By Emily C. <email@example.com>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: In this episode continuation of "Man of Steel Bars," Superman is back in town after saving Metropolis from the nuclear power plant meltdown, but "Clark" isn't. How can Lois investigate the latest scandal without him?
This story is a re-write and continuation of the ending of the first season episode "Man of Steel Bars." It assumes that after Superman came back to save Metropolis from the meltdown at LexCorp, Clark didn't return as himself. All standard disclaimers apply. The famous characters and references to the episode of Lois & Clark are the property of ABC Television, December 3rd Productions, Warner Brothers Studios, and DC Comics.
Please send comments and suggestions to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This is my first attempt at fanfic so please, be gentle. :)
It had been three weeks since Clark Kent had left the Daily Planet. Superman had since returned to Metropolis, more beloved than ever after saving the city from a nuclear meltdown at LexCorp. But Clark had decided, painful as it was, not to reappear as the mild- mannered persona that he had worked so hard to establish. He tried to tell himself that he didn't want to raise suspicions as to why his disappearance and reappearance coincided so completely with Superman's. But he knew the real reason he was staying away from his "normal" life: Lois Lane.
He had realized the day he left that his feelings for his partner went way beyond friendship. And when he had bent down and kissed her softly before walking out of the Planet building, he thought for an instant that he had felt something more than friendship in return. But then he looked in her eyes and realized that her tears weren't for him; they were for Superman. That hurt him more than he could ever have known, more than Kryptonite ever could. Lois was in love with Superman, and she would never love Clark for the person that he was while the hero with the red cape was around. And he couldn't bear working with her when he knew he would always come second. That was why he hid Clark from the world while Superman continued to save it. It was the hardest decision heĦd ever had to make.
Lois sighed as she leaned back in her chair, looking at the morning edition of the Daily Planet. The front page headline read "Soup-erman Saves Factory." It was her article on yesterday's fire at the soup division of the MetroKitchen factory and how Superman had again saved the day. As she ran her fingers over the photograph Jimmy had taken of the hero emerging from the factory carrying a worker in each arm, she couldn't help but sigh again. She had tried to get a statement from Superman, but he had smiled politely and said he had to make sure everyone was all right. Then he had flown off before she could talk to him again.
As Jimmy Olsen approached her desk, he noticed her fingering the photo. "I'm sure he had to get somewhere to help somebody else out, Lois. He's a busy guy."
She looked up at him, wondering how he had known what she was thinking. Jimmy often knew what was on her mind before she even said anything. She smiled at her friend. "I know. He just seems so…"
"Yeah. Like he's been avoiding me." She blushed, realizing how self-centered that sounded. "Avoiding the media," she added.
Jimmy pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. "Maybe he's just gun-shy," he said thoughtfully. "You know, since everybody ran him out of town after the heat-wave incident."
"Maybe. But the people of Metropolis welcomed him back when they realized he wasn't the cause of the heat."
"I bet if CK were here, he'd be able to talk to…" He stopped when he saw Lois lower her eyes back to the paper. He grimaced, knowing Clark's leaving was a sore subject. "Sorry, Lois."
"That's okay, Jimmy. You don't have to tip-toe around me. Clark's gone, and there's nothing I can do about it. I don't even know how to get in touch with him. But you're right, he and Superman were pretty good friends. He would probably know what's going on inside Superman's head."
Jimmy placed a hand on Lois' shoulder. He felt her relax a little for a moment, and then she lifted her head and squared her shoulders. "Well, since Clark's not here," she said determinedly, "I'll just have to find out what's going on myself."
Jimmy smiled and withdrew his hand. "That's the Lois I know and love." At the last word, Lois snapped her head to look at him. He looked away, embarrassed. "Um, the, ah, reason I, um, came over is because, uh, the Chief wants to see you. Um, us." He stood up quickly and headed toward Perry White's office. "You coming?"
"Yeah. Just a second." She shook her head, and wondered amusedly what was wrong with Jimmy. Then she crossed the newsroom to the editor's office.
"A pie maker. You're gonna do an inside investigation at the MetroKitchen factory. There's something fishy going on down there, and I don't mean the salmon fillets. Yesterday's fire makes three incidents there in the last month. But whatĦs even fishier is that no workers have been quitting because of the unsafe conditions. If there are constant threats of fires, there should be some sort of employee rebellion, a riot or something, but thereĦs been nothing.
"But Perry, couldn't I go inside the executive office…"
"Lois, honey, those jobs take months to get, interviews, background checks… We can get you in the factory today. Besides, we want people right inside the factory, where the story is. You'll be making desserts in the bakery division, and Jimmy's going to be working on the packaging assembly line…"
"Jimmy?" Lois looked over at her friend. "No offense, Jimmy, but Perry, Jimmy's had no experience doing undercover work. And I've had no experience with baking."
"You've got to start somewhere. Jimmy's ready for the big time now." Jimmy grinned at the compliment from his mentor, although he was upset by Lois' lack of faith in him. "I don't want to hear excuses, just get the story and you'll be out of there."
Lois knew it would be futile to argue further, so she glared at Perry and headed toward the door of his office. Perry called with a twinkle in his eye, "Don't forget your chef's hat, Lois!" She huffed and slammed the door behind her. Jimmy couldn't help but laugh.
Clark sighed as he landed in front of his parentsĦ house. He'd been coming back to Kansas a lot since he had left the Planet. He no longer rented an apartment in Metropolis, so he often slept at home in Smallville.
He quickly changed from the Superman suit into jeans and a sweater, and he walked into the house. "Hi Mom, Dad."
"Hi, honey," Martha said gently as she hugged her son. She knew he hadn't been his usual, upbeat self in the last few weeks. "How are things in Metropolis?"
"Okay, I guess." He slumped down at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands. "Superman was pretty busy today."
"Son, you don't have to keep being Superman in Metropolis."
"I know, Dad."
"There are a lot of other places in the world besides New Troy that could use his help."
"But Metropolis seems to be more crime—and accident—prone than another other city." He smiled in spite of himself. Why is that? he wondered. "And he—I—feel at home there." He looked up helplessly at his parents, and they ached for his happiness.
"Keep your head up, son. You'll figure this out."
"Thanks, Dad." Clark hesitated and looked down at his hands before saying, "I saw Lois yesterday."
"Oh?" Martha knew of her son's feelings for his ex- partner. But she didn't pry, just let him speak on his own.
"She was covering a factory fire where I was needed. She tried to interview me, but I sort of brushed her off." He let out a breath. "I wanted to talk to her so much. But it's too hard. She approached me as Superman, and I want her to see me as Clark."
Jonathan patted his son on the back, not knowing what to say. Martha sat down next to Clark and held his hands, also at a loss for words.
Lois threw a ball of pie dough at the kneading board, more out of frustration than of proper kneading technique.
"How does this dough work? It's so…sticky!"
The chubby woman next to her chuckled. "You could use some more flour. Sprinkle it on and punch it down, like this." The woman demonstrated.
As Lois tried to copy her moves, she said, "Don't they make machines that do this?"
The woman smiled. "Yes, but then these apple pies wouldn't be the 'Best Darn Homemade Pies in America'!" she said lightly, quoting the company's advertising motto.
Lois laughed. "Thanks for your help. I'm Lois. I'm new here."
"Oh really, I hadn't noticed!" The woman laughed, her cheeks all but hiding her small eyes. Lois couldn't help but smile back. "I'm Betsy Rocker. Nice to meet you." She wiped her hand on her apron and shook Lois' outstretched hand. "So what's a pretty young thing like you doing in a place like this?"
"Would you believe me if I told you I'm trying to learn how to cook so I can find a husband?"
"No, not really."
"Actually, I just got laid off at my old job and this was the first opening I could find," she lied. Clark would have tried to somehow avoid lying, she thought, but it's what the situation called for.
"No offense, Lois, but this job isn't for the meek."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lois was instantly suspicious.
Betsy backed off, as if she regretted what she'd just said. "I just mean that you're probably going to build up some muscles in those arms of yours."
Lois looked at her arms hidden beneath her chef's uniform. "Are you saying I'm scrawny?" She asked it light-heartedly, but she instinctively knew there was something more to what the woman had said than she let on.
"No, no. But just look at what two years of making pies has done for my physique!" She held up a massive arm in a flexed position. Lois' eyes widened in mock fear. Then she smiled.
"I think I'd make a good Mrs. Rambo." They both laughed and then went back to work, Lois trying to get the hang of rolling pie crusts. She wanted to press Betsy further on her comment about the job, but she didn't think now was the time. She filed it in her mind for further reference.
Meanwhile, Jimmy was busy packing large cans of apple pie filling into boxes and piling them by the loading docks. He had found out from some of the men working around him that this was one of MetroKitchen's specialty items. The cooks in the kitchen made batches of the filling, and then it was canned and sent off to grocery stores around the world. He smiled as he wondered what Lois was doing at the moment.
"Isn't it about time for a break?" he asked a quiet, young guy named Sam.
Sam looked at him sideways. "Uh, I guess. Five minutes, maybe. Management doesn't like to see us sit on the job."
"Five minutes?! You're kidding me, right?"
"No. We get a 30-minute lunch in the cafeteria, but other than that we're expected to just work."
Jimmy was incredulous. He rubbed his sore arms and back. What kind of sweatshop were they running here? "That's insane! It's against the law, isn't it? I'll never make it till lunch. Doesn't anyone ever complain?"
"You didn't have your orientation yet?" he asked in a hushed voice.
"You'll probably get called in sometime this afternoon. They always have a meeting with new employees on their first day."
Jimmy was about to ask about this orientation when Sam looked over Jimmy's shoulder and said hurriedly, "Here comes the supervisor. Back to work!" And he rushed off to pick up another box of cans.
Jimmy stared after Sam for a second, thinking that he was a strange one. As he turned to head back to work, his nose landed in the chest of a very large man. Jimmy stepped back and looked up to see a burly man with a none too pleasant look on his face.
"You're the new loading boy, right?"
"Uh, sir, yes sir," Jimmy squeaked back. "Jimmy, sir."
"Well, Jimmy, I suggest you get back to work. Lunch is in 45 minutes. Oh, and after lunch there will be someone waiting to take you to your orientation. Now, get a move on."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Jimmy scrambled back to the conveyer belt where he began again to package the large cans of pie filling into boxes. I hope this story doesn't take to long, he thought. I'm not sure how much of this I can take.
At lunch, Lois tried to find Jimmy but was unsuccessful. She figured she might see him at the orientation, so she sat with Betsy and a few other kitchen workers. She tried to get some clues that would help her story. So far this morning, nothing had seemed out of the ordinary, except that she wasn't allowed a coffee break. Who ever heard of not being allowed to drink coffee in the morning? But unfortunately lunch was over before she was able to get any information.
As she was taking her tray up to the dishwashing area, she heard her name called from across the cafeteria. Or rather, her undercover name.
"Lois Clarkson, Sarah Jones, James Perry, and Joseph Thomas, over here, please."
Lois smiled at her fake last name as she walked toward the man calling the names. Clarkson wasn't too original. But then, neither was James Perry.
She and Jimmy had agreed to pretend not to know each other, for the sake of protecting their covers. But it was hard for Lois not to show concern for Jimmy when she saw him. He looked terrible, obviously physically exhausted. But he smiled slightly when he saw Lois, and she quickly winked in return.
When the four new employees had convened in the corner of the cafeteria, they followed a large young man through a set of winding hallways to a small, windowless room. He directed them to take a seat in the plush chairs around the conference table. Jimmy especially obliged eagerly. The man then left them alone, closing the door as he left. They heard the click of the lock.
Lois jumped up and tried the door. "He locked us in! Does anyone else think this all seems a bit strange?"
They all nodded. Then a man's voice came through some speakers on the wall that no one had noticed before. "Everyone, please sit down." When Lois didn't move, the voice said, "That means you, miss." Lois sat suspiciously. How could he see her?
"Everyone, I'd like to welcome you to the family at MetroKitchen. We now have about 150 members and are growing everyday. I trust you all had a good first morning at work." Jimmy groaned, and Lois looked at him in concern. "Ladies and gentlemen, as new members of our family, there are a few house rules, if you will, that we need to go over."
Lois no longer thought that this was a bit strange. She was sure now that it was very strange. What were these house rules? And why were they locked in a room listening to someone they couldn't see? The reporter in her kicked in, and she had to say something. "Excuse me, sir, but who are you and why can't we see you?"
"Please hold all questions until the end, Miss Clarkson."
She folded her arms at the patronizing brush off and was about to tell him exactly what she though when the voice continued.
"Rule Number One: Under no circumstances will you discuss this meeting with anyone outside of the company. Do you understand?"
The room was still.
"I can't hear you."
"Yes." "Yes, sir." "I understand," the others replied accordingly, but Lois wasn't willing to give up just yet.
"I don't understand. Why can't we tell anyone about this? This isn't the mob, is it?" She smiled and looked around the room at her co-workers, but none of them found her question amusing.
"That's enough, Lois. You will remain silent until the end of the meeting."
"Yes, you will, unless you want to be thrown out of this company right now."
Jimmy eyed her, pleading with her to be quiet. Lois thought for a moment. There was definitely a story here, and she didn't want to risk losing it because of her temper. She remained silent.
"Thank you. Now then, remember Rule One. Do not talk about this meeting with anyone not employed by MetroKitchen. Rule Number Two: You will obey your direct supervisors without question." Lois scoffed. "I'll ignore that, Miss Clarkson. Rule Number Three: You will be on time for work in the mornings and you will not attempt to leave early. There is a time clock to punch in when you arrive and punch out when you leave. Rule Number Four: You will receive a 30-minute lunch, provided for you in the cafeteria. Rule Number Five…"
He went on to list several more rules, none of which seemed too unusual. Then he concluded, "This ends your first day orientation. Direct any and all questions to your supervisors. You are dismissed."
"But we're locked in," Lois couldn't help saying.
"Albert will be along to lead you back to the cafeteria." Sure enough, a few moments later, Albert, the man who had led them to the room, unlocked the door and silently led them back. From there they each made their way back to their work areas.
When Lois was back again rolling dough beside Betsy Rocker, she asked as nonchalantly as she could, "Betsy, did you have an orientation with an invisible man?"
Betsy nodded. "He has a nice voice, doesn't he?"
"What? I don't know, I guess. Didn't you think it was odd? I tried to ask him some questions but…"
"You asked questions?" Betsy's eyes lit up with panic. "Why'd you go and do that? I should have told you not to say anything."
"Betsy, what's wrong with asking questions?"
"There was a young man in my orientation group two years ago who just wouldn't be quiet, and the voice asked him to leave the room."
"What happened to him?"
"We're not sure. He wasn't seen around here again. A girl who used to work here but is now in the frozen food division was a friend of his, she hasn't heard from him since."
"Wow. What was his name?"
"David, I think. Yes, David Cassidy. I remember wondering if he was the actor from 'The Partridge Family.' Anyway, it's best around here to do your job quickly and quietly. Drawing attention to yourself from management can only get you in trouble."
Jimmy wearily loaded the last can of the day into a box. He checked his watch. 5:00. He couldn't wait to get home and sleep. He found Sam so they could walk to the time clock together.
"Man, I'm tired!"
Sam smiled. "The first day's the worst. It'll get easier."
"I hope so. I don't know if I'll be able to move tomorrow.
"You'll be a regular Superman before you know it, Jimmy."
"That'll be the day! If I'm not here on time tomorrow, I'll be at home in bed. Don't come looking for me."
"That's not funny."
They stopped walking. "Sam, it was just a joke."
"Don't kid about being late. You don't want to make anyone mad."
Sam started walking. "Forget it. Just make sure you're here on time."
Jimmy hurried to catch up but Sam was too fast. He had punched out and was out the door before Jimmy could stop him. Jimmy told himself to ask him about that tomorrow. As he pulled his card out of its slot to punch it in the clock, a little note fell out. He picked it up and smiled as he read it. "6:30. My place. Bring dinner. —LL"
Good old Lois, always ready to work, he thought. He sighed. No rest for the weary.
Jimmy took the bus home, showered, put on jeans and a sweatshirt, and headed out the door. The shower had felt good on his aching muscles, but he was still very tired. He was, however, curious about how Lois' day had gone. He got some Mexican take-out and then made his way to her apartment.
When the doorbell rang, Lois hurried out of the bedroom to the door. She was still in her bathrobe and had a towel wrapped around her head. Jimmy's jaw dropped open as he became speechless. He had never seen Lois in anything besides a business suit or today's chef uniform.
"Sorry, Jimmy. I didn't have a chance to get dressed yet after my shower." She turned and headed for the bedroom. "I just couldn't pull myself from under the hot water. It felt so good, you know. Make yourself at home."
Jimmy cleared his throat. "Yeah, I know. That's okay, I'm a little early." He sat down on the couch, the bag of food in his lap. A moment later Lois came in wearing flannel pajama pants and a long sleeved t-shirt. Her damp hair fell around her face, slightly wavy from not bothering to comb it.
"Do you mind?" she said, pointed to his lap.
"Uh, mind what?"
She smiled. "If I see what you brought?" She took the bag from him and peered inside. "Mmm, tacos. I'm starving. Not much of a lunch they give at MetroKitchen, huh?"
The mention of the day's work brought Jimmy back to his senses. He jumped up and followed her to the kitchen. "Yeah. That's one weird place, isn't it? How about that orientation? It's almost like some kind of cult they have going there. 'Welcome to the family' and all that."
"I know. And I had an interesting talk with a lady I roll dough with. She was telling me… What's so funny, Jimmy?"
"Roll dough?" he laughed.
"I'll have you know I'm getting pretty good at that pie- making thing. Anyway, Betsy told me about a guy named David Cassidy who…"
"Keith Partridge? What's he got to do with this?"
"No, not Keith Partridge. Just some guy who started working at MetroKitchen the same time as Betsy who wouldn't shut up at the orientation meeting."
"Sounds vaguely familiar."
"Listen, Olsen, I was just trying to get some answers. But that guy —the voice—wouldn't even let me ask the questions. Anyway, about this Cassidy, the voice told him to get out of the room, and no one's heard from him again."
"Huh. Do you want me to see what I can dig up on him?" When Lois nodded, he continued. "I'll try to get to the Planet before going to the MetroKitchen tomorrow morning and see what I can find."
"Thanks, Jimmy. Hey, are you going to eat those Nachos?"
Jimmy smiled. "Nope, they're yours."
They continued to discuss the day's events, Jimmy telling Lois about his conversations with Sam.
"So," he concluded, yawning, "everyone seems to be afraid of rocking the boat." He was lying on the couch, his eyes closed.
Lois was sitting curled up on a chair. She said thoughtfully, "I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I'll try to press Betsy on that Cassidy guy tomorrow, and you can continue to talk to what's his name. What is his name?"
"Jimmy, what's the guy's name who warned you not to be late? Jimmy?" She got off the chair and realized Jimmy was asleep. She poked him gently. "Jimmy!" she whispered. "Jimmy, wake up. Oh, never mind. Poor guy." She covered him with a blanket, turned off the light, and went to bed.
The sun streaming in the windows the next morning woke Jimmy up with a start. He opened his eyes but didn't recognize the ceiling.
From the kitchen, Lois heard him stir. "Morning, sleepy head," she called.
"What? Where? Who? Mom?"
Lois chuckled as she entered the living room with a mug of coffee. "I may be older than you, but I'm not old enough to be your mother!"
When he saw her, he tried to sit up but fell back with a groan when his muscles resisted. He took a moment for the sleep to wear off, and then he remembered where he was.
"What am I still doing here?" he asked, again trying to sit up. This time he succeeded, but not without a struggle.
"You fell asleep last night. In the middle of my talking to you, I might add."
"I'm sorry, Lois. Why didn't you wake me? Oh my gosh, what time is it? We can't be late on our second day!"
"Relax," she said, handing him the mug. "It's only 6:00. We have a couple of hours before we have to be at work."
He sat back and sipped the coffee silently. He looked at Lois, who was reading the front page of the Daily Planet. She was still in her pajamas, although her appearance wasn't at all unkempt. He was beginning to like this side of Lois. It was one that he was never able to see at the office. He shook that thought out of his head and stood up, his muscles screaming in pain.
Lois heard him moan. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Just a little sore from yesterday." He didn't want her to know how sore. "Well, I better go. Thanks for letting me sleep here. Maybe I'll see you at the factory."
"Oh, okay. Hey Jimmy, I was thinking, maybe we could meet at the Planet right after work and talk there. So we can do that check on David Cassidy."
"Sounds good. I'll see you then." And he was out the door.
Again, as yesterday, Lois wondered what was wrong with him.
Clark flew over Metropolis as Superman that afternoon, surveying the city. It was an unusually quiet day. He had only had to make one rescue, a little girl who had slipped on some ice on her way to school. Lois must not have had an interesting investigation lately, he thought with a smile, or else he'd probably have been called to her rescue. That woman gets in more trouble than anyone I've even known.Ħ His smile faded as he realized he'd never be able to investigate with her, never be alone with her as Clark ever again. He had to see her. Against his better judgment, he turned and flew toward the Planet.
He was going to peer through the window to see if she was at her desk, but thought better of it. He didn't want to risk someone seeing him. So he hovered to the side of the window, using his X-ray vision to see through the brick wall.
He was unhappy to discover that she wasn't there. In fact, her desk was neatly organized for once and her computer was off, as if she hadn't been there all day. Maybe it was better that he didn't get to see her. He scolded himself for even coming here, and he turned and flew off into the distance. He was ashamed to admit to himself that he was hoping to find some disaster in the world that would keep his mind off of Lois Lane. As he circled the globe, he realized that nothing short of death could make him forget about Lois.
Just as Superman had flown off into the horizon, Lois Lane stepped off the elevator into the newsroom. Everyone stared at the star reporter covered in flour and wearing a white chef's uniform.
"All right, everyone, what's so interesting? Never seen a lady in white before?"
Perry came out of his office when he heard Lois' voice. "What the Sam Hill's going on out here? Everybody back to work!" He turned to Lois. "How's our little dough girl doing?"
"Very funny, Perry. I'm beginning to think you put me on this story to teach me a lesson. But don't you worry, there's a big story buried here and I'm going to find it!"
He wiped some flour off her nose and grinned. "That's my little apple dumpling."
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly and sat down at her desk. As she waited for her computer to boot up, she anxiously glanced at the elevator to see if Jimmy was back yet. She had not been able to get much from Betsy today, because the supervisors had been breathing down her neck, making sure she was doing her job well. She thought it better not to talk to the other workers while she was being watched.
The elevator bell rang and out walked Jimmy, looking more exhausted than yesterday. He straightened up when he saw her and came over to her desk.
"How was your day, Lois?"
"Oh, not great. I was watched all day by the powers that be, so I didn't get a chance to ask Betsy about Cassidy. How about you?"
"I was being watched, too. I guess it's standard practice with new employees. But I did talk with Sam over lunch and found out something interesting."
Lois pulled over a chair and patted the seat. As Jimmy sat down, she asked him eagerly, "What'd you get?"
"Well, I told him jokingly that I was going to quit," Jimmy started, too embarrassed to tell her he would love to quit; his body couldn't take much more. "He got a really serious look on his face and said I should never joke about that. When I asked him why, his voice got all hushed and he told me about this guy who got fed up with the job and went to management. Apparently when he came back from the office he was pale white and quietly went back to work. The talk was that management had threatened him somehow."
"Threatened? Like with his life?"
"Either that or with his career, I guess. He said that when someone asked this guy if he was going to stay around for a while, he said, 'Yeah, I have to.'"
"Have to? Hmm. So once you're in the 'family,' you can't get out. Did you get the name of the guy?"
"No, lunch was over. Maybe I can find out tomorrow."
"Ok. Good work, Jimmy." She smiled at him. "Why don't we run a check on David Cassidy?"
"I'm on it." As Lois watched him go, she was forming a plan in her mind.
"Listen to this, Lois." Jimmy's voice startled her from her thoughts. She glanced at her watch, realizing it had been an hour since Jimmy had left.
"David Aaron Cassidy. Born February 12, 1970 to Laura and Donald Cassidy. Not much else, so I checked police records. On October 4, 1991 a missing persons report was filed by David's parents, and there's been no mention of him since."
"October of '91. About two years ago. That's when Betsy would have started work, the same time as Cassidy."
"Do you think MetroKitchen has something to do with his disappearance?"
"I wouldn't doubt it. There's only one way to find out."
Jimmy sat down on the chair behind her. "Lois, what are you planning?" he asked suspiciously.
She turned to look over her shoulder at him. "I just thought maybe I'd get fed up with my job tomorrow and march into management's office…"
"Hold on, don't you think that's a little risky? You've already caused enough trouble. At the orientation, remember?"
"That's exactly why they won't suspect a thing. To them I'm just a loud trouble-maker."
"Lois, I think we're dealing with some ruthless people here. It seems really dangerous to put yourself in the middle of it."
She turned away to look at her computer and rolled her eyes. "How else are we going to figure out what's going on?"
"I could do it."
"Jimmy, be serious." Immediately she was sorry. Jimmy was doing well for his first undercover assignment. She hadn't meant to belittle him, but it had just slipped out. She swiveled her chair around to face him and found his head bowed, looking at the floor. "I'm sorry, Jimmy. I just meant that I have more experience at things like this, at playing a part."
Jimmy's voice was quiet. "I know I'm not CK, but you don't have to treat me like a rookie copy boy."
Lois winced when she saw the pain in his eyes. "I'm not comparing you to Clark. Really," she said quietly. "I don't mean to imply that you couldn't handle this. I just think that your bursting in and threatening to quit out of the blue might seem a little suspect. They already know I'm a hot-head." He mouth curved up in a small smile. "Besides, I need you there to protect me." He smiled fully now, knowing that was not at all true.
"You don't need anyone to protect you, Lois. I need you for that."
She grinned. "Don't you forget it." They stood up. "How about some Chinese?"
"Sounds great. I'm starved. And I want to hear the details of this plan."
They started to walk towards the elevator. "Well, I haven't got it all worked out yet."
"When has that stopped you before?"
They laughed as they approached the door. "Maybe you can help me out with it," she said, looking at him sideways.
He grinned. "I'd love to."
As they finished up their take-out back at Lois' apartment, Jimmy summed up their plan. "So you spend the morning complaining audibly about the job while I try to get some more info out of Sam." He shoved the last bite of an egg roll in his mouth. Chewing it thoughtfully, he said, "What happens if we're being watched again tomorrow?"
Lois set her pint of noodles down on the coffee table. "Jimmy, that's fine it they're watching us. Good, in fact. Then they'll know I'm about ready to stir up trouble."
"Fine. But don't forget to meet me at the Planet at 5:30. I want to make sure you're okay." He looked at Lois shyly, then glanced away. "We still don't know why there have been three fires in the last month. I haven't noticed any fire hazards in the factory."
"Me, either, although I'm always a fire hazard when I'm around a hot oven." She looked at him, and they both smiled. "The other thing that's bothering me is that everyone seems so content with the job. Why hasn't there been a strike or a riot? And why hasn't anyone gone to the police if they've been threatened?"
"If they've been threatened with their lives, they've probably also been ordered not to go to the cops. Maybe the word's gotten around that the people who make trouble disappear. The pay's okay, so why complain? They're probably scared."
"I guess. I know I couldn't put up with threats. Hey, could you hand me a napkin?"
"Sure." Jimmy leaned over to pick one up from the other end of the table, and he couldn't suppress a moan.
"Jimmy, what's wrong?"
"Uh, nothing. Just a little stiff." He handed her the napkin.
"Oh. So everything's all set then, I guess. Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You look terrible."
"Thanks a lot." The grin on his face turned into a grimace as he tried to stand up gracefully.
Lois was watching his face. "Boy, you really are sore."
He cursed himself for showing his pain. He had thought before this week that he was in pretty good shape. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'll see you tomorrow." As he headed slowly for the door, Lois jumped up and stopped him.
"Jimmy, that's ridiculous. You're obviously not okay. Sit down." She pulled him over to the couch and sat down next to him. "Turn to the side," she instructed. She reached up and started massaging his shoulders.
"Lois, you really don't have to do this…"
"Just be quiet and let me. What are they making you poor guys do over there in packaging?" Jimmy answered with a groan. Her hands felt good, but they also hurt like crazy. He squirmed a little under her touch.
"Is that too hard? I'm sorry." She lessened her intensity and moved her hands down to his upper arms.
"No, ah, it feels good," he managed to say through clenched teeth.
Eventually she had most of the muscles in his back and arms worked out, and he started to relax. "Thank you so much, Lois. This feels great."
"You know, I used to do this for my dad. He was often stiff after traveling on his business trips." She paused in thought for a moment, then got up on her knees behind him. She turned her hands so her fingers were down, and she rubbed his lower back with her palms.
She hesitated. "Jimmy, tell me the truth. Do I repel men?"
"What?" His eyes were closed as he was enjoying the massage.
"I just seem to have this knack for chasing away the men in my life. Is there something wrong with me?"
"Lois, you're a very beautiful woman," he ventured. "I've always thought so."
"Thanks, Jimmy." She paused her rhythmic movements, then resumed. "I mean, first there was my father. He couldn't stand me."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"Then Claude, who took my story and left." Her movements became more harsh at the memory.
"Sorry. And now there's Clark." She crossed her arms behind Jimmy's neck and rested her chin on them, her mouth right next to his ear. She stared into space, lost in thought. "Oh, Clark, where are you?"
Jimmy could hear the sorrow in her voice. He wasn't sure what to say. "So you miss him a lot?"
"Yeah," she sighed. "I do."
His heart broke at her sadness. Then he felt his shoulder moisten.
"Lois, please don't cry. There is nothing about you that repels men. I don't think you had anything to do with CK leaving. I know for a fact how much he cared for you." Then he added softly, "And how much I care for you."
As he slowly turned to face her, she removed her arms from his back. Their eyes met, and he reached up to wipe the tears from her face with his thumb. "Lois, please. Don't cry." Their faces were so close that he only moved an inch before their lips met. Hers were wet from tears, and he tasted their saltiness. The kiss became nothing more than a soft, tender embrace. After a moment, he pulled back and waited for her to open her eyes.
"Lois, I'm sorry. That's not what you needed right now. I don't know what came over me."
"Jimmy. Don't apologize. That was…nice." She smiled shyly. He smiled, too. Hearing that his kiss was "nice" from anyone else would normally be an insult, but coming from her, right now, it was the best thing she could have said. Her voice became mock serious. "But if you ever tell anyone about this, I'll have your butt in a sling and your camera thrown off a cliff."
He grinned and started to get up. He paused and then placed a soft kiss on her cheek, just below her eye. Then he got up, still with some difficulty, and headed to the door. "Sure thing, Lois." He opened the door but turned around before he left. "Thanks again for the massage. Good luck tomorrow. Be careful."
As the door closed behind him, he breathed a sigh and headed home.
Lois looked at the closed door and her hand went up to her cheek where Jimmy had kissed her. She smiled to herself. She took comfort in Jimmy's words, and yes, even in his kiss. Maybe she didn't repel men. Maybe they were the problem, not her. Yes, that must be it. Her father, Claude, Clark… they didn't know what they were missing.
She shook her head to clear her mind of thoughts of her partner. "I'll deal with him later," she determined out loud as she headed to bed.
"I tell you, Betsy, I need my coffee!" Lois slammed her rolling pin on the counter and wiped her face with the back of her hand.
"Lois, keep your voice down."
"Why should I? It's torture, not having coffee in the morning."
"Please. Don't draw attention to yourself. Or me." Betsy lowered her head to concentrate on the pie she was finishing up.
Lois glanced around the area. Seeing her supervisor, she said in a loud voice, "Well, I think we employees deserve to be heard around here. What ever happened to workers' rights?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw the supervisor head in the direction of the management offices.
Nice setup, Lane, she complimented herself. Now her visit to management this afternoon wouldnĦt be unexpected.
Jimmy was pleased to discover when he had gotten out of bed in the morning that his muscles were feeling almost normal, thanks to Lois. Then he kicked himself for kissing her. What was he thinking, taking advantage of her last night? He had to admit that their kiss was wonderful, something he had always wanted to do but had never dared to. But he knew that Clark and Lois belonged together. When he saw them together, working or not, he saw two people who completed each other, who were so right for each other it was scary. He knew that Clark loved her; he was not very good at hiding his adoration for her. And Jimmy had long suspected that Lois felt the same about Clark. As soon as this investigation was over, he was going track down Clark and bring those two back together, where they belonged.
But in the meantime, Jimmy tried to remain close to Sam all morning, trying to get some information from him that would help their case. But Sam didn't seem to want to talk much about the guy who had tried to get fired. So Jimmy tried another tactic just minutes before lunchtime.
"So Sam, heard anything much about the fire in the soup division the other day?" They were loading boxes with canned blueberries today.
"Um, yeah. No one was hurt, right? Didn't Superman rescue everyone in time?"
"Yeah, I think so. That's what I read, anyway. Hey, do you know how it started?" He tried to be nonchalant.
Sam looked around to see who was in earshot. Then he bent over and whispered, "Jimmy, don't tell anyone I told you this, okay?" Jimmy nodded. They continued to pack boxes slowly. "There's going to be another fire tomorrow, here this time."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Here? In this factory? How do you know that?"
Again, Sam glanced around. Everyone had gone to lunch already. "Those fires were no accident. They were set on purpose."
"Who would purposely set fires? That's really dangerous… Wait a minute. Are you telling me someone's sabotaging the company?"
"I probably shouldn't be telling you this. Only a few people are supposed to know, so that this doesn't leak. But I really need to tell somebody."
"Go on, you can trust me." Jimmy knew that sounded fake, but Sam seemed to believe him.
"There is a group of guys who came up with this plan. There are two from soup, one in frozen foods, and two here in the bakery division, including me. We've had it with these rules here." His voice started to rise in anger, so he controlled himself. "And you know how I told you about the guy who wanted to quit?" Jimmy nodded. "That was me."
"Two months ago I just got so tired of the way things are around here. I tried to quit. But they threatened me. And my family." Sam's eyes filled with tears. "Jimmy, they said they would take away my baby daughter and my wife if I refused to stay, or if I told anyone about the threat. So I couldn't leave. You understand, right? I couldn't risk it."
Sam sighed and continued. "So after a few weeks I got over being scared and I got really angry. Who are they to make me work here against my will, you know? So I talked to a couple of guys, the ones I just named, and two of them had wanted to quit, too. So we came up with this idea. We thought, you know, if we burn down the factory, they can't hold us here anymore. But then Superman always comes and stops it from burning to the ground." He smiled wryly. "He's done a lot for this city, but he's ruining our plan."
Jimmy smiled quickly and then thought of something. "Hey, how did they know you had a family? I didn't have to provide that on my application."
"I don't know. I guess they just did a background check."
"Background check, hmmm…," Jimmy mused out loud. "What if they do a check on me? They'll find out that there is no James Perry."
"What are you talking about?"
Jimmy's eyes widened as he looked at Sam. "And there's no Lois Clarkson. I have to warn Lois!"
"What? Who's Lois?"
"Never mind. Thanks for telling me all this. I won't tell anyone. Promise." And then he sprinted toward the cafeteria.
"Wait!" Sam called after him.
By the time Jimmy got to the cafeteria, all the other workers were already sitting down eating lunch. He searched frantically for Lois and found her near the back sitting with a bunch of girls in chef's uniforms. So as not to break their cover, he walked casually to her table. As he passed behind Lois, he secretly scraped his fingers along her back and continued walking. She hadn't noticed him coming, but since she felt somebody touch her with more than an accidental brush, she looked up. That's when she saw Jimmy walk out the side door of the cafeteria.
She excused herself from the table and followed him out the door, where he was waiting for her. "Jimmy, what are you doing? You're going to blow our cover."
"Lois, listen to me. Our cover is probably going to be blown anyway when they do a background check." At Lois' confused look he added, "We can't talk about it here." He took her by the wrist and led her down the hallways to the small room where they had had their orientation meeting. He surprised himself by remembering how to get there. Shutting the door, he turned to Lois, who looked more confused than ever.
"Jimmy, you better start talking, and fast."
"Okay, you know how yesterday we were being watched by our supervisors? Well, I don't think that was a common practice for new employees. I think it was because they know we're reporters. Sam told me that he was the one who had tried to quit, but they threatened to hurt his family." Jimmy continued to tell her the workers' plan to burn the MetroKitchen factories to the ground.
"So you mean to tell me that those fires were set on purpose? And there's going to be another one tomorrow?"
"Yes, and if management does background checks, they're going to know something's up when they don't find anything on Lois Clarkson or James Perry."
"You're right, James. We didn't find anything." Lois and Jimmy looked up, startled. It was the invisible man. "But now we know who you really are. Reporters from the Daily Planet, correct?" They didn't answer. "Your silence says enough. Bob, Albert, would you kindly put these reporters in their place?"
Bob, whom Jimmy recognized as his burly supervisor, and Albert, the man who had guided them here on their first day, came in with ropes and gags. Both Jimmy and Lois tried to fend them off, but in no time they were each tied to a chair. Before Albert was able to put the gag in her mouth, Lois tried a lost ditch effort to get them out of there.
"You think you're pretty smart. I bet you didn't know about the fires before now, huh?"
"Fires?" the voice said, amused. "Of course not. But now that we do, don't you worry you're pretty little head about them. They will be stopped."
"Who are you? Too cowardly to show your face!" Lois struggled against the ropes. Jimmy had already been gagged and sat helplessly in the chair. "What are you, some kind of Wizard of Oz wannabe?"
"Well, Lois, if I only had some courage I might just answer you. But then, you're not in Kansas anymore, Lo-Lo." He laughed at himself.
Lois thought suddenly of Clark. Would she ever see him again? What she wouldn't give to be shucking corn at the Smallville corn festival right now.
"You think you're so funny. An invisible man with a sense of humor…"
"Enough!" the voice boomed. "Gag her!" Albert did as instructed. Lois tried to scream but was unable.
"Now, we must handle Sam and those other boys who have decided to play with fire." Jimmy's eyes widened, and he also started to struggle. "Bob and Albert, please take care of that." The two left the room, locking the door behind them.
"As for you two," the voice said quietly, "sit there and, please, try to stay out of trouble." He laughed and was gone.
"Yohis!" It was Jimmy. He was able to use his toes and wheel his chair over to Lois'. "Yeen huhp."
Jimmy demonstrated what he was asking her to do by leaning his head forward. She leaned up, and he struggle to get his mouth as close to her head as possible. He had seen this in a movie once.
"Hwut har shou dohing?" Lois couldn't believe Jimmy was trying to put the moves on her at a time like this!
Jimmy mumbled a response and was able to close his lips around the knot in the gag behind her head. Then he found a loose end with his tongue and clamped his teeth around it. He pulled as hard as he could, and the knot came loose slightly. Then he grabbed the gag right by her ear with his teeth and pulled downwards. He had loosened it just enough that it slipped off Lois' mouth.
"Wow, Jimmy, how did you know how to do that?"
Jimmy rolled his eyes and stared at her. "Shuperhman!"
Lois realized what he was saying and screamed. "Help Superman, help! Suuuperrrmaaaan!"
Just then, Bob and Albert burst into the room. Bob whacked her in the face with the back of his hand, and her head fell limp to the side. Jimmy screamed behind the gag.
Superman was flying above Metropolis when he thought he heard the sound of Lois' voice. Then he knew for sure it was her, and he zeroed in on her location. The MetroKitchen factory? What was she doing there?
He sped across the sky in a blur of blue and red, and he plowed through the roof of the factory. He found himself in the middle of a hallway. Thinking he heard a muffled voice, he followed it through the maze of hallways, looking through the walls with his X- ray vision.
When he found the source of the voice, he crashed through the door and quickly assessed the situation. In one quick blur he had untied Lois and Jimmy and tied the two large men together tightly. He ran to Lois, who was semi-conscious by this time.
"Lois, Lois." He patted her face gently, trying to wake her.
"Superman, there's a guy who seems to be in charge who we've never seen but he talks to us through those speakers…" It was Jimmy, excited and babbling.
"I'll find him." He looked at Lois in concern. "Take care of her."
"Sure thing, Superman." He went over to Lois as Superman tore the speakers off the wall. When he saw that the wire went up through the ceiling, he searched the second floor with his special vision and saw a man racing through the hallways.
"I'll be back," he said and flew out the door.
Jimmy turned to Lois, who began to try to say something. Her eyes fluttered open and struggled to focus. Jimmy knelt beside her. "Wha..what happened?"
"Superman saved us, Lois. We're going to be okay." She leaned forward and hugged her friend.
In a moment Superman returned holding a small man of about 40 by the collar. "Is this the man?" He was secretly relieved to see that Lois was conscious.
Lois said, "That's him? That's the wizard? Say 'you're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.'" Superman raised a questioning eyebrow at her.
"Say it," he instructed the man.
"You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," the man said reluctantly.
"That's him." Jimmy and Lois spoke simultaneously. Jimmy said, "There must be more people involved with this, other management. Sam will be able to… Sam! I hope those thugs didn't get to him!" He ran off to find him. Superman and Lois followed, Superman carrying the culprit with one arm.
They all burst into the baking factory to the stares of the workers. Jimmy smiled when he saw Sam still okay and sprinted over to him.
"Didn't they find you?"
"Who? Jimmy, what's going on? Why's Superman here?"
"It's all over, Sam. That little guy there," he pointed to the man Superman had a hold of," he's the one in charge."
Sam looked at him confused.
"He's the invisible man, from the orientation. If you can identify the people in management who threatened you, they will go to prison for sure, for a long time. All you have to do is point them out. All of you." He looked around at everybody in the factory.
"You mean no more working here? No more threats?" Sam was incredulous. Jimmy nodded, as did Lois. "Well alright then, sure I'll identify management. With pleasure!"
The next few hours were a blur. After Lois briefly explained to Superman what had been going on at MetroKitchen, he was eager to catch all those involved, which totaled eight in all. He handed them over to the police when they arrived. And of course, the Daily Planet got the scoop on the story, with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen as the heroes. And Superman, of course.
It was decided that instead of putting all the factory employees out of work, the company would stay open with the help of several veteran employees acting as supervisors. When the question of ownership and management came up, Lex Luthor's name was mentioned as a possibility, among others. There was definite interest on the part of wealthy business owners in Metropolis to take over MetroKitchen.
The five men, including Sam, who had conspired to burn down the factory were taken into custody by the police. But the police assured them that they would receive lighter sentences for their part in identifying the management. Probably a large fine, but no jail time.
Lois said goodbye to Betsy Rocker and then pulled Jimmy aside when most of the commotion had died down. "You know, Jimmy, you turned out to be a pretty good undercover investigator."
"Thanks, Lois." He grinned. "But I'm not so sure I want to do it again anytime soon," he said, rubbing the rope burns on his wrists.
"You mean you don't want to be my partner?" Lois joked.
"I'm flattered Lois, really, but you couldn't keep up with me." Then he said seriously, "And we both know there's only one partner for you." He kissed her on the cheek and then walked over to talk with Sam before he was taken to the police station.
Superman saw Lois alone and politely excused himself from the police officer he was talking to. He didn't really want to approach her; he wasn't ready to face her infatuation for Superman again. But he couldn't leave without saying something, he told himself.
Lois was lost in thought and didn't notice Superman approaching. "Lois, glad to see you back to normal again."
She looked up. "Normal?"
"You know, back into trouble." He smiled.
She smiled back absently. "Hey Superman, have you heard from Clark lately?"
"Yeah. He hasn't gotten in touch since he left Metropolis. I thought since you were good friends and all…"
"I've… spoken to him a few times." Clark looked in her eyes. It couldn't be, could it? Was that jealousy he saw?
"Oh. Well, if you talk to him again, tell him we miss him. Well, tell him I miss him… a lot. Thanks for saving us tonight. You really helped us out again." With that she turned and walked away.
Superman was stunned.
"I didn't know what to say. I just stood there and watched her walk off." Clark looked at his parents for help. "What do you think that meant? What should I do?"
Jonathan said, "Son, you know you need to make this decision yourself, but it sounds like she would like to see Clark again."
"Honey, she wants Clark!"
"We don't know that, Mom. But she sure didn't fall all over Superman like I thought she would, like she always has."
"Maybe this means she's over her infatuation," Jonathan suggested.
"That's exactly what this means, Jonathan!" Martha was more excited and less cautious than her husband.
"She sounded so sad," Clark said. "I can't stand to see her sad. And if it is Clark that she's missing," he said, a cautious grin appearing on his face, "then I'm going to have to do something about that."
His parents smiled knowingly. "I'll get your suitcase."
"Good job, you two," Perry said, holding up the latest edition of the Planet, hot off the press. "Who would have suspected that Metropolis' major food producer was holding employees against their Will?"
"Thanks, Perry. And Jimmy deserves a lot of the credit." Lois looked at Jimmy. "You'll have to teach me that thing you did with your mouth to undo my gag."
Perry looked back and forth between the two friends smiling at each other and decided it was better not to ask. Just then the elevator door opened and Perry looked past them to see a familiar face enter the newsroom.
"Great shades of Elvis. I wasn't sure we'd see you again." Although I had a sense we would, Perry thought slyly.
Lois and Jimmy turned to see Clark coming towards them carrying a box of office supplies.
"CK!" Jimmy ran over and slapped Clark on the back. Lois hung back. "Are you here to stay?"
Clark's smile faded as he looked to Perry. "If you'll have me."
"Of course we'll have you, son. Come on, Jimmy, let's go find Clark's letter of resignation and tear it up."
"You got it, Chief."
As he turned to leave, Perry said, "Welcome back, son."
"Thanks, Chief." After they had left, Clark turned to Lois. "It's good to see you, Lois."
As she tried to control her emotions, she said, "You too," then quickly added, "What happened with your job in Smallville?"
"It, uh, didn't work out." He placed the box on his old desk. "Is anyone using this?"
She crossed her arms and smiled. "So you think you can just walk in here and take back your desk, your job?"
"I'd like to. How about my partner? Can I have her back?"
"I thought you said when you left that I don't need a partner?"
"I did, and I meant it. But I do. I need a partner." Clark hesitated. "I need you, Lois."
Lois melted at the honestly in his eyes and wrapped her arms around him. "I need you too, Clark," she whispered in his ear. "Welcome back."
Clark returned the hug and buried his face her hair. From the editor's office, Perry and Jimmy couldn't help but smile.