"Yes," said Lois drily. "Wonderful. I'll have to remember to *thank* him again when I see him next." Seeing the hopeful look Clark sent her, she added in an undervoice, "Don't look so smug, Kent. And remember — you still owe me that ice cream." Aloud, she said, "Clark, Superman and I sent Payne on a wild goose chase to our house. We need to call the police —"
"Superman already called them," said Clark. "They should be catching Payne and his men breaking and entering right about now!" He raised his head in his "listening" posture and Lois knew that he was eavesdropping on the police catching Payne.
"So that ends it," said Sabrina happily. "I guess Payne won't be threatening me any more. And trying to ruin Trustright's chances for election."
"That doesn't quite end it," cautioned Lois. "Trustright's past is too checkered to just let it go, Sabrina. We're going to have to publish some of it." She saw Sabrina's face fall and added gently, "I think we can keep your name out of it, though."
"But — but Trustright will lose and then Payne will get away with everything! He'll never be prosecuted!" She looked accusingly at Clark.
"Even if Trustright does lose," said Lois, "we can keep Payne's crimes in the limelight and *force* the District Attorney — whoever he may be — to prosecute. So Payne is *not* going to get away with his crimes. Trust me on this one."
"And I'm not so sure Trustright will lose anyway," added Clark. "If you've been receiving threats, then other women have probably been threatened, too — all we have to do is find them and reveal Payne's scheme to the public. And we will," he said with determination.
"Lois, CK!" said Jimmy's voice. "And Ms Powers! What's going on?"
"Jimmy, I'm glad you're here," said Clark. "Do you think you and Penny could see Sabrina home? Lois and I have to track down some leads and —"
"Huh? Yeah, sure. We'll be glad to," said Jimmy. He released his hold on Penny's waist and stuck two fingers in his mouth, whistling shrilly for a taxi. "G'night! See ya tomorrow!" he called, following the two women into the cab.
"What leads were you thinking of tracking down tonight?" asked Lois, circling her hands around his arm as soon as she and Clark were alone.
"Mmmm," said Clark, wrapping his arms around her and backing her up to the lamppost. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of holding you to your promise of *thanking* Superman." He bent his head, seeking her mouth with his lips. Lois put her hands behind his neck and ran her fingers through his hair.
"Do I need to ask what kind of 'thanks' Superman is expecting?" she giggled.
DAILY PLANET NEWSROOM
"Lois, Clark, this is a great story," said Cat, tapping the front page of the newspaper while her mother looked over her shoulder.
"Yes, it is," said Perry, looking proudly at the headline:
"AVERY PAYNE LINKED TO EXTORTION RACKET Accused of Conspiring to Ruin Trustright's Career"
His eyes rapidly scanned the article, which quoted several anonymous sources, one of whom had agreed to blow the whistle *on* the record and give the details of the campaign of terror against her, if necessary. "But it's too bad we weren't able to show a connection to that little weasel, Bernard Vane," he added.
"Well, at least he's gone, Chief," said Clark.
"Permanently, we hope," put in Lois.
"Cat," said Perry, picking up the paper again, "follow-ups to this story have great possibilities for the gossip column. Are you sure you don't want to uh — give up your job in Washington and write for us again?"
"Not a chance, Perry," said Cat, laughing.
"Well, it was nice seeing you again. And nice to meet your lovely mother," said Perry, turning to the auburn-haired woman who looked more like Cat's sister than her mother.
"It was nice meeting you, too, Perry," murmured Mrs. Grant.
"But I'd give a lot to know what induced Gina Banna to agree to blow the whistle on Payne and tell her story on the record," continued Perry.
"Who says it was Gina Banna who agreed to tell her story on the record?" purred the elder Catherine Grant in her sultry voice. She plucked her jacket from the chair, slung it carelessly over one shoulder, and favoring the speechless Perry with a mysterious smile, sashayed out of the newsroom.
348 HYPERION AVENUE
"And in other news, District Attorney candidate Sam North has issued a statement condemning his opponent Frank Trustright for his past sexual escapades. 'His conduct is indicative of a lack of moral fiber — '." Lois switched off the television.
"It looks like Trustright is in for a rough campaign," she said. "He's going to have his work cut out for him."
"Hmmm," Clark replied.
"And so are we," Lois continued. "We've already agreed that Payne went to such great lengths to sabotage Trustright's campaign that there must be a lot at stake here. I've started digging into Payne's past, and I've been wondering about the Billenbank murders … you know they were never solved and at the time I suspected AgCity because it seemed too convenient that the people who could cause that corporation so much embarrassment mysteriously … Clark?"
"Hmmm?" he said absently.
"Are you listening to me?"
"Sorry," said Clark. "I was just thinking about Trustright and how his career has been torpedoed just when we need someone strong to prosecute Payne."
"Clark, you don't regret printing —?"
"Huh? Oh, no, honey … you were right all along; suppressing the story now would only have left Trustright vulnerable to blackmail later."
"So we're okay on this?"
"We're okay on everything," Clark smiled.
"Yes, it all seems to be working out," said Lois. "Sabrina and her husband are even talking about getting back together. Dr. Powers is horrified at how easily he was led to expel his wife … says he's a modern-day Othello." Lois stood up and reached for Clark's hand. "Come on," she said, hauling him to his feet. Let's go into the kitchen for some tea."
"Clark," said Lois a few minutes later while they relaxed over their hot drinks, "how did you get Cat's mother to agree to tell her story and go on the record?"
"Honey," began Clark, then stopped.
"Well?" said Lois, folding her arms across her chest.
"Some people just have the knack," Clark said, grinning as he leaned back in his chair. Lois's eyes narrowed and she advanced on him threateningly. "Okay, okay, I'll tell you!" Clark laughed. "I had a chat with Cat, and she's the one who did the persuading."
"A chat with Cat," Lois echoed. "You persuaded Cat to get her mother involved in this? How did you manage that?"
"I'm a man; she's a woman; do I have to draw you a diagram?" Clark teased. "No, honey, wait! I was just kidding! … What are you doing? … What are you going to do with that? … You're not going to hit me with it — Lois! Lo-is!!!"