By Juli Hale <email@example.com>
Submitted August 2000
Summary: A new face at the Planet turns out to be someone from Lois's past, a man she'd have preferred never to have seen again.
Life was good. As the lovely brunette leaned back in her chair and breathed in the smell of printer's ink, she glanced over at her adoring husband, who was working intently on some background information for a story they were getting ready to sink their teeth into. The realization that he could finish all that work in a matter of seconds if he so chose brought a smile to her face, and proved again how deeply Clark Kent enjoyed his life as a journalist. His activity as Superman sometimes overshadowed the dedication he had to his work, but Lois knew that the Daily Planet was as much a part of him as it was of her.
Yes, and the Planet was a major part of her life. Before Clark, it had been her whole life. In the past few years, she had found a balance between the thrill of the newsroom and the peaceful solid personal life that she shared with Clark. Lois Lane was not just a journalist anymore — she was a whole person.
And even thought she didn't yet know it, it would take every bit of the strength she had gained to face the days ahead.
Perry's voice resounding through the newsroom gained everyone's attention. He was waving slips of paper in the air as he began his announcement. "As you all know, Harvey Samuels just retired from his position on the Board of Directors. Now, he was always a staunch supporter of us down here in the bull pen, and we'll miss him, but it was his time to enjoy a little of that life he put aside to be newsman. Anyway, the Board is meeting this week to appoint a new member, and to vote on officers for the upcoming fiscal year."
Perry paused to look seriously at Lois and Clark, while still addressing the whole assembly, "I don't have to tell you people how a change in the suits upstairs affects this whole paper." Lois and Clark looked at each other, remembering full well how personnel changes had effected them in the past-Lex Luthor, Franklin Stern, Leslie Luckaby…
Perry continued, "Now this is not a change in ownership, but past experience tells us that we do need to be prepared for anything that might happen. I have tickets here for a formal la- dee-da in the Banquet Hall of Lexor Towers-Thursday night, 7:00. It would be in your best interests, if you get my drift, to attend and to show your support for the new board member. It never hurts to play the game. And look sharp!" With that, he gave the tickets to Jimmy to hand out and marched back into his office, slamming the door behind him.
Jimmy handed the tickets to Clark for him and Lois, "Man, CK, Perry seems a little out-of-whack over this whole deal, don't ya think?"
Lois interrupted, "Well, Jimmy, every change we've had, with the exception of Franklin Stern, has been nothing less than a nightmare." Clark nodded thoughtfully as she continued, "I'll guess we'll just all have to wait until Friday to see what happens. Am I the only one who thinks it's odd that they're going to all the trouble of giving this mystery person a formal reception? Whoever it is, he or she must think they're hot stuff."
On Thursday evening, the night of what Perry called "the big shindig," Lois walked down the stairs of their brownstone slowly, enjoying the look of admiration on her husband's face. She was wearing an ankle-length black dress with four upper mid- thigh slits, accentuating her long, slender legs. Her hair was swept away from her face in a very simple style, with a few stray tendrils shaping her face. The hairstyle and the spaghetti-strapped dress drew attention to her graceful neck and milky white shoulders. She needed no jewelry.
"Honey, you look absolutely perfect."
"You don't look so bad yourself, flyboy." She flashed him that smile that never failed to make his super-powered heart skip a beat.
The look in her husband's eyes told Lois that they had better leave now if they intended to make the reception at all, much less if they were to be on time. While their colleagues were quite accustomed to Lois and Clark's tendency to lose themselves in each other, both doubted that a late arrival would be the best first impression to make on the new board member. Not to mention that seeing Perry's disapproving glare was not high on their list of things to do immediately before their impending deaths.
Lois and Clark arrived just in time to walk into the banquet hall with Perry, Alice, Jimmy, and Penny. Not failing to notice the satisfied, if not surprised, once over Perry gave them, Lois remarked indignantly, "What, you doubted we'd make it here?"
Jimmy laughed, "We knew you'd be here, but we had bets on how 'fashionably' late you'd be." Seeing Lois' stony glare, he quickly qualified, "Uh, well…see, we know that you always are working on stories, and sometimes you get these leads that, well, uh…"
Clark chuckled, "Okay, Jimmy, just stop while you're ahead." He motioned towards a table and pulled a seat out for Lois.
The group recognized many familiar faces around them, and Perry seemed to be quite satisfied with the turnout. Perry felt he and Alice should go mingle with the 'suits,' but everyone knew that he was anxious to meet the newcomer and be assured that the focus of his paper was not going to be changed. The Daily Planet was not going to become some two-bit rag just to raise subscriptions.
For the next half-hour or so, the two younger couples engaged in idle chit-chat, enjoying the time they were spending away from the office. Both Lois and Clark were happy to see the maturing effect that his relationship with Penny was having on Jimmy. They agreed that they would have to spend more time together outside of work, now that they could do so safely away from mosh pits and abandoned subways.
Finally, their attention was called to the platform in the center of the banquet hall. They noted both Franklin Stern and Perry standing near the podium. Stern had reacquired the Planet shortly after the demise of Lex Luthor, Jr. In fact, in light of his criminal activity, all of Luthor's holdings had been first offered to their previous owners. It was Stern who was about to begin a speech. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to have your attention, please. I am honored to present to you this evening the newest member of the Planet's Board of Directors, a man who earlier today was also voted in as CEO of Operations. Because of his outstanding credentials in the field of Journalism and his vision of excellence for the Planet's future, we are proud to have Peter Alistair join our team. Without further ado… Peter Alistair."
Perry began the round of applause that quickly spread around the room, reaching everyone but Lois, who had paled when she heard the name, gasping, "No. It couldn't be."
Clark paused his applause and glanced quickly at his wife, confused by her reaction. "Honey, what's wrong? Are you okay?"
He continued to watch her in concern as Alistair entered the banquet hall and began his address. "Fellow Journalists. It is an honor to become a part of a world-class paper such as the Daily Planet. It has long been a dream of mine…"
Clark repeated, whispering, "Honey, what's the matter?"
At a loss for words, and not willing to try to explain, Lois answered, "Uh, I have a headache. Do you think we could get out of here?"
Voicing the reason for their exit quietly to Jimmy, they silently slipped out of the banquet hall and made their way towards Hyperion Avenue.
Back at home, Lois and Clark held each other on the couch, both happy just to be at home and with each other. Lois' headache had left as mysteriously as it had appeared. They had even enjoyed a few glasses of wine before a call for Superman interrupted their evening. Clark needlessly apologized for his impending departure, as they both had long ago accepted that his alter ego was a necessary element of their lives. Lois didn't begrudge his duties as Superman; she had known full well when she married him what she was getting into. She often made sure that Clark knew how much she loved his desire to protect the innocent and to stand up for truth and justice, traits that she too harbored. That's not to say that sometimes she didn't wish she had her husband all to herself, but she was willing to share Superman with the world, knowing Clark would always come home to her alone.
This evening, Lois sat back on their sofa, in front of the fire Clark had built for them. Putting unpleasant thoughts out of her mind, and hoping that she had simply been mistaken about the identity of the new board member, she patiently awaited her husband's return. She secretly hoped his return would be soon, as she had plans about how they could spend the rest of the evening. As she waited, she became sleepy, and soon she had drifted into a quiet slumber. Unfortunately, her peaceful sleep soon became disturbed and a nightmare raged within her head.
Clark arrived to find his wife tossing fitfully on their couch, a thin sheen of sweat from the labor of her dream evident across the delicate skin of her forehead. During the year and a half they had been married, it was not the first time he had had to awaken her from an unpleasant dream; his Lois had an active imagination. Still, something about the expression on her face was different than ever before. It was positively unsettling. He sat down beside her and gently called her name, trying to ease her out of her subconscious and back into reality where he could comfort her.
"Don't touch me! Get away!" Her eyes shot open in terror, only to see Clark's somewhat hurt and confused reaction to her outburst. He backed away just enough to let her collect herself.
"Lois, it's just me. Are you okay?" He had never quite seen her this way and wasn't sure how to proceed.
"Clark, I…" Lois tried to answer his question, but she too was confused. "I don't know. I fell asleep, but I don't remember what I was dreaming about. I just think it was really bad." She saw the questions in his eyes and continued, "I'm sorry I snapped at you, sweetie. I just don't know what came over me or why I acted that way. Forgive me?"
"Always." He smiled warmly and embraced the woman he loved, glad to be able to make her feel safe in his arms.
As they went to bed that night, Clark felt impelled to ask her about her nightmare again. "I can't help but wonder what made you so upset. You're sure you don't remember anything?"
Nonchalantly she replied, "Not anything in particular. But I do remember what I was thinking about before I fell asleep."
"Oh, really? And what would that be, Mrs. Kent?"
Grinning, Lois replied, "I think it would be more effective if I just showed you, Mr. Kent."
A distant "HELP, SUPERMAN!" woke Clark during the night. He glanced over at his sleeping wife, satisfied that she was peacefully unaware of the commotion. Quickly changing into Superman, he quietly stepped out on their terrace and flew to offer his assistance where it was needed.
After saving a family from a house fire and helping two would-be robbers see the error of their ways, he was ready to head back to his bed. As he approached the terrace of his brownstone, he noticed with surprise that the bedroom light was on. He thought it odd that Lois would be up at this time of night, since she usually was undisturbed by his frequent departures. His approach was quickened as he heard the shattering of glass within his home.
What he saw next was enough to make even the man of steel melt. His wife was huddled in a corner of their bedroom, a bewildered, frightened expression on her face. She looked childlike and afraid, not at all like the woman he knew. The palm of her hand was sliced open and bleeding profusely, apparently from its impact with the lamp that had previously sat on Lois' nightstand, but which was now in hundreds of pieces on the bedroom floor. The long white satin nightgown she wore was streaked with red from the blood pouring from her injured hand. She seemed not even to notice. Her eyes were wild as she looked right through him, no recognition of him showing on her face.
"L-Lois? W-what happened?" Clark x-rayed their home, looking for some clue as to what had caused his wife to be in this state, but he found nothing. No one had been there, no one but her. He started towards her but stopped short as she recoiled in fear.
"Lois, it's me, Clark." His heart pounded against his chest, his own hurt rising as he watched his beloved wife in such obvious torture. Mind racing, he wondered what he could possibly do, knowing only that he must act quickly if for no other reason than to stop the bleeding of her hand. "Lois, you've got to trust me, okay? I'm not going to hurt you; I'm not going to let anything or anyone hurt you, you've got to believe that."
"He's g-going to g-get me. You can't help. It's too late." Tears spilled forth out of her eyes, and Clark fought the urge to run to her, scoop her up, and fly her away where nothing could touch either one of them. But he knew he couldn't risk further upsetting her. He had to restrain his own feelings and concentrate on calming Lois down and making her feel safe.
"Lois, it's not ever too late. You of all people should know that by now. There's nothing we can't overcome together. You've got be strong." Clark felt like he was trying to tame a wild animal.
"Not strong. S-scared." Hysteria was beginning to set in again. "Stay back. Don't touch me!"
"Lois, I'll be strong for you, you can depend on me." Clark continued to croon soft words of comfort to her, hoping to gain her trust long enough to tend to her wound. If this continued much longer, he would have to do so by force. He was oblivious to the cause of his wife's distress, but an explanation would simply have to wait until the situation was under control. "Lois, concentrate on the sound of my voice. It's Clark, your husband, remember?" She looked at him dubiously as he continued, "See your hand, baby? It's hurt, but I can help you if you'll just let me, okay?"
Suddenly, and for no overtly obvious reason, the fog lifted from Lois' eyes and she stood with her arms outstretched to run for her husband, who gladly met her halfway. "Oh, Clark," she sobbed. "I don't know what's happening. He's in my head, I remember…"
Clark kept a tight hold on her as he floated them downstairs and into the kitchen, where he hastily found a first aid kit. He sat Lois on the counter top and gently took her hand in his. She had lost a lot of blood, but he felt confident that she would be fine. In fact, he silently wished that the deep cut on her palm could be the worst of what lay ahead, but inside himself, he knew it wasn't. "Honey, this is going to sting a little, okay?" As he poured the first aid solution onto the wound, he noticed that she didn't even flinch, as though the pain in her hand was nothing compared to what she was going through internally.
When Clark looked into up into her face, he saw her looking back at him for the first time with true recognition. He saw his Lois. She timidly stared back at him and quietly whispered, "Thank you." This simple action filled him with a kind of relief. Although he still feared what was to come, he knew they could face anything as long as his Lois trusted him.
Moments passed and finally Clark had to break the silence. He had to know what was going on, as much for his sake as for hers. "Lois, what happened back there? Tell me how to help you."
"Clark, so much is going on in my head…" she sobbed. "There's something I haven't told you." She was very emotional, so Clark decided not to push her. "Please understand, I just can't say it yet."
It was easy to see that Lois was exhausted from the night's events. Even though he desperately wanted to know what was going on in Lois' mind, he knew from experience that it was no use to probe, because anything from Lois had to come in her own good time. "It's okay, honey. Right now, let's just get you back in bed. You need to rest and maybe things will seem better in the morning."
They lay in bed for sometime, but Lois would not close her eyes. Clark encouraged her to try and get some sleep, but he soon figured out the problem. While exhausted, she was still far too afraid to sleep. She was afraid of what awaited her in her dreams.
Finally, he persuaded her to close her eyes, promising to watch her and make sure that she slept peacefully. He told her that at the first sign of a nightmare, he would wake her up. That seemed to reassure her because she almost immediately drifted off.
Clark watched her sleep for hours. He had promised her he would keep her safe and he had every intention of doing so. Around 9:00 a.m., he made the decision to call Perry and tell him they wouldn't be in. This time, he felt like Lois wouldn't object to missing work. Perry was very understanding, knowing that his two top reporters didn't take missing work lightly.
Another hour had passed by the time Lois opened her heavy eyelids. She sat up slowly, looking around her as if for a moment she didn't know where she was.
"Morning, honey." Clark greeted her tentatively. "Feeling better this morning?"
"My hand hurts." She couldn't meet his gaze.
"You cut it pretty deep. I checked it a little while ago, and the bleeding's almost completely stopped, but I'm afraid you still might need stitches. We could go to the hospital after you get dressed."
"No, it'll be okay, but I do think I'll take a shower now." She looked down at her blood-caked garment, noting she even had dried blood in her hair from where she had run her fingers through it during her hysteria. She sighed, "I feel positively grungy."
Clark was concerned that she hadn't even mentioned work. Lois just wasn't herself. "Uh, I called Perry and let him know we wouldn't be in today."
"Fine." She didn't turn around. "I'll be in the shower."
While Lois was taking her shower, Clark sped around the room, cleaning up any evidence of the trauma from the previous night. He even made the bed and threw together a light breakfast, which he set up on the terrace outside their room. Willing to do anything to brighten Lois' spirits and get to the bottom of this, he figured the closer things were to normal, the better.
As soon as he had the bedroom arranged to his satisfaction, he sat to wait for Lois to finish her shower. He was tempted to join her, but decided to allow her a little space to clear her thoughts. For the first time since he arrived home last night, he started to think about what his wife's mysterious behavior was all about. Before, he had been too worried to really concentrate on what she could have kept from him. She had said, "There's something I've not told you." 'Something she's not told me. We don't have secrets, at least not anymore. What could be so bad that she couldn't tell me? Maybe I misunderstood.' The longer he waited, and it was taking her a long time in the shower, the more carried away his imagination was getting. 'Okay, Kent, this isn't doing you any good — you'll just have to wait for and explanation.'
When Lois joined him outside, she looked much improved. Wearing no makeup, she seemed very fresh and young. Her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck, and she wore an old sweatshirt of Clark's with knit leggings. The thick white bandage around her hand was the only hint that anything was wrong.
Clark reached across the patio table and took her good hand in his. "Lois, I think we need to talk about what happened last night. Mom always says the light of a new day helps put things in perspective. She's usually right, you know."
"Nothing will ever be the same." Somewhat resigned, she started her explanation, knowing she would have to address it eventually. "I want to tell you everything, really I do, it's just so hard to find the words." He patiently waited for her to continue. "You were so great last night. I couldn't have made it through without you. This whole mess must really have you confused, I know that I am. Just hang in there with me, okay?"
Seriously, he replied, "You can count on me, honey. I'll always be here for you. Whatever you need." Still, he had to voice his own concerns. "I do have to say you've got me worried. My imagination's trying to get the best of me. But please, Lois, know that I trust you and that together we can face anything."
His declaration of faith in her gave her the strength she needed to begin the process of opening up. She knew she could tell Clark anything, she knew he would know how to help her heal. "I don't really know where to start, so just hear me out okay? I've never meant to keep anything from you, and I'm not going to start now. This is something that happened a long time ago, almost in a different life. It's just — this is so hard, you know?"
Clark was trying diligently to understand. "Just start from the beginning. We'll take it from there — together."
"It all started such a long time ago. Remember how I told you that I moved out of the house my senior year of high school — because of a disagreement with Dad?" As Clark nodded his head, she continued. "Well, I had already been accepted to the University of Metropolis with a full academic scholarship and a 20-hour per week work study program. Anyway, I had saved enough money to make it on my own until college started and my stipend started coming in. It was tight, but I was determined not to have to go running back to Dad. Mom was just beginning to recover from her alcoholism at the time, and the one thing that Dad and I agreed on was not to involve her in any problems that we were having-she already had enough to deal with. Dad had sent Lucy to a private school for girls in California, mainly because she was too wild for him to handle without interfering with his 'work'.
"At any rate, nothing was keeping me at home, so I moved in with my girlfriend until the end of high school. She was going to attend school out-of-state, and she left as soon as the school year was ended. So, I only had to make it through the summer on the money I had to be okay…or so I thought."
Clark was once again reminded of how lucky he was to have the familial support that he had his whole life. He promised himself that Lois and any children they would ever have would never face difficulties that would separate them in that way. "It must have been so hard for you — to be that young and alone."
"Yes. It was hard." Lois stared past him, watching some ancient memory play itself out in a vision only she could see. "Especially since all my other friends seemed so happy and so oblivious to the real life that I was facing. But even then, I was very independent, so in a way, I enjoyed being able to take care of myself. And with every day that passed I became more and more satisfied with myself not having to admit defeat to my father. I just knew that he expected me to come crawling back, but I didn't. Looking back, I was too proud for my own good, and he was too proud to find me and ask me back. So that's just how it was.
"Anyway, I was living in a one-room apartment just outside campus, and even as humble as the place was, it had taken every last dime of my existence to keep the rent and utilities paid." She paused, with a look of self-pride deep in her eyes, "I did make it, though — all on my own. And finally, school started."
"The first semester was okay. It was mostly core classes, but the only exposure to journalism I had was working on the school paper. Still, I was having the time of my life. I was getting to go to school because of my own accomplishments and even making enough money to get by on from the stipend, which I was earning working on the paper. The people there were really interested in doing well, not at all like in high school where everyone was there only because they had to be. I really felt like I fit in.
"It was the second semester when things started falling apart. I had an entry-level news-writing course, taught by a graduate student. We immediately hit it off, and by the second week of class, the other students started teasing me about being the teacher's pet." Clark shifted uneasily in his chair, not knowing where this was going. "I was young, of course, and up until this time I had been so wrapped up in my family and doing well in school that I hadn't had much time for dating and things like that. I guess you could say that he sort of swept me off my feet. He was charming, sophisticated, and he had done his undergraduate work at one of the premier journalism schools in the country. We had a lot in common and he seemed really interested in me.
"I should have known better than to get mixed up with a guy who was, in effect, my professor, but when he asked me out, I didn't refuse." Lois noticed for the first time Clark's increasing uneasiness. She half-smiled at him. "Honey, if this is too hard for you to hear…"
"No, I'm aware you had relationships before we got together, it's just…" Clark tried to explain.
"Yes, I did have relationships before us — remember, I refer to all of them as federal disasters? This one is no different in that respect, but there were extenuating circumstances as well. You haven't heard the half of it."
Clark looked at his wife seriously. "I do know that whatever caused you to react like that last night is more serious than a bad date with a teacher. And I want to know whatever I have to know to help you get to the bottom of this and move on."
"Well, things got serious between us fairly quickly." Clark's eyes widened as this statement left her mouth. She noticed and responded. "Not that way serious, Clark. At least… well not at that time anyway. It was serious in the way that I sincerely thought that I was, well, in love. He was so kind and caring, and I told you how much we had in common.
"Other things in my life were not going as well. The school's budget had been cut dramatically, and although I didn't lose my scholarship, my working hours on the paper were cut in half." She sighed. "I had used up all my extra money, and with the decrease in my stipend, I could not afford to pay my rent.
"That's when everything fell apart. I still couldn't face my father, and I didn't have anywhere to go. That's when 'my friend' asked me to stay with him at his place."
Clark interrupted her. "But you told me that weekend that we had to stay in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel on a stakeout that you had never lived with anyone full-time."
"And I wasn't lying. He had a fairly nice apartment a few blocks from campus, and I had my own room. It was more like being roommates. At first, he was rarely ever home because he had a lot of his own coursework to do and he spent a lot of time in the library. He let me stay there and in return, I took care of the place when he wasn't home. So, in essence, we didn't live together full-time." Clark looked at her dubiously, wondering how many hours spent together in the same home constituted the definition of living together full-time.
Ignoring the look on her husband's face, Lois continued, determined now to get to finish her story. "By mid-term, things had started changing between us. He would call the apartment on study breaks and if I didn't answer right away, he would accuse me of having another man in 'his' apartment. He constantly thought that I was being unfaithful to him, which was utterly ridiculous because between him and school and the paper, I didn't physically have time for anything else.
"When I got my mid-term paper back from his class, it was marked 'F.' I was furious! I had worked so hard on that exam, and I knew that that grade was a sham." Clark could hear the thinly- controlled rage in her voice. "When I confronted him about it, he had the nerve to tell me that I had really made an 'A', and that he had even recorded it as such in his grade book. The only reason he had marked my copy with a 'F' was to remind me how much control he had over my life. Can you believe that? Over MY life? He went on to say that if it hadn't been for him, I would be living out on the street and I that I 'owed him.' Clark, I hadn't even done anything to provoke him. One day everything had been fine, and the next, well, it was like he just turned into a monster."
She sobbed into Clark's shoulder, exhausted from delving this far into her account of what had happened. Gently, Clark pulled her away from him and brushed away the hair that had fallen onto her face. He softly kissed the tears that were trailing their way down her face. "It got worse before it got better, didn't it, sweetheart?" As Superman, he had seen many cases of harassment and obsession, and far too many of those involved college girls who had no one to turn to for protection.
"You could say that." She turned away from him, and Clark feared that an element of shame had crept its way into her voice. "Do you think we could go get lunch before we continue this story? I'm getting a little hungry."
Clark knew she just needed a little distance from what was to come, but he had to know one more thing. "But why… The one thing I don't understand is why this is all coming out now. Why is this the first time you've told me about this and why did you get so upset last night when you haven't even thought about it in all these years?"
"Don't you see, Clark?" she sobbed. "It's him… The man I'm telling you about — he's Peter Alistair."
Lois decided that she would like some comfort food, preferably authentic Chinese. Clark changed into his Superman suit and took off to collect their lunch. As he flew, he allowed this newest information to sink in more fully. He knew he still did not know the whole story, but he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, judging from the caliber of Lois' reaction last night, that Peter Alistair had deeply hurt his wife. How in the world would he and Lois work for a man who had treated his wife so badly? And if things had been as bad as he suspected, how would Superman deal with the man responsible?
Over the years, Superman had had to deal with many criminals, including Lex Luthor and Tempus, who had been a threat to Lois and others. But his last encounter with Tempus was most prevalent in his mind. When Tempus had subliminally ordered Lois to drive the Jeep off a cliff, he had almost done something he would have regretted. Danger to his beloved wife was enough to 'make his ethics disappear.' Granted, Tempus probably deserved it, but Superman had never taken it upon himself to make those decisions. He had to follow the laws, and be a model for others.
It just got so confusing for him sometimes. He wasn't just any person feeling the need to protect a loved one. No, he was the strongest man in the world, with the ability to crush anyone in his way if he so chose. But that was not how he had been brought up, and not how he lived his life. Even so, was it fair that he had to hold back his instincts when it was his family that was threatened?
When he reached the small restaurant in China where he always picked up food, he had to visibly shake himself out his reverie. He was so deep in his thoughts that he didn't notice the newly placed signs on the side of the building that read "Come in. Even Superman eats here." After paying for the food, he took off for home, wanting to be with Lois and to be her strength, but nevertheless weary about what else he would learn about the man who was quickly becoming one of his biggest foes.
He entered the brownstone to the sound of Lois crying softly upstairs. No matter how much he tried to prepare himself for it, that sound never failed to take his breath. For no reason that he could explain, it cut him down to his very soul.
Clark changed back into his casual wear, leaving his glasses off in the comfort of their home, and then quickly gathered drinks and eating utensils from the kitchen. Steeling himself as he climbed the stairs, he slipped into the bedroom, noting that since Lois had realized his presence that she was making a valiant effort to mask her emotions.
"Honey, I know you're hurting. Please don't try to hide it from me." He sat their lunch down on the nightstand, then cupped her cheek in his hand and wiped a stray tear away with his thumb. "I told you once that being with you is stronger that me alone. I think that goes both ways, don't you?"
She smiled slightly up at him, a look of love evident in her watery eyes. "Oh, Clark, you're just the best. I love you so much. Thank you."
"Thank me for what?"
"For just being you. For trying to understand this whole mess. I know how deeply you feel everything that I feel, so I also know how hard this is on you, too." She stopped for a second, and then looked at him, deliberately. "And… for being the only person who I've ever been able to talk about this with. For being the only one I've ever trusted enough to not leave me as soon you find out how weak I was…how weak I am."
Clark sat beside her on the bed, both hands on her shoulders. "Honey, you are the strongest person I've ever known. I'll never think you're weak, and you know I'll never leave."
"Just let me finish, and then we'll see if you still feel the same, okay?" Clark started to protest, but Lois continued her story before he could.
With a deep breath and every once of her resolve, Lois continued with the most harrowing part of her story. "Things went downhill quickly after the mid-term incident. Pete continued to become more and more controlling. There was an insane look in his eyes, oddly enough, a strange mixture of both love and hate. He watched me even more closely, often breaking his own appointments making sure I was 'where I was supposed to be.'
"Of course, I couldn't stand to be treated like that. We would have these huge arguments and I would threaten to move out, not even caring that I had nowhere to go. Anything would have been better than being treated like his prisoner. But he would always win the arguments with his standard 'I'll-ruin-your-academic- career' comeback. My worst fear was that I would lose my dream of being a reporter. He basically held my future in his hands. Not to mention, he had this way of turning everything that happened into my fault. And ultimately, almost every incident would end with my apologizing to him.
Clark had been listening sympathetically, but at her last statement, he stared at her in disbelief. "You would apologize to him?" Having trouble remembering instances of Lois ever apologizing to him, flashes of his and Lois' past disagreements ran through his head.
"I know. It's hard to believe, right?" She waited till he nodded his agreement. "But Pete was so manipulative that, in retrospect, it was like he was controlling my mind or something. Some days would be wonderful — he would be kind and considerate — but I lived knowing he could turn on a dime.
"The tension was almost unbearable. I constantly tried to please him — by doing well in class, by complimenting him on his teaching…" She looked away. "And in other ways…"
"Lois?" Clark softly urged her on.
"I guess it's obvious now that he was my 'first.'" Clark nodded patiently, battling his own possessive instincts. She went on. "A girl's first time should be special, something she should always look back on with fondness. It wasn't like that for me."
"Lois, when we got married, we loved each other for the first time. It was a new beginning for both of us. I told you then that everything that had happened in the past was just that — the past." Clark again cupped her cheek in his palm, rewarded with an appreciative smile, but he wanted her to be able to get the rest of her ordeal off her chest. "He forced you, didn't he?"
"If you mean 'Did he rape me?,' then no, he didn't. I gave myself to him willingly enough, but it wasn't the way I had always dreamed that making love would be. He wasn't gentle or kind — he only cared about himself. If there had been any doubt up to that point, it was then that I realized that he did not love me and that I did not love him." She shuddered at the memory. "It was then that I knew I had to get out of the relationship. In many ways I felt degraded, I mean, I immediately knew I had wasted my first time on him, but in other ways I was glad that it happened. It woke me up to the fact that I was losing myself."
"What do you mean, honey? I don't understand."
She sighed. "Well, the longer I lived with him, the more different I was becoming. I was not the Lois Lane who had gained her independence by leaving the safety of home and building a life for herself. I was just a girl who needed permission to use the phone from the heartless moron she was living with. By the time I finally did get away from him, I hardly knew myself."
Clark asked, "So, how did you get away from him? Did you turn to your father or did you report him to the University?"
"Neither. I was just too ashamed. From the moment I realized how stupid I had been, I promised myself I would never let anyone know. Most of the friends I had made had already been put off by my awkward behavior anyway, so I decided to deal with it myself. Not being able to risk leaving him until after the end of the semester, I waited and planned my escape."
Clark looked mortified. "But, honey, how could you stand staying with him, feeling the way you did?"
"I didn't think about it. When things got bad, I just concentrated on my plan to get out. The hardest part was trying to fool him. But fortunately for me, his obsessive behavior had a pattern. I had figured out the times when he was most likely to call or to check up on me, and I built my schedule around that. I got a job editing vacation brochures at New Troy Travel Agency, and my boss let me do a large part of the work at home, making it easier for me to keep Pete in the dark about what I was doing. Obviously, I wasn't raking in the dough, but I figured I would have enough to get a room at a boarding house before the end of the summer. Too, I was counting on getting my full 20 hours back at the paper the following fall semester. The little things gave me hope."
"Were you still sleeping with him?" Clark asked hesitantly.
Eyes downcast, she answered. "I couldn't afford to let him become suspicious. I'm not proud of it, but yes, we were still sleeping together. You see, a week and half after getting my job, one of the runners from the agency brought some work to the apartment. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but when Pete arrived home early that morning, he was livid. Our neighbor had seen the man enter the apartment and told Pete. I'm not sure if that was accidental or if Pete had the neighbor spy on me, but at any rate, he wanted to make sure it never happened again. I couldn't tell him about my job, but it didn't matter because he wouldn't listen to my explanation anyway.
"That night, he got violent." Lois' voice started to break and Clark took her hands in his as she continued. "It was the only time he had ever actually hit me, but it was scary. For a few minutes, I was afraid he might kill me. After that, no matter what, I knew I had to avoid arousing his suspicions. I did what I had to do to survive, not knowing anymore what he was capable of."
Clark was barely containing his rage at the thought of Peter Alistair hitting the woman he loved. Knowing that Lois needed him more was the only thing keeping him from personally hunting down Alistair that very second. The couple were holding each other for comfort, but the tension was evident in his voice when he said, "Lois, I am so sorry you went through that alone. If there was any way I could take that pain away…"
"I know, Clark. I know, and I love you for it. But it happened, and it was my fault."
"You are not responsible for being taken advantage of." Adamantly, he continued. "You were young and in a situation that any girl could have found herself in. I've seen it before, and unfortunately, slime like Alistair prey on young girls all the time. I only wish I had known before. This has to be something that has been hurting you for a long time."
"I never meant to be dishonest with you, Clark. But you have to understand how hard it is for me to admit getting myself into that sort of situation. I may have been young, but I should have known better." Lois was relieved that Clark understood her reasons for not telling him about Alistair sooner. "And you're right, it did bring up all that pain and shame when I saw him again last night, but it was pain that had been long buried and forgotten. My life is so perfect, so complete with you, that I hardly have time to dwell on the past."
Clark silently held Lois long after day turned into night, processing all that he had learned about that period of his wife's life. One thing continued to bother him, and he voiced his concern. "We are high-profile reporters at the Planet, Lois. Alistair had to know your position there before he took the board seat. Why is he coming back into your life now?"
"I'm afraid I may know the answer to that, Clark." She turned in his arms to look him full in the face, the strain from the day's events evident in her eyes. "It has to do with the circumstances surrounding my leaving him. I think I know exactly why Peter Alistair has come back into my life."
It was getting late, but neither Clark nor Lois could find sleep until all had been revealed. Clark needed to know what to expect from the vile Mr. Alistair, and Lois needed to release all the details she had kept hidden for so long.
"The night he hurt me was three weeks before final exams. It was a Monday night, and I missed that whole week of classes because of what he had done."
Clark cringed. "How bad was it, honey?"
Thinking back, she answered, "I can't really be sure, because he wouldn't take me to the emergency room. My arms were black and blue, and I think I had bruised ribs. It hurt to breathe for about a week — that's why I missed school. Fortunately, his apartment took the brunt of his attack. He ruined a lot of my things that night, too.
"Of course, the next morning, he was extremely apologetic. He swore to me that he would never hurt me again and the only reason he punished me was to show how much he 'loved' me.
"Don't think for a minute that I bought it, though. A lot of women fall for those 'I did it for your own good' lines, but even in light of my previous stupidity, I knew better. I was even more determined to get away from him. In fact, it was all I could do not to run immediately. But I knew what was at stake, so I stayed, being even more cautious of my every step."
"You must have been very brave, sweetheart." Clark smiled lopsidedly at her, his eyes moist with unshed tears.
Lois sighed. "Not brave — just determined. He took so much from me… Anyway, those three weeks seemed so long. I continued working, picking up the brochures instead of having them delivered. I was so proud the day I sent my rent advance to the boarding house. Everything was coming along according to plan. I was going to wait one week after final grades had been reported, knowing that he couldn't sabotage them after that.
"The week of finals was the worst. He took me out to dinner that week, one of the rare occasions that we went anywhere since I had moved into his apartment. He was acting very strange, and I was more than a little on edge. It was a very nice restaurant on the outskirts of the city, and Pete paid the waiter to seat us at a romantic isolated table.
"Right after we ate, he proposed! He said that I was the only woman that he had ever loved, and that he couldn't live his life without me. He called me his treasure — some way to treat a treasure, huh? The diamond he gave me was over 2 carats and was his mother's, but the fool probably stole it off the poor woman's hand. I didn't know what to say or how to get out of the whole mess, but before I could even respond he had slipped the ring on my finger and had started discussing wedding dates! I sat there for the rest of the evening listening to him rave on about the details of our wedding plans, wondering the whole time what had ever possessed me to get involved with the man.
"You were engaged to the man?" a stunned Clark asked.
"Absolutely not. I never told him I would marry him, he just assumed that I would. It was really the best thing that could have happened, because the last week I was with him, he was too consumed with planning the big event to pay too much attention to me. And the money I got from pawning the ring put me enough ahead financially to have a little security."
Clark laughed out loud for the first time. "You pawned his mother's ring?"
She also saw the humor, laughing, "Yeah, and I almost would have felt bad about it if he hadn't been such a dirty louse." She sobered and continued. "My grades came in the mail the same day I packed everything and left. I didn't say goodbye and I didn't leave a trail. I was almost free."
"Almost. I spent the summer in a state of paranoia, always afraid he would find me. I had been very careful, giving the University a post office box address instead of a physical one, not telling anyone where I lived, not having a phone — I even shopped outside Metropolis. But the summer passed without event, and I didn't see him until I started back to school in the fall.
The memory brought new fear into her eyes, the same fear that Clark had seen while she was in her hysterical state of half- sleep. "For 3 weeks, nothing happened. Then we passed in the corridor of the Journalism department. He didn't say anything. He just glared at me with the coldest eyes I had ever seen. I hurried on to class, but I couldn't get that image out of my head.
"The boarding house was about 25 blocks from campus, and I had to ride the subway to get back and forth. Because I was so paranoid, I was overly cautious. I altered the times and routes I took to get home by either getting on at different stations or getting off a few blocks before or after my stop and walking. I thought I so smart, but it wasn't enough."
"He found you?"
Lois nodded. "He must have followed me somehow. Only a few days after I had run into Peter at school, I was walking back to the boarding house. It was cheap housing, not exactly in the best part of town, but better than Hobb's Bay, I suppose. Anyway, it was beginning to get dark, so I was in a hurry to get to my room. Maybe that's why I didn't see him, I can't be sure. He grabbed me from behind and pushed me into an alley. At first I thought I was being mugged, but as soon as I heard his voice in my ear I knew who it was.
"My heart fell into my stomach. I had no idea what he was going to do. He demanded that I show him where I was living, so that we could work things out. He said he had missed me so much and he was dying without me. He promised that he only wanted to talk. When I refused, he threatened to tell the Dean that I had instigated an improper relationship with him in order to get admitted to the Journalism college. After admission, I had dumped him and tried to act like nothing had happened. All my friends had been alienated so I could not prove him wrong, and even the accusation would probably have been enough to get me kicked out of school anyway. Peter Alistair was a well-respected teaching associate, and I was just a sophomore with no one to back up my side of the story. Basically, it was my word against his. So we went to my room.
"He had pushed me too far. Finally, I had nothing to lose. I would have done anything to be rid of him. You wouldn't believe the things that ran through my mind on the walk to the boarding house. I've never considered myself capable of murder, but that night I think I could have killed him if he'd given me half a reason. As we walked through the door, inspiration struck."
Lois stood up and paced back and forth in the bedroom, animatedly telling this final part of the story." The first thing I saw was the mini-recorder I had had to buy for an interviewing project. While Pete was inspecting the place, pointing out how much better his apartment had been, and spouting off about how hurt he had been to find me gone, I pressed the record button.
"It was surprisingly easy to get all the incriminating evidence I needed to get Peter Alistair out of my life. Our argument was a long and heated one, but for once I was unafraid of the repercussions. I just wanted the whole situation immortalized on tape. I wanted to have leverage, no, I wanted control — control of my life and of the man who had come so close to ruining it."
Clark stood to join Lois on the balcony outside their room where her pacing had found her. "And I assume he wasn't pleased when he discovered what you had done."
Lois smiled proudly, despite the unpleasantness. "As soon as I was sure I had enough on tape, I ran downstairs to the main lobby, leaving him too confused to do anything but follow. My landlady and her husband were there, and I told him I would call the police if he didn't leave peacefully. You should have seen him. He was crazy, but not stupid. I rewound the tape, and played parts of it in front of him. He agreed to leave Metropolis University, to transfer to a school in a different city. It was finally over."
Clark held her closely to him, rubbing her back soothingly as they both stared up at the stars. "But why is he back now? You still haven't told me what you think he wants."
"Clark, the University delivered a letter to me several weeks after he was gone. It was addressed to me, in care of the Department of Journalism, from Pete. In it, he accused me of ruining his career, and of destroying our relationship because of my unwillingness to love him. The letter said something cryptic, like 'In time, all will be repaid.' It's been 13 years, but I think Peter Alistair has come to Metropolis to settle old scores."
On Monday, a very weary Lois and Clark walked into the newsroom. They had spent the rest of the weekend following Lois' revelations comforting each other, loving each other, and deciding how to handle Peter Alistair. It had been three days that had taken their toll on the two reporters.
Lois was on pins and needles, and makeup couldn't hide the dark circles that ringed her eyes. Clark was in full over-protect mode, not leaving her side even to pour them their customary cup of coffee. They had made the decision to return to work as normal together, not wanting to allow Alistair the upper hand. They still had to determine his intentions, and the means he would arrive at them. Clark pulled his chair up to Lois' desk, where she was sitting. The story files they had been working on lay untouched on Clark's desk. They were unsure about how to approach any investigation, especially without raising suspicions. But their behavior was anything but normal, and they had only been there for less than half an hour when Perry noticed the tension.
"Uh, Clark, Lois, could I see you for a moment?" Perry drawled. "Now?"
They gave each other knowing glances, than slowly made their way into their editor's office, closing the door behind them. "I don't suppose you two would like tell this old news hound what the Sam Hill is going on, would you?" He took a closer look at Lois' pallor, noticing her sad eyes and her bandaged hand, and his exasperated voice changed to one of fatherly concern. "Lois, honey, what's the matter?"
Both Lois and Clark had agreed to keep the matter to themselves, as Lois still was deeply ashamed of getting involved in an abusive relationship. Clark's assurance and support had done little to change her mind about the poor way in which felt she had handled the whole situation. That was why Perry's question caught them so off guard. Neither wanted to lie to Perry, but they didn't know how to answer him. There was an awkward silence that finally was broken by the older gentlemen.
"Okay, then, I'll take it this is something personal." The couple started to protest, but Perry continued, "Eh, just a minute, before you start trying to pull wool over these eyes. Now, I've been around enough to know when not to stick my nose in business that doesn't concern me." He smiled. "You know how I feel about you two, and, well, if you need me you know you just have to say the word. But don't go letting whatever this is interfere with work, ya hear? There's enough shinola going on around here as it is, what with all these personnel changes."
Clark tried to understand what Perry was referring to. "Uh, Chief, did something happen on Friday when we weren't here?"
Perry rolled his eyes and sighed, "Great shades… Well, it's like this. The new pretty boy upstairs seems to have everyone who-dooed into thinking he's the best thing since sliced bread. No one had ever even heard of the fellow until last week…" Lois and Clark exchanged somber glances. "…And now he's got fancy pants interior decorators redesigning his executive offices. You would think a newspaper man would be more concerned with learning the ropes and getting to know how this ship operates than redesigning the decks. If he thinks he's going to turn my newspaper into some glamour-rag, then he's got another think coming…"
"I take it you don't like Mr. Alistair, Perry?" Lois had been quiet up until her question.
Perry stopped his rant to look at her through narrow eyes, not knowing what to make of her odd behavior. "I don't know enough about him to like him-he's been too busy tooty-fruitin' around to make a real impression on anyone but the suits." Scrupulously, he enquired, "Why do you ask, Lois?"
She tried to look nonchalant. "Just curious, that's all." Truthfully, she wanted to how other perceived the man that had scarred her young life. She was curious to know how blind she had been all those years ago.
Before Perry had a chance to figure everything out on his own, Clark put his hand behind Lois' elbow and started to lead her out of the office. "Chief, if that's all you needed… We do have to get back to work…"
"Yeah, son, that's a good idea." He saw that Lois had gone out before Clark, so he motioned for the younger man to pause for just a second. "And Clark, watch out for that girl, alright? She's tough, but that just makes it harder for her to accept things that can't be changed…trust me."
Clark, always amazed by Perry's striking perception, just replied, "I won't let anything happen to Lois, Chief. We watch out for each other."
Perry continued to watch them as they resumed their seats at Lois' desks, his heart warmed by the obvious care and compassion they had for each other. He silently wished them well before turning his attention back to his work.
*** Back at their desks, they decided the best place to start was by finding out anything and everything they could about Peter Alistair — where he came from, and where he had been the past 13 years. Lois quipped, "Know thine enemy."
Clark nodded looked around the room, oh, there he was. "JIMMY!"
Jimmy braced himself for the unexpected and hurried over to Clark and Lois. "Hey, CK, you guys okay? I missed you on Friday." He didn't seem to notice anything was wrong.
Clark smiled politely and explained, "Yeah, something came up, but right now we need you to find everything you can on Peter Alistair. I mean, we want to know what he had for dinner last night, understand?"
Jimmy looked quizzical. "But what about the other research you've had me on…"
Lois interjected, "Put everything else on the backburner. For now, this is top priority, got it?"
"You got it, Lois." He paused, a funny look on his face. "Lois, CK, you know, running background checks on your new boss isn't always the best way to get on his good side come promotion time…"
Clark rolled his eyes. "Let us worry about that, Jimmy. Just keep this whole thing under wraps, okay?"
Jimmy mock saluted, but replied seriously, "I'm on it — you can count on me."
Lois looked dubious, but Clark answered, "We know we can. Let us know as soon as find something."
*** "Well, we've started step one in getting this creep out my life," Lois stated. "What's next?"
Clark ran in fingers through his hair, absentmindedly. "Do you still have his confession tape? Maybe that could give us some leverage."
"No. I got rid of everything that tied me to Peter Alistair years ago. And even if I did have it, it wouldn't do any good. The only true crime he committed was the one time he…" she glanced around nervously, making sure no one could overhear, "…beat me, and the statute of limitations has long run out for that."
Clark gritted his teeth, choking down the fury that threatened to overtake him each time he thought about the terror this man had inflicted on his wife. Lois took a deep breath suddenly, voicing something she had only just thought of. "Clark, what if his record's clean — what if there's no way to make him go away and we just have to live with him being here? I don't think I could stand it? What if I have to give up the Daily Planet — how would I ever be able to do that?"
Clark took her hands, mindful of the one that bore the evidence of their trauma, and told her plainly, "Everything is going to work out. No one is going to run us away from what we love. Peter Alistair can only get to us if we let him… and if he knows what's good for him, he'll do well to keep his distance." As he finished, the ever familiar faraway look came to his face.
"Uh-oh, now what?"
"Lois, subway collision downtown… I can't leave you here alone…" Clark appeared torn, almost panicked as Lois told him to go.
"Clark, you have your duty as…" She made the hand-signal. "We knew this was inevitable. I'm at the Planet — this is where we work, and you can't be with me 24-7. Nothing would ever get done."
"But he's here, now."
She took a deep, cleansing breath. "I know…but Perry and Jimmy are right here — and, and you don't have a choice. Now, go!" Lois pushed him to get up, and knowing she was right, he left hurriedly.
For a minute or two, Lois wasn't sure what she should do. It was odd how everything in her perfect life seemed to be upside down. She felt like she was seeing the world inside-out, and she didn't know where she fit in.
'Get a grip, girl,' she told herself. 'Just start where you left off Thursday, and don't think about anything else.' Working on the third part of a four-part series on inner-city drug use among minors, she didn't notice the new presence in the newsroom.
"Long time, no see, Lois."
Her breath caught in her throat. Not looking up she thought, 'God, Clark, where are you; this can't be happening… Okay, Lois, don't give him the satisfaction, you've got be strong, for once…'
Barely collected, she looked Peter Alistair straight in the eye and said, "Not long enough, if you ask me."
Alistair grinned coldly at her. "That's not exactly the warm welcome I had expected from such a 'close' old friend."
"I'd hardly call us friends."
"Oh, Lois, we were more than just friends." He seemed to enjoy her discomfiture. "I was your teacher, your confidant …and lest you forget — your lover."
She cut him short, determined not to let him get the best of her. "Just what are you doing here, Peter? What business do you have at the Daily Planet?"
Confidently smiling, onlookers would see nothing amiss with his attitude toward Lois Lane, at least ones who could not hear the thinly-veiled menace in his voice. "I don't know what in the world you're talking about, love, I'm only here making a life for myself — the same as you and your husband — you are married to your partner now, right? What's his name, Cl-Claude Kent?"
"CLARK Kent. A name you should remember."
"Right. Whatever. You do have a habit getting sexually involved with people you work closely with, don't you? I should have known I wouldn't be the last man to fall victim to your seductions."
Furious, but not wanting to draw attention, Lois whispered harshly, "How dare you? You know as well as I do what happened all those years ago! For you to waltz in here and twist things around — why don't you just do us both a favor and get the hell out of Metropolis?"
Alistair laughed at her suggestion. "Sweetheart, you forced me out of town once before, remember? Nothing could make me leave you — I mean, here — again. Not ever." Unmoved by her expression of hate, he came closer, leaning over her shoulder to look at her computer screen. "Now, let's see, what do we have here? Drug-use by street kids? That's been done, don't you think?"
His close proximity had dangerously affected her resolve, and she tried to keep her voice steady as she responded, "What I write is none of your business, and I'll appreciate you getting away from me right now."
"As you wish, love. But you'll understand that I want to be very involved in my reporters' work." Before he stood and backed away, he whispered softly in her ear, "And I'm a very 'hands-on' kind of boss."
Perry watched the interchange between Lois and Alistair. "What in blazes is going on around here?" He was in the process of finding out, when he noticed that Clark had returned, hastily approaching the two.
Clark had heard only the last remark made by Alistair, who was already walking away from Lois as Clark entered the newsroom. First checking on Lois, who was trembling in reaction to her latest encounter, he then turned to the now retreating figure. "Peter Alistair."
He stopped when he heard his name, then slowly turned, a polite smile on his face. "Ah, Clark Kent, I presume?" He held out his hand, which Clark deliberately ignored. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced."
"Let's skip the niceties and get a few things straight." His fury was barely masked, and even Lois couldn't believe the ferocity with which he spoke. "I know who you are and what you've done. If you think for one minute that I'll stand by and let you intimidate my wife, you are sorely misinformed. I may not know yet what you are up to here at the Planet, but believe me when I say that I will find out. In the meantime, know that I'm watching every move you make."
Alistair's confident smile never left his face, although the expression in his eyes belied the fact that Clark's speech did make an impact. "You forget yourself, Mr. Kent. You're speaking to your superior."
"I know exactly who and what I'm speaking to, Mr. Alistair. Don't you forget what I said." Alistair nodded haughtily and turned to walk toward the elevator and back to his upstairs office.
Clark sat down by Lois. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here, honey. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine now, Clark." Lois smiled at him feebly. "You really told him."
Shrugging, he answered, "I just hope he has the good sense to listen." He brushed her hair behind her ear and kissed her briefly before he continued. "But right now, we need to concentrate on work. If I'm not mistaken, Perry's got his eye on us. If we want to keep this thing under wraps, we need to carry on as normally as possible, right, partner?"
She nodded and grinned, "Right, partner."
The man in the elevator was not pleased. 'Kent can't hide behind macho words forever. We'll see how brazen he his when he helplessly watches his wife fall into the traps that paranoia sets. I know her as well as any man can know a woman. I know where to strike.' He was still smiling when he got off on his floor.
On Tuesday morning, Jimmy was waiting for Lois and Clark at their desks when they entered the newsroom. "Hey guys, I got that, uh…" lowering his voice, "'information', that you asked for. But I have to say that nothing unusual showed up. The guy's as clean as a whistle. Not even a parking ticket."
Both were visibly disappointed that Jimmy hadn't uncovered any damning information about their new VP of Operations. Although Lois was steadily becoming more and more like her old self — the Lois he knew, Clark was adamant about getting Peter Alistair away from her. His mind was starting to ponder the possibilities available to achieve that when Lois' voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Jimmy, let's see what you found." She looked hopefully at Clark. "It seems a little strange to me that nothing at all turned up, considering who we're dealing with. It's worth a shot, and besides, it can't hurt to try to figure out what he's been up to all these years."
Clark took the folder from Jimmy, thanked him for his help and told him that if anything turned up that they would let him in on it. Jimmy was obviously intrigued by whatever it was that Lois and Clark were looking for. They went into the conference room and closed the door and blinds before opening the unmarked file, not wanting it to get around that they were looking into Alistair's personal life. No need to alert the villain any more than necessary.
When they opened the file, the first document to be seen was Alistair's resume. Clark glanced over it haphazardly, assuming that it would only contain, at most, an embellished account of exactly what Alistair wanted Franklin Stern and the other board members to know about him. He was ready to flip to the next page but Lois stopped him. "Wait just a minute, Clark — look at this."
Clark focused on the section that Lois was pointing to, but at first did not understand its significance. Impatiently, she explained, "Under education, he's listed that he graduated with a Ph.D. in Journalism from Metropolis University in 1985. Clark, he didn't graduate from M.U. at all, remember? Because of the tape, he had to transfer to another school, leaving Metropolis."
"And if he's lied about graduation, he's most likely lied about other things as well."
Lois nodded triumphantly, "I would bet good money on it. I wonder what else is in here." Flipping through the various documents, she stopped at one. "Ah-ha!"
She had pulled out a photocopy of a Ph.D. certificate that corroborated his M.U. credentials. "Do you know what this means, Clark?"
"I sure do. Just because Jimmy didn't turn up anything extraordinary doesn't mean this guy's clean, it just means he's been discreet. He's had to have gone to a lot of trouble to have falsified this document, which means he's got something to hide."
Lois scrawled down Alistair's last two known addresses, then stood up and declared, "And I intend to find out exactly what it is."
Meanwhile, Alistair sat in his office upstairs, having just finished mulling over carpet swatches with hid interior designer. He swiveled around his big leather chair to look out at his ample view of Metropolis through his large window. "I've almost got it all, Lois. It's been a lonely road to the top. No one to support me — only people like you who can't understand what I go through, who don't know how to love me. People that had to be punished. You certainly are a challenge, my love, with your ever-devoted husband, your editor, and even that lackey copy-boy ready to defend you to the death." He chuckled ruthlessly. "Leave it to you, Lois, to have a super-hero as a personal body guard. How do you do it? And you called me the manipulator. But, at last, I do almost have all I've wanted…the job, the power, and soon enough… the revenge."
The most recent address was located in Braxton, New Troy, about 150 miles outside of Metropolis. In years past, it would have been difficult for Lois to investigate intangible leads such as this one as thoroughly as she liked because of the sheer time it took to travel. But thanks to her super husband, who was as anxious as she, if not more so, to get the goods on Peter Alistair, they made the trip in under five minutes.
The two intrepid reporters were only slightly surprised to find that the address that Alistair had listed as his last place of residence was only an abandoned furniture warehouse, not even located in a residential area. After inspecting the premises for any further leads, both decided that if Alistair had used the location for anything other than a cover address, there was no evidence of that now.
The other address was even further away, in Mount Evanston, New Troy. According to Alistair's file, in which Lois held little hope in containing true information, he had lived at that address from 1988 to 1993, a little over five years. Neither Lois nor Clark had ever visited Mount Evanston, which was one of the most rural and secluded towns in all of New Troy. The population there was little greater than that of Smallville, but residents made their livings on fishing docks rather than farms.
Arriving in Mount Evanston in only a few moments, it took considerably longer to find the physical address with which they had been provided. Lois was discouraged. "There's probably no such place, Clark. He most likely just made up another cover address to fool everyone."
Clark frowned. "Maybe. But these small towns can be tricky, Lois. Believe me, I know. Back roads are not exactly mapped out by high-paid city planners with engineering degrees."
Lois sneered, "Well, since we don't know which brown and white milk cow should signal us to turn left at, we're going to have to land and ask for directions."
"Honey, Clark Kent and Lois Lane can't be seen in Mount Evanston, New Troy, 500 miles outside Metropolis — where they were seen working only this morning, by the way — without running the risk of drawing attention to themselves. This is a small town, but the people still subscribe to the Planet and they are not stupid."
"So, we go home, pack, call Perry and tell him we're on to something big and won't be in the office for a few days. Believe me when I say it's an ideal time to be out in the fresh air. Here, we'll tell anyone that asks that we're doing research on our family ancestry. These small-town types love to help tourists with things like that."
Clark thought about the suggestion, only briefly exasperated with Lois' stereotypical view of small town life, secretly deciding it would be a good idea to put some distance between them and their nemesis, and then agreed. But only on the condition that they wouldn't lie to Perry any more than absolutely necessary to protect Lois. Perry was a good friend and Clark didn't like lying. After all, hopefully they would uncover something about Alistair that would be big. Who knew if it would be newsworthy, but he was sure that Franklin Stern would want to be informed that he had been grossly misled by the man all but running his paper. ***
It was late when they returned to Metropolis, since they had spent longer than they realized being lost in Mount Evanston. Lois began packing, while Clark phoned Perry. He tried the Planet first, figuring that that was where Perry would most likely still be. Sure enough, the receptionist put him right through to the Editor-in-Chief.
"Perry White, here."
"Hi, Perry. It's me, Clark… Lois and I need…"
"Oh, yeah, hi there son, I was wondering where you two disappeared to today…"
Clark interrupted. "That's what I was calling to tell you about, Chief. Lois and I are on to something, and we need to be away for a few days. Jimmy's working on research for our case files, but nothing's so pressing that it can't hold until we get back."
Perry chuckled. "I was wondering when you were going to head off to Mount Evanston."
Stunned, Clark didn't know what to say. "Chief, how did you know…"
Laughing, Perry replied, "Son, I've said it before, and I'll say it again — this old news hound didn't get to be editor of a major metropolitan newspaper by knowing how to yodel." Seriously, he continued. "Now I'll admit I still don't know what you two know that I don't, but I trust you both. Don't worry about things here — if anybody asks, I'll tell 'em you're on an undercover assignment dealing with the street kids drug series."
"Thanks, Chief. You're full of surprises."
"Yeah, well, I've got one more for you. When you get where you're going, find a woman named Allison Crowder. My source says if anyone can give you the low-down on Mr. Tooty-Fruity, it'll be her."
"Never reveal a source, son. Now you two have a good trip, and I hope you find what you're looking for. I've got to put this paper to bed, that is if you-know-who hasn't replaced my printing presses with a full-service health club resort. You know, this paper didn't get where it is today by luxury, I'll tell you that right now," he grumbled. "Well, son, tell that wife of yours good night."
"I will, Chief, and good night to you." He hung up the phone, and turned to Lois.
Noting the awed expression on his face, she asked, "What was all that about?"
"You won't believe it, honey, but Perry…" He proceeded to relate the conversation to her, highlighting his appreciation for their good friend and editor.
Lois and Clark arrived in Evanston just before noon on Wednesday. Flying only three-quarters of the way, they rented a car to continue their trip, wisely deciding that it would be too dangerous for Superman to be spotted in the quiet little town at the same time his counterpart was visiting. Their first order of business was to locate Allison Crowder, the woman Perry told them about. Mount Evanston only had one hotel, a quaint little establishment with only a dozen or so rooms. They checked in quickly, amused to find that they were the only guests, and inquired about Ms. Crowder's whereabouts.
The innkeeper had been very helpful, although his curiosity about the Kents' purpose in the small fishing town was laughably transparent. Politely evading his inquiries, Lois and Clark were on their way to Ms. Crowder's home less than half an hour after their arrival.
Clark found the Crowder place relatively easily, especially since Lois had insisted on navigating using the 50-cent map she had bought at the hotel. It was a modest house just a few miles outside the main part of town. Clark pulled the rented car into the driveway cautiously, taking in all that he could about the surroundings. Lois, however, in her impatience, hopped out of the car almost before it came to a complete stop. Clark shook his head, and rushed to follow her to the front door, where she had already knocked and was waiting for an answer.
The woman who came to the door was of an indeterminate age. While not having the posture or build of an older woman, her face was marked with lines of worry and toil. Her once blond hair was streaked with gray that she had never attempted to hide.
"Allison Crowder?" Lois asked.
The woman warily nodded. "Who's asking?"
Undeterred by the less than friendly greeting, Lois continued, "Hi. I'm Lois Kent," using her married name for expediency's sake, "and this is my husband Clark. If you wouldn't mind, we would like to ask you a few questions about a man we think you may know — Peter Alistair."
The already suspicious woman's face turned to stone at the mention of the name and she harshly replied, "I don't have anything to say to you people. Get off my property-now."
Clark intervened. "Ms. Crowder, I'm sorry if we've come on too strongly, it's just that, well, we're kind of desperate to learn anything we can about Mr. Alistair. I can assure you we don't mean any harm. Anything you could tell us would be a help." Clark's natural charm had little effect on the stern woman.
"What I can tell you is that you have no business here. That man has caused my family enough pain. I've got children to consider…just leave."
Both Lois and Clark understood the implications of Crowder's statement — Alistair did have something to hide. Clark tried again. "Alistair has caused my family pain, as well, ma'am…" he looked meaningfully at Lois, "…and we promise we won't bring you or your family to his attention if you don't want us to, but we would really like to find out what Peter Alistair was doing between 1988 and 1993. Any information you have…"
"In 1988, Peter Alistair married my sister, Janey. That's all I can say." She had softened perceptibly.
"He was married?" Lois exclaimed, not hiding her surprise.
Ms. Crowder seemed sad, and answered softly, "Yes. He was married." She paused, "I'm sorry I can't help you. You have to understand — I've said too much already."
Disappointed and confused, Lois and Clark started to walk away, when Lois suddenly remembered something. She turned back to Ms. Crowder, who was still standing in the doorway. "One last thing, Ms. Crowder, the last possible physical address we have for Alistair is here in Mount Evanston. We're not familiar with the area, so could you look at the address and give us directions?"
Grudgingly, the woman nodded affirmatively. She took the paper Lois handed her, and before their eyes her expression turned from one of resigned sadness, to one of pure unadulterated rage. "'This' is the address he claims to have lived at?"
They nodded, bewildered by the significance. Ms. Crowder was belligerent, "How dare that son-of-a… "
"Excuse me, ma'am," Clark interrupted gently, "I'm sorry, but we don't understand…"
"No, I don't suppose you would." She took a deep breath. "Peter Alistair never lived at this address, although I wouldn't mind seeing… never mind. It is where you'll find my sister."
Lois and Clark watched the strange woman quietly as she seemed to be considering something. After a moment she proceeded to give them directions, "After you finish at that address, come back here and I'll have what you need ready." She promptly went back into her house, slamming the door behind her.
Clark looked at Lois. "What do you think all that is about?"
"I think we're getting ready to find out." Confused, but hopeful, they got into the car and started following the directions they had been given.
They drove even further outside the town, and Lois was getting very antsy. "Are you sure this is the right way, Clark?"
"Lois, you just asked that two minutes ago and we're still going in the same direction." He was watching the isolated road closely. "Wait, I think I see something up here."
"Oh my God." Lois' face turned pale and her hands grew cold as Clark pulled the car into the small country graveyard.
It was actually a lovely scene, if one was a disinterested observer. Dense trees on either side flanked the winding country road leading to the little cemetery. But once past the unlocked wrought iron gate, the land was clear except for various stone markers overlooking the coast, located far below. A quaint white wooden church, apparently long abandoned, or perhaps merely unkempt, sat off to the left, almost on the edge of the bluff.
In the dark of night, Lois thought the place would surely be enough to instill fear in even the most strong-hearted person. But it was mid-afternoon, the sun still high in the sky, and the only emotion the graveyard inspired was one of quiet sadness, sadness for those souls who had been left here and then forgotten.
Lois unconsciously took Clark's hand, and they slowly and respectfully wandered among the stones until they came upon the one they had been searching for. The stone read: Jane C. Alistair, 1970-1993, Beloved Wife, May She Rest in Peace.
Clark sighed. "Poor woman-she was only 23 years old. Only 18 when she married Alistair."
Lois released Clark's hand and sank to her knees in front of the gravestone. She touched the engraved name with much trepidation, not wanting to believe what she was seeing. As tears poured silently down her face, she whispered in anguish, "It should have been me."
Imagining what could have been, had Lois not gotten out of the abusive relationship when she did, his wife's words hit him full force. "No! Lois, you can't mean that!" He got down on her level, and grasping both hands on her upper arms, gently turned her to face him. "What would it have proved if it had been you lying in a grave somewhere, huh? He would have just kept on abusing. We don't even know if Janey is the only other woman he's hurt. He has to be stopped."
Grief-stricken, she responded, "But it's my fault she's dead. I knew what he was capable of, but I didn't report it. I just made him leave Metropolis without facing up to everything he put me through. A woman's dead because I was too afraid of losing a journalism degree and too stubborn to turn to someone for help. God, Clark, what have I done?"
"You didn't do anything, Lois. This was not your fault. Men like Alistair manipulate young women into thinking that the way they're treated is the result of their own actions, and it's just not true. You were the victim, just like Janey Crowder was a victim. The only difference was that you were strong enough to get away." He embraced his wife, and in a sympathetic voice, added "She wasn't."
The couple sat there, mourning the loss of a young woman they had never known for what seemed an eternity. Finally, Clark stood, brushed the grass off his jeans and reached to help Lois stand. She didn't move. "Lois?"
No longer crying, she looked up at her husband and asked, "Could you give me a minute alone with her?" Clark gazed down at her questioningly. "I just want to talk to her for a second. Please, it's something I need to do."
He nodded his acquiescence. "I'll wait in the car. If you need me…"
She smiled up at him. "I know."
Lois Lane would have felt silly talking to a gravestone under normal circumstances, but this was different. This was the only way she knew to express her feelings and make Janey Crowder a promise.
"Janey, we never knew each other, in fact, I don't know anything about you except that you must have suffered a great deal living with that man." She sniffed. "I'm so sorry that you went through that, and that you had to die. I'm sorry you never had the chance to experience being loved by a kind, gentle man. But most of all, I'm sorry that I let you down. I wish I had stopped him when I had the chance…but I was too weak then.
"But now, Janey, now I'm strong. And I promise you, if it's the last thing I do on this earth, I will make Peter Alistair pay for what he did to you. For what he did to us. I'll make everyone see him for what he is."
She stood and walked toward the car, glancing back over her shoulder only once. As she sat in the passenger seat, she told Clark, "We need to get back to Allison Crowder's house — she may have the answers we're looking for."
A worried Clark asked her, "Honey, are you sure you're okay?"
Clark did not fail to notice her new determination, which sparked hope in his heart. She replied, "I will be, Clark, I will be."
Peter Alistair stepped out of the elevator and into the newsroom, expecting to see Lois Lane at her desk. When he saw that neither she nor her husband were there, he walked into Perry's office to find out where she was.
Perry looked up from his desk to see Alastair walk in the office without knocking. No reporter at the Planet would have had the nerve to do that, with the sole exception of Lois Lane, and even she would have had a good reason. Perry took a calming breath and assumed that he would finally have the chance to talk turkey with the new VP of Operations. The man had been on the job for four business days (since the suits only worked business days, Perry thought with chagrin), and he had yet to state his intentions to the Editor-in-Chief.
"Ah, Mr. Alistair. I was expecting you to show up down here sooner or later." Perry made an effort to cover up his misgivings about the man by infusing his speech with good old Southern charm. "It would be my pleasure to show you around my newsroom. There's a fine bunch of reporters at work out there, and I'd like…"
"Excuse me, Mr. White," Alistair interrupted. "I'm sure that's all true. But the reason I'm 'down here' is that I'm looking for Lois Lane. Do you happen to know where she is?"
"Uh. Lois Lane?" Perry looked confused. "Could I, uh, ask what business you have with her?"
Alistair huffed, but still answered smugly, "Actually, I was anxious to invite her up to see my office. There is a snag with the decorating. The new office furniture has been delivered, but something's still not right. I believe it could use a woman's touch."
Perry stood slack-jawed, not believing his ears. "And you need Lois Lane for that?"
"I would like to have her opinion. So, where is she?"
Perry shook himself slightly and answered, "Lois and Clark are out doing their jobs — you understand, reporter stuff. In fact, they're undercover on the street, infiltrating the drug scene." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "A far cry from interior decorating, I might add. Mr. Alistair, I don't know if you've ever seen Lois Lane mad, but let me give you some friendly advice. If I were you, I wouldn't insult her intelligence, or even appear to be thinking about insulting her intelligence. That's one girl whose feathers you don't want to ruffle." Alistair only smiled, turned and walked out of the office, leaving the door swinging open behind him.
Perry looked at his framed photo of Elvis. "Great shades… Some days I don't know if I'm running a newspaper or funny farm."
Back upstairs, Alistair brooded over the fact that Lois wasn't where she was supposed to be. It upset him. He really had wanted to invite her to his office. Well, he had wanted to see the look on her face when he did, anyway. He could wait a few more days, though. He had waited this long.
'Lois, Lois, Lois. You probably just wanted to get out of the office and away from me, right, my love? That's fine. How fitting it would be for my presence to force you from this job you so wanted. Why, even when we were together, all you talked about was being a journalist for the world-famous Daily Planet. You got your wish, but what about me? I lost everything I wished for. I would have had a brilliant career, a legitimate one, if I had finished my degree at Metropolis University. But I had to give everything up because of you.
'It's always been about you. I was hurting 'you'. I was too jealous of 'you'. I was too fixated on 'you'. If it hadn't been because of you, I wouldn't have ended up in some one-horse town married to little wench like Jane. You might as well have killed that girl yourself, Lois. Of course, she didn't even try to be a good wife-too afraid to be away from her family to take care of a husband. Like you, she couldn't love me like I deserved. I had to punish her…I have to punish you.'
Suddenly, an alarming thought came to his mind. 'What if? Surely Lois and Clark aren't out snooping around my past. What if they find out…' He sank back into his chair, his dread vanishing as soon as it appeared. 'Just let them try,' he thought confidently. 'They can't prove anything.'
Seated around the kitchen table, Allison Crowder told Lois and Clark about the relationship between Peter Alistair and her sister Janey. By the time the couple had returned from the cemetery, Allison had gathered various photos and newspaper clippings that were relevant to their questions.
They were listening intently to the story being told to them. "Janey was my youngest sister. Our parents died in a boating accident when Janey was just a little girl. I'm the oldest sister, fifteen years older than Janey, in fact, and so it fell to me to take care of my brothers and sisters.
"Janey was seventeen when Peter moved into town. He took over running the weekly Mount Evanston Star here in 1987. No one knew why someone like him would come to a small town like this, all the folks in town could tell he was different. 'Refined', so to speak.
"Janey was the receptionist at the Star, and had been ever since she graduated high school. She took classified ads, you know, such things as that. She was real smart, and pretty, too. See, here's her senior picture."
The girl in the photo was a smiling, happy young woman with a cloud of honey brown hair framing her face. Her creamy, clear complexion and bright shining eyes gave her the impression of having a child's innocence. It was hard to imagine that this girl, who even in a still photograph exuded so much life, was the same woman lying in the grave that Lois and Clark had just visited.
It was obviously painful for Allison to recount, but she braced herself and continued. "Janey fell for Peter almost immediately. She would come home all dreamy-eyed, telling me how she had met this wonderful man who would elevate the Star to new heights. She could talk on and on about him. It wasn't long before they started dating, and only two months after he moved into town, he asked my sister to marry him.
"I thought it was too soon, myself. I didn't know anything about him, and had only been introduced to him once. He didn't like to come around much, it seemed. I tried to talk sense into Janey, but she wouldn't hear it. Maybe if Mama and Dad had around…
"Anyway, when I saw she was set to get married, I offered to help plan a wedding. That was the first indication that something was wrong. You see, Janey had always dreamed of a big wedding — ever since she was just a little girl. When we got to missing our folks and such, we'd snuggle up and talk about how grand our futures would be." She paused and looked around sadly. "And Janey's dream always started with a big wedding to her Prince Charming. But now, she told me that her and Peter were just going to the courthouse to get married, they were in such a hurry. I thought the girl must have been pregnant or something, to be in such a rush. But that wasn't it — Peter just wanted a wife.
"They got married that same week, and moved into his place above the paper. After that, I didn't see Janey very often. She tried to get up here as much as she could, but I knew something was wrong…"
Allison continued to tell them about the awkward behavior changes that Janey went through. How during her visits she stayed nervous and constantly watched the clock, afraid she would be late getting home. She described how her sister went from being the Janey in the senior picture to a woman consumed with anxiety and timidity. Over the five years of the marriage, she told Lois and Clark about the bruises she had accidentally seen on Janey's arms, and how her sister had tried so hard to make excuses for Alistair.
"I tried to convince her to leave him — I knew what was going on, I've seen it before. But she refused, always blaming the accidents on herself, or saying that Peter was just worried about her if she stayed out too long by herself. Once, she told that me that Peter didn't like her to come see me and the kids. She said that he thought she was too dependent on us and not dependent enough on him. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard — but he had her believin' it." Her voice broke for the first time, "I didn't hardly see her at all that last year."
Lois and Clark gave Allison some time to compose herself before she continued, excusing themselves to go outside and walk around for a few minutes. The story had been all too familiar to Lois, who could fill in blanks that even Allison hadn't been able to. She couldn't imagine what it would have been like to live with that man every day for over five years. What Janey must have gone through. But something else had occurred to while listening as well. "Clark?"
"Yes, Lois?" Clark held Lois' hand through the entire account, offering his unconditional love and support throughout. He, too, had seen cases of abuse, both as a reporter and as Superman.
She turned to face him, placing her hand on his muscled chest. "I realized something today, something that I've probably always known, but never formed into words."
"What's that, honey?"
"Men like Peter Alistair prey on people weaker than themselves, whether it's physical, mental, or emotional weakness. They use their victims' own insecurities against them. That's where all their power comes from. If you think about it, all the villains we've faced have been like that. Lex Luthor comes to mind easily, but there've been others, too." She smiled up at him. "But you, you're the strongest man in the whole world, and you never use your power to harm others. Sometimes you use your abilities to defeat those who would, but even then, you only do what's necessary. I mean, Clark, you could annihilate Peter Alistair in two seconds, but you don't."
He sighed. "Don't think I haven't thought about it."
She smiled. "That's just cause you can't stand to see me hurting. Because you love me so much — just like I love you."
They shared a tender kiss, full of emotion, then walked back inside to find out how Janey Crowder died.
Allison had washed her face, and was now ready to tell the most difficult part of her story. Clark urged her to take her time, and assured her that they understood how hard it was for her to talk about.
"I know in my heart that Peter killed my sister. What I don't know is how to prove it." She handed them a newspaper clipping. "This is how her death was explained."
Lois took the article, yellowed with age, and read aloud, "Local Woman Drowns, Ruled Accidental by Police." The article simply reported that while on a recreational boating trip with her husband, Jane Alistair fell overboard. Despite daring attempts to rescue her, Mr. Alistair was unable to save his wife in time. Emergency responders told reporters that Mr. Alistair was inconsolable, and no foul play was involved."
Clark looked at Allison with surprise. "According to this, her death was accidental. The local authorities suspected no foul play. How can you be sure she was murdered?"
She sniffed. "Because I know my sister. Remember, I told you our parents died in a boating accident when she was small?" They nodded, "Well, Janey was scared to death of water. She never even learned to swim. This whole town is full of fishermen, and the few tourists that do visit here come for the water. But Janey would never go out on the water, not for anything. There's no way she would have gotten on that boat willingly. He had to have either planned killing her or at the least, forced her to get on the boat out of meanness. Maybe she made him mad. I don't know — but I do know her death was no accident."
Lois and Clark shared a look, and then Lois spoke to Allison, "We believe you. But to take Alistair down, we need hard proof. Is there anything else you could tell us?"
"The day after she died, I confronted Peter about what had happened. I told him that I knew he had killed her. He told me to mind my own business — that if I didn't want my kids to end up like Janey, that I had better keep my mouth shut. He all but admitted it. My own husband left us after my youngest son was born, and I was afraid of that horrible man hurting my little ones. With no one to protect us, I didn't have a choice. You two are the only people I've ever told about this." She looked up at them. "I want to see him pay for what he did to Janey, but I'm still afraid."
Clark reached out to the woman. "We promise that you and your kids will be safe. We'll do everything we can to see Peter Alistair brought to justice."
They said their good-byes, promising to inform Ms. Crowder of any new developments.
Lois had been especially quiet on their drive back to the hotel in town. But as they walked through the door to their room, she announced, "I know how to get him."
Clark listened warily as she laid out the details of her plan. "Honey, that sounds too dangerous to me. Not to mention how hard it will be for you."
"It's the only way to nail this guy. I have to do it for me, and I have to do for Janey. And besides, Superman will be just a millisecond away, so there's not any 'real' danger, is there?"
Knowing Lois never backed down, he reluctantly agreed to go along with her plan. "You do know this means that you'll have to go public with what happened to you. We could try to downplay it as much as possible, but once Alistair is exposed, I doubt there'll be any way around it."
She took steadying breath and replied, "I've been thinking about that anyway. I've kept my experience with Alistair quiet for too long. My silence has only caused pain, and it's time to end that. Besides, I know now that I didn't do anything wrong. He's the bad guy — not me."
Clark was relieved to finally hear Lois say those words. "We should probably start by telling Perry. And we'll have to get Jimmy to help with the equipment."
Lois nodded. "I think that's a good idea. We wouldn't know what we do without Perry. We'll talk to both of them in the morning as soon as we get back to Metropolis. Hopefully, if my plan works, Alistair will be in jail tomorrow night."
Embracing his wife, he whispered in her ear. "I guess with such a busy day ahead of us, we should get to bed." Letting the tension of the day leave her momentarily, Lois agreed with her husband wholeheartedly.
Much later, after Lois had fallen asleep in his arms, he lay there relishing the feel of her. Clark stared at the ceiling for a long time, desperately hoping that nothing would go wrong.
After quickly dropping off their luggage at the brownstone on Thursday morning, they immediately went to the Planet to talk to their friends. Fortunate to not run into the enemy, Lois went directly to the conference room, while Clark found Perry and Jimmy.
Once they were all seated, Clark began. "Lois and I have some information that concerns the well-being of the Planet, but also involves us directly — in a personal way. We felt that the two of you should know what's going on, and we'd also like to count on having your help."
"Sure, CK, you got it." Clark smiled at Jimmy's enthusiasm, the younger man not bothering to hide his excitement at being let in on a secret.
Perry indulged Jimmy's fervor, and calmly replied, "This must mean your trip was a success."
Lois answered, "I don't know if that's the right word for it, Chief. But we did learn a few things about Peter Alistair."
"This is about Mr. Alistair? Is that why you had me run those background checks?" Jimmy asked.
"Yes, Jimmy. Alistair is not the man everyone's been led to believe. I should start at the beginning…" Lois continued to tell a shocked Perry and Jimmy about her experiences with the newest Planet staff member, managing to keep the account less emotional than the first time she told it. While she concentrated on facts, the resulting implications of her story were no less horrifying. She ended by telling Jimmy how his background check made them aware that he had falsified documents.
"Judas Priest! Lois, If I had thought for one minute…" Perry ranted for a few moments before forcing himself to calm down. "One call to Franklin Stern and that no-good cow chip will be redecorating a cardboard box down by the bay instead of and Executive office here at this newspaper!"
"Slow down, Chief," Clark interrupted. "We can't let him onto us yet. You haven't heard everything yet." Everyone focused their attention on Clark as he completed what they knew about Alistair.
"…So you see, Lois and I have to prove that Alistair murdered his wife. We can't stand by and let him get away with murder." He paused and took Lois' hand. "Not to mention that if he goes free, we can't be sure he won't try to harm Lois."
Jimmy asked, "But how can you get proof in four-year old murder case? Surely he isn't hanging on to any evidence?"
"That's where we need your help, Jimmy." Lois began explaining her plan. "I'm going to get a confession — the same way I got rid of him 13 years ago. Only this time his bragging will win a free ticket to the State Prison, not a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card."
Perry stopped her. "Now, honey, don't you think he'll be on to you this time? How do you expect to pull that off?"
"It's easy, Perry. You're going to make him think that I'll be here in newsroom by myself tonight. You'll have to make it seem that you've sent Clark out on assignment and that I'm working after hours. Maybe even imply it's to avoid running into him or something." She looked to Jimmy. "A tape recorder would be too obvious this time, so I need you to help us with some sort of remote listening/recording device. A wire is probably even pushing it. Do you think you could get hold of one that's small enough to put in my hair — maybe disguised as a hair clip? Anything, as long as it's reliable. I only want to have to do this once."
Jimmy thought for a moment before answering, "I know just the place. Can I go now and start getting things ready?" They nodded and he took off.
Lois looked deliberately at Perry and Clark. "And the rest is up to me."
By 6:00 p.m., everything had been set up. Lois was equipped with a recording device enclosed in an ordinary-looking hair pin that she wore right behind her left ear. Jimmy had tested it thoroughly and it worked perfectly. Perry had called Alistair in his office under the guise of setting up a time to go over business, mentioning in passing that Lois and Clark were back on the job, and that if he still wanted her decorating opinion, she would be working overtime tonight — what with Clark having to go on assignment and all. It almost turned Perry's stomach hearing the delight with which Alistair digested that information. There was no doubt that he would make a move tonight.
At 7:00, when the majority of employees were in the process of leaving, Lois discreetly went up to the roof of the building, where she knew Superman would be waiting to go over last-minute strategy. "Lois, are you sure you want to go through with this? You seem nervous."
She smiled bravely, "Just butterflies. I'll be fine — you're just 'Help, Superman!' away, right?"
He squeezed her shoulders. "Not even that far. Jimmy's set up in Perry's office with the recording equipment. Everyone thinks he's working on the Chief's shortwave radio and Alistair doesn't even seem to have a clue that anyone named Jimmy works there. And I'll be watching and listening, too, from here. I won't let anything happen to you, Lois — I swear."
She looked around uncomfortably. "Clark, I don't know if it's a good idea for you to watch, or even listen too closely."
Shocked and a little hurt, he pulled back and asked, "Why on earth would you say that?"
"Oh, sweetheart, it's not what you think. It's just… Well, he may try to get 'close,' if you know what I mean. And of course I'll keep him in his place, but we just have to get the information we need. I can't go on like this. And I'm afraid that if you see him try to touch me, or hear…"
"You're afraid that if I think he's getting too close, I might jump the gun and rush in and rescue you, and cream him, before we get the evidence we need." Now he understood.
Sheepishly, she replied, "You are overprotective, dear."
He kissed her tenderly. "Don't be worrying about my overreaction. Just concentrate on your goal, and know that we can handle this. You've got the hard part."
"I can do it, Clark."
"Lois, I know you can do anything."
In Perry's office, Jimmy was going over last minute adjustments to the equipment. Lois was already waiting for Alistair in the newsroom. Clark had just checked in with Jimmy by phone, both to check that everything was okay with the equipment and to explain why he was not in the building. He told Jimmy that he didn't want to risk Alistair spotting him, so he was waiting in the Jeep down the street from the Planet. Jimmy knew Superman was on standby, but Clark didn't want anyone to have the impression that he was not there to help Lois as well.
Clark was happy to know that the recording device was working as expected, but concerned when Jimmy told him that the speakers had blown. They would not be able to hear things as they happened, but would have to wait for the computer to convert the input. It would cause a 2-minute time lag. Jimmy assured him that it was only a minor inconvenience, and that the recording would be unaffected. He could monitor the sound levels visually, using his computer readings.
Clark, who was actually calling from his cell phone on the roof, was disconcerted by the technical difficulty, however minor. He didn't want anything to go wrong — this was just too important. He was pacified only by the knowledge that he would be able to hear everything that went on. Still, he told Jimmy not to worry and promptly got off the phone as he saw Alistair enter the newsroom.
The newsroom seemed darker than usual, and more quiet somehow. But Jimmy was inconspicuously hidden just in Perry's office, and Superman was surely watching from above. A few stragglers working on important assignments for the morning edition were even coming in and out, although most chose to work in the downstairs press area after business hours. Still, Lois felt painfully alone — waiting.
Thinking it would help her anxiety and appear more authentic to Peter if she was busy, she thumbed through the files she and Clark had been neglecting all week. 'No wonder Perry didn't mind us taking a few days off. There's nothing newsworthy in this pile. I hope when this Alistair thing is all over, we can just enjoy a good scandal — otherwise we might as well go cover a dog…"
"Good evening, Lois."
She jumped and dropped the file, shocked that he had sneaked up on her. A thought ran through her head, 'Well, girl, now you don't have to worry about faking that part of tonight's performance.'
"Peter. It's late — what are you doing here?" She kept her sentences terse, not wanting to make some minor slip up and ruin her plan. She knew she had to get him upstairs, where he would talk freely.
He flashed a conniving grin at her. "I work here, too, remember, my love? What's wrong — not happy to see me?"
"Let's cut to the chase, shall we? What exactly do you want from me?"
"Funny you should ask. Actually, I'd like you to come upstairs — to see my office."
Lois feigned a look of disbelief, knowing she couldn't appear too eager. "You've got to be kidding. What on earth makes you think I would want to be alone with you?"
"We used to spend a lot of time alone together, or have you forgotten?"
Involuntarily shuddering, she replied, "No. I haven't forgotten. Those were some of the worst days of my life. It's you with the faulty memory — you who put me through living hell."
For a moment, his confident exterior was distorted by anger. 'Now we're getting somewhere,' Lois thought. Alistair paced back and forth past the desk several times, seemingly glancing around to see who was present.
After a few minutes of consideration, he spoke. "I think it would be in your best interests to come upstairs."
"I don't possibly see how that could be in my best interests. Besides, my husband will be here in a second to get me. You don't want to make him mad."
Again, the confident smile. Oh, how Lois would like to rub that smile off his face. "Actually, Lois, your husband is out on assignment tonight." Pleased with himself, he continued. "Does your husband like his job here at the Daily Planet?"
"Yes. We both like working here. Although I have to say the last week hasn't been the highlight of our careers."
Ignoring her snide remark, he said, "If you like your jobs, I would strongly suggest you come up to my office. I am your boss and if you don't do what I say, it could easily be construed as disregarding my authority. Employees have been dismissed on far less serious grounds than that, my dear."
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes at the absurdity of his argument, she acted as if she were considering it. She answered warily, "Only for a moment — then I'm leaving. Understand."
"Fine. After you, love."
"And quit calling me love."
From his vantage point on top of the building, Superman anxiously watched as Lois and Alistair made their way up to the fifth floor executive offices. He clenched and unclenched his fists as he struggled to maintain the patience that was being tested by the man who was far too close to his wife in the elevator.
Clark had noticed when Alistair had nearly lost his temper before, and he was sure that Lois would be able to elicit a confession from him. Now, if he could only wait that long like he had promised. Something besides the obvious was bothering him, though. Lois was supposed to be the one having to lure Alistair upstairs — why was he so insistent on getting her up there? What did he have in mind?
He kept his eye on them as the man put his hand on the small of Lois' back to usher her into his office. A gesture that he often made unconsciously, he didn't fail to notice the ill effect it had coming from Alistair. They walked into the office…
For a second, Superman panicked. He was preparing to dash in to find his wife before reasoning dawned on him. He gasped, "All that decorating — he wasn't doing it out of vanity like Perry thought — he was having his office veiled with lead! No wonder he had seemed so confident, he thought he could hide from Superman. And who knows what he plans to do to Lois in there tonight.'
Clark flew to Perry's office, cursing himself for not having the foresight to investigate Alistair's office. If anything happened to Lois, he felt it would be his fault.
Jimmy looked up to see an upset Superman standing before him. "What's the matter? Did something happen to Lois?"
Superman proceeded to quickly explain how the office upstairs must have been painted with lead, including the floor and ceiling, and how even the blinds concealing the windows must have been coated with the substance. "Now I can't hear what is happening, Jimmy. We'll have to use the computer conversion."
"Superman, I told Clark that the lag-time was 2 minutes. A lot can happen in two minutes."
Clark was torn. Lois would be furious if he busted in on them. They would lose their opportunity to convict Peter Alistair, probably forever. Janey Crowder's murderer would never be brought to justice. On the other hand, Lois could be hurt. He made his decision.
"Jimmy, how much longer till we hear what's going on?"
"Another 60 seconds. Then we'll be hearing what happened two minutes ago." Superman sat down by Jimmy — to wait.
Once inside his office, which smelled horribly metallic, Lois thought, Alistair's demeanor changed noticeably. "I've waited so long for this night, love." He locked the door behind him.
"Why? What's so special about tonight?" She swallowed her fear, remembering her promise to Janey.
"Ah, tonight is the night I get my revenge. I was going to wait and wear you down with paranoia, but I'm not a patient man." She backed away from him in mock terror. "Yes, love, you should be afraid."
"I wouldn't be the first woman you'd killed," she shot at him. 'I'm pushing it, but there's no need to drag things out longer than necessary. He only has to admit it once, and throw in a few details for posterity.' "I know about Janey."
That admission stopped him cold. His satisfied visage was replaced with one of pure rage. "What do you know about Janey?"
"I know that her death was no accident. You killed her."
He eyed her suspiciously. "Lois, don't you ever learn? I won't be tricked so easily this time." He approached her slowly, pinning her effectively against the wall. He whispered in her ear, "Where's the tape recorder this time, huh?" His hands wandered down her sides, searching for the device. "Is it under your jacket?"
Lois, focusing on her goals, allowed him to be sure that there was no tape recorder before knocking him off balance with her knee and pushing him away with both her hands. "Don't touch me, Peter. I'm not the same girl who let you get away with it all those years ago. I've taken down far greater men than you since then." Her anger was no act.
He brushed his clothes with his hands, as if to undermine her counterattack by his action. "Be nice to me, Lois. You're only going to make your punishment more harsh."
"Were you punishing Janey that night on the boat? Is that how she died?"
"Janey is none of your business." His face was red with anger. "Janey was a useless wife — she didn't love me. All she cared about was that stupid sister of hers. A man needs a woman who knows her place, who's not out gallivanting around like some common slut. She never wanted to be at home with me. She got what she deserved."
Knowing the truth didn't lessen the effect of hearing it from Alistair's own mouth. Advancing toward her, he grabbed her by the shoulders and forcefully kissed her. Lois struggled to get away from him, but he was too strong. "'A Kiss Before Dying,' — isn't that the name of a movie or something? I'll have to check into that — after."
He laughed as he continued, "Are you scared, Lois? That night, I wasn't sure if Janey was more scared of the water or of me." He stared through the woman in his arms, remembering. "Although as I held her head under the water, it became more clear. I'll not ever forget that night, Lois. It's pleasurable to be reminded how easily I got away with it. Those rubes in charge of the investigation didn't even hold me for questioning. Not to worry, dear, I'll never forget this night either."
"You're sick." Lois seethed. "And you won't get away with anything this time. HELP, SUPERMAN!"
When nothing happened, Alistair laughed, the sound of victory in his voice. He went on to quickly explain the special alterations he had made to his office, pleased to exhibit his careful planning.
Lois tried to break loose for the door, but he slammed her into the wall, effectively bumping her head. It hurt, but it also gave her enough leverage to get her leg between them. Moving as quickly as possible, she kicked first to get some more distance between them, and kicked again, successfully knocking Peter to the ground.
She ran to the door, fumbling with the lock. She felt a cool trickle of blood running down the back of her neck and underneath the collar of her blouse. But before she could unlock the lead-covered door, Alistair pulled her back around to face to face him. He roughly shoved her onto the sofa that sat right inside the door.
Holding her down on the couch, he reached past her to the coffee table and picked up the base of a heavy crystal lamp, knocking the shade off in the process. Straddling Lois' body, he held the lamp high above his head, poised to strike.
As Alistair brought the lamp down to strike Lois, a loud crash resounded through the building. After an instant blur of motion, Alistair shattered the crystal lamp squarely on the chiseled chest of Superman.
Completely unaffected by the shattering lamp base, the icy glare he focused on Alistair made the man tremble with fear. He noticed he had been roughly lifted off the ground. "S-Superman? How did you…"
"What's wrong? You don't seem so powerful, now." Superman released him, and held up his arms outstretched in a gesture of invitation. "Go ahead. Take your best shot. I've heard how fond you are of violence. If you want someone to fight, here I am. I'll give you the honor of the first swing."
When he didn't make a move, Superman reached for him again, this time hoisting him well off the ground by his neck. "I'm not smaller than you, is that it? Are * you * the one who's afraid now? I guess you can see now how it's different when the tables are turned."
"P-Please don't hurt me."
"Is that what your wife said before you murdered her? And weren't you going to hurt Ms. Lane? Why should you expect me to have compassion when you don't have any?"
"You're sorry? Sorry won't bring back the life of the young woman you drowned, and it won't take away all the pain you've caused." Superman pulled Alistair closer to him, looking him right in face. "Sorry's not good enough."
Alistair braced himself, thinking he was going to be killed. But then he felt himself being let go. When he opened his eyes, Superman said, "I meant that you're going to jail, Alistair. I don't work like you do."
Shamefully, Peter Alistair collapsed into a ball on the floor, weeping uncontrollably.
Superman looked with concern at Lois, who was still sitting on the couch. "Are you okay, Ms. Lane?"
Before she could answer, they both heard Jimmy noisily running up to the office door, shouting, "Superman, hurry, he's going to kill her… I just heard…" He stopped short when he saw the scene laid out before him. "Man. Lois, I thought you were a goner. The tape is two minutes behind…and, and we heard this loud noise, and… Superman, you really are fast."
Half-smiling at Jimmy, she shakily answered Superman's question. "Clark. I need Clark."
Superman picked up Alistair, who was still sobbing, and stuffed him in the closet. "Call the police, Jimmy, and get the tape ready. I'll go get Clark for Lois." With that, he was gone.
Just a moment later, Clark ran into the office and to Lois' side. They embraced passionately, with a mixture of relief and concern. "Oh my God, Lois, you're bleeding."
"I'm okay, Clark. It's just a little scratch."
He helped her up. "We're going to the hospital right now."
"No, it's okay. Really." He looked at her dubiously, but she continued. "Don't give me that look. I'm fine now that you're here. Besides, we have to explain to the police." More anxiously, she asked, "The confession is on tape, right?"
He assured her, "Yes. We got it all. Thanks to you, Alistair will be in jail for a very long time. He won't be hurting anyone else."
He took the recording device out of her hair to examine her wound more closely, turning it off in the process. Satisfied that it was just a superficial scratch, he continued, more quietly, "I'm so sorry, Lois. I promised I wouldn't let him hurt you."
"Clark, don't you dare blame yourself — you saved me. I'm fine. And besides, aren't you the one who told me that it's Alistair who's the bad guy? This whole thing is his fault, not ours."
"But I was supposed to be watching you. I didn't know the office was lead-lined. It was so stupid of me not to check. You needed me, and I wasn't here."
"Are you nuts? You're always here when I need you. You've stayed by me during this whole ordeal, offering your support and understanding. I wouldn't have made it through without you. You're the best."
Clark smiled, conceding. "We'll talk about this later. Shouldn't I be the one making sure you are all right-not the other way around?"
She laughed. "I'm all right just knowing that sleazebag will finally get what he's got coming. And seeing him cry like a baby was a plus." As she spoke, she saw her husband's expression become darker. "Honey, what is it?"
"As I was flying out of Perry's office, I heard on the recording… I heard…"
Lois finished for him, "You heard him kiss me."
"Yeah." He took her in his arms, holding her securely against his chest. "I wanted to kill him."
"But 'you don't work that way,' right?"
Softly, he answered, "Right. So, you're really okay?"
"I know it sounds weird, but, when he kissed me, it's like it wasn't even me. My body, but not me. I just kept thinking about Janey, and proving him guilty. I see him now for what he is — and it's like he just couldn't touch me."
They heard police sirens approaching. Clark said, "I'm just glad it's finally over."
Lois smiled. "It's not over, not yet."
The sun was rising steadily over the horizon. Lois and Clark had made an early morning trip to the little graveyard in Mount Evanston.
After the trial, Allison Crowder had been very grateful to them for all they had done for Janey. Lois had been the star witness in the murder trail, and Alistair was convicted of Murder One and Attempted Murder. The rest of his days would be spent in jail.
The press had sensationalized Lois' role in the proceedings, digging up past scandals that she had been involved in. Clark and her friends were very supportive, and she took all of it in stride, always remembering the promise she had made to the young woman she had never known.
It was a clipping from the Planet's factual account of the outcome of the trial that she brought with her to Janey's grave. Leaving it with a bouquet of roses, she stood with Clark to watch the sun rise.
They stood hand in hand by Janey's grave, ready to face the day.