By Wanda Detroit <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2003
Summary: In this Challenge Response Lois and Clark learn the ins and out of the hardware business as they go undercover to investigate a rash of car bombs. Will "Lola" and "Chuck" find the bomb maker and each other?
This takes place sometime in Season 1. This is my own response to the UNDERCOVER WORKPLACE CHALLENGE, in which authors are challenged to write a story where Lois and Clark go undercover in the author's own line of work. (Bonus points go to those who give themselves a cameo!)
A special thanks to my oh-so-helpful beta reader, Stopquitdont!
Disclaimer: I am *so* totally not the way I wrote myself! Along with the officially licensed characters, Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and Liquid-Plumr are all registered trademarks.
"Ace Is The Place!" is dedicated to my girls at work: Kaitlinn, Heidi, Mary, and Mellie.
I welcome any and all feedback!
"LOIS! CLARK! IN HERE NOW!" bellowed Perry White, his voice resounding through the newsroom.
Lois Lane was the first to rush in. "What's going on, Perry?"
Clark Kent was right behind her. "What's up, Chief?"
"I thought I asked you to find out about these pipe bombs!" Perry tossed six Polaroid photos on his desk, each showing a different partially-destroyed car.
"Well… there have been eight of them in the last two weeks, and they seem to be random victims," Clark explained. He knew only too well, having extinguished eight separate car fires with his super breath.
"Nine, Clark, nine. Look what I found this afternoon, under my darlin' Priscilla's rear left tire." Perry threw down a final photograph. Sure enough, there was yet another bomb planted under Perry's car. Fortunately Perry had seen it before pulling out of his parking spot.
"Perry? Who could have done this?" gasped Lois.
"That's for you two to find out. I had Jimmy take a rubbing from the end of this pipe cap. It turns out there's only one hardware store in Metropolis that stocks the brand of pipe fittings the culprit's using." Perry handed an address to Lois. "I know the guy who runs that place. I called ahead to ask him if we might…"
Lois' jaw dropped, "You don't mean—"
"—we're going undercover?" Clark finished.
Perry grinned. "You two start tomorrow."
The place was a family-owned Ace Hardware. Bill and his family had worried about the impact of any negative publicity on their business. A new Home Depot had threatened their business already, and the news that Ace was supplying parts to make pipe bombs certainly wasn't helping matters. Bill was happy to help the Daily Planet staff capture the criminal.
Bill was the only one who was in on the plan. He had 'hired' Lois as a new cashier, and Clark as a new stockboy in the Plumbing Department. Between the two of them, they would be able to monitor any and all suspicious sales. They had arrived wearing jeans, blending in perfectly with the other employees. Lois had even resurrected a maroon Metropolis Lions t-shirt she'd had since high school.
Bill brought Lois down to the register, where she met her 'co-worker.'
"Allison, this is Lola, our newest cashier. I expect you'll be able to show her the ropes?"
"Absolutely," the girl answered. "Hi, Lo!" She tossed Lois a black Ace apron.
"Thanks… Al," Lois replied, donning the apron. She was quick to observe that nobody was called by their full names. Clark, who had introduced himself as Charlie, was already being called Chuck.
Clark did not require much training. Bill introduced 'Chuck' to R.J., one of the stockboys. R.J. showed Chuck around the plumbing aisle and demonstrated what to do. His main responsibility was bringing heavy boxes of merchandise up from the loading dock. Clark, of course, did this with ease. He stocked the shelf with all sorts of plumbing parts, but paid particular attention to the 12-inch pipes and corresponding fittings. He always kept an eye on any customer who looked even *slightly* interested in them.
Meanwhile at the register, Allison was impressed with Lola's quick learning. By the second day, she was already able to handle transactions on her own. Al was in the middle of showing Lo how to suspend a transaction when she suddenly looked up.
"Don't look now," Al whispered. "The guy from Conceptual Lighting is in."
"Who?" Lois questioned.
"Sketchiest guy ever. He always hits on us girls up here. And look, he's ancient!"
Lois stared at the old man as he disappeared down the lightbulb aisle. Maybe she could glean some information from her new co-worker. "Are there any other… sketchy customers around here?"
"Oh, *tons* of them!" Allison responded with a laugh. "There's Mike Tennity—he's *crazy!* He kicked another customer once! And then there's Neil Marving. He's got about 50 personalities. You'll hear him arguing with himself in the aisles. Then there's the Mad Bomber—"
"The Mad Bomber. We call him that because he's creepy, and he looks like the Unibomber," Allison explained, matter-of-factly.
"Can you point him out next time he comes in?" Lois asked.
"Oh, totally. He's in *all the time.*" Allison felt satisfied that she'd let poor inexperienced Lo into the Inner Circle of Cashier's Trust.
Just then, Clark emerged from the Lower Level, carrying two huge boxes back to the Plumbing aisle. The sleeves of his Ace polo were stretched taught over his firm biceps.
"Did you get a load of the new stockboy?" gasped Al. "He's *hot!* And *ripped!*"
Lois suddenly wished she was able to stop herself from blushing.
Allison's jaw dropped. "Oh my God! You've got a crush, don't you?"
Now Lois was beet red. "Well… yeah, I guess I kind of do." Lois wasn't quite sure she was still playing her 'role' as Lola. Things were getting a little *too* real.
"You should totally just go for it," Allison suggested. "Ask him out. You'd be the cutest couple. I'm serious here. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge."
"I don't know…" Lo waffled. Thankfully the discussion was interrupted by a customer. Lois gave a sigh of relief.
Back in the Plumbing aisle, Clark had observed several customers checking out the pipe fittings in question. There were three necessary pieces to make the bomb shell: a 12-inch threaded pipe and two end caps. So far, no customers had purchased all three. Clark remembered who had been in for one or two of the parts, to make sure they wouldn't come back and make a second purchase for the missing part. So far, no one had.
That day, R.J. came up to him as they were unloading the merchandise. "Hey… Chuck." Clark looked up. "I was just wondering what you thought of that new girl. Lola."
"She's nice enough. I don't really know her that well," Clark fumbled.
"Do you think she'd go out with me?" R.J. asked shyly.
"Um… I don't know, I guess it's worth a shot!" Clark replied, feeling a pang of jealousy.
"Never mind, I could never get my nerve up to ask her, anyhow." R.J. sighed. "I just think she's beautiful."
Clark grinned. "Yeah. She really is."
Later in the day, Clark peeked up at the register to see how Lois was doing. Currently she was sitting on a stool and allowing Al to put her hair in perky pigtails. He heard them giggling. He couldn't help himself.
"Slow day, eh girls?" Clark commented, coming toward the register.
Lois straightened up and glared at him. "Do *you* see a line here, Chuck?"
Al had taught Lo a thing or two. There was a serious amount of cashier-versus-stockboy animosity. Even if it *was* all in jest.
Clark sat a leaky bottle of Liquid-Plumr on the counter. "Want to write this up as defective?"
"Only if *you* wipe up the mess you just made on our counter top," Lo replied wryly.
Clark tugged one of Lois' pigtails. Her cheeks reddened. "Can I talk to you for a second, Lo? In the back?"
Allison piped in. "Go ahead! *I'll* clean this up." She gave Lo a jab in the back. "Go for it!!" she whispered.
Lois and Clark hid in the back storage closet, surrounded by housewares that had not yet been put out on the shelves. Once they were sure they were alone, Clark questioned his partner.
"What was *that* all about?!"
"Nothing… nothing." She was glad the storage closet was dark; he couldn't see her ears turn red.
"Have you found anything out?"
"Well… I have a hunch. Allison tells me there's a customer they call the 'Mad Bomber.' She is going to point him out to me next time he's in. How much do you want to bet he buys those pipe fittings?"
Clark shrugged. "We'll see. This guy comes in a lot?"
"All the time."
"Well, it looks like you're doing better than I am at the moment. I've got nothing," Clark sighed.
"That's 'cause you're a stockboy," Lois teased. "Everyone knows cashiers are better."
"You're getting a little *too* into this, Lois," Clark started. He tugged her pigtail again. "Cute."
"You know you love it." Lois grinned.
Suddenly, the door swung open. Clark seized Lois and planted a kiss on her lips, hard.
"Whoa! Sorry!" came R.J.'s hurried apology. The door slammed shut, but the kiss lingered and softened. Suddenly, a pile of mops fell on the kissing couple, startling them back into reality.
It was Lois who broke the kiss. "I've… got to go," she said, pushing the mops aside and hurrying out of the closet. She took her place behind the register, lipstick smudged and pigtails askew.
"Oh my God! You *so* did it!" Allison squeezed Lois in a sudden hug.
It was 5:35 on the third day. Clark was really starting to believe that this undercover project was not doing a stitch of good. He was frustrated, but it was Lois who believed the 'Mad Bomber' was the culprit, and they should stay.
Minutes later, Allison tapped Lois on the shoulder. "Lo, that's *him.* The Mad Bomber."
Lois could see why the girls had dubbed him 'Mad Bomber.' He certainly was shady. He breezed past the register, walking with determination. He disappeared down an aisle. When Allison was looking away, Lois caught Clark's eye. 'He's here!' she mouthed silently. Clark nodded, and took his place in the plumbing aisle.
Minutes passed and no one came by for pipe fittings. Clark had a feeling Lois' hunch was wrong. He peered up at the register.
Lois was ringing up a sale for the Mad Bomber. All he had purchased was an innocent key chain. Lois frowned. After all that, the so-called 'Mad Bomber' was innocent. She was sure she would hear it from Clark later on.
The store was about to close. It had been another unproductive day. Clark had decided that this particular undercover job was a flop. He rearranged some plungers and was just about to walk away when a teenage boy entered the aisle.
He was clean-cut, wearing a striped polo and khaki pants. He made a beeline for the 12-inch pipe. He selected two of them, and four corresponding end fittings. Just as quickly, he made his way up toward the register. Clark followed a few steps behind. He made eye contact with Lois and gave her a nod.
The boy put the items on the counter.
"It was *you,*" Lois stated coldly.
"What?" asked the boy, taken aback.
"The pipe bombs under all of those cars."
The young man's jaw dropped. He tried to say something, but the words didn't come.
Clark piped in. "Someone could have been killed. You're lucky Superman was around, or you might be tried for murder."
Clark was quick to grasp the teen's hands behind his back. The boy didn't struggle. "I'm Clark Kent from the Daily Planet, and this is Lois Lane."
Lois was already dialing the Metropolis police.
"I… I only built them. I didn't mean for them to get used. It was a kind of science experiment. Then I… sort of… *sold* a bunch to some friends," the boy stated sadly.
"I hope you know the names of those 'friends.' You'll be turning their names over to the police," Clark stated firmly.
Sirens were already resounding outside the store. The police entered and Clark turned the scared teenager over to them. Somehow, Clark thought that this boy had already learned his lesson.
Meanwhile, Allison was dumbfounded. "Are you *really* Lois Lane?!"
Lois smiled and nodded.
"No way! This is *so* cool!"
"Well, I guess that was a successful mission after all," Clark mused, as they walked out toward the parking lot.
"Definitely. You did a pretty good job… for a stockboy," Lois teased, jabbing him in the side.
"You're not so bad yourself, Lo." Clark grinned. "Can I ask you a question?"
"How come we only get to kiss like that when we're undercover?" he asked bashfully.
Lois flushed. "I don't know, Clark… but I almost forgot something. I am *totally* supposed to ask you out. 'Cause we'd *seriously* be the cutest couple. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge."
Clark was surprised. Was this a joke? "Is this a *date,* Lois?" he stammered.
She offered Clark a quick kiss on the cheek before slipping into her car. "Pick me up at seven. And don't even *think* about making me wait."