By Jenni Debbage <email@example.com>
Submitted May 1999
Summary: A family crisis leads Lois and Clark to sinister occurrences at a local hospital, in a case that every member of the Kent/Lane family is soon mixed up in. The fifth story in the author's "Kent Family" series.
This is my fifth story and as usual it continues with the lives of my interpretation of Lois and Clark and their family. It is another stand-alone story, though it does occasionally allude to some of the previous tales. Once again, comments are very welcome and I'm growing used to controversy so don't be afraid to speak your mind.
A Birthday Celebration
It was the spring of 2006 and the family Kent had gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of its matriarch. The weather had been kind to their celebrations and the planned barbeque was already underway, blessed by clear blue skies and a warm spring sun. The elder Kents had requested the company of their family and friends to commemorate the special day in the life of their dearest and most loved lady, Martha Kent.
Her son Clark along with his wife, Lois and their four children had organised the party and, joined by the family's closest friends, the celebrants were intent on making this day an especially joyous one for the birthday lady. Jonathan Kent was as usual presiding over the production of the barbeque food with a little help from his son. The accompanying buffet and drinks were being distributed to the party members by Lois with the assistance of her three oldest children, the pretty and pert Clara and two of her brothers Joel and Julian, their respective dark and fair hair gleaming in the bright sunlight. The only blonde in the family, Julian's colouring marked him as the odd one out, yet the distinction was superficial. Although Julian was an adopted son, by love and commitment he was a true member of the Kent family. The youngest boy, Nathan, a toddler approaching three, was sitting with the birthday lady and was already enjoying the scrumptious food and basking in the attention which spilled over from his grandma to himself. Seated round the table with Martha and her grandson was Bernard and Beth Klein, with Perry White and his wife, Alice.
Thankfully Perry's recovery from the traffic accident that he had been involved in a week or two before Christmas was well underway and he had returned, at least, part time to his job the week before this gathering. He was still, however, relying heavily on the help of his stand-in editors, namely Lane & Kent. It seemed that trauma was a good deal harder to recover from for someone of his advancing years and besides, Perry had discovered that life had more to offer than full-time work at the Planet. He and Alice had enjoyed the warming spring months visiting their old haunts such as Graceland and spending time indulging in some of his more loved hobbies like fishing. Indeed he had been in seventh heaven when his wife suggested that he take this time out to teach her the intricacies of his long-term and much enjoyed sport. Alice White was at last beginning to successfully convince her husband to take time out to smell the roses.
The Lane in-laws and Clark's aging Aunt Opal made up the other members of the party and all were determined to enjoy their day in the backyard of the elder Kents' Metropolis home.
Jonathan and Martha had finally finished working on the property's back garden, intending to turn their home in a quiet suburb of Metropolis into a little patch of country. It took many years to lay out a garden to the best of specifications. The patio and barbeque pit had been built by Jonathan and Clark sometime ago, but bushes, flowers and trees took time and care to cultivate, yet after many years of loving tending, the couple had succeeded in transferring a barren landscape into the sheltered arbours and garden that entranced the visitors of today.
On this special day the trees and bushes were festooned with balloons and banners wishing Martha a very happy birthday. The kids had a ball earlier distributing the party balloons and bunting throughout the garden, with a little elevated assistance from their dad. Most fathers could not have achieved the stringing of the streamers from the tops of the trees and guttering of the house without the use of a ladder but then most fathers were not Superman. In the past, Clark might have concluded that such an action was too risky, as his parents' house was flanked on either side by similar residences, but by getting up at the crack of dawn when sensible people were still abed and having the help of a semi-super powered lookout in the shape of Joel, the other children and Clark had super-flown around the garden and within no time the greenery was hung with festive banners and balloons. When Martha had emerged later, yielding to the eager persuasion of her grandchildren, she had been charmed by the sight of her gaily bedecked backyard. Now she was joined by all the people she loved best in life and her birthday was bidding fair to become a day that would live in her memory for a long time to come.
The senior male Kents, their task becoming more uncomfortable as the hot afternoon sun beat down on their backs and the steaming heat rose from the coals into their faces, were slaving hard over a hot barbeque, determined to assuage the hungry appetites of the guests. Clark was not affected by extremes of temperature. Nevertheless, he appreciated that his father was finding the going tough and he suggested solicitously that perhaps the older man might want to take a break. This advice was not received well by his father, who disliked the notion that his age was beginning to slow him down, and besides, he was the host and the designated barbeque chef of the family; a little extra heat was not going to stop him from doing his job. This reaction did not surprise Clark, but nevertheless he was still concerned for his father. The perspiration that stood out on the older man's forehead and Jonathan's whitened pallor did not reassure Clark and he chose to monitor carefully, though covertly, his father's vital signs.
His plan though, as so often in the past, was destined to be interrupted by a police bulletin requesting assistance at a hostage situation in a neighbouring area; a man had seemingly gone berserk and was holding his wife, mother-in-law and five children at gunpoint. Signalling to Lois to meet him on the back porch, he quickly updated her on the situation and as the location of the emergency was relatively near at hand and as there were children in danger, Superman could leave and deal with the crisis in the time it would take Clark Kent to go to the bathroom and no one would be any the wiser. Still, he told Lois of his worries regarding his father and with Lois' reassurance that she would look out for Jon, Superman flew off.
After watching her husband disappear into the house where he changed into a streak of red and blue and flew off through the front door, too fast for the normal human eye to track, Lois sauntered off the wooden terrace and down towards the barbeque pit where Jonathan had stopped to wipe his face with his garishly orange and lemon printed apron. Knowing that her father-in-law was a tad touchy in regard to his state of health, she approached him casually.
"Hi, Jonathan. How's the cooking doing? Everyone is enjoying your spicy chicken, even Aunt Opal and you know how she's always complaining about how hot spices give her gas."
"Maybe that means that I'm not putting in enough spices," Jonathan attempted a foray into humour, but his laugh turned into a cough. "Sorry Lois," he apologised as he lifted a handkerchief to his mouth, "the fumes catch the back of the throat now and again."
Now Lois was starting to grow anxious at Jon's continued choking coughs. "You know Jonathan, I think that everybody has enough food for the present, perhaps you could rest up for a while."
Jonathan regarded Lois with suspicion, he was quite aware that his family had recently been worried about his state of health, ever since the turn of the year when both Martha and he had been laid low with the flu bug that had swept through Metropolis. Martha had recovered quite normally, but he had developed a nasty chest infection which had taken several weeks to clear up.
"Have you been talking to Clark?" he asked in a strangled voice but with a certain amount of belligerence.
"Clark?!" Lois nearly squeaked out then brought her voice under control. "No! Where is Clark anyway? I thought he was assistant chef."
"Gone to the bathroom. At least that's the story for public consumption. For you though he's gone to help out as Superman, but don't you already know that?" Jon had obviously witnessed Clark's and Lois' dialogue.
Lois considered prevarication, but then thought better of that idea. She loved her father-in-law greatly and thought that he deserved the truth.
"Clark and I are just concerned about you, Jonathan. We care so much that sometimes we must seem overprotective…"
"And I must appear like an ungrateful, bad-tempered old coot…"
"No, never bad-tempered, Jonathan," Lois interceded with a grin, which thankfully was returned.
"Actually, Lois, I do feel a little tired," truth deserved a similar response, "so maybe I'll go inside for a few minutes' rest." And when he saw that his daughter intended to accompany him, "Perhaps you could take over this for me until Clark gets back."
As he spoke, he handed her the cooking tools that lay by his side and walked slowly towards the house, leaving Lois with no excuse to follow. Nevertheless she watched his progress closely and so was the first to see him grab for the porch rail as he started up the steps and, clutching weakly at his chest with loose fingers, he collapsed to the ground.
"Jonathan!!" Lois screamed as she ran across the patio to the distressed man's side, her shrill voice drawing the attention of the other party members.
Sam Lane was the first to react and was soon leaning over Jonathan's prone form checking for pulse and respiration. Sam was a doctor, in fact a very good one, and although his professional life had in the distant past gone off on some very strange tangents, lately he had returned to a more conventional form of medicine and was helping accident victims who had suffered paralysing injuries to recover some mobility. Lois knew that her father-in-law was in very capable hands. After a very quick examination Sam looked up at his daughter with an apprehensive frown.
"We need an ambulance here, now. Tell them it's an emergency; a suspected coronary arrest."
Lois' face blanched white, but she did as she was bid only to find that her mother had beaten her to the phone and was speedily dialling the emergency services. Left with nothing to do she hurried back outside to find her father-in-law surrounded by anxious friends.
"Where's Clark?" Martha's terrified voice was merely a whisper. It was a measure of Martha's love for her son that he should be the first person she would look to when in trouble and now it was Martha's turn to echo the thoughts of her daughter; why did Superman always interfere when Clark was needed by his family?
Lois could almost read the thoughts that were tumbling through her mother-in-law's mind, but there were folks here who didn't know of Clark's other identity and they were expectantly waiting to discover Clark's whereabouts. Hovering close by her shoulder, she could sense the exasperation of her own mother, frequently through the years Ellen Lane had mentioned her son-in-law's questionable vanishing acts, and Aunt Opal was beginning to look around inquisitively for her nephew. An excuse was definitely required here.
"Um…mm. I think that Jonathan had run out of supplies and sent Clark to the grocery store."
Heedful of how seriously Jon took his role of head chef, Martha recognised this as an excuse, nevertheless it seemed to satisfy those not initiated into the family secret.
Meanwhile, distracted by the dreadful choking noise emanating from Jonathan's throat, Martha felt her legs begin to buckle. She reached for the stair rails only to have her hands taken in Bernard Klein's strong grasp while Beth, his wife, slipped an arm round the distraught woman's waist to support and comfort. There was at the moment a proliferation of physicians in the Kents' backyard, but both Dr Kleins were content, for the present, to leave the care of the patient in the capable hands of Sam Lane.
In the distance the alarm siren of an ambulance could be heard as it rushed towards the emergency and although time seemed to stand still for the watchers in the garden, the paramedics speedily arrived at their destination and, after being informed of Sam's profession, quickly assisted Dr Lane in his emergency treatment.
Swiftly and competently, Jonathan was transferred into the ambulance, accompanied by Martha and Sam and, at Dr Lane's insistence, they drove off to check the cardiac patient into the Greenmeadows Institute, a hospital long recognised for its excellence in the treatment of coronary disease. The hospital was run by a consortium of physicians, headed by one Dr David Goodman, who was not only a brilliant and renowned heart surgeon but was a very old friend of Sam Lane, the two having encouraged and supported each other through med-school so many years ago. Sam could think of no better person into whose hands he would rather commit Jonathan's medical ministration and on their seemingly long journey to the hospital he tried to convey his hopeful thoughts to Martha. His optimistic words, regrettably, were made more difficult to believe by the dreadful demeanour of the patient and silently Sam prayed that his relative and friend would make it to the ER alive. But Jonathan was a fighter and he held on to the thin strand of life that was still available to him, not prepared to leave behind his beloved wife and family.
Back in her in-laws' home, Lois was in some sort of quandary. While she was eager to rush off in pursuit of the ambulance she recognised that when Clark returned he was going need all of her understanding and support. This, of course, meant that she was left in the dark concerning Jonathan's progress and she only hoped that she could rely on her father to update her on any developments. Help was at hand, however, and Bernard and Beth, realising her predicament, offered to proceed to Greenmeadows to discover Jonathan's current state of health. In fact, Bernard had a second, private motive for visiting the hospital. Apart from the apparent concern he had for his friend, he was interested to experience in person the workings of the eminent institution. Greenmeadows, under the leadership of head physician Dr Goodman and his team, was carving out a reputation for saving the lives of those who were deemed by other facilities to be beyond treatment, yet the medical staff was proving to be more than a little coy regarding its methods. Mysteries always intrigued Bernard Klein, a personal trait that had intensified over the years due to his involvement in the investigations of Lane & Kent.
With the problem of communication solved, at least it would be when the Kleins arrived at Greenmeadows, Lois concentrated on calming her frightened children. They had all witnessed the collapse of their dearest grandpa and were now thoroughly scared at what might become of him. The three oldest children well understood the meaning of death having encountered it at very close quarters during the New Year holiday. Too many of their friends had been killed in a terrorist attack and the very recent, almost healed scars were threatening to burst anew at the prospect of losing their grandfather.
Thankfully Nathan had been kept out of that whole affair, but now the little boy had been seriously confused and terrified by the sight of his grandpa lying unmoving by the stairs and then carted away by strangers to somewhere his mommy told him was a hospital where they made sick people well again. He vaguely recalled being sick himself and his grandpa Lane had made him better and grandpa Lane had gone off in the van so maybe he would do the same for grandpa Jon as he had for him. All these thoughts running through his very young mind overwhelmed him and he cuddled closer to his mom for comfort.
Sitting amidst her offspring Lois, for the sake of her children, attempted to show a brave face, a task made more difficult by the anxious utterings of Aunt Opal. This old lady was a cousin of Martha and the only other relation that lived in Metropolis and, as this elderly woman had no family of her own, the Kents had chosen to take care of her, a circumstance that Lois was at present finding very tough to maintain. If only Opal would stop wringing her hands and repeating statements of dread in that quavering voice. But, fortunately, Lois was saved from strangling the tremulous harbinger of doom by the ever-supportive Perry offering to take Aunt Opal home. At first the elderly woman had refused the offer, stating stoically that her place was by her family in their time of tribulation. Thankfully, when it was pointed out that whenever Clark returned the family would be hurrying off to the hospital and the house would be left empty, she agreed to leave with Perry and Alice under the proviso that she would be kept informed of poor Jonathan's condition.
A pregnant silence fell over the house when the three had gone. Lois could feel the eyes of her mother boring into her back as Ellen paced to and from the window, covertly peering down the street to see if her errant son-in-law was anywhere in sight.
"Mother, please will you stop pacing. You'll wear a hole in the carpet." Lois' patience was ebbing quickly away. "And peeking out the window won't bring Clark home any sooner."
"Where is he?" Ellen demanded. Worrying about Jonathan had made her edgy and uncomfortable thoughts of how devastated she would feel if in the position that her friend Martha now found herself sharpened her voice.
"I've already told you; at the grocery store."
"How can you be so calm? That boy is never here when you need him."
Lois could feel her children bridling in defence of their father. Of course, they understood the true reason behind Clark's absences while Ellen could only be puzzled by her daughter's long forbearance of Clark's weird disappearing acts. Perhaps it was finally time to clue her parents into their son-in-law's part-time job. The stumbling block was that neither she nor Clark was sure that they could handle the knowledge. Sam's reaction did not concern Lois or Clark overmuch, he had frequently in the past dealt with the esoteric, but neither one had wished to place Sam in the position of keeping a secret of this magnitude from his wife. And Ellen, though she had become more stable in these last years due to her rediscovered love and remarriage, was still a volatile personality who Lois felt would not cope well with the knowledge that her daughter was married to an alien and that her dear grandchildren were half-breeds (Lois hated that term). And like the genie once out of the bottle the secret could never be put back. They had gotten away with it once many years ago when Sam's partner had been experimenting with a mind-control machine, but that piece of equipment had burnt itself out and neither Sam nor his partner had sought to rebuild it. Meanwhile, she had a husband to defend.
"Mother. That's not true. Clark is always there for me and for his kids. And your accusations don't make it any easier for me to remain calm." Actually Lois concluded that it would be much better for the situation if Ellen were not here when Clark returned. "Anyway, Mother, wouldn't you rather be at the hospital with Daddy?"
"I'm not leaving you here alone, Lois," Ellen stated adamantly. "So don't try to fob me off. I'm your mother and I'm here to help."
In the face of such determination Lois was powerless. She only hoped that Superman did not come flying in the window. On this score her fears were groundless. Returning to his parents' house a lot later than he had first supposed, Clark was surprised to see that there were fewer cars parked outside than when he had left. Surely his absence hadn't been quite so protracted that everyone had gone home. His senses alerted, he tuned in his super-hearing to the conversation going on in the house below and overheard the tail end of Lois' speech with her mother. Something was wrong! His first inclination was to zoom through the window and demand an explanation, but thankfully over the years he had learned to look before he leapt and there really was no explanation for Superman turning up on the Kents' doorstep.
After a swift scan of the area, Superman landed at a speed that would not create too much turbulence but would be hard for the human eye to notice in the wooded area behind his parents' home. Changing into his civilian clothes, he sauntered out onto the road and walked quickly though not over-eagerly toward the door. When he entered the front room, he was immediately assailed by his kids, throwing themselves into his arms and talking all at once. The only words that made sense to Clark were grandpa Jon and ambulance and they struck fear into his heart. He had known that something was up with his dad. Horrified, questioning brown eyes were turned on Lois as she came to stand before him, hushing her children and taking his now cold hands into hers. Slowly and succinctly she told him of all that had happened since he had left and as his body began to buckle she wrapped her arms around him and held him upright, assisted by her children and more particularly by a little super strength from their eldest son. Clark, however, needed but a few moments to regain his resolve and within a very short space of time the family, including Ellen Lane, were on their way to Greenmeadows.
The futuristic glass frontal entrance of the edifice that was Greenmeadows was certainly awe-inspiring. The combination of the old building adjoined with the very new was odd yet impressive. The older building, with its faded warm brown walls, created a sensation of trustworthiness, while the soaring glass windows of the new three-story entrance lent an atmosphere of affluence and modern scientific competence. Visitors were welcomed into its interior by soft painted walls, plush carpeting and leather furnishings, all surrounded by the greenery of abundant plant life, and by the helpful smiles of the attendant staff. By the very nature of the institution the people who entered through the portals were very often harassed, frightened and apprehensive and the family who now approached the large mahogany reception desk were clearly all of these things.
Lois carried her youngest son and Clark held tight to Clara's hand but whether to comfort or to receive support neither was exactly certain. Perhaps it was a little of both. Ellen Lane remained resolutely glued to her daughter, irrationally not having yet forgiven Clark for his absence. The two boys hurried along at their side almost at a run and in fact reached the desk before their parents, where they waited expectantly for the lady behind the desk to notice them. This she appeared not to do until seconds later, when the grownups arrived at her station, she turned a smiling face towards the group in front of her and in a bright, cheerful voice asked.
"Good afternoon, my name is Helena. How may I be of assistance?"
Under different circumstances Clark may have thought that the staff were extremely friendly and kind but, immersed as he was in fears for his father's health, he would scarcely have noticed whether he had been greeted by a robot. Lois, on the other hand, could not dismiss a feeling of slight revulsion at the overly bubbly welcome. Obviously the staff were well trained in the public relations department.
Clark, meanwhile was inquiring into the status of his father. "Thank you," even overburdened with cares Clark would never lose his innate good manners. "My name is Clark Kent. I believe that my father Jonathan Kent was admitted to your hospital a short time ago?"
The smiling lady turned to her computer keyboard and, punching a few keys, waited for the relevant information to fill her screen. The sunny smile never left her face and Lois began to think that they had indeed been met by a robot. Recollections of her father's experiments in that field came back to haunt her and the sight of the perky grin of the robot Baby Gunderson sprang into her subconscious.
The receptionist had found what she was looking for and turned her attention back to the family waiting in dread for the news she would have for them. Her look, however, was encouraging and she spoke soothingly.
"Mr Kent was admitted recently and is at present in the emergency unit where he is being treated by Dr Goodman himself." Her reverential tones conveyed the impression that Mr Kent was indeed honoured by the attention of the head of the hospital. "Your father is in very safe hands. If you take the corridor to your left and follow the signs for ER you will soon be with him. The staff there will be only too pleased to assist you."
With a quick acknowledgement Clark turned on his heel and with his family in tow went to find his father.
Greenmeadows' ER department was a white pristine world where busy yet calm competence prevailed. The staff went quickly and quietly about their work and Lois and Clark were surprised by the air of almost serenity that greeted them. From personal experience both as patients and visitors to the ER unit in Metropolis General they expected the hectic disorder bordering on chaos that normally pervaded such an establishment. Of course, this hospital being a specialist unit would not receive the same amount of admissions as the large overburdened Met General.
The desk in the emergency unit was very similar to the one they had left behind only it was smaller and slightly less ostentatious than its counterpart in the main reception hall. The staffer behind the desk was also rather different, older and wearing a white uniform which denoted a member of the nursing staff, yet the smile she gave them as they walked up to her station was identical. Lois wondered if on top of their medical training the staff of this hospital had attended charm school. Her flight of fancy was only momentary, however, as she heard her husband enquire about Jonathan's whereabouts. The nurse turned to them and in a voice that exuded calm she informed them that Mr Kent was at present being attended to by a medical team and that the doctor would be pleased to speak to the family when he had completed his examination. Meanwhile, would they be happy to join Mrs Kent in the waiting area and she indicated a room behind them.
Clark wanted to demand a more detailed account of his father's status, but he understood that this would be unreasonable. Only at the moment he didn't feel very reasonable, in fact he was feeling scared and paranoid. The cognizant part of his brain realised that this day would come; the day when he might lose one of his parents. After all, every one of them was growing older, even he. But please, not yet! He was not prepared to relinquish his hold on the support, the wise council and the simple friendship that he received from his father. Not yet!
Drowning in a sea of self pity, Clark entered the waiting area and found Martha being zealously tended by Bernard and Beth, sitting like bookends on either side of her. Setting eyes on his mother, all thoughts of his own loss left him as he hurried to comfort the forlorn little woman he saw before him. Martha sat in an overstuffed armchair, dwarfed by its large proportions and looking smaller than Clark had ever noticed. Her eyes gazed inwards upon her memories as she contemplated a life without her dearest partner and lover. They had been together for so many long years and though not all of those years were care free they had faced each passing problem together and Martha wasn't sure that she could go on alone.
She was brought from her sorrowful thoughts by a pair of strong arms pulling her into a warm hug and at once recognising the arms of her son she gave into the sobs that had been held back by the damn of her iron control. Now Clark's solicitous touch had breached that will and, with the sounds of his mother's tears echoing in his ears, he too gave into his own grief.
Lois regarded them for a short while, knowing that the tears needed to be shed, but her fighting spirit was not prepared to descend into wallowing and she would not allow these two people, who she loved with all her heart, to give into despondency either. Jonathan was not dead yet and if she understood her father-in-law, she knew that the tenacious farmer from Kansas, who for years had wrested a living from the soil and uncompromising elements, would not give up so easily. Crossing the room to join the weeping mother and son she encircled them with her own arms as if attempting to instill some of her own spunk into their downcast souls and after a few moments of just holding them she addressed the two in a rallying tone.
"Hey, you guys! Come on!! Jonathan is not dead yet and I refuse to believe that he is just going to slip away. That's not the Jonathan that we know and love. And if he's going to pull through then he is going to need all the support and encouragement we can give him. He certainly won't need doleful faces around him." At this she lowered her voice and went on. "And Clark, the kids certainly don't need you looking like the world is about to fall apart." She directed a warning look towards the children huddled beside their Grandma Lane watching in dread as the strongest anchor in their young lives drifted on an ocean of despair. Quickly Clark responded to Lois' warning and, wiping the tears from his face with his fingers, he pulled himself erect.
"You're right, Lois. Dad's a fighter. He'll get through this." His sentences were short and staccato, forcing himself to accept the concept. "Mom, don't despair. Dad wouldn't like it if we just gave up on him." While smoothing a soft hand over his mom's wet cheek, he called to his children. "Come on kids, come and give your grandma a hug. She needs you to take good care of her."
All four children did as they were bid encircling their grandma with love and kisses and for their young sakes' Martha succeeded in drawing herself together. In a very small voice Clara asked the question that was in the forefront of everyone's thoughts.
"Grandma Martha, is Grandpa Jon going to be all right?"
"Oh yes, of course he is." And for the first time since the whole nightmare began Martha believed that all would be well. She turned thankful eyes to Lois and with an optimistic smile she sent her grateful thoughts to her daughter-in-law from dragging her from the pit of hopelessness. "You'll see, before you know it, he'll be just fine."
This prognosis was endorsed by the doctor when sometime later the family was called into a private office. The room was small, but as with every other department in this hospital, it was comfortably furnished, the chairs that Martha and her son and his wife were ushered into being large and softly cushioned. The overall, stylish decor of Greenmeadows pointed to a highly successful operation and Lois (the only family member who was aware of their surroundings) sincerely hoped that the hospital's medical practice matched its affluent ambiance.
Within minutes they were joined by a rather round gentleman of moderate height, whose balding pink scalp shone in the rays of the lowering evening sun, streaming in the window behind him, as he crossed to introduce himself to the waiting family. A bright beneficent smile lit his plump face and his handshake was firm as he shook the three outstretched hands. This jovial gentleman did not fill Lois' idea of how an eminent heart surgeon should appear; somehow she pictured someone more fine drawn and elegant. Yet, as she had learned from past experience, physical impressions were vastly deceiving. The doctor moved behind the desk and settled his rotund form comfortably into his chair.
"Good-evening, I'm Dr Goodman and I wish that we could have met under more pleasant circumstances, nonetheless, I have good news for you," he announced in a pleasant tone. "Mr Kent is stabilised and though he has suffered a myocardial infarction, he is for the moment out of danger."
With those heartening thoughts the three Kents were able to compose themselves to listen to what Dr Goodman had to tell them. Turning to the older woman, the doctor continued.
"You must be Martha," and his gaze expanded to take in the others, "and this is your son Clark and, of course, you are Lois Lane. Forgive my familiarity, but I have known Sam for what seems like forever. He and I were very close in med-school and we started our careers together as interns in Met Gen. When you go through so much together I guess you always remain close, even if you don't see as much of each other as you would like. Anyway, Sam has told me all about you, so I feel as if you are more than just my patient's relatives. Which brings me back to Jonathan. As I have told you his condition for the moment is stable and we hope to keep it that way, but he has suffered a fairly large heart attack and we have to regard that as a warning. I would like to do some tests, but from what Sam has already told me of Jonathan's medical history…"
"Excuse me!" Martha jumped into the conversation. "What would Sam know of my husband's medical history?"
"Quite a lot, actually," Dr Goodman spoke conciliatorily. "I'm sorry, Martha, if you were unaware of the fact, but Sam has been treating Jonathan for a heart condition for quite a few months."
This piece of information rendered the listeners speechless for some moments. Martha could not believe that, after all these years of married closeness, her husband should now choose to start hiding worrying news from her. Clark recognised the concept; for years he had tried the same thing with Lois but it had never really worked and only got him into worse trouble when his bloodhound of a wife discovered his subterfuge, so he had long since given up the habit. He just couldn't comprehend that his dad, who had often given him good advice on this particular subject, would suddenly adopt the practise. Lois too felt herself in territory revisited. Whatever had her father-in-law been thinking? Well, that answer was obvious. Both Kent men must suffer from the same delusion that they must protect their women folk from adversity. Thank-goodness she had weaned Clark off the habit… hadn't she?! Did Clark know about his father's condition?! Was he also keeping the secret?! Throwing her husband a searching look she concluded, by the stunned expression on his face, that this was news to him also. Nevertheless, she promised herself that when all this was over she would remind him that keeping secrets was not a good policy, if he wished to remain in her good graces. Meanwhile Clark had begun to speak.
"It appears, Dr Goodman, that my father has been keeping all of his family in the dark. However, we can deal with that later…"
"You bet!!" Lois interjected unable to keep a still tongue. "I'll have a few words to say to my father…"
"LO-IS!! I don't believe that is an issue here…"
"No indeed!" Dr Goodman swiftly agreed with Clark. "It appears that Jonathan particularly stipulated that none of his family be told of his illness, which left Sam in a very difficult position, being as he was personally involved. But he had to adhere to Jonathan's request. Patient confidentiality and all that."
Lois had to accept the truth of the doctor's statement and she looked justifiably subdued as Clark sent her a warning glance.
"We appreciate that, Doctor." Clark determinedly brought the topic to a close. Later he would ask Sam why he had chosen to accept Jonathan as his patient. After all, this wasn't Sam's field of medicine and the two men were just too closely related. Now the main concern was Jonathan's present state of health. "Just what is my father's condition?"
"Jonathan is suffering from a condition called atherosclerosis, which simply means that fatty deposits are clogging up his coronary arteries and restricting the flow of blood to the heart, which led to the heart attack."
"Is there anything that can be done to help him?" Martha had finally re-entered the conversation. The fact that Jon had seen fit to keep her in the dark still rankled, but his recovery was the most important factor.
"Indeed there is." The doctor seemed much happier to return to a more nonconfrontational subject and his earlier upbeat tone returned as did his smile. "Sam has already been treating the condition with drugs; however, that seems not to have been wholly successful. As I said before, there are a number of tests that will have to be run but I feel sure that we will discover that your husband would benefit from surgery."
"A coronary bypass?" Martha asked her memory going over what she had read and heard about such operations.
"Not necessarily. There is a less dangerous operation using more modern laser technology where a balloon, in conjunction with a minuscule laser, is inserted into the leg and threaded into the coronary artery. The laser burns off some of the plaque adhering to the artery walls, while inflating the balloon compresses the fatty deposits and normal blood flow is reestablished. It is a less risky operation than a bypass and here at Greenmeadows we have had a great deal of success with this procedure. In fact, I don't think I would be overstating the case to say that we are a leading light in this field of medicine. Of course, we can't make any final decisions on the correct surgery until we see the test results but, please believe me, Martha, your husband will be safe in our hands. Meanwhile we will try to keep Jonathan stable and comfortable until we're ready to go ahead with the surgery. We have taken him up to our I T C unit for the moment as we want to keep a close eye on his progress. Perhaps you would like to visit him?"
All three rose quickly, anxious to see for themselves that Jonathan was still in the land of the living and, thanking Dr Goodman for his care of the dear patient, they hurried from the room.
Martha held tight to her husband's hand as she gave him yet another soft kiss goodbye and as she backed slowly away from the bed the increasing distance at last parted their entwined fingers. Since the rush to hospital on the afternoon of Jonathan's heart attack, the couple's bond, if it were possible, had grown still stronger, forged by the knowledge of how close they had come to losing each other forever. Certainly, there had been a slight hiccup in the relationship when the patient had recovered sufficiently to be remonstrated with on his lack of communication regarding his previous state of health. Both his wife and son had left him in little doubt how dismayed they had felt on that subject. However, their anger and hurt had soon dissipated and they and the larger family circle were simply thankful not to have lost Jonathan.
There had also been a temporary faint cooling of the relationship between the Kents and the Lanes when Clark had broached the subject of Jonathan's choice of doctor with his father-in-law. Sam had bridled at the veiled insinuation that perhaps he had not acted totally ethically. But when he had pointed out that Jonathan had stubbornly refused to visit any of the other physicians that he had recommended, Clark had graciously ceded that the older man had no other option than to treat his friend and peace was once again restored.
Jonathan, completely unaware of the small contretemps, was grateful to Sam and his colleague Dr Goodman for having saved his life and now as he lay in his hospital bed he prayed for tomorrow's surgery to be over and that he could return to his normal life and the love of his family. Alone in the dimly lit room he admitted to himself that he was afraid of what the next day might bring and yet he knew that if he wanted to recover his health and not live his life in fear of another coronary, then he had no choice but to go ahead with this operation. And if an operation was needed then he had the good fortune to be in one of the best facilities in the country and indeed, in the hands of one of the most respected heart surgeons the U S had to offer. Under the circumstances he was a lucky man, but as he tried to compose himself for sleep that night, he offered up a prayer to a god he wasn't totally sure he believed in, a little extra insurance would not go amiss.
Walking briskly down the hall toward the elevator, Martha also found herself silently praying. She was at this moment a solitary figure in the darkened corridor. Clark had been with her earlier in the evening but when he had overheard a T V news broadcast from the next suite about an earthquake in Columbia he had left swiftly to aid the emergency services in their search for survivors. On this night, prior to his father's heart surgery, he had been reluctant to leave, but it was an undeniable fact that in such a catastrophe Superman's help was invaluable. Many lives would be saved by the use of his special powers and both Martha and Jonathan encouraged him to go. Nevertheless, as he sped out the door, he vowed to his parents that he would be back with them when Jonathan was finally wheeled into the O R unit and Martha could not deny that she would appreciate his support.
Lois had brought the children to visit with their grandpa after school, but she had left long since to see her children fed, watered and settled in their beds. Tomorrow was a big day for all of them, though it was also a school day for the kids and Lois and Clark had concluded that the children should not be disrupted from their normal routine. Everyone in the family was aware of the importance of the operation and they had warned the head teacher that the Kent children might be somewhat distracted by the fate of their grandfather. Happily, the parents had been assured that the school staff would pay particular attention to the moods of the children.
Now Martha stood in front of the elevator doors, a small grey-blond woman alone with her thoughts. The strident call of her name startled her and she turned quickly and panicky towards the sound.
"What is it?! What's wrong?!" She demanded of the smartly dressed young man who strode in her direction. His dark grey business suit, white shirt and conservatively striped tie, coupled with the files that he brandished as he strove to attract her attention, all clearly denoted that this was not one of the medical staff.
Reaching her side, he spoke effusively. "Mrs Kent, nothing is wrong and I'm sorry if I frightened you. Your husband is as well as can be expected under the circumstances."
This statement certainly did not induce the confidence that Martha supposed the young man intended. Nonetheless, he seemed a remarkably enthusiastic and friendly youngster, so she decided to give him a few moments of her time. She smiled encouragingly upon him when he continued.
"I'm not a doctor," he confided as if this information would be hard to believe, "but I would like to speak to you about your husband's up and coming surgery, if you could spare me a few moments of your time."
The young man pointed in the direction of an alcove where a number of the usual leather couches that abounded in this establishment were set amid the other customary potted plants and low tables. Martha nodded her head in acquiescence and allowed herself to be shepherded to the small recess which at this late hour was empty and silent. Despite her worries Martha found she was intrigued. Settling herself on the sofa she watched as her companion joined her, opened up his files and began thumbing through the papers within. For a moment he seemed puzzled and a little unsure of his intentions, then he gritted his teeth and made the decision to proceed.
"That's strange. It appears that I don't have your file with me, but I'm sure that it's just an oversight on a behalf of administration." The older woman's curiosity was now definitely tweaked and she was thankful when the stranger went on. "My name is Martin Forbes and I'm the chief social administrator for Greenmeadows."
He paused for a moment to let this awe-inspiring title sink in. Martha was inclined to think that this was probably an overendowed title for the position of head clerk. However, not wishing to hurt this boy's sensibilities she asked politely.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Forbes. What do you wish to speak to me about?"
Truthfully Mr Forbes was very new to this position and was only 'acting' chief social administrator and that promotion was purely self-authorized. The actual incumbent had dislocated his knee playing tennis and had not yet returned to work, but Martin had shadowed his superior conscientiously and was convinced that he could easily fill the role and, being an especially ambitious young soul, he was eager to convey this circumstance to his bosses. And how better to demonstrate his eligibility than by netting another successful 'sale' in Greenmeadows' covert operations. Having already resolved to continue, the 'future successful chief' launched into his spiel.
"Mrs Kent, I know that what I'm about to say might be distressing, but there are certain unwelcome facts in life that have to be faced, namely the death of a loved one."
His listener blanched at these words, but so intent was he on his sales-talk that he didn't notice her retreat from him.
"Fortunately, here at Greenmeadows, we have a very *special* insurance against just such a devastating occurrence and it is about that which I would like to speak to you now." His voice dropped conspiratorially. "Please do not be distressed, because we alone *are* able to compensate you for your loss."
Martha was horrified. Was this whole business just a ploy to persuade her to take out more insurance on her husband's life? The whole distasteful episode made the older woman bristle and standing up abruptly she regarded the unfortunate young man with justifiable disdain.
"Young man, I do not require any of your special insurances. My husband and I already have sufficient policies. Furthermore I do not appreciate you approaching me at this time when I know you might consider me at my most vulnerable and therefore more susceptible to your sale's technique. But let me assure you, I am not now or at any time a pushover for your inducements."
Turning to stride away, more upset than she was prepared to show, Martha was surprised when Mr Forbes placed a restraining hand on her arm. Martin wondered where he had gone so wrong. He had studied his approach for quite sometime and had thought that he had perfected just the right amount of concern and reassurance. Worriedly, he sought to redress the situation.
"Mrs Kent, you have completely misunderstood my meaning…"
"NO Martin!! It is you who have completely misunderstood the situation." Dr Goodman's voice was unnaturally infused with anger and command. "Please, leave us. Now!! I will talk to you later in my office."
A confused Martin backed away from his chief's patent displeasure and as he rounded the corridor that led to Goodman's private sanctum two orderlies stepped silently to each side of him. This did not look good. He had clearly messed up big time. Hopefully, he would take his dressing down and still have a job at the end of it, but on that last point he wasn't too optimistic.
The physician followed the progress of his wayward employee until the corner blocked his view, then turning to Martha, his rage receding, his glance and voice echoed the concern and apology that were now foremost in his mind.
"Martha, I'm so sorry that you were subjected to that… unforgivable behaviour and in my establishment as well. That a member of my staff should see fit to perpetrate such an abominable act of intrusion. And at a time when you must be feeling quite fragile. Please accept my heartfelt apologies."
In Martha's opinion, now that she was beginning to regain her equilibrium, David Goodman was overreacting to an undoubtedly unwelcome but nonetheless trivial occurrence and, as such, she found herself attempting to minimize the young man's gauche actions.
"Apologies accepted, Doctor, and I'm sure that Mr Forbes was doing no more than trying to supplement his earnings with selling a little insurance on the side. Young people today have no patience; they want it all immediately. I feel certain that he's learned his lesson. Please don't concern yourself with my bruised feelings. I admit to being shocked at first but I'm fine now… really." She placed her hand on his arm to convince him of her well-being and he absentmindedly patted it.
"You're a very forgiving lady, Martha Kent. However, I expect very high standards from my staff here at Greenmeadows and I'm afraid that Mr Forbes does not fit the bill. I will have to let him go, but due to your gracious intercession, I'll instruct personnel to find him a post in an another less discerning hospital and provide him with references." The doctor started to escort Martha back to the elevator doors and punched the button to call the elevator. "Thank you for being so understanding."
"Just take good care of my husband, Dr Goodman, and that will be all the thanks I require." Martha spoke as she walked into the lift when it arrived at her floor.
"You can be sure of that, Martha," he averred confidently. "Try and sleep well, tomorrow is an important day for all of us."
As the elevator doors closed, his concerned look fled from his face to be replaced by one of hardhearted ruthlessness. He had an unwanted and disagreeable problem to solve. Goodman sighed loudly, you just couldn't get good staff these days.
True to his word, the surgery that Dr Goodman performed on Jonathan went remarkably well and early indications were that the procedure had been very successful and being a less invasive operation than the more frequently performed 'bypass' the recuperation period was shorter and less stressful. Of course the patient would still have to remain in hospital for a couple of weeks, during which time a physiotherapy and dietary programme would be introduced that would hopefully begin the process of returning Jonathan to a full and healthy life.
The Saturday following the operation, Lois and Clark brought their children to visit their grandfather and the three generations of the Kent family that crowded into the hospital suite were filled with happiness and contentment, relieved that they were once again all together. Even so, after a short period of answering his excitable grandchildren's numerous questions about the surgery and being subjected to various hugs and kisses, the patient was suffering from shell-shock.
Young Nathan too was beginning to show signs that his concentration was wandering and as he grew more bored with having to behave in the confines of his grandfather's room he became more adventurous in his explorations. When the toddler finally spilt the jug of fresh orange juice which sat on the night stand over the 'get-well cards' adorning the cabinet and covered the bedclothes in a sticky stream a torrent of baby tears irrupted at Clark's mild remonstration. Lois, aware of her son's frustration, instructed the older children to take their brother outside and entertain him in the child's play area that Greenmeadows provided for its more junior visitors. This directive did not please Joel or Julian, who were quite content to sit quietly with the adults. Sensing a brewing argument, Clara decided to sacrifice herself on the baby-minding altar and offered to take Nathan outside. Her offer was rewarded with a smile of gratitude from her father and, after a reminder not to stray too far, she and the little boy left hand in hand to find the playroom.
For a time Nathan played happily with the toys provided by the hospital in the 'kiddies' corner' but very quickly became weary of the unimaginative toys and the limited space. Obviously children were not a high priority in Greenmeadows' estimation and Clara was soon at her wits' end trying to devise games that would keep her hyperactive brother satisfied. Eventually she agreed to his suggestion to play 'hide and seek' and so it was that she was wandering through the sanitised corridors of the hospital seeking for a small boy who was intent on remaining illusive.
Nathan had at first hidden behind the furniture in the nearest waiting room but, quickly realising that his nosy sister would very soon discover this spot, he tiptoed out of the room and down another corridor; he had to find a better hideout. Young as he was, Nathan was just as competitive as his siblings and he was determined to thwart his older sister. To his delight he found a door ajar on a room that looked very similar to Grandpa Jon's and, slipping inside, he scanned the room to find the best hiding spot. His interest settled on a long narrow table covered bumpily with a large white cloth. Creeping closer, Nathan lifted the trailing edge of the sheet to reveal a low shelf below the top of the table and close to the floor. With a satisfied giggle the tiny trespasser climbed onboard; Clara would never find him here. This thought proved to be true and as the minutes ticked slowly by without his sister even approaching the room (Nathan had hoped to spring out on Clara as soon as she entered the vicinity of his hideout) the youngster felt his boredom returning. This game was not proving as much fun as he had hoped.
Just as he was preparing to exit from beneath the shroud, he heard voices approaching the door and as they came nearer he caught his first sight of the intruders, at least their feet and pants' bottoms came into his view. Both sets of feet were large and one was clad in black army type boots while the other sported scraggy trainers. The voices that accompanied the feet and legs were deep and rather impatient.
"Who does that Anderson think he is, ordering us about like that," said a very disgruntled voice.
"He's our boss, that's who and I don't think that bad knee he's sporting is helping his sense of humour much." The other guy's tone dropped to a whisper. "I heard that he was none too pleased when the 'Doctor' ordered him back from his sick leave when that pipsqueak Forbes got the boot."
"Yeah, Amy told me she heard from the charge nurse who was on the floor that night that the 'Doctor' was about to blow a fuse. Mr high-flyer Forbes' feet never touched the ground."
"And neither will ours if we don't get this stiff down to the morgue."
And so saying they positioned themselves at either end of the trolley and pushed it out into the corridor. Nathan's eyes widened in shock, these men sounded really antsy and he felt that they would not be too happy to find that they had picked up a passenger so he elected for the moment to remain where he was. Maybe they would leave real soon when they took this 'stiff' wherever they were taking it. What was a stiff? Meanwhile the small boy clung to his precarious position on the bottom shelf of the cart, growing more afraid as he realised that they were taking an elevator to another floor. At this rate he wondered if he would ever find his way back to his mom and dad. Still if he was really lost then he'd just have to shout for Superman and boy would he be in trouble for going off without permission. Maybe it would be better if he stayed lost.
Finally the trolley with its attendants and stowaway reached their destination and the orderlies parked the cart near the far wall of the morgue next to a set of sliding doors.
"Another candidate for the boss's secret operations?" One of the men asked of his friend who gazed back in consternation. "Haven't you noticed that only certain stiffs are parked outside Dr Frankenstein's lair?"
The workmate's eyes widened in fear as he shushed at his friend. "Hey, Eddie, shut up. The only thing I know is that you'll be the next one to loose your job if you don't keep your nose outta what don't concern you."
Eddie shrugged his shoulders and strolled over to the back fire exit which he opened wide, with a sharp push, to the late afternoon sun.
"Now what are you doing?" the other asked in exasperation.
"Having a smoke. It's lunchtime since I had my last drag. Relax, pal, the assistant's on his break and no-one else ever comes down here. Enjoy the warm air for a few minutes. It's freezing in there." And he pointed with his chin back into the room. Clearly his mate took the advice because he too came to the door and lit up a cigarette.
"So, Eddie, tell me, is Amy the little redhead in records? She is so… hot!!"
"That's her and she is 'hot' for me."
The men proceeded to discuss the many ways in which Amy's hotness manifested itself, the unknown man being extremely envious of Eddie's prowess with the ladies, but the conversation went way over the little eavesdropper's head and soon Nathan's eyelids started to droop and by the time the men stubbed out their cigarettes, closed the exit and left, the toddler was fast asleep.
In the upper reaches of the building Clara had exhausted her search for her charge. She had looked everywhere she could think of, behind every piece of furniture, up and down the stairwell, in every cupboard that was unlocked. She had even knocked on the doors that were locked, thinking that Nathan could have found one open and hidden inside then been trapped when one of the staff, unaware that a little boy had ventured inside, might have locked up. Yet each of her searches had proved fruitless and now she made her way back to Grandpa Jon's room dragging her feet as she realized that her parents would be he fairly upset with the fact that she had misplaced her brother. Thankfully she spotted Joel and Julian coming along the corridor toward her and she hurried to them.
"Joel! Julian! You have got to help me!"
Recognising that his sister was once again in a fix, Joel asked resignedly, "O K, Clara, what have you done with Nathan?"
"I haven't done anything with Nathan," Clara asserted, though she had the grace to blush. "I just don't know where he is right now." And the flustered child explained what had happened since she left her family. "I've looked everywhere on this floor and he's not here. I was about to tell Mom and Dad, but now with you two to help we can check out the other floors. Joel, you could use your… you know." At her suggestion she pulled her brows down and looked pointedly at Joel. "Couldn't you?"
Joel's voice dropped to little more than a whisper. "Clara, you know I'm not supposed to do that in public."
"Come on Joel. No-one's paying any attention to us and no-one will see what you're doing." Julian persuaded, always ready to back Clara's suggestions. Clark had been right when he had foreseen that his irrepressible daughter would wrap Julian round her little finger. "It won't take long. Nathan can't be too far away."
But this did not prove to be the case as the three children hunted high and low without discovering their younger sibling, even with the surreptitious use of x-ray vision. Clara was starting to panic. She'd offered to take care of Nathan, yet she'd lost him. What if someone had kidnapped him?! This was not a far-fetched idea! Both Julian, Joel and she had been abducted in this past year. It seemed to be the sort of thing that happened to her family. Perhaps it was Nathan's turn. But he was just a baby. He would be so scared.
"Where is he?!" Frustration warred with worry in Clara's soul and tears sprang unshed to her eyes. "We've looked everywhere."
"Not everywhere." Julian stated, pointing at the floor numbers that glowed red above the elevator doors. "There's a basement."
As the elevator doors opened and its occupants spilled onto their floor the three hurried inside and pushed the basement button. They were convinced that they would find Nathan wandering around the basement, so when he was not openly in evidence when they exited the lift, they each experienced a shock of disappointment. Nevertheless, swallowing the negative feelings they continued determinedly with their search.
Only Joel's x-ray vision was fast breaking down. Unlike his father, the superboy's powers had a limited span and using them to excess drained Joel to the point of exhaustion, which was why Clark placed tight restrictions on his son's utilisation of his abilities. Clark, however, was not here and Joel recognised the increasing weariness that was seeping through his small body and he was not surprised, when searching the laundry (one of the departments they had discovered occupied the basement), to find himself bereft of his ability to see through things.
"Guys," Joel whispered as the three children hid behind a row of large baskets filled with dirty bed linen. "I'm real sorry, but the rest of this hunt will have to be done without super-help. Unless we go fetch Dad that is. Sorry, Clara, but I'm fresh out of x-ray vision."
Clara looked crestfallen, yet she was not about to give up. Instinctively she felt that her younger brother was close at hand. "We can't give up now. I can't explain, but I'm sure Nathan's near at hand."
"I agree, but I think we've finished in here. Why don't we head down the other way towards the morgue." Joel herded them back out the door, but he laid a warning hand on Clara's arm. "But if we strike out there, then we go back and tell Mom and Dad that Nathan's lost."
Two pairs of worried eyes regarded him solemnly, nodding in agreement. As quietly as possible they drifted down the passageway towards the large swing doors at the end, noticing as they went that the sounds of the hospital at work faded as they neared the entrance and that the air grew distinctly cooler. Feeling the hair on her neck prickle, Clara shivered.
"What's a morgue? Where are we going?" Somehow she knew she wasn't going to like the answer.
"It's where they keep the dead people." Julian informed her, watching in amazement as Clara gulped in dread. "Don't worry, Clara. Dead people can't hurt you and you're with us. We'll take care of you."
That statement, nonetheless, did not inspire the girl with confidence. Julian and Joel had proved themselves fairly resilient protectors in the past, but how did you fight ghosts? Holding back her fears as they reached the door, Clara followed her brothers into the room. White tiles covered the walls and the floors of the sepulchre type hall and if they had found the air outside chilly, inside it was even colder. But it was not the temperature that caused the goose bumps on Clara's skin but the rows of shrouded bodies. Both Julian and Joel reached for her hands and she clung on hard as they looked around the austere room, but there just didn't appear to be any hiding places.
After a walk about the place the two boys seemed to reach a mutual conclusion and they began to draw Clara back towards the door. Their sister was not, however, about to abandon the search and she called into the emptiness.
"Nathan! Nathan! Are you in here? Please, answer me." No reply was forthcoming and she allowed herself to be dragged backwards, but at the last moment she pulled her hands aside and ran back into the centre of the room. "Nathan Kent!! You come out here right now!!" She demanded loudly. She was done with stealth.
The sound of his name spoken in ringing tones penetrated Nathan's sleep and he sat up, shivering and wiped the sleep from his eyes. For a few moments he was confused as to where he actually was, curtained by the white material. Then he heard the sound of his elder brother's voice calling to Clara to come away.
"No!! Don't go Joel! Clara! Don't leave me!!" Nathan shrieked in fright. He was tired of this game and he didn't like this cold place. Scrambling from his perch in an effort to attract his siblings' attention his foot caught in the sheet and as he ran towards the voices the sheet trailed after him and tripped him up. The three turned at Nathan's screams and Julian was the first to recover and cross to the small figure sprawled on the floor.
"Nathan, are you O K?" he asked concernedly as he helped the young child climb to his feet.
Joel stood next to a rigid Clara who stared in horror at what the fallen sheet had revealed. "Clara, it's just a dead man. Don't be a baby. Don't be scared." And filled with a perverse curiosity Joel walked over to the side of the gurney. The taunt that she was childishly afraid brought out Clara's fighting spirit and she followed in her brother's footsteps, though somewhat more subdued than normal.
"Is man sleepin'?" Nathan enquired as he also came to the trolley, pulling Julian along with him.
"No he's dead," attested his sister, eager to prove that death held no qualms for her.
"What's dead?" Nathan further enquired.
"It means that he's gone away, forever." Julian explained but Nathan wasn't quite sure he understood, although the eerie silence in the large room checked any further questions he might have asked.
The four children ranged round the trolley and gazed inquisitively upon the lifeless body clad in a shapeless hospital gown. The figure was white and still and appeared frozen in time. Julian was the first to find his voice.
"What do you think killed him?"
"He probably had a heart attack like Grandpa, only this man wasn't so lucky to survive." Joel offered his opinion.
"Poor man," now that Clara had recovered her composure she felt a stirring of sympathy for the man who was no longer alive and especially for the family that he might have left behind. "Maybe he had grandkids like us. They must miss him a whole lot."
Julian shook his head. "I don't think so Clara. This man was too young to have grandchildren. I'd say he wasn't a whole lot older than Dad. He could have had kids though."
The thought of children left without their father sobered each of the young Kents and Clara felt Joel's hand snake into her own and give it a comforting squeeze.
"Don't worry, Clara, that's not going to happen to us. Dad's indestructible."
"But Mom isn't." Clara whispered.
That reminder shocked them all and it was a very quiet and thoughtful group that left the basement behind, having re-sheeted the cadaver of the unknown gentleman. Returning to the second floor the three older children decided that it would be better if the grownups did not learn of their little exploration down to the basement, so they spent the rest of the journey impressing on the youngest member of the expedition not to reveal where they had been. And if their parents suspected any waywardness in their children's demeanour, they did not comment as all four appeared to be unhurt and their clothes were all in one piece. Neither Lois nor Clark dreamt that their offspring had been visiting the morgue and thankfully for their continued safety neither did anyone else.
Jonathan and Martha felt extremely pleased. The patient had walked under his own steam, with just a little help from his wife, down the corridor to the second floor of the garden room. This was a large balcony that was housed in the glass atrium of the hospital, overlooking the lobby and on out to the gardens and car parks beyond with the skyline of Metropolis, shining bright in the sunlight, adorning the horizon. It was the perfect spot to watch the world go by without being part of the busy scene. The comfortable furnishings and the fresh greenery created an atmosphere that was both relaxing and removed from the rest of society yet still a part of that same society. The designers of this hospital had evidently been made aware of the fact that those who spend some time in an institution often feel isolated from the world outside and the management had encouraged the architects to minimise this effect.
This was certainly a favourite place for Jonathan and he spent most of the time, when he wasn't at physiotherapy or with his doctors or dietician, here in the conservatory reading the daily newspapers, chatting or indulging in a card game with some of his fellow patients. Nevertheless, this was the first time he had walked without assistance and he was amazingly proud of his achievement. When a man comes so close to losing his life he afterwards appreciates the very small triumphs he achieves and this was a triumph.
The couple looked round the large room at the other residents and, seeing a man sitting alone in a wheelchair, enjoying the warming rays of the sun, Jonathan suggested that they join him. This gentleman was a particular favourite of Jon and, although he was clearly a number of years younger, the two had found that they had certain hobbies in common. Now Jonathan wished to introduce Martha to his new friend.
For an hour the three had sat conversing compatibly and Martha had discovered that Ivor, a research chemist with a large pharmaceutical company, shared not only the same interests as her husband but also many of his ideals. Although being born and raised in Metropolis, the second son of a wealthy family, Ivor's heart lay in the countryside. He liked nothing better to escape, whenever the dictates of his work allowed, up into the mountains where he owned a small cabin. There he would spend his time walking through the wooded trails and fishing in the high clear lake, far from the pressures of his work and the stifling behaviour of his overprotective mother. The detail of this more personal side of his life was only touched upon, but the ever intuitive Martha could sense that the family relationships of her husband's new acquaintance were hardly harmonic.
Suddenly Jonathan raised his arm and started waving in the direction of the car park and following his gaze she saw Lois and Clark and the children approaching the entrance. Nathan had for the short term been attending the Planet's daycare centre to allow his grandmother to devote her time to Jonathan, but while this arrangement was necessary both grandparents missed his youthful presence. And while they understood Lois' decision to enroll her youngest child in the centre for the next few months, obviously Jonathan would need time at home to recuperate without the added responsibilities of a boisterous child, they were saddened that their services would not be required. Jonathan fervently wished that the change was purely temporary and that soon life would return to normal. He didn't feel so old that he should be relegated to the sidelines of life.
The older children too were affected as they now went to the Planet after school instead of their grandparents' house, which meant that either Lois or Clark had to pick the children up from school and escort them to the Planet, neither parent being prepared to let their young offspring make the journey through downtown Metropolis on their own. On occasion the Lanes or Alice White looked after the children, but as this could not be an everyday occurrence, Lois and Clark preferred the children to attend the daycare centre. They felt that until such time as Martha and Jonathan could resume their care it was better for the children to have some stability in life and besides, the fact that the kids were on the premises at work, meant that either she or Clark could spend some time with them if they had to stay late at the office.
Happily the continued progress that Jonathan was making suggested that the problem of childcare might not last overlong and as they joined their parents in the glass-room they were delighted with how well the older man was looking. After the hugs and kisses were over and the gifts of flowers and books passed over and the various greetings relayed, the family seated themselves around Jonathan and Martha and at once realised that there was an addition to the group.
"You guys, I'd like to introduce you to a new friend of mine," Jonathan spoke up, "This is Ivor Benson. Ivor, this is my son Clark, his wife Lois and their kids, Joel, Julian and Clara. And last but not least, this is my youngest grandson, Nathan." Jon had pulled Nathan onto the seat by his side, where the smallest Kent sat with an expression rather like someone who had seen a ghost. His older brothers and sister were sporting much the same look, only they quickly hid their confusion, not so Nathan who now pointed at the man in the wheelchair.
"You're dead!" He announced and decided to clarify his statement. "I seed you! … 'fore… in the bas…"
"Nathan!" Julian's voice, sounding sharper than ever before, interrupted the small boy's garbled explanation. He wasn't sure why but he was certain that the episode in the basement should not be aired in public and obviously Joel and Clara agreed as the inventive girl immediately jumped in.
"He was sleeping, Nathan. Mr Benson was sleeping, when you saw him." And Clara's eyes bored into her young brother's in an effort to silence him smartly.
Not, however, smart enough for their parents. Lois and Clark well knew their offspring and they at once smelled a rat. Their children were hiding something.
"When did you happen to see Mr Benson sleeping, Nathan?" Lois had concluded that the best way to reach the truth was to divide and conquer and also to attack at the weakest point. A ruse which she soon regretted as she surveyed her little son desperately trying to come up with an explanation that would please his siblings. Following a few seconds of watching his small face turn a variety of colours, starting with red, through pasty white and finishing on a distinct tinge of green, Mad Dog Lane relented and turned to Clara. "Perhaps you could explain, Clara?"
Heaving a sigh that only her father and Joel could hear, she plunged on, resolving to make her tale as brief as possible. "It was the other day when I was taking care of Nathan, he wandered off and at first I couldn't find him, then Joel and Julian helped me look and we found him in Mr Benson's room. Mr Benson was asleep but he didn't look well and Nathan thought that he was dead."
"We knew we shouldn't have been there and we were scared that we'd be in trouble if we were caught so we left." Julian added. "We didn't do anything wrong."
"Except intrude on Mr Benson's privacy." Clark turned to his father's friend as he addressed his children. "I think that you owe Mr Benson an apology."
Ivor listened in amusement as four young voices repeated their apologies. Then graciously he returned the favour. "That's all right, Mr Kent. There was no harm done. I didn't even know they were there. Now if you would be so kind, perhaps you could press that buzzer over there and summon a nurse. I think that I've had enough excitement for one day. I'm kinda tired so I think I'll go back to my room."
Clark at once offered to take the man but his services were courteously declined and later as Ivor was wheeled off by an attendant he smiled benignly at the children.
"You know kids, I'm really glad you were wrong about me being dead. It was real nice to meet you all." And he was pushed off down the corridor.
Fooling their parents had not been quite so successful as the children had supposed, yet the rest of the visit passed off pleasantly enough. On arriving home though, all the children decreed it advisable to make themselves scarce and with various excuses attempted to escape to their respective rooms. Unfortunately neither parent was done with them.
"Hold on there, kids. Before you make your escape, your Mom and I would like to discuss the real story of what happened at the hospital. And don't rack your brains thinking up any more tales, because I can tell when you're lying."
"Geesh!! So much for having Superman for a father!!" Clara grumbled in the barest whisper, scuffing her shoes along the floor as she followed her father's gesture to sit on the sofa. Clark couldn't suppress a grin. He knew that was meant for his ears only.
When all four kids were seated, Lois sat on the couch opposite but Clark chose to continue standing. "O K, who is going to start with the correct story." He focussed his attention on Joel, recognising that of all his children Joel had the most difficulty with dissembling.
Under his father's pointed stare Joel's skin reddened and he turned an apologetic glance on the others. They'd been crazy to think that they could get away with excuses. Besides, there was something weird going on at Greenmeadows; Ivor Benson, unless he had an identical twin, had definitely been dead and Mom and Dad had to be told.
"We saw Mr Benson in the morgue, Dad. Nathan did go into Mr Benson's room, but then he hid under the trolley and these porters wheeled him down to the morgue with the body. Nathan was too scared to move and that's where we found him. But Dad, Nathan was right!! That man was dead… really dead."
Lois and Clark digested that piece of information and then a question occurred to Clark. "Did you x-ray the sheet Joel?"
"No Dad!!" Joel was about to protest that he hadn't used his special vision, knowing that his father had placed certain rules on its use, but being caught in his father's solemn gaze he decided on the truth. "I'd already used up the x-ray vision searching for Nathan."
"The sheet got tangled in Nathan's legs and fell off." Julian stepped in to help his brother. "We all saw the body. It looked liked Mr Benson. I don't think we're wrong about this."
"Daddy," Clara always used that more childish title when she wished to placate her father. "I know we shouldn't have been there and it's probably my fault because I let Nathan hide away, but I never thought he'd end up with the dead people. I'm sorry."
The room remained quiet as Lois and Clark reviewed what the children had revealed. After a time Lois broke the silence. "Are you sure that Ivor Benson was dead?"
"He looked dead. He was white as a sheet," that came from Julian.
"He was cold too and he didn't have a heartbeat." When all eyes turned to Joel at this announcement, he clarified. "I super-listened. I'd lost my vision not my hearing."
"Clark, could this man have been taken down there by mistake and then revived later?" Lois asked.
"I doubt it, sweetheart. Once the heart stops the blood ceases pumping to the brain and unless they resuscitate quickly the patient would have brain damage. They certainly wouldn't try it on a patient who had been dead long enough to be taken to the morgue." Clark sat next to Lois and regarded Joel, a serious yet questioning expression on his face. "Are you certain Joel? You didn't hear a heartbeat?"
The boy gave his answer careful consideration before stating with confidence. "There was no heartbeat or a pulse and the corpse was cold. I'm really sure, Dad; Ivor Benson was dead."
"Well in that case, either he has a double or a… clone." Lois shivered in distaste.
"That last one is quite a stretch, honey."
"What's a clone?" Nathan finally piped up.
Lois crossed to her baby and picking him up placed him on her lap. "It's when someone makes an exact copy of another person."
"They can do that?" Clara's eyes widened.
"They cloned a sheep once," Julian offered remembering a science project that he had done with his tutor back in England.
"They've cloned more than sheep." Clark informed his children. "In fact in the past evil scientists have cloned both Mom and me."
Four children stared in disbelief at their mom and dad. "No kidding!!" Joel managed to gulp.
"Only their experiments were never very successful and the clones died after a very short lifespan. Lex Luthor backed both the experiments and, as far as we know, there have never been any other successful attempts to clone human beings."
"But someone could have found a way." Lois suggested. "Someone at Greenmeadows."
"That's a pretty fantastic supposition." Clark shook his head in disbelief.
"Given our past history, sweetheart, nothing is impossible."
Clark remained sceptical. "But why would they want to? What could they hope to gain by cloning Ivor Benson?"
"That's for us to find out," Lois stated, the light of investigation brightly sparkling in her eyes. Even after all these years the prospect of a new story had the ability to sharpen Lois' senses, a trait obviously inherited by at least one of her offspring.
"Great!!" Clara cried, jumping up from the couch, unable to contain her excitement, then she quickly subsided into the cushions, transfixed by the disapproving stares of both parents.
"No way, Clara! This could be dangerous. You kids stay out of this. Well out.!!" Warned a censorious father, who was supported wholeheartedly by an unusually stern-seeming Lois.
"This is our job kids. When you are all grown up you can follow in our footsteps and we'll be overjoyed. But until then, leave the investigating to us," Lois seconded Clark's warning. Then diving straight into reporter mode, she began listing sources to contact. "Firstly we should check with Jonathan. Get a little background on Ivor. Find out who he is and what he does."
Crossing to the desk she retrieved a notepad and pen and quickly started drafting a list. Clark merely smiled at his little tornado. Let Lois scent a whiff of a story and she went into overdrive. Her ever effervescent enthusiasm still amazed and entranced him and it always would.
Nathan's innocent childish voice dropped into the ensuing silence. "Is Grandpa Jon a clone, too?"
"LO-IS!!" Clark's eyes opened wide as saucers as that horrifying possibility registered in his brain.
Lois, also taken aback at their child's ingenuous remark, turned immediately to her husband seeking to defuse his fright. "NO! Of course not!! That's impossible!!" And she found herself repeating Clark's earlier objections. "Why would they clone Jonathan? What would they gain?" But she understood that on this occasion Clark was not listening to reason, this was just a clone too far. So she changed tactics. "We have to phone Bernard."
Thankfully, for Clark's peace of mind it was soon recalled how he had established the fact that he had first married a clone of Lois so long ago; the imposter had not shown any scar tissue from a broken ankle that Lois had acquired in an old skiing accident. Jonathan too, in the dim and distant past had been a martyr to a debilitating back injury and Clark was certain that his father's body would still show the scars of his suffering. So it was that a very sleepy Jonathan was awakened by his son, complete with uniform, standing by his bedside concentrating solely on his prone form. After moments of complete attention, Superman surprised the older man by taking him in a large bear hug.
"Dad, you don't know how relieved I am that you're… you. We were all so afraid that you wouldn't be."
The point that his son, in his super hero guise, would actually address him as Dad testified to the fact that something was clearly agitating Superman. Jon struggled to regain his senses, whilst his recovery was going well, at the end of the day he was still extremely exhausted and each night fell deeply asleep. Wiping the cobwebs of slumber from his eyes he focussed his attention on his boy.
"What's the problem, Superman?" He spoke pointedly, knowing that the rooms, for the sake of the patients' health, were monitored at the nurses' station. His eyes raised towards the camera above the door and luckily Clark caught on and quickly assumed his more distant pose of the hero.
"No problem, Jonathan, I'm just pleased to see you looking so much like your old self," Superman then lowered his voice and informed in a tone only Jonathan could hear, "It's a long story and we'll be along to tell you tomorrow, in the meantime you should get back to sleep. You need your rest to recover fully from your surgery."
This last statement was spoken for those watching and Superman took Jonathan's hand and after shaking it in a friendly manner, he turned and left the room, walking cheerfully along the corridors and bidding the medical staff a warm goodnight. The two nurses behind the desk exchanged startled glances; was the Man of Steel actually whistling?
Back in the room a totally confused Jonathan was left feeling slightly frustrated and not at all sleepy. Yet having lived with a super hero in the family for a number of years, not to mention two successful investigative journalists, the baffled senior Kent had learned to control his curiosity. Lois and Clark would get round to filling him in on these latest developments as soon as they could. Life was sometimes perplexing but never boring when shared with his unusual son and family. Grinning with gentle humour the tired man settled his body for sleep once more and contrary to expectations fell quickly asleep.
Comforted by the knowledge that his father had not been altered in any way, Clark was ready the next day to give full attention to the mystery surrounding Ivor Benson. In the cold light of day it was difficult to retain the clone theory, but their children remained adamant about what they had witnessed, which meant that there was something very wrong happening in one of Metropolis' most renowned institutions.
Whenever Lois and Clark arrived at the Daily Planet, they instructed Stephan Janik to find out all he could on the background of Greenmeadows, whether the hospital had been involved in any controversy or any lawsuits or indeed anything which might be considered a little out of the ordinary.
Following Clark's swift exit from the brownstone last night, Lois had contacted Bernard and he had agreed to meet with them at 11.00 a.m., which gave them plenty of time to deal with their normal workload and begin a search into Ivor Benson's history, a search which proved fruitless. Their father's new friend was an exemplary yet totally ordinary member of Metropolis society, not even accruing a single parking ticket. Lois was dubious. No-one was that upstanding, not even Superman, who had been known to take the law into his own hands on occasion, when the lives of his family were threatened. Nevertheless, Mr Benson appeared to be without blemish and his main claim to fame was in being the youngest son of an extremely well-off old Metropolitan dynasty. His older and only other sibling was C E O of the family business, but Ivor had chosen to pursue his own career and had established himself as a very respected research chemist. This sparse resume was all that could be found on their subject, so they decided to take the more personal approach and recruit Jonathan into doing a little digging.
Their interview with Dr Klein was thankfully more productive, though the facts gleaned were hardly incriminating. Unbeknownst to the couple Bernard and Beth with the assistance of their contacts in the medical world had begun a little covert checking into Dr Goodman's career. Bernard couldn't tie down quite what made him uncomfortable about the celebrated doctor, but since his introduction to the man during Jonathan's admittance to Greenmeadows, he had been assailed by feelings of unease which he had conveyed to his wife. Realising the depth of her husband's disquiet, Beth had suggested that some prudent enquiries might not be amiss.
The Kleins had discovered that, while the surgeon had always been competent, his career for the most part had been unremarkable. Nine years previously he had reached the position of chief coronary care consultant in a large hospital in Seattle, where he had been head-hunted by an unknown research facility here in Metropolis. But at this point the doctors' inquiries broke down and nothing was known of the illusive doctor until four years previously when he had surfaced as the head of Greenmeadows.
The said hospital had also been a pedestrian establishment until Dr Goodman assumed command, then within a year or two, it was noted by the medical profession that Greenmeadows was having a more than average successful result on the treatment of terminally ill cardiac patients, which was a very welcome situation. However, the good doctor remained coy about his methods, neither discussing nor publishing the results of his breakthrough.
This information, now passed on to Lois and Clark, was both enlightening and puzzling. Where had Dr Goodman disappeared to for five years? And, more significantly, what had he learned in that period that had enabled him on his emergence to attain such an illustrious position? The easiest and most tempting path to follow was to ask Sam Lane what he knew of his old friend, but both Lois and Clark were sure that, while Sam was aware of his college buddy's reputation — after all, he had recommended that Jonathan be treated at Greenmeadows — his knowledge might not be current. There was also the fact that Sam may not be comfortable on ratting on a friend, especially since the couple had only a vague suspicion that all was not well at Greenmeadows. For the moment they decided to leave Sam out of the investigation.
When they returned to the Planet offices, they found an eager Stephan awaiting them. While his research had disappointingly uncovered nothing of any significance, a breaking police report covering a fatal car crash had more than made up for his fruitless morning's work. Lane & Kent had requested info on any unusual happenings involving Greenmeadows and while the police had no suspicions regarding the traffic accident, the fatality had been a member of the hospital staff.
Without letting the couple reach their office Stephan intercepted them on their way across the news pit. "Have I got news for you!" he exclaimed vitally.
"Great, Stephan," Clark placed a hand on the young man's back and with a little more strength than normal he propelled Stephan in the direction of their office. Since Perry had returned and claimed the editor-in-chief's domain one of the smaller conference rooms had been set aside for Lane & Kent, practical proof of the couple's new standing in the Planet's workforce. "You can tell us in here. For the moment Lois and I would like to keep our investigation of Greenmeadows under wraps."
A warning glance accompanied these words and the trio moved inside the office and closed the door. Lois dropped into her chair, placing her purse in a drawer and shrugging her jacket from her shoulders. Clark perched on the front of his desk and both turned questioning eyes on their research assistant.
The twin stares unnerved that young man. Stephan had worked at the Planet for three years now and in the past year more particularly with this awesome duo. He had found them helpful, friendly and encouraging, but they did demand devotion to duty and hard work and, though he comprehended that he could have found no better mentors to guide his career, on occasion their expectations could be intimidating. And this was one such occasion, especially since the research had so far drawn a blank. Noticing his anxiety, Lois chose to encourage him.
"Well, what did you dig up for us that you can't wait to tell us?"
Stephan's eyes dropped to the floor and he apologised. "I'm afraid that I haven't been able to find out much about the hospital's past. Apart from the fact that it was a really rundown place until Dr Goodman took over. Then there was a very large infusion of cash and the place was completely overhauled and its reputation took off."
"That's about where Lois and I got to." At Clark's admission the youngster appeared to regain his enthusiasm. "But you've obviously discovered something of interest."
"You bet! But not in the research! This came over the police wire! This morning a couple of tourists were driving up in the hills south of the city and they stopped to take some photographs of Metropolis from one of the pull-offs and that's when they discovered the crashed car. The driver had swerved off the road on one of the sharp bends and the car rolled down the cliff and lodged in the trees. Poor guy didn't stand a chance. According to my source it looks like the driver broke his neck and died instantly. The cops also think he was drunk 'cos they found an empty bottle of vodka on the floor of the car. My contact will get back to us as soon as the results of the autopsy come through."
"What has all this to do with Greenmeadows?" Lois enquired.
"The driver who died worked at the hospital in the administration section." Stephan began reading from the printout he had been brandishing. "Martin Forbes, 24 years old and lived out in Belmont; he worked at Greenmeadows for the past 13 months. When I phoned up their personnel department, they told me that he hadn't been into work for seven days, which is about the length of time that the police estimate the poor guy had been lying up in the mountain. Personnel had tried to contact his home a couple of times but when he didn't get back to them they just assumed that he'd moved on. It seems that he was having a dispute with management and they didn't think too much of it when he didn't show up. Well that's all I've got for now. I'll keep you posted on developments." And with that Stephan handed over the accident report and exited the office swiftly, feeling guilty that he hadn't been able to turn up anything of more importance.
"O K, Clark, what do you think? Just another coincidence?"
"Could be, honey, but I think that Superman should take a look at the site. Maybe he'll be able to uncover some clues that the police might have missed."
"Something that might suggest that this wasn't an accident?"
Nodding his head in agreement, Clark leaned over the desk that separated them and quickly brushed her lips with his own. "I'll try to be quick, sweetheart. Only if I find any evidence I'll have to give it to the police. If I'm not back by three, I'll meet you at the hospital. Dad is probably dying of curiosity about my little visit last night."
"We'll have to find somewhere private where we can talk without fear of eavesdroppers."
Lois received one more kiss and then Clark went quickly through the door and disappeared in the direction of the stairwell, leaving Lois with the task of solving the problem of who would pick up her children from school if she and Clark were at Greenmeadows.
A sly grin crossed her face as she watched Stephan pass by the windows of the office and she rose from behind her desk and hurried after him. The young researcher could pay for his lack of success, though admittedly he'd done the best he could, by doing a spot of child-minding. Besides, her kids loved being with Stephan, he played such 'cool' computer games and she had a sneaking suspicion that the feelings were reciprocated.
Not surprisingly, Clark never made it back to the Planet, so Lois proceeded to Greenmeadows content in the knowledge that her children would be delivered safely to the childcare unit by a slightly shell-shocked but happy Mr Janik, the task of babysitting not appearing on that young man's resume. Still he had a couple of 'brilliant' new games that he was sure the children would enjoy.
Lois arrived just as Martha and Jonathan were making their customary afternoon visit to the garden-room. Every day this journey was completed in a slightly quicker time, evidence of the patient's steadily returning vigour. Settling themselves in a far corner the older man couldn't contain his curiosity and immediately demanded to be told the reason for Superman's short and surprising visit, a subject Lois did not feel comfortable broaching without Clark's support. Begging her father-in-law's forgiveness, she asked him to be patient until his son's arrival. For the next twenty minutes or so a stilted conversation ensued regarding the progress of Jon's physiotherapy, yet it was obvious that both her in-laws were too consumed by this obvious intrigue to pay more than lip service to the inconsequential chat. So much so that Lois heaved a sigh of relief when Clark made his way to their sides and seated himself beside her on the wicker couch.
"Good, now that you're here, can you tell me just what all this mystery is about?" Jon demanded. Obviously he had run clear out of patience.
"Give me a minute, Dad."
Clark scanned the surrounding area for listening devices or hidden cameras but the atrium was clear of all bugs, at least of the electronic variety. Jon waited while his son swept the room utilising both super vision and hearing, his curiosity barely held in check. So it was with a large degree of relief that he attended the boy when he spoke.
"This is going to stretch your credulity, Mom, Dad, but remember Lois and I have come across this sort of thing before… we don't have any proof…so it's all speculation at the moment, but there is something happening in this place that needs looking into," Clark had obviously been exposed to Lois' babble gene for too long and his hand stroked his chin, a clear sign of his agitation.
"Good, son, you got our attention, now what are you talking about?" Jon had a lot of practise in dealing with the rambling.
"Clones!" Lois and Clark announced in unison.
"Clones!!" Martha and Jonathan reiterated also in unison.
The four exchanged sheepish glances then covertly looked around to assess if anyone had overheard their exclamations, but the spacious area was sparsely peopled and those who were present showed no interest in the group in the far corner.
Lois lowered her voice and took up the tale, mildly exasperated by Clark's prevarication. "More specifically a clone of Ivor Benson."
The older couple looked doubtful, yet they understood that neither of their children would make such a wild statement without some foundation. Leaning closer they gave Lois their undivided attention.
"I know it sounds implausible but there are reasons for our suggestion. A few days ago, shortly after Jon's surgery, our children found their way to the morgue," recognising the shock registering on her in-laws' faces, Lois quickly went on. "Don't ask how that happened, our kids have a way of finding themselves in very strange places and it doesn't signify. While they were there, they saw a dead body who just happened to be Ivor Benson. You can imagine how shocked they were when they saw him sitting chatting with you some days later, so much so that they came clean whenever we reached home."
"Before you start trying to rationalize the situation," Clark took up the tale, "we've looked into every possibility. Ivor does not have a twin or a double and he was checked into this hospital suffering from complete heart failure. The kids are adamant about what they saw and Joel couldn't hear a heart beat. Besides I don't think the staff in this hospital would be liable to make that kind of devastating mistake."
"Which leads to only a few possibilities; Goodman has learned how to raise the dead or Ivor is a clone." Lois finished off neatly.
"And you thought that I might be a clone too?" Suddenly Jonathan understood Clark's nocturnal visit.
His son's skin stained a rosy hue. "Well, it was a possibility." Clark reached over and squeezed his father's hand. "We're not sure why he's doing this or who he's doing it too… Anyway. We're surely happy that you're not."
There was a brief silence as Martha and Jonathan reviewed this improbable scenario, yet they were not prepared to doubt their children's conclusions, too often in the past Lois and Clark had uncovered diabolical plots, had even on occasion been the victims of those plots.
"Dad, I know you might not be comfortable with this, but we've checked Ivor's background and have gotten nowhere, so maybe you could find out a bit more, first hand, so to speak."
"Well, you probably know that he comes from a well-off family and that he works for a pharmaceutical company."
"Do you know what field he works in, Dad?"
"No, but I'm sure we could find out." Martha jumped into the conversation here. Her eyes were sparkling and it was apparent that she was eager to do a little investigating of her own. Not for the first time did it occur to Clark that his mother had buried many of her talents to be the wife of a farmer. Martha would, of course, never complain and she had enjoyed a fulfilled and happy life as a wife and mother, finding many more outlets for her creative personality, but sometimes her son wondered if a secret yearning for an independent career was the basis of the bond between Martha and Lois, apart from their love of the same man.
"I guess we could," Jonathan concurred with his wife. "I also know that he hates the city and he loves fishing and he's deeply uncomfortable about his mother's obsessive feelings for him."
"You felt that too!" Martha turned amazed eyes to her husband. "I thought I was the only one who picked up on that."
"Martha, you're not the only one in this family with intuition and remember I've had a few more conversations with Ivor." He patted her hand in commiseration, aware that she was a teeny bit disappointed that he had stolen her thunder. "I've also met the formidable Mrs Benson and believe me, she overwhelmed me, not to mention poor Ivor. She positively dotes on him."
"Well, there's nothing wrong in that," Martha was quick to excuse, realising the extent of her feelings for her own son.
"Of course not. But this was different; unnatural, suffocating. I can't explain but just watching them together made me feel uncomfortable and I know that Ivor felt the same."
Listening to Jonathan's words, Martha nodded in agreement. "I got the same impression just listening to Ivor talk about his family."
"So, what are you suggesting? That his mother might be prepared to go to any lengths and any expense to hold onto her son?" Clark's voice registered scepticism.
"But it wouldn't be her son." Lois also had difficulty in accepting that premise. "Didn't my clone develop her own personality?"
"Yes, but there were similarities, Lois, and the longer she lived more of your traits began to emerge. In the end she had your vivacity, courage and intelligence. And like you she was willing to risk everything for what she believed was right."
"Not to mention having the same taste in men," Lois' amused recollection lifted the mood for a moment. "Perhaps 'Dr Frankenstein' has found a way to transfer the soul. After all, Lex firmly believed that Asabi could do that."
After a few moments of quiet thinking Jonathan agreed to Lois and Clark's request. "O K, I'll try to do a little digging and I'm sure your Mom will be willing to help."
"Good, I'm glad that's settled." Lois now dismissed the subject of Ivor and moved onto the next point. "What did Superman find out at the crash site?"
"Nothing conclusive, Lois, and there wasn't much to show that a car had gone over the cliff either. I'm not surprised that it wasn't spotted for a number of days. The trees and bushes are pretty thick at that point. There have been other vehicles parked in the parking spot, but considering that it's the best viewpoint of Metropolis in the area most of these tracks probably belong to tourists, just like the ones that found the accident. However, I scouted a little farther afield and found signs that another car had parked further up the road and the occupants had been there for quite some time, there were a number of cigarette butts lying around, so maybe they were nervous. And there was something else that I thought strange; there were no skid marks on the road, but when I questioned the police about this they presumed, considering the empty bottle of alcohol they found, that Forbes had fallen into a drunken stupor and just slowly drove off the road."
"Forbes! Who is Forbes? And what has he to do with this?" Martha's voice sharpened as she searched her mind for a link to the name.
"Martin Forbes worked here at Greenmeadows and some nights ago he was killed in a traffic accident up in the mountains. The police found his body this morning." Clark explained to his mother.
"Yes! Martin Forbes! I met him here the night before Jonathan's operation. He accosted me on my way home and tried to sell me insurance or something. I never heard the whole story as Dr Goodman interrupted him. I was upset you see and the doctor was very annoyed that one of his employees should have forced his attention on me. I assumed that Dr Goodman was going to fire him, but surely he couldn't have been so upset that he drove off a cliff."
"That appears to be the general consensus." Clark shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, I for one don't believe it. That was a very confident and ambitious young man and I doubt he would have thrown his life away just because he lost a job. Besides, Dr Goodman assured me that he would find him another position."
"But can we trust the good doctor?" Lois' instincts were in overdrive. "Clark, I sense a cover-up. Martin Forbes did something that threatened to expose this place and they killed him to keep him quiet."
"But what are they trying to hide? Listen to us, Lois, we sound like a couple of paranoid hacks."
"Clark, we have uncovered other stories with a lot less to go on."
"I can't argue with you there, Lois." Staring into his wife's compelling gaze, Clark finally surrendered to Lois' insistence. "Right, Mom and Dad, you take Ivor and we'll keep on researching Goodman."
Dead Ends and Developments
Yet both sets of investigations were soon stymied. Next morning Jonathan chose to pay a visit to his new friend's suite only to find the room empty and the bed stripped down. Anxiety sent him on swifter feet than he had achieved since his surgery to the nurses' station where he asked sharply, for Jonathan, about the whereabouts of Ivor. The nurses in this hospital did not normally give out information on their patients, not if they valued their jobs, yet Mr Kent was a particular favourite of the medical staff. He was so thoughtful and kindly, never offering a complaint and he and Mr Benson had shared a close friendship during their time spent together, so in this case Nancy felt no compunction about passing on her information.
Mrs Benson, it seemed, had missed the company of her favourite son and had decreed that he was sufficiently recovered to spend the rest of his recuperation period at home. Under the advice of Dr Goodman a sick room had been set up in the Benson household and the hospital had supplied the nursing staff. According to the nurse this last occurrence was slightly perplexing as Greenmeadows was already suffering from a shortage of qualified staff, the doctor being very choosy in the people he employed. Nancy suggested, should Jonathan wish to continue with the friendship, that he would no doubt be welcome to visit Ivor at his home.
Jonathan did not share Nancy's optimistic view and understanding his friend's almost horror of his mother he wondered why Ivor had agreed to these living arrangements. Then again, perhaps the poor man had been bullied into the situation. Mrs Benson reminded Jonathan of a very determined steamroller.
Nonetheless, whenever Jonathan was discharged from hospital and he surmised that this should be fairly soon, he and Martha would beard the lion in her den and visit Ivor. A very strange sensation was creeping upon Jonathan, as if he were being watched. Was he falling prey to Lois and Clark's paranoia?
At the Planet, the reporters' research was still bogged down. No incriminating evidence could be found about Martin's accident. The coroner's report had come through and it verified the drunk-driver theory. A large amount of alcohol had been found in the dead man's stomach and though there were faint bruise marks on his neck, this was attributed to the accident. Lois was not prepared to accept this and suggested that the bruises could also have been made by someone holding the victim's neck while an accomplice poured the vodka down his throat.
"Honey, don't you think that there would have been more severe bruising if that was the case?" Clark sounded doubtful. "I mean, Martin was a young and pretty fit guy. Surely he would have put up some kind of fight and if he did, there should have been some evidence of that."
"I don't know!" Lois was clearly annoyed with Clark's sceptical response. "Perhaps he was already partially drunk; you know, met his pals after work and went for a few drinks. Or maybe he was drugged. I know that you're going to say that they found no traces of drugs in the body, but my god, it's a hospital and I'm sure that 'Dr Frankenstein' knows of at least one drug that could not be traced."
Lois had taken to referring to Goodman as the well-known fictional character and Clark had to admit that the misnomer suited the doctor well. On the surface David Goodman was amiable, jovial and extremely kind, the epitome of the concerned physician. Then why was it that in his presence both Lois and he felt vastly uneasy? Was there really an intrigue to be discovered or were he and his wife simply reacting to the fact that they disliked the man?
While Clark wrestled with his conscience, Lois had come to a decision. "There's nothing else for it, Clark. I'm going to ask Daddy what he knows about Goodman."
Clark was about to protest when Perry stormed into their office; like a dog with a bone, he clearly had his teeth into a breaking story. "Lois, Clark, I just got word from Ralph down at the courthouse, that slime ball Tony Pinto has been acquitted. Great shades of Elvis, everyone knows the sleaze is guilty as sin, but Judge Michaels threw the case out of court, said there was insufficient evidence." Perry shook his head in amazement. "Then, this is where it gets really weird kids, her honour goes off into her chamber and keels over, dead as a dodo. Who says crime doesn't pay? Pinto makes a fortune on insider dealing then walks off free as a bird."
"But surely the judge was wrong." Clark protested. "I thought the public prosecutor had that case sewn up." Neither he nor Lois had covered the trial, but Clark had been following progress in the media reports.
"That's what most people thought. Anyway, I want you guys onto it. Find out what went wrong." As the editor spoke he poked his finger toward his star reporters for emphasis. Ever since Perry had lost a deal of money on the stock market, he had developed a distrust of the money markets. It didn't matter that he had been the victim of a crook in the guise of a friend who had defrauded him of his hard-earned savings. Once bitten twice shy and Perry now regarded the whole institution with suspicion.
Lois, though, was not prepared to drop her current investigation. "Chief, Clark and I are pretty busy at the moment with another story. Can't you put somebody else on it?"
"Excuse me, Lois, are you still editor around here? Do you still assign the stories? Maybe I should just go home and put my feet up." Within a very short time of returning to work Perry had assumed his role of the irascible editor-in-chief and although Lois and Clark knew that his bark was worse than his bite they also recognised that he ran a very tight ship and in this mood his word was to be obeyed. "Maybe you could bring me up to speed on this story you're both so involved with."
Lois looked sheepish and turned to her husband for support who very gallantly threw himself into the breach. "Hmph, Chief it's nothing concrete for now, just a few ideas that Lois and I are tossing around."
"Good!! Toss it on the back burner for the moment and get your butts down to the courthouse." As he left the office, Perry was humming an Elvis tune. It did him good to crack the whip now and again and the Kents understood the game.
Down at the Hall of Justice things were certainly jumping. Media personnel seethed on the stairways and spilled into the corridors, each in search of that illusive quote that would give them a scoop on the disintegration of this much-publicised case. The noise levels in these hallowed premises reached dangerous levels as these news gatherers harried witnesses, court officials or even ignorant bystanders in the hope of gaining a jump on their competitors.
In this milling crowd Lois and Clark sought out Ralph, but soon discovered that as an informant he was less than useless, having uncovered zilch. As they gazed around, searching for a more productive source, they were hailed by a familiar voice.
"Lois! Clark! I see you're back on the beat. I didn't think that they could keep Lois behind a desk for long."
"Inspector Henderson," Clark returned the greeting as their old acquaintance strolled up to them. The policeman and the reporting duo, not to mention a certain super hero, had solved a number of cases together over the years and a mutual understanding had grown between them. "What are you doing here? I didn't expect you to be involved in this case."
"I'm not! I just finished giving evidence in a courtroom down the hallway and was on my way back to the precinct when all hell broke loose here. First Tony Pinto was freed and then the judge croaks in her chambers. Who would have thought it?"
"Could someone have gotten to the judge?" Lois joined in the conversation, getting right to the point.
Henderson shook his head. "I doubt it Lois, the old girl's got… the old girl *had* a fairly honest reputation."
"How about the cause of death?"
"Nothing suspicious there. Looks like a heart attack. Seems Judge Michaels had a medical history. Only last year she was a patient in Greenmeadows Hospital, underwent some fancy operation or something. According to her secretary though she's been well ever since. And then…poof!! She goes out like a light, which only goes to show that no matter what new treatment you can afford, when your time is up it's up." Immersed in his own philosophy the inspector did not at first notice the stunned looks on the reporters' faces.
"Greenmeadows!?" Lois almost squeaked.
"Yeah, now why would that interest you?" Always the detective, Henderson now noted the sharpening of his friends' attention.
The couple shared a moment of consternation, neither willing to alert the authorities at this time. Lois was the first to recover. "Clark's father's a patient of that hospital right now."
Henderson was embarrassed. He really had to stop treating everything like a case.
"Oh, Jonathan, yeah, I did know that he'd been sick. I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't mean any disrespect to the hospital. I'm sure that they'll take good care of your dad."
"Thanks, Inspector, my father's already well on the way to recovery and we expect to have him home real soon." Clark reassured the slightly abashed man and quickly returned to the job in hand, if anyone could give them inside information then this experienced detective was their man. "We heard that the case against Pinto had been thrown out through lack of evidence. That's pretty hard to swallow, since we also heard that the D A had an iron-tight case."
"You heard right on both counts." Henderson lowered his voice conspiratorially and leaned in closer to the couple. "The evidence disappeared."
"All of it?!" Clark gasped.
"All of it. All the files on insider trading; the phone records and taps; the computer discs… the lot!! Someone got access to the police evidence store and made off with everything. Of course, this is strictly off the record for now. The D A's office is livid and they've ordered an immediate investigation. They're trying to keep things under wraps until they get a handle on this thing, but that's not going to be possible. I expect they'll have to hold a press conference any minute."
The inspector began to back off down the corridor, afraid that perhaps he had said too much, but what the hell, he trusted Lois and Clark, they wouldn't betray their source. With a final wave of his hand he turned and strode away.
The couple found themselves alone in the fast-emptying corridors, the other reporters having given up on their useless quests and with the word of a press conference wafting nefariously in the air the media, like a tide, had ebbed from the courthouse in pursuit of other more successful angles.
"Greenmeadows keeps cropping up. Why do you think that is, Clark?"
"Beats me, Lois. But something is definitely wrong here…"
"And it's up to us to find out what."
Clark smiled at his wife, she was positively bubbling with energy. However, they were going to need more than energy to crack this case. What they needed was information. "So, honey, we contact Judge Michaels' family, see if they'll talk to us. Also check if there's a link between Goodman and Pinto."
"And start phoning around to see if we can trace the missing evidence, though I have a feeling that has probably been destroyed." Lois' index finger was poking into Clark's chest as they listed their activities. "Then we phone Mommy and Daddy and invite them for dinner. I think it's time we got some personal background on Dr Goodman. But first I'm hungry. Let's get some lunch."
Returning to the office after picnicking in the park, they set Stephan the task of collating the research on stock market 'whiz-kid' Tony Pinto, a fairly simple job since much of the work had already been done when the high-profile money man was arrested and brought to trial. However, this time the couple requested a deep background check; they wanted to know what clubs the man frequented; who were his friends and family; which college he attended and where he grew up. Somewhere along the line they were hoping to find that Pinto's path had crossed that of the doctor's.
Lois, after tracking down her parents and asking them to dinner, turned her attention to her husband's phone call. She crossed the small space between them and hoisted herself to sit on the edge of his desk.
Clark was clearly midway through a conversation. "I realize, Professor Michaels, how much you must be plagued by the media at the moment, I've been in their spotlight a couple of times myself and I know how unpleasant that can be, especially at such a time as this, but Ms Lane and I don't wish to question you about this case. Judge Michaels was a highly respected member of the justice system and we were hoping to include a tribute to her work in the Planet's obituary and we felt that you might like to add a few personal anecdotes and of course review our copy before we publish."
"Thank you, Mr Kent, for your kind words and for your interest in my wife's career. From the questions I've been fielding from your less ethical colleagues you would think the only trial my wife ever presided over was this last travesty. My wife thought very highly of Lane and Kent and of your friend Superman. She was grateful that so many of the criminals that she sent down were apprehended because of your stalwart efforts. And for that I will agree to see you; would ten tomorrow morning suit you, Mr Kent? Come to my house. I've taken a leave of absence from my university duties for now."
Clark closed the conversation and stared contemplatively at his computer screen. "We have an appointment with Professor Michaels at ten tomorrow," he informed her, then began reading from the screen. "The professor's head of the faculty of philosophy at Metro U. He and his wife Valerie had been married for thirty-four years, they had one daughter who died of leukemia when she was nineteen."
"Oh, that must have been terrible for them." For a moment Lois contemplated the loss of her own children. Joel obviously shared Clark's genetics and would no doubt be invulnerable and there were signs that Clara too might inherit her father's powers. It was much too soon to tell about Nathan and Julian was of course completely human and therefore open to any hurt. And even half -Kryptonians were not totally indestructible… Lois shook herself from her worried musings in order to listen to her husband's continuing recital.
"Yeah. I know how destroyed I would feel if we lost any of our kids," Clark's hand had found its way into Lois' and she gave him a wistful smile. He returned his eyes back to the screen. "Since then there has been only the two of them and judging by the little printed in the tabloids they are a closely devoted couple. I'd also say that from my conversation with the professor that he loved his wife very much."
"So much that he would do anything to keep her? We have two people who respectively adore their very ill wife and son, two people who probably have the financial means to pay a great deal to save their loved ones…" Lois had slid from Clark's desk and was now pacing the office.
"And both of these loved ones are patients of Dr Goodman …"
"One of whom we are assuming is a… clone and the other is dead…"
"But was that the real Judge Michaels who died?" Leaning back in his chair Clark regarded his wife with raised eyebrows.
"Would an autopsy reveal if she was a clone?" Lois had stopped pacing and stood hands folded before her at the other side of the desk.
"Perhaps, if she'd broken her ankle in a skiing accident." The couple exchanged an amused grin.
"Clark, both the judge and Ivor are supposed to have undergone treatment or surgery, shouldn't there be traces of that on the body?"
"I guess, though Dad's coronary surgery only left a small scar on his leg. Besides, there won't be an autopsy, the judge died from natural causes."
"And the professor is hardly likely to agree to something that proves that he paid to have his wife cloned." Lois intimated dejectedly.
"Let's hope that Dad has more success with Ivor."
Pieces of a Puzzle
To say that Lois and Clark were disappointed to learn that their one lead in this puzzle had escaped them was an understatement. The more combustible member of the news team had wanted to descend on the Bensons' house and confront the clone immediately, but then, after a short period of blowing off some steam, when her children kept well out of range, and a few commiserating statements from a fairly invulnerable husband, Lois allowed her ire to settle and agreed that Ivor was still best left to the elder Kents.
The evening spent with her parents had a more productive outcome, though not from the supposed source. Sam had nothing but good things to say about his old friend. Goodman had been a teenage companion who had helped and supported a younger and more insecure Sam Lane and Sam was only happy that David was now receiving the accolades that his abilities so richly deserved. When his daughter had vaguely suggested that things at Greenmeadows might not be all that they appeared, Sam had bristled in annoyance and pointed out that David had no doubt saved Jonathan's life. This line of enquiry was going nowhere except to upset Sam and the Kents mutually dropped the subject of Goodman and Greenmeadows.
Later, after Ellen had helped put the children to bed, the older woman had followed Lois into the kitchen to make the coffee. Assuring herself that her husband was occupied in watching a ball game with his son-in-law, Ellen drew Lois into a chair and settled herself alongside her daughter. Her voice was little more than a whisper.
"Don't believe all that your father has to say about David Goodman. I'm afraid Sam has a mental block when dealing with 'that man'." The last words sounded fairly derogatory.
"You don't agree with Daddy's estimation?"
"I never liked that man. Oh, he and your father were great buddies, but there was something about him that I couldn't be comfortable with. And he wasn't the grade A student that your father thinks he was."
Lois pulled her chair up closer to Ellen and she in turn lowered her voice. "Please, Mother, tell me all you know about 'that man'."
Ellen was glad to be the centre of her daughter's attention for once. While she understood that she had never been a particularly good mother, there had been so many other troubles, she did love both her children and she was thankful that, since Lois and Clark had gotten married, her elder daughter had, little by little, let her back into her life. Now here was an opportunity to help Lois with her work; Ellen was intuitive enough to realize that the probing that had taken place over dinner was for something that Lois and Clark were investigating and she was only too happy to assist.
"When I met your father, David and he were already close and although he was always polite and friendly toward me, I felt that he resented my intrusion. Of course, never openly so and when I spoke to your father about it Sam just thought I was being paranoid."
"So the pattern began this early in your relationship?" Lois asked sadly.
"Oh yes, if your father didn't agree with my summation then I was told I was being over anxious; in the end I suppose I came to believe it." Ellen dismissed this uncomfortable thought, having at long last reached an understanding with her husband. "Anyway after a number of abortive attempts at persuading Sam that his friend was sly, I gave up and just stayed out of David's way, which wasn't easy, the man was like your father's shadow."
"Osmosis!! David was a clever enough young doctor, but he never had your father's genius. I think he hoped that some of Sam's brilliance would rub off on him. Who knows, perhaps it finally did? Anyway, when your father was head hunted by a research facility in New York, David appeared more than a little jealous and after we moved we lost touch, which I thought was very strange considering how close the two were. But David always seemed too busy to return your father's calls." Ellen shook her head sadly as she recalled how this exclusion had effected Sam. "He seems to be doing very well for himself now, head of a renowned institution like Greenmeadows."
"Mother, Clark and I suspect that there is something very wrong going on in that hospital."
"Well that wouldn't surprise me. Goodman was always the opportunist and he was ruthless. If he couldn't succeed by fair means then, in my opinion, he would not be above resorting to foul."
The coffee was ready and the tete-a-tete ended soon after and when the two women rejoined their menfolk the subject of David Goodman was never mentioned again.
In bed that night, her back resting against the pillows, and delightedly watching her husband as he undressed for bed, at normal speed, Lois related her mother's estimation of the man they were investigating.
Clark sat beside her on the bed and placed a hand on her thigh, rubbing it gently through the thin coverlet. "I never thought I'd say this, Lois, but I prefer your mother's opinion of Goodman above that of your father's. Which, considering that the man saved my dad's life, is pretty ungrateful."
"Don't feel bad, sweetheart. That surgery is getting more common every day and I'm very sure that many other surgeons could have done just as well." She patted the hand that was creating a familiar tingling in her body, then stilled it, she didn't need any distractions at the moment. "Besides, I'm sure that Goodman couldn't have been very pleased when Daddy showed up at Greenmeadows with the father of one half of the famous reporting team, Lane and Kent."
"But he couldn't very well turn Dad away without questions being asked."
"Right! So he decided that the best course of action, was to operate on Jonathan and discharge him as soon as possible and hope that nothing would occur that would focus our attention on the hospital."
"Except Martin Forbes took it upon himself to approach Mom, probably to sound her out about the possibility of cloning if anything should go wrong with the surgery." Clark's teeth worried his bottom lip as he contemplated that notion. "Only Mom didn't understand what Martin was trying to say and the doctor interrupted them…"
"And Martin was killed because he was a loose cannon…"
"And to stop us questioning him, if Mom had finally caught on."
"Yes. Which we never would have done if the kids hadn't seen Ivor Benson in the morgue." Lois' hand tightened on her husband's. "You don't think the kids are in danger?"
"I doubt it Lois. I'm sure that no-one knows of their involvement in this. Goodman would have attempted something before now, if he'd found out about their little trip. To tell the truth I'm more concerned about Ivor's safety. If the doctor discovers that we suspect Ivor has been tampered with then I wouldn't bet on his survival."
"Do you think that Superman ought to rescue him?"
"And place him in protective custody?" Clark smiled at the thought. "Lois, you know that I can't do that. Ivor might not want rescuing and I can hardly resort to kidnapping. No, we'll just have to be very careful not to alert 'Dr Frankenstein' to the fact that we're onto him."
The job discussion was winding down and she was beginning to view her husband in a totally different manner, but just as she was contemplating her next move a yawn split her face. Being an extremely hard-working mother had its downside. One of the most annoying was the fact that she was very often exhausted when she made it to bed. Clark gently touched her face and helped her settle down into the bed, then crossing to his side he slipped beneath the covers.
"No Superman patrol tonight?" she asked through a second yawn.
"No. The past few nights the police seem to have managed to take care of things on their own. It gets a bit boring just hanging around alone with nothing to do, especially when there are much nicer ways I could spend my time."
A younger Superman had loved to spend his nights soaring over the darkened city, enjoying the feel of freedom that his ability of flight had given him. Now he preferred the company of his wife and the comfort of his bed. Time enough to don the suit and the super persona when there was an emergency. Boy, he must be getting old!!
He spooned himself against an increasingly sleepy wife and leaned forward to kiss her ear.
"Goo…ni… Clark." His wife's muffled voice was only heard with the use of his super hearing.
The location of the Michaels' residence verified the fact that the couple was very comfortably off. Next morning at ten as Lois drove the jeep along the wide tree-lined road they were dismayed to see the collection of media vans parked on either side of the gate. The security man who stood guard at the closed entrance was, however, expecting them and the Jeep was swiftly allowed to pass through, accompanied by the cat calls and other derogatory remarks from their rivals in the news world. Once again Lane and Kent had scooped their colleagues. Just how did they do that?!
The couple were quickly shown inside and within moments they were joined by a rather haggard looking man who introduced himself as Professor Michaels and invited them to sit while he went and stood in front of the large marble fireplace, gazing longingly at the portrait of a woman and child that hung above the mantle.
"That was painted many years ago," he averred, waving his hand towards the painting. "My wife and child in much happier times. Now it is all that I have left of them." His voice cracked on those words.
"We're very sorry for your loss, Professor." Clark was suffering pangs of guilt, feeling that Lois and he had gained entry under false pretenses and yet they needed a break in this investigation and perhaps under the circumstances the professor might be willing to cooperate. Yet he hated manipulation and their relying on this man's grief to help them gain information sat very uncomfortably on his conscience. Nevertheless, they had a job to do and he put his bruised sensibilities aside and continued. "However, I have to confess that I did mislead you on the phone yesterday. We are writing your wife's obituary, but that is not why we are here."
The man broke off from his contemplation of the portrait and turned affronted eyes upon his guests. His voice held tones of repressed ire. "I'm disappointed. I had not expected such underhand tactics from you two. You always seemed more honest than the rest of the news pack." The man was very angry and Lois was more than annoyed that her husband had been so direct. She made to remonstrate but Professor Michaels continued with his harangue. "I have nothing to say to you about the Pinto trial and you have wasted your time coming here."
Before the irate man could call for his butler to show them the door Lois plunged ahead with her explanation. "Professor, we are not here to ask about the trial, but my partner was correct, we are here to ask you what you know of Greenmeadows."
At the name the professor visibly blanched and his shoulders stiffened slightly. "I know very little," he prevaricated. "My wife was a patient in that hospital a little over a year ago. Dr Goodman treated her with some success and we hoped that the improvement in her health would be lasting. Unfortunately, that was a forlorn hope… she died." He ended on a quiet note and seated himself in an armchair by the fire, dropping his head into his hands.
"Did she, Professor? Or did she die in Greenmeadows last year?"
Michaels' head snapped up and there was a faint shadow of fear in his stare. "Whatever do you mean? Everyone knows that my wife has been well since her treatment. She took over the reins of the household. She renewed old friendships and she returned to work. She even started playing golf again. Was that a ghost? Have I been living with a ghost?"
"Not a ghost. No." Clark's voice was low but firm. In his estimation this poor man was on the brink of a breakdown and he didn't wish to be instrumental in pushing the grieving widower over the edge. Yet the older man was also very much afraid of something and if Lois and he were right about Goodman then this man might be in danger. The doctor's machinations had to be brought to an end. "We believe that the Judge Michaels who died yesterday was a clone."
The silence stretched out for sometime before Michaels finally spoke in a voice that was both thready and thin. He was too tired to continue to lie. "How could you know that?"
Lois crossed to the distraught gentleman and hunkered down by his side. This poor man had been through so much and while he might have been misguided in his choice of actions he had lost his wife twice within a year. Because of that, the usually hard-hitting reporter's voice was amazingly gentle. "We're investigative journalists. It's our job to discover these strange things. Professor Michaels could you tell us what you know? Dr Goodman is preying on the fears and sorrows of people like you who are experiencing the loss of a loved one and I'm certain that he is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Greenmeadows and its director look to be in very affluent circumstances. Did you pay money to have your wife cloned?"
"Professor, the doctor is breaking the law and he has to be stopped." Clark joined his wife, kneeling on the floor and added his persuasion. "Will you help us?"
Haunted eyes passed between Lois and Clark and then the professor nodded his head and began his tale. "My wife, Valerie, suffered from a congenital heart defect which deteriorated as she grew older. As the years passed she grew increasingly more sick and weaker and a couple of years ago it became apparent that I was going to lose her, just as we had our daughter so many years ago. We went to every doctor in Metropolis and quite a few elsewhere, but the prognosis was always the same; there was nothing that could be done to save her. Then we heard about Dr Goodman and Greenmeadows. We were told that the doctor was having some success in treating terminally ill cardiac patients and so we made an appointment for a consultation, without a great deal of hope, I might add." At this point Michaels paused as if reliving the encounter.
Lois and Clark had risen from the floor and taken a seat on a couch opposite the professor. They waited for a few moments while the disconsolate widower composed himself to continue.
"And he was able to help you?" Lois prompted quietly.
A doleful laugh escaped from the professor's lips. "Help!! In a sense, yes, but not in the way I had hoped." The man lifted dejected eyes to his wife's picture once again. "Good god! Whatever could I have been thinking off?! I can only say that I was desperate and desperate people clutch at any lifeline. I agreed to his offer to clone my wife and I paid a lot of money for his 'help'."
Lois and Clark exchanged knowing glances. Now they were getting down to the truth. Yet the professor was not finished. "And at first it seemed that I had made the right decision. Everything returned to normal, except my wife was no longer an invalid. It was wonderful."
"Did Judge Michaels accept the fact that she had been… replaced?" Lois questioned, unable to keep the scepticism from colouring her tone.
"Valerie didn't know." Seeing that both his listeners had difficulty in crediting that statement he sought for clarification. "The doctor had found a way of not only reproducing the physical body but the mind as well; the new Valerie had all the memories, ideals and personality that belonged to the original. Don't ask me to explain the science because I know nothing of that, but if I hadn't been a party to the cloning I would never have been able to tell them apart. My wife simply thought she had undergone some radical treatment that had restored her health. At least, in the beginning, but as time passed, I could sense that she was becoming troubled. It was around this time that I became aware of the phone calls." Again the professor's narrative broke down.
"Phone calls?" Clark asked.
"Phone calls! Sometimes letters! All of which Valerie tried to hide from me and yet they upset her. And there was something else different about my wife. She had recently returned to her place on the bench and occasionally some of the decisions she had made in court seemed particularly bizarre and definitely not in keeping with her innate sense of justice. Oh, they weren't major cases and I suppose that no-one else paid much attention and in my opinion they were only a test to see if she could be controlled. You see this isn't simply about helping out grieving relatives. Dr Goodman is using the clones for his own ends."
"Judge Michaels was coerced into throwing out the case against Tony Pinto?!" Lois almost punched the air in vindication. Her instincts had told her there was a connection.
"Yes! But she fought against it Ms Lane. Valerie was a good, honest woman and her clone shared her ideals. But the phone calls increased and often came in the middle of the night. They gave her no peace."
"And you couldn't go to the police because you'd broken the law by having your wife cloned." Clark stated sadly. "But why didn't your wife call in the authorities? According to you she knew nothing of the cloning."
Michaels gave this question careful consideration before replying. "I'm not sure but perhaps there was a built-in safeguard in the process that prevented her from doing so. Besides, I'm fairly certain that by then Valerie had come to suspect that something terrible had happened to her. She never spoke of it but I could see the realization in her sad accusing stares. Oh yes, in the end Valerie was aware of what had been done to her and, god forgive me, that I had been responsible for her 'replacement'. They say my wife died of a massive heart attack but I know…my wife died of a broken heart."
Late that night the Michaels' butler called in the local police. The servants had been given the evening off and when the butler had returned he had decided to pay a call on his boss. Having worked for the family for many years he was well aware of the sorrow that was overwhelming his employer, so he was not wholly shocked to find the professor slumped in the chair before the portrait over the fireplace, a gun lying close by on the floor and a bullet buried deep in his brain.
Lane and Kent had assured Michaels that until such time as they had proof of Dr Goodman's perfidy that they would not print anything that he had told them. In fact, they had both agreed that, if it were at all possible, they would keep Judge Michaels' name out of their story. This, however, was highly unlikely as the link between Pinto and Goodman seemed to be a pivotal point in their investigations.
Fear of denunciation though was hardly the reason behind the professor's suicide. Lois and Clark had recognised that the man was disintegrating under the twin burdens of grief and guilt and that he had chosen to join those he loved the most. This additional death leant determination to the reporters' resolve to uncover Goodman's crimes.
Normal morning chaos reigned supreme in the household on Hyperion Avenue next morning as four kids and two adults vied for their territorial rights over the two bathrooms. Lois remarked smugly, as she did almost every morning during this ritual combat, that Clark should have heeded her suggestion and built in another bathroom when constructing the attic bedrooms. The reconstruction, however, had been finished in somewhat of a hurry and Clark had decided to leave the bathroom part til later, something which he had as yet found no time to accomplish and something that, at flash point times like these, he much regretted. So it was that he spent most workday mornings, when Superman duties didn't call him away, umpiring his older kids while they showered and dressed for school, while his wife took care of Nathan then leisurely, if that term could be applied in any sense to the morning's rush, prepared herself for the day.
Breakfast too was now thankfully the responsibility of both adults, Lois having long since mastered the rudiments of preparing a simple repast, but that usually left Clark with only a few minutes to super speed through his ablutions and be ready to escort the kids to school before arriving at an acceptable time (by their chief's standards) at the Planet. The use of super speed was no hardship, but sometimes he wished to be able to sit down at the breakfast table, having had a long soak in a tub, with a large Kansas-style breakfast before him and leisurely read through the sports pages of the Daily Planet. Occasionally this dream actually materialized on the weekends, if Lois and he didn't have a story to cover or if the kids didn't have places to go or if Superman wasn't required to save the day. But on the whole such time for relaxation was a rarity, though he hoped, as the children grew older and didn't need such close supervision, to enjoy a more tranquil lifestyle. And that thought really did make him laugh. Apart from a few quiet moments their lives were far removed from tranquillity.
The ringing phone interrupted his thoughts as he oversaw the noisy proceedings at the kitchen table, due to overexuberant kids teasing and arguing with each other about the up-and-coming events of the day. Lois' voice could be heard calling downstairs, requesting that he take the call as she was involved in the complicated process of applying her makeup. Clark did as he was bid and after a few short minutes he replaced the phone but later when Lois entered the kitchen it was obvious from the smiling faces before her that it had been good news. A chorus of excited voices told her that Jonathan was to be discharged from the hospital that day at noon and Clark had agreed to go with his mother to pick up the recovering invalid.
This was good news on a number of points because, not only did it mean that Jonathan was getting better but that he would be removed from the malevolent presence that was Greenmeadows. It also meant, if Jon felt up to it, that he could visit Ivor and pursue that line of enquiry. The information they had received from Professor Michaels before his tragic death had added an urgency to the solving of this case.
Finding a link between the newly liberated Pinto and any personnel of the hospital was proving impossible. Stephan had pulled all the information available on the two men together and reams of printouts had greeted the reporters when they returned from their second morning visit in successive days to the Michaels residence. A visit which had proved to be another useless exercise, unless to pay their respects to the pathetic figure. The professor had checked out without leaving any suicide note or evidence of his collusion with the crime. Clark had secretly x-rayed the house for any hidden safes or caches but found none and so Lane and Kent had left empty handed yet again.
Now it was back to delving through paperwork and even using his speed-reading capabilities it was a task of drudgery. To aid them in their task the young researcher had highlighted passages which he though might be relevant but in the end nothing panned out and it would soon be time for Clark to fetch his father from the hospital.
Lois was still ploughing through her smaller pile of data on Pinto's family when she let out a piercing shriek and frantically beckoned her husband to her side. "What's up, honeying, have you found a link?" He enquired, peering over her shoulder at the passage on which her finger rested.
It was info on Pinto's mother and revealed her maiden name. Clark let out a long 'arrrgh' of disgust. This was no lead to Goodman, not exactly, but that name was one which revived horror-filled memories of days that Lois and he would rather forget .
"Maria Mamba!! It couldn't be a coincidence, Clark, not with an unusual name like that. Pinto's mother must be related to that horrible man."
"There's only one way to find out, honey." And he hurried back to his desk and entered the woman's name and information from Stephan's printouts but there they drew a blank. Not ready to accept defeat, Clark continued in the research with logging into their file on Dr Isaac Mamba and they had found their link… Maria Mamba was the crazy clone-maker's younger sister.
"Now we know how Goodman acquired his skills," Lois' words were filled with disgust.
"We still have to prove that there's a link, honey, and Mamba is still in jail." Clark reminded his partner, but at the slightly disapproving look that was tossed his way, he added placatingly. "That shouldn't be too difficult though. Their paths had to have crossed somewhere."
"Even from jail Mamba could have passed on his research notes to 'Frankenstein'. We have to check Mamba's visiting lists. See what he's been up to since we had our little run in with him."
"Uh-huh, but Lois could you do this alone… I've gotta go…"
A resigned expression settled on his wife's face. "Okay, what do you hear?"
"Hear?! Nothing, sweetheart, but it's almost noon and I promised that I'd pick up Mom and Dad."
"Of course. I'd forgotten or I didn't realise the time. Yes… yes… get out of here," Lois shooed him away with her hands, then changing her mind called him back. "However, I would appreciate a cup of coffee before you go." She held out her mug to him and Clark took it with a lopsided grin.
There was a group of workers round the coffee station but they made way for Clark when he came near, to a few of the newer staff members Kent was a sometime-editor and certainly held a senior position. Clark smiled to himself as one cub reporter stood back with a deferential look, the sort of look that he usually got when wearing the 'suit'. To put her at her ease he flashed her one of his high-wattage smiles, which only had the effect of sending her into lalaland.
The central member of the pack bore no such inhibitions and Ralph welcomed his colleague with a smug grin. "Hey, Kent. I just got back from the D A's press conference. You know the one they've been promising us for days. I thought you and Lois would have been on to it, but Perry assigned me." This last was said with an air of crowing. "What's wrong getting too old to stand the pressure?"
As Clark looked and was in much better physical shape than the perpetrator of that remark he chose to ignore it, but he was interested in what the man had to say. "I guess… Anything interesting happen?"
The others in the clique had melted away, not wishing to witness the annihilation of Ralph. Clark, however, was not vindictive and the threatened blood-sports never materialized. Then again, had it been the female partner of the team, Ralph would now be nursing a few broken bones.
"Nah… They just announced the name of the guy they arrested for the break-in down at police headquarters. You know the one that did a magic act with the evidence." Ralph was savouring his moment of triumph and was prepared to milk the situation for all it was worth. Even though his work mates had drifted away, he knew they were still watching.
On the other hand, Clark had no time for games and his voice was more insistent than normal and his eyes had a definite steely glint. "Come on Ralph, out with it. I don't like to pull rank but…" and he let his voice trail away on the suggestion, which to his now-flustered listener sounded more like a threat.
Sometimes Kent was so unassuming you forgot that on occasion he could be even more intimidating than his partner and so the usually bold-faced reporter, seeking to placate his senior, cut directly to the point. "The man they arrested is a Sergeant McGillvery, the cop in charge of the evidence store. He's a thirty year plus man and he decided that he needed a little additional income to boost his pension when he retired so he accepted a very large payoff in exchange for certain pieces of evidence. At least that's his story."
"Yeah! He had a crisis of conscience when they questioned him and he spilled the beans."
"I don't suppose they know where the bribe came from?" Clark enquired in hope.
"Nope!! Everything was arranged anonymously. The police are still looking into that aspect but I wouldn't hold my breath on them finding anything out."
"And the stolen evidence?"
"Swears he dropped that off in a dumpster in Suicide Slum. My guess is that it's already been destroyed. And they can't link that to Pinto either because there were other cases involved, but if you ask me that was just a cover."
He hated to admit it, but Clark actually agreed with Ralph's take on the crime so, after thanking his annoying associate for the information, Clark returned to his office and hurriedly brought Lois up to speed.
"Now, honey, I really have to fly," he said with a grin "but maybe you could give Inspector Henderson a call, see if you can find out any more about this McGillvery."
"You think he might be another clone?"
"No, I doubt that. If a policeman was so sick as to wind up in Goodman's clutches then he would probably have been retired from the force on disability. Maybe this time the guy just got greedy."
With a last kiss Clark was gone and Lois was left to do the follow-up. Her first call was to Bill Henderson, but here she struck out as the inspector was not in the precinct though she was promised that her message would be passed on. Lois next leafed through her rolodex looking for her best contact in the prison service, who would most likely answer all her questions. Finally she settled on an administrator who she had first encountered years ago when Diana Stride and her cohort had broken out of prison and almost succeeded in killing Clark and exposing Superman. Thankfully Clark and she, with a great deal of help, had come through… again, but this particular prison official had felt that the service had to accept some responsibility for allowing the criminals to escape. Since then he had proved to be very helpful with some of Lois' queries and this time proved to be no different. Isaac Mamba was being held at the High Security Prison upstate which strictly speaking was not in his jurisdiction yet he would see what he could do and get back with the information as soon as possible.
Having been balked in both her queries, Lois wandered over to Clark's P C and, leaning over the desk, brought back the data on Dr Mamba. Scrolling down through the information that was particularly relevant to his varied career she spotted an interesting tidbit; Dr Mamba once worked in Seattle. Gotcha!! Crossing to the door she stuck her head outside and called for Stephan. Within minutes the researcher was in her office.
"Stephan, I want all the information you can find on 'Mercy Hospital' in Seattle. It appears that both Dr Goodman and Dr Mamba worked there a number of years ago. I want you to find out what they worked at and if they were acquainted with each other. You're going to have to go back around twenty years or so. It might not be easy and I'm sorry to dump all this stuff on you, but we need to find a connection between the two."
Lois smiled warmly at the young man. His task of gofer for the Planet staff was not an enviable one and yet he did his job with as much enthusiasm as had Jimmy, one of his predecessors. Nevertheless, his lowly beginning could be a foundation for greater things. James Olsen was living proof of that and this rookie had just as much potential. Such fledgling talent needed to be encouraged and with that in mind Lois added an explanation.
"I'm sorry we can't really tell you what this case is all about, mainly because we're still pretty much in the dark about it ourselves. But Clark and I have stumbled across something very 'questionable' at Greenmeadows and hopefully with your help we'll uncover just what 'it' is. All I can tell you is that this could be huge."
"That's okay, Lois. I enjoy working for you and Clark. You always get the biggest stories and it's good to be able to help. And I know that I couldn't have any better teachers anywhere."
So the boy did have ambitions. Good, that was good. The Planet needed new blood. "By the way, thank you for looking after the kids the other day. You're quite a hit with them you know."
"Good! I kinda like them too," Stephan admitted shyly. "Anytime you need a help with them… you know picking up or anything… just ask… Huh, now I'll get right onto that research for you." And he backed sheepishly out of the door, hoping that he hadn't been presumptuous.
Lois grinned to herself a little. It was obvious that Stephan was somewhat in awe of the Lane and Kent team, a totally different relationship than the one shared by the reporters and Jimmy. But then that had been a few years back, when the three were embarking on their lives and careers. Of course, she had been the most experienced one, although Clark had been the most travelled, but all of their lives had taken a new turning when a 'hack from Nowheresville' had arrived at the Planet.
Who could have foreseen the tumultuous events that had taken place in their lives since that moment. And it was strange to consider that though many of these happenings had been difficult and heart-breaking, there was very little that she would change. Certainly not the life she shared with Clark and her children.
Her thoughts strayed to the third member of that long ago team, James Olsen. His career had taken him to the far east and he was now in Bangkok exposing the seamier underbelly of that corrupt city, a task that should keep him busy for a long time. Lois hoped that in burying himself in this work he could come to terms with the loss of his wife and the dreadful way that he had been manipulated by an arrogant terrorist cabal.
When Clark and she had visited him, courtesy of Superman airlines, as they had explained to their friend, Jimmy seemed to be in good spirits and the three had thoroughly enjoyed themselves exploring the reputable night life of that exciting city, before the couple had to meet Superman for the return trip home. They had taken a risk visiting Jimmy and using this flimsy excuse for their mode of transport, but because they were worried about his continued state of mind they had concluded that it was a risk worth taking. Thankfully it had paid off and both Lois and Clark were glad of the time they had been able to spend with Jimmy and, from the enthusiastic welcome they had received, they deduced that he too had been glad of the company.
In the present she and Clark had another new career to nurture and she sincerely hoped for similar success for Stephan Janik. Her musings were halted by the shrill ringing of a phone and answering she found that her prison source had come through for her and he was faxing Mamba's complete visiting list since his incarceration. She thanked him warmly and waited in anticipation for the fax machine to deliver its message. Could this at last provide the link they had been searching for?
Her husband, in the meantime, had flown toward Greenmeadows and landed in the heavily treed area at the back of the building, before the grounds climbed ever upwards into the steep hills where the hapless Martin Forbes had met his sad end. Spinning into his civilian clothes, he sauntered through the gardens and entered the airy lobby, straightening his tie and smiling a greeting to the permanently friendly staff, as he approached the elevators to ride up to his dad's floor.
On entering the room he found his father already dressed and impatiently awaiting his arrival, while his mom put the final finishes to the packing. Nancy, the charge nurse who had become a particular friend during Jon's stay, hovered close by with the obligatory wheelchair.
Clark greeted his parents, quickly assisting his dad into the wheelchair and without a backward glance the three Kents exited the room. Each had mixed emotions regarding the hospital, gratitude that Jonathan's life had been saved and yet abhorrence at the horrors that might be taking place within its walls. While Clark and Martha pushed the wheelchair down the corridor, Dr Goodman appeared to say his farewells. As always the man was the epitome of concern and conviviality, expressing his delight at Jonathan's speedy recovery and reminding the patient of the importance of continuing with the exercise regime which had been set up to aid his recuperation.
Watching the man closely, Clark needed all his super hero stoicism to hide his revulsion. How well the doctor hid his true nature and yet, as the elevator doors closed on his final glimpse of Goodman, did Clark detect a fleeting expression of relief? Employing his super vision he stared through the steel shaft and concrete, but the doctor had turned away and was striding down the corridor. Don't enjoy your moment of triumph prematurely, doctor, Lane and Kent will bring down your evil schemes.
But Greenmeadows had one more intimation to reveal before the family left its portals. Coming toward them across the carpeted foyer a small girl was being pushed by her mother in a miniature version of Jon's wheelchair, while a nurse wheeled a portable drip by her side. From the child's ashen pallor and painfully thin body it was not difficult to deduce that she was seriously ill and strain and worry showed clearly on her mother's face.
"Oh, please, I'll just be a moment," Martha stated, "but I must say goodbye to my favourite patient. Poor little girl, she's only a couple of years older than Nathan but she's already been through two dangerous operations to correct the valves in her heart, but neither were successful. Dr Goodman promises to do his best and I just hope that he means legitimately," she added in a sotto voice. "Mrs McGillvery is worried sick because the operation is due tomorrow and even though the doctor has treated similar patients successfully it is a huge risk. Just imagine how scared you would feel if it were Nathan in that chair. Thank goodness our children are all well."
Martha squeezed her son's arm as she spoke then hurried over to the little cavalcade where she enquired after Eileen's health (this appeared to be the child's name) and wished mother and daughter all the very best for tomorrow's trial. After carefully hugging the little girl and promising to visit her after the surgery, Martha returned to Jonathan and Clark, only then noticing the stunned look that graced her son's face.
Certain names kept cropping up. This couldn't be another coincidence and yet surely this child was too young to be Sergeant McGillvery's daughter… a grandchild perhaps? "Mom, do you know if Eileen's father is a policeman?" His question was abrupt.
"No dear," Martha soothed. This whole episode was getting to Clark and he was seeing bogeymen round every corner. "Her father is a construction worker and not a very well off one either. Mrs McGillvery was telling me that they were very grateful to the surgeons and nursing staff here who are prepared to care for her daughter free of charge. You know Clark not everything that happens here is bad, your father is living proof of that."
Was that the bribe that had induced an honest cop, who for thirty years had sought to uphold the law, to commit one single act of crime? Was the life of this small child enough payment to induce this police sergeant into sacrificing his own freedom and to protecting the criminals who had so cruelly manipulated him? Understanding the measure of his own parents' love for his children, the answer had to be yes.
If his supposition proved to be true, then this further testament of Goodman's and his associates' treachery reinforced his resolution to bring them to justice.
Having escorted his mom and dad safely home and made sure that they had all they required for Jonathan's comfort, a fruitless exercise as Martha had been planning this homecoming for days with her customary efficiency, Superman returned to the office, landing on the roof and hurrying down the stairs. As he went the blue and red uniform was discarded for the charcoal grey suit of Clark Kent.
The newsroom was as always a hive of activity and as he quickly crossed its floor, he threaded his way past the busily motivated staff, automatically throwing an occasional hi and smile to his various colleagues, but for the most part he remained engrossed in his ruminations.
Pushing the door to his own office ajar he walked purposely inside, eager to tell Lois of his findings. His wife's exuberant countenance brought him up short however; Lois clearly also had some news to impart.
"Oh, there you are! Come and see what I've uncovered!" So saying she waved him over to her desk where he sat down on it's edge. "I checked Mamba's history off your screen and I discovered that he too worked in Seattle's Mercy Hospital and in the same time zone as Goodman, at least in part. Mamba left a few years before Goodman. I've asked Stephan to do some checking, but I'll bet my shirt that they were acquainted."
Clark nodded an agreement at her words, but Lois was hurrying on. "That's not all I found out. I contacted Harold at the State Pen and he kindly forwarded us a list of all Mamba's visitors, most of whom were unrelated to our investigations, except for his sister Maria; she visits every once in a while. But there was something interesting." Her eyes had started to sparkle and Clark prepared himself for an important announcement. "About a year after Mamba was imprisoned, he received a visit from… Mrs Benson…"
"Mrs Elizabeth Benson, the very one. And she made a couple of return calls within a few months, though they stopped at the end of 1997."
"Now why would Mrs Benson be interested in Mamba… if not for his ability to clone people?"
"Mamba's crimes were highly publicised. The media went crazy. How often is a prisoner in the dock accused of cloning a top-ranking member of national security let alone the president? … and helping Lex Luthor escape." Lois shivered at the unwanted memories.
"To tell the truth, honey, I didn't pay too much attention. I had worries of my own…"
Those worries had centred around discovering he had married a clone and rescuing the true Lois from Luther's clutches. And the problems had not ended there; Lois' ensuing amnesia had to be faced and her seduction by the slimy Dr Deter. It had taken months for them to get over the whole horrible affair and the rest of the world had pretty much passed them by.
"But Mrs Benson had to have known what Mamba was capable off?"
"I think that's a fair assumption, Lois. But the big question is … did she know back then that she would require his expertise?"
"Professor Michaels had been aware for years that his wife was slowly dying. Did this whole thing begin because an obsessive mother couldn't bear to lose her son?"
"Pretty scary thought, honey." Although Lois and the children were his whole life Clark knew he would never be satisfied with a carbon copy of any of them. However, his dad had suggested that Mrs Benson's emotions were bordering on the irrational. Perhaps a clone who she had more control of would suit her unnatural needs. His hand had found its way into Lois' clasp and, as he raised it to his lips, a new thought came into his mind. "Wasn't it in 1997 that Goodman left Seattle for parts unknown?"
"You catch on real fast, Kent." The pleased reporter sat back in her chair and regarded her love with an almost 'cat that got the cream' smile. "The way I see it is that Dr Mamba, being otherwise engaged, recruited our favourite surgeon to carry on his work, financed by Mrs Benson."
"And Pinto, realising there was money to be made, got in on the act. Maybe Mamba brought him in to look after his interests… and act as go-between."
"That makes sense. Do you believe that Mrs Benson is aware that Dr Goodman is using the skills he learned, at her expense, to make his fortune?" Her brows furrowed at the puzzle. "I mean, she probably planned this to be a one of experiment for her own needs."
"Experiment being the operative word. The clones that Mamba produced were hardly grade A merchandise. They were completely unreliable and childlike. He came closest to the real thing with your clone, but even she was unpredictable and they all had a limited life span."
Grimacing at the painful reminiscences, she forced herself to recall the days with Lex in that underground hiding place. It wasn't easy. She had spent the time with the mother of all headaches, feeling dizzy and nauseous. "The bodies he wanted us to transfer our souls into had normal life spans. At least that was what he believed."
"That was what he had been told, but could anyone be certain? Even now the science of cloning humans is fairly unstable, not to mention illegal."
"Exactly! Yet 'Frankenstein' has had nine years to perfect his craft. And he very likely convinced the dragon lady that he needed to do clinical trials before cloning her precious son."
"She might even have demanded her share of the profits… sort of a return on her investment." Clark suggestion was met with a wry grin. "Whatever we think it's all just supposition and the only witnesses we have are either dead or unavailable."
"Hmm…" A disgruntled sigh showed the depths of Lois' frustration. "Let's hope that Jonathan can meet up with Ivor. Now what did you have to tell me?" Her voice had brightened at the change of subject.
"There's a little girl who's a very sick patient in Greenmeadows; her name is Eileen McGillvery and tomorrow Dr Goodman is going to perform a very delicate operation which hopefully will save her life."
"McGillvery! Any relation to…?"
At that moment they were interrupted as a very determined-looking Inspector Henderson marched into the office and pulled a chair up to the other side of Lois' desk. "Her grandfather is Sergeant McGillvery who, as we all know, confessed to the theft of certain very important documents. But what has that to do with Greenmeadows Institute? Unless, of course, he used the kickback to pay for her care, which would explain why a decent cop suddenly went bad."
"No, Inspector not money. According to her mother the surgery is free of charge." Clark sought for a reason that would satisfy the detective. "I think the operation itself was the bribe. The child has undergone two other procedures both of which failed. She's dying and tomorrow is her only chance. Dr Goodman offered to save her in return for a particular service."
"That's diabolical!! But if that was the case, then this doctor would have to be Pinto's accomplice, which, if I read you right, you can't substantiate." Henderson stared pointedly at the two reporters but neither could repudiate his statement. "And it doesn't make sense; if this surgery fails then what's to stop McGillvery from telling the truth."
"It won't fail." Lois was certain. Even if the girl died, they would replace her with a clone and her family would never know. A child would probably be the best subject; no-one would expect her to be other than childish. "Inspector, why are you here?"
"I heard you were trying to call me, Lois, to pump me for information about McGillvery. I was in the area so I dropped by. I wondered why the renowned Lane & Kent would be interested in an open and shut case. I have to tell you guys that this whole affair has me in a tailspin. I've known the guy for years and I'd stake my life on his honesty. I thought that maybe you were onto something that would make sense of it all. Guess I was clutching at straws."
A questioning glance passed between Lane and Kent and in silence they agreed to relate their findings to this policeman who was also their friend. "Bill, have you got a moment? There's something that Lois and I have to tell you… we have no proof… yet… but this is what we stumbled upon…"
For the next hour the journalists recounted all of their findings, only omitting the fact that Joel had used super powers to ensure that the body in the morgue was most definitely dead, which had the effect of weakening the children's testimony. The policeman was at first incredulous but as the number of coincidences was listed and the links to Greenmeadows lengthened his doubts slowly waned. When finally he heard of Professor Michaels' guilt-ridden confession Henderson was persuaded that, once again, this amazing partnership had unearthed a sinister conspiracy. He sincerely hoped that their investigative talents could find the proof that would nail these criminals and he would use all the resources at his command to assist them in their task.
"Okay, guys, off the record you've convinced me. What can I do to help?"
"Thanks, Bill, but until we find some proof there isn't much you can do. Except you can talk to McGillvery. Tell him what we suspect about Greenmeadows; maybe you can persuade him to tell what he knows." Clark suggested. "And, if you can arrange it, have him placed under protection. Because if Pinto or Goodman suspect that he's ready to talk they'll try to silence him."
"Which wouldn't be difficult… a cop in prison…" Lois let her implication fade. The three in the room understood the deadly danger in which the sergeant stood.
It was a very troubled yet resolute Inspector that left the Planet building, intent on doing what he could to unravel this mess.
That night during dinner at the elder Kents' house, Lois and Clark found that another roadblock had been thrown in their path. Jonathan, eager to get to the bottom of the problem, had phoned the Benson household and asked to speak to Ivor only to be told that the poor man was too ill to come to the phone and no he was not receiving visitors. It seemed that Ivor's sickroom had become a stoutly guarded prison.
"Perhaps now would be a good time for Superman to pay a call," Lois' proposal did not go down well with the super hero.
"Lois, the Bensons may be telling the truth here. I can't just go barging in as Superman and carry him off. If he's that sick I could do a lot of damage and be charged with abduction."
"Well, I didn't suggest you kidnap him… just talk to him…find out if he knows anything."
This watered-down version of the plan seemed to mollify Clark's super-sensitive sensibilities and he agreed to fly over later at night, when hopefully the rest of the family would be sleeping, and see if he could at least talk to the invalid.
"Couldn't you write a 'puff-piece' on Greenmeadows?" This proposition came from a very unexpected source. "We've been talking and we thought that you could use the piece to check out the other patients of Doc Goodman. You could tell the doctor that the story is a way to say thank you for taking good care of Grandpa."
Four amazed adults turned toward Joel then swept their glance over the other children who watched their parents with expectant eyes. Lois was the first to recover.
"You thought this up all by yourselves?"
"Sure Mom. We're Lane & Kent's kids. We listen to you and Dad talking about the stories you write all the time."
Was this true?! Were she and Clark constantly bringing their work home? They had the kind of jobs that required long hours and commitment, but that shouldn't be allowed to interfere with their children's lives. "Does that bother you, Joel? Any of you?" She asked the question tentatively, almost afraid of the answer. Superman disrupted their lives enough without their ordinary jobs eating into their private moments.
"No, Mom. Most of the time we don't pay much attention and we know how important your jobs are…" Joel blushed and looked to his father. "… both your jobs. Dad, we understand about Superman… how much the world needs him…"
"But we need you too, Dad," Julian chimed in, noticing that his brother was becoming tongue-tied, a characteristic Joel had inherited from his father. "And we'd just like to say that we think you do a great job and we couldn't have chosen a better Dad… or Mom."
At that the children jumped up from their seats round the table and hugged their parents, not forgetting their grandparents. The Kent family was a very demonstrative bunch and from the beginning the children had been encouraged not to hide their emotions. Laughter and tears were soon evident on all their faces.
"We love you too, sweethearts," Lois mumbled through her tears.
"Who wants a mom and dad with boring old jobs?" Clara announced.
Of all the Kent offspring Clara had the most difficulty in voicing her feelings and as usual she hid the depth of her sentiments with a sarky comment… 'distancing' as it had once been explained to Lois. Perhaps Lois' tendency to this form of denial was more genetic than she had realised. Certainly her daughter had never been subjected to the type of dysfunctional family behaviour that the adolescent Lois had to contend with. Momentarily she was anxious about Clara's future, yet watching her little girl cuddle close to her daddy, she was assured that, while Lois' paranoia had been emphasised by the quarrelsome atmosphere she had grown up in, Clara's loving lifestyle reduced the trait to the incidental.
The sentimental interlude subsided and the children returned to their places. After a second, while everyone glanced around, smiling sheepishly, Joel returned to his suggestion. "How about it, Mom? We know you don't do 'puff-pieces', but you could use it as an excuse to get to the other… 'clones'."
"We don't know for sure if there are any more clones, though it's highly probable that there are." Lois hated to throw cold water on her children's suggestion. "And even if we could interview the other patients, we would have no way of discovering whether they were real or not."
"And before anyone asks," Clark put in, "Superman would not be able to tell who was a clone. At least not without researching their medical histories first and, as these are likely innocent people who have already been through a lot, that would be a gross invasion of privacy."
"And we can hardly just ask them if they've been cloned. We would probably be sued for harassment," Lois finished.
"What's harassent…?" Nathan was just at the age when he was full of questions.
Clark ruffled his small son's hair. "That's what you do to us when you get us up too early in the morning, when Mommy and Daddy want to stay in bed." He mitigated his complaint with a smile, then returned to the discussion. "Besides, if we started asking questions openly, Goodman might guess that we're onto him and that could put a lot of people in jeopardy. These men have killed before and they wouldn't hesitate to do so again. So kids, we've warned you before, stay away from Greenmeadows."
Superman was puzzled as he flew home through the dark velvet blue sky of his city. The night was clear and warm and the sky filled with millions of sparkling stars, the kind of night he used to love to take Lois flying, but that was a pastime which could seldom be indulged in now that the children were around. Tonight, however, the beauty of the night sky was lost on an extremely preoccupied hero.
He had arrived over the Bensons' residence a short time ago and x-rayed the mansion. The house had been quiet and still; the occupants asleep in bed, except that the bed in the sick room had been empty. The paraphernalia needed to take care of a recuperating invalid were all in evidence yet the room was devoid of any human presence and indeed there was no sign of Ivor in the whole house.
Perhaps Ivor had never been brought home. Perhaps the supposed transfer was a ploy to stop others from speaking with the clone. Which meant that the Ivor Benson in question was very likely being held incommunicado somewhere in Greenmeadows. With that in mind the super hero had flown to the hospital and hovering in the sky above had proceeded to scan the building with his special vision, but that search also proved fruitless. Most of the rooms were occupied; clearly the hospital's legitimate operations seemed to be thriving, but Ivor was nowhere to be seen.
He spotted the morgue in the basement where his children had made the first discovery of this diabolical plot and a dreadful premonition overtook him; what if Goodman and his conspirators had killed off the evidence? Thankfully, after a quick study of the still forms inhabiting the room he found his fears to be groundless. If Benson had been eliminated, his body was not hidden here.
His search of the mortuary, however, did reveal an elevator shaft leading to a second-level basement. And there he was stumped; this construction was either an old fallout shelter or too many bad guys were now aware of Superman's problem with lead and lining their hideouts accordingly.
Feeling very frustrated, the super hero had turned for home, stopping on the way to help out the MFD at a gas station fire. The flames had been eating ever closer to the gas pumps and therefore to the storage tanks below and an explosive situation was quickly diverted by Superman's timely intervention. For a moment or two he had exchanged a few words with the fire chief, a man he had come to know and admire through the years, then excusing himself he had resumed his journey home.
Approaching Hyperion Avenue his mind, preoccupied with the lack of concrete evidence in this investigation, vaguely registered the fact that there was another heart beat issuing from his home. Yet, since his wife's heartbeat was showing steady and calm, he assumed that the strange presence was not threatening. After a quick survey of the area for watchers, he dropped to the back patio. Slipping into the house he strode through his kitchen, donning his civvies as he went, only to be met in the dinning room by Lois who was barely able to conceal a bubbling excitement. An excitement he was unfortunately destined to douse by his admission that he had been unable to locate Ivor. Looking decidedly crestfallen Clark caught Lois' outstretched hands.
"I'm sorry sweetheart, I couldn't find Ivor. I checked out his house and the hospital but I came up empty."
"Goodman's probably got him stashed away somewhere." Clark continued with his explanation, Lois' words barely touching his consciousness. "Maybe in the second basement of Greenmeadows'. It's lined with lead so I couldn't see what was down there…He's here?! Ivor Benson's here?!"
"Yes!!" Lois returned the soft clasp of her husband's hands. "He ran away from his family and he recognised Lane & Kent from Jonathan's conversations, it seems your father's not immune to a little family pride, and he felt that we might be able to help him uncover a conspiracy. Anyway he went to your parents' place and Martha brought him over here."
"No. She didn't like to leave Jon alone for too long so she dropped Ivor off and left. They both intend to come over in the morning to hear the whole story."
"So, what is the whole story?" Clark asked eagerly, damping down a faint feeling of regret that he had missed the revelation first hand.
"We haven't got to that part yet, 'stoopid'." Lois threw him a disgruntled tease. "Did you really think I would start without you? I told Ivor that you were out interviewing a source and that we should wait til you got home. But the poor guy is on tenterhooks and we should really get on with this and put him out of his misery."
Clark had the good grace to look a little guilty at his mistaken lack of faith in his wife and after kissing her an apology he gently propelled her back into the living room, where they found a very agitated gentleman pacing back and forward from the front windows to the stairs.
Stepping forward with his hand outstretched in greeting Clark spoke encouragingly, hoping to alleviate his unexpected guest's fears. "Mr Benson, I'm so glad that you came to Lois and me. Please accept my assurances that you are safe in this house and that anything that you wish to tell us will be treated confidentially until such time that you feel ready to go public."
A questioning and slightly disapproving glance was propelled in his direction. Lois was often frustrated by her husband's boy scout tendencies. Nevertheless, in this case it was probably best to keep this under wraps until they had substantial proof to nail the criminals once and for all. Hadn't the prosecutor's office thought they had Pinto locked up tight and yet he had somehow wriggled free? And there was the disconcerting knowledge that once it was discovered that Ivor had escaped he would be in great danger. Lois was brought back to the conversation in hand by the mention of a certain super hero.
"I understand, Mr Kent. Your father assured me that both you and your wife are completely trustworthy." Ivor had accepted Clark's hand and his invitation to sit on the couch. He pushed himself back into the cushions and heaved a huge sigh. "He also inferred that a friend of yours… Superman," the name was spoken in hushed tones, " would do his best to keep me safe."
Lois stepped forward, unwilling to allow a link to the hero and themselves to go unchallenged. "Well, Mr Benson, Superman is a very busy man, but we are friends of his and I'm sure if we asked he would be happy to assist us. However, I don't think that we should rely on him over much…"
"Mrs Kent, it's okay," their guest hurriedly interrupted. "I understand about Superman and to tell the truth I don't really care whether I am safe or not. I just want this whole mess to end and I can't do it by myself. I need Lane & Kent to expose this terrible business."
"Then if that's the case, Mr Benson, we would be very happy to help you." Lois and Clark sat on the couch opposite the tortured man. "Perhaps you could tell us what you know." While she spoke, Lois produced a small tape recorder and, placing it on the coffee table between them, she switched it on.
Ivor took a deep breath but his words were stilled by a raised hand from Clark who turned in his seat and addressed the bend in the stairs. "Okay, kids, you're busted. You'd better come on down."
Four very bashful children crept down the stairs and came to stand by the two couches. They regarded their parents with doleful eyes, Joel finally electing to be spokesman. "Sorry, Dad, we heard voices…" Clark rolled his eyes at this. "I heard voices and we couldn't stop wondering what was happening."
"And you thought you would do a little eavesdropping?" their mom asked with some disapproval and a smidgen of admiration. After all she was prone to a spot of covert overhearing herself. Some of her best stories had begun that way. If only her children were not so incautious… a wish that Clark had often reiterated about herself, though of much less frequency these days. Love and responsibility had the effect of curbing the tendency to 'dangle over the jaws of death'.
"Hello Mr Clone," Nathan's young voice broke the awkward silence and started a new one.
"Geesh!!" A slightly embarrassed father raised his eyes heavenwards. "Children, say goodnight to Mr Benson," Clark's order was stern. "And then get back to bed."
"No, please Mr Kent. The children were the first to discover the secret. Without them, you wouldn't have stumbled across the conspiracy and I would have had no place to go for help. Without the thought of your support I doubt that I would have been able to resist Goodman's demands. Please, let them stay. They obviously already know part of the truth. They … you… all of you deserve to know the whole truth."
As the baby of the family climbed onto Lois' lap and snuggled familiarly into his mom's arms, his small thumb finding its way into his mouth, Clara squirmed her way between her parents and, as usual, nuzzled closer to her father's large body. The two elder boys edged their way to the other sofa and seated themselves by the strange visitor's side, while their parents turned an attentive mein on Ivor Benson.
The object of the family's attention, feeling a mite awkward under their collective scrutiny, heaved another huge sigh then composed himself for his revelation. "This began a number of years back when I was on a field trip for my firm down in the Amazonian jungle; we were researching the properties of some exotic plants before the deforestation lost them to us forever. While I was there I unfortunately fell prey to a very unique and deadly virus. Within days I had lapsed into a coma and if it hadn't been for my mother using all of her considerable resources and persuasion to have me flown stateside immediately, I would no doubt have died back then. As it was, I was in a coma for months and even when the doctors finally managed to bring the virus under control I was hardly a well man. The virus had attacked my heart and very nearly destroyed it. From then on I would be an invalid with a considerably shortened life span."
A small hand crept into the grasp of the softly spoken story teller and a young earnest voice injected. "Poor Mr Benson," Julian commiserated, understanding the bereft note that had crept into the visitor's words. "But you're fine now."
Ivor turned a tortured smile on his comforter. "But I'm not. I'm not even the real Mr Benson."
"Ivor, Lois and I have had some experience with clones." The voice was somewhat deeper but no less sympathetic. "In fact, in the past, both my wife and I have been cloned and in our view these… 'new people' were living, thinking individuals with every right to life."
"You don't think I'm a freak?!" This question was tinged with a wistful hope.
"If anyone in this situation is a freak, then it's the diabolical creeps who did this to you." Lois was forceful in her denouncement. However, at Ivor's next statement she had the grace to blush.
"Including my mother! Don't be embarrassed, Ms Lane. My mother is … weird and obsessive… and extremely formidable."
"Then this was her idea?" Clark asked, anxious to return to the disclosure.
"In a way, yes." Ivor still clasped the boyish hand as if deriving some sort of courage from the connection. "She refused to accept the prognosis of a slow, degenerating death as my heart literally ground to a halt. Her first thought was a transplant and, though the surgeons were uncertain, that was the first procedure I underwent and for a short while it seemed successful. However, in this instance the medical profession's disquiet proved to be well founded. If you remember, I said that the doctors were able to bring the viral infection under control without eradicating it; it seems there are no known drugs that are capable of destroying this virus. Within months my new heart started to fail and I was soon back where I started. I resigned myself to death."
Lois and Clark looked uncertainly at the white, shocked faces of their children. This was not the type of bedtime story that they approved for their offspring. Yet since the New Year when the three eldest had been caught up in the bombing of Braeview School and suffered the loss of many of their friends, it was obviously too late to shield them from the hard realities of dying. Besides, having listened to half the tale it would be unfeeling to send them off to bed now and Joel would most likely just tune in his super hearing and pass on the details. Fortunately, Nathan had soon lost interest in the words that largely passed over his head and had fallen asleep. Exchanging a troubled glance, the Kent adults decided to allow the children to stay, for the moment.
"My mother is, nonetheless, made of sterner stuff. She refused to accept that she would lose me, her favourite son." Ivor's pointed gaze caught Lois and Clark in its stare as his expression silently informed them of an overpowering and stifling love that he could hardly verbalize in the presence of these innocent children. "She examined every option and finally found her way to Dr Mamba and his experiments in cloning."
"We noticed that she visited him in prison a couple of times. What did she promise him? How did she gain his cooperation?" Lois was determined to discover all the facts.
"Money, of course. A great deal of it." Their source was only too happy to oblige. "And the promise to influence the parole board."
"Your mother can do that?" Lois' incredulity showed.
"I'm afraid that there isn't much that Mrs Elizabeth Benson believes she cannot do. At the moment her credence with the parole board has yet to be tested. Mamba did, however, agree to her terms and he put her onto a friend of his, Dr Goodman, with whom he had worked in Seattle. Mother approved of her new accomplice's suggestion and Pinto, he's Mamba's nephew, was sent to recruit Goodman and the conspiracy began. For a number of years it appeared that the whole project was doomed to failure. The clones were hardly perfect specimens and their physical makeup degenerated within a very short space of time. Slowly, though, they came to have more success at least in the recreation of the body. The personality proved to be more difficult, until Mamba recalled an Indian mystic who had been an accomplice of Lex Luthor…"
"Asabi!!" Lois' interjection was shrill with disapproval.
"You know the man?"
"We've run into him a couple of times," her husband explained.
"Well it appears that this Asabi had left Metropolis because of a subsequent run-in with Superman, but my ever resourceful mother set her bloodhounds onto tracking him and they finally found him in a commune on the West Coast. For an inordinate amount of money and a ticket back to his home country, the guru passed on his knowledge of the transference of souls. Don't ask me to explain the method, because the only thing I know is that it involves some stone!!"
"So this would be why the clones don't recognise immediately that they are replicates?" Clark remarked thoughtfully.
"I believe so. The clones have all the memories and values of the originals. Physically they are exact. And then their doctors and their loved ones treat them as if they have just survived some critical surgery to correct a terminal disease. Why should they even consider the fact that they have been… altered?"
"Yet, you knew, Ivor?" Lois was quick to point out the discrepancy.
"Yes!! But unlike the others I am associated with the medical profession, albeit in research. And I do have some insider knowledge of the whole affair. My mother may be very powerful but she has a flaw. She cannot forgo crowing about her machinations, if only to the son she has been seeking to tie to her apron strings almost from the moment he was born. And the other reason is that Goodman desperately needs my help. The customers are paying a lot of money for faulty goods."
"Professor Michaels considered that his wife had begun to suspect that something phenomenal had been done to her… and then she died. Is there something wrong with the clones?" The reporter in Clark had been rapidly reviewing all the information he had acquired on cloning.
"My research field at 'Life Pharmaceuticals' was into a group of drugs which deferred the onslaught of old age. According to Goodman, the clones are aging at a vastly accelerated rate. So much so that their life span will only be around two to three years. Not exactly what the concerned relatives were expecting when they paid for the doctor's services." Ivor allowed this new data to sink into the journalists' minds before he continued. "Wrongly, Goodman assumed that I would be willing to help discover a means of halting this process not only because of my relationship to his accomplice but to save my own life…" His voice tailed off for a moment at this conjecture. "But believe me, I have no wish to prolong this tragedy, yet neither the doctor nor my mother are convinced that I will not abet them."
The grownup Kents were perturbed by the fact that the criminals would be very eager to find Ivor, both to stop him from divulging what he knew and to force him into fixing the problem with the clones. Until the reporters could collate the evidence the poor man would have to remain well hidden. Meanwhile Ivor could provide information that would aid them in their investigations.
"Is your mother aware of the cloning business going on in Greenmeadows?" That question was asked tentatively by Lois, not quite sure how far Ivor would care to incriminate his parent.
"Ms Lane, my mother is an extremely astute businesswoman. From the day my father abandoned us, shortly after my birth, she single handedly ran the family business, successfully rescued it from his inept administration and extended it into one of the largest retail operations in this country. My brother might now head the company but she is still the power behind the throne." Pausing again to assess how his words were being received, he was satisfied that the journalists were following his disclosures. "By funding this long and unique research she seriously depleted her financial resources, not to mention the backing required to buy and then renovate Greenmeadows. When Goodman and Pinto suggested a little lucrative business venture, she leapt at the chance to make good on her investment."
Horrified at the monstrous picture that Ivor painted of his relative, Lois and Clark were speechless. Julian, however was not. The words that Ivor had used to tell his tale were not completely understandable to a boy of eight but the abhorrence that coloured them was all too familiar to this child who had lived with a despised relative.
"Don't be upset, Mr Benson. No-one can choose their relatives. My grandfather was just as nasty as your mother, but I survived and now I'm happier than I ever dreamed. Things will work out for you too, now you have Mom and Dad to help."
While Ivor appreciated the young boy's empathy, he had no faith in Julian's assumptions. He had awakened to a nightmare and his only desire was that it should be over, but he had vowed to ensure that he would be the last poor soul to fall victim to his mother and her clone makers. Tonight he had taken the first steps towards their downfall. Smiling at his youthful comforter, he found himself exhausted beyond measure. Was his body already beginning to fail?
Watching his guest carefully, Clark at once recognised the tired slouch of the man's shoulders. "I think perhaps, we've shared enough confidences for tonight. A good night's sleep will do us all some good. Come on kids, Mom will see you upstairs to bed. It's a good job that tomorrow's Saturday and you don't have school. But, if I recall, your Grandpa and Grandma Lane are taking you to the zoo and they won't be pleased if they have to take care of a pack of sleepyheads."
Amidst moans of tiredness and subdued yelps of excitement in anticipation of the coming outing, Lois hoisted the sleeping Nathan on her shoulder and shepherded the older children upstairs. Goodnights interspersed with yawns floated from the upper regions of the brownstone and then Clark was left alone with his unique visitor. Gently he suggested that Ivor might want to avail himself of the guest bedroom, a suggestion that was gratefully accepted.
Escorting the sorrowful man upstairs to the bedroom, Clark laid a hand on Ivor's arm. "Thank you, Ivor. I know that couldn't have been easy for you, but Lois and I will do everything in our power to close Greenmeadows down. And Julian is right, you're not responsible for your mother's actions and perhaps it is possible for you to be happy again." The everlasting optimist refused to accept that any situation was hopeless.
"I should be thanking you for giving me shelter and for trying to make me feel better. But no matter what anyone says, my mother and her cronies have meddled with too many lives and it isn't just the cloning, Mr Kent. They try to control those poor creatures with some sort of subliminal trigger mechanism. Whenever their subjects are in a position to benefit the group, they are cruelly manipulated."
"As in the case of Judge Michaels… and yourself. Her husband told us that she tried to resist the mind control. He also believed that the struggle may have killed her. How about you, Ivor? You've fought against it all the way, but it must be draining your strength."
"Ah, there I have an advantage. In my case they omitted the brainwashing. My mother has manipulated me for most of my life, why should she consider that she would need a little extra leverage?" "So the clone finally turned!! In that case, I would say that's an improvement."
"You're very kind, Mr Kent." A shadow of a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. " I have other information that I think might interest you and your wife; the names of the other… 'subjects'. But I'm very tired now, so perhaps we could talk about that in the morning." He opened the bedroom door to go but hesitated for a moment. There was something that had to be said. "The irony of this whole mess is that due to the cloning, the enhanced reputation of Greenmeadows has made it a thoroughly viable option. Many of the medical staff there are completely unaware of the illegal activities and the hospital is doing a lot of good work. I would hate to see that lost completely."
"Try not to worry. Lois and I will take good care to place the blame where it rightly belongs. And if it's possible we'll try to ensure that Greenmeadows continues. And Ivor, please, my name is Clark."
This time the smile spread across Ivor's face. "Goodnight… Clark." And the door was closed.
The early morning sea fog clung doggedly to the seashore of Metropolis and seeped its way inland in ghostly tendrils along the ribbon of the river. A natural occurrence in springtime, which on this particular day greatly disappointed the children of 348 Hyperion Avenue, who were hoping for fine weather for their trip to the city's Zoological Gardens and glum faces were brought to the table for breakfast.
Their guest was still entrenched in his bedroom and Lois, having checked with Clark that Ivor was indeed awake, carried a tray with a light repast up to the room. She returned shortly afterwards with a small stack of papers and announced that as the poor man had spent most of the night awake he had filled the time by jotting down whatever data he had about the clone making and a list of the other known clones.
"You know, partner, we really should check them out today. The dragon lady will have discovered that her son is missing and they might decide to call in the clones, at least until they can recapture Ivor. We should get moving on this right away."
"I agree, honey and as your parents are looking after the kids today we've the perfect opportunity to speak to these folks." Clark gazed round the table at the four attentive small faces who were all nodding sagely in agreement, Nathan happily following his siblings' lead. When exactly did the Lane & Kent partnership extend into a family cooperative? The whimsical thought made him smile. "And by the way, I called Mom and Dad and explained what we know. I'd prefer to keep them out of this now that it might turn nasty. They were all for hurrying over here to take charge of Ivor, but Dad is still in recovery and I don't want him over-taxing his strength. Besides, I think Ivor should come with us. I'd feel happier if I could keep an eye on him. And these people," and here he pointed to the list that Lois still held, "might be more inclined to talk to someone like themselves."
"I don't think that's going to be possible, sweetheart. Ivor is exhausted and I think that he might be getting sick." Lois' voice was filled with a genuine concern, in the short time she had known the unhappy man she had come to like and admire his spirit and his determination to see that justice was done. "I think it would be best if he stayed home and rested. It won't be so very dangerous. No-one's aware that he's here. And we can always tell him that we've placed Superman on alert and that if anything untoward does happen he only has to shout… 'HELP SUPERMAN'."
Four other voices chorused the litany along with her.
"Yeah, Dad, you'd be amazed at how well that works," laughed Joel.
By the time that Sam Lane arrived to pick up his grandchildren the morning mists had dissipated in the strengthening sunlight and it seemed as if the children's wishes would be granted. Slightly surprised to see her father arriving alone, Lois had queried her mother's whereabouts, only to be told that an old, out-of-town friend was paying an unexpected visit to Metropolis and Ellen had decided to take this opportunity to renew an old acquaintance. Well aware of her mother's love of shopping and uptown lunching, this circumstance did not surprise Lois. Swiftly and noisily, with a reminder to heed their grandpa, the children were dispatched on their trip.
Lois and Clark were soon too about their business. While Lois had settled their guest for the day, her husband had contacted the first name on the list.
Mr Albert Winslow, CEO of 'The Metropolis Mercantile Bank'. One of the eastern seaboard's foremost financial institutes.
As today was a Saturday, Clark had chosen to call Mr Winslow at home; however, he was informed stiffly by the Winslow's butler that the said gentleman had left earlier to attend an emergency meeting at the bank and that, if the caller's business was so urgent, perhaps he should look for Mr Winslow there. However, in the opinion of the self-important 'major-domo' the illustrious banker would be far too busy to spare time for interviews with jumped up journalists. Accepting the snub, Clark quickly informed Lois and the two reporters made their way by Superman express to the H Q of the bank. The emergency meeting could well be with Mrs Benson and company.
Lane & Kent's suspicions while not completely accurate did have some bearing on Mr Winslow's unscheduled visit to his office. There was one member of the trinity who was not optimistic about their long-term prospects. The operation was falling apart; the paying customers were complaining about the merchandise and the one chance to correct the clones was refusing to cooperate. Why the devil had Goodman and Benson ignored him when he had insisted on inserting a control-trigger in Ivor? And to top it all he had been awakened early in the morning with the disturbing news that the damned Benson clone had absconded.
Tony Pinto had recently survived one unpleasant brush with the law and he had made the unsurprising discovery that imprisonment did not suit his personality and he had no intention of repeating the experience. Prudently he surmised that a long vacation from these shores would be beneficial to his health, preferably in a country that didn't share an extradition treaty with the U S.
Nonetheless for such an extended trip and to live in the manner to which he had become accustomed, he would need funds; a commodity with which he now found himself in short supply, Pinto's lifestyle verging on that of a super playboy. His insider trading deals had gone a fair way to sustaining his flamboyance, but that avenue was now firmly closed to him, yet the expensive profligate was not downcast. Wasn't he on very 'influential' terms with the head of 'Metropolis Mercantile Bank'? A simple phone call to Mr Albert Winslow requesting an inordinately large transfer of funds into his offshore account was all that it would take and the fact that these funds were not actually from his own bank account worried Mr Pinto not at all. By the time the fraud was uncovered he would be long gone.
Thus it was that when the Daily Planet's top reporting team arrived at Ms Smith's office requesting an urgent appointment with her boss, Metropolis' eldest and most respected banker sat bemused at his vast mahogany desk, staring wide-eyed at his blank computer screen. Had he just embezzled millions of dollars from a number of his bank's most important account holders and transferred them to an unknown account in a bank whose name he had completely forgotten in a country which had also seemed to have slipped his mind?
The poor perplexed icon of the banking world puzzled over what had occurred. When he had first arisen this morning, he had no intention of visiting his place of work. Instead he was to have spent the day with his wife and family. After all his youngest grandson had reached the tender age of eighteen and the whole tribe of Winslows were gathering to celebrate the boy's coming of age.
Then had come the mysterious phone call and, from the moment of speaking with the caller, his movements had appeared to have taken on a life of their own. He had been compelled to follow a course of action that had resulted in him committing a dire and serious crime. He had stolen money and a great deal of it from the people who banked with him and had entrusted their worldly goods to his care. To the senior banker who had been raised in the old school of financial institutes where a gentleman's word was his bond, there could be no greater misuse of faith. Tears began to cloud his eyes as he recognised his fall from grace.
At the acknowledgement of his perfidy a giant hand seemed to close around his heart and such excruciating pain, which he had not experienced since his surgery, once again invaded his chest, threatening to cut off his breath. Mr Winslow's hand reached for his collar and tie which suddenly seemed too tight while his other stretched across his desk for the intercom switch and help from the ever efficient Ms Smith but the button was never pressed as the stricken man collapsed down onto his desk.
Meanwhile in the outer office, Lois and Clark sought to convince the steely eyed secretary that their visit had great urgency and that she should at least ask Mr Winslow if he would talk to them. A strategy which seemed to be having little effect on the adamant women; Mr Winslow was a very busy man and he saw no one without an appointment.
Then from the inner sanctum, Clark's hearing picked up the clear sounds of distress and all attempts at persuasion were discarded as he ploughed across the anteroom and barged through the double doors, an anxious Lois and an angry Ms Smith hurrying closely in his wake. The sight that greeted them was indeed distressing. Mr Winslow lay on top of his desk, his face turned towards the door, fear and pain starkly etched into his countenance and strangled gurgling sounds issuing from his mouth.
Clark sped quickly to the suffering man's side, easing him back into his high-backed chair and searching diligently for a thready pulse. This poor man was in a very bad way. "Get an ambulance here, now!!" He instructed as his fingers loosened the tight clothing. A very frightened secretary scurried away to do his bidding. Clark's dark eyes gazed into those of his wife as he shook his head sadly. Another clone was dying.
Albert Winslow was also aware of this fact. He could feel his consciousness draining away. But first there was something very important that he must impart and the compassionate face that hovered above him seemed a likely confident. The dying man opened his mouth to speak, only it was so difficult to draw in his breath. With each constriction of his chest came an overwhelming wave of fresh pain.
"Please, Mr Winslow, don't try to speak," the voice that accompanied the face was also kindly. "Try to relax. The paramedics are on their way."
An infinitesimal movement of the head dismissed Clark's instructions and once more Albert attempted to talk, this time with a little more success. "Important… must tell you…" The words faded away on a shuddering groan, but the information was too crucial to give up. Trembling hands clung to his saviour as Winslow began again. "Tears…"
"It's all right to cry, Mr Winslow," Ms Smith had returned to the office and attempted to soothe her boss.
"You…don't understand," the breathy whisper came back. "Tears of a … clone…"
This time the voice ended in a strange nerve rending rattle that sounded in Mr Winslow's throat and his eyes rolled upwards in his head. There was no time to lose. Lifting the body from the chair as if it weighed no more than a child, Clark laid Winslow gently on the floor and quickly proceeded to attempt resuscitation. The two women watched in silent dread as Clark worked with determination. He continued until the paramedics arrived then sitting back dejectedly on his heels he yielded his task to the professionals, thoroughly aware that the attempt was hopeless. Albert Winslow was dead.
The three stared in horror as the body was loaded onto the gurney and wheeled from the room and at the last sight of her chief, as close a friend as their relative positions would allow, Ms Smith could no longer hold back her sobs. Lois' arm slipped round the distraught older woman and Clark thoughtfully proffered his handkerchief. Both comforting offers were accepted gladly.
After allowing the tearful secretary a short time to assuage some of her obvious grief, Lois tentatively enquired whether Ms Smith was up to answering a few questions, a request that was met surprisingly with a firm agreement. The banker and his personal assistant had worked together for many years and this morning when she had unexpectedly found Mr Winslow in the office she had been somewhat shocked. Since his almost brush with death two years ago, her senior had made a point of reserving his weekends for his family and recreational pursuits. She recalled the one time workaholic explaining that coming so close to dying gave one a stronger appreciation of the finer things in life. So his arrival at the office this morning was something of a surprise. That her presence was also a shock, though not a pleasant one, to her boss was plainly evident. He had been uncommonly curt with her and had ordered querulously that he not be disturbed for any eventuality, behaviour that was completely out of character for the customary courteous gentleman.
All this she explained to the two reporters who were plainly not astonished by what had occurred. Had they suspected that Mr Winslow was ill? Was that why they arrived here on a mission which they had mentioned was extremely urgent? However, when she directed this query back at them they had prevaricated and had soon made their apologies and left. But not before she had astounded them by asking.
"What did he mean… tears of a clown?" Ms Smith was completely unaware that she had misheard Albert's last words.
The investigative partners found themselves on the sidewalk in front of the pillared frontage of the city bank, having been escorted from the premises by a security guard summoned by a despondent yet calmer Ms Smith. Once again death had cheated them of their quarry.
"Tears of a clone, Clark. What could it mean?" Lois wandered over to the walled balustrade that bordered the wide flight of steps leading up to the heavy wooden doors. Absorbed by the puzzle, she seated herself on the sun warmed ledge. The bright sun shown full into her face and caused her to shield her eyes from its glare as she gazed up at her husband.
"It must have been important, honey." Thrusting his hands deep into his pockets Clark propped himself on the concrete edge by her side and raised his face to the source of his power. Somehow he surmised that today he might need all the strength available to him. "Winslow died with the words on his lips."
"Perhaps it's the trigger. The words used to manipulate the clones."
"Could be?! And if that's the case it might explain why Winslow was at the bank. Our bad guys might have instructed him to do something. Lois, we have to get in touch with Inspector Henderson. These people are dying of natural causes, but Goodman is responsible. And we have to warn the others on the list, if it isn't already too late."
Lois' reporters instincts were in overdrive as she considered their options. There had to be a reason why the banker had uncharacteristically chosen to visit his workplace today and, like Clark, she had the gut feeling that those reasons had everything to do with this case. "Clark, I'm going back to talk to Ms Smith. See if I can persuade her to let me check out Winslow's office. The computer screen was blank but I'm sure that it was switched on, which means that it's likely he was processing something. Perhaps his last transaction is still on there."
"What about the other clones, Lois? They may be in danger." The hero's priorities would always be to protect life and his fears rose accordingly.
A calming hand snaked around his back and hugged consolingly as Lois replied. "And Superman should find them and take care of them. Warn their families of the danger and tell them not to let the clones answer any phones, or read any letters. I'll contact Henderson and bring him up to date. No doubt the police will be showing up here any moment. After all Mr Winslow's death was sudden. Which means that I should check the computer before the police interfere and you should go… now."
"Okay, honey. I guess splitting up makes sense. Don't forget to call Henderson and don't go anywhere near Greenmeadows. Remember what happened to Martin Forbes. Goodman has to have some muscle working for him and though I know how capable you are of taking care of yourself…"
Lois silenced Clark's obsessing the best way possible; she kissed him. When finally she released him, she pushed on his chest and ordered. "Go!!"
At the Zoo meantime the family trip was progressing famously, only now as they approached the zoo's newest exhibition hall, the children seemed a little less enthusiastic than normal. Nonetheless, they understood that their Grandpa Lane was a doctor who practised his craft on the cutting edge of science and that as such he was very appreciative of the 'Science, Technology and Animals' hall, so they swallowed their disinterest and moved inside. Fortunately, their trepidation proved groundless; the hall contained many interesting and well-illustrated progress reports on how science was helping in the conservation of those endangered species of animals and also how animals were helping scientists in the advancement of medicine though, as was to be expected in a zoological garden, the featured projects all treated their subjects benignly.
It was in this last area of the exhibit that they found the tale of Julian's cloned sheep and as Sam was intrigued by the question of 'therapeutic cloning' he lingered over the presentation. After a few minutes though he became aware by the tugging on his pants leg and the shuffling of small feet that Nathan's attention span had already been exceeded, so lifting the little boy into his arms he began to relate the life story of 'Dolly, the Cloned Sheep' in terms which he hoped the younger boy would understand.
Nathan watched and listened to his grandfather intently, wondering why this very important man should be so impressed by a clone of a sheep? That was nothing!! He knew a cloned people!! At a pause in his grandpa's eulogy the toddler imparted this information in self-important tones.
"Nathan knows a clone! He's at the house!"
The three older children were flabbergasted, but their grandpa seemed to misunderstand. "You've got a new clown?" Thinking along the lines of a new toy, he worriedly hoped that he hadn't missed his grandson's birthday. Surely Ellen would have reminded him. A quick review of dates relieved his mind and he set to answer the small boy's expectant look. "Well that's very nice. But this is a *clone*… a clone, Nathan. It's not the same thing at all."
"Yes!! Ivor the clone!!"
"Nathan, be quiet!" Joel warned, but his younger brother was too involved in his revelation. His grandpa, on the other hand, heeded Joel's words and conversely placed more credence on the toddler's utterances.
"We see'd him," Nathan continued, blithely oblivious to his siblings consternation. "In the dead place. In Green… Green… the big house that made Grandpa Jon better."
"Greenmeadows!" Sam prompted.
"Yesss!!" Smiling happily at his grandpa's quick understanding Nathan plunged on. "Ivor got dead and he's a clone now."
"No he isn't!" Clara asserted.
"Is too!!" Nathan was adamant. "Mommy and Daddy said. Dr Gooman made him."
Whatever the boy was talking about Sam recognised that it must hold a grain of truth, for his three elder grandchildren were looking decidedly uncomfortable. Besides, he doubted whether an almost-three-year-old would have sufficient knowledge to fabricate a story about… clones.
"Come on children. We have to talk. I think you have some explaining to do, but somewhere a little more private."
Carrying Nathan in his arms, Sam led three very apprehensive youngsters outside and finding a secluded picnic bench beneath a large leafy oak tree he demanded to be told the whole story.
Initially, Joel tried to fudge. "Grandpa, we don't really know a whole lot, so maybe you should talk to Mom and Dad."
Sam, unfortunately, was able to read his grandson just as well as the rest of his family, leaving the young super boy wishing fervently that he had inherited his mom's talent for deviation.
"Your parents aren't here Joel, so I'm asking you." The older man had transfixed his grandson with a penetrating stare. He had the grace to feel guilty that perhaps he was coercing the boy into betraying a confidence, yet he also deduced that he had stumbled on an important mystery and one that concerned a very old and special friend. Since their re-acquaintance due to Jonathan's illness the two men had spent sometime together, reminiscing on old times and catching up on their respective careers and to Sam Lane it had felt like a revisit to his youth and he had warmly appreciated the poignant walk with David down memory lane. Only now there appeared a menacing cloud to threaten the renewed bond and Sam was determined to discover the cause. "I'm waiting, Joel."
Shrugging off a wistful desire that the explanations would not always fall on his shoulders (Joel was discovering that with super powers came a measure of responsibility), he squared his shoulders and began to relate the facts behind Nathan's outburst. Thankfully, as he plunged ever deeper into his narrative about Ivor Benson, Clara and Julian added their thoughts to his own.
With a growing incredulity Sam listened to the children's words. If what they were telling him was correct then it followed that his oldest friend was heavily embroiled in some monstrous plot. That just couldn't be so; David wasn't a criminal. They had begun their careers both imbued with an idealistic zeal to heal the sick and with the dream that one day they would become famous in the medical world. It had been this illusive dream that had led Sam into some esoteric fields of medicine and, at one time, into contact with colleagues who were willing to use his gifts for purposes not wholly legal. Obviously that was what had happened to David, if these allegations proved to be true. He had been constrained by his partners at Greenmeadows into performing these illegal operations. And what David needed now was not one of Lane & Kent's very public and needle sharp exposes but the understanding and support of a friend who could help disentangle him from this criminal ring.
But first Sam had to determine how much truth lay behind Lois and Clark's suppositions and the best place to discover the truth was at Greenmeadows from the actual suspect. Therefore a purposeful grandfather deposited the children back at Hyperion Avenue where he met Mr Benson, the clone in question. Well, at least, that proved there actually was a Mr Benson, but whether he was an original or a reproduction, Sam never tarried to find out. Mumbling a preoccupied apology for dumping the children so unceremoniously on the stranger's hands Sam departed on his mission of discovery.
Surrounded by the troubled children, Ivor learned with dread that their grandfather now knew the whole story of Dr Goodman and his clones and that the elderly man was intent on confronting the conspirators in their stronghold. This scenario did not auger well for his new friends' relation; his mother's accomplices were willing to kill to protect their criminal activities.
Now, according to the children, would be the right time to shout 'HELP SUPERMAN', and having complied with the youngsters' suggestion they waited expectantly for the hero to arrive. They were destined for disappointment. Even after two more requests delivered at the top of their voices by all five members of the household, Hyperion Avenue remained devoid of the presence of the Man of Steel.
"He's never about when you most need him," Clara moaned in disgust, echoing her Grandma Lane's complaint.
"He's probably been called to another rescue," Julian offered, always ready to excuse the man who had rescued him from a miserable life. "Or he could already be at Greenmeadows."
"Wherever he is, we can't risk leaving Grandpa Sam alone to face the bad guys." Joel naturally assumed the lead. "We have to go after him which means that you have to drive us, Ivor. Mom and Dad left the Jeep this morning." While he spoke, Joel was rummaging through the desk drawer where a spare set of keys was kept. Within seconds he brandished the keys in Ivor's direction. "Will you take us Mr Benson, please?"
"I've every intention of going after your grandfather, but I can't allow you children to come with me. These men are extremely dangerous and you could easily be hurt. How could I ever face your parents if I let something bad happen to you? You're going to have to trust me to look out for Dr Lane. And in the meantime keep trying to reach your parents and Superman and tell them that I've gone to the hospital to put an end to this business once and for all."
"You can't leave us here, Mr Benson." Joel explained calmly. "We're just kids and you can't abandon us without a grownup to look after us. Take us with you and we promise to stay outside in the Jeep and we'll contact Mom on the cell phone and tell her and Dad to meet us there."
Ever helpful, Julian picked up the phone from where it lay on a side table, while all four children waited hopefully for Mr Benson to make up his mind. In fact, Ivor was in a quandary. Joel had a valid point; the kids could not be left alone and surely if they got in touch with their parents then Ivor could deliver his young wards into Lois and Clark's care and be free to confront his nemesis at last.
Arriving at his decision, the beset clone informed his youthful accomplices and taking the keys from Joel's hands they all hurried out to the car, Julian dialling his mother's number as they went. Thankfully this parent was accessible and Julian quickly informed her of all that had happened and that they with Mr Benson were now on their way to Greenmeadows.
Lois was shocked that her father should desert his grandkids so cavalierly and foolishly rush into jeopardy. The latter was just the sort of rash action that Clark used to lament in herself and which she recognised unpleasantly she was about to undertake once again, but she couldn't stand by and let her father confront Goodman alone. Her attention was recalled by Julian who recounted the fact that they had tried to reach Superman but without success.
"No, sweetheart, I'm afraid Superman is upstate at the moment," Lois commiserated. "There was a riot at the High Security Penitentiary. It seems some of the inmates managed to set fire to the kitchen block and break out. A few wardens and a number of visitors are being held hostage, so Superman felt that he had to help out."
Lois didn't add that Dr Mamba was a prisoner in this particular gaol and that both she and Clark had been afraid that the disturbance might be a cover to free Mamba. And so, satisfied that his kids were safely enjoying a trip to the zoo; that Ivor was secure in his guest bedroom and with Lois' solemn promise to stay away from the vicinity of Greenmeadows ringing in his ear, Superman had felt able to leave Metropolis to check on the infamous Doctor's status and aid the authorities to subdue the escalating crisis.
The concerned mother in Lois now extracted her own promise from her children to remain in the car outside the hospital and to prevent Ivor if at all possible from entering the building. She would be with them just as soon as she could and reiterating her warning to them to stay away from danger she closed the call.
When her cell phone had rung Lois had been sitting in Inspector Henderson's office filling him in on the latest details and now she couldn't quite make up her mind whether this was a good or bad thing. She had never been comfortable working in close proximity with the police. Her sometime dubious investigative methods were curtailed in the presence of the law, but her own private saviour was out of town and this did involve quite a number of her family. She quickly decided that between the safety of her loved ones and the pursuit of a story there was really no contest.
"Inspector, it seems my father has chosen to confront Goodman alone and my children and Ivor Benson have set off to the rescue. I know that there's little proof to substantiate the clone theory but I've just run out of time." Squaring her shoulders she addressed the policeman. "Henderson, I need your help."
The man looked stunned for a moment, then pulling his jacket from the back of his chair he purposefully crossed to Lois and started to push her toward the door. For a second Lois resisted. "Come on, Lois. Let's go! Lets Go!!"
"What, no conditions? No reminding me that this is now a police investigation?"
"Lois, you said yourself that time is a-wasting and I've a vested interest in this case… remember Sergeant McGillvery. I'll be overjoyed to put away the scum who entrapped him. Besides, you do need help here and Clark has his hands full elsewhere. So let's get moving."
Dumbstruck did not quite cover the state of mind of ace reporter Lois Lane as she was escorted from police headquarters by a self-satisfied Inspector Henderson. Finally he had managed to shock the ever ebullient woman. The awkward silence continued on the drive out to Greenmeadows as Lois threw her companion searching glances. Did this mean that Henderson actually knew of Clark's true identity?! Should she confront him?! But then if she did and he had meant something entirely innocuous, she would have revealed her husband's secret to another for no-good reason. And Henderson had not qualified his remark, perhaps she had mistaken his implication. She would say nothing until she had talked to Clark of her suspicions.
Meantime the gates of Greenmeadows loomed before them and there by the entrance to the car parks stood her four children, restlessly awaiting her arrival and certainly surprised by her escort. They were safe, thank god. This past year they had been through so much and she would be the first to admit that they were surprisingly resourceful at taking care of themselves, but she was their mother and she did worry so. Hurrying from the car she gathered them around her in a collective hug, listening to their almost hysterical intimations, which long years of practice had perfected her skills in deciphering the collective chatter. The message that came across loud and clear was that the kids had been unable to restrain Ivor Benson from going in search of Goodman and her father.
Henderson, instinctively taking charge of the situation, bent down to the children's level and his instructions were clear and not to be ignored. "Your mom and I are going inside to talk to Dr Goodman. If we find anything suspicious I'll call for backup. I want you to wait here by the car and when the cavalry arrives I'd like you to send it in." The policeman surmised that here in this public place the children would be safe. He couldn't imagine Goodman's men trying anything in front of a busy hospital. He had even considered ordering Lois to wait with the children, but he knew that to be a forlorn hope. "Have you got that?"
Four heads nodded and Joel elected to be spokesman. "Don't worry, sir. We know just where to send them if things go wrong; the basement below the morgue."
"Good! And don't go taking things into your own hands. Just stay put," their mother chided. Then with Henderson in attendance she turned and walked towards the entrance, determined to find her father and Ivor.
Sam Lane had followed the same path earlier in the day. He had not been at all comfortable with his actions, abandoning his grandchildren in the care of a stranger, even if that stranger was one that the Kent family appeared to have a close acquaintance with. As he had driven towards Greenmeadows he had been consumed by a rampant curiosity. He had recalled Ellen's unease with David when he had introduced them all these years ago. Unease that he had dismissed out of hand just as he had doubted the children's accusations at the zoo. Could his wife have been correct? That was what he intended to discover and if his friend was more involved than he had supposed then he would persuade David to put an end to this atrocious practice.
His mission, however, was delayed by the ever-smiling receptionist who informed him that Dr Goodman was on his rounds but would be informed of Dr Lane's presence whenever he was available and would Dr Lane be pleased to wait. Sam would not be pleased to wait but it seemed he had little choice and as waited impatiently his misgivings deepened. Saturday afternoon, when visiting relatives descended in droves upon the hospital, seemed a strange time for a doctor to be making his ward rounds.
After a period of frustratingly kicking his heels in the airy foyer, Sam had enough of waiting and he stepped into the elevator to ride up to Goodman's office. Contrariwise, having reviewed the children's stories about their adventure in this building, he pushed the button for the basement. Within a short time he was in the mortuary standing in front of the metal doors on the far wall, which Joel had so correctly described during his disclosure at the zoo. An electronic lock prevented his further progress and he regarded the keypad with mounting disappointment. He was not prepared to accept defeat so easily and he began punching in numbers that would have some significance to his friend. Bingo!! The doors slid open on the depression of the date that both he and David had become fully fledged medical doctors.
Stepping gingerly aboard, the curious man let the elevator carry him to what appeared to be a secret laboratory. The apparatus in the room was pristine and not all were readily recognisable to him. An operating table beneath a bank of lights stood almost in the centre of the room with various metal cabinets filled with surgical instruments ranked along one wall. Though what particularly caught his attention was a large oval shaped object with a number of connections now hanging redundantly by its side standing in the corner of the lab. Regarding it studiously the image of a cocoon entered the onetime medical researcher's thoughts.
His examination of the item was interrupted by the sound of a peevish female voice rising in agitation from an adjoining room. Sam found himself stealthily creeping closer in order to hear what was being discussed and had to retreat swiftly and in some trepidation to a spot behind a metal cabinet as the two occupants of the room emerged.
"I don't care, David, if our operation is in danger. What I *do* care about is the whereabouts of my son. And even if he is a threat to our continued business venture I will not take kindly to any attempt to hurt him. I am well aware of your methods of dealing with a 'leak'; remember Mr Forbes!!" The woman turned back to her partner and stabbed a menacing finger into his expansive middle. "Might I remind you that you would still be a mediocre surgeon in Seattle if it weren't for my investment in this procedure and this hospital which you so zealously regard as your own private domain."
"And might I remind you that I was not the one who misplaced your precious son," he inferred huffily. "But I will find him for you and return him to your motherly care."
"I've already had the cabin at the lake checked out," Ms Benson sounded a touch placated. "I was certain that he would have gone there. It's always been his haven. You were obviously too blunt with him David when you told him about the … process. You should have given him a little time to get used to the idea of being…not quite the same, before you broached the subject of acquiring his professional skills."
Goodman bristled again. "We don't have time. Already there have been a couple of fatalities. There have been complaints. Even your son will start to degenerate unless we can come up with a solution."
"Then you can reclone him. " To a forceful woman who had absolutely no knowledge of medical practices the answer was simple. "And the others." This last was an afterthought.
"Not possible," the doctor returned curtly. "We need healthy DNA to make a clone. The results would be disastrous using already disintegrating material. We need Ivor's expertise in the anti-aging drug. So you'd better hope you can persuade him to cooperate."
"Of course, I can make him see sense. He always does what his mother tells him in the end. After all, I only have his best interests at heart. But we've got to find him first."
"I'm on to it. I asked around and discovered that while Ivor was here he was befriended by a fellow patient, a Jonathan Kent."
"Kent!" Ms Benson felt that the name was familiar. "Kent! I remember, we had a phone call from a Mr Kent asking if he could visit Ivor. What are you waiting for. Send someone over to this Kent's house, that's probably where he's gone."
"Already been checked out and our escapee isn't there. However, it isn't a complete dead end. Mr Kent junior happens to be a very prominent citizen, namely Clark Kent of Lane & Kent award-winning journalists for the Daily Planet."
The woman seemed suddenly to age and she set her hand on a metal trolley by her side as if to steady herself. "But they are frequently exposing conspiracies and sending the perpetrators to prison." A cold hand settled round her heart as for the first time she contemplated that the justice system would not look too benevolently on her current activities.
"Now you understand the extent of the problem." Goodman spared his accomplice not at all.
"How could you let this happen? To have the father of that man in the hospital at the same time as my son was undergoing his… treatment." She refused to mention the word clone in conjunction with her son.
A resigned look clouded the doctor's face. "I didn't have a choice. Kent was brought to me by someone I'd known in med school who'd heard of my reputation and wanted the best for his relative-in-law. It would have looked very odd to have turned the patient away; it wasn't as if he was a charity case. And I unfortunately didn't make the connection to the reporters immediately. I'd never assumed that Lane would have a daughter. I never thought his marriage would last long enough to produce family." David uttered a disparaging laugh as he thought of his friend's highly strung bride. "It was quite a shock when Sam Lane walked in with the patient, assuming that I would do my best for Kent because of our long-ago friendship. I saw no harm in treating the man. Only later when I caught up with Lane's current life did I find out about the Lane & Kent connection and by then it was too late to pull back. I decided to treat Jonathan Kent and discharge him as quickly as possible. How was I to foresee that your son and the man would become bosom buddies?"
Behind the cabinet Sam drew in a deep breath. From the conversation it was clear that David Goodman placed little worth on the relationship they had shared when they were young men and more than that it also appeared that Ellen's estimation of Goodman had been truer than his own. The uncomfortable notion that he had in the distant past misjudged his wife and possibly on more than one occasion began to pervade his mind, making him shift nervously. His balled fist bearing the evidence of his love the second time around hit the cabinet causing his wedding band to send a metallic clang like a clarion call echoing round the lab.
"Who's there?!" The female voice called stridently.
Goodman rushed to the wall by the door and hit an alarm button then crossing to the row of cabinets drew a gun from a drawer. "Come out and show yourself. All the exits are covered and my men will be here momentarily. You have no where to go."
The doctor's tone was threatening and Sam had no choice but to obey. Holding his hands slightly aloft he stepped from his hiding place and was at least given the satisfaction to witness Goodman's surprise on discovering the identity of the interloper.
"Well, well, if it isn't my old pal Sam. I really didn't think that you had it in you, to uncover my little secret operation. To be honest I had expected your son-in-law or perhaps your daughter. I always felt that she didn't like me."
"You're right about that. She's a good judge of character. Lane & Kent are onto you and I expect that they'll be here at any moment." Sam tried to speak nonchalantly but he couldn't repress the disgust that coloured his thoughts. How could he have been so wrong about this man?
"My dear Sam, this is not a T V series. The cavalry doesn't show up in the nick of time in real life. They may suspect me of wrongdoing but they have no proof and, while you overheard our incriminating conversation, by the time they do arrive you will be in no position to reveal your discovery."
Two men dressed in porters' uniforms came from round the open door of the anteroom and addressed their boss, staring at the trespasser like he was a sack of garbage ready for disposal. "You need some assistance, doctor?"
For the first time Sam was beginning to be afraid. These men sounded very competent and he was sure they had done this sort of work before.
"I do indeed, boys. This gentleman is a problem," and Goodman's hand that did not carry the gun, which remained targeted right in the middle of Sam's chest, waved in the general direction of the problem. "However, I rely on you to solve the problem in your usually efficient manner. Though I would prefer that the body not be found for sometime… if ever. There will also be the matter of Dr Lane's car. You'll find it somewhere in the car park. Get rid of it. I'm sure that Sam reported in at reception and was told to wait for me, which you really ought to have done," he addressed his victim, "and all this would not be necessary." Turning his attention back to his cohorts, he instructed. "I would like it to appear that Dr Lane got tired of waiting and left so park the car somewhere in the city. The Lanes have an apartment in the Caldwell Building so anywhere in that vicinity will do, but be discreet and make sure you don't leave any of your prints behind."
A large calibre handgun had appeared in the hand of one of the henchmen and the victim was covered while the other goon crossed to Sam and wrenched his arms in a painful grip behind his back.
Goodman, seeing that all was under control, rummaged through a couple of cabinets, finally producing a vial and syringe. "Hold him still while I sedate him." Goodman ordered. "He'll be easier to manage that way."
Struggling unsuccessfully in the arms of his captor, Sam watched in horror as his tormentor came closer, brandishing the needle. "Don't struggle, Sam. There's no escape and I don't want to cause you any unnecessary pain. I'm not a sadist."
Sam would liked to have disputed that point but at that moment a diversion occurred when the elevator doors slid open with an accompanying ping and an angry and determined Ivor strode into the room. The scene that met Benson was out of his worst nightmare. The mad doctor and his henchmen held Dr Lane captive and were no doubt, from the sight of the guns and the hypodermic, planning on silencing him. But worse still, his mother seemed to be colluding in the terrible plan.
"What is going on here?" Ivor demanded, playing for time. He was aware that Lois was on her way and surely she would bring the police. The children also, realising that they could not persuade him to remain with them in comparative safety, had assured him that they would keep trying to contact Superman, hoping that the hero would soon return to the city. If he could only hold up the killing for a short while then perhaps they could be rescued.
Ms Benson was shocked yet relieved at her son's entrance. "Ivor, thank goodness you're here. Where have you been? You must have known that I would be worried sick about you. It isn't nice of you to scare your mother so," she concluded petulantly.
"I'm sorry mother, but I had a lot to think about. Finding out that you're a clone," Ivor tried not to let his distaste show through, "is quite a lot to come to terms with but now I'm beginning to appreciate that you've given me another chance at life. And I've decided to help you with your research."
"Well, of course you have, dear boy." Elizabeth Benson's reaction was typically effusive. "I just knew that you'd see things my way in the long run."
Goodman however, remained sceptical. "I won't deny that I could use the assistance, but isn't it a little late for that? According to Lane here you've already spilled the beans to those reporters."
Convincing this doubtful criminal completely was, Ivor knew, an impossible task, nonetheless all he had to do was to keep him talking until backup arrived. "No!! I haven't spoken to them. Not yet!! Sure, I spent the night at their house, but I felt so ill that I told them that I'd answer all their questions in the morning. Only, during the night when I recognized that my cell structure might be disintegrating, I realized that I didn't want to die and that my only chance of survival was to throw my lot in with you. So I pretended to sleep late this morning and, once the coast was clear, I left and came here."
Something about this explanation didn't quite gel with Goodman and he picked up on the first suspicious point that sprang to his mind. "Surely your DNA shouldn't be unravelling quite so soon. The others are lasting at least a year or so before things go wrong."
"Maybe you waited too long to clone me," Ivor thought desperately for a plausible cause. "Maybe I was already too unwell for you to come up with a workable specimen."
"That would make a difference. But don't blame me. You were the one who refused to be hospitalized." Goodman countered.
Ivor was quietly ecstatic, his ploy was working and his foe was distracted. "Hey, I thought I was dying. I wanted to spend as much time as I could in the open air."
"David!! He will be all right, won't he?" The concerned mother demanded. "Ivor is the reason that I backed your scheme. Don't fail me in this." An ominous note had crept into Elizabeth's voice, one that her partner would do well to heed. The mother tiger was prepared to defend her cub.
Ignoring the warning, another suspect thought hit Goodman. One which brought him back to the problem at hand. He returned his regard to his creation with an evil leer. "But if you haven't talked to Lane & Kent, then how did Sam find his way to this lab?"
A perplexed glance passed between Ivor and Sam with both of them regretfully acknowledging that the ruse was up. "Accidentally?" The clone offered.
"I went up to your office and when you weren't there I decided to have a look around." Sam added forlornly.
"Don't play me for a fool!" Rage was bubbling in David's soul. His very lucrative venture was collapsing about his ears and more than that his power base was slipping away. Like a doomsday knell, the bell of the elevator rang as it was requested in the mortuary above. Goodman's head snapped round in the direction of the elevator. "Ah, could that be the reinforcements that you are relying upon, Lane & Kent if I presume correctly." Training his gun once more on Sam, he gestured to his employees. "Let's give them a welcoming committee and Sam, Ivor if you don't wish to have your rescuers shot out of hand, I suggest that you keep very still and quiet."
The two goons armed themselves and took position either side of the elevator doors, out of sight of those alighting from the lift. The seconds seemed to take an eternity to pass until the doors slid back to reveal the passengers.
"Lois, this is a surprise, do join us, my dear." David in his most honeyed voice greeted the couple. "But I don't believe that I've had the pleasure of meeting your companion."
"Detective Inspector Henderson of the MPD," Henderson introduced himself as he preceded Lois into the laboratory. "And *I* believe that you have some allegations to answer, Goodman."
"Indeed you might, Inspector, but you unfortunately are not in a position to ask questions."
Both Lois and Henderson uncomfortably became aware of the armed men standing behind them. Foolishly they had walked into a trap and Lois found herself wishing that her companion had been her husband. They could seriously use some super aid right now.
"Don't be stupid, Goodman." Henderson attempted to bluff it out. "My men are right behind me. Your little scheme is over and it will not do your case any good to add to your body count."
"Strangely enough I don't believe you. It's my assumption that you came alone, which although that's good for me, is very bad news for you."
Not prepared to yield so easily, the detective threw himself backwards into the body of the thug on his right but was pistol-whipped cruelly to the ground, his head reeling from the solid contact. Unheeding of her own danger and anxious to help, Lois feinted to her left only to find that her opponent had anticipated her move, Goodman's henchmen were good at their work. She found herself gripped by a strong arm and a gun was once again pressed into her temple. Even adopting a more cautious approach, being held at gunpoint was a much too frequent occurrence for this reporter and as she listened to Goodman's satisfied laughter Lois prayed silently for her super powered deliverer.
Superman sped toward his city. With effortless efficiency he had rescued the hostages and returned the prison to the control of the authorities. Yet the satisfaction he had first felt on intercepting Mamba and Pinto as they headed for the hills or more particularly to a private airport where a small jet awaited its fleeing passengers was swiftly dissipating. Both men were now in custody and Superman felt enabled to return to Metropolis and his investigation into the case of the clones.
He fervently hoped that his wife would not have gotten into any difficulties while he was gone, but recognized this was a futile wish as the city appeared on the horizon and his intuitive sense of unease increased. Directing his course to Greenmeadows, where he felt certain he would find Lois, he was shocked to spot his children waiting in the car park studiously searching the sky. What on earth were they doing here?! They were supposed to be with their grandfather!!
Landing apprehensively with a blast of wind and a furl of red cloak the kids scampered round him regaling him of all the morning's developments. As accomplished as his wife to discerning the important details from their jumbled discourses, Superman quickly perceived that his assistance was required instantly and leaving them with instructions to contact the MPD on Henderson's radio and request backup immediately, he took off once more into the sky.
From the air he speedily scanned the building for an alternative entrance to the second basement, all the while listening intently to Lois' heartbeat. The quickened rate told him that things were not going as she had planned, yet she was still alive and for the moment unhurt. But for how long?!
Of course, there was always the option of tunnelling in through the earth and concrete, yet he would prefer not to telegraph his arrival to the criminals. At the rear of the building he spotted a flight of steps leading to a fire exit in the morgue, but that still meant the use of the elevator and his loss of surprise. And who knew what desperate acts Goodman would resort to when spooked. Continuing the aerial scan, his persistence paid off as, by the loading bay, he discerned storm doors which led to another flight of steps going ever downward until his x-ray vision was disrupted by the presence of lead. This had to be another way in to the bottom basement.
With a burst of super speed he arrived at the foot of the stairway, then wrenching the heavy locked door silently off its hinges, he levitated his way into the outer room, careful not to alert those inside. Fortunately for the hero, although the criminals had thought to protect their secret domain from the outside, once inside he found his special vision again on line and he studied carefully the positions of all those within the lab. And here he found himself in trouble, there were just too many people in need of his protection and too many crooks with guns. Nonetheless, there was really no doubt in his mind who would be his first priority in this rescue. He only hoped that Goodman and his henchmen would be frozen in shock and that his speed would be enough to disarm them all before they could act.
Taking a deep breath before flying into the fray, Superman's rescue was forestalled by Sam who, afraid for his princess, launched himself at the man he once considered his closest friend. The deafening discharge of a gun accompanied the Man of Steel's entrance into the room and nanoseconds later more shots followed as the felons blasted at anything that moved.
Striving to catch as many bullets as possible in his beeline flight to Lois' side, Superman cast himself in a protective shield over his wife's prone form. At the first explosive gunshot Lois had automatically dropped to the floor, where she found herself sheltered beneath the blue-and-red clad body of her husband.
The horrific noise reverberated throughout the room and died into stillness and for a moment the tableau remained frozen in time. Then slowly inch by inch those who still had the power to move began to look around them.
"Lois! Lois!" Superman's anxious voice came close to her ear. "Are you okay?!"
Quickly she reassured him then found herself raised to her feet in his arms. The two goons, horrified that they had been party to a possible murder in the presence of a highly respected member of the police force, decided to make good their escape and headed into the elevator.
"Don't move!" Lois was instructed by her super husband as he sped to cut off the villains' exit.
The bemused crooks never really knew what befell them as they were propelled by a massive force into the lift and found that their way out had become their prison cell as Superman demobilised the elevator and sealed the doors with a burst of heat vision. That took care of a high proportion of the opposition and Superman turned to deal with the deranged doctor and his accomplice the imposing Ms Benson.
The whole incident had taken place in a very short space of time but, as the hero surveyed the scene, he learned that it had catastrophic consequences. Lois slowly walked on legs that threatened not to carry her to the side of her father, who lay in a pool of blood under the figure of Ivor. Neither moved.
"Daddy?!" Lois barely whispered as she knelt by Sam's side. "Oh, Daddy, please speak to me." She stretched a shaking hand out to touch his cheek and was rewarded by a small smile from the father she had once thought she hated.
Superman was by his family in a moment and he scanned the bodies of Ivor and Sam for injuries. Both men were seriously wounded, but Clark thought that while his father-in-law had a good chance of survival the same could not be said of Ivor.
"Your dad's going to be okay, honey," Clark lowered his voice so that only Lois could hear him. Then gently he lifted the dying man from Sam's body and laid him on the ground. A groan escaped Ivor's lips at the movement and his eyelids fluttered open.
"Is Sam… all right?" Ivor struggled to breathe, but he had to know that the Benson family was responsible for no other deaths.
"Sam is going to be just fine, Ivor, thanks to you." Superman reassured. It was obvious from the position of the bodies that Ivor had thrown himself into the hail of bullets and thus had saved Sam's life.
Across the room a befuddled Henderson struggled to his feet, pulling his sidearm as he rose. He really was getting too old for this physical stuff. In a voice that gained in strength as he spoke the aging cop directed a warning to Goodman to put down his weapon and stand still. This, however, the doctor was not prepared to do and while he complied with the first instruction, the weapon was empty and now of little use, he made a run for the side door and freedom.
But the inspector was not the only one who was brandishing a weapon, Elizabeth Benson had stood rooted with horror at the sight of her beloved child lying at her feet as his life ebbed slowly away. Yet Goodman's attempt at flight had brought her from her trance and she pointed her handgun at the man she held responsible for Ivor's death. "Don't move, David." Her words were filled with loathing. "In fact, if you value your life, I would suggest that you do just what the inspector orders. At this moment I would find it very easy to kill you."
"You're being ridiculous, Elizabeth. You and I can still get away. They're the enemy," and he gestured to the others behind him in the room. "Use your gun on them. We have money, lots of it. We can get out of the country. We can have a good life."
Goodman was babbling in his desperation. Staring at the obsessed eyes of his one-time accomplice, he understood that he walked a very fine line between life and death.
"I don't want a good life. Not if Ivor isn't there to share it with me. And the only life in front of you, David will be spent in a prison cell. I will make sure of that. I warned you not to hurt my son."
"Mother, please no more killing," calling on all of his fading strength, Ivor attempted to raise himself and found the effort taken from him as he was supported by an immensely strong blue sheathed arm. "For my sake, Mother, end this now." A coughing fit overtook him and for a moment even Superman was afraid Ivor had gone, but the spirit was stronger than the flesh and within moments in a voice filled with longing he addressed his parent. "Promise me, make sure that Goodman pays for all the lives he has ruined." Recognizing that the end was near, Elizabeth at last knelt by her son, her tears spilling down her cheeks and splashing onto Ivor's upturned face. With a shaky hand Ivor tried to trace the tears. "Don't cry. Please don't cry. Your son died some time ago. I'm a nobody… I'm just a … clone."
Yet in the false light of the basement as the clone gave up his struggle to live, Superman could see the tracks of tears on Ivor's pale skin. The tears of a clone.
Momentarily Elizabeth Benson was overcome with hopeless emotion, then showing the resolution that had brought her to this terrible conclusion in her life, she stood up and with head held high she proffered her gun to Henderson and said.
"I'm ready to make a statement, Inspector."
Due to Elizabeth Benson's testimony, the investigations, both police and journalistic, went extremely well. Lane & Kent had set their byline to a harrowing yet compassionate report on Ivor Benson and all that had befallen him at the hands of his misguided mother and her accomplices. For the moment they had refrained from reporting on Judge Michaels and Mr Winslow as a detailed investigation was taking place into the connected offences. However, in accordance with Clark's promise to Ivor, they had written a sidebar vindicating the rest of the medical staff of Greenmeadows and indeed praising the excellence of their legitimate clinical work. Time would tell if the hospital could survive the bad press surrounding Goodman and Benson.
As expected, Goodman and Pinto were refusing to talk, though Mamba was keen to distance himself from the crime by squealing to anyone who was prepared to listen that he had assumed he was merely helping out with research and that he had been completely ignorant that actual cloning operations were taking place. However, due to his collusion in the prison break, his innocence was being regarded as highly questionable. Nevertheless, Henderson and the DA were prepared to strike a deal with the prisoner (the man was already sentenced to life imprisonment) if only he would testify against his co-accused.
Now two weeks on, a second though smaller family gathering was taking place, this time in the backyard of the Kents' townhouse. They had come together to resume the disastrously interrupted birthday party and to celebrate the survival of the two elder statesmen of the Lane/Kent clan.
The intervening weeks had seen Jonathan improve in strength and health, though Sam had been profoundly affected both physically and psychologically by his ordeal in the basement of Greenmeadows. While recuperating in Met Gen the once-extroverted doctor had taken stock of his life and in particular his relationship with his wife. It had been a difficult voyage of discovery for Sam but happily the consequence was that he now viewed his wife not with the gentle tolerance that he had developed in their second marriage but with a new degree of respect. A circumstance that boded well for their remaining years together.
Lois was delighted to witness this change in her parents' relationship and her sense of contentment was further enhanced by the knowledge that her remarkable family had triumphed when once again the Gods had seen fit to test them. The years may have brought Lois and Clark many troubles but it had also brought them a deep and abiding love.
Into this merrymaking a surprise visitor came calling bringing a reminder of the last dark days. Inspector Henderson felt like the spectre at the feast and yet with him he brought a message of closure to the episode of the clones.
The Inspector had talked with his old friend Sergeant McGillvery who, on discovering that his blackmailers were now in custody and more importantly that his granddaughter would be protected from their influence, was now prepared to tell his story. The child's successful operation had been one beam of light in the dark chapters and hopefully under the care of the medical staff at Met Gen she would continue to thrive.
Pinto too, seeing the writing on the wall, was also singing like a lark to the public prosecutor's office and the cabal of clone makers would be arraigned in the next few days. This was welcome news to everyone present but, having witnessed the poignancy of the clones' existence, their appreciation was tempered with sorrow.
Lois and Clark felt obliged to ask Henderson to join the party, but their kind invitation was declined on the grounds that a policeman's work was never done. Actually, William Henderson was a little ill at ease following an uncomfortable interview with his boss the Police Commissioner and receiving certain instructions that troubled his conscience.
It was a dilemma that had prompted this visit and Henderson stopped the couple in their living room as they escorted him to the front door. "You know that you're free to go ahead with your follow-up stories on Winslow and Michaels. Thanks to you the Michaels' butler came forward and is willing to testify to the fact that the Judge was being harassed. Seems the man 'inadvertently' overheard a conversation between Valerie Michaels and an unknown caller where the words 'Tears of a Clone' were spoken. Looks like those were the 'trigger words' used to control the clones. But then you already know that."
Lois and Clark blushed at the inspector's accusation. While the reporters had held back on printing these particular articles they had seen no reason not to do their usual background checks in preparation and on interviewing the Michaels' staff they had been made aware of this information and advised the employee to talk to Henderson.
"Just being a public-spirited citizen, Inspector," Lois stated with a slight smirk, resorting to the friendly aggression that normally coloured her interaction with the detective.
Henderson was too preoccupied to rise to the bait. Earlier in the day he had been informed by the Commissioner that the DA's office along with that of the mayor had concluded that certain prominent members of Metropolis' society deserved to have their privacy protected and, to that end, they had closed down any further police investigations. In this particular instance, Henderson had to agree with their decision, though perhaps for differing reasons.
Yet the cover-up didn't sit well with William, who had spent most of his adult years bringing criminals to justice and protecting the innocent. So with those ambivalent sentiments in mind he had determined to pass the responsibility to Lois and Clark. Besides, Lane & Kent had begun this affair. They had the right to choose its conclusion.
Fishing the evidence from his inside pocket, he handed Clark a slip of paper. "I believe that Ivor wanted you to have this. There are a number of names on this list that you maybe interested in. These are all fairly prominent people but since the DA has enough on the accused to put them away for a number of lifetimes it was decided not to bother these poor folks. However, you were the ones who uncovered this conspiracy so it's up to you to do whatever you want with the list." And with a quick goodbye Henderson left.
Opening up the folded sheet of paper, Clark recognised the notes that Ivor had written out while spending the night in their guest bedroom. The notes which he had turned over to the police to help in the investigations. Now he and Lois reread the list and, as before, they were taken aback by the names they recognised. Henderson was right, these were VIPs and the city fathers would be anxious to protect their own.
"What do you think, Lois? Do we publish this?"
"And win a Pulitzer! This story is huge, Clark! Besides, it's not up to us to decide on the news only to report it." But Lois could see that her husband was unhappy with her answer. She wasn't too pleased either. "But then it's a pretty big deal for these people too and according to Bernard they don't have very long to live." The couple had asked Dr Klein to verify Goodman's and Ivor's findings that the clones had a shortened life span. "It would be a shame if what little life is left to them should be spent under the media spotlight."
"What about their families, honey? After all they did collude in a crime."
"And they'll pay for their mistake when they lose their loved ones all over again."
"And there's no one left to use them for their own ends. The clone makers have all been arrested," Clark reminded as he dropped the paper into a bowl on the coffee table and, after receiving an acquiescent nod from Lois, with a quick burst of heat vision burnt the list to a cinder. "Thankfully these poor souls will never pick up the phone and hear the words 'Tears of a Clone' so I think we can safely leave them in peace."
"And I'm sure that Ivor would be pleased with our decision." As usual in these last weeks Lois' eyes filled with tears at the remembrance of the man they had known for so short a time and yet had touched their hearts so deeply.
"I agree, honey. I believe that Ivor is happy now." Clark wrapped his arms around his wife and gently wiped away her tears with his fingers. From the garden came the sound of joyful laughter. Dropping a kiss on the tip of her upturned nose he drew her towards their family. "Come on, sweetheart, we've a party to attend."