By BanAnna <email@example.com>
Submitted: July, 2003
Summary: This rewrite of "Bob and Carol and Lois and Clark" rearranges the maniacal tendencies of some of the characters, creating a very different outcome for all involved.
All characters are copyrighted by DC Comics, Warner Brothers, December 3rd Productions, and probably some other people too. Brian Nelson wrote some of the scenes/dialogue/plot/etc. in this story, but most of the scenes/dialogue/plot/etc. are my own originality. No copyright infringement is intended; this is just for fun.
denotes scene change
~~~ denotes conversations happening simultaneously
Lois followed Clark into their brownstone on Hyperion Avenue after a long day at work, hung up her jacket, and headed to the kitchen. Clark started dinner while Lois selected a bottle of wine and reached into the cupboard for two glasses.
"What do you and your mother have planned tomorrow?" Clark asked.
Lois rolled her eyes. Their days off were something of a rare commodity and Ellen had insisted on spending some time with her daughter. "She wants to go shopping while Daddy has meetings with some of his colleagues."
The look on Lois' face told Clark that she was less than enthusiastic about the shopping trip. He knew that Lois and Ellen didn't always get along, but Lois hadn't seemed so antagonistic at the thought of shopping yesterday. "I thought you were looking forward to tomorrow."
"I was," Lois began with a sigh. "But the more I think about it, the more I think about the constant nagging and endless *helpful* tips for improving my life that time with my mother always seems to entail. I mean, why can't she just leave well enough alone? I don't butt into her life and tell her how to live. You'd think- " Lois stopped when she noticed the look on Clark's face. "What?"
Clark shook his head and tried to look as innocent as possible. Unable to disagree with her, he avoided the subject of her mother altogether. "Nothing."
"She's just a lot to take, you know?" She shook her head, trying to be optimistic. "Shopping will be fun," she said resolutely. She was glad to be going, she really was, but a tiny part of her still wished she wasn't going with her mother.
Their nightly meetings were usually dull business talk about financial and legal matters that were of no significance to Earl Gregg, the scientist. Much of it was boring and repetitive and Earl often sat back and listened to Grant Gendell, the billionaire, and Eric Denzler, the lawyer, talk about the business of the day. Nevertheless, Grant Gendell liked to have Earl's advice on various subjects and Earl faithfully obliged by coming to the meetings and giving his input when he felt it was necessary.
Eric Denzler, however, was a lawyer. He was paranoid, suspicious, and constantly chiming in with his opinions, regardless of whether they were requested, and Earl thought that he took his job a bit too seriously.
Tonight's meeting was different. Gendell had begun it with a startling announcement, and it was one that would require action and input on the parts of both Earl and Eric.
"Gentlemen," Gendell began. "I've decided to come out."
"Uhh, come out, sir?" Denzler asked.
Gendell's booming voice implied that the answer should have been obvious. "Out of hiding! Out into the real world, with real people, doing real things. I ran into a couple of my own employees today and I realized that I don't even know them! They work for me and I have no idea who they are. Living in seclusion is ridiculous and I'm giving it up. I'm going to call a press conference to announce it immediately, and I'll need you two to organize it."
Denzler characteristically jumped in. "Mr. Gendell, sir, with all due respect, I don't think this is a good idea. First of all, you're already a target for lawsuits by the thousands, and they'll only get worse if you were to appear in public. Not to mention that the number of theft and murder attempts will rise to unpredictable levels. Second, it is not safe for you to wander around and meet random people, employees or not."
"Denzler, I'm tired of hiding. That's the bottom line. I want to reemerge to the world, meet people, do things I haven't been able to do in a very long time. I'm getting older and I want to get out there and live my life… now, which one of you is going to call the press?"
"Mr. Gendell, if you must reveal your identity, at least consider another way of doing it. A press conference is big and messy and is incredibly difficult to secure."
"Well then, what would you suggest?"
"I'd suggest not making an appearance at all."
Gendell sighed in frustration. "Earl? What do you think?"
After dinner, Lois still couldn't get the nagging feeling out of the pit of her stomach. She felt like her life was missing something, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Lonely wasn't the right word. Clark was her best friend and her lover. She wasn't lonely, but her heart wanted something different.
Settling down on the couch, Lois leaned back and settled into the comfort of Clark's chest. He *was* her best friend. So why did she want more? She had friends. Not only Clark, but Perry and Jimmy too. She couldn't ask for better friends.
Or could she?
Clark. Perry. Jimmy. They were all men. They were all colleagues. Did she spend so much time working that she had failed to make meaningful relationships with other women? Did she *have* friends? Of course she did.
"Clark, we have friends, don't we?"
Earl gave the question a moment's thought before responding. "Well, Eric does have a point. The security issues surrounding a press conference pose great risks to your personal safety. It might be better for you to do a personal interview with a single reporter in order to minimize those risks."
"Okay, then. Find me someone. Denzler, jump them through whatever hoops you need to get yourself used to the idea. Gregg, meet whoever it is and get to know his or her personality and character."
"Mr. Gendell, I highly doubt the existence of a reporter in this city who is worthy of trusting with an interview like this one."
Gendell burst out laughing. "Denzler sometimes I don't know about you. You're a lawyer, and you're worried about trusting reporters?"
Earl smirked at the irony of the statement.
Denzler was not amused. "I'm only trying to look out for your best interests, Mr. Gendell."
"I know, Denzler. You can do that by getting back to me with the name of a reporter who can tell my story and reveal me to the public."
"I know of one name, Mr. Gendell," Earl said.
"Already? Well, who is it?"
"Lois Lane of the Daily Planet."
"Ah, yes. Lois Lane." Gendell thought this over. "She was surprisingly fair in her portrayal of me during that legal dispute a few months back… Denzler, give her a call and set up an appointment for you to interview her."
"I believe she's married… Gregg, would you and your wife meet with them socially and report back to me?"
"Of course, Mr. Gendell."
"All right then, gentlemen. I'll see you tomorrow evening."
"What?" The question had come out of nowhere and it caught Clark slightly off guard.
"Friends, companions, buddies-" Lois answered sarcastically.
"I know what it means," he said, smiling at her silly humor. "Of course we have friends. Perry and Jimmy are great friends."
Lois gave him a look.
Apparently that was not the answer she'd been looking for. Clark knew from experience that it would be best to get at the meaning behind the loaded question. "Why do you ask?"
"Perry and Jimmy." Lois sidestepped his inquiry and continued her mission. "Who else?"
Clark opened his mouth, but Lois plowed on.
"No one else. Do you realize that the only people we see are victims, criminals, sources, and colleagues? I know we see Perry and Jimmy more than just at the Planet, but we *do* work with them. Who do we know that doesn't have any relation to work?" Lois answered her own question before Clark could. "No one."
Clark looked at her with concern, then took her hand and looked into her soft brown eyes. "Honey, why are you so worked up about this?"
He felt Lois relax in his arms. "Oh, Clark. I've just been thinking about this shopping trip with Mother, and I realized that I only ever go shopping with your mother or with my mother or by myself… Clark, you're my best friend, and I love you, but you're not a woman."
That brought an instant smile to his face. "No, I'm not."
"Don't get me wrong," she said quickly. "I'm glad. But sometimes I wish I had someone to do… girl things… with. Like going shopping or watching sappy movies or soap operas."
He let out a small sigh and kissed her forehead. The Planet had become their entire life, and he knew it. They spent day and night either chasing down leads or researching and writing in the newsroom. Perhaps he tolerated it better than she did because their closest friends were men. He had someone to play basketball or go to ball games with.
But Lois didn't.
He sensed her loneliness, and he sensed that there wasn't anything he could do to fill that void. He held her for a long time until her voice reached his ears again.
"I love you, Clark. I don't want you to think that my need for another friend in my life negates the fact that you're my best friend and you always will be."
"I know, sweetheart, and I love you." He kissed her softly, but when their lips parted, he had a mischievous look on his face. "Why don't I show you why you're glad I'm not a woman?"
Lois leered at him and her smile widened. "And how would you propose to do that, Mr. Kent?"
"Oh, I'm sure I can think of something." He scooped her into his arms and flew them upstairs to their bedroom. Laying her on the bed, he kissed her and, as their emotions swept them away, Clark drowned out all of the world's sounds except those coming from his wife: her steady breathing, her gentle voice, and her heart beating in time with his.
"Here, Lois, you *have* to try this on. It matches your skin tone perfectly. And don't slouch while you wear it. You have a tendency to slouch when you wear smooth fabrics like this and it turns your beautiful figure into that of a hunchback. Here, take it. That's my girl."
Ellen Lane was a serious shopper.
She was also a serious pain in Lois' neck.
Lois took the blouse and added it to the mound of articles piled high on her arm. They'd been shopping for over 4 hours, and Lois had had just about enough of it. Every time she turned around her mother was saying, "Don't slouch," or "Don't drag your feet," or "Don't drink so much caffeine," or "Don't chew your food less than 17 times on each side of your mouth, alternating sides every three times and then for the last two times, alternate sides on each chew."
Well, maybe not that last one. But it was enough to drive a person completely bananas.
Why was she putting herself through this? Oh yeah, because her mother had insisted. And because Clark wouldn't be interested. And because Lucy lived 3,000 miles away. And because she didn't want to go alone.
Lois sighed. This was going to be a long day.
A week later, Lois and Clark strolled leisurely down the sidewalk of a Metropolis street. His arm was around the back of her shoulders and, although she was enjoying the night air around them as they made their way to their destination, her mind was too preoccupied with the events of the past week to revel in it.
"I just don't know why we're bothering." Lois said with a slight whine in her voice. "I mean, we've been out with three other couples this week, and they were all nightmares. First there were the Stevensons."
"Ah, yes, the Stevensons." Clark's memory was unpleasantly reminded of their first attempt at a social life outside of the Daily Planet.
"She picked at her food and then pushed it away with disgust before eating — uninvited, I might add — off my plate!" Lois shuddered at the memory of their strange dining experience. She had wanted to get out and meet people. She had wanted make some friends. She had wanted a social life. So she convinced Clark — not that it took much convincing — to indulge her, but it had backfired miserably.
"Then the Repperts. *Officer* Reppert couldn't stop talking about the lawless example that Superman is setting for Metropolis. You'd think the guy was a super hero himself, the way he kept bragging about how many thugs he'd arrested. And don't even get me started on the Bakers. I don't care what you say, Clark, that woman was hitting on you, and she was laying it on thick. Not to mention doing it right in front of me — your *wife* — and her own husband! I swear that woman had such nerve."
"Come on, honey." Clark took his wife's hand in an effort to calm her down. Even though this fiery side of her was one of the things that made him fall in love with her, he hated to see her so frustrated, especially when she had wanted this to work out so badly. "There's got to be one couple in this city that we can have a decent conversation with."
Lois relaxed at the touch of his fingers lacing through hers, and then sighed with resignation. "Who are these people anyway?" Lois asked, pulling her cell phone out of her jacket pocket.
"Earl and Juliana Gregg. I met him playing basketball," Clark explained patiently. "He said he had a nice wife. I said '*I* have a nice wife.'"
"Well, you also have a wife who no longer thinks it's possible to meet a couple where you like him and I like her and we like them and they like us — is this thing working?" Lois punched several buttons on her cell phone and then gave it good shake.
"Yes, honey," Clark replied, laughing good- naturedly at his wife's worries. He didn't want to patronize her by laughing at her stressful babbling, but she could be so adorable when she was needlessly worried.
"I'm sorry, Clark, but this has just been one disaster after another for us. I *know* we're gonna hate these people."
"Hi!" Clark suddenly exclaimed, waving to a man just up ahead.
"Hi," the man answered back.
"Earl, this is my wife-" Clark began, as Earl spoke simultaneously.
"This is my wife, Juliana."
"Lois," Clark finished, and the four of them laughed.
Earl and Juliana and Lois and Clark sat at the restaurant finishing their dinner as the conversation turned to music.
"If you really listen to it, it's just kind of a weird song." Clark tried not to downplay the opinions of his dinner companions.
"I know, I know. I mean, we like it, but it's…" Earl looked at his wife.
"I'm sorry." Juliana looked back at him and laughed. "A fly in your Chardonnay is not ironic."
"Making $30 million on a song called Ironic that isn't even about irony, that's ironic." Juliana chimed in on the last two words of Lois' sentence, and all four of them laughed in agreement.
With the conversation at a lull, Lois picked up her cell phone, checked it, and carefully set it back on the table.
Clark looked at the phone, then at her. "Oh, Lois."
Lois looked slightly embarrassed. "Sorry, I don't normally have to keep one of these in sight at all times."
"Are you expecting an important call?" Juliana asked.
"Well, I'm trying to land an interview with Grant Gendell and I'm waiting to hear. I'm sorry."
"Are you kidding? If I was waiting for a call from the richest man on the eastern seaboard I'd be checking my phone too."
"Well actually, it's his lawyer."
"How'd you ever score an interview with Grant Gendell?" Earl asked. "We work for Gendell Technologies and we've never met him. We don't even know anyone who has. I don't think *anyone's* seen the guy in… what? 20…"
"23 years. But I don't have the interview, I just have a shot at it."
Clark chimed in, boasting about his wife's accomplishments. "Lois wrote an article a couple years ago defending Gendell when he was hit with his… what? 2000th lawsuit?"
Juliana rolled her eyes. "Rich guy like that would be a target for every wacko with a lawyer."
"Well, I think that's what drove him into hiding in the first place, but now he wants to come out, reemerge to the world." Lois said. "Anyway, blah, blah, blah, let's talk dessert."
"Let's talk chocolate."
"My thoughts exactly."
"So, how do you think it went?" Clark asked Lois as they walked home later that evening.
"Eh, they were nice."
"But everything in stages. Right now we're in Possible Friendship, Stage One. Next-"
"Stage Two, Getting To Know the Real Them. Right now we're just feeling each other out. But to tell you the truth, I'm not sure Lois likes me very much." Juliana explained to her husband as they walked home.
"What do you mean? Don't you think tonight went all right?"
"It went fine. As usual your judge of character was right on the money. She'll be great for the interview. I just don't know if we'll end up good friends."
"Don't worry about it, honey. I thought the four of us got along great."
"What?" Lois asked when Clark got that certain far away look in his eyes.
"Fire over on East 3rd."
She sighed and pulled him into an alley.
"You always know just what to say." Juliana smiled as she and her husband turned into an alley, taking a shortcut on their way home. She looked fondly at him. "Amazing."
"What?" he asked, smiling back with a mischievous look in his eyes.
"The whole take-off-your-glasses-and-nobody- recognizes-you-thing." Lois said incredulously when her husband inquired about the amazed expression on her face.
"Well, there's the glasses, and then there's this," he said, ripping open his shirt to reveal the 'S' emblem beneath it.
Earl's beeper emitted an annoying sound, interrupting Juliana's thoughts and he checked the display. "I'm wanted at work."
"No such thing as a Sunday for you." Juliana sighed.
"I love watching you do that." Lois said with a gleam in her eye.
"Meet you at home?" Clark said, kissing his wife goodbye.
"I'm always careful." Earl said as he hailed a cab.
"See you soon."
"You know, it's too bad-"
"-that we have to lie to Earl and Juliana. And the rest of the world, for that matter." Lois said, fingering the 'S' on Clark's chest.
"About knowing Grant Gendell." Earl finished.
"I know, honey, but it's for the best." Clark replied.
"I know. I just can't help thinking that maybe that's why we haven't got many friends. Even if we could find people we can stand to be around, we can never get too close."
"Well, nobody said being friends with us was easy," Juliana sympathized.
Earl smiled, kissed her again, and hopped into the cab.
When Superman reached the fire, the building was already completely engulfed in flames. He quickly pulled the survivors from the building, and then turned his attention to the fire itself. Using his super-breath, he stopped the blaze from spreading any further and then borrowed the fire department's hose and took it inside the building to fight the flames at point blank range. After a few minutes the fire was significantly quelled and Superman left the scene, satisfied that the firemen had the remainder of the blaze under control.
Just seconds later, Clark jogged onto the scene and began to interview the fire chief, building employees, and passersby, cementing yet another scoop for the front page of the Daily Planet.
Marshall and Lisa Holm kept one eye on the LNN news coverage of Superman putting out the fire while they got dressed and ready to go to the symphony. They shut the TV off, collected their jackets and locked the door on their way out.
Halfway down the front steps, Lisa stopped suddenly. "Oh! Honey, I forgot the tickets."
"Lisa, we're already running late."
"Go on ahead and catch us a cab. I'll grab the tickets and be right behind you."
Lisa quickly kissed her husband and turned to go back into their apartment, while Marshall continued down the stairs. She left the door slightly ajar while she ran inside to grab the tickets off the dining room table.
Her blood ran cold when she heard gunshots fired somewhere close by. She whirled around and stepped outside to see what had happened.
Lisa screamed at the sight of Marshall lying on the ground in a heap. She ran to him, sobbing and screaming his name. A pool of blood was already starting to color the sidewalk. She held his head in her lap, crying, until the police arrived at the call of one of the neighbors.
Eric Denzler shoved the gun under his belt and exited through the back end of the alley. After turning the corner, Denzler felt a vibration on his hip. He looked down and checked his beeper.
He was needed at work.
Earl arrived at one of the worst streets in town and used his key to enter what looked like an old run down house. Inside, the spacious home was richly decorated with all of the latest technological gadgets and gizmos.
"Gregg! Thanks for coming so quickly. I just wanted to check with you and Denzler about how things are going. I hope this isn't too much of an inconvenience." Grant Gendell's booming voice caused a smile to come across Earl's face.
"No, no, sir, it's fine. Did you want me to give you a briefing?"
"Well I just have a couple of questions, but let's wait till Denzler gets here before we start."
Just then the door opened again and Denzler walked into the living room.
"About time you showed up! I was starting to wonder if you decided to take a vacation on some tropical island without me!" The jolly old man laughed at what he obviously thought was a joke.
Denzler smiled and gave a nod and a small courtesy laugh, then politely replied, "I was on the other side of town. I came as soon as I could, Mr. Gendell."
"Quite all right, quite all right. I just have a few quick questions that I wanted to get to tonight. First of all, gentlemen, what is the status on Ms. Lane?"
"My wife and I had dinner with her and her husband this evening. She seems very eager to tell your story, and to tell the truth of it. I think she's an excellent choice, Mr. Gendell."
"Well good, glad to have your approval then. Denzler, what's the status on your end?"
"I am planning to call her tomorrow to set up an appointment to interview her. Once I have confirmed her reliability, I'll set up another meeting time for her to sit down with you. Frankly, Mr. Gendell, I have my doubts. She has been involved in exposing some very high profile people. She will dig for unflattering information, and I'm afraid she may create some when she doesn't find any."
"We'll worry about that if the issue comes up. For right now just interview her and let me know how it goes." Gendell looked from Denzler to Earl. "What arrangements have been made for tomorrow's funeral service?"
"My office has arranged for flowers to be sent to the family," Earl replied.
"And what about Marshall Holm?"
Earl opened his mouth, but Denzler cut him off before he had a chance to reply.
"He's been taken care of, sir." Denzler replied, a little too quickly.
Gendell glanced curiously at Eric, then back at Earl and waited for his reply.
"A confidentiality agreement was signed this morning, sir."
"Good, good, all right then, I think that's everything. Eric, let me know what time you work out with Ms. Lane, and Earl, be sure to let me know if you start to have any reservations about her suitability."
Eric Denzler nodded. "Yes, Mr. Gendell."
"I will, sir." Earl assured his boss, and the meeting was over.
The Daily Planet newsroom was buzzing with activity, including that of the famous reporting team of Lane and Kent. Lois was doing research on Gendell Technologies and Clark was putting the finishing touches on his article describing the events of last night's fire.
"Clark, get in here!" Perry yelled from his office.
Lois and Clark exchanged a puzzled but intrigued look. Clark headed toward Perry's office, leaving Lois to stare at her cell phone waiting for Gendell's lawyer to call.
"What's up, Chief?" Clark asked when he reached Perry's office.
"I've got an assignment for you. There was a murder last night over on Laurel Drive. See what you can find out." Perry handed Clark a piece of paper with a few notes about the case on it.
"Sure thing, Chief." Clark turned back into the newsroom and headed toward his wife.
"There was a murder last night. Not too far from where we live actually. A man was shot and killed practically right in front of his wife. Perry wants me to check it out."
"Last night? Didn't -" Lois mouthed the word 'Superman' and continued. "- hear anything?"
"Well the only thing I can figure is that it happened during last night's fire. I'll find out more when I go talk to the police."
"Do you think the murder and the fire are connected? Maybe someone used the fire to create a diversion for the murder to take place?"
"It's possible, but I don't think so. The fire was started when one of the employees dropped his cigarette. He seemed sincerely distraught and apologetic. I'm going to head over to Laurel Drive and have a look around, ask some questions. Do you want to come with me?"
"Actually I think I'll stay here. I'm expecting Denzler to call sometime today, and I want to do some more research on Grant Gendell and Gendell Technologies while I wait."
"Okay. I'll see you when I get back then," he said, bending down to give her a kiss.
"Clark Kent, Daily Planet. Mind if I take a look around, ask a few questions?" Clark asked the nearest officer when he arrived at the crime scene on Laurel Drive.
"Officer Matthews," he answered, shaking Clark's hand. "Sure, you can look around, but there's not much to see. The body was found here." He gestured toward a chalk outline on the sidewalk. "Apparently he was shot from the direction of the alley, but we've found no weapon, no foot prints, no fingerprints, and basically no clues, except for this." He held up a piece of paper inside a protective plastic cover that looked as if it had been smoothed out after being crumpled up. The paper was white and blank, except for the words 'trust no one' in small, plain lettering in the middle of the page. "We found this on the ground next to the body and we think it's probably connected to the murder. There was another murder like this, with the same message about a week ago, but we still don't have any suspects."
"So you think it's a serial?"
"That's our suspicion right now."
"Can you tell me the name of the person that was killed before?"
"It was a married couple." Officer Mathers fumbled through some paperwork on his clipboard until he found the answer. "Malachi and Allyson Potter, but that's all the information I can give you about them."
"Have you tried tracing the paper back to the where it was printed or where the paper was purchased?"
"We've looked into it, but it's just white printer paper and black ink that anyone could buy at any office supply store. It's not much to go on."
"Thanks, officer. I appreciate the information."
Back in the Planet's news room, Clark stopped at Jimmy's desk with his notes from the morning's murder investigation.
"Jimmy, I need you to get me any information you can on a Marshall and Lisa Holm, and a Malachi and Allyson Potter. Marshall Holm was killed last night, and the Potters were killed last week. The police found a plain piece of paper at each crime scene with the words 'trust no one' on them."
"Trust?" Jimmy thought out loud. "Trusted by a friend? Trusted with a secret, maybe?"
"That's what I want you to find out. See what you can find. Friends, family members, business contacts, whatever you can dig up."
Clark walked over to where Lois was working at her desk. "How's it coming?" he asked, peaking over her shoulder at her computer screen.
"Almost finished with my research and I've got a line of questioning laid out. I'm waiting for Denzler to call and hoping he'll trust me enough to grant me an interview. How's your story on the murder coming?"
Clark's expression changed at the sound of the word 'trust' out of Lois' mouth. "Funny you should mention the word 'trust' because it came up when I went to the scene to check things out. The only clue the police could find was a piece of paper with the words 'trust no one' on it. No footprints, no fingerprints, nothing but the paper. I've got Jimmy doing backgrounds on all of the murder victims."
"Victims?" Lois inquired. "I thought there was only one man."
"There was only one man killed last night, but an identical piece of paper was found at the murder of a married couple last week. The police think they've got a serial murderer on their hands."
"And our only lead is the piece of paper? That's not much to go on."
"Well hopefully Jimmy can find some sort of connection and we can figure out where to go next. Hey, have you had lunch? I'm starved."
"Lunch would be great."
"How's Chinese food sound?"
"Chinese sounds good." Lois paused and then added, "as long as it's not Ralph's Pagoda."
Clark laughed and helped Lois with her coat as they made their way toward the elevator.
Ten minutes later, Lois and Clark were just stepping up to the front doors of a small Chinese restaurant, when they spotted Earl and Juliana walking toward them.
"Juliana! Earl! Hi." Lois smiled and waved.
Juliana's face lit up at the sound of her name. "Lois, Clark, what a surprise! Are you guys out for lunch?"
"We were going to try out this Chinese place." Earl chimed in.
"Really?" Clark asked. "What a coincidence; this is one of our favorite places."
"They have the *best* dim sum." Lois gushed.
"We've never been here, but all we've heard are good things."
"Do you guys want to get a table for four?" Juliana asked.
Clark looked at Lois and then replied enthusiastically. "Sure, that'd be great."
"I'll get us a table." Earl stepped over to the hostess and gave his name.
After another pleasant conversation over lunch with Earl and Juliana, Lois and Clark headed back to the Planet.
"You still think we're gonna hate them?" Clark teased her.
"I'll admit I'm surprised. After last week, I honestly didn't think there was any way we'd find a couple in this city that we could get along with, but I really like Earl and Juliana."
"So you admit you were wrong?" Clark said playfully.
"Well…" Juliana wavered. "I wasn't completely correct."
"Come on, Juliana, you can say it."
" I was — I was wrong." She grimaced on the last word as if it pained her to say it.
"There, that wasn't so bad."
"Yeah, well don't expect it to happen again any time soon," Lois chided.
Clark laughed. "I won't, but you have to admit that-"
"-Lois really seemed to warm up to you today. I don't think you have anything to worry about as far as the two of you becoming friends."
"I think you're right. We have a lot in common. Lois and I just think-"
"-the same way. Like good friends should."
"I'm glad, cause Clark and I are great rivals for each other on the basketball court. He's got better moves than most people I've ever played with, and somehow when I play with him I play better too. It's like somebody is helping me-"
"-play better. I just gave the ball a little blow once in a while, and I think we both had a lot of fun. He's got some great moves even without my help."
"Great moves, huh? I could show you some great moves."
"Juliana, we're in public!"
Juliana just smiled and took Earl's hand as they headed back to the Gendell Technologies laboratory.
Jimmy walked over to Clark's desk with a file in his hands.
"Hey CK, I've got that research you wanted on those murders."
"Great, Jimmy, what'd you find out?"
"Well, the Potters were both experts in the field of cryogenics, top of their field. They were self-employed; they'd work for a company under a limited contract, doing whatever research or project that the company needed and then move on to another company. They've worked at some pretty prestigious places, including Lex Corp."
"Lex Corp?" Lois interrupted, overhearing the conversation.
"Yeah. They worked for Lex about six years ago, but they only worked there for a few weeks before they rescinded on the contract. When the media asked them about it they cited 'a conflict of ethics' as their reason for quitting. Apparently it was a big scandal and the media tried to dig up dirt on Lex Corp, but nobody could find anything."
"Ironic, isn't it? I vaguely remember that. I hadn't been working here long and Perry had me covering sports, so I wasn't involved with any of the investigation."
Clark looked back at Jimmy. "Anything else?"
"Yeah," Jimmy continued. "They were last employed by Gendell Technologies, and the contract still had about six months left on it when they were killed."
"Hmm." Clark thought through the new information for a moment. "What about Marshall Holm?"
Jimmy flipped a page in the file. "Marshall Holm was a neurobiologist, and get this: he also worked for Gendell Technologies, but he was a salaried employee, not a contracted employee."
Clark was intrigued. "Do you know what kind of projects they were working on, or if they knew each other?"
"Not yet, but I'm still digging."
"Thanks, Jimmy." Clark said as Jimmy headed back to his computer.
"You think Gendell Technologies may be involved somehow?" Lois asked her husband.
"I don't know, but I'm not sure I want you interviewing Mr. Gendell. If you get too close—"
"I'll be fine." Lois insisted. "Besides, you can hang around and keep an eye on me if it would make you feel better."
"What would make me feel better is if the murderer is caught before you get within a mile of anyone linked to Gendell Technologies."
Lois' phone rang before she could assure him, once again, that she would be fine.
"Lois Lane," she answered.
"Ms. Lane? Eric Denzler here."
"Mr. Denzler! So nice to hear from you." Lois covered the mouthpiece and whispered to Clark. "It's Gendell's lawyer."
"Ms. Lane, I have instructions for the conditions of the interview. You will come alone. You will bring no cameras or recording devices. You will be outside of the Daily Planet in two minutes. Any attempt-"
Lois wasn't sure she'd heard him right. "Two minutes?"
"Yes Ms. Lane. I'm outside the Daily Planet now. Any attempt to violate any of the conditions I have set forth will result in the cancellation of the interview. Do you understand these conditions, Ms. Lane?"
"And do you agree to all of them?"
"Good. There is a black stretch limousine waiting for you outside. You have one and a half minutes left, or the interview will be terminated."
"I'll be right down." Lois hung up the phone without waiting for Denzler's goodbye and grabbed her coat while she ran toward the elevator.
"Lois, you're going now? Where are you going? What happened to me tagging along?" Clark was startled, scared, and worried at Lois' sudden departure from the news room. "Lois?"
Lois stopped at the elevator doors and pushed the button impatiently. "He said the interview is canceled unless I come alone. I'm sorry, Clark, but I've got to go. There's a limo picking me up outside in one minute."
"I'll be nearby."
"Clark, I'll be fine."
"I'll keep my distance; I just want to keep an eye on the situation, okay?"
"Fine, but stay up here until we leave the front of the building, okay? I don't want Denzler or Gendell to suspect that you're around." The elevator doors slid open at last. "Gotta go. Wish me luck." She kissed him quickly on the lips and rushed into the elevator.
Lois walked out the revolving doors of the Daily Planet lobby and noticed a long black limo about half a block up the street. She walked over to the limousine, and seeing that the driver didn't move to open the door for her, she boldly opened the rear door and stepped inside. The cabin was empty. Lois began to wonder if she was in the right place, until the tinted glass between her and the driver lowered and the driver turned to look at her.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Lane. We'll be arriving at our destination in approximately two minutes."
Lois nodded and the partition rose again. Lois recognized the voice of the driver as the same person who identified himself as Eric Denzler over the phone. Wouldn't Mr. Denzler be able to hire a driver? Lois pushed the thought out of her head as the engine started and the limo rolled forward slowly.
The limo never went faster than ten miles an hour as it rounded the nearest corner into an alley behind the Daily Planet. Denzler shut off the engine, stepped out of the limo and opened the back door, indicating that Lois should step outside.
Lois tentatively removed herself from the limo and Denzler shut the door behind her. He had a scanning device in his hand.
"Please stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold your arms away from your sides."
Lois complied and Denzler used the device to scan her body. As he did so Lois' curiosity got the better of her. "Are we meeting Mr. Gendell somewhere? Or are we holding the interview here in the alley?"
Denzler seemed satisfied with the results of the scan. "We won't be meeting with Mr. Gendell today, Ms. Lane."
"What?! Then why am I here? You said on the phone that Mr. Gendell had agreed to this interview."
"Your interview this afternoon is with me. Mr. Gendell agreed to my interviewing you. If you do well in this interview, I will consider granting you an interview with Mr. Gendell sometime in the near future."
Lois said nothing, knowing that there was nothing she could say to argue with him.
Denzler opened the rear door to the limo again. "You may step back into the limousine now."
Lois sighed and stepped back into the limo. Denzler followed her into the back and sat opposite her, rather than situating himself in the driver's seat.
With no notes whatsoever, Denzler began his interrogation. "Please answer yes or no to the following questions. Are you now or have you ever been employed by the United States federal government, or by any state or local government?"
"Are you now or have you ever been employed by the government of any foreign nation?"
"Are you now or have you ever been employed by Gendell Technologies or any of its subsidiaries?"
"Are you now or have you ever been aquatinted with anyone who is now or has ever been employed by Gendell Technologies or any of its subsidiaries?"
"Please state the names of the acquaintances and how long you have known them."
"Earl and Juliana Gregg, one day. Eric Denzler, ten minutes."
"Cute. Have you ever been arrested for any crime, be it felony or misdemeanor?"
"Are you current on your vaccinations for the following diseases: Polio?"
"Is anyone in your life familiar with the use of plastics, AK-47s. Strick-9, or similar explosives, weapons or poisons?"
"Only my mother."
Denzler cleared his throat and gave her a look of warning before continuing his interrogation. "Do you swear to keep every detail of your meeting with Mr. Gendell a secret from anyone you know, have known, or may know in the future, except those details which Mr. Gendell and I approve for printing?
Lois hesitated. She didn't like having to swear to keep anything from Clark, but if she didn't, Denzler may not grant her the interview. "Y-" She opened her mouth to start, but she knew she shouldn't lie. Oh, what the heck? There wouldn't be much that wouldn't be printed and Gendell and Denzler would never know if she told Clark anything. "Yes," she finally answered.
Denzler frowned. "Ms. Lane, it is imperative that the details of your meeting with Mr. Gendell be kept in absolute confidence. If you cannot agree to this provision, I will not grant you the interview."
"Yes, Mr. Denzler," Lois answered with more resolve. "I understand completely. I will take the information to my grave."
"Good. I will confer with Mr. Gendell and then call you with the final answer, and the details of the interview if you are granted the privilege."
Denzler exited the limo and held the door open for Lois to do the same. She stepped out into the alley and Denzler closed the door behind her and then, without so much as a word, he got back into the driver's seat and left Lois alone beside the dumpster behind the Daily Planet.
"Well, that was unnervingly personal." Lois shed her jacket and hung it on the back of her desk chair.
"That bad, huh?" Clark asked.
Lois sighed. "I think it went okay, but you wouldn't believe some of the questions he asked me! Everything from 'have you worked for a foreign government?' to 'have you had your measles shot?' It was a little disturbing."
"Well, here's some good news that oughta cheer you up. While you were gone Jimmy found out that Marshall Holm worked with Malachi and Allyson Potter on something called Project Regenerate. It dealt with the effects of freezing on the brain, but that's about all the information he could get on the project. Apparently Gendell Technologies is being very tight lipped about their findings."
"So they did know each other?"
"Yep. It looks like they worked pretty closely together."
"So somebody else they've been working with doesn't trust them to keep their mouths shut about the project."
"That's my guess."
"Well, I say we head down to Gendell Technologies and have a look around."
"You read my mind."
Lois and Clark entered the front door of the main Gendell Technologies building and stepped up to the receptionist desk. The woman behind it was a plump and in her late fifties, with a fierce stare fixed on her face, and she wore a nametag that read 'Gladys.' Lois sensed that the stare had been that way for so long that it would be that way for eternity.
Gladys was juggling files while answering a set of phone lines, and several messengers had dropped notes on her desk in the short span of time since Lois and Clark had walked through the front door. Lois boldly addressed her over the noise and chaos. "We'd like to speak to someone in your cryogenics department, please."
She either didn't hear Lois or was ignoring her. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, Lois repeated her request. This time the woman glanced at Lois through that fierce stare and then looked back at the files and blinking phone lines.
Lois opened her mouth a third time but Clark put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. "If this is a bad time, we can come back later," he said.
Gladys stopped and glared at Clark. "Do you *see* what I'm doing here? They were *supposed* to hire someone to assist me with all of this, but so far it's just me and I'm only trying to do about 284 things right now so you can just sit your rear ends down in those chairs over there and I'll be with you when I'm good and ready for you. Okay?"
"Sure, that'll be fine." Clark smiled and pulled Lois toward the seating area, but as soon as Gladys' attention went back to the chaos on her desk, Lois pulled him toward the hallway leading to the building's interior.
"Lois!" he hissed. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, she's never going to be any help. Let's just take the self-guided tour."
Trying to look nonchalant, Lois read the labels on the doors they passed, and she stopped when she reached one that read 'Cryogenics Research Office.' She opened the door slowly and peered inside.
The kid at the desk inside the office was the opposite of the woman they'd seen at the front of the building. He was young, scrawny, and wore thick coke-bottle glasses. Better yet, he looked bored.
"The Cryogenics lab is the next door on the left."
Lois' voice was all business. "Hi. Actually we're from Human Resources. I'm Miss Manes and this is Mr. Way. Gladys at the front desk has requested that you help her with her duties."
The kid looked puzzled, but shrugged and left the office to give Gladys a hand. Clark shook his head, smiled amusingly at his wife, and then lowered his glasses to search the files. "What exactly are we looking for, anyway?"
"Anything that would tell us someone else was involved in Project Regenerate, somebody that might have wanted to get rid of his coworkers."
Clark lowered his glasses and scanned several of the file cabinets until he came across a manila file labeled 'Project Regenerate.' "Take a look at this," he said, opening the drawer and pulling out the folder. It was thin and contained only two pieces of paper.
Clark looked over them. The first sheet contained the budget numbers for the project and the breakdown of its costs. The second one wasn't much more helpful. It was the breakdown of duties for the project and completion deadlines. The only names listed on the second piece of paper were Marshall Holm and Malachi and Allyson Potter.
"Well, it looks like they were the only ones on the project." Clark did another quick scan of the filing cabinets. "And it looks like that's the only paperwork they've got on Project Regenerate."
Lois sighed. "And it looks like we've come to a dead end."
Lois and Clark slipped out of the office, back down the hall and past the front desk where a brazen Gladys was piling a huge stack of files into the young intern's arms.
Lois and Clark had finished dinner and were sitting down to enjoy the evening with a bottle of wine. Clark poured two glasses and handed one to his wife. She leaned back against his chest and for a few minutes they sat together silently enjoying each other's company before Lois spoke.
"Clark," she began timidly.
"Yes, honey?" He gazed at her with loving concern in his eyes.
"Do you think we're actually going to be *able* to have friends?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, we're really getting along with Earl and Juliana, but I can't help but be afraid that the Planet and *Superman*" Lois drew an 'S' on Clark's chest with her finger, "will get in the way of us having a normal relationship with them. We're always chasing down leads, putting ourselves in life threatening situations. How can we expect our friends to deal with us being so consumed in our work?"
"Honey, I thought that was the reason you wanted to start going out with people in the first place: you didn't want work to keep us from a social life."
"I know, but I also love my work, and it's not like there's anything you can do to plan your *super* activities."
"I know our professional life gets in the way of our personal life sometimes, but it's the life we chose," Earl told his wife, holding her closer to him as they sat on the couch in their living room sipping glasses of wine.
"I know. I just hate lying to people, especially Lois and Clark, and especially since I think we might be moving into Stage Three of our friendship."
"Stage Three?" Clark asked.
"Stage Three is the final stage, Real Friendship. Maybe I'll give Juliana a call and see if she wants to go shopping sometime."
Earl laughed. "Well, Clark and I are playing basketball again this weekend, so maybe Lois will be free then."
"I'll give her a call tomorrow and find out." Juliana smiled at the thought of a fun afternoon with a real friend.
"I think that's a great idea. Clark winked and smiled at her. "You should definitely give Juliana a call."
The two of them finished off their glasses and then Lois raised an eyebrow at Clark. "Anyone… need you?"
Earl checked his beeper and his cell phone before answering her. "Nope. Everything's pretty quiet tonight."
"Good." Juliana gave Earl a mischievous grin. "We have the evening to ourselves, then."
"I see," Clark replied suggestively. "Did you have any particular activity in mind?"
"Oh, I can think of something." Lois turned to face Clark, loosened his tie, threw it aside, and hastily reached for the top button of his shirt.
Early the next morning, Seth Wenchel entered the laboratory at Gendell Technologies and began his research the same way he'd done every day for the past six years. After fiddling with test tubes and mixing chemicals for the larger part of the morning, Seth left the lab for lunch. Instead of heading straight to the employee cafeteria, however, he detoured into a seldom-used wing of the building to make a phone call to his wife. As he turned the corner, he nearly ran right into a large, gray- haired man in a tan sweat suit.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going." Seth apologized. "Quite all right, young man, quite all right." The old man's voice was booming, but friendly. "What's your name, son?"
"Seth Wenchel." Seth reached out to shake the man's hand. "I'm a chemist in the research department."
"Grant Gendell." He shook Seth's hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Grant Gendell!" Seth's jaw dropped slightly as he tried to conceal his surprise. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
"The pleasure's all mine, son, but if you'll excuse me, I've got a meeting to attend."
"Of course, sir-uh Mr. Gendell, sir."
Grant Gendell hurried off down the hallway and Seth Wenchel stared after him, still in awe at the rare meeting. Seth picked up his phone and began to dial his wife, still not believing that he'd actually met *the* Grant Gendell.
Down the hallway, unbeknown to either of the men, was another man watching through a cracked doorway.
Eric Denzler's anger welled up inside him at the most recent example of his boss's carelessness. Gendell had no business wandering around the Gendell Technologies building. Gendell was perfectly capable of making all necessary decisions from the safety of his own home. He had no right to put himself in danger by wandering aimlessly around a building that had not been properly screened and secured.
On his way over to Gendell's house, Denzler reasoned with himself. His anger was not misplaced. Gendell's money made him the target of numerous lawsuits, insurance scams, thefts, and murder attempts. Safety and security was only achieved through caution, and Gendell was not using any.
His anger, while not misplaced, was also not useful. Gendell would not be persuaded by harsh words or a raised voice. The situation had to be dealt with delicately. Denzler would have to be gentle, but stern.
The meeting was not going according to plan.
"She *is* a reporter, Mr. Gendell, and therefore is not to be trusted. I still stand by my previous recommendation."
"But the pre-interview went well? No glaring defects in her employment history?"
"No sir, but-"
"Her medical history is acceptable?"
"Yes sir, but-"
"Gregg, what'd you think of her?"
"My wife and I have been out with her and her husband a couple of times and have found them both to be very pleasant. Lois has integrity and is boldly honest."
"Well, then there's no problem. I'll expect you to set up an interview as soon as possible. Okay, is there anything else, gentlemen?"
"I do have one other concern, Mr. Gendell."
Gendell sighed. "What now, Denzler?"
"With all due respect, Mr. Gendell, I must admit that your lack of concern for encounters with company employees worries me."
"Oh Denzler, you worry too much. I'm coming out into the open. Reemerging to the world. There's no harm in shaking hands with a couple of employees."
"I caution you that introducing yourself to random people without so much as checking their employment and medical histories and their personal beliefs is dangerous. Mr. and Mrs. Potter and Mr. Holm are not on the approved list and-"
"List? What list? Who's on this list?"
"Mr. Gregg and myself, sir."
Gendell let out a hearty laugh. "Boy, that's some list, Denzler! You got that written down somewhere?"
Denzler was not amused. "Mr. Gendell, if Ms. Lane is found to be untrustworthy, you may not be emerging at all. I urge you to use caution at all times. You really should not roam the hallways of the company building without the direct supervision of either Mr. Gregg or myself."
"Denzler, you're too paranoid. Relax. Have some fun once in a while. Now, if there's nothing else? Good. See you both tomorrow evening."
Denzler sulked as he left the meeting. This would not do. If Gendell would not listen to him, he would be forced to continuing taking care of matters by himself.
"Morning, Jimmy," Lois said brightly as she exited the elevator.
"Oh! Hey Jimmy, Clark and I thought Marshall Holm and Malachi and Allyson Potter might have been involved in something that wasn't work related that could have made them targets. Can you see what you can find about their friends, family, groups they were members of, that sort of thing?"
"You got it. Where is CK, anyway?"
"He had to, um, go… to… the post office." Lois finished her sentence quickly. "We needed stamps."
"Oh, okay. Well, I'll let you guys know what I come up with."
Lois walked over to her desk and sat down to sort out a rough agenda for the day's work, when her phone rang.
"Lois Lane," she answered.
"Ms. Lane. Eric Denzler here."
"Mr. Denzler! Hi. It's so nice to hear from you." Lois grabbed a note pad and a pencil out from underneath the mess on her desk.
"I have the specifics for our meeting."
"All right, I'm listening."
"At noon tomorrow you will go to the corner of 40th and Adams. A limousine will pick you up at exactly 12:03 pm. You will come alone. You will bring no cameras or recording devises. You will not tell anyone where you are going."
Lois was writing down Denzler's instructions, but she stopped at the last one. "I'm sorry, Mr. Denzler, but I always tell my partner where I'm going. For safety reasons."
Denzler began to get annoyed. "Do you want the interview or not, Ms. Lane?"
"Yes!" Lois realized that she sounded a little to eager. She cleared her throat and began again. "Yes, of course I want the interview, Mr. Denzler. I just don't see how telling my partner where I'm going, when I don't really know anything about where I'm going after the limo picks me up, could do any harm."
"Ms. Lane, my number one concern is for the safety of myself and Mr. Gendell. If you want the interview you will agree to all of the provisions I have outlined. Otherwise, Mr. Gendell will certainly be able to find another reporter to tell his story to. Is that understood Ms. Lane?"
"Yes, yes, it is. I'll be there. Tomorrow at noon."
"And you will come alone, bring no cameras or recording devices, and tell no one of your whereabouts?"
"Good. The limousine will pick you up tomorrow, then. Good day, Ms. Lane."
Lois hung up the phone and sighed.
"Everything all right?" Clark walked up to Lois' desk, straightening his tie.
Lois turned around, startled to hear her husband's voice. "Where've you been? Is everything okay?"
"Bank alarm. Everything's fine now. Everything all right here?" he asked again.
"Yeah," she started, then thought better of it. "No, actually, not really. I just got a call from Gendell's lawyer."
"Well, I got the interview."
"But he doesn't want me to tell anyone where I'm going when I meet him tomorrow. Including you."
Clark gave her a disapproving look. "Lois."
"I told him I *always*…" She noticed the look on his face. "Okay, I *usually* tell you where I'm going, but he threatened to give the interview to someone else if I did."
"Honey, I think…" he whispered *Superman* "…will be tagging along."
"Clark, you can't. That's one of the rules for the interview. If he thinks someone is with me he'll cancel everything right then and there." She looked at him with pleading eyes as he continued to look doubtful. "I really want this interview. This could be my next Kerth. It could be the Pulitzer even! I *have* to do this."
Clark sighed. He knew his wife wouldn't let up until she got her way, but he hated the idea of not knowing where she was. "You'll call me as soon as you can?"
Lois smiled, seeing that she had won him over. "Yes. It shouldn't take more than an hour, so if I don't call by then, you can come looking for me, deal?"
"Deal… but I don't have to like it."
"Clark, you worry too much."
He kneeled down so that he was at eye level with her, took both of her hands in his and then kissed them softly. Looking up into her eyes, he spoke in a quiet, serious tone. "I worry because I love you. I just don't want anything to happen to you."
She leaned forward and laid a tender kiss on his lips. "I'll be careful. I promise."
A throat cleared nearby and brought them back to the reality of the world around them.
"Sorry," Jimmy said, wincing.
"What is it, Jimmy?" Clark asked with a hint of annoyance.
"I did what you asked and dug up info on the three murder victims to see if I could find any common links, but I came up with zilch. They don't seem to be connected at all."
"Hmm. Well, it was worth a shot. Thanks, Jimmy."
"Sure, no problem." Jimmy smiled at them and then walked off toward the box of donuts by the coffee machine.
"Well, what next?"
Lois' reply was cut off by the sound of her phone ringing.
"Lois Lane," she answered.
"Lois, hi, it's Juliana, I hope you don't mind me calling you at work."
"No, not at all. Actually, I was just thinking of calling you. I was going to ask if you might like to go shopping while the guys play basketball on Saturday."
"You're kidding! Well, great minds think alike. That's exactly why I'm calling. I'm going to be swamped at work till about 3 on Saturday, but I could take a late lunch, and I thought we could browse through the mall for a while and grab a bite to eat."
"That sounds great. How about I meet you at the NorthMet Mall at about 3:30?"
"Sound great. I'll see you then."
That night's meeting consisted mostly of financial discussions about this and that, until Gendell questioned Denzler on the status of the interview.
"Assuming all goes well tomorrow, the interview should take place early next week," Denzler started before continuing cautiously. "I'd like to remind you once again of the dangers of this interview, sir."
"I know what you think the dangers are, Denzler. I'm also aware of your opinion of Miss Lane, and all other reporters for that matter."
"With all due respect, sir, it's not just reporters."
"I know, Denzler. Just make sure everything is set for the interview. I'm anxious to get this over with."
"Of course, sir," Denzler replied, annoyed. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some important business to take care of."
Denzler left, leaving Earl and Gendell to puzzle over the last comment.
"Any idea what he's up to, Gregg?"
"No, sir. I've been curious myself."
"Well, do me a favor and find out, would you?"
"Would you like me to follow him?"
"Whatever it takes. Just let me know as soon as possible."
Earl nodded, gave a "Yes, sir," and left the building through the same exit that Denzler had used. When he got outside, however, Denzler was nowhere to be seen.
As the rain poured down, Seth and Sarah Wenchel were the last ones to exit the Gendell Technologies building. Under the cover of the awning, Seth entered a code into the keypad to arm the lab's security system, slipped his arm around his young wife, and the two of them headed toward the parking lot.
Denzler watched from a darkened corner of the building. Only the man had met Gendell, so there was no reason to harm his wife, but the two of them were too close to shoot from this distance without the possibility of hitting them both.
Denzler momentarily considered backing off and taking care of him another time, but he didn't want Wenchel to have the chance to blab the good fortune of meeting one of the richest men in the world to everyone who would listen.
Seth said something to his wife, and then left her under the awning while he darted out into the rain toward their car.
With a quick shot, Denzler hit him once from his hiding spot in a dark corner of the parking lot and left the scene on foot.
He left the sound of Sarah's screams behind him.
What she didn't notice until the police arrived was the crumpled ball of paper that the rain was turning into a pile of wet mush.
"Clark!" Perry yelled from his office the next morning. "There's been another murder. Same M. O. At the Gendell Technologies building this time."
"I'm on it, Chief." Clark turned to Lois. "I'll be back by 11:30 to see you before you go to meet Gendell's lawyer. Try not to do anything dangerous before I get back, okay?"
Lois smiled and gave him a kiss. "I'll do my best. No promises, though."
Clark just sighed in defeat.
Clark swooped down out of site and then adjusted his tie as he walked over toward the police tape that surrounded the front door of Gendell Technologies. Spotting Officer Matthews, he walked up to him.
"Good morning, Officer."
"Kent, good morning. You're here again?"
"Yeah. Who was the victim this time?"
"Seth Wenchel. He left a newlywed wife named Sarah."
"I understand this is the same M. O. as the last two?"
"Yep. Same gun, same piece of paper. No fingerprints, no clues."
"Same gun? Have you been able to trace the bullets to the registered owner?"
"No, unfortunately we can't trace that without having the gun itself. We've made this case a top priority, but — and this is off the record, Kent — since we don't know what the guy's motive is or what links the victims together except for the fact that they all work at the same company, we don't have the first clue about who might be doing this. If you have any information that would help us out, would you let me know? And I'll do the same."
"Sure, Officer, but at this point I don't know any more than you do."
"Mind if I take a look around?"
"Be my guest."
Clark checked the scene thoroughly for anything the police had missed, but came up with nothing. Not the tiniest clue to the murderer's identity.
Frustrated, Clark flew back to the Planet to write up what would prove to be a very short article.
Lois checked her watch.
Right on time, a black stretch limousine pulled up next to the curb.
For the second time, Lois opened the back door and climbed in. For the second time, the partition between her and the driver lowered. For the second time, Mr. Denzler was sitting in front of the wheel of the limousine.
"Good afternoon Ms. Lane. I see that you have followed my directions. You have passed the test. I'll call you with instructions for the interview. You may go now."
"Test? Go? I thought this *was* the interview."
"Oh, no, no, no, Ms. Lane. This was merely a test. You have passed, and, much to my dismay, Mr. Gendell will indeed allow you to interview him. Good day, Ms. Lane."
Lois opened her mouth, but then thought better of it. Arguing with a man as paranoid and inconsiderate as Eric Denzler would get her nowhere. Instead, she got out of the limo, and slammed the door behind her.
Lois fumed as she made her way back to the Planet. The nerve of that man! Did he think she had nothing better to do than to show up at his convenience and play some silly game? Take some stupid test?! It was insulting. Degrading. She couldn't believe that arrogant little con man had the audacity to-
Well, no one got the better of Mad Dog Lane and got away with it.
The smile that had crept onto her face with that last thought disappeared faster than she could say 'revenge.' She couldn't do that. It would compromise any chance she had of ever interviewing Grant Gendell. Irritated, Lois stepped onto the elevator and headed back up to the newsroom.
"So, Denzler, when's the interview?" Gendell asked at Friday night's meeting.
"As soon as is convenient for your schedule, Mr. Gendell."
Gendell burst out laughing. "Convenient for my *schedule*? You two *are* my schedule! Quit fooling around and pick a time, Denzler."
Denzler pursed his lips together and swallowed hard. "Monday morning at ten o'clock, sir."
"Finally. Ahh, it feels nice to have something to look forward to, eh Gregg?"
"It certainly does, sir. I think this will be a good experience for both you and for Ms. Lane. I know she is looking forward to meeting you in person."
"Well, good, I'm glad. I'm looking forward to meeting her too. I gather you and your wife have become close to the Kents?"
"Yes, sir. The Kents are becoming good friends of ours."
"Glad to hear it. If there's nothing else, I'll see you both back here tomorrow night."
"Certainly, sir," Denzler said before rushing out the front door, barely stopping to grab his coat.
Earl reached for his jacket at a more polite speed and looked at Gendell to say goodbye, but Gendell spoke up first.
"Have you figured out what the hell he's up to?"
"Not yet, sir. He was already long gone by the time I tried to follow him last night, but he did seem a bit less paranoid tonight."
Gendell thought this over. Denzler might be less paranoid, or he might have just given up showing it. In any case, he wasn't annoying the heck out of him anymore.
"You're right," Gendell said. "Never mind trying to figure out what he's up to. Maybe it's nothing. After all, he's paid to be paranoid."
Earl nodded. "If you say so, Mr. Gendell. Have a good night."
"You too, Gregg. You too."
Late Saturday morning, Sarah walked off the elevator and looked around the busy newsroom; her were eyes red and splotchy. She was an emotional wreck, recovering from a devastating loss, and the Daily Planet was a bustle of activity with phones ringing, copiers copying, and people typing, talking, and running every which way. She didn't know where to start.
She took a deep, but shaky breath and opened her mouth to the first friendly-looking guy who walked by. "Excuse me, I'm looking for Clark Kent."
"Clark? He's right over there," the guy said, pointing to a tall, dark man leaning over the desk of a petite brunette.
She thanked him and made her way down the ramp and into the chaos below. Tentatively, she spoke his name. "Clark Kent?"
Both he and the woman turned to face her. "Yes, I'm Clark Kent. What can I do for you?"
She stretched out her arm and shook his hand. "Hi. I'm Sarah Wenchel. You wrote an article about my… husband's…" She choked back a sob.
The brunette, who had yet to say anything, stood up and offered Sarah her chair and handed her a tissue. "Here. Sit down. I'm Lois Lane, Clark's wife and partner. How can we help you?"
Sarah sniffed, dried her eyes, and blew her nose. "Thanks. I talked to the police for hours last night, and then again this morning, and they can't tell me anything. I just don't know who would want to do this to Seth. He didn't have any enemies. Everyone liked him. He'd just been promoted to project leader at work and was getting commendations from his employees and his managers. I… I just… don't under…stand." Sarah sputtered the last sentence as she began to lose control of her tears again.
Lois and Clark each put a hand on her shoulder.
"Did anything unusual happen recently? Anything out of the ordinary?" Clark asked.
Sarah shook her head and regained enough control to respond. "I don't think so. He'd been so busy with his new promotion that I hadn't seen much of him for a couple of days. He was working hard to get everything in order with the new position. I was so proud of hi…i…im…" The tears prevailed once more.
Lois looked at Clark and their eyes spoke a wordless conversation. Sarah was obviously distraught, but didn't know much information that could help them track down the murderer. Clark would keep looking, but unfortunately, that was all they could promise her at the moment.
"Mrs. Wenchel, I've been following this case for a few days now, and I'm doing my best to find out who's behind the murders," Clark assured her. "If you want, we can give you the name of a counselor you can talk to."
"Yes," Sarah sniffed. "I'd like that. Thank you so much for your help."
Lois gave her a card with Dr. Friskin's number, and Sarah left, looking like she felt a little better about the situation.
Early Saturday afternoon, Juliana breathed a sigh of relief as she exited the Gendell Technologies Chemistry Laboratory. She'd had a horribly busy morning and was glad to get out of the building for some fresh air. Better yet, she was on her way to meet Lois at the mall for some shopping and some good old-fashioned girl talk.
As she rounded the corner of the building and headed to her parking space, she spotted a large man in a sweat suit coming out of an unmarked door in the side of the building. Having only met the man once years ago, she barely recognized him, but since Earl talked about him on a regular basis, she felt like she already knew him.
"Well, Mr. Gendell, how nice to see you again."
"Mrs. Gregg, this certainly is a surprise. Where are you off to on this beautiful, sunny afternoon?"
"Shopping with a friend. I have to admit I'm a little surprised to see you. I thought you kept behind closed doors if at all possible."
"I do, Mrs. Gregg, I do. But I'm beginning to realize how much I've missed by cutting myself off from the outside world. Look at the sky, for example." Gendell gazed up at the blue expanse with a dreamy look on his face. "It's so blue and so clear, and if I'd stayed inside today, I'd have missed it."
Juliana raised an eyebrow just slightly, but Gendell was too distracted to notice. "Well, I'm glad to hear of your new lease on life. I'd love to stay and chat, but like I said, I'm meeting a friend for lunch and a shopping trip."
"Of course… of course." He looked back at her for a moment before returning his gaze upward. "Have a good time."
As Juliana turned and started toward her car again, she wondered what on earth had gotten into Grant Gendell.
Denzler sat in his black Lincoln Town Car and watched the encounter. No doubt Gendell was attempting to be charming and friendly. No doubt he was foolishly trusting Gregg's wife to protect the knowledge of his whereabouts. No doubt she'd have to be removed from the equation.
It would have to be a different M. O. than the rest. He had too close a personal connection with her and Gregg. He couldn't have the police checking into Juliana's friends and family and acquaintances and linking him to her death, and her death to the others.
He started up the engine and then pulled his .357 magnum out of the glove compartment and checked its bullet chamber. All six were loaded and ready to go, but if all went according to plan, he wouldn't need any of them.
Easing into traffic, he situated himself behind the burgundy Jeep with the curly-haired brunette at the wheel. He was prepared to follow it to its final destination, wherever that might be. He would finalize his plans when he discovered where the Jeep and its driver were headed.
It would only be a matter of time.
As Juliana drove down Bessolo Boulevard toward the mall, she looked forward to meeting Lois. They had a lot in common, and she could see that they were becoming good friends. They liked the same books and the same foods. They were both deeply dedicated to their jobs and had husbands who were the same way. She was glad to be meeting a friend that she could talk to about her day, and who understood what she was thinking nearly all of the time.
With a smile on her face, she picked up her cell phone and dialed Earl.
"Hey, honey, I just wanted to let you know that I'm headed to the mall to meet Lois. Are you at the park yet?
"Yeah, Clark and I just got here and we were about to start a game of one-on-one. How's your day been?"
"Ugh, this morning was awful. It was one thing after another, and as soon as I thought I might actually get something done, I'd have to correct another of someone else's mistakes. I managed to teach a couple of the interns what not to do, but other than that, it hasn't been a very productive day."
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry."
"Thanks. Everything's okay now. Actually, since you asked, there was one strange thing that happened as I was leaving the lab just now. I ran into Grant Gendell."
"What? Really?" Earl knew he would be hearing about this tonight. Denzler wasn't going to let Mr. Gendell hear the end of it. "What did he say?"
"We just said 'hi' and went our separate ways. I couldn't talk long because I was on my way to meet Lois."
"That's all? Just 'hi'? He didn't say anything else?" Earl wondered if all of the other encounters had been just as quick. What was Denzler getting so upset about?
"Yeah, pretty much. He did seem a little…distracted, I guess. But I didn't really think anything of it at the time."
"Distracted? How so?"
"He was looking up at the sky and talking about how blue it was. Nothing really. He just seemed very… *interested* in the world around him. Kinda dreamy, almost."
"Huh." Earl pondered this. Was that why Gendell was so anxious to get the interview over with? Did he just want to get out and see some blue sky a little more often? What was the harm in that? Why was Denzler getting so worked up about it? So all Mr. Gendell wanted was to see a little bit of sunshine? Earl was more skeptical than ever of Denzler's ranting and suspiciousness.
"Well, sweetie, I've gotta go. I'm pulling into the parking lot."
They said their goodbyes, and Earl hung up the phone.
Lois and Juliana strolled through the NorthMet Mall, past shoe stores, clothing boutiques, and department stores, occasionally stepping into one after seeing something they wanted to take a closer look at.
"I love this," Lois said, fingering the smooth fabric of a charmeuse blouse.
"I know. The color would look great on you."
"What? Oh, no, not the blouse. I mean, yes, I love the blouse, but I meant I love… this." Lois held her hands out in a grand gesture. "I love shopping… without men, and… without my mother. It's fun to just hang out and be a girl."
Juliana smiled at the amazing knack Lois had for saying the exact thing that she was thinking. "I know what you mean. I don't get to do this often enough. Between a husband, and work-"
"Exactly! I don't think I've hung out with another woman in… I can't even remember the last time."
"Me neither. Certainly before I was married and had this crazy job."
"Nice shot!" Earl said, panting. "I don't know how you do it."
"That lay-up? It's not that hard, I just-"
"No," Earl said, laughing. "I mean you have a wife and a job and you still have enough energy to come out here and shoot hoops. You're not even sweating."
Clark laughed off the comment and tossed Earl the ball. He wasn't sure how to respond to that, but he could say the same thing about Earl. The guy had a busy job and a wife, and Clark knew all too well how busy those two things kept him.
It was great to have a guy like Earl around. Clark loved Lois with all of his heart and soul, but he couldn't shoot hoops with her. Earl was a great friend, and Clark liked having someone outside the Daily Planet to talk to.
The Daily Planet, however, was at the front of his mind today. The unsolved murders had plagued him for days and he couldn't get them out of his head, even for this game of basketball. In fact, Earl might be of some help on this particular case. He *did* work at Gendell Technologies, and that *was* the common link between the murder victims.
"You know, I've been following a series of murders for a story I'm investigating, and I came across something interesting."
"All of the victims worked for Gendell Technologies."
Denzler followed Lois and Juliana through the mall with his gun under his belt, hidden by his suit jacket. He watched from a distance as they weaved in and out of stores, through aisles, and between racks of clothing, knick-knacks, and kitchenware.
There were far too many people around. Considering that it was a Saturday afternoon, the mall was fairly empty and there were plenty of free tables in the food court, but there were still far too many people around.
How was he ever going to get rid of Gregg's wife with dozens of mall shoppers watching? He'd have to wait until she was in a secluded part of a store. Hopefully he didn't have to wait until she'd left the mall and then try to catch her some other way. It could be too late by then. She might have the opportunity to go blabbing her story about meeting Gendell to anyone who would listen. Including that idiot husband of hers.
No. He'd have to find some way of getting to her sooner rather than later.
But even if he could wait until there were less shoppers in their midst, he had an even bigger problem: Lois Lane.
Ms. Lane was a wild card in this situation. Would she follow his instructions if he threatened her? Or would she be so brave as to yell or use force against him, knowing that he wouldn't want to attract attention by shooting her? He'd heard dozens of stories of her heroics in seemingly impossible situations. She was famous for it. He'd have to neutralize her as quickly as possible.
Ms. Gregg, on the other hand, had less experience dealing with life-threatening situations. There was a good chance that she would be more submissive, especially if her life or the life of her friend was in danger.
Denzler knew what he would have to do.
Lois wondered through the back of Nieman's department store, occasionally pulling something off the rack and adding it to the collection of things she wanted to try on. Juliana was nearby, her back to Lois, doing the same.
As Lois removed a navy blazer from its place on the rack, she felt something cold and metal press up against her neck.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Lane."
She recognized the voice.
Earl had been about to shoot a three-pointer, but when he heard Clark's words, he stopped his arms in mid-shot. "Gendell Technologies? Really? How many were there?"
"Four. Malachi and Allyson Potter, Marshall Holm, and Seth Wenchel."
Earl processed the names slowly. He didn't know them, but for some reason his mind told him that the names should sound familiar. He'd heard them before. They held some kind of comparable significance that was on the tip of his tongue, but, for some reason, he couldn't spit it out.
"Lois and I have done some digging," Clark continued. "And, although they all worked for Gendell Technologies, that's where the similarities end."
Earl's mind raced through the files of names in his head. Researchers, scientists, sponsors, secretaries, interns, the list was too long.
Clark kept explaining. "They worked in different departments. Holm and the Potters were about to start working on a project together, but Wenchel doesn't seem to have any connection to it. They were all married, but in one case it was both the husband and the wife killed, and in the other cases, just the husband."
Earl was only half listening to Clark as his mind tried to piece together the connection between those names.
Those names. Potter. Holm. Wenchel. He knew he'd heard them before.
"The first murder happened in a park, the second just outside their home, and the third at work. I just can't figure out what they all have in common, and how that would lead someone to want them dead."
After contemplating the puzzle for what seemed like several minutes, Earl finally decided that there was no connection. He convinced himself that his mind was playing tricks on him and that he'd never heard the names mentioned together before. "Are you sure they were all killed by the same person?" he asked.
"Well, that's the thing. At every murder scene the police found a balled up piece of paper with the words 'trust no one' on it. I'm baffled by what kind of trust these people might have broken. And it bugs me that I just *can't* figure it out."
It clicked. Denzler had been whining about trust for weeks, ever since Gendell got it in his head to come out of hiding and reveal himself to the world. But could Denzler really have killed four innocent people?
Of course he could. He was crazy. He'd proven that much with his antics revolving around Lois' interviewing Gendell. Even the first night he'd met Lois when he and Juliana-
Paralyzed with fear, Earl dropped the ball.
"Earl? Earl are you all right?" Clark asked.
"Juliana. He's going after Juliana next."
"Earl you're not making any sense. Who's going after Juliana?"
Earl looked straight into Clark's eyes. "Clark, I know who's been killing those people and he's going to try to kill Juliana."
"Calm down, Earl. First things first; tell me who he is."
"It's Eric. Eric Denzler."
Fear gripped Lois' body and wouldn't let go. Every muscle ached as adrenaline surged through her and her eyes darted around, looking for help or a possible escape. Juliana was only a few feet away, but the cold steel of the gun against her flesh kept Lois from calling attention to herself.
"Mr. Denzler?" she asked quietly.
"That's right Ms. Lane. Just keep a cool head and everything will be just fine. We're taking a little walk. Step toward the exit. Nice and slow."
Lois did as she was told, and ticked off the options one by one in her head. If she called for help hoping that Clark, or at least Juliana, would hear her, Denzler could pull the trigger faster than Clark or anyone else could get to her. Because the gun was so close and Denzler was behind her, neutralizing him herself was out of the question; he could shoot before she made contact. The only other option was to talk her way out of this.
"Mr. Denzler, let's talk about this. I really don't think that killing me is going to solve anything."
"I beg to differ, Ms. Lane. And if you'll just come with me, everything will be explained in good time."
Explain? She certainly wasn't going to wait for that. She tried another approach. "Superman is a very good friend of mine. He'll find me."
"Well, that may be, Ms. Lane, but you'll be dead and I'll be gone long before that happens. Now, since you can't seem to keep your mouth shut…"
She never saw the needle coming. Lois felt it penetrate her side with a sharp pain. She tried to twist her body and avoid it, but Denzler was quick.
The methohexital worked fast. The world went black.
"Gendell's lawyer?" Clark asked incredulously. "I knew there was something fishy about that guy."
"He's always whining about trust, and he's been harping at Gendell for weeks to stop shaking hands with random people. I knew the names you gave me sounded familiar. Gendell mentioned a couple of them."
"Wait a minute! You've spoken to Grant Gendell?"
"Yes. Only two people speak to him on a regular basis: me and Eric Denzler. No one is supposed to know that, so Juliana and I have kept it a secret. But there's no time for that now! Juliana is in danger."
Clark's thoughts reeled with this new information. Earl and Juliana not only knew Grant Gendell, but they were close to both him and the man who was responsible for the murders. Did this mean that Earl was an accomplice?
Earl's words shook Clark out of his thoughts. "The victims were people that Gendell had run into without our supervision. Denzler kept lecturing him not to run around meeting random people who hadn't been properly screened and put through rigorous security measures, like the ones he's been putting Lois through."
"He needs supervision and baby-sitting? He's a grown man and the owner of a major scientific corporation."
Earl shook his head. "I know. I don't think Denzler's all there upstairs."
"Okay, but other than the fact that he's crazy, what makes you think he'll go after Juliana?"
"Gendell met Juliana this afternoon on her way to meet Lois."
Clark froze and fear gripped him as he realized the impact of Earl's statement. Lois was with Juliana.
Clark attempted to convince himself not to panic. They were headed to the mall. They were in a public place. Everything would be fine.
Everything would not be fine. There was a crazy man out there ready to kill Juliana the first chance he got, and if Lois was with Juliana, fate would find some way to put Lois in the middle of the predicament. It always did.
"Eric'll go after her next. Oh my god, has he gotten to her already? Is she still…" Earl couldn't bring himself to finish that sentence so he started a new one instead. "He could find her at any moment."
"Earl, I'm sure we're overreacting." Clark tried to convince both Earl and himself, despite what he was feeling inside. "They're probably fine. I'm sure they're both safe, and having a good time."
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure you're right. I'll just give Juliana a call on her cell phone. Nothing to worry about." Earl seemed to relax as he picked up his cell phone.
Having bound Lois' hands and feet and gagged her mouth with duct tape, Denzler locked her in the back of his Lincoln and headed back into the mall to collect Gregg's wife.
He muttered to himself about Gendell's innate stupidity and negligence. How did a man with that much inattention to important details get to be that rich? It was inexplicable and if Denzler had that much good fortune, he'd be sure not to squander it with foolish notions of being an employer 'for the people.' With all of the crazy people out there, Gendell was much safer being locked away in a high security building, only having contact with those worthy of his trust.
Damn Gendell for messing with things. Damn Gendell for making his job harder. Damn Gendell for forcing him to take drastic measures. Damn Gendell.
Juliana dug her phone out of her purse, and answered the call. The first thing she heard was a familiar sounding sigh of relief.
"Hi, honey," Earl said. "I just called to see if you were all right."
"Sure, I'm fine. Lois and I are just browsing around Niemen's." Juliana answered. "Why wouldn't I be fine?"
"Well, Clark and I put our heads together and figured out that Eric is the one behind the murders-"
"Eric Denzler?!" Juliana asked with disbelief.
"Yeah, he's been killing everyone that Gendell's met without Denzler's supervision, and-"
"*I* met Gendell this afternoon… you don't think…"
"That's exactly what I think. Clark and I are on our way to the mall right now. I don't think you or Lois should be alone."
"That's a good idea. In fact…" Juliana turned around, looking for Lois, but didn't see her among the racks of skirts and sweaters. "Well, where did she go…?" Juliana's sentence trailed off as her eyes darted from rack to rack, looking for any sign of Lois.
"Who? Lois? Isn't she with you?" Earl asked.
"She was here just a second ago… Lois?" Juliana called her name and heard no answer.
She tried again. "Lois?"
He reached the department store entrance and saw that Gregg's wife was on the phone, but was calling Lois' name. He slid along the back wall, out of her line of sight as she turned and walked toward the exit that he was now several yards away from. As she walked toward the exit, he circled around behind her.
Juliana wandered over to where she has last seen Lois, nearer to the exit to the parking lot. Fear seeped into the front of her mind as she unsuccessfully searched the store for her friend.
Juliana persuaded herself to think that everything was all right. Lois must have just wandered off. She'd probably gone over to the shoe department to take a closer look at a pair of dress shoes they'd seen earlier.
"I don't see her anywhere, Earl, but I thi-"
The word caught in her throat as a foreign object poked into her side.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Gregg."
The sickeningly polite voice reached her ears and then faded away, along with her consciousness.
Clark instantly picked up on the panic in Earl's voice. This was not a good sign.
"What's the matter? What happened?" Clark asked, his own voice reflecting the panic he was feeling.
"I don't know. Juliana was calling Lois' name and then we got cut off."
"Did she say where at the mall they were?"
"Denzler wouldn't do anything to them in the middle of a department store would he?"
"I… I don't know," Earl stuttered. "I guess I wouldn't put it past him. He's clearly gone over the deep end."
That was all Clark needed to hear. "Catch a cab to the mall and call 9-1-1 on your way over. I'm going to… uh… I… I…" Clark searched for an excuse, but his mind drew a blank. The love of his life, the only thing he cared about in this world was in mortal danger, and he couldn't come up with a decent excuse. He'd finally run out.
Earl looked at him, dumbfounded. "You need to what? Clark, your wife is in danger, and so is mine. Let's catch a cab and get to the mall as fast as we can."
"Get a hold of yourself! Let's go; we're wasting time!" Earl grabbed Clark by the arm and dragged him off the court and into the first cab that came by.
Lois came to slowly. She looked around her and realized that she was inside a vehicle. Her hands and feet were bound and her mouth was covered with duct tape. She struggled to free herself, but her efforts were fruitless, and the duct tape muffled her attempts at screaming for help.
Dread began to grow in the pit of Lois' stomach as she realized that she had no way of escaping and no way of calling to Clark. What if she never saw Clark again? What if she never saw Perry or Jimmy or Martha and Jonathan or her parents again? Did they all know how much she cared about them? Had she told them what they meant to her?
Her thoughts were interrupted as the rear passenger's side door opened and Juliana was placed inside.
Lois started to struggle harder as Denzler bound Juliana's hands, feet, and mouth, just as he had done with Lois.
Pointing the gun solidly on Lois, Denzler issued a warning. "If you feel the need to be heroic, Ms. Lane, don't be."
She tried to stay calm, but was terrified that she wouldn't be fast enough if she attempted to kick the gun out of his hand with her feet taped together.
She couldn't scream, she couldn't defend herself, she couldn't fight back at all, and the sense of helplessness was eating her inside. She was used to catching scum like Denzler when they made a crucial mistake. They'd let their guard down for a second and she'd kick at just the right moment, in just the right place.
But Denzler had been too careful. He hadn't made that crucial mistake. He hadn't looked away or gotten distracted. He hadn't left her with any options.
Time was running out.
Juliana felt groggy as she came to, but the first thing she saw jolted her to full consciousness. She was staring wide-eyed down the barrel of a gun pointed straight at her head. Her mouth went dry, her muscles tensed up, and her heart jumped into her throat. She knew she should struggle or scream, but all she could think about was the silver steel, just inches from her head.
The gun retreated, along with its holder, and she realized that she was bound and gagged and alone with Lois in the back of what looked like a very expensive car. Now that Denzler was no longer pointing a lethal weapon at her head, she began to think more clearly. She hardly remembered what had transpired since she'd answered the call from her husband. Her mind was a blur of emotions, and vague recollections of movements.
Trying to remember was giving her a headache.
The car lurched forward, and she looked at Lois, trying to ask questions with the expressions on her face. Where were they going? What was he planning to do to them? Why was he doing this? How were they going to escape?
It was futile. Lois didn't know the answers to her questions, even if she'd been able to ask them. Silent tears began to snake their way down her cheeks as she resigned herself to waiting for her unknown fate.
The ride to the mall was painfully slow. Clark looked out the window and watched the city go by. He sat relatively motionless, compared to the speed that he was capable of moving at.
He could be there right now. He could be holding her in his arms, stroking her soft hair, kissing her sweet lips, and whispering comforting words into her ear. He could be tying up Denzler, and crushing his gun with his bare hands and handing him over to the police. He could be doing *something*.
Instead, he was sitting in a cab, waiting for the inferior vehicle to reach his wife in time for him to save her life. He'd faltered for one second when trying to come up with an excuse to give Earl, and now it could cost Lois her life. He had a thousand excuses. He'd been using them for years. And then, when it had mattered the most, his mind had gone blank.
Clark sighed and buried his head in his hands. Earl sat next to him, repeatedly dialing Juliana's number with no success. After a couple of tries, he'd called the police and they were now on their way to the mall, but he kept trying her number, hoping, praying, that she would answer. She never did.
Denzler looked at his captives in the rear view mirror and smiled. "Good afternoon, ladies. I hope you're enjoying the ride. We'll be arriving at our destination shortly." His passengers did not look amused, but he continued on. "You may be wondering why I've requested the honor of your company in this manner. Well, it's simple, really. Mrs. Gregg, you met Mr. Gendell earlier this afternoon, did you not? Well, we just can't have that. No one is to be trusted with knowledge of the whereabouts of Mr. Gendell at any moment in time. Except for your husband and I, of course. I have been speaking with Mr. Gendell about the dangers associated with meeting untrustworthy people, but because he hasn't heeded my warnings, I've had to take extreme measures. I'm afraid you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Mrs. Gregg."
He moved his gaze from Juliana to Lois and continued, "And as for you, Ms. Lane, well, this has been a pleasant surprise indeed. When I first saw that you were with Mrs. Gregg, I feared that the situation might get messy, but on second evaluation, I've realized that this is a pleasant surprise indeed. I was planning on having to purposely mis-schedule your interview with Mr. Gendell, hoping that he would forget the whole idea when you didn't show up. However, this will be a much better solution to my little problem. You can't interview him when you're lying at the bottom of Hobbs Bay." He smiled, admiring his own cleverness.
"At any rate, I thought I would set your minds at ease." He pulled into a deserted parking lot near the Hobbs Bay Bridge. The bridge was situated at the mouth of the river, just above the bay, and was seldom used now that the Hobbs Bay area had practically been deserted by the respectable businesses of Metropolis.
Denzler parked the car, got out, and reached for the handle on the back door.
As the cab pulled into the parking lot, Clark pulled down his glasses, scanning for any sign of Lois, Juliana, or Denzler. He'd been listening for Lois to call his name, but he couldn't hear her.
Or she couldn't call to him.
Had Denzler already…
He shook his head to rid himself of the thought. He couldn't let himself think about that. He had to think positively. He had to concentrate on finding Lois-alive-and finding her soon.
He continued his scan and came up with nothing. Where could she be?
"You check the women's department, I'll check the shoe racks." Earl instructed Clark as they jumped out of the cab and ran inside.
Clark agreed, and then he watched Earl dash through the aisles toward the other end of the store.
Pulling down his glasses and starting with the women's department, Clark scanned the entire department store. Still no sign of Lois, Juliana, or Denzler. They weren't in the parking lot and they weren't in the mall. That could only mean one thing: they'd left the vicinity entirely.
He checked to make sure no one was looking in his direction, and then he ducked below one of the racks, made a quick change, and bolted from the store and into the stratosphere.
Lois' stomach churned. Denzler had cut the duct tape that had bound her feet and had forced her at gunpoint over to the middle of the bridge. Now his body, along with that hateful gun, was pressed up against her back. She could smell the cologne he had so carefully applied that morning. She could smell the shampoo in his hair and the soap on his skin. It sickened her to think that this psychopath got out of bed every morning, showered, dressed, shaved, and prepared for the day, all with full intentions of committing cold-blooded murder. The thought was revolting.
Looking down at the serene waters below was not comforting. They were so calm and quiet, unaware that they were about to be an accomplice to her own demise. The irony struck her, and she closed her eyes tight, refusing to look down.
Juliana panicked. As soon as Denzler had taken Lois out of the car, she scrambled for some way to save them.
Twisting her arms and legs, she tried to free them from the duct tape, but to no avail. She tried frantically to scrape the tape off of her mouth by rubbing it against her shoulder, and she managed to loosen one corner, but trying to get it off completely was useless.
Her next thought was to unlock the door and crawl out. Putting her back to the door, she stood up as best she could and yanked up on the door lock.
It wouldn't budge.
The blackness that came with her eyes shut brought Lois a comforting image. Clark. She saw his face looking back at her with those familiar eyes, and she wished that he was there now.
Where *was* Clark when she needed him? He'd always been there before. He'd always come before it was too late. But it was getting down to the wire now. She was standing at the edge of her death, listening to Denzler mumbling something about trust and loyalty. All she could think about was the water below her, and about how all that stood between her and death, was probably her husband. A man who was nowhere in sight.
She wanted to call out his name, but the duct tape over her mouth didn't allow it. The best she could muster was a muffled whimper.
Clark hovered above the city, scanning for any sign of Lois, Juliana, or Denzler, but even with his super vision 'gizmo' as Lois liked to call it, the city was too big, and there were too many people and too many sounds. He could usually pick her voice out, especially if she was calling his name, but his super-hearing wasn't picking anything up. For some reason she wouldn't — or couldn't — call to him.
They couldn't have gotten very far. Clark flew in a circle around the mall, hoping to find some sign of them.
Stupid childproof locks! What was she supposed to do now?
Juliana sat down on the floor of the car, leaned up against the back seat, and began to cry. The tears ran down her cheeks, and she had no way to wipe them away. She had no way out, no one knew where she was, and she had no way of making a sound.
… or did she?
Denzler had made a mistake.
Straightening up and sniffling a bit, she wiggled her way toward the front of the car. Her shoulders ached as she squeezed her body between the seats, pinning her arms behind her. She squirmed her way forward, closer to her goal. Closer to her cry for help.
Standing on the bridge, only a railing separated Lois from the expanse of air and the water below her. Her whimpering had stopped Denzler's muttering, and now he was addressing her directly.
"You have two choices, Ms. Lane: jump off yourself, or be pushed. It makes no difference to me."
A tear collected in the corner of her eye, and she stood perfectly still, defiant toward his directions.
"Suit yourself." Before she knew what was happening, her feet were no longer on the ground. She was tossed over the railing and was free falling toward the glassy water below.
She'd free fallen many times before. Time seemed to stand still. Her stomach leapt into her throat, the wind rushed by her, filling her ears, and her hair was swirled around her, blocking her vision.
She fell… and fell… and fell…
Juliana braced herself and banged her head squarely against the steering wheel. A loud HONK! resounded. She repeated the assault on her head, over, and over, and over. She smiled through the pain of victory. The bump would be worth it if it saved her and Lois.
A car horn honked in the distance, and Clark's instinct was to ignore it. There were millions of cars within his hearing range, many of them honking periodically, and he usually tuned them out. But for some reason, his intuition nagged him to check this one out.
Altering his course slightly, Clark raced off toward the honking horn.
It was coming from the direction of Hobbs Bay, which would be a perfect place for a murderer like Eric Denzler. That district was full of the lowlifes of Metropolis, and it wasn't very far from the NorthMet Mall.
The horn was sounding again and again, with varying degrees of length and volume. As he gained on it, he saw something that filled him with terror and relief at the same time.
Lois was falling toward the deep waters of the bay below the bridge. He was going to be in time to save her.
His strong arms hugged her close to him and his warm embrace felt better than it ever had before. She was safe. She was safe. She repeated that to herself, over and over, and she was so relieved that she began to cry.
He flew them up underneath the bridge and as soon as he removed the tape from her wrists, ankles, and mouth, she threw her arms around his neck.
"Clark. Oh, Clark," she managed to whisper before her lips met his in a long, sweet kiss.
Their lips parted. "Are you all right?" Clark asked, before going in for another kiss.
"Yes." She succeeded in uttering in between the thousands of kisses. "I'm fine…but…" Lois stopped their reunion to remind him that his job wasn't finished. "Juliana. She's still up there."
Clark answered her with another kiss, and then flew her up to the Lincoln and set her down out of harm's way.
Denzler was opening the back door, and Clark could see that Juliana was inside, duct taped, just as Lois had been. In an instant, Clark was standing over Denzler with a menacing look.
"Your corporate days are over, Denzler." Clark said, hoisting him up by his collar. Denzler said nothing, but looked frightened enough for Clark's satisfaction, so he turned and smiled at Lois. "I'll be back for you in a minute."
With that, Clark flew off, taking Denzler with him and headed straight back to the mall where Earl was still searching for Lois and Juliana. The police had arrived and were combing the mall, inside and out, as well as sending officers out to patrol the surrounding areas.
Clark descended near where Earl was giving information to one of the police officers. Earl's face changed from awe as he noticed Superman approaching, to anger when he saw who his passenger was.
"Denzler!" Earl said through gritted teeth. "Where's Juliana?"
Clark spoke up before Denzler could open his mouth. "She's with Lois. They're a bit shaken up, but they're all right."
"Thank you, Superman," he said emphatically, but the look of relief on Earl's face was all the thanks Clark needed.
"You are Earl Gregg, right?" Clark asked. Earl nodded, and Clark continued. "Denzler had them out by Hobbs Bay Bridge, but I'll bring them back here."
With that, Clark took to the sky, but he could hear Earl start to say, "Could you find Clark, too?"
Denzler was handcuffed, read his rights, and put into the back of a police car. Gendell wouldn't survive without him. There were too many weirdoes out there who would do anything to get to him and his billions. Denzler had been the only thing keeping Gendell safe, he was sure of it.
But it was his own fault, and he knew it. He had unwittingly trusted that Gregg's wife wasn't intelligent enough to attract any attention to herself. He'd underestimated her, and now he, and eventually Gendell, would be paying for it for the rest of their lives. He cared little for his own fate, but he knew that the constant worry for Gendell's safety would haunt him forever.
One week later, Earl and Juliana sat in the 12th row on the 40-yard-line watching the Tigers beat the Bills 51-16 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter. Earl looked lovingly on his wife, who was enthusiastically cheering the Tigers on. He smiled and tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear, being careful not to disturb the bump on the back of her head.
On one side of them were two empty seats, and on the other side sat Grant Gendell and his new girlfriend, Candy. Gendell, uninterested in the game, was engrossed in reading and rereading one of the Daily Planet's front-page articles. The headline was "Millionaire Recluse Reemerges." The byline was Lois Lane.
Earl settled his arm onto the back of Juliana's seat and then gave her shoulder a quick squeeze and placed a small kiss on her cheek.
"What was that for?" she asked.
"Nothing," Clark replied. "I'm just glad to have you next to me."
He and Lois were standing in line at the concession stand, having waited out the half- time rush before descending from their seats in search of food.
"Well, good." She smiled back at him. "Because I'm glad to be next to you." She tilted her head up and placed a soft kiss on his lips.
"You know," Earl began after their lips had parted. "As horrible that all of the stuff that we've been through is, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
She cocked her head and gave him a skeptical look. "Why is that?"
"Because we're together," he said simply. "And no matter what has happened in the past, it's brought us to this point, and right here-"
"-right now, I'm happy. I've got a great job, wonderful friends, and the most beautiful wife that any man has ever known. I wouldn't trade that for anything."
"Me neither." Lois smiled at the man of her dreams, and then leaned in for another kiss.
Before Clark knew it, Earl was shoving him in the cab and talking to the driver. Clark was too busy trying to figure out how to get away from Earl and get to the mall faster than a speeding bullet to notice that Earl was spending an inordinate amount of time talking to the cabbie. Lois was in danger and he desperately wanted to reach her, but he couldn't just leave now or Earl would become suspicious. Of course, a good excuse would help, but as always, he came up blank. Where was Lois when he needed her? The irony in that wasn't lost on Clark.
Clark was aching to rush out the cab, spin in his suit, and fly to the rescue.
Time was running out.
Clark seriously considered sharing his secret with Earl. Friends didn't have secrets from each other and he figured it couldn't do much harm.
On the other hand, this decision wasn't his alone. His parents always told him to be careful; you'd never know what other people wanted from Superman. His father's words echoed in his head: "They'll dissect you like a frog." That was a very valid point. After all, Earl worked as a scientist at Gendell Technologies. And they had only known each other for a very short time, and Clark wasn't sure about the question of trust yet. Earl knew Gendell personally. What if he told the man? And it was also possible that Earl was involved in the situation too.
He hadn't considered that option yet. Earl could be in on this. It was very well possible. Why else would all of this trouble have started, right at the moment they had met? Okay, so it could be a coincidence. Earl really seemed nice. And he was just as worried about his wife as Clark was about Lois. And it had started after Juliana met Gendell. Which meant that Juliana was in danger. Surely she would be considered safe as Earl's wife. So that ruled out Earl.
Back to the real problem now. He still hadn't figured out how to leave without making Earl suspicious of his alter ego. He already heard Lois telling him all the reasons why his friend should not know. He'd made it so clear to Lois why it was dangerous when other people knew his secret. It could only put them in the line of fire. Lois was a good example of that. And Earl was facing problems even before he knew. No, best thing would be to get out with an excuse and spin into his suit in a nearby alley.
Think, Clark, think. What would Earl believe? Cheese of the Month Club? Used too often. Return a book or DVD? He didn't even had one with him. Go to the dry cleaner? Too minor for this problem. Meet source? New story broke, this was more important. Forgot something from the play field? He could pick it up later.
How did Lois do that? Her reasoning always seemed so good, and she came up with ideas quickly. There was no other way left now for Clark to wait till they left.
Wait? Why were they still waiting? Surely his musings hadn't taken only two seconds. Just as Clark looked up, Earl got in the cab. In the front seat!
"Hold on, Clark. I'm driving. I don't trust the cabby enough to get us there fast and safe," Earl told him before starting the engine.
"You talk way too much for your own good, Ms. Lane," Denzler said to Lois while he opened the door for her. "Step out of the car and walk to the trunk. Don't try anything foolish, I won't hesitate to shoot you."
Lois did what he said. It was really hard to walk while your feet were duct taped. Her hands were taped as well, so she couldn't use them for support. Unfortunately that also meant she couldn't use her Tae Kwan Do moves. Calling for Superman was also out of the question, breathing took enough trouble with the duct tape covering her mouth. So she hopped to the trunk with the gun in her back.
"Open it." Denzler shouted at her. "And then get in."
Cautiously, she opened the trunk. So she had to go into a trunk *again*, no big deal. After about the umpteenth time she was used to it by now. This one looked big enough, she would fit in there and still have some moving space left.
Slowly, she climbed in. It caused her several bruises and a headache. Why did that always happen to her? Clark never had that trouble. It just wasn't fair. Like she was the one to deal with the nasty situation too. It even was really his story! She finally managed to be completely inside the trunk and the lid closed again.
She could hear more movement outside. What was Denzler doing? Shouting at Juliana it appeared. Lois couldn't hear what it was about, but it could never be any good.
Suddenly the lid opened again and Juliana climbed into the trunk as well. So much for the freedom to move around a bit. The trunk was barely big enough to hold the two of them. Soon they would run out of air if the lid closed again. If only she could call for Superman, then all would be fine in a minute.
"We're gonna take a ride and then I'll see what I'm gonna do with you. Just prepare for your deaths, I'll see to that," Denzler explained the two ladies before he closed the lid. Now was a good time to start panicking, Lois thought. Maybe if she could get Juliana to work with her and they could talk. She'd seen the traces of fresh tears on the other woman's cheeks.
Lois turned her face to where she supposed Juliana should be. There was no way of telling for sure, it was too dark in the trunk. And more movement only hurt more.
Suddenly the car started to move and Lois fell into Juliana, before rolling back to the other side. She hit her head pretty hard, but the only sound she made was a muffled "mwwwww."
Just as soon as the car had started moving, it stopped too. Were they in front of a traffic light? No, then the engine wouldn't stop too. What was going on?
"What do you mean, Earl? Faster? Cabbies are pretty fast. The only person I know that's faster in this city is Superman," Clark explained his doubts to Earl.
"Yeah, whatever. Look, we're on our way, can we worry about Juliana and Lois now? I'd hate to see anything happen to them."
"Alright," Clark reluctantly agreed. "So tell me what you know."
Earl quickly told Clark everything he knew. From the wish of Gendell to come back into the world, the interview of Lois that should help with that, to the meetings and Eric's strange behavior.
"So I think that what's happening is that Eric wants Gendell's power and money. He's murdering everyone who met Gendell so far. That's why he wants to kill Juliana now. And Lois is in danger because she is with Juliana and also because of the interview. And I don't know what Eric will do, he's capable of everything. He seems like a complete lunatic to me, I don't know what Gendell ever saw in him."
Clark had listened to the story. They had crossed half the city now and were almost at the mall. But there was one thing that had him worried. "If he's killing everyone who met Gendell, then you are in danger too, Earl."
"You could think that, but I don't have to anything to worry about."
Clark couldn't believe what he heard. Was Earl really that stupid? He glanced to the man sitting next to him and was surprised to see the expression on the man's face. It almost looked like… no, it couldn't be. Earl couldn't really be 'evil' and have something to do with this? Then why would he have such a huge grin and a twinkle of delight in his eyes? "Earl, what's going on?" Clark asked his supposed friend. "There's something you're not telling me."
"Gee, I wonder what that could be, Superman!" The sarcasm dripped from his voice.
The words hit Clark like thunder; surely Earl didn't know his secret. He stared at the man, not knowing what to say.
"Oh come on, it's so obvious. And I can't believe you haven't figured out what's going on yet." And with that said, he opened a box next to him.
Suddenly Clark felt a terrible pain washing through his entire body. Kryptonite. So Earl was in on the plan and he and Lois were obviously in danger. He had to get out of the car, but the green rock had already drowned out most of his powers. Jumping out of the driving car suddenly didn't seem like a good option anymore. In the back of his mind he could hear Earl talking, so he forced himself to listen to the creep. He might hear something useful.
"… Eric and I have big plans for this world. We'll use the network of Gendell and get all the power in the world we want. There was just one problem and that's you. But I found out things about you, so the problem is taken care of. We'll need to dispose of your wife as well, but Eric will see to that. Look, he's waiting for us in that car already."
Clark followed Earl's finger and saw a large parked car. He couldn't just let them win. A thought suddenly popped into his head and he took a good look at the car. No, the women were nowhere in sight, his plan might just work. Fighting off the headache, he closed his eyes for a moment and sat up straight. With one movement, he reached for the wheel and gave it a huge swing.
The sudden movement surprised Earl and the cab headed straight for the Lincoln. Earl tried to regain control over the car while hitting the brakes hard. But it was no use; the cab hit the other car with a great deal of speed and they slammed right into the trunk.
Eric had seen the car swaying and had run away from the scene, unsure of what was going on but still looking for a cover. When he saw where the Lincoln was hit, he could only cheer. That should have killed both women! There just was no way they could have survived the impact of the cab.
The situation seemed safe enough again, and Eric walked back to see who had survived and what had happened. Just as he came close again, Earl got out of the cab.
"Big entrance, huh?" Eric greeted Earl.
"Unfortunately, yes. I've got Superman in the cab, nearly unconscious. The impact hurt him tremendously in his vulnerable state. But he was strong enough to surprise me before that by pulling on the wheel and making the car uncontrollable. One shot should be enough to finish him off."
"No big deal, I'll see to that in a minute. There's something else I need to find out first."
"And what is that?" Earl wondered.
"I'm just curious about the conditions of Lois and Juliana," Eric explained.
"Ah, right. Where are they?"
"They were in the trunk of the car. I don't think they survived your newest way of parking a car."
The men walked to the back of the car and looked at the mess. The steel was completely wrangled, and it looked like they wouldn't be able to open the lid. Eric tried first, but with all his strength and will power he couldn't get the lid to move, not even the slightest bit. The result was the same for Eric. Even together the situation seemed hopeless.
"Let's try the back seats. If we can get them out we can see what's inside the trunk." Eric just had one of his good ideas. He glanced quickly in the cab. Superman still lay there, unconscious.
The seats were easily removed and both men stared into the trunk. In the dark they spotted two bodies and a lot of blood, but it was hard to tell if they were still alive. Eric started pulling on the first body, and suddenly, Lois rolled into sight.
She looked horrible. The top of the lid had really made the trunk a lot smaller and crushed the woman to death. Some of her skin was completely removed, lots of bruises were visible and it looked like many bones were broken. And Lois was definitely not breathing anymore.
The same was to be said of Juliana. Eric looked at Earl and was surprised to see how cool he looked.
"Okay, they're both dead, let's get out of here," Eric said.
"The car can't be traced back to us, can it?" Eric asked while he got out of the car.
"No, I took care of that."
"Good. And don't forget to shoot Superman."
Eric walked back to the cab, grabbed his Magnum and aimed for Superman's chest. The bullet penetrated the skin, and blood became visible. He waited for a few seconds and then checked the pulse. No more pulse, and no more breathing. They had succeeded.
A look of joy crossed his face. "Taken care of. Let's go now," he shouted at Earl.
The two men turned their backs to the scene and walked away. They remained silent for quite some time.
Earl was the first to break the silence. "Good thing no one saw us."
"Yeah," Eric replied, "I used a quiet street. No shopping people in their right minds come in that street."
The silence continued again. Eric opened his mouth again. There was just something he needed to know.
"Are you okay? I mean, you just saw your wife dead. Surely you must be emotional now."
"I'm okay. There was no connection between us, we didn't love each other. The marriage was just a convenience to show an image to the world. No one suspected what I was doing now." Earl tried to explain how his life used to be. "Besides, this is for the better. Now I can commit to the person I do love."
"Anyone I know?" Eric asked.
"Yeah, I think you know that human being."
"And who might that be?"
Earl hesitated for a moment before replying. "It's you," he whispered. He firmly kept his eyes on the ground.
Those weren't the words Eric had expected. He never saw Earl as a gay type. Not that he complained, he had been in love with him for a very long time now. This suited him very well. He put a hand on Earl's arm and forced him to a halt.
"I don't know if you've ever noticed, but I love you too," Eric admitted.
All Earl could do was stare at the man standing in front of him. "You… what?"
Eric couldn't bring himself to repeat his words. Actions would show better how he really felt. So he brought his mouth close to Earl's. When their lips finally touched he felt a sparkle go through his body. Apparently, Earl felt it too, he was kissing him back. Earl even took the initiative to deepen the kiss.
After a few moments the men parted, breathing heavily.
"Wow!" was all Earl managed to say.
"That was incredible," Eric said with a dreamy look in his eyes.
They stood there for a while, simply staring at each other, enjoying the moment. Both hoped they hadn't dreamt what had just happened.
Eric was the first to regain control again. "We're really unstoppable now. After we get rid of Gendell, we're gonna take over the world. I feel fantastic!"
"Let's go make my day better than. I've got the hang of killing now."
Without Lois, Juliana and Clark to stop them, the world soon was in the hands of Eric and Earl. They were far worse than Lex Luthor had ever been, and every single living creature on earth feared them.
By :evil: Saskia