By Ikuko <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: After the destruction of the Daily Planet, the retired editor-in-chief is trying to make sense of what happened.
Another short one with no WAFFs, no romance, no mystery, no plot guaranteed. The "Back" button is in upper left corner of your screen.
Straight down the street, then turn left. Past the little grocery on the corner, past the dusty palm tree. Now, if he only kept his eyes firmly on the pavement under his feet, he would not have to see the row of news-stands next to the bus station. Most of all, the blue one among them with the "Daily Planet" logo, and the black, glaringly empty window, like a gaping mouth. He wished they'd remove the machines from the streets. The Daily Planet was destroyed; there would be no more editions, ever. After 219 years, the greatest newspaper in the world was lying in a pile of rubble, and he, its editor-in-chief, was a useless beachcomber in the white hat.
The early morning air was still pleasantly cool, but the blistering sunrays rays of the sun promised a scorching day. It did not matter. He felt empty, just like the metal blue box he'd just passed, only, without the solid quality of the walls, the light was passing right through him. There was nothing to stop it. There was no person in the bright Hawaiian shirt, behind trendy shades. Funny, to the outside world he must seem like a picture of success, a man enjoying his retirement in the peaceful southern town. There was nobody in the entire world as far from success as he was. An epitome of failure. A naked soul, as naked as the day he came in this world.
An annoyingly cheerful voice called him from his reverie. For a second, Perry contemplated pretending not to hear. No, that pesky neighbor would bug him to no end. Unfortunately, Don listed newly retired editor among those who deserved his attention and considered it his duty to "socialize". This was a man who had never in his life wanted anything but to seem successful to others.
"How you doing?"
He could tell him just how he was doing. Like any fifty- year-old thrown away. Like a used tissue, forced into idleness. His whole life tossed aside, like so much of a nuisance. Just peachy. That's how. "Fine, Don. Off for the golf?" Please, don't let him invite me with him.
But the pudgy, bald New-Yorker needed an audience to listen to his bragging. After another five or six minutes, Perry was shifting on his feet, pretending to listen and nodding at random intervals. Don needed nothing more. He was being seen with the illustrious editor, and talking to him. Basking in the glory. A day's worth of self-esteem. Poor fool.
Finally, Perry was free to go again. He waved his hand in what he hoped was a friendly gesture, and resumed his walk of misery. Left foot, right foot, breath in, squint at the sun, turn left. Relax, unwind, take it easy, Smell the roses. There were no reporters waiting for you in the meeting room, no presses running, and no copy to edit.
Gone. It was all gone. His life, his work, all crumbled to pieces, and he was supposed to enjoy the retirement.
Oh, he was not facing any financial hardship. His thirty- four years at the Planet earned him a decent pension. Yet, it was not about money: the Planet was his life, and now it was gone, never to return. Money, ha! When the King was drafted and became Private US 53310761, he left his $400,000 a month behind for $78.00, and he never complained.
It was never about money. It was about truth, the most important thing there was. He had chosen the truth as his weapon, and had stuck to it all his life. There always were those who hated the truth. But he'd had an unbeatable army that supported his back. Most people were decent folk, a country full of free people who wanted to know the truth above everything else. He'd felt strong with support like that, and the paper was selling more strongly year after year. Then what what happened? How come no one cared anymore? It came so gradually.
He was crushed by the forces that felt dead, heavy, passive, and impossible to fight. The faceless power that always had a perfectly good reason why this or that publication was untimely, or a certain angle was too controversial. He had shrugged it off most of the time, as a silly obstacle in way, but those obstacles grew larger and larger, until they crushed the Planet under that sticky dead weight. The feeling that had been pestering him for some years, that something terrible was going to swallow his entire world, had finally caught up with him. Then, there it was: the Planet was destroyed by the irresistible force he had never understood, and his whole being was swallowed, destroyed, turned into the useless loafer in the easy chair.
He had been seventeen when he first set foot in the famous building with the globe on the facade. Just a scrawny, eager teenager, inspired by the exuberant rush of the fifties, when everything seemed possible. Go and grab your destiny!
He'd known where his destiny was waiting for him: journalism. Old man Krebbs agreed to interview him for the assistant copy boy position. He had been so exited. But, when he arrived, the awe stupefied him. He had stood in front of the building, staring at the globe, unable to move. He had been fifteen minutes late already, but hadn't been able to bring himself to cross the threshold of the legendary home of the best paper in the world. If only he'd known what was ahead, that he was going to become the last editor, the last captain of the magnificent ship. Two hundred and nineteen years, ending in nothing.
He remembered the newsroom when he first came to the Planet. So busy, so REAL! He could only gape at confident, polished reporters who produced the best paper in the world. Oh, to be like one of them! At first, he just hung around, eager for a chance. He was ignored by all, until a middle-aged guy in horn glasses motioned with his hand and said:
"Hey, you. Come here. I need you."
It was his first assignment; to get the papers to another building. Then another, just as meager. But he learned the value of being needed and he held on to that with his teeth. He was patient and obliging, he was there always. They did not notice, until he became indispensable, as much a part of the news room as the furniture. He became a cub reporter by default; in a few months he was on salary. Of course, not like the real reporters, but at least he belonged. He was too desperate for a real chance, a young cub in awe of the great Planet. He remembered how scared he was when he messed up the first time, and the relief when Krebbs merely frowned and said, "When you straighten it up, get in my office. I need you."
He was grateful for what old Krebbs had done for him. He grew more confident, learned the ropes of the news business. The awed reporters became less scary, more like buddies and competitors then demigods of the business. Older guys fell behind, loosing their grip. The new commers were just that, new comers. They were as awed by the greatness of the paper as he was, and for them HE was the part of the Daily Planet team. The paper was growing day by day, and he was caught in the excitement of the news business. To get a scoop, all by himself, seemed like an impossible dream. But, eventually, he got one. He thought it was a gift from heaven, but it turned out to be a false lead. His new buddy framed him for the scandal. He almost got himself fired, almost took old man with him. Just for one mistake! For days, he was afraid to show his face to Krebbs. He was sure that his days in the paper were numbered. Till one morning, the old man called him as if nothing happened.
"Hey, Perry! I need you."
He learned his lesson well: always double check your lead. More then once he had to repeat that to the young cubs who came to the "Planet" later. He saw them all. Young milksops trying to be smart. With time, he developed the skill to manipulate and tame them. He got older, and with age came respect. He was a senior reporter by then. The paper lost some of its glamour for him, it was the place where he worked, no more, no less. Others felt the same. Old friends were leaving for other careers. But he stayed. Journalism was his one and only love, even without the glamour.
Besides, Krebbs told him softly, "I need you."
And so, he stuck around for thirty-four years. Eventually he became an editor himself, as much as he feared the job. Slowly aging, he came to realize how his life was trickling away. The shock came when he least expected. When he was talking to a young woman, a gifted reporter, about stakeouts, he joked,
"I am too old for that."
"Oh, you're still young," she joked back. It was his first hurt from the cruelty of youth.
As he was getting older, the newsroom stayed the same age. Gradually, he withdrew from active reporting. The perky milksops became his eyes and hands. He saw the emergence of new talents with appreciation rather than envy. Probably he was growing wiser. Sometimes he thought about leaving. There was a chance to enter a political career, to run for mayor.
But who to leave the paper to? They said "We need you," and he stayed. For years, by now, he'd been seeking a worthy replacement. There was Lois; she was more than worthy. Brilliant as he ever was. But he was not sure if she would ever be patient and tolerant enough to become an editor. If he were honest, Jimmy would be a better choice. If only he had time to shape Jimmy for the job! Too late now. No one needed him.
He was fifty. Not old. Years were flowing by him, never really affecting him. While at the planet, age seemed irrelevant. His youth was in the solid pulse of the presses, in the excitement of the scoop, in the rush of the deadlines. Now it was all over. His years crushed around him like a lead weight. He felt every single one of them as a separate burden pulling him down.
Alice was his support in the downfall. He was grateful, as far as it went. Nothing could really help him on the lonely road of his worthless last years. Alice had to face the certainty of her own aging alone, as well. It was harder for a woman. She was resigned at times, and at times nearly screaming in denial of the inevitable. She was grasping at the every remnant of her former beauty, her fading freshness. It was no use. He did not mind the changes in her too much. For him, she was still Alice, the beautiful girl he'd once dated, give or take a few wrinkles and pounds. That did not change how important she was for him. Her hysterical attempts to look younger reminded him to his own plunge to recapture his youth when he hit fifty. He'd given quite a scare to the kids at the Planet! Now, looking at Alice, he felt a gentle pity and amusement, but he could not reproach. He understood all too well.
Alice seemed strangely happy about his retirement. Perry suspected that it was a sort of acceptance. Before, she was the aging wife of the successful editor of a major newspaper. Now, she was the youthful wife of a retired man. There was a subtle shift in the status that might console her. That was what their existence was all about now. Seeking small comforts in the debris of their life.
He was too young for retirement. Sure, he could travel, fish and read. Maybe even spend some time with the kids. Who was he kidding! His kids no longer needed him. So called "relaxation' is only good when you have a job to relax after. He was only fifty! God, once he thought fifty was old age. Hell, not so long ago, Jimbo said, "Never trust an old guy," and he meant him! He did not feel old, not until now. Yet, growing old was the only thing for him to do now. Aging alone. It is always alone. No matter how many people grow old before you, no matter how your friends and loved ones weather in front of your very eyes, for you it is always the first time. To give up, to submit, to step aside.
In the newsroom he was as young as ever, the energy of the Planet flowed in his veins, bursting with life. Now, he was cut off from his life source. He was too young for retirement. He was too old to start all over again.
Yet, they had staged an infernal mockery of a retirement party for him. A celebration of destruction, dancing on the corpses. The pain was so strong. He had hidden it in fake cheerfulness, drowned it in wine. Perry winced at the recollection of the pitying eyes of his young friends. He'd lost the last shreds of dignity, drunk himself into babbling idiot. Poor Jimbo had taken of his former boss, got him cab, and almost poured him in the car. A disgraceful end to a disgraceful party.
Who cared how drunk he was. The only important thing was that the Planet was destroyed. Kent was right all along. Luthor, that rich bastard, had planned it from the beginning. Oh, just to see that smug smile wiped off his face. Helpless. That was what he had become. And snobs like Luthor enjoyed rubbing his face in it.
The paper was destroyed. Life was destroyed. The "Daily Planet" was a lot more than just steel girders and concrete. It was people, it was ideas, principles, all gone to waste. Just to think whom Luthor brought as a new editor-in-chief made his blood boil! What was his name. Peterson? Chip, that's right. That feather brain, snot nose on a pimply face, underage cow tip! To replace him, Perry White! Great shades of Elvis, Jimmy would be a better replacement!
Perry felt his heart warming a bit. Jimmy was a good kid. He reminded him so much of himself thirty something years ago. Sometimes the old editor felt as though Jimmy was more of a son for him than his real ones. He would never be as brilliant as Lois or Kent, but he would be a fine newsman, and could be his rightful heir one day. Now it was too late.
All these years at the Planet, Jimmy looking at him at him as if he knew all the answers. Well, he did enjoy impressing the kids with his perceptiveness. "I did not become editor of a major newspaper because I could yodel." Oh, he was not knocking experience. Some things were so easy to see when you'd seen them enough times already. If someone tried to wiggle out of the assignment he didn't like, or get a questionable story past him, or simply weasel a day off. That was a child's play.
Again, there were things he never saw before, but was longing to see, ready to recognize and only received as a precious gift in the very last years. Like Jimmy's trust and affection for his boss. The father who saw that expression in his sons' faces could be proud of himself. Too bad Jimmy was not his son. And his real sons would never look at him like that. He'd never earned his sons' trust and never really deserved Jimmy's. He hadn't not save the Planet! The kids had been counting on him, and he'd let them down. How could he explain it to them? That he was not as wise, as experienced, as they believed him to be? He'd lived long enough to see through their little schemes. Could they understand that deep down, with all his gray hair and bossy attitude, he was the same paper boy he'd been thirty years ago? That he did not have all the answers, even if he behaved as if he did? That he'd wished to become the King in the newspaper business, and failed? That he had tried to become at least a Colonel for them, and failed again?
Lois was his first really great talent. He knew that he regarded her as a daughter more than anything else, the daughter he never had. He wished he could yield to the tempting illusion that she was his intellectual heir. But that little pesky voice kept reminding him that as good a journalist as he was, he'd never matched the fierce talent of that girl. He had always believed that he'd never see another one like that, and if anyone would come close, they would kill each other.
All too soon, the newsroom knew that she was the boss's special little girl, and more than one reporter sneered in jealousy. Yet few could match her work. Claude. Perry winced. He was a good journalist, and kinder than many to Lois. They'd seemed to have more than casual interest in each other, and Perry just watched. They'd looked like a nice match. The time had been right for Claude to settle down, and Lois was obviously in love. Then, one day, they had broken off their relationship. Claude had brought in a great article, had won an award. Lois had complained pitifully that it had been her. The style had been Claude's, but she'd said he had rewritten it.
Perry hadn't known what to believe. Only months later had he learned the truth. Claude was gone by then, and there had been no way to confront him. Perry wanted to strangle the bastard for hurting Lois so much, could not even bring himself to let other editors know. He had no solid proof. The guy went away with the stolen award. Lois had won three of her own since, but never really recovered from the blow. He'd never seen her with a guy again. Apparently, he'd failed yet again. Again, never made it as a surrogate father for her.
Poor, silly girl. She never realized that she got more from the relationship than Claude did. He got the article, and the satisfaction of the brief affair, and possibly dissatisfaction with himself. Even the most seasoned seducers twitch when they cause so much hurt, and Claude was not all bad. Lois had real feelings, and her excitement was real too. She was the winner in the long run, but never understood it. Kent would.
She was not hurt because she was used. She was hurt because she was not being used any longer. A generous soul like her loved to give, and it hurt when her gift was is rejected, thrown away, just like he had been. True love does not count favors and dues. It is giving, not taking. Lois was afraid to give now. No one had ever shown her how to. For her, love was taking, only she was not a taker. She'd wanted to become a taker. She went to Luthor; how wrong she was. Luthor was no giver. He was the worst taker there was.
Granted, he was rich, and women seemed to be, you know, impressed by wealth and power. But Lois was not that kind of a girl! Why did she go for him? Did not she see that Kent worshiped the ground she walked? That boy sure knew how to give. He just could not understand women. Still, if she could only see who Luthor really was, Kent might have had a chance. He had faith in that boy. Maybe Luthor had money, but Kent set higher stakes than that. Lois was a lucky girl, if only she was not so blind.
Lois was so much like him: as passionate about the paper, as devastated at its loss. They had both been used, only Perry did not mind it. He wanted it passionately. They had both been betrayed. Both had lost something they did not intend to give. For Lois it was her scoop, for Perry it was his job. They had both crashed and burned. At least Lois had a hope of recovery, if she could only survive Luthor. Not much hope, hah? Not many survived him, and Perry was a living proof. But Lois was young, and strong. And she had Kent, even if she did not know it. He would fight to the end, be she Mrs. Luthor or not. That boy was never afraid of being used.
When Kent came along, so modest, so unassuming, Perry had almost let him slip between his fingers. Thank Elvis that Kent was stubborn enough to make another try. Kent's gift in journalism was not like Lois' "in your face" sort of talent. Perry was rather reluctant at first to admit that Kent was equal to his little girl. He had a quiet, thorough, kinda sneaking up on you sort of charm.
When you read a piece by Lois, you'd think "amazing what this girl can dig out." When you read a piece by Kent, you were rarely left impressed by him, rather you felt deep pride for being able to share thoughts and sentiments with an intelligent friend. It was not an admiration for Kent, but for the best within yourself. That was what he was doing, he bred an incredible sense of self-respect in the reader, merely for being able to understand the ideas that Kent offered in every sentence.
No one ever forgot an article under Kent's byline. Nor Lane's, for different reasons. Pieces written under their joint byline had a quality of revelation. They were the best team in town, maybe in then the world, and the best shot for a Pulitzer he'd ever seen. Their articles together were so different from what Lois had done alone, before him. So much deeper, more intelligent, more articulate. She was a great reporter before Clark, but only because she fought everybody else for the scoop, and knew how to win.
With Clark, it was different. Towards the end there, they'd almost never had to compete for the scoop: they were on the tail of the stories before the scandal, sometimes before the event itself. They were in the right place at the right time; no one else knew that there was anything newsworthy. They were simply the best, there was no competition. Other papers were competing to get a follow-up from them and for the honor of eating the dust of the famous team. And he failed them. The team was destroyed, Lois was out of newspaper business. They had lost… Well, Kent, he had stayed.
He'd said once that it was for captains to leave the sinking ship last. But it was Kent who'd remained to the last. Kent was no good at a day-to day run of the paper, it was no job for saints and heroes. But in the moment of crisis he was the one.
There was something about that boy. The quiet one that always got the job done. That shy boy radiated an odd, quiet power. Perry could stand his ground against anyone, but he backed down from Kent. And he was not the only one. Lex seemed to be wary of Kent too. Heck, Kent held Superman himself on a short leash! Sure, officially they were friends, but Kent always seemed to hold the upper hand, and the big guy was at Kent's beck and call day and night. Perry was not blind. He saw clearly who was the boss in that strange friendship.
There was a queer innocence about the boy: not the innocence of the child, born in ignorance of the evils of this world. It was the innocence of priests and saints, who saw all, accepted all, and are capable of loving it all still. It was the next level of innocence, born of wisdom. How could someone so young be so wise? The kid knew so much, traveled so much.
He touched his breast pocket, where he always kept a box of Paava leaves. Kent had advised him to use them on his very first day, and there was no better remedy for stress. If only he could find stress again.
But there was no hope.
Perry was startled by the sudden shrill of the phone. Glancing at it suspiciously, as if it was a strange living thing, he lifted the receiver. Who would need him at this time in the morning? Or ever?
"Mr. White?" Speak of the devil. Kent was on the phone. He never gave up. After all, Kent was the only one to keep fighting. Boy fought for the Planet, for Lois, for Jimmy, for Jack, and for Perry. The Planet was alive, because Kent had never left. If Kent was in business, there was hope. If there was ever an irresistible force, it was Kent. Good for you, boy.
"Mr White. How are you?"
"Well, every morning I walk on the beach, come back, Alice has breakfast ready for me, weather is perfect, never changes. I have never been run down by a cab since I've got here."
"You are miserable."
Smart boy, always could see right through the superficial and get to the root.
"Completely. How's it all coming?" Oh, tell me how is it in the world of the living!
"Well, not so good." There was a careful probing in Kent's voice. "I've been spending most of my time trying to figure out what really happened to the Planet"
"You and me both. Anything interesting?"
"Nothing I can prove. Yet." A-ha. Then there was SOMETHING. Perry knew one of his best reporters too well to push it. He would spill when he was ready.
"Actually the reason I am calling is: have you heard from Jimmy?"
"He phoned about a week ago, he sounded fine."
"His telephone got disconnected. I stopped by his apartment today and his landlord said that he was thrown out because he couldn't pay the rent."
"Oh, blast that kid. Why didn't he tell me!" The rush of the blood ran through his veins like a rejuvenating wave.
"I'm going to start an all out search for him."
"Need any help?" asked Perry, concerned for the kid and hungry for action.
"Oh, I think I can manage, Chief."
"Oh, dammit Kent, tell me you need my help." Perry almost begged.
"I need your help." Kent's voice was solemn, the barest hint of laughter hidden deep.
"See, I thought so. I am going to take the first flight out in the morning. I'll meet you at your place." He was almost laughing himself.
"That's great, Chief. I'll see you then."
"Good, see you then."
Happy, Perry put phone on the hook. Kent needed him. He'd said so himself. Well, he'd forced him to say so, but it did not matter. He was needed, That was the only important thing. Kent had just redeemed the soul of his boss. King bless the boy. Kent needed him. Jimmy needed him. He was alive again.