By Tank Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2003
Summary: In this elseworlds story, Clark Kent, minus his superpowers, MPD Det. Lois Lane, and student reporter, Lucy Lane, unravel the mystery behind a bogus archeological dig at an abandoned mine site.
Author's notes: Once again I've let a story get away from me. The original idea was one that I knew would require a longer story, but it seemed to catch Wendy's disease and went on and on. This is the longest single fic I've done to date. As with all my stories, this one started its life posted in installments on Zoom's message boards. I've numbered the individual installments, or chapters, as they were presented on the boards. This not only gives the gentle reader a handy place to stop and start in their reading, but also gives an indication of any dramatic breaks I tried to utilize in posting episodically.
All characters are trademarked and copyrighted to their rightful owners. Any resemblance to any real characters whether living or dead would be a miracle and totally unintended.
All feedback or comments are welcome at TankW1@aol.com
Lois Lane pushed herself closer to the dirty brick wall of some nameless alley as she crouched behind the rusty dumpster in a less than delightful part of Hobbs Bay. She winced in pain as she jostled her left shoulder against the cold steel of the trash bin. She glanced down at her offending appendage. Even in the dark, murky shadow cast by her hiding place she could see the dark wetness leaking from her shoulder. She could tell from the pain every time she moved, even a little, that the bullet was still in there. Damn, she hated getting shot!
She tried to crush herself into the small dark corner formed by the building's brick wall and the ancient dumpster. She strained her ears as she held tightly to her useless, empty revolver. She couldn't hear anything, but that didn't mean that they weren't still out there.
It was too bad that Superman wasn't around anymore. Now would have been a good time to call on the big blue boy scout for help. Not that she'd ever needed to call on him in the past, but she wasn't too proud to say that he had definitely had his uses.
No one had seen the Man of Steel in over three months. It was generally thought that one of his more formidable foes had finally found a way to kill the unkillable man. Lois had only met the superhero a few times but she had to admit that what she'd seen, she'd liked, and, let's face it, they could always use the extra help. But he was gone, and if her partner didn't show up before the bad guys found her, she'd probably be gone too.
Lois' ruminations were interrupted by a sound coming from the street end of the alley. Had they found her? She gripped the revolver more tightly, even though she knew it wouldn't offer any protection against her former quarry.
She'd trailed a member of a car jacking ring to a warehouse a couple of blocks from her present spot. She'd been lucky. He'd led her right to the heart of their operation. She'd just been about to use her cell phone to call in the location to Henderson when her luck had taken a nasty turn. One of the punks had decided to slip out back to relieve himself and had noticed Lois peering through the grimy window.
Knowing that she would be outnumbered, she'd immediately run, but within moments a pack of the young hoodlums had been hot on her tail. Gunfire had been exchanged and one of the punks got off a lucky shot and caught Lois in the shoulder. She had stumbled, but managed to keep going.
After dodging in and out of a few darkened streets and alleys she'd finally found herself in this lonely place, hiding behind a dumpster, counting the minutes she had left to live on one hand.
There it was again. She was sure there was somebody out there. They had found her. It wouldn't be long now.
"Lane… you in here?"
Lois sucked in her breath. "Henderson?" she said in relief as she recognized the Inspector's voice.
"And just who were you expecting?" came the laconic reply.
Lois struggled a bit, but after a couple of attempts she managed to get to her feet. "Well, there was this small horde of street punks who were trying to use me for target practice."
Henderson came over and, shaking his head, quickly examined her wound. "I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?" Henderson turned and addressed one of the other officers who were milling around. "Richardson, take Lane to Met General. She's going to need a little attention." Henderson turned back to her with a smirk on his face. "It's going to hurt, you know."
Lois rolled her eyes, then looked Henderson in the face. "I know."
"Lane!" Perry White's bellow resonated throughout the newsroom.
A pretty young brunette quickly dropped a load of folders she'd been carrying onto a nearby desk and ran up the ramp to her boss' office. The door had been left open so she poked her head inside the jam.
"You barked, Chief?"
Perry cocked an eyebrow at the young woman's amused tone. "Yes I did, young lady." He gave a sheet of paper on his desk a once over, then handed it to her. "I need you to run this down to Marvin, in paste-up. It contains some changes he'll need to make before the evening edition."
The petite brunette hurried out of the office and ran smack into a reporter who had the misfortune of crossing her path. The two of them got to their feet, laughing.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kent. I didn't see you."
Clark chuckled. "I guess not. You were in an awful hurry there, Lucy," he said as he steadied her with a hand on her arm. "And I've asked you before, please call me Clark. Calling me Mr. Kent makes me feel old."
She grinned at him. "Okay… Clark. Thanks, and yeah I am in a hurry. I've got to get this delivered or the Chief will have my hide." She frowned. I don't think he likes me. He's always yelling at me."
Clark began to walk along with the young woman. "No, that's where you're wrong. He only yells at those he does like."
"Kent! In my office!"
Clark grinned as he jerked his head in the direction of Perry's office. "See?"
She laughed. "I guess." Lucy Lane bid Clark a quick goodbye and hustled over to the back bank of elevators which would take her down to the composing room in the basement. Clark smiled as he watched her disappear into the elevator, then turned and headed for his editor's office.
Clark entered Perry's office and dropped into the chair in front of his boss' desk. "What's up, Chief?"
Perry leaned back in his chair and eyed his prize-winning reporter. He didn't like what he saw. "How are you doing, son?"
Clark frowned, a bit perplexed by Perry's question. "Fine," he answered warily.
"Really?" Perry's voice held more than a hint of disbelief. "You look tired. If you were to ask me, I'd say you haven't been sleeping well." Perry cocked his brow at Clark.
Clark shrugged, then ran his hand through his hair. "I'll admit that I haven't been getting as much sleep as maybe I should, but I'll be all right." Clark leaned closer to his chief's desk. "Any particular reason why you're asking me this?"
Perry allowed himself a slight upturn of the corners of his mouth. "Can't a boss be concerned about his employees?"
"Perry?" Clark leveled a penetrating stare at his editor. "Is this about Superman?"
Perry cocked his head to the side and returned Clark's gaze with equal intensity. "You tell me… is it?" Perry allowed his chair to snap forward. "Look, son, I can only guess how hard it is for you now. Hell, man, you've been super most of your adult life, and now that's gone. I'm sure it's a tough adjustment to make." Perry reached out and slapped Clark on the shoulder. "But you've got what it takes on the inside, too. You'll get through this."
Clark slouched in his chair, and shook his head. "I don't know, Perry. It's been over three months and the powers haven't returned yet." Clark sighed. "What if they never do?"
Perry shrugged. "Then they don't. And you'll still get up every morning and do the best you can… just like the rest of us."
Clark continued to shake his head. "But it just tears me up to hear about some emergency, or crisis, that I could have averted, or minimized, if I'd been able to be there as Superman."
Perry gave Clark's hand a fatherly pat. "I know, and I can see what it's doing to you. But, Clark, even when you were Superman you couldn't be everywhere, could you?"
Clark's reply was sullen. "No."
"No, you couldn't. You dealt with those situations you could deal with, as you were able to. Granted, as Superman you could do a lot more than the average man, but that doesn't mean that Clark Kent can't be just as positive a force for good. It will just have to be in a different way." Perry paused to measure the effect his words were having on the depressed young man in front of him. "Don't you get satisfaction out of uncovering the dirt on some corrupt politician, or foiling the plot of some criminal by exposing them in print?"
Clark shrugged again. "Sure… but…"
It was Perry's turn to nod sadly. "I know, Lex Luthor." Perry's frown turned hard. "I promise you, Clark, someday you and I will expose that amoral slimeball for the fraud he really is. Not only for what he did to you, but for all the good people his evil machinations have hurt over the years."
"I don't know, Chief; he's very, very good at covering his tracks. Metropolis thinks he's one of the most charming and benevolent philanthropists in the country. How do you fight that image?"
"With facts, son: cold, hard, indisputable facts." Perry winked at Clark. "And we'll get him. Now that we know what we're up against, it's only a matter of time."
Clark's mouth was drawn into a tight line. "I know I'll be watching his every move."
Perry stood up. "Good, but now I need you to get down to City Hall and cover the Mayor's press conference." Perry was about to dismiss Clark when he held up his hand and stopped his departure. "Oh, and take Lucy with you. It will be good for her to see that the newspaper business is not all glamour and glory."
Clark peeked out the office window to see Lucy Lane hustling around the bullpen, her arms loaded down with files and research, delivering asked for information to respective reporters.
Clark laughed. "I'm sure that will do it for her all right."
Lois walked into the Metropolis Police Department and zeroed in on the detectives' area. Her left arm was still in a sling to keep her shoulder as immobile as possible. It had been a few days since the shooting, and it still hurt like hell most of the time, but she'd been going nuts sitting at home in her apartment.
She came upon a plain, wooden desk with a large number of files in the in basket and very few in the out basket. In the center of the desk was a large vase containing a huge bouquet of red roses. She leaned over and smelled them before she sat down behind the desk in her well worn leather chair. She pulled the card from the bunch as Henderson came up behind her.
"So nice of Luthor to send you flowers at work when you're still supposed to be on medical leave."
Lois craned her head so she could see her partner over her shoulder. "I told him I was coming back in this morning." Her eyes narrowed. "How did you know they were from Lex? You reading my mail again?"
Henderson sat on the corner of her desk and plucked the card out of her hand. "Oh, yeah, it takes a real sleuth to figure out where these came from. Let's see: enough flowers to drape over the Kentucky Derby winner, you've been seen about town with the ubiquitous Mr. Luthor, they were hand delivered by that English guy that works for him …"
Henderson waved his hand. "Yeah, him, whoever. And, finally, who else would send you flowers?"
"Apparently not you."
Henderson snorted. "On my salary, fat chance."
Lois stared at her wry partner for several moments. "You don't like Lex, do you?"
Henderson shrugged. "What's not to like? He's wealthy, handsome, cultured, charming, and he dresses better than I do."
Lois shook her head in amusement. "So, why don't you like him?"
"Because he's wealthy, handsome, cultured, charming, and he dresses better than I do."
Lois grinned at Henderson. "All good reasons, I guess." She dropped her smile. "Really, Bill, what's the deal? I can tell you don't approve of him."
Henderson locked eyes with Lois. "Bottom line, partner? I don't think he's good enough for you."
Lois had to swallow a gasp of surprise. "Good enough for me? Bill, the man's practically perfect."
Henderson's look turned dour. "Nobody's perfect Lois, least of all Lex Luthor." His look softened. "I just hope you don't find that out the hard way."
Lois was conflicted by her partner's attitude. She knew Bill wasn't jealous. They'd gone out a couple of times shortly after she'd joined the force and found out that they just didn't mesh that way — oil and water. Actually they made much better friends, and he was the only partner on the force that she could stand. He'd never shown any tendency toward protectiveness of her. He was well aware of her capabilities as a police officer and treated her as an equal in that respect. Maybe it was just a big brother like thing coming out in him. Didn't like the little sister's dating habits, or the men she chose to date.
Before Lois could ponder any more about her partner's remarks he dropped the thick file he'd been carrying onto her desk. "Well, if you're back, you might as well do some work. Have a look at this one. It's going to be *real* fun."
Lucy Lane opened the door to her apartment, her feet were barely touching the floor. She couldn't believe her luck! She had gotten to go out on a 'real' assignment. Not only that, but she'd gotten to go on it with probably the cutest guy she'd ever met, Clark Kent. She couldn't keep the smile off her face.
"Lois, are you home?" Lucy called out to the silent apartment.
She knew that Lois had planned to go back to work that day even though she wasn't completely healed. But that was her big sister. Stubborn was a word that seemed to have been coined with Lois in mind. It wasn't that her sister was contrary… well not all the time, but she did tend to trust her own opinion over those of others. After all, what did a doctor know about bullet wounds?
Lucy had just dumped her bag on a nearby chair and was heading for the kitchen when the door opened. It was Lois.
"Hey, Luce, what's for dinner?"
Lucy turned and eyed her sister. She looked tired, and her face betrayed the discomfort she must still be feeling. "I just got home. I haven't even had a chance to see what we have." Lucy opened a cupboard, then turned back to her sister. "What do you feel like?"
"Crap… oh you mean for dinner… whatever." Lois grinned at her sister then changed the subject. "Why are you so late today? Is that boss of yours making you stay late again?"
Lucy shook her head, her smile returning. "No, and you're one to talk about late nights at work." Lucy's voice held a note of pride, like a school girl bragging about her excellent test scores. "I'll have you know that I got to go out on a real story today."
Lois tossed her bag to the floor and slumped into one of the kitchen chairs. "That's great. What kind of story?"
Lucy shrugged. "Well, really it was no big deal. I was down at city hall for the mayor's press conference."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Old Boredom Berkowitz? That must have been exciting." The sarcasm in Lois' voice was good natured. "So, what did the ol' snooze inducer have to say?"
Lucy blushed in embarrassment. "Well, I don't really remember. I wasn't paying that much attention to the mayor."
Lois' stare communicated her puzzlement. "Let me get this straight. You were sent out to cover the mayor's press conference but you don't remember what he said." Lois frowned. "Makes it kind of hard to write up the story, doesn't it?"
Lucy blushed again. "Well, it really wasn't my story. I just accompanied another reporter on the story. I guess Mr. White thought I could learn something by watching one of his top reporters in action."
"And just what did you learn?"
"That not only is he really cute, but he's a perfect gentleman, too." Lucy had a 'dreamy' look on her face.
Lois looked startled. "The mayor?"
Lucy snapped her attention back to her sister. "No, not the mayor… Clark."
Lucy sighed. "Yeah, Clark Kent. He's the reporter I went to the press conference with."
Lois grinned. "Clark Kent, huh. Maybe you should introduce me to this really cute, nice, guy."
Lucy shook her head wildly, her shoulder length hair swinging back and forth. "No way. Don't get greedy. You've already got Lex; Clark is mine."
Lois raised her brow. "Really."
Lucy blushed. "Well, no, not really. But a gal can dream can't she?"
Lucy pulled a box of Hamburger Helper out of the cupboard and showed it to Lois. At her nod, Lucy began to pull some pans out of a lower cupboard. She bit her lip, set the pan on the burner and turned back to Lois. "Lois, you've dated *older* guys, I never really have. Is it any… different?"
Lois stared at her baby sister. "Just how old is this guy anyway?"
Lucy shrugged. "Oh, I'd say he's about your age."
Lois chuckled. "Oh, then he's ancient."
"Lo-is, come on. The age difference between us is less than between you and Lex."
Lois sighed. "Yeah, but the older you get, not that I'm old mind you, those kind of differences aren't as important. You're still pretty young; are you sure this guy doesn't think of you as still a kid?"
"What are you saying? That just because I'm younger I shouldn't be interested in the nicest guy I've ever met?" Lucy's voice gained a bit of intensity.
Lois held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "No, I'm not saying anything of the kind. I just think you should be careful. If this guy is as hot as you say he is, he has probably dated quite a bit." Lois paused, then sighed. "Let's just say that his expectations in a date might be a bit more than what yours would be."
Lucy looked scandalized. "Lois, Clark is not that kind of guy."
Lois shook her head sadly at her naive sister. "Lucy, they're all that kind of guy."
Clark carefully made his way up the side of the hill. He had to be careful as he picked his way over the loose stone and rock rubble that covered the hillside. He grunted in pain as he barked his shin against a jagged-edged boulder. The sun had set a short while ago, and it was getting harder and harder to see where he was going as the night time shadows deepened along his path. A little super vision assist would've come in handy right about then… as would have some invulnerability.
Clark had gotten a call from his favorite source, Bobby Bass. He was called 'Largemouth', partially because of his name, partially because of his avocation as an information source, but mostly because he ate constantly. Payment for his unusual services were generally in the form of tasty treats of the edible variety. The juicier the 'tip', the better the expected meal. This last bit of info had cost Clark a whole roasted chicken and a dozen Krispy Kremes. Of course, Clark had thrown in a large bottle of spring water. Couldn't let his best source eat all that food dry.
It hadn't actually been much in the way of information but it had definitely piqued Clark's interest. It wasn't what Bobby had told him so much as the possibilities the disclosure had presented. Which was why Clark now found himself scrambling up the side of 'Camel's Back', a small range of hills with two predominant mounds about thirty miles north of Metropolis. It was the site of an old, thought to be abandoned, copper mine.
Bobby's tip had been in the form of a question. 'Why', he'd asked Clark, 'would a mine that has been shut down for nearly twenty years suddenly be the center of a lot of recent activity?' Clark didn't know, but he intended to find out.
The closest town to the old mine was a small burg called Boynton. At the height of the mine's operations the small community had thrived. It had served as residential, recreational, and commercial center for a large population of miners. The miners were long gone and the townspeople had been soon to follow. Barely a hundred people now called Boynton home. It owed what little livelihood it had left to the neighboring farmers and travelers along County Highway 86.
Stopping in at the only gas station in town, Clark had casually asked after the old mine. He got a brief history from the grizzled proprietor, then he received the information he wanted to hear.
It seems that a group of amateur archeologists had secured permission from the mine's owners to dig for fossil remains in the shafts of the old copper mine. When Clark asked who currently owned the mine, no one seemed to know. The original owner, Cupric Mines and Metals, had long since gone under, but no one ever heard who had purchased the worthless hole in the ground. They only knew that, a few years ago, someone had placed a large gate across the dirt road leading up to the mine and had hung a 'No Trespassing' sign on it. Somehow Clark had a hard time believing that the spent mine had suddenly become a desirable site for an archeological dig. He smelled a story.
Clark's hands were scraped bloody as he finally crested the last rise and was able to see the clearing in front of the mine's entrance. It was dark but there was a bit of light leaking from the boarded up front of the mine. It offered Clark just enough light to see the two bored-looking men standing lazily next to a jeep parked in the clearing. Clark was hardly an expert in archeology but he doubted that rifles were standard equipment used in the hunting of fossils.
"Okay, buddy, stand up nice and slow." The sound of the voice was low-pitched, and menacing.
Not for the first time, Clark cursed the loss of his powers which had allowed this other guard to sneak up behind him without his hearing the fellow. Clark stood, holding his hands high. Then he turned slowly to face the roving sentry.
The man had his rifle aimed at Clark, but the careless way he held it indicated to Clark that he didn't consider Clark much of a threat. The fellow just jerked his head toward the clearing and waved his gun in the direction of his companions on lookout duty.
Clark made a show of dejection and defeat, allowing his head to droop and his shoulders to slump. He started walking in the direction his captor indicated when suddenly he slipped and fell painfully hard to the rough rock strewn ground.
The guardsman chuckled, a coarse throaty sound, and poked Clark in the ribs with the barrel of his rifle. "Come on, clumsy, get up."
Clark began to rise quite slowly, then exploded into action. Grabbing a handful of small rocks and dirt, he flung the debris into the face of the guard with all his might. The fellow barely had time to curse in surprise and pain when Clark followed it up with a hard shove into the man's chest. With a yell, the watchman fell backwards and tumbled down the hill toward the clearing and his now alerted buddies.
Clark didn't waste any time trying to concoct an elaborate plan of escape, he merely turned and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He could hear the yells and curses coming from behind him and, soon after, the sound of rifle fire. A couple of bullets whizzed by, fairly close, to bury themselves into the trunks and branches of trees near him, but those shots seemed more random rather than carefully aimed. Clark may not have had his powers any longer but he was still in pretty good shape, and soon the sounds of his pursuers became fainter and fainter.
Lucy ran her comb through her dark hair one last time, then checked to make sure her makeup was just right. She had spent a lot of time this morning making sure she had that 'natural' no make-up look to her make-up. She smoothed the dress over her hips. It was one of Lois' dresses and was a tiny bit tight on her, but she was sure that her sister wouldn't mind… as long as she didn't tell her. With a nod of approval at her reflection in the washroom mirror, Lucy was ready to face Clark.
She strolled out onto the bullpen floor trying to be casual in her search for Clark. She found herself by the coffee machine pouring herself a cup of coffee she didn't want as she let her gaze sweep the newsroom floor. Her mouth involuntarily turned down into a small frown as she realized he wasn't in yet.
The bell on the elevator rang, drawing her expectant attention to it. Her nervous anticipation was rewarded when she saw Clark step off the elevator and briskly head down the ramp toward his desk. Lucy grabbed Clark's cup, quickly poured coffee in it, making sure to add the cream and three sugars he always used, and with a deep breath headed toward his desk.
"Here, you go Mr., er, Clark. I brought you a cup of coffee." She reached down to set the cup on the edge of his desk but misjudged the distance and only managed to get the cup half on and half off the edge of the desk. The results were predictable. The cup immediately tipped and fell off the desk with a loud crash.
Clark stared at the shattered cup, now conveniently in his waste basket, then grinned up at Lucy who was blushing a fierce shade of red. "Thanks," he said with a smile in his voice.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry." Lucy was obviously flustered.
Clark laughed. "Don't worry about it. I really wasn't in the mood for any coffee this morning anyway." Clark leaned back in his chair and gave Lucy an appreciative glance. "You look especially nice this morning, Lucy. Is there some special occasion?"
Lucy blushed again. "Thanks… ah, no, no special reason. I just decided I wanted to dress up a bit for a change." She lowered her head a little allowing her hair to fall in her face and cover the brightness of her blush. "Do you really think I look good?" She shook back her hair and smiled at him.
Suddenly her smile shifted to a look of alarm. "Omigod, Clark, what happened?" She had just noticed that his hands were wrapped in a few light layers of gauze.
Clark held his hands up for her to see. "Oh, it's really nothing. I just decided to do some rock climbing last night and fell a couple of times. It looks worse than it really is."
Lucy grabbed and carefully held one of his hands in hers. "Rock climbing? Where were you rock climbing around here… and why?"
Clark shrugged. "It's a long story. I'll tell you about it some other time." He gave her a quick smile then changed the subject. "I am glad you came by, though; I need you to do some checking for me."
Lucy lit up like a theater marquee. "Anything," she gushed. "That's what I'm here for."
Clark grabbed a note pad, scribbled a name one it, then tore the page off and gave it to her. "I need you to trace the current ownership of Cupric Mines and Metals. Particularly the mine site just outside of Boynton."
Lucy flashed Clark her brightest smile. "I'll get right on it." She lingered for another couple of heartbeats before she realized that he was waiting for her to 'get right on it'. She gave him another grin then turned and headed toward her own desk.
Clark chuckled silently as he shook his head. Turning back to his own work, he booted up his computer. He still had to do a follow up piece about the mayor's thrilling press conference yesterday. It was time to look behind the words and figure out what his honor was really trying to say. Or more accurately, what he was trying not to say.
He'd only been working on his story for a few minutes when he was interrupted by the ringing of the phone on his desk. He glanced at it once, tempted not to answer it so he could focus on finishing the dull story about city hall, but he knew that wasn't an option.
He picked up the phone. "Clark Kent… Oh hi, Mom. No, not really. I'm just trying to finish off this snoozer of a story on the mayor and city hall that I have to write." Clark listened for a few moments. "Of course I remember, and I definitely will be there next week. I've already bought my plane ticket." Clark couldn't help but frown when he said that. "I know how important this grand opening of the new store is going to be for you and Dad, and I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Clark listened to his mother's voice some more. "No, nothing more. I feel fine, really… just not… super." He shrugged, then realizing that his mother was not going to see that over the phone, replied to her, "I guess I'm just going to have to get used to being… normal. Perry's been great about it, and his support and encouragement have helped a lot too." Clark rolled his eyes at his mother's next question, then he found his gaze finding Lucy as she was earnestly working at her computer terminal. "No, Mom, I haven't met anyone special. I've been too busy to even consider that stuff right now… maybe later… what?" Clark was beginning to feel uncomfortable with his mother's latest line of questioning. "No, Mom, really… I… hey… It looks like I'm going to have to cut this short." He noticed Lucy coming toward him. "Time to get back to work, love you, and give my regards to Dad. I'll see you both next week." He hung up the phone.
Lucy came over and sat on the corner of Clark's desk. He raised his brow at her familiarity but didn't say anything. "I wasn't able to come up with a lot. The Boynton copper mine, shaft 322, of Cupric Mines and Metals played itself out about twenty years ago. Less than five years later the company itself went under and ceased operations." She shuffled the top sheet of paper she had to the back of her small stack and read from the next one. "Three years ago all the assets of Cupric Mines and Metals were purchased from the government for back taxes by some company called A.C.L. Holdings." She dropped the few sheets of paper on Clark's desk. "There's some basic background information that I was able to get on A.C.L. Holdings but it reads like your typical shell company. Do you want me to keep checking into it?"
Clark leaned back in his chair and glanced over the papers Lucy had brought him. "Yeah, do some more digging when you get the chance, but don't let it put you behind on your other work." Clark winked at her. "We wouldn't want Perry upset with us, would we?"
Lucy got up from Clark's desk, smiling. "If there's more to find out, I'll find it for you."
Clark watched in unconscious appreciation as the young woman determinedly walked back to her desk. He didn't realize that a smile had found its way onto his face as he did so.
Lois strolled contentedly along the hallway of her apartment building. She was dressed in an elegant, black strapless dress, with matching shoulder wrap, heels, and bag. A triple strand of pearls encircled her neck and simple, single pearl earrings graced her lobes. Her short, dark hair had been brushed to a bright shine which reflected in the hall's overhead lights.
She turned to the tuxedoed gentleman who walked at her side. "Lex, I had a wonderful time tonight. The food was exquisite and the play was one of my favorites." She stopped outside her apartment door. "I want to thank you; it really was a wonderful evening."
Lex Luthor flashed Lois one of his most charming smiles. "Well, you know, Lois, it doesn't have to end here."
Lois sighed, and gave Lex a sad smile. "Yes, I'm afraid it does. It's late, and I've got to get up early for work tomorrow."
Lex frowned; he obviously wasn't used to being refused. "Oh, just a short night cap, or a cup of coffee if you prefer. I promise I won't stay long. I too have had a wonderful evening, and I don't want it to end just yet."
Lois dropped her head and stared at her hands for a few moments. She hated it when Lex got like that. It was like he couldn't accept any conditions unless he'd been the one to set them.
"Please, Lex, I'm tired and I'm sure Lucy is home. I don't want to bother her." Lois hoped Lex would just graciously say goodnight.
"Well, she does have her own room, doesn't she?"
Lois didn't like Lex's tone. Her wonderful evening was quickly having the luster stripped away. "Lex, I have a lot of work to do tomorrow and my shoulder aches. I need to get some rest. Can't I just take a rain check on that nightcap?"
Lex gently pushed Lois' wrap from her injured shoulder to expose the bandage that still covered her healing wound. "I don't know why you insist on playing policewoman, Lois. You know how I feel about that. You could've been killed the other night. It's just too dangerous for…"
Lois' tone was icy. "I don't play at my job, Lex. It's not a game. And it's just too dangerous for what… a woman? Is that what you were going to say?"
Lex had the intelligence to look offended. "Not at all. It's too dangerous for anyone."
Lois gave Lex a careful gaze. "So, are you saying that we shouldn't have a police department because it's too dangerous an occupation?"
Lex's mouth drew itself into a tight line. "No, of course not. It's just too dangerous for someone I care so much about. Lois, you know you wouldn't have to work at all, let alone in such a dangerous job."
It was now Lois' mouth that drew itself into a tight line. "Lex, let's not have this fight again. There is no way that I would allow myself just to sit around and be a *kept* woman. I have to work. It gives me a sense of self worth and purpose." Lois took a breath in order to rein in her growing anger. "Besides, I like my job. I like putting the bad guys away. I'm sorry, but that's who I am, and if you can't accept that maybe it's time we stopped seeing each other." Lois saw a glint of anger flash in Lex's eyes, then it was gone.
Lex pasted on another charming smile. "Never let it be said that Lex Luthor doesn't know when a strategic retreat is the best course of action. I'm sorry if I've upset you, Lois. Perhaps this discussion is best tabled until another time. A time when you aren't so tired."
Lois sighed. The man could be so frustrating. "Thank you, Lex. Goodnight." She turned toward her door.
"What, not even a goodnight kiss?"
She turned back to him, and his look of anticipation bordered on a smirk. For some reason his assumption that she'd want to kiss him bothered her. Not that they hadn't kissed before, and under the circumstances it would be a logical conclusion to the evening, but the fact that he expected it rankled her a bit.
She smiled at him and tilted her head up toward his as he leaned in. At the last moment, for some reason, Lois turned her head so that his lips touched her cheek. With another quick smile she turned back to her door and opened it. Stepping quickly through, she half closed the door as she turned back to him.
"Good night, Lex."
He favored her with a tight smile and a slight nod of his head, but his eyes remained cold. "Until next time, Lois." He turned on his heel and moved purposely back down the hallway.
Lois pushed the apartment door closed and leaned against it, sighing. She was confused, but she also knew that she was too tired to try and reason anything out now. Maybe in the morning, after a good night's sleep, she could take stock of this 'thing' she and Lex had… or not. Shrugging her shoulders Lois headed toward her bedroom and a much needed night's sleep.
Lex Luthor sat behind his extravagantly expensive carved walnut desk. What he paid for it would feed a typical working family for months. His cigar perched, forgotten and unlit, between his fingers as he spun his equally ostentatious leather chair around so he could stare out the window wall of his penthouse office.
Lois' actions the night before had bothered him. She was a beautiful, vibrant woman and he wanted her. What bothered him was that she didn't seem to want him as badly as he wanted her. He reviewed his strategy concerning the willful Ms. Lane. He'd been charming and attentive during all their dates. He'd taken her to the finest restaurants, the theater, and several performances that were impossible for someone of her standing to ever hope to attend.
Lex held no false modesty about his physical appearance and knew he was considered the most eligible bachelor in Metropolis, if not the country, for more than just his wealth and position. Her skittishness regarding intimacy was irritating, and Lex was growing short of patience in that area. He knew that she'd had a couple of unfortunately bad relationships in the past, but nothing that most young women growing into their sexuality didn't go through. That was a part of their relationship that would have to change soon. Lex could be understanding, but it only went so far.
The only other major point of contention between the two of them was due mainly to her unnatural devotion to her job, a profession that Lex felt was unseemly for a woman of Lois' brains and beauty. She knew that as far as he was concerned she didn't need to work at all. It wasn't as if she'd need a regular pay check with him around, but even if she wanted to work for some reason, there were plenty of more suitable positions he could provide for her. She had a stubborn, willful, independent streak in her that could be very annoying. It was her only unattractive feature. It was something that Lex figured he could eventually 'fix' in her, but it was taking longer than he'd expected. Lex couldn't stop a slight smile from stretching his lips. At least, he thought, Lois Lane was worth the effort.
Just then the door to his office opened and a stately- looking gentleman entered. His bearing was aristocratic, yet deferential. He was tall with thinning hair gone white, as was his moustache and goatee. At first glance he reminded one of a proper English butler, but at second glance that notion quickly disappeared. There was a quiet menace about the man that he wore like a well tailored suit. It fit him perfectly.
"Ah, Nigel," Lex addressed the man who'd entered his study. "What news do you bring me this morning. I could use something to cheer my mood."
Nigel St. John inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement of his employer. "I'm afraid the news I have is not the best, Mr. Luthor." Lex frowned but didn't comment, so Nigel continued. "It seems our people caught someone snooping around the Boynton Mine site a couple of nights ago. Unfortunately, the gentleman got away before our people could question him."
Lex's frown deepened. "That's not good. Security for that site needs to be airtight considering what we've got going on there."
Nigel nodded. "But there is some good news, sir. Our people there don't think he saw anything. They caught him outside the mine entrance; there was no indication that he was ever inside."
Lex cocked his brow. "But we don't know that, do we?"
"No, sir," Nigel replied. "But we do know who it was. It took a couple of days to identify the person, but the guard did get a good look at the fellow."
"And…" Lex didn't like being kept in the dark.
"It was Clark Kent, sir. That reporter from the Daily Planet."
Lex cursed silently before he spoke in anger. "I know who Clark Kent is! We get rid of that infernal do-gooder in tights but we still have his friend the crusading reporter bothering us." Lex pointed the unlit cigar at Nigel. "You can bet that Superman shared some of his suspicions of us with that busybody. He's been a minor thorn in my side ever since he came to town, but I've always just considered him a mere annoyance. After all, I did have bigger fish to fry. Well, no more. I'm afraid Mr. Kent's free ride is over."
Lex stood and walked over to the glass door to his penthouse balcony. He stared out over the bustling city, his city, for several moments. He turned back to his aide, who'd stood patiently waiting for his employer to speak.
"Nigel, I need you to do two things for me." Lex didn't wait for Nigel to respond. "I need someone in the police department to keep an eye on Lois for me. I need to know what cases she's being assigned. I want to know where she goes and with whom."
"I know just the person to handle that, sir."
"Good." Lex paused for a second. "Oh, and see what you can dig up on Chief Andrews. I may need to *ask* him for a few favors some day soon."
Nigel made a slight motion with his head and shoulders that would be recognized as compliance. "Of course… and the other thing, sir?"
Lex stuck the cigar in his mouth and twirled it a couple of times, then took it out and smiled. "See that Mr. Clark Kent doesn't go poking his nose into our business anymore… ever."
Nigel lips twitched into the smallest parody of a smile as he gave Luthor a slight bow. "I'll see to it personally, sir."
Clark sat on the couch in his editor's office. He had his hands interlaced behind his head and a frown on his face. "…I just wish I'd been able to get a look inside that mine. I know something shady has to be going on there." Clark shook his head in frustration. "Archeologists don't need armed guards to protect their dig sites."
Perry leaned back in his own chair, nodding in agreement with his prize reporter. "No, I don't expect that they do. You say that your ownership search turned up nothing?"
Clark shrugged. "Not exactly nothing. Lucy managed to trace the current ownership to some shell company called A.C.L. Holdings, but hasn't been able to put a known face to it."
Perry grimaced in sympathy. "Well, keep her at it. She's good with those computers and that internet thing. If it's out there, she'll find it."
Clark nodded dejectedly. "Yeah, I guess so." He paused for several minutes, his eyes had a far away look to them. "If only…"
Perry frowned at Clark. "If only what? If only you still had your powers, you could take a quick peek and see what was going on inside that mine?"
Clark shrugged, embarrassed that Perry had picked up so easily on his discontent. "Well… yeah."
Perry leaned forward in his chair and fixed Clark with a compassionate yet stern gaze. "Look, son, you can't keep wishing for what was. It doesn't take any super powers to know that something is wrong up at that mine. Any reporter worth his or her salt would have seen that right away." Perry paused and pointed his finger at Clark. "And just like any 'normal' reporter, you are going to find out what it is and write another award winning story for this paper."
Clark let a smile steal onto his face. "Thanks, Chief. Sometimes I just need to hear that I still have some value even without the powers."
Perry snorted. "For all the… of course, you do. And you will get that story… right after you look into this one."
"What?" Clark said, surprised, as Perry handed him a single sheet of paper.
"I need you to check on this tip phoned into the Planet's tip line a couple of hours ago. Seems there might be a shipment of illegal drugs coming in on a freighter tonight. Freighter's name is the Selma Lou, Panamanian registry. Big surprise there. Find out where that ship is supposed to dock and stake it out."
Perry's eyebrow rose. "You have something better to do?"
Clark sighed. "I guess not." Clark folded the sheet of paper and put it into his pocket.
As he left Perry's office he spied Lucy handing out her latest research assignments to their various requesters. He noticed that she was again dressed quite nicely. The last couple of days she had taken to wearing 'dressier' outfits. Not overly formal, but definitely a step above the usual slacks and pullover tops she'd worn in the past. Her hair wasn't tied back like she often did either. Instead it was brushed smooth and shiny and framed her face well. While it wasn't real obvious, Clark was sure she was wearing more make-up also. He couldn't help a sly little grin as he surveyed the rest of the newsroom for the most likely candidate. It was apparent to Clark that Lucy had her eye on some new guy. The signs were unmistakable. As he approached her, he curiously wondered who it might be.
He tapped her on the shoulder causing her to be startled, and she dropped some of her files. "I'm sorry, " Clark apologized and helped her pick them up.
She blushed furiously. "No, that's all right. I don't know why I was so jumpy."
Clark smiled. "Well, I'm sorry anyway. But I did want to ask you if you'd had any more chances to check up on that Boynton mine site for me?"
Lucy frowned. "Yes, and no. I did do some more research but ran into the same brick walls. Whoever is behind A.C.L. Holdings is hiding himself very well." Lucy took a breath. "But I'll keep at it. Is it really important?"
"I don't know, it might be. Something is wrong out there, and I just have to find out what it is." Both of them stood up from where they had rescued Lucy's papers from the floor. Clark ran his hand through his hair. "Unfortunately it looks like it will just have to wait." He plucked the sheet of paper from his pocket and flashed Lucy a put upon smile. "Got a hot tip to check out."
Lucy could see the disappointment in Clark's face. "Well, I won't give up on this until I find whatever it is that we're looking for." She bit her lip as she hoped that Clark hadn't noticed her use of 'we'.
Clark just smiled at her. The kind of smile that gave her a warm and fuzzy feeling right down to her toes. "That's great. And if you do find something I can use, we'll do lunch to celebrate — my treat."
It took Lucy a second to remember to breathe. "That'd be great, Mr., er, Clark." She smiled back at him.
He gave her a wink, then turned and headed for the ramp to the upper level and the elevators. A slow sigh escaped from Lucy as she watched the 'god who walked like a man' enter the elevator. Unbeknownst to her, her dreamy smile turned to a frown once the elevator doors closed, cutting off her view of Clark.
She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow as she contemplated Clark's disappointment in the paucity of information regarding that mine. A look of determination reshaped her features as she hurried back to her desk. She rummaged through several drawers until she found what she was looking for. She spread the somewhat tattered road atlas onto her desk top.
"Boynton… Boynton… " she muttered as her fingers traced routes out of Metropolis. "Ah hah!" A smile of triumph spread over her face.
She snapped the frayed atlas closed and tucked it under arm as she made her way toward the elevator wondering if she would need to take a jacket along. Just how cold did it get out in the countryside at night?
Lois opened the door to her apartment and threw her coat and bag onto the chair near the front closet. "Lucy, are you home?"
There was no answer. Lois frowned. She didn't remember Lucy telling her she was planning to go out tonight. Lois glanced at her watch but she knew what she would see. It was late, later than usual for her to be coming home, and much later than it normally would be for Lucy. She wondered if Lucy had volunteered for an extra shift at the paper again. She often did that to gain points with her boss.
Lois sighed over the thought of having to figure out something on her own for dinner. Upon entering the kitchen, she found the note.
*'Lois, had to go out of town on a story. Don't wait up, not sure when I'll be back. Sorry, I didn't have time to fix anything for supper, you'll just have to fix something for yourself (LOL). Good Luck, your darling sister, Lucy.'*
"Great." Lois wasn't thrilled with the prospect of fixing her own dinner. She and the kitchen weren't exactly on the friendliest of terms.
After opening and closing several cupboards, Lois fell back into a tried and true solution. She went to the phone and dialed the number of Ralph's Pagoda. They were close, they were cheap, and they delivered.
Lois had just sat down on the couch and had tuned into to the LNN late news while waiting for her dinner to arrive when the phone rang. Sighing, she forced herself back up and answered it.
"Lois Lane — Oh, hello, Lex. What? Tonight?" Lois rolled her eyes at Lex's suggestion that they go out for a quiet dinner and drink. "I don't think so, Lex. I really appreciate the offer, but it's late and I've already ordered in. I plan to turn in early." Lois bit at her lip as she listened to Lex's smooth proposition. "Well, I guess if you want to, but like I said, I'm pretty tired and I don't want to be up all night." Lois was shaking her head in resignation as she listened to Lex's plan. "Okay, then, I'll expect you in about a half an hour. I'll give the restaurant a call and have them just double my order. It's no problem. I'll see you soon."
Lois frowned at the phone as she replaced the receiver onto its cradle. She really didn't want to see Lex tonight, but after the other night she felt she 'owed' him. Though a part of her rebelled over the idea that she owed Lex Luthor anything.
She flopped back down on the couch and examined her relationship with Metropolis' most eligible. They had been going out casually for a few months now. Several dates, but it seemed to Lois that many of them were convenience dates for Lex. He needed an escort for certain functions and she apparently looked good enough on his arm and had something that most of his previous 'dates' had been lacking — brains. She could at least carry on a conversation that didn't embarrass her or Lex while at these stuffy, white tie events.
To be fair, Lex had treated her to many really wonderful dates also. He'd taken her to ballets, theater, and concerts that she'd have never had any chance to see if not for his wealth and/or connections. He was easy on the eyes, and he was always courteous and charming, if somewhat expectant of things going as he wanted. Still, she never felt that there was any real heat in their relationship.
She was fond of Lex, and had some affection for him, but she would never say that she loved him. Love was not an emotion that Lois was anxious to embrace. She had learned her lesson the hard way. She no longer led with her heart. Now, her heart was well protected by high walls that no one had come close to breaching in a long time. She had never considered being intimate with Lex. She just didn't see him as a lover. They were just two people who enjoyed each other's company. They were… friends.
With another sigh, she remembered she had to order more take out, so she dragged herself off her couch again and moved to the phone. As she re-dialed the number of Ralph's she thought about getting a phone closer to the living room.
It was dark but Lucy had the foresight to have brought a small flashlight with her. After talking with the locals in Boynton, Lucy had decided that she needed to visit the so-called archeological dig site for herself.
Her conversations had revealed that Clark had been there a few nights ago. After looking at the rugged terrain that lead up to the mine, Lucy could guess where Clark had gone 'rock climbing'. Obviously Clark had tried to climb up the side of the small mountain to the entrance of the mine. Probably tried to spy on the place from some higher vantage point. From his frustration back at the Planet, he must not have found out much. Lucy figured she'd try a different approach.
She had gotten directions to the mine, and it wasn't long before she found herself in front of the gate across the old dirt road entrance to the mine. Leaving her Bronco parked outside the gate, Lucy started walking up the partially overgrown road toward the mine.
The sounds of the country at night spooked her a bit as she swung her light back and forth. She was on the dusty road for nearly an hour before she finally spied some light up ahead. As she got closer she could see a few men silhouetted against the light of an outdoor spot. Her brow rose as she was able to make out the fact that the men were carrying guns.
No sense in causing anyone to be surprised and maybe shoot before they talk. "Hey, hey up at the mine… hi!" Lucy yelled at the shadowy figures.
Almost immediately two armed men came down to greet her and bring her up toward the entrance. She noticed as she approached that the mine entrance had been boarded up and only a small corner was exposed. Only enough room for a single man to slip through.
The tallest of the three men whom she could see hanging around the clearing in front of the entrance came over to her. "Are you lost, girl? What are you doing out here?"
Lucy put her hands up. "Whoa, hey, what's with the guns, fellas? I'm a journalism major at Metro U and I heard that there was some sort of archeological dig going on here. I thought I could get an interview and maybe write up a story for my school paper."
The big guy just shook his head. "No story here, girlie. You'd best just turn around and head back the way you came."
Lucy affected a pout. "Come on, guys. I really need this story to get a passing grade in my class or I'll flunk out and my dad will kill me. It's a great story. Old abandoned mine suddenly becomes the site for prehistoric artifacts. It's positively unbelievable." She cocked her head coyly. "I won't be a bother. That's why I came at night. I figured most of the work for the day would be done and I could get my interview while the diggers were taking it easy for the night."
"Sorry, babe, this is a private party, and we don't want no publicity."
Lucy stamped her foot in a mock fit of pique. "Oh, lighten up. Could you at least ask the head of the dig if he'd consent to an interview? If he says no, then I'll go."
The big fellow grinned. "I'm the head of this dig, and I say no."
Now Lucy had heard it all. If that Neanderthal was the head of the dig she was Diane Sawyer, but she figured she couldn't push things any farther. One question had been answered for her. This obviously was not an archeological dig. What exactly was going on, she had no idea. To find that out, she would have to find a way to get inside.
Lucy waved her hands in defeat. "Okay, I'm going, but answer me one question, will you? Why the rifles?"
Another one of the goons smiled at her and answered. "Bears." He grinned at her look of confusion. "Protection against bears that occasionally wander near the campsite."
"Oh." Lucy thought it best not to question him even though it was not an area known for any wildlife larger than a deer.
The big guy gave a jerk of his head toward Mr. Bear. "Escort our little college co-ed back to her vehicle. We 'wouldn't' want anything to happen to her on the way." He grinned but there was no amusement in his smile.
It was a quiet, nerve-wracking, hour-long walk back to her car. The fellow leaned against the gate watching her until she had gotten into her car and driven off. It wasn't until she had gone several hundred yards that she could see in her rear view mirror that he'd left his perch and had started back up toward the mine. She felt she had done a good job of selling herself as a college student looking for an easy grade in her class. There were times when she thought her nerves might give her away, especially considering the rifles they so casually waved about, but she had held it together. Now the only things that were going through Lucy's mind were that the guys she met at the mine were jerks and that the site was no more an archeological dig than was her apartment, but then, considering what ancient 'treasures' might be hidden away in the back of her closets, her apartment might just be the better bet.
Lois had reluctantly changed into clothes more suitable for her upcoming dinner guest than the sweatsuit she had originally planned on. Lex's idea of casual attire and hers were quite different. She opted for a pair of cotton slacks and a nice bulky, fluffy sweater. She refused to put her bra back on.
Half an hour almost to the minute after he'd called, Lex was knocking at her door. She peered through the peephole to confirm it was him before she unlocked her door to let him in. She was momentarily shocked speechless when she got her first full glimpse of him as she stepped back to let him enter. He was wearing a simple dark blue pullover polo shirt and… Lois couldn't believe it, faded blue jeans!
He set several cardboard boxes on the kitchen table. "I ran into your delivery boy on my way up so I took care of securing our dinner." Lex peeked into one of the cartons. "What are we having?"
Lois closed her mouth with an audible snap. "You — you, didn't check it out first?"
Lex shrugged, then smiled at Lois. "Of course not. You told me that you had already ordered the meal. Far be it for me to question your choice." Lex gave her an apologetic grin. "Though I hope you don't mind that I paid the boy for it already."
Lois went to the cupboard to pull out some plates. "No… I… no, that's all right. Thank you."
Lex came up behind her and gently stroked her arms. "Is there anything else I can do?"
Lois craned her neck so she could look over her shoulder at this strange man who was impersonating Lex Luthor. "You could get some silverware out." She pointed toward the drawer in question.
Lex dutifully found the proper drawer and began to pull the needed utensils from their spots in the multi-sectioned tray. He looked up and glanced toward the bedrooms. "Will Lucy be joining us?"
It took Lois an extra beat to realize that he'd asked her a question. "What? Oh, no, she's out of town on some assignment for the Planet tonight. I don't know when she'll be home." Lois shrugged. "She told me not to wait up for her."
Lex frowned as he brought the silverware over to the table. "That's too bad. I've never really had a chance to meet your sister. I had been looking forward to a chance to get to know her." Lex turned his attention to Lois and gave her a sly smile. "Maybe she could have told me a few embarrassing stories about your youth?"
Lois swatted Lex on the arm. "Well, then I'm glad she isn't home." Lois sat down and stared at Lex as he took the chair opposite her. "Lex?"
He raised his brow at her. "Lois?"
Lois ran her hand through her short dark hair and then shook it loose again as she searched the face of her dinner companion. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but why are you acting like this?"
Lex leaned back in his chair and gave Lois a quizzical look. "I'm not sure I understand. Acting like… what?"
Lois waved her hand aimlessly in front of her. It was like she was trying to point at something but couldn't find it. "Like, like a… regular guy."
Lex laughed out loud. He reached out and took Lois by the hand. "So, you don't think of me as a *regular* guy?"
Lois snorted. "Hardly."
Lex nodded, taking Lois' comment as a compliment. "Well, Lois, you've been more than gracious over the past months to play in my world on our dates. We've gone where I wanted or needed to be. We've seen and done the kinds of things that I normally do for entertainment. You've even consented to accompany me to functions and events that could only be described as business, yet you never complained." Lex smiled a smile that seemed genuinely warm. "I know that they had to have bored you to tears."
Lois blushed and shrugged. "They weren't all that bad. The food was usually good."
Lex gave her hand a squeeze. "Still, I thought it was time for me to return the favor. It was time for me to join you in an evening of whatever it is that Lois Lane does to while away an evening."
"Well, this isn't exactly what I'd call my idea of an exciting evening," Lois said with a wry smile of her own. "My only plan was to eat something, veg out in front of the TV for a time and go to bed early."
Lex spread his hands in supplication. "Then we'll eat something, and veg out in front of the television together." Lex reached over and opened the largest of the cardboard cartons. "Let's find out what incredible delicacies are contained in these elegant containers, shall we?"
Lois just rolled her eyes and laughed as Lex scooped some of Ralph's moo shu pork onto his plate. Her grin became wider as she noticed the slight hesitation in Lex as he picked up his fork and speared a morsel of the barely appetizing take out fare and placed it into his mouth.
The rest of the meal passed in pleasant companionship. Lois was secretly amused as she watched Lex try to eat the take out she had ordered. He made a good show of it, but in reality he ate very little. Lois was impressed and touched that he was making the effort at all. She could tell that the food was not to his liking but he never complained. He was true to his word. He was going to experience an evening in her world. He was stepping away from his normal elegant, and comfortable routine for her. The conversation was even enjoyable. He asked her about her work and what cases she was currently working on, and seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say. They'd even engaged in some gently spirited debate over local politics.
Once they had disposed of the refuse from their meal and Lois had set the dishes in the sink to soak, they retired to the sofa and Lois' somewhat less than big screen TV.
"So what would you like to watch, Lex?" Lois asked, curious. "I haven't checked the TV schedule for the night yet to see what's on. I know I have it here somewhere." She rummaged through the debris on her side table. "We could always just watch the news."
Lex gave her an open-handed shrug. "Whatever you want, Lois. If I remember correctly, you've said that you often just kick back and watch a video of some old favorite movie. We could do that if you'd like."
Lois looked at him just a bit suspicious. "Really?" She walked quickly to the cabinet where she kept her videos. "I don't have a very large selection. Is there any particular picture or type of movie that you'd like to watch?" Lois was feeling just a bit apprehensive.
Lex made a show of appearing to think it over, then smiled at her. "What's your favorite movie, Lois?"
Lois answered before thinking about it. "Well, I've always liked the Lethal Weapon films."
Lex nodded. "Well, then, let's watch that one."
"Which one?" she asked.
Lex looked puzzled. "Which one? There's more than one?"
"Yeah, there were three…" Lois looked over at Lex as the realization hit her. "You've never seen Lethal Weapon? Any of them?" She stared in shock as he shook his head. "Well then, I guess we should start with number one."
She quickly slid the tape into the machine. The power came on automatically. She pressed play. Hurrying back to the couch she grabbed the remote to access the video channel on her TV. She settled back into the couch. She didn't mind as Lex put his arm around her shoulder. She was too excited as she began her non-stop explanation of the plot and description of who the characters were and their relationships to each other.
Before long Lois was leaning against Lex, her head on his shoulder. She was all talked out and was just enjoying the pleasant company as her eyelids fluttered and sleep fought to overtake her. Lex leaned over and placed a kiss in her hair and pulled her closer. Lois snuggled into the crook of Lex's arm, her head and one hand sliding onto his chest. Ten minutes later she was asleep.
Clark pulled his unassuming, seven year old station wagon into a dark street near Pier 23 at Hobb's Bay. Typically the street lights of this particular section of town were dark. The city, long ago, decided that it just didn't pay to keep replacing broken or burnt street lights in the harbor area. Not only did a working street lamp present just too tempting a target for the local vandals, but there were very few non-commercial residents in the area, so there wasn't any outcry from the locals for the security of a lit street.
The darkness was a perfect cover for Clark's stakeout, though. The shadows were deep, and someone would have to be right next to the car to know that someone was actually inside. The vantage point he'd chosen also afforded him a clear view of the Selma Lou, the freighter that Perry had mentioned to him earlier, some two hundred yards away from his spot. The tip line message hadn't been too specific, just that they thought that the freighter was smuggling in illegal drugs.
Clark didn't know what he was looking for, but he thought that if there was anything wrong that there would, at least, be some activity in and around the ship. There was none. There were no dock lights currently on, no crewmen scurrying about the ship, not even any suspicious persons hanging around the dock area, unless you counted Clark.
His frown grew deeper and more puzzled as the minutes turned into a half an hour, then into an hour, then into two. It looked like it had been a bum tip. That surprised Clark just a bit. Generally the Planet found that the tip line provided reliable information which often led to significant stories once the proper investigation was instigated. That's not to say that they didn't get their share of bogus tips, but those were usually easy to detect as false. The fact that Perry had been fooled by this one said a lot about the seeming veracity of the tip.
Of course, that assumed that it was a false tip. There could be any number of reasons why nothing seemed to be happening. It might still be too early for whatever was going to happen. They might have gotten the night confused. It was possible that tomorrow's scheduled departure was in error, allowing the ship another day or two to carry out their supposed clandestine activity.
Clark sat and watched the quiet scene that was Pier 23 for another half an hour before he decided to act. Not wanting to spend the entire night parked out on the pier, especially if it turned out that there was nothing actually going on, he decided that it was time to take a more 'active' look around.
Clark took one last careful look around, just to make sure that there was nobody in sight. He then silently let himself out of his car and moved quickly and quietly toward the imposing ship.
For all the care that Clark took in checking to see if anyone was about before he left his car, his lack of that handy enhanced visual capability he once possessed proved inconvenient. Unfortunately, normal human eyesight was not enough to spot the shadowy form standing unseen in the nearby alley. A slight movement indicated that the tall, darkness-cloaked silhouette had indeed been watching Clark the whole time.
If anyone had been able to discern the features of the alley shade they would have noticed the thin lips finally part into a cruel smile before it moved noiselessly toward Clark's abandoned automobile.
Lois was having a great dream. She was lying in her own bed but she wasn't alone like she usually was. Mel Gibson was holding her spooned against his body as his hands explored the tautness of her stomach and the soft curves of her breasts. She could feel his butterfly-light kisses on her shoulders and the back of her neck. She knew, even in her dream, that her lips were curved into a satisfied smile.
A soft purring rumbled in the back of her throat as she stretched, cat-like, and snuggled back into Mel's chest. The dream was so real that she didn't want to wake up, but she knew that she was slowly coming out of her slumber. Still the feel of Mel's hands, and his gentle kisses persisted. A part of her mind began to question the dream.
Suddenly her hand happened to brush against a hairy arm that was definitely not hers! She was instantly wide awake but dared not move. Her brain was still sleep fogged, and she needed time to figure out how her dream could have become real.
Her eyes, now open, could see that she was in her own bed. Scarcely daring to breath, she slowly turned in the arms that held her to face Mel.
A languid smile greeted her. "I was wondering when you were going to wake and join me. It's much more enjoyable when both parties are participating, don't you agree?"
Shocked, Lois pushed herself out of his arms and slid off the end of the bed. Upon noticing that she was naked, she grabbed her pillow and held it against her as she sat on the floor in the middle of her bedroom.
"Lex, what are you doing… here?"
The smile that earlier had looked charming and coy now just seemed predatory and possessive. "You fell asleep in my arms. I thought we'd be much more comfortable in your bed."
Lois sputtered as she tried to deal with her astonishment at the temerity of the man lying in her bed, eyeing her like a dessert plate. "You… you undressed me?"
Lex's laugh was soft but at the same time seemed to mock her, like someone who missed something obvious. "Well, I didn't think you'd want to go to bed in those slacks and that bulky sweater?"
Lois shook her head; her confusion and surprise managed to still hold back her outrage over his actions. "That's not the point. You undressed me, and took me to bed… without my permission."
Lex cocked a brow at her, which was barely visible in the light from the never sleeping city outside which filtered through and around the curtains on her window. "Permission? Do I need to ask permission to show the woman I love how I feel about her?"
Lois' righteous anger was now coming to the forefront, and so she completely missed Lex's use of the word 'love', or she just chose to ignore it. "Yes! You do!" Lois had to stop to take a deep breath before she hyperventilated. "Lex, I don't know what you thought this evening was supposed to be, or where you think our relationship stands, but if you had planned it as a seduction don't you think it would have been better if both parties had been conscious?"
"You're conscious now," he said with a hint of a smirk.
Lois' eyes went wide in disbelief. She couldn't believe the unmitigated arrogance of the man. She scrambled to her feet, grabbing one of the blankets from the bed, then wrapped it around herself and backed up against the bathroom door. With a Herculean effort, she took two more deep breaths before she allowed herself to answer him.
"Lex, I'm going into the bathroom. I will be in there approximately ten minutes. When I come back out I would very much like you to be gone." Without waiting for a reply, Lois turned and slipped into the relative safety of her bathroom and closed the door with a definitive slam.
Lex's eyes narrowed dangerously as he stared at the closed door for several moments. "Okay, Lois," he said in a low ominous whisper. "I'll leave, I'll play by your rules this time. But next time, we *play* by mine."
Clark had been sneaking about the big, rusty freighter for nearly a half an hour and hadn't seen anything yet. It had been relatively easy to slip on board the sparsely crewed ship. There were no deck lights and no evidence of any watch of any kind. The only light on the ship was that which escaped from the uncurtained portholes of the few areas which actually contained crewman.
It was easy for Clark to stay in the deep shadows as he made his way around the ship looking for something, anything which might seem the least bit suspicious. There had been nothing so far.
The main hold was filled nearly to the top with bales of raw wool. Apparently the unloading of her cargo wouldn't begin until tomorrow. Once again, wishing he had the means to do a more 'in depth' search, Clark still managed to check out the hold thoroughly enough to satisfy himself that there was nothing else there but the wool… and a few large rats.
Staying away from the obviously occupied areas of the ship, Clark had searched the ship as completely as possible. He knew that it was quite possible that he was just missing wherever the supposed illegal drugs were stashed, but he didn't think so. In order to make such an enterprise involving a freighter of this size logically profitable there had to be a sizable quantity of drugs. A quantity that couldn't be easily hidden in some back corner cubbyhole, or in the suitcases of some of the crew.
The longer he stayed on board and examined more of the ship, the more he was becoming convinced that there was nothing untoward going on. The Selma Lou was probably just what she seemed to be. An aging ocean-going freighter trying to scrape out a living for its owner and crew by transporting whatever they could contract.
That wasn't to say that this particular ship and it's crew were above bringing in an illegal cargo. Clark wouldn't have been at all surprised if told that this ship had carried contraband at sometime in its storied history and planned to again in the future. It was just that this time it appeared that it wasn't. The tip had been fraudulent. The question now became… why?
Figuring there was no more reason to continue his search, Clark quickly slipped off the ship the same way he got on… down the main gangplank. Within a couple more minutes he was back at his car.
He frowned as he slid behind the wheel of the vehicle he had been forced to purchase a couple of months ago. Since he no longer had the option of his clandestine flights, and he obviously couldn't afford to take cabs everywhere, he'd acceded to the need for more typical transportation. It bugged him that he had to do it, but all in all it wasn't too bad. He found that he often enjoyed driving. When he wasn't in a hurry he found it relaxing. Tonight he would not find it relaxing. He was too annoyed over the time he'd wasted out here. Time that could've been spent looking into that suspicious mine up in Boynton.
Before he even had the door closed he had the key in the ignition and turned it to start the engine. Too late he heard the telltale click that triggered the warnings in his head. He tried to throw himself out of the car at the same time the small package of C4 wired to the bottom of his car ignited.
The roar of the explosion ripped through the stillness of the quiescent harbor area. The flames flared thirty feet into the air before settling into a steady ten foot high burn. The concussive force of the blast hurled Clark through the air like a forgotten doll tossed aside by a bored child. He landed hard in the middle of the street some twenty feet away and didn't stir.
The shadow had watched the whole display from its previous hiding place in the alley across the way. Once again a smile snuck onto the face of the nearly formless shade as it turned and noiselessly faded deeper into the alley and soon vanished completely.
Lucy opened the apartment door with great care. She was doing her best to be quiet. She didn't want to wake Lois, so it was quite a surprise to find many of the lights on and Lois sitting up in her robe staring at a blank television screen with a cup of coffee in her hand. Lois hadn't heard her enter.
So she wouldn't startle her, Lucy made some noise as she closed the door. "Lois?" she said as Lois turned to see her sister coming in. "What are you doing still up?"
Lois cocked a brow at the young woman. "I couldn't sleep, but what, might I ask, are you doing sliding in at -" Lois checked the clock on the wall. "Three twenty three a.m.?"
"I told you I had to go out of town on a story." Lucy walked over to the couch where Lois was sitting. Noticing the redness around Lois' eyes, Lucy was instantly concerned. "Lois! You've been crying. What's wrong?" Lucy sat next to her melancholy sister. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Lois had to bite her lip and turn away from Lucy's gaze. "Yeah, a nightmare, that's what it was… a nightmare." Lois took a sip of her coffee and then grimaced at the taste of the dark liquid gone cold. "It's over now, I've woken up." Lois turned to her sister. "Now what is this hot story that took you out of town and has you sneaking back home in the wee hours of the morning?"
Lucy's face lit up with an obvious enthusiasm. "Well, it really was kind of exciting. You see, Clark is investigating this old copper mine outside of Boynton. He's been having me do some computer searches on the ownership and such. It's really weird. This old useless mine is owned by some sort of holding company, but I can't seem to trace it back any farther than that. And then there were Clark's hands, they were all bandaged up. He said he had hurt them rock climbing. Anyway, once I got there I could see how he'd probably done it, so I decided to try a different method. The direct approach, you know."
"Lucy!" Lois grabbed at her sister's flailing hands.
Lucy stopped and stared at her sister. "What?"
Lois chuckled. "Breathe." Shaking her head and smiling, Lois gave Lucy's hands a squeeze. "Now let's take it a bit more slowly. What does this mine of Clark's have to do with your out of town story?"
Lucy blushed. "Well, actually, it's Clark's story. He was following up some informant's tip about this old abandoned mine in Boynton. Only this mine is no longer abandoned. Supposedly there's a group of archeologists there exploring the mine."
Lois shrugged. "So?"
"Lois, even you would know that these guys are bogus. I don't know what's going on up there, but the fellows I talked to wouldn't know a fossil from their own footprint. Clark was definitely right. There is something going on up there, and we are going to find out what." Lucy was nearly breathless.
Lois' brow climbed up her forehead again. "We? So you and this Clark are partnered up on this story?"
Lucy dropped her head so her hair fell in front of her face to hide her fierce blush. It was several moments before she was able to look Lois in the eye again. "Not exactly. But I am helping him with the internet search for background information. I could tell that Clark was disappointed that he wasn't able to follow up on this tonight. I guess he had another assignment. So I figured, what the heck, I'd go take a look around. It's not like I had anything better to do."
Lois shook her head in amazement. "Let me get this straight. Because this other reporter had something else to do, you decided to go ahead and drive to god knows where…"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Boynton, and play Nancy Drew all on your own?"
Lucy shrugged. "I wrote *you* a note."
Lois pursed her lips. "In which you told me nothing except that you were going out of town on a story. Did anyone else know you were doing this?"
Lucy had the decency to look contrite. "Ahhh, nope."
Lois sighed, then pulled Lucy into a quick hug. "Do you know how stupid that was? If anything had happened to you up there, no one would have had any idea where you were or what you were doing."
Lucy bit her lip. "I guess I didn't think about that. I was just too keyed up to go out and do a little investigating for myself. I thought maybe I could find out something that Clark never got the opportunity to."
Lois sighed, then grinned. "I guess you really are my sister. So, tell my what happened on this little foray of yours."
Lucy's face brightened as she smiled and sat up straighter, and her voice took on a more animated tone. "It was really neat. First I drove into the local gas station to get directions…"
"Oh my gosh, look at the time. I'm going to have to get ready for work soon. We've talked the whole night away!" Lois was amazed.
The sisters had talked, laughed, and generally bonded like they hadn't done in ages. They had first started out talking about Lucy's adventure up at the old mine outside of Boynton, then it had progressed to her work at the Planet and her obvious crush on the 'dreamy' reporter Clark Kent. Lois worried that Lucy was going to get hurt and tried to caution Lucy into not expecting too much. There was no telling what this guy was really about. For all Lucy knew, Kent could be a secret axe murderer.
Whenever the topic of Lex and her had come up, Lois had deflected it by turning it back on Lucy and her schoolgirl- like crush on Kent. This of course infuriated Lucy and made her defend Clark that much more.
Lois yawned, then pushed herself off the couch. "I'm going to be practically worthless at work today." She glanced at Lucy, who had slumped down on the couch and was nearly asleep. "Are you expected at work today?"
Lucy stirred, sleepily. "What? Oh, crap, yeah, I've got to get ready too. Since no one knew that I took that little midnight excursion, I don't suppose they'd understand my not showing up." Lucy grinned. "But then again, I'm not sure how understanding Mr. White is going to be when I fall asleep at my desk."
Suddenly the phone's ringing intruded on their conversation. Lois glanced at the clock once again, frowning at the early hour as she went over to answer it. "Lois Lane."
Lois didn't speak, she just listened. She nodded, then her face blanched as her gaze flew uncontrollably to Lucy. She bit her lip as she took in what the caller was telling her. Her only response was to assure whoever was on the other end that she'd be there as soon as she could.
She placed the receiver carefully back on its cradle. Lois came over and sat down next to Lucy, reaching down and grabbing Lucy's hand in her own, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before capturing her sister's eyes again with her own.
Lois' actions made Lucy very anxious. "Lois, what is it? What's happened? What's wrong?"
Lois patted Lucy's hand. "That was Bill. It's our next case. I'm supposed to meet him at the hospital." Lois paused to take another breath. "Seems a Daily Planet reporter was hurt last night down in Hobbs Bay. He was the victim of a car bomb."
Lucy pulled her hands away from Lois' and put them to her mouth. "Oh no, that's awful."
Lois bit her lip. "Luce, it was Clark Kent."
Lucy's face went white as tears erupted from her eyes. "No." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "Not Clark."
Lois pulled Lucy into her arms trying to comfort her distraught sister. "I'm so sorry, sweetie." She held her for several moments more. "I'll call you as soon as I'm done at the hospital. I'll let you know how he's doing."
Lucy pushed herself out of Lois' embrace. "No way! I'm coming with you!" Lucy used the back of her hand to wipe at her tears. "I'll be ready to go before you get dressed."
Lois shook her head sadly. She had been afraid that Lucy would react like that, but there was no way she could keep it from her. She couldn't not tell her sister that the victim had been her friend, Kent. "Lucy, I really am sorry about this, but you know you can't…"
Lucy leapt off the couch and, teary eyes blazing, confronted her big sister. "Don't say it. Don't even think about keeping me away. He's my friend, and my colleague. It's my duty as a reporter… and a friend to go see him." Lucy clenched her hands at her side and softly pounded her thighs with her fists. "I need to call Mr. White." Leaving Lois to stare after her, Lucy strode purposely toward her bedroom.
Lex Luthor stared at the tall Englishman standing attentively in front of his desk. "He's still alive?" Most people would be intimidated by the tone of Luthor's voice, but Nigel St. John seemed unaffected.
"Unfortunately, yes." A slight nod of his head was all the emotion Luthor got from his aide-de-camp. "Seems the lucky fellow hadn't completely closed his car door before triggering the bomb. He was thrown clear of the worst of the explosion." Nigel gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. "He's tougher than he looks. He was injured, I'm not sure how badly, yet, but he is definitely alive."
"That's a condition that I expect you will rectify." Luthor's tone left no room for interpretation.
Nigel's nod was a bit more penitent. "I'll do my best, sir."
"I assume Kent's place has been thoroughly searched?"
Nigel nodded. "Yes, sir. There was nothing there to indicate that he found anything out at Boynton. I don't think he had a chance to see anything before the guards scared him off."
Lex nodded. "That's good, but I still want him dead. Kent is just too much of an irritating loose end to be left hanging. Be sure that you snip that thread."
"Of course, sir." Nigel turned to leave, then stopped and addressed his morose employer. "I don't mean to be forward, sir, but you seem to be a bit… down this morning. I trust that you still have confidence in my abilities to correct the lamentable failure of the previous evening."
Lex gave Nigel an absent wave of his hand. "Of course, Nigel. I have complete confidence in your special talents; that's why I hired you. These things happen. Just so long as they don't continue to happen." Lex picked up a cigar and twirled it between his fingers. "No, my problem lies with the enigmatic Ms. Lane. I seem to be making all the wrong moves with her. I can't seem to figure her out."
Lex leaned back in his chair and watched the barely noticeable emotions flit across St. John's face. "I know what you're thinking, Nigel. You wonder why do I even bother with the redoubtable Ms. Lois Lane. There are more beautiful, more malleable women out there who would do practically anything to have the chance to share an evening with me, let alone my bed."
Nigel nodded sagely. "Well, since you brought it up. Why?"
Lex allowed a feral smile to twist his lips. "Why? Why indeed? At first it was merely the pleasure of the company of an attractive woman with a brain. Then, once it became obvious that she wasn't like the others, it became a challenge. A woman to be wooed and charmed into my bedroom." Lex twirled the cigar a couple times more, then threw it savagely against the far wall. "But now it has become a personal affront. She has dared to defy me, and that is not something that I will allow."
Nigel tilted his head a fraction, signifying his surprise. "So, what will you do?"
Lex allowed his gaze to rest on Nigel for a moment before answering. "Ms. Lane will be allowed one more opportunity to come to me… willingly. If she refuses that chance, well, then her wishes will no longer be a concern." Lex leaned forward; his eyes shone with a steel-hard, cold light. "I will bend her to my will, or I will break her. Whatever it takes, Lois Lane will be mine until such time that I no longer desire her. After which she can be discarded, like the others, but that is my decision to make." Lex's voice took on a menacing timbre. "Not hers."
With Lucy trailing behind her, Lois briskly entered the Metro General Hospital and looked for her partner. She spied him almost immediately. She saw him cock his brow at Lucy's presence but he didn't say anything. The pair fell into a side by side stroll, with Lucy close behind.
"So, how is our victim, and what do we know?" Lois asked.
"Not much yet." Henderson pulled his notebook out of his pocket. "A sanitation worker came across Kent lying in the street. The burnt out wreckage of a vehicle was nearby. He radioed his dispatcher who sent word along to us and the EMP's. Early word from forensics is that a small amount of C4 was wired to the ignition coil. It was set to go boom once the key was turned."
Lois pursed her lips. "A reporter makes enemies. Was this a professional job?"
Henderson shrugged. "Could be. The bomb was a simple, yet effective one. It was neat and precise." Henderson glanced over his shoulder at Lucy and the clear worry on her tear smudged face.
Lois noticed Bill's look. "Lucy's here because she was working with Kent on a story and … they're friends."
Henderson just nodded. "Okay, maybe she'll be able to help."
Lois glanced at Lucy herself. "So, what do we know about Kent's condition?"
Henderson shook his head. "I don't know. They only brought him in a few hours ago. The doctors were still working on him when I last checked. I've been waiting for you before I asked again."
Henderson led Lois and Lucy down a couple hallways until they reached the emergency room. Lois was continually amazed that the hospital was able to operate with anything close to competency given the scene of chaos that always greeted her when she had the misfortune to visit. The main nurses' station was staffed by three obviously long time RN's who had an air about them that reminded one of a military drill sergeant. Off to one side was a tall young man in greens, the cliched stethoscope about his neck, holding a clipboard jotting down some notes.
The young doctor looked up when he became aware of them. A look of recognition came over his youthful features. "Ah, Inspector Henderson, I was just about to have you paged."
"Hello, Doctor. This is Detective Lane, my partner, and her sister Lucy, who is a colleague of Mr. Kent's at the Daily Planet." Henderson indicated Lois and Lucy in turn. "So how is Kent doing?"
The doctor shrugged. "Much better than I would have expected given the circumstances. He has several bad burns on his back and buttocks, and he has a couple of cracked ribs. He has a number of scrapes and bruises, no doubt from his being thrown clear of the car and landing hard on the asphalt of the road." The young doctor placed the clipboard down on the nearby counter where it was taken by an efficient nurse. "Mr. Kent is going to be uncomfortable for a while, but none of his injuries appear to be life- threatening or even terribly serious. If he takes it easy he should be fine in a few weeks."
Henderson nodded. "That's good to hear. From my few meetings with him, he seems like a straight guy. Only after the truth, not the scandal. Somewhat unusual for a reporter." Henderson didn't notice the glare Lucy gave him.
Lois had been listening as the doctor gave his diagnosis, but had been secretly watching Lucy. As the doctor's words had reassured everyone that Kent was going to be all right, Lois noticed the tension visibly ebb from her sister's body. Lucy had been very upset and Lois was glad that her 'friend' was not seriously hurt. Lois couldn't help but smile at Lucy's response to Bill's crack about reporters.
Lois figured that she and Henderson might as well get back to the station house since it would probably still be several hours before they'd be able to interview Kent. Another glance at Lucy caused Lois to amend that thought. Perhaps she stay with Lucy until her boss, Perry White, showed up. Lois knew that Lucy had called him before they left. She was a bit surprised he wasn't here already.
Just as the doctor and Bill were shaking hands, Lois was distracted by a motion she caught out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she spied someone quickly exiting the hospital through a service entrance at the end of the hallway to her right. She shook her head in confusion. Had she really seen whom she thought she'd seen? Of course, the person she noticed was wearing hospital scrubs, and not the usual elegant, tailored suit she was used to seeing him in, but Lois was stunned by the remarkable resemblance. It was silly to think that the man would be moonlighting as a hospital orderly, so she obviously was mistaken. But the fellow sure did look a lot like Lex's assistant, Nigel St. John.
Lois' bewildered musings were interrupted again, this time by a commotion coming from the other direction. A nurse, clearly in an agitated state, came running up. She was nearly out of breath.
"Doctor, come quick!" she gasped out. "Mr. Kent has gone into cardiac arrest!"
Lois glanced at Lucy as a strangled cry slipped from her lips. She was holding her hands over her mouth, fighting back fresh tears. Henderson looked surprised as the doctor ran down the hall, the nurse close on his heels. The two policemen stared at each other. The concern and shock each felt was mirrored in the face of the other.
Lois bit her lip. "Let's hope this investigation hasn't just been upgraded from merely attempted murder to the actual thing."
Henderson, Lois, and Lucy found themselves watching through a large window in the door to Kent's room as the doctor and nurses bent in urgent examination of Kent's condition. Lois flinched each time the paddles of the electric shock treatment were discharged. Lucy clung to Lois' arm. She could hear her soft sobs each time the paddles were used. Finally, they got a heartbeat but it was erratic. The doctor was definitely worried about his patient.
Seeing how focused the medical personnel were on their tasks, Lois eased her way through the only partially closed door and stood in the corner of the room, out of direct sight of the medical people. She heard Henderson's harsh whisper of disapproval, but ignored him.
There was just something that didn't seem right to her. Why would a strong, previously healthy young man, who had seemingly been on the road to recovery from injuries that weren't supposed to be life threatening, suddenly be struck down by heart failure? It didn't make sense. She had that itch in the back of her neck she got whenever she felt that there was something more than what was obvious to the eye.
Someone had wanted Kent dead: that was a given. His car had been booby trapped. It was just good fortune that had allowed him to survive that explosion. It stood to reason if that 'someone' knew Kent had survived the first attempt, they might try again. Was that what happened here? Had someone come in and done something to cause Kent's cardiac arrest. And what about that Nigel look alike she had seen leaving the hospital just minutes before?
Lois found her attention straying away from the action at Kent's bedside to the rest of the room. It was a typical hospital room, not overly large, with the bed against one wall, flanked by a closet bathroom combination on one side and an imposing looking set of cupboards and boards on the other. On either side of the bed were the stereotypical mobile stands which held all sorts of monitors and bags of multi-colored liquids. There was a television hanging on a wall shelf and a small window in the outer wall.
Lois allowed her gaze to follow the floor around the room. Back against the far wall, near the leg at the head of the bed, Lois thought she saw something. She could barely make it out between the shuffling feet of the medical personnel. She squinted her eyes as a guide to concentrate her focus. A nurse moved and gave her a good view. It looked like a hypodermic of some sort.
Was that supposed to be there? Lois guessed that the doctor or one of the nurses could have dropped it after using it, but she had just spent some time in a hospital and sloppiness wasn't generally part of the routine.
Lois hesitated for only a moment before speaking out. "Doctor, I hate to disturb you, but what is that on the floor near your left foot?"
The young doctor whirled around at the sound of her voice. "What are you doing in here? You shouldn't be in here!"
Lois just pointed to the floor. With a scowl the physician bent down and picked up the indicated item. His scowl quickly changed to a frown. "This is not one of ours." His tone was puzzled. It was definitely a spent hypodermic. The doctor handed it to a nurse. "Quick, have the lab analyze whatever was in that." The young clinician turned his attention back to Lois. "You think that someone might have tried to kill Mr. Kent with whatever was in that hypo?"
Lois shrugged. "Someone wants him dead. I assume there are substances that can be introduced into an IV line that could trigger a heart attack?"
The young man nodded. "Oh yes, several." He glanced at the monitors then back at his patient. "If we can identify it quickly, we can probably take steps to neutralize whatever it was."
"And?" Lois cocked her brow.
"And Mr. Kent should recover in due time." The doctor walked over and placed his hand on Lois' shoulder. "Now, I need for you to wait outside with your partner. We still need to keep this man alive until we find out if your theory is correct." He guided Lois out the door and into the hallway.
"You're welcome," Lois said under her breath as she stepped over to Henderson and her anxious sister. "Come on, let's get back to the waiting room and I'll fill you in."
The trio had just gotten back into the waiting room when they were assaulted by a near frantic Perry White. "There you are! What in the name of the King is going on? No one will tell me anything." Perry looked at each one in turn. "Henderson, can you tell me what the heck is going on and why my best reporter is in the hospital? Lucy called me with some wild story of a car bomb."
Henderson shook his head, a wry smile on his face. "Sit down, White. Lois was just about to fill us all in on the latest developments."
Perry turned to Lois. "You're Lucy's sister, aren't you?"
Lois nodded and offered her hand. "That's right, Mr. White. I'm glad to finally meet you. Lucy has mentioned you frequently."
Perry shot Lucy a considered look. Lucy blushed and looked away. "I'll bet she has. Now fill in an old editor. Just what the heck has been going on tonight?"
Lois waited till everyone was seated on the hard plastic chairs before she began. For Perry's sake, she retold all the information they had on the earlier car bombing and how Clark was found earlier by a sanitation worker. She then continued on, describing the feeling of unease that led her to notice the discarded hypodermic on the floor. She even mentioned seeing someone acting strangely leaving by the side door just minutes earlier, but she didn't mention his seeming likeness to Nigel St. John. She just hadn't been able to reconcile herself with that. The more she thought about it, the more she figured she'd been mistaken. There was just no way that Lex's major-domo would have been skulking around the hospital disguised as a common orderly. It just didn't make any sense.
Something smelled very bad about this whole scenario, but Lois was going to need some more hard facts to go on before she chased any of those geese.
Just as Lois was finishing up her recitation, the young doctor poked his head into the waiting room. "Well, Inspector Lane, you were right."
"It's Sergeant Lane, but, anyway, what were you saying?"
"Oh, well, you were right about that hypodermic. I could give you all the medical jargon but I doubt it would mean anything to you. The bottom line is that it contained a particularly nasty compound that did indeed induce Mr. Kent's cardiac arrest. If he'd been in any weaker condition when the drug hit his system it probably would have killed him. As it was, it was touch and go for a while there."
Lucy grabbed Lois' arm, her eyes watery bright. "And Clark? Is he… is he going to be all right?"
A small satisfied smile graced the doctor's face. "Yes, I believe he will be fine. We're going to keep him for another day for a few more tests and general observation, but I think he'll come through this okay. He just needs to rest and regain his strength."
Henderson nodded. "If you don't mind, doctor, I'm going to have a man assigned to Kent's room. Someone has tried to kill him twice in less than twelve hours. There's no reason to think that they'll stop now once they find out they missed again."
The young doctor returned Henderson's knowing nod. "It makes sense. I'll clear it with the hospital."
The doctor left, and Lois turned to Perry. "I'll head over to the Daily Planet and have a look around Kent's desk. Maybe I can get a line on whoever thinks the world would be a better place with one less investigative reporter in it. If that's all right with you, Mr. White? Perhaps you could fill me in on the latest stories Kent was working on."
"I'm coming, too. I can help," Lucy said, grabbing Lois' arm again.
"I'll say you're coming," Perry said, with a slight chuckle in his voice as he made a show of glancing at his watch. "You are already late for work. I don't want to have to dock your pay." He laughed at Lucy's shocked expression, then turned to Lois. "As for you, Sergeant Lane, I'll be happy to help out any way I can."
"So, that's really all there was to it. We got the anonymous call on our tip line and I sent Kent to check it out. Someone must have noticed his stakeout and tried to take him out." Perry shrugged as he completed his narration of the events leading to his assigning Clark to the late night stakeout.
Lois frowned as she squirmed in the hard leather chair in front of White's desk. Lucy was sitting on the couch near the door biting her lip. "It just doesn't add up," she said. "If Kent is discovered watching them by some sort of sentry, why the elaborate set up with the car bomb? Why not just kill him and throw him in the bay." Lois noticed Lucy flinch out of the corner of her eye. "This seems too 'artistic' for drug dealers. They tend to be more expedient. This almost seems like there was a message attached." Lois shook her head. "Besides, why risk going after Kent later if the deal had already gone down, and the affected parties have long gone their own ways? I think we're going to have to wait and talk to Kent before we can get an accurate picture of what happened last night, but I don't think this was just a stakeout being made. Is there something else that Kent was working on that might be stirring up some unwanted interest?" Lois glanced over at Lucy, then back at Perry. "What about that story that Lucy was partnered with Kent on?"
Perry's eyebrow crawled up his forehead as he shifted his gaze toward Lucy. "That Lucy was *partnered* with Kent on? I'm not sure which one that might be. The only story I sent Lucy and Clark out together on was the mayor's speech. I don't think you mean that one… do you?"
Lois chuckled. "No, I'm talking about this abandoned mine out in Boynton that she visited yesterday."
Perry shot Lucy a hard look. She blushed and tried to shrink back into the cushions of the couch. "I'm aware that Kent thinks there's something rotten out there. It's obvious that something is going on that the people there are trying to keep secret, but as far as I know he doesn't really have anything concrete to go on yet." Perry leaned back in his chair. "I was of the understanding that Lucy was just helping Kent with some internet background research."
"I had some time so I figured I pop out there and have a look for myself," Lucy piped in. "There is definitely something wrong going on up there. Those guys I ran into are no more archeologists than I am."
Perry pursed his lips in a tight line for a moment before fixing Lucy with a stern gaze. "We'll postpone the lecture about unauthorized investigations for a later time, young lady. For now, spill it. Tell me everything that happened when you went out there."
Lois leaned back in the hard chair as she listened to Lucy tell her story to Mr. White. It was a story she'd heard earlier. Lois had to bite her lip to keep from smiling at her sister's nervous discomfort telling her boss what she'd done. Maybe Lucy will think before she rushes headlong into something next time. Yeah, and Chuck Heston would be President someday.
After talking to Perry White for several more minutes Lois, with Lucy close behind, made her way over to Clark's desk and began to systematically search it. "It's almost creepy how neat and organized this guy is. Are you sure he's not gay?"
"Lois!" Lucy exclaimed. "Of course he's not gay. He can't be!" A depressed look came over Lucy's face, and her voice dropped to a mournful whisper. "God, what a waste that would be."
Lois had continued to rifle through Clark's desk, not coming up with anything out of the ordinary. His rolodex contained no numbers or addresses that Lois or Lucy recognized as unusual for a reporter. There were no scraps of paper in his desk with cryptic messages scrawled across them. Nothing. In fact the only loose piece of paper that wasn't properly filed in a neatly labeled folder was one that had a flight number and the word Smallville on it.
"What's Smallville?" Lois asked showing the piece of paper to Lucy.
"Smallville, Kansas. It's where Clark is from." She shrugged. "Looks like he was planning a trip home soon."
Lois nodded, and in moments she was on the phone. Three minutes later she had her answer. "Yeah, flight 346, Metropolis to Wichita leaves at 9:20 next Thursday morning. Must have been planning a visit, like you said."
Lucy sat on the edge of Clark's desk and showed Lois a picture that stood in one corner of it. It showed Clark with his arms around an older couple who must have been his parents. It was a nice 'homey' picture, having obviously been taken on the front porch of a big white house complete with a porch swing and shutters on the windows. It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Lois shook her head. Did people like this really exist? She had given up long ago on the idea that somewhere people really did live the so-called middle-class American Dream. You could never have proved it by her upbringing.
Lois sighed as she pushed herself away from the desk and stood. "This is getting me nowhere. I'm just going to have to wait until I can interview Kent before I can even begin to find an angle on this case." She smiled and rubbed her sister's arm in affection. "I'm going back downtown and spend some time on the million other cases I have. I imagine you have work of your own to do?" Lucy's embarrassed blush answered that question. "I'll see you at home."
Lois gave Lucy's arm a squeeze, then headed for the elevator.
"I have to say I'm quite disappointed in you, Nigel. I don't think I've ever known you to miss twice?" Lex allowed the cigar between his fingers to burn unsmoked as he stared at the tall gentleman standing in front of his desk.
Nigel's shoulders barely moved, merely suggesting a shrug. "I'm at a loss to explain what happened. I used enough of the drug to have killed him, if not immediately, well before the doctor could've figured out what had happened."
Lex spread his hands out in a gesture of questioning. "But nonetheless, Mr. Kent is still alive. I'm beginning to think the man is as hard to kill as Superman was."
Before Lex could say more a barely heard buzzing came from Nigel's jacket pocket. Lex rolled his eyes and waved his cigar, indicating that Nigel should take his call. Nigel bowed his head in acknowledgement of Lex's magnanimity. The only word that Lex heard Nigel speak was an opening 'yes'. The rest of the conversation was one-sided as Nigel merely listened to what the caller had to say. His face betrayed no emotion what so ever as he listened intently for several moments then thumbed off the phone and replaced it into his breast pocket.
"Well?" Lex was not a patient man.
Nigel took a breath. "That was my contact in the hospital. It appears that in my haste to leave Kent's room the hypodermic I used slipped from my pocket and was found. It gave the doctors the information they needed to formulate a way to combat the drug's effects and save Mr. Kent."
Lex frowned. "That was sloppy of you, Nigel, but I'm still puzzled. Why should the staff have even noticed it? One would think their focus would have been elsewhere. Or why would they think it anything more than one of their own for that matter?"
Nigel nodded. "True, but there has been another variable added to the equation. Ms. Lane was there, and it was she who noticed the hypodermic and suggested to the doctor that it could be related to Mr. Kent's troubles."
Lex sighed. "I'm assuming you don't mean Mr. Kent's colleague, Lucy Lane." Lex set his cigar down and frowned at Nigel's confirmation. "That does complicate things a bit. I don't want Lois caught up in the middle of this. It's too dangerous… on many levels." Lex paused as his focus turned inward for a few moments. "How are you coming on getting me some leverage on Chief Andrews?"
"It's in progress as we speak. I should have something *usable* in a day or two."
Lex nodded. "Okay, I guess we'll just have to wait a bit. It looks like Mr. Kent gets a temporary stay of execution, but I want him watched at all times."
"Very good, sir." Nigel gave Lex a slight bow and silently departed.
Lex leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Oh, Lois, whatever am I going to do with you?"
Patrick 'Mac' McPherson stretched and yawned as he ran another series of numbers through his computer. Things were looking better with each new simulation. Dr. Mamba would be pleased. They had been stymied for such a long time, and there had been a time when Mac thought they would never make a break through. But, now it looked like things would be changing soon.
The young technician knew that he was working in an ultra- secret installation, but it came with the job. He knew how controversial the whole idea of cloning was, but Mac was convinced that such research was not only desirable, but necessary. The medical possibilities alone justified any cost.
His mother had died at a young age because of a rare disease that had attacked her heart. There weren't any compatible hearts available for transplant, and her condition ruled out any mechanical alternative. If dedicated researchers were allowed to pursue techniques of cloning, perhaps people like his mother would no longer have to die. New hearts, kidneys, or any organ could be cloned for use in transplant surgery. There would be no need to worry about rejection; the new organ would be perfectly compatible since it would be identical to the original.
Mac wasn't naive; he knew that with any advance of knowledge or technology there was always a small component for misuse. But too many people, people with a voice, allowed their silly fears of some ridiculous science fiction fantasy about cloned people to override their common sense. The idea that some mad scientist could 'create' a living, cloned being in his hidden laboratory was absurd. As intellectually intriguing as that concept was, the reality was that today's science was nowhere near that advanced. Still, the good, beneficial applications of the cloning were ignored in favor of the science fiction fears.
He assumed that he was working for the government, though it was never actually stated. It didn't matter. He was paid well and he believed in what he was doing. He figured that only the government could afford to outfit a secret research facility on the scale of this place.
It was a bit boring during his off hours. Boynton wasn't exactly the hub of civilization. Boynton might not be the end of the world but Mac was sure one could see it from there. The archeological dig cover story was a bit hard to remember sometimes, but even that didn't bother him.
What did bother him was what was going on in the mysterious south wing of the facility. He didn't know for sure, because frankly, he wasn't that high up in the hierarchy, but there were the rumors. Most of those centered around biological warfare agents. Mac sincerely hoped that it wasn't the case, but he wasn't gullible enough to think that the government, just because they might say so publicly, didn't still have labs experimenting with such things. If only in the name of defense. Of course there was that time he'd happened to be using the hallway that separated the south wing from his wing. He glanced through a heavy leaded glass window and saw some men in biohazard suits pouring some thickly viscous, green glowing liquid into a dark metal container. Mac had no idea what it might have been, but it made him think that some of those rumors just might be true.
Mac shook his head and put those thoughts out of his mind. He needed to refocus on his own work if he wanted to finish in time for dinner. Tonight was meatloaf night.
Clark Kent was slow to wake, but the morning sunshine streaming through the nearby window was being insistent. He felt weak and achy all over. A groan escaped from his lips as he turned over, away from the annoying sunbeams. Why did he hurt so much?
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open. The sterility of the pale room stuck him like a blow. Where was he? He wasn't at home. Slowly, understanding seeped into his fogged brain. He was in a hospital! His mind seized on the last clear memory he had — the sound of an explosion and his being hurtled through the air. After that, there were just a jumble of disjointed sights and sounds.
Clark rolled to his back and taking a deep breath stared at the clean, white ceiling. Ordering his thoughts, he began to replay the events as he remembered them.
He was on the harbor stakeout, which now looked to have been a set-up. There was nothing on that old ship. No drug deals were in the works; he'd been led into a trap. He'd been frustrated by what he saw was a completely wasted evening, so he'd gone back to his car and turned the key in the ignition before he'd even closed the door. That probably saved his life. He'd been thrown clear by the force of the blast.
Clark did a mental inventory of his aches and pains. Now that he'd turned his attention to his body, he could feel a definite discomfort at several points on his backside. It was obvious that both his butt and many spots on his back were heavily bandaged, but there was still a great deal of pain, especially when he moved. He eased slowly over to his side but that didn't help much. He noticed an extreme soreness there also. The pain became worse the more deeply he breathed.
It was clear that Clark had suffered some significant damage to his backside and ribs. He wasn't sure, but he might even have one or two cracked ones. A number of cuts and scrapes on his arms and legs were apparent from either the small bandages or the tender aches they provided. While it didn't seem that he'd suffered any life threatening injury, all things considered, Clark preferred invulnerability.
There was still an anomalous memory that didn't seem to fit his physical injuries. He vaguely remembered an examination with a doctor and several nurses. He had most probably been sedated so his recollection was fuzzy at best, but the odd thing that he seemed to remember was after those people left someone else came into his room. He didn't remember a face, just a soothing, calm voice saying something about some additional pain medicine. After that Clark's memory ended until just a few minutes ago when he had awakened to the morning sunshine.
Clark was distracted from his musing by the opening of the door to his room. A pretty young nurse poked her head into the room and saw that he was awake. She rewarded him with a bright smile.
"Ah, Mr. Kent, I see you are awake." She crossed over to his bedside and checked the readings on the monitors. "Well, from the looks of these, you look to be doing quite well. How do you feel?"
Clark's first impulse was to shrug, but he realized that his position didn't allow for that. "Sore and achy, but all things considered not too bad. I'm quite confused though. I remember the explosion, but not much else. I'd appreciate it if you could fill me in."
The pretty nurse just gave him another smile. "I'll let the doctor fill you in on all that. I'll bet he'll even unplug you from all this paraphernalia." She finished jotting down her findings on the clipboard that she'd picked up from the foot of Clark's bed, gave him another smile, then quickly exited.
Clark only had to wait about twenty minutes until a young man dressed in typical doctor garb entered his room. He too had a bright smile for Clark. "I'm told you're feeling better but need a little information?" The doctor's smile got wider at Clark's nod. "Well, I'm Doctor Andrews. I was the one on duty when they brought you in last night."
"So, what's the story, doctor? Fill me in. When can I get out of here?"
Dr. Andrews couldn't stop the short bark of laughter. "Well, I think you should wait another day or so before you go charging out of here. You were in pretty tough shape when you were brought in. You were quite a sight, all covered in blood and blackened from the fire and explosion. Lots of surface cuts and abrasions, but nothing that won't heal in due time."
Clark cocked his eyebrow. "That's it? Just cuts, scrapes, and bruises?"
The doctor strongly shook his head. "Oh no, you've also suffered some pretty bad burns on your back and buttocks. I'm surprised that you can even stand to lie on your back."
Clark sighed. "Well, my side hurts, too."
"I can imagine. You have two cracked ribs, neither of which I'd consider dangerous as long as you take it easy for awhile."
Clark snorted. "Take it easy. I don't know if my boss will like that. Do you know what I do?"
Dr. Andrews chuckled. "Oh yes, I've been informed as to your profession. Which is why I assume the police will be back to question you once the officer stationed outside your door lets them know you are well enough to answer them."
Clark was startled. "There's a police officer guarding my door?"
The young doctor shrugged in amusement at Clark's confusion. "Well, Mr. Kent, someone did try to blow you up. That, and given the other incident, Inspector Henderson felt it for the best."
Clark instantly seized on the doctor's veiled reference. "What other incident?"
The doctor took a deep breath. "I'm not sure how much I should tell you before the police get here, but what the heck, you deserve to know the whole story." The doctor walked over to the window, peered out at the bright sunny morning, then turned back to face Clark. "After treating your injuries and stabilizing your condition, I went out to talk with a couple of officers of the Metropolis police department. I told them of the injuries that you sustained as I did you just now. I'd just finished telling them that none of your injuries were life-threatening and that you'd recover completely given some rest and convalescence time when a nurse rushed in. She told me that you'd gone into cardiac arrest."
Clark was clearly puzzled. "Wouldn't that have been unusual given the nature of my injuries?"
"Oh yes." The doctor nodded. "Your injuries, while nothing to take lightly, were not that serious." The doctor paced a bit. "While my staff and I were busy working to bring you back from the brink, one of the officer's, a Detective Lane, noticed a discarded hypodermic lying on the floor. Don't ask me what she was doing in the room, but it was lucky for you that she was."
"Why?" Clark's expression was guarded, as fuzzy pieces began to slip into place.
"Apparently, someone had injected you with a drug that caused your heart attack. Luckily, with the discarded hypo we were able to discover what was used and find a way to combat its effects." The young doctor ran his hand through his hair. "I have to tell you it was close for a time there. If Sergeant Lane hadn't seen what she had so quickly, we might not have been able to pull you through. I'd have to say that her intervention very well might have saved your life."
Clark pursed his lips. So that probably explained the ghostly voice he'd heard before everything had gone black. "I guess I'll just have to make a point of meeting this Sergeant Lane and thank her."
"Thank her for what?"
Both heads turned to see a petite brunette slip quietly into the room. Clark had to suck in a breath. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. She gave the two men a tight smile as she approached Clark's bed.
Lex Luthor was just hanging up the phone as Nigel St. John entered the penthouse office from the secret door that he always used. "Ah, Nigel, I have a task for you."
"Sir?" The stately aide nodded his head to his boss.
"I've just gotten off the phone with our people up in Boynton. It seems Mamba is on the verge of a breakthrough."
"That is good news, sir."
Lex smiled. "Yes, yes it is. Perhaps I'll be able to implement some of my more personal objectives sooner than I thought." Lex flicked his hand in the air. "Anyway, I want you to go there and check things out. See if Mamba is really on to something or just blowing smoke."
"Certainly, sir." Nigel gave Lex a slight bow and turned to leave but was stopped by Lex.
"Oh, and Nigel, I want you also to make a thorough inspection of the south wing. I want to know how soon we'll be able to put some of those 'products' on the open market." Lex frowned as he appeared to be thinking of something. "And I think perhaps it's time to get rid of the evidence. Even if we never found the body, I think it's safe to assume that that infernal Man of Steel is gone for good. It's been how long since we've seen hide nor hair of him?"
"A little over three months, sir," Nigel answered.
"Right, three months. I think if he'd survived our little ambush he'd have reappeared by now." Lex stabbed a finger in Nigel's direction. "If the body ever does show up, I don't want anything that could connect his death back to us. I want you personally to supervise the removal and destruction of all the synthetic kryptonite we still have stockpiled there. Make one copy of the data, for me, then destroy all records of its manufacture." Lex grinned. "And bring me back the little sample of the real thing that we used. I think I'll mount the little thing in a ring."
Nigel nodded. "Very good, sir. Will there be anything else?"
Lex shook his head. "No, you may go."
Nigel nodded again and left without another word. Lex leaned back in his chair a large smile on his face. It was good to be the king.
After disconnecting Clark from much of the monitoring equipment and the IV, the doctor had excused himself, citing other rounds he had to make. Lois now stood alone next to Clark's bed, a pencil and a small note pad in her hands. She gave him a questioning look. "So, what is it you need to thank me for?"
Clark tried to swallow. He suddenly found himself tongue- tied for the first time in his life. This Detective Lane had him all turned around. There was something about her, something he couldn't describe. She was beautiful. Her short, glossy, dark hair framed a face that was sexy yet surprisingly innocent. Her petite frame was slender but curvy in all the right spots. Clark had never considered himself shallow when it came to women. He always wanted to get to know the 'whole' person before he made any judgments. He knew that too often physical beauty could hide many ugly traits. Yet he seemed to know instinctively that Sergeant Lane of the Metropolis Police Department was much much more than her outward appearance.
Clark finally managed to force down the lump in his throat. "Um, I understand I have you to thank for saving my life."
Lois smiled and shook her head. "No, I think that vital role should be saved for the medical staff here. I just happened to notice something out of the ordinary." Lois shrugged. "It's my job."
Clark returned her smile. "Well, I'll be sure to thank them properly too, but I do appreciate your role in my recovery." Clark carefully shifted himself to a sitting position by raising the front half of the bed up with a push of the right button. "So, what can you tell me about what happened to me?"
Lois laughed. Her laugh was almost musical. "I thought I was the one who came here to ask you those questions."
Clark shrugged and grinned back. "Well, there's not much I remember. My editor, Perry White, asked me to stakeout the harbor last night. We'd gotten a call on our tip line suggesting a big drug deal was going down."
"And you didn't think to call the police?" Lois interrupted.
Clark blushed. "Well, it was just an anonymous tip. Would you have sent someone out on just an unconfirmed tip?"
Lois bit her lip as she tapped her pencil against her chin. "Probably not, though it would have been nice to have been informed of the possibility." Lois cracked a wry smile. "Or is that against the reporter's code? Don't let anyone beat you to a story."
Clark returned her coy look. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far. But I have to confess that there have been times when the police have come barging in much too soon, scattering the bad guys and killing any chance of gathering any hard evidence for the story."
Lois cocked her head to one side. "I see… so you didn't want to risk the local Keystone Cops coming in and fouling up your story? It wasn't as important to stop the crime as it was to get the story?"
Clark expelled a hard breath. "That's not what I meant. I had my cell phone with me. I would've called in the police once I was sure of what was going down."
Lois' raised one eyebrow. "Oh, so *you* would decide if the police would be needed, and when. You're an expert on criminal behavior?"
Clark sent Lois one of his more disarming grins. "Actually, in a way I am. But this conversation is moot. There was absolutely nothing going on down at that pier, on that ship or the docks last night. It was a bum tip."
"Seems to me the tip succeeded in its true purpose." Lois smiled at Clark's look of confusion. "It got you down to the docks where someone was waiting to blow you up."
Clark's expression turned thoughtful. "I guess that's true."
Lois patted his hand. "So, Mr. Kent, do you have any idea why your car was rigged to blow up. Do you have any enemies who might want you dead?"
Clark couldn't keep an ironic smile from his face. "Welllll, let's just say that I've ticked off a few nasty folks in my time." He shrugged. "I'm an investigative reporter. I'm bound to make enemies if I'm any good. It's what I do." He grinned at Lois. "I imagine you'd made a few in your time on the force."
"Yeah, but no one tried to blow me up last night."
Clark suddenly noticed the edge of a bandage just visible under Lois' shirt. She'd left the top button unbuttoned and the white cloth was peeking out near her exposed throat.
Clark pointed toward Lois' shoulder. "But it looks like you've recently run into someone who wasn't a fan."
Lois briefly fingered the bandage on her shoulder, then pulled her shirt front over to cover it. "The person responsible for that didn't even bother to get to know me first."
Clark clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "I'm sure that was his loss. I doubt that he would have done something so dastardly if he knew the real you."
Lois cocked her brow, then chuckled. "No, probably not. If he knew the real me he would have aimed for the head."
Lois finally took a moment to really 'look' at Kent. She could see why Lucy was infatuated with the man. He was definitely easy on the eye. The flimsy hospital gown couldn't hide the ripped physique that he possessed. Lois wondered how he managed to get any work done when it was obvious that he spent a lot of time in the gym. Unless he was one of those genetic freaks who was blessed at birth with a perfect body and great metabolism. Those people bugged Lois. It just wasn't fair; she had to work so hard just to keep herself fit.
Kent seemed a pleasant enough guy. It was clear that he was still experiencing some pain and discomfort, but he didn't take it out on her. He didn't even complain or act grumpy. Lois knew that her own hospital stay hadn't endeared her much to the hospital staff. Clark appeared easy-going and good natured. She didn't get the impression that he was at all conceited, or egocentric, which was a mild surprise considering how good looking he was. Of course, she'd only talked to him for a couple of minutes. He could just be very smooth. Lois made a note to talk to Lucy a bit more about this Clark Kent.
"So, Mr. Kent, if there was nothing going on at the pier last night, why do you think someone tried to blow you up?" Lois asked.
Clark furrowed his brow and grimaced. "I'm not sure. But they seem to be persistent if they made another attempt while I'm here at the hospital. I would think that would be more… risky."
Lois shrugged. "It is, and it isn't. Security is not really something a hospital concerns itself with. Unless there is a reason to suspect something, it would be pretty easy for someone to come to the hospital in disguise and wait for their opportunity. Their main concern would be to stay away from any situation where someone might question what they were doing." Lois pulled her note pad into position. "So, if there was nothing at the pier, could it be something else you are currently working on, or have recently worked on?"
Clark seemed lost in thought for a moment. "Well, the last story of any real consequence I worked on was the Councilman Richards scandal. He was pretty upset with me, but he didn't seem the type to want me dead."
"Ah, I remember that story." Lois nodded. "I was happy to see that slug exposed and thrown out of city government. He was a pig."
"Not a fan?"
Lois had to smile at the look on Clark's face. "No, not a fan. We attended the same fund raiser a while back, and the man was constantly making passes at me. He couldn't take no for an answer."
"I can't say I blame him." Clark had whispered that under his breath, not for Lois' ears. Louder, he said. "So, what did you do?"
Lois fought back a slight blush, for she'd heard what Kent had said under his breath. "Well, I finally had to put him in a hammerlock and lock him in a coat closet."
Clark laughed. It was a hearty, full throated laugh. "I'm sure you moved right up to the top of his favorite person list."
"Yeah, well anyway, I agree. He's not the type to put out a hit on the reporter who exposed his 'unfortunate dealings' with Capote Construction. He doesn't have the cojones for it." Lois tapped the pencil against her teeth. "What about this shady mine up in Boynton I heard about?"
Clark looked puzzled. "How'd you know about that?"
"Lucy told me," Lois said matter-of-factly.
"Lucy…?" Clark's confusion quickly cleared as he put together the obvious. "You're Lucy's sister, aren't you? She mentioned that her sister was with the police. I just didn't make the connection till just now. Says a lot for my investigative abilities, doesn't it?"
Lois laughed. "Well, there are a few more Lanes in Metropolis than just Lucy and me. I think there are even a couple others in the police department." Lois quickly sobered. "Did you know that she went up to that site herself last night?"
Clark frowned. "No, I didn't. Is she all right? Nothing happened to her, did it?"
Lois shook her head. "No, she's fine. She walked right up to the entrance and gave the people there a story about being a college journalism student wanting an interview with the head of the… archeological dig?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah, that's the cover story." He looked at Lois questioningly. "What did they say?"
"Apparently they just told her no, and sent her on her way." Lois frowned at Clark. "You don't think she is in any danger, do you?"
Clark spread his hands out in a helpless gesture. "I don't think so. My experience up there was quite brief. I hadn't gotten close enough to see anything when I was discovered by a guard. I managed to get away before anyone else saw me." Clark shrugged. "I think it unlikely that he would have recognized me."
Lois jotted down a couple of notes. "Still, it's all we have at the moment."
Clark nodded. "Yeah, but if they are behind that attempt last night, it would've had to have been set up prior to Lucy's visit. Which may or may not mean anything. Still, if they are suspicious of anyone poking around them, I think it would be a good idea if she were to be extra careful." Clark shook his head in wonder. "I can't believe Perry let her go out there alone."
Lois snorted. "Oh, he never knew about it. It was strictly her idea." Lois looked pointedly at Clark. "It seems she wanted to help out a colleague."
Clark's blush caused Lois to smile. "In the meantime, I'll be sure to pass on the warning to her." Lois reached into her bag and pulled out a business card. "If you think of anything else, give me a call." Lois quickly scribbled something on the back of the card and laid it on the small table next to the bed. "My home phone is on the back. I'm sure we'll speak again." Lois gave Kent a quick smile and turned to leave.
Clark stared at the empty doorway for several moments after she'd left. He didn't understand it. Why was he so attracted to her? He reached over and picked her card up from the table. He read the simple black letters on the white card: 'Sergeant Lois Lane — Metropolis Police Department — Robbery/Homicide', and a couple of phone numbers.
Clark didn't remember if Lucy had ever mentioned her sister's name to him. Still, she must have, because he knew that name. His brow furrowed. Lois Lane? Why did that name seem so familiar?
Clark hung up the phone. He'd just finished talking with his folks. They were understandably worried. Perry had phoned them earlier to let them know what had happened. Even though he had stressed that Clark was going to be fine, they were parents, and they worried until they could hear it from his own lips.
Some of the lights of the city were beginning to flicker to life. Clark stared out the window as the Greatest City in the World began to truly wake up. The Big Apricot truly came to life after dark. Clark wasn't concerned about any night life he might be missing out on; he was more interested in getting this day, and night, over with. The doctor had promised him that if he continued to show signs of a normal recovery in the morning, he'd be able to go home. And right now, more than anything, Clark wanted to go home.
A polite knock on the edge of the door frame interrupted Clark's thoughts. "Lucy," he said. "Come in; it's good to see you." He smiled at his young co-worker. "I hear you've been trying to beat me out of my story."
Lucy had tentatively approached Clark's bedside. She shook her head wildly upon hearing his words, her hair flying about her face. "No, oh no, I would never… I was just trying to help. You seemed so disappointed that you couldn't go back there yourself last night that I thought I'd just pop out there to see what I could see."
Clark gave her a look of mock severity. "I see. So you really weren't trying to steal my story? You just wanted to help?"
Lucy's nod was as violent in her affirmation as her shake of denial had been. "Really! I wouldn't dream of such a thing. I just wanted to be of more help to you than… " Lucy stopped when she saw the grin on Clark's face. Her own mouth turned to a frown. "You wouldn't, by any chance, be yanking my chain… would you?"
Clark's grin got wider. "Who, me?" he said, his voice dripping with a mock innocence. "Actually, I'm touched that you wanted to help, but it wasn't the brightest thing to do. You shouldn't have run off into a potentially dangerous situation without at least letting Perry know what you were doing."
Lucy affected a pout. "If I had, he probably wouldn't have let me go."
Clark nodded. "Probably not."
Lucy's eyes narrowed as she stared at Clark. "So, how did you find out? I suppose Perry ratted me out?"
"Your sister mentioned it to me."
Lucy looked surprised. "Lois was here? What am I thinking? Of course she was here. It's her job." Lucy stepped a little closer to the bed. "So, how did the interview go?"
Clark shrugged. "Not so good, I'm afraid. I couldn't really tell her much. We both pretty much agreed that the tip was designed solely to get me down to the pier for that ambush."
Lucy nodded. "I guess, but something doesn't quite work for me." She began to pace in a small circle. "If they wanted you dead, why go to all the trouble of trying to rig your car to blow you up? Why not just walk up and shoot you… ? Not that I would have wanted that to happen!"
Clark chuckled. "No, you and me both." He paused, seemingly to give some thought to Lucy's question. "I'm not sure. Maybe my death was meant to be messy and showy. Perhaps I was meant to be an object lesson for anyone who might decide to pry into their business in the future." Clark shook his head as he was clearly just guessing. "Another reporter gets too close, and a note or a whispered 'Clark Kent' might be all that's needed to warn him off the story."
Lucy stopped and spread her hands wide. "Yeah, but warn us off what story?"
Clark met her confused stare. "It must have something to do with that mine up in Boynton. Nothing else makes sense."
"It could just be an old enemy out for revenge," she offered.
Clark nodded again. "Yes, I suppose it could, but I have a feeling about this, and everything points to Boynton."
Lucy boldly placed her hand on his arm. "So, are you going to take the hint? Are you going to back off?"
Clark laughed. "What do you think? No, I can't stop now. Besides, I don't think I have that choice. The initial murder attempt may have been considered useful as a future warning for others, but whoever they are, they definitely want me dead."
Lucy nodded sadly. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Otherwise they wouldn't have tried again at the hospital." Lucy's eyes grew wide. "That means you'll still be in danger. Clark, what are you going to do?"
"Well, the first thing I need to do is get out of here and go home. But I'm not worried about me, I'm worried about you. After going up to the mine yourself, whoever it is who is being so prickly about his privacy could decide that you, too, are a liability they don't want to have walking about."
"I can take care of myself." There was a note of defiance in her voice.
Clark reached out and grabbed Lucy's hand. "I'm sure you can, but this might just be a little out of your experience. Promise me you won't go off half-cocked like this again. Promise me you'll talk to me or Perry before you decide on any more of these Lone Ranger tactics."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "Gawk, you sound just like my sister."
Clark allowed himself a small smile at the thought of Lucy's sister. "Your sister struck me as a very intelligent woman."
Lucy cocked her head and gave Clark a thoughtful look. "So, what did you think of my big sister?"
Clark found that he actually had to take a moment to compose himself before he could reply. "She seemed quite charming. Very professional in her manner, yet she came off as warm and compassionate."
Lucy stared at Clark as if he'd grown a third eye. "Warm and compassionate? Are we talking about the same person? Detective Sergeant Lois Lane of the MPD… Mad Dog Lane? Once she gets her teeth into a case she never lets go?"
Clark laughed. "I think so. Let me see… A strikingly attractive woman…"
"… of average height, with a fit, trim body…"
"… silky, dark hair worn short in an appealing face framing style…"
"Too short… wait, do you like Lois' hair?"
Clark hadn't been paying much attention to Lucy's editorializing so he was startled out of his description by her question. "Ah, yeah, I do. It's very practical for a woman in her profession, yet it's very attractive; frames her face well — kinda sexy."
"Oh." Lucy frowned, then became more animated. "Yeah, but you don't know her like I do. She may be good looking, with a great body, but she can be really bossy sometimes."
"Really?" Clark had to stifle a grin at the obvious sibling rivalry, though he couldn't think why Lucy should care what he thought of her sister. "Now that you mention it," he said in a conspiratorial tone, "she did seem to take issue with my judgment as to when the police should have been informed as to last night's *hot* tip."
Lucy pointed at no one in particular. "See, it's like I said. She's a real control freak." Lucy shook her head. "You wouldn't like her if you ever got to know her."
"Well, if you say so." Clark couldn't stop a small grin from forming. "I guess I'll have to defer to your long experience with the woman." Clark's face became more thoughtful. "You know, there is something… I know you must have mentioned your sister to me at some time in the past, but I never made the connection till she mentioned it to me. Still, I can't help but feel that I've heard the name Lois Lane before. And it wasn't concerning any police case that I can remember."
Lucy studied Clark for a moment, then a look of understanding came over her. "Oh, I know where you've probably heard or seen her name before. It was probably in the society pages or on one of those celebrity entertainment shows. She's Lex Luthor's girlfriend."
Lois looked up from her desk as Bill Henderson came walking by. "So," she said. "Where have you been all this time? I had to interview Kent on my own."
Henderson just raised a brow. "Well someone had to go and do the regular, dirty, out on the streets police work. So, did it tax your social skills to interview a victim without me there to smooth over your sledge hammer techniques in your quest for the truth?" His smile betrayed his sarcastic comments.
Lois rolled her eyes, then met his with a wry smile of her own. "Not really. Actually he was quite pleasant to talk to." She gave Henderson a wink. "He's kind of cute, too."
The ringing of her phone drowned out any response from Henderson. She gave him a mock smile and waved him off with a flick of her hand. Henderson gave back a sour snort and, shaking his head, walked past her desk on his way to his own.
Lois picked up the receiver. "Detective Lane." Her voice became more subdued and a bit frosty. "Hello, Lex. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call? No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it to sound so flip. It's just that I thought we were going to take — a break for a while; give us some time to sort things out." Lois sighed and stared at the ceiling. "No, Lex, I'm sure you are sorry, but you have to admit that you really stepped way over the line the other night."
Lois tucked the phone under her chin and began to shuffle some folders around on her desk. "I understand that you want the chance to apologize, and we *do* need to talk about exactly what sort of relationship we have and our expectations, but I just need some time to work through what happened. No, Lex, I don't automatically think you're some kind of rapist. I just think you don't always consider the feelings of others when they might conflict with your own. You are aware that what you did legally qualifies as sexual assault." Lois sorted through the folders. "No, Lex, I don't plan to bring charges against you. That wouldn't do either of us any good. I thought I knew the type of man you were. A rich man who shares his good fortune, giving to so many needy causes and charities. A man who, through his intelligence and incredible business acumen, is able to employ nearly a third of this city."
Lois closed her eyes briefly before continuing. "But I saw someone I didn't recognize the other night. I saw a level of arrogance and selfishness that I'd never have believed you capable of. I was very shocked and upset by what happened. But, more than that, I was hurt. You made me wonder what sort of man you really are, and what kind of woman you think *I* am. Lex, I need some time to work through this. You can understand that, can't you?"
Lois opened one of the folders but quickly closed it again. "What? Oh, Lex, that's not fair. You know how much I want to see that play." Lois pushed the folder aside. "Okay… I'll give it some thought, and I'll call you back. Yes, I'll call you which ever way I decide — I promise. Goodbye, Lex."
Lois set the receiver back down on the phone and just stared at it for several moments. She didn't even notice that Henderson had come back and was standing next to her desk. She glanced up when she heard him clear his throat.
"Yes?" she asked with a raised brow.
Henderson planted himself onto the corner of Lois' desk. "Trouble in paradise?"
Lois sighed in exasperation. "Now you're listening in on my phone conversations? Is there no end to your big brother attitude?"
Henderson shrugged. "I guess not. You must bring out that familial, warm and sensitive side of me."
"Well, put it back."
"Sorry. I hear the name Lex Luthor, and my ears perk up and the radar zooms in." Henderson cocked his head, a look that was part smug and part concerned on his face. "So what did the lizard do?"
Lois closed her eyes and counted to ten. It didn't work; he was still there. "Look, Bill, you are my partner, and my friend, but that doesn't give you the right to stick your nose into my personal life. I don't appreciate your innuendoes and snide comments when it comes to Lex and my relationship with him. What I do, or don't do, with Lex Luthor is my business, and has nothing to do with you. So, as my *friend*, I would be grateful if you would just butt out when it concerns Lex. He's my problem, not yours."
Henderson didn't appear at all chastised. "So there is a problem?"
Lois glared at him. "I'll have you know that Lex just called to invite me to the opening of 'The Man of La Mancha'. It's coming to the Majestic for a limited run. Tickets are impossible to get."
Henderson grinned. "But not for Lex Luthor. Definitely sounds like something that he would need to apologize to you for." He placed his finger to his mouth in a mock attitude of thought. "Or perhaps it might be a… bribe?"
"Arrrgh!" Lois softly screamed. She abruptly rose from her chair and, grabbing a file off her desk, stormed out of the room.
Henderson watched Lois till she had turned the corner of the hallway, a satisfied smirk on his face. "I wonder if it was something I said?"
Clark finished buttoning his shirt after tucking it into his pants and cinching up his belt. He was glad that he had clean clothes to put on. Lucy had brought him a change of clothes from his locker at the Planet since what he'd been wearing the other night had been mostly destroyed by the explosion. But that was behind him now. Today he was going to get out of this hospital and he was going home.
Ever since he'd had his conversation with Lucy last night, he'd found his thoughts continually coming back to her sister, Lois, and the fact that she was Lex Luthor's girlfriend. It was none of his business who Lois Lane dated, but it bothered him. It bothered him a lot. He knew what kind of man Luthor projected to the world. The charming, wealthy philanthropist who employed nearly a third of Metropolis. The public smile, the handsome, eligible bachelor who supported so many good works in this city.
But Clark knew the real man behind the facade. He knew that Luthor was really an amoral, ego-driven, criminal who allowed nothing and no one to get between him and anything he might want. The question that kept bugging Clark was… did Lois know? And if she did know, what did that make her? A dupe? An accomplice? Was she Luthor's pet cop?
Clark angrily shook off that last image. It was unfair to judge the woman before he even knew her. The world at large had no knowledge of who Lex Luthor really was, so why should he assume that Lucy's sister did? Still, Clark had a hard time getting around the fact that Lois was Luthor's girlfriend.
Granted, Clark had only talked with the woman for a few minutes, but he was struck by her. He wanted to like her. Not only was she beautiful, but she seemed vibrant and bright. That such a woman would be paired with a slime like Luthor just didn't seem right.
Clark's unpleasant thoughts were interrupted by knocking at his door. He turned to see a smiling Lucy Lane enter his room through the open door. He was a bit surprised to see her there. His surprise must have shown on his face.
"What? You didn't think we'd let you walk home, did you?" She grinned at Clark's look of confusion. "I told Perry I was coming over to give you a ride home. Looks like I got here just in time." She glanced around the room, seeing nothing that needed packing up. "Are you ready to go? Anything else you need?"
Clark shook his head and chuckled briefly. "All I have are the clothes you were nice enough to bring me. I don't have anything else, so I guess I'm ready to go… and, Lucy, thanks."
Lucy pulled an 'aw shucks' face. "Don't mention it. It will give us some time to get to know each other better." As she turned to go, she didn't notice the look of puzzlement on Clark's face.
The car, was a silver jeep with plenty of room. Clark let himself in the passenger side as Lucy jumped behind the wheel. Within moments they were on the roadway.
"This is a pretty nice vehicle. Perry must be paying you more than I would've thought," Clark said with a wink.
Lucy blushed. "This is actually Lois' car. I borrowed it from the police parking lot. I left her a note."
"You shouldn't have done that. I could've taken a cab. You won't get into trouble over this, will you?"
Lucy hesitated for a couple of beats. "Nah… It'll be fine. Lois will understand." Lucy pointedly didn't look at Clark.
Clark wisely decided not to pursue that line of questioning any further. Instead he needed to find a way to steer the conversation over to Lois and Luthor. He had to know what she knew about Luthor.
"So, your sister dates Lex Luthor."
Lucy looked quickly over at Clark, suspicion in her eyes. "Yeah… so?"
"Well, I was just curious. I've only met Luthor at formal functions, and then only for a few moments. It must be interesting to know such an important man." Clark was trying to sound casual. "What's he like?"
Lucy shrugged as she turned her attention back to the streets. "I really don't know. I've never met him."
"Really? With your sister being his *girlfriend*, I think that's what you called her, I would imagine you would've had many chances to meet him."
Lucy shook her head, her hair moving just a fraction slower than the motion of her head. "Well, truth is, Lois has only been dating Lex for a few months. He never comes over to our place. He always just sends a car for her."
"Doesn't that seem odd to you?"
Lucy glanced at Clark and frowned. "I don't see why. He's rich. He's got people to do that sort of thing for him." Lucy's brow furrowed. "Why all the questions about Lex?"
Clark shrugged, giving it his best innocent look. "I guess I'm just surprised. I know I just met your sister the other day and only talked to her for a short time. But she just didn't seem like Luthor's type."
Lucy had returned to paying attention to her driving, but the look on her face clearly indicated she was having trouble digesting Clark's words. "What type? My sister is smart and beautiful, and Lex is rich and handsome. Not sure I see where the problem is."
Clark had to tread carefully to keep the conversation seemingly just small talk. "Well, if you put it that way, I guess you're right. I just thought it kind of funny that a ruthless captain of industry would date a member of the Metropolis Police Department."
Lucy spared Clark another glance, her bewilderment readily showing. "You think Lex is ruthless?"
Clark knew he was sinking deeper. "Umm, well, you know what they say about how most of those rich guys get all their money?"
Lucy shook her head in wonderment. "Why, Clark Kent, I never would've thought you were bigoted against the wealthy. Did you ever think that Lois and Lex might just enjoy one another's company?"
"I'm not, I just…" Clark began to stutter in embarrassed frustration. "Oh, never mind. I'm sure you're right." Clark gestured with his right arm. "Turn right here."
Lucy drew her lips into a tight line and put all her concentration into her driving. The short time left of the trip to Clark's was passed in silence. Neither Lucy nor Clark felt like trying another topic of conversation.
Once they reached Clark's apartment, he quickly exited the jeep and turned to thank Lucy for the ride, only to find that she had also gotten out of the jeep.
"It isn't necessary for you to see me in, Lucy." Clark gave her a smile. "Thanks a lot for the ride. Tell Perry I'll call him."
Lucy came around the front side of the jeep and placed her hand on Clark's elbow. "No, I give door to door service. You're still recovering from your injuries. I just want to see if I can do or get anything for you before I leave." Lucy gave him a weak smile.
Clark didn't argue, but instead allowed Lucy to follow along as he approached his front door. Clark fumbled briefly as he pulled his keys from his pocket. A feeling of relief came over him knowing that he was almost home again. It had only been a couple of days in the hospital but it wasn't an experience he was anxious to repeat. His contentment quickly disappeared once the unlocked door swung open.
"Oh my gosh, Clark!"
Clark and Lucy stepped across the threshold and into a nightmarish scene. Clark's apartment had literally been torn apart. Clark was numbed by shock. His apartment looked like a tornado had swept through it. Everything had been knocked off the shelves on the walls, the furniture was overturned, and cushions had been slashed. All closet and cupboard doors had been opened. Clark knew that when he went into his bedroom, he'd be greeted with the same scene. Someone had come looking for something, and they hadn't been neat about it.
Lucy finally moved, poking around until she found Clark's telephone. "I think we'd better call Lois."
Lois was back at her desk and glad that Henderson was out somewhere. She knew that he liked to needle her about Luthor: some unresolved issue he had about Lex and her together, but this time it had really gotten under her skin. Why was that? she asked herself. Henderson's jibes were nothing new. True, but the situation seemed to have changed. Her assumed relationship with Lex had veered wildly off the expected path. At least, from her standpoint. And that was the root of the problem, wasn't it? She and Lex obviously had different views on just what their relationship was.
Had anyone else done what Lex had done the other night, she would never have considered speaking to him again. She would have hung up the phone immediately, never allowing him the courtesy of an explanation or an apology. She most likely would have had them arrested for sexual misconduct. She was serious when she'd told Lex that legally what he had done could have landed him in jail. But she also knew that she would never press the issue… legally. What would be the point? The media circus that would ensue wouldn't do her career any good, and she didn't really have any motive to hurt Lex. She didn't believe in revenge. She believed in justice, but not revenge, and she wasn't sure that dragging Lex through such an ordeal would actually see justice served. These sorts of unwitnessed accounts had a tendency to backfire on the woman.
The liberties that Lex took were upsetting and shocking to her. Lex had often exhibited egocentric tendencies in the past, and she knew that a man of his position was often used to getting what he wanted, but she had never dreamed that he would feel that such sexual license was appropriate to their relationship.
Remembering the look on Lex's face, she realized that he had been surprised by the vehemence of her reaction. It was clear that he hadn't seen what he had done as anything so terrible. He'd even said something about not needing permission to make love to the woman he loved. Did he really think like that? Did he really think the woman's feelings weren't important? That seemed to fly in the face of the charming and attentive man whom she'd spent many pleasurable evenings with. Maybe he'd never been in that situation before? It wouldn't surprise Lois to find that none of Lex's previous 'dates' had ever spurned any of his advances, no matter what they may have been. But that didn't excuse his actions.
Lois had to wonder if she'd been unconsciously sending out signals to Lex. Did the companionship that she thought they shared mean more to him than it had to her? Did her snuggling up to him on the couch, and falling asleep literally in his arms, suggest that she would welcome his more amorous attentions?
Lois and Lex had been dating exclusively for a few months. For Lois that was normal. She never dated around. She dated one guy at a time, and there hadn't really been that many guys. Previously only one of her past 'relationships' had actually come close to lasting as long as her time with Lex, and that had ended in disaster. Lois had met an officer of the French Surete who was in Metropolis on some sort of exchange program.
Claude Rembalde had been charming, drop dead gorgeous, and he had expressed an interest in a young, up-and-coming officer who was still wet behind the ears. She was swept away by his accent, his manner, and his obvious charms. She thought she was in love. He was looking for someone to warm his bed while he was in town.
They dated for the time that Claude was in the city. She, hanging on his every word and deed like a school girl with a crush; he, being the ever charming, continental lover who made a girl's head swim. Claude was good, too good. His lines were patented, and his moves like those of an accomplished actor. Any woman experienced in the ways of love and courtship would have seen through the man in an instant, and knowing what she was in for, probably wouldn't have cared. Lois had not been one of those women.
Claude had easily been able to lead her to his bed within a short time. In fairness to the man, he was a skilled lover. Over time he had learned many 'tricks of the trade' when it came to sexual encounters. Lois had been naive and enraptured by him. He had managed to bring out feelings that she, to that point in her life, had never felt before and, in all honesty, had never felt since. She had felt loved.
Lois hadn't realized it then, but in hindsight she could see that the lovemaking they'd shared hadn't meant to Claude what it had to her. It wasn't as if he had just been going through the motions. She knew that he enjoyed their sessions together. But that was all they had been, sessions. No more meaningful to him than appreciating a good play, or delighting in a well performed piece of music. It was part of who he was. He liked to be with a beautiful woman. Lois had just been… entertainment.
She involuntarily cringed at that thought, but she had to admit that the fault had been mostly hers. Claude had never promised her anything but a good time. It was her own inexperience that had twisted the emotions and had labeled them as love. Oh, he used the word often enough, but she now knew that it held no special meaning for him. It had only been a word, never an emotion.
Lois had been devastated when Claude had packed his bags and headed back to France. She had known that his scheduled time in Metropolis would soon be coming to a close, but she had innocently thought that things had changed. That either he would stay to be with her, or he would ask her to come back to France to be with him. As much as she loved Metropolis, she thought she loved Claude more and was prepared to leave her home and family to be with him. As it turned out, the decision never had to be made.
He had been surprised by her reaction, but hardly remorseful. He told her he regretted that she had taken their 'good times' together the wrong way, but it had been fun and that was the way she should look at it too. Then he was gone.
After that, Lois had vowed never to be that gullible again. She would never let herself be that vulnerable to a man, nor would she let him have that kind of control over her happiness and self-worth. That wasn't to say that Lois became a nun and never dated again. She just dated on her own terms. And those terms kept Lois Lane's heart safe.
There hadn't been many dates since Claude, and none of any lengthy duration. Lois had become more and more focused on her job. She was proud to be a police officer, and proud of the work she did. She was one of the youngest detectives ever to make sergeant. She fought twice as hard, and worked three times as much as her male counterparts in the department to show them she was just as good, or better, than they were. Most of the guys she dated were either intimidated by what she did, or empty- headed pretty boys. None of those lasted more than a few dates.
She and Henderson had even dated, thinking that their related interests and mutual respect would give them something to base a relationship on. Alas, that hadn't panned out either. While they worked well together and were definitely good friends, a romantic component to that friendship never blossomed. They had a more brother-sister thing going between them now.
Then came Lex. At first Lois had been surprised, and very flattered, when the infamous Lex Luthor had asked her out. They had met at a charity fund-raiser. Lex was being besieged by several women at the event. Local celebrities and even a couple of movie stars in town for the gala were at his beck and call. The fact that he had even noticed her was a surprise. That he had singled her out for a conversation was a shock.
She had been taken, like any woman, with his urbane wit and charm. He was intelligent, good-looking, and the third richest man in the world. A pretty intimidating package to a mid-level police officer struggling to make ends meet. Yet he had sought her out and was interested in her!
Over the next few months they dated on a semi-regular basis. Some of the dates had merely been business ventures thinly disguised as stuffy social events. But many of the dates had been wonderful. Plays, the opera, movie openings: all things that a person like Lois would never normally get a chance to attend. But all through those dates, Lois had kept to her vow. She was in control of herself. Certainly they had occasionally enjoyed a little playful cuddling, and kissing, but nothing beyond innocent teenage stuff. And truthfully, not that often either.
Lex, obviously, took charge of the evening's entertainment. He decided where they were going and dictated times and places, but Lois knew that going in. A man of his position was used to making decisions. She always had the option of saying no… which she seldom did, and maybe that was why there was a problem now.
She thought she knew Lex. But the perfect gentleman and amiable companion she had been with so many times in the past had been absent that night. Well, to be fair, he'd been very charming and accommodating earlier. Coming over to her apartment to eat bad take out and watch a video with her was very sweet. So how did it devolve into the caveman behavior later on? Was Lex really just another Claude? For that matter, were all men the same? Is that all she had to look forward to? A pleasant facade that lasted only until he was overcome by his raging hormones?
She had enjoyed her dates with Lex, but had never let her heart rule her head. After the disaster with Claude, it was important for Lois to feel as if she was always in control of her emotions. While many women might find it easy to fall for the attention such a powerful man might bestow on her, Lois had been burnt before and wasn't going to put her heart out there where it could be crushed again. She and Lex were friends. Friends who enjoyed doing things together. At least that was what she had thought.
Or was it something else? Maybe Lex wasn't like Claude. Maybe Lex really did love her? Lois snorted in disgust at her own thoughts. There might have been a time when such a thought might have intrigued, scared, or even pleased her, but not now. Trust and respect were two very important components of Lois' definition of love. Lex hadn't shown her any respect the other night, and she certainly wasn't going to trust him again any time soon.
The bottom line was, things had changed. It was clear, after the other night, that they couldn't continue the way they had. She owed it to herself, and to Lex, to sort out exactly what she wanted. If what she had always wanted was merely the company of a friend, was that still possible? Could she still call him a friend after what had happened?
She had been good at keeping her emotions in check and not allowing herself to see her and Lex as anything but friends who enjoyed each other's company. It kept her heart safe. But if Lex felt more, what then? And what now? There definitely wasn't going to be a repeat of the other night, that was for sure.
Lois was confusing herself more with each new thought she brought forth. She was pretty sure that she didn't love Lex. That he had just been a good friend. But a tiny voice kept asking if that was true because of the way she really felt, or just because she was afraid to feel at all. Well, it didn't matter now. She might be able to accept Lex's apology and tell him she forgave him, but she would never forget what happened. Any feelings she had felt before were decidedly under review.
Lois stared at the far wall for several moments. No, she hadn't loved Lex. She was sure of that. Well, mostly sure. Even after the disaster with Claude, Lois still harbored a fairy tale image of love. When she met the right guy she would know. There would be bells going off, birds singing, and the sun would seem to be shining even in a rainstorm. Of course, the practical side of her brain would admonish, she held on to this ridiculous notion because, in reality, no such thing existed. She would always be safe, because she would never meet someone who could live up to her unrealistic ideal.
Lois tapped her pencil against the desk as she gave in to a snort of frustrated laughter. "Too bad Superman is gone," she said quietly to herself.
Suddenly the ringing of her phone snapped her out of her introspection. "Metropolis Police, Detective Lane. Oh, hi, Lucy. What?" Lois nodded a couple of times as she jotted down the address on a handy scrap of paper on the desk. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Lois hung up the phone, grabbed the slip of paper, her bag, and stood to go. "Hey, Miles," she yelled to a fellow at a desk nearby. "When Bill gets back tell him I went over to Kent's apartment. Seems that there was a break in while the poor schmuck was in the hospital."
Not waiting for a reply, Lois hurried past the other desks and to the stairwell. Within a minute she was in the police garage and approaching her car. Lois stopped short when she came to her parking spot. Her car was gone! She did a slow turn, taking in all the garage in her sweep, but didn't see her jeep anywhere. Frowning, Lois hustled over to where the attendant occupied a small cubicle in one corner of the garage.
"Hey, Manny, did you see anyone messing with my car?" Lois was slightly out of breath from her quick jog to the other side of the concrete garage.
Manny looked up at the irritated woman. "Oh, hi, Sergeant Lane. Yeah, let me see." Manny rummaged through some loose papers on his desk. "Okay, here it is." He handed Lois a slightly crumpled piece of paper. "Your sister borrowed it. Said it would be okay with you." Manny gave Lois a simple grin. "Said she had to take a friend home from the hospital, but she'd bring it back when she was done. Is there a problem?"
Lois didn't bother to read the note. She fumed as she crumpled the paper in her hand. She shook it off and turned her attention back to Manny. "No, no problem. I guess I just forgot, that's all." Lois looked past the cubicle to the area where the police vehicles were all parked. "You got any unmarked that I can borrow for the afternoon?"
Manny gave her a big grin. "Sure, Sgt. Lane." He reached up and pulled a set of keys off a board to his left. "Number thirty two, the brown Monte Carlo."
Lois grabbed the keys. "Thanks, Manny, I owe you." She hurried over to stall thirty two and got into the vehicle. As the engine roared to life, Lois made a mental note to have a talk with her sister about what was and what wasn't communal property under their current living arrangement.
"Hey Mac!" Another young technician accosted Pat McPherson in the hallway.
"What's up, Ben?" Mac turned to greet his buddy, Ben Richmond.
His friend sidled up close to him and checked around before speaking in a low whisper. "Did you see who was here today?"
Mac shook his head. "No, who?"
Ben looked around again. "Old English. I saw him in the hallway with Mamba before they disappeared behind the doors to the south wing."
Mac frowned. In the six months that he'd been there he'd only seen the tall stately Englishman about three times. The white-haired fellow never talked to anyone but the heads of the various departments, but many had overheard his voice and had passed on the information on his accent. Thus the reason most of the people called him 'Old English'… behind his back.
"Say, Ben," Mac began. "You ever wonder why a secret government research facility would use an English guy as their liaison?"
Ben's answering grin was conspiratorial. "No one ever said this was a government installation."
Mac rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "You don't think this a government funded facility? What private business would or could afford to fund the kind of research we're doing here? Why would they?"
Ben punched his friend in the arm. "Truthfully? I don't really care. As long as those pay envelopes keep coming regularly, I don't ask questions." He shrugged. "As for Old English… maybe it's a joint venture with the Brits."
Mac mulled that idea over for a few moments, then nodded to himself. "I guess that's possible."
Mac and Ben had continued walking as they conversed until they came to a hallway intersection. Two of the directions led to various facility departments that the men were familiar with. The third lead to the living and recreational quarters. The fourth hallway extended about twenty yards then abruptly ended in a large, vault-like steel door. One had to have special access ID cards to get through that door. In the entire installation there were only two doors that led into or out of the south wing and only one small window in a hall wall adjacent to it. Most of the time that thick, dark, window was usually curtained, but there was that one time when Mac had been able to look in…
With all the high security and restricted access to the wing, Mac wondered why there'd be a window at all. So he asked his department head one time. His answer to Mac had been couched in words that clearly indicated that it was a topic that was best not talked about. The only thing he would say was that it was a last chance for communication to the rest of the facility in the event of a catastrophic accident. When he had asked for a clarification, his department head had told him to 'just forget about it'; if he was meant to know, someone would tell him.
The cryptic and nervous response had only reinforced Mac's concern that what was going on in the south wing was not something that he was comfortable with. But his boss had been right; it wasn't any of his business and he'd get along a lot better if he just let it alone. Still, curiosity was one of the things that made Mac a good researcher. It was hard to live and work next to such an enigma and not wonder.
Mac parted ways with his buddy, Ben heading back toward the labs, and he, having just ended his shift, toward his room. With one last glance toward the imposing steel door, Mac shook his head, trying to put it out of his mind, and started down that third hallway. He idly wondered what was being offered for dinner.
It was Clark Kent who let Lois into his apartment when she knocked on his door. He stepped aside and she was able to see the destruction that had been wrought to his place. She clucked her tongue and shook her head sympathetically.
"Somebody was very thorough, but not particularly neat," she said to the quiet reporter standing next to her. "Do you know if anything was taken yet?"
Clark shook his head. "No, not yet. But then I never keep sensitive story notes or information here at home." Clark ran his hand through his hair as a look of resignation came over his face. "Just in case of something like this. Problem is, I don't have anything that anyone would want right now… anywhere!"
"Oh, Clark! They broke your Jimmy!"
Lucy's exclamation caused both of them to turn their attention to her. Lois saw her sister sitting in a pile of domestic rubble holding onto some sort of statuette or bust. In one hand she held some sort of crystal sculpture and, in the other, an elegant square of walnut which must have served as its base.
Lois cocked her brow. "Your Jimmy?"
Clark reddened as he grinned at her expression. "It's a journalism award. The James B. Olsen Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism Excellence."
Lois chuckled. "That's quite a mouthful."
Clark nodded and chuckled in return. "That's why we call it a Jimmy. James Olsen was probably the first true investigative reporter for the Daily Planet. Back at the turn of the century, when political corruption was at its zenith in Metropolis, James Olsen led a tireless campaign, inside the paper and outside, against the crime he saw rampant in City Hall. It was largely through his relentless investigations that the corrupt administration of Boss Plaid was finally toppled."
Lois nodded. "Yeah, I remember the name now… from my school history books." Lois turned and gave Kent a coy look. "So, you fancy yourself a modern day James Olsen? The white knight out to vanquish the forces of villainy wherever you encounter it?"
Clark rolled his eyes and returned Lois' grin. "Hardly."
Lucy jumped up and joined the pair. "Clark won this award for exposing intolerable conditions at the Shady Vale Retirement Village."
"Really? It must have been an extremely dangerous assignment," Lois commented dryly.
"Hey…" Lucy began.
Clark laid his hand on her arm. "Never mind that now, Lucy. Let's continue to look through this stuff and see if we can find any clues as to who did it or what they were looking for."
Lois sighed. "Once Lucy called me I arranged for a forensics team to come over, but I suppose you two have been touching everything already and have smeared any prints that our perpetrator might have left behind."
Lucy and Clark blushed in unison. "Well, not everything." Lucy's voice was timorous.
"I thought so." Lois shook her head, sadly. "Let's just wait for the team before we rummage through anything else… shall we?"
The forensic team hadn't needed to spend much time in Clark's apartment. As expected, they found nothing. It probably hadn't mattered that Clark and Lucy had been going through things before the team had gotten there. Aside from their obvious prints, the rest of the place was remarkably clean. It was the police's opinion that the intruder had most likely worn gloves. They had looked for other possible clues but found nothing. Not even with Clark, Lucy, and Lois' help could they find anything: not a lost button, a loose thread or fiber, or even a suspicious hair. For all carnage that was left behind, the 'visitor' had been extremely fastidious in his personal habits.
Lucy was again in the middle of the living room floor picking up various items that had once rested on wall shelves. Lois was noting the basic pattern of destruction trying to glean some sort of insight as to what the looter had been looking for. Clark's home computer hadn't been destroyed, but it was obvious that all the disks had been looked through. The only real conclusion that Lois could make was that whoever had been here was looking for something specific, most likely information. It was not a common burglary.
"Hey, Clark, you do know that they have these things called music CDs now, don't you? And they even have them by artists who have produced music in this half of the century." Lucy looked up at Clark, a rueful grin on her face, as she held up several cassette tapes, and nodded toward a large pile of vinyl LPs. "Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller… come on, I know you're not that old."
Clark grinned in return. "Hey, what can I say? I like swing. I like other kinds of music, too."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "I'll say." She shuffled through several of the tapes in her hands. "Robert Cray, Howard Roberts, Gary Burton… Chick Corea?" She looked up at her colleague, her face a mask of bewilderment.
Lois had perked up at the mention of the jazz artists. "Gary Burton and Chick Corea? Do you have 'Duet'?" She moved quickly over to where Lucy was sitting and began to look through the loose tapes herself. "Wow, you have a great selection of jazz here. Burton and Corea's 'Duet' was always one of my favorite albums." Lois sighed. "Unfortunately, the LP got broken in my last move."
Clark walked over, did a quick check of stuff still on the floor, found the tape in question and plucked it off the floor. He handed the tape to Lois. "Feel free to make yourself a copy."
Lois returned the smile he gave her. "Thanks." She slipped the tape into her bag.
Lucy shuffled more of the tapes and LPs through her hands, her head shaking more with the reading of each different title. "Omigod, it's true. Your taste in music is nearly as awful as Lois'."
Both Lois and Clark chuckled at the young woman's dismay. "Maybe it's just an acquired taste, Lucy," Clark said, still grinning.
The ringing of Clark's phone interrupted the music appreciation lesson. "Hello?" Clark listened for a moment. "Hi, Perry, I was going to call you later. Yeah, I'm fine, but my apartment has been broken into. Yeah, the police are here." Clark listened a short time more, nodding a couple of times. "Sure, I'll tell her." Clark gave Lucy a mirthful look. "Okay, great, Perry, I'll see you tomorrow morning. No, really, I'm okay. Just a little sore, and I'm not going to be any less sore sitting at home than sitting at my desk. Yeah, I will take it easy, Perry. Don't worry. Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow… and, Perry, thanks."
Clark came over, smiling, and, offering his hand, helped Lucy to her feet. "Perry says unless there is a Planet related reason for you still to be here, he'd appreciate it if you'd come back to the paper." Clark couldn't hide his grin at Lucy's embarrassment. "I think he has some tasks with your name on them."
Clark escorted the pouting Lucy to the door. Lois called out to her as she made ready to leave. "Luce, go ahead and drive the jeep back to the Planet. I'll arrange to pick it up there." Lois gave her sister a pointed look but didn't add anything. Lucy got the message nevertheless.
Once Lucy had left, Clark busied himself with picking up various items and either putting them back on a shelf or desk top or gathering broken and damaged goods and stuffing them into trash bags. Lois followed him, her note pad and pencil still in hand.
"So, Mr. Kent, you're pretty sure that nothing was taken?" She said for the last time as she closed her notebook with a snap.
Clark shook his head as he headed for his bedroom. Lois followed. "No, nothing I can see, and please, call me Clark. This Mr. Kent formality makes me nervous. I feel like a suspect."
"Everyone is a suspect, Mr. Kent." Clark turned quickly to face Lois, but the sly grin on her face told him she'd been teasing him. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Okay, Mr., er, Clark, have you a place to stay for the night?"
Clark looked confused. "What do you mean? It's a little messy, but there's nothing wrong with my bed. I planned to stay here tonight."
Lois' left eyebrow arched into her forehead. "Is that wise? Someone has tried to kill you, twice. Add to that, your apartment has just recently been trashed. Not exactly a high security situation, if you ask me."
Clark shrugged. "What would you suggest?"
Lois gave him a bemused look. "Oh, I don't know. Stay somewhere else? Someplace where the bad guys don't know you're staying?" Lois grinned at Kent's blush of embarrassment. "Do you have a friend you can stay with? Perhaps you could check into a hotel?"
Clark nodded. "I guess I could stay in a hotel for a night or two. At least until I have a better handle on what this is all about." Clark went over to his closet and, sliding the door open, reached in for his overnight case. "I'll just pack up some stuff and head over to the Regal this afternoon."
"Sounds good," Lois said. "I'll wait and give you a ride downtown."
Clark flashed her a quick smile. "Thanks, I'd appreciate…"
"What the heck are these?" Lois had come up behind Clark and was now grabbing at some of his ties. "You don't actually wear these out in public, do you?"
Clark affected a look of hurt pride. "What do you mean? I think those ties are really neat."
"Neat?" Lois had to smother a laugh as she tried to put the ties back on the tie rack jutting from the wall of the closet.
"Here, let me take those…"
Clark tried to intervene but it was too late. Lois' hand had come down on the second peg of the tie rack causing it to move downward. There was an audible click and suddenly a portion of the closet's back wall popped open.
Clark reached for the hidden door, but Lois got there first. Pushing the secret panel further open, she looked into the hidden compartment. Hanging clearly revealed to the two occupants in the room were several familiar, brightly colored costumes. Lois used a moment to take in the primary colors and the familiar 'S' chest shield.
She turned, her eyes capturing those of a very nervous- looking reporter. "Would you like to explain these?" Her arm waved in the general direction of the back of the closet, and the suits.
Clark shook his head. "No."
Lois slowly walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down. She folded her arms across her chest and stared at Clark. "Do it anyway."
Lucy hadn't been back at the Daily Planet for more than a few minutes when the phone rang. She blew a strand of hair out of her eye as she dumped the huge stack of research requests on her desk and reached for the receiver.
The voice at the other end was pitched low and somewhat mysterious. "Is this the reporter who was out at the Boynton archeological site? The one who is helping Clark Kent." There was no inflection to the voice which made it all that much more ominous.
"Perhaps. Who's calling?" Lucy glanced around to see who might be calling her as a joke.
"No names." The voice paused for a beat. "There are things going on up there that have nothing to do with archeology."
"No kidding." Lucy had to remember to control her sarcasm. Maybe he really was one of Clark's sources. "I mean, that's what we suspect. What can you tell me?"
"So you're interested?"
Lucy rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and wondered if all Clark's sources were this annoying. "For the sake of argument, let's say that I am. What have you got for us?"
The soft chuckle was almost scary. "Uh uh. Not over the phone. We need to meet somewhere… tonight."
Lucy bit her lip as the lectures she had gotten from Lois, Perry, and Clark all came back to her. "I dunno. My partner won't be back until tomorrow."
"No! No one else. Just you, and it has to be tonight or I take my information to the Star."
At the threat, Lucy felt a slight surge of panic. This could be important; she didn't dare blow it. "Hey, don't get your shorts in a bunch. Just tell me what you have in mind."
The mystery voice took a couple of breaths. "Ten o'clock, pier 23. Come alone."
Lucy shook her head. Who did this guy think she was? She might be a bit green, but she wasn't stupid. "I don't think so," she answered. "I'd rather it be someplace a bit more… public? You understand, don't you? Bad things have been happening to people looking into that mine site."
Another scary chuckle. "Fair enough. Okay, same time, Centennial Park. You be at the statue of Superman. I'll be watching. If I'm sure you're alone, we'll talk. If not, I walk away."
Lucy bit her bottom lip as she warred with herself. Did she have the right to make such an agreement? After all, it technically wasn't her story. Still, she had put some extra time into it, including that trip to Boynton the other day. And she did so want to help Clark. It would be a shame to miss out on something important just because she was a little scared.
Allowing herself a small sigh, Lucy made up her mind. "Okay, I'll meet you. How will we recognize each other?"
"Don't worry, I'll know you."
Lucy was a bit discomfited by that. "How will you know me? Have we ever met? Hello? Hello?" He had hung up.
In a phone booth just down the block from the Daily Planet, Nigel St. John replaced the receiver on the pay phone. It was set. Another potential problem would be dealt with.
After his talk with Dr. Mamba and his review of the operation up in Boynton, Nigel had realized that they had difficulties that went beyond Clark Kent. Nigel immediately recognized Lucy Lane from the security camera footage taken the night she was there and knew that the woman represented another complication.
Mamba had also been most insistent in his assessment that he was ready for testing on a human subject. He expected Nigel to pass along his request, and then Lex would see that he got his lab rat. A very slight smile twitched at the corners of Nigel's mouth. This seemed the perfect opportunity to solve a couple of his problems in one shot.
Nigel left the phone booth and strolled casually toward downtown and LexTower. He would see to this, personally. No need to bother Lex about it. Sometimes it was easier to get things done properly if Lex was left out of the mix. Nigel could see that this would be one of those times.
Clark stared at the beautiful detective sitting on the corner of his bed, her arms folded across her chest and her eyebrow cocked in expectation. She assumed that because she wanted to know that he would tell her. Clark warred with himself. A part of him wanted to confess everything to her. Wanted to tell her of the devious trap he'd stumbled into. The unbearable pain he experienced as he was doused in the glowing green liquid that spewed from the mannequin as it exploded in his face.
His mind flashed back to that awful night months ago. He'd been flying a routine patrol, a practice that he'd gotten into only a few months prior. He heard the unmistakable cry for help coming from an old abandoned pier in Hobbs Bay. He'd zeroed in on the woman's cry and flew to her rescue. Upon landing he saw a man running away from a crouching figure. Thinking to check on the victim before he'd go after the perpetrator, Clark had gone swiftly to the side of what he thought was a terrorized woman. It hadn't been.
He hadn't even had time to be surprised by the fact that it had been a mannequin that he'd come to rescue, when it had exploded. The doll had obviously been filled with some sort of kryptonite-based liquid. The force of the explosion had drenched him in the sickly-glowing, green, viscous goop. It clung to him like molasses, and the pain was like nothing he'd ever experienced before. He didn't feel the usual sensation that he'd come to associate with exposure to kryptonite. Instead the pain was more intense, and it seemed like it burned. It felt like his very life was being sucked out of him.
He stumbled around for several moments, barely conscious, when a distant part of his perception became aware of someone standing nearby. He tried to call to him for help, but when he was able to focus his vision enough to make out the figure, any thought of assistance from that source died in his throat.
Lex Luthor had stepped out of the shadows into the weak glare of the single light post which still operated in that part of the pier. On his face was a smile of triumph. He was taking great pleasure in Superman's agony. Lex had won, and he was gloating.
That gloating visage was the last thing Clark remembered until he woke up several hours later on a stretch of coastline far from where he'd been. He could only imagine what must have happened. During his suffering he must have stumbled to the pier's edge and fallen into the heavily polluted waters of the bay. The tides had been going out and must have carried his nearly unconscious body out to sea, only to washed it ashore miles from where he'd fallen in. To this day he still didn't know how he managed to survive, how he had managed not to drown. But he had survived, sort of. Whatever Luthor had used had affected him significantly.
When he'd awoken on that beach, miles away, he'd been shivering with cold. It was a sensation he'd never known before. His body ached, and his head pounded in what he could only surmise was a migraine-like headache. A quick check had confirmed what he had guessed to be true. His powers were gone. He'd been in such bad shape that he'd been forced to call Perry for help. The next several minutes were a blur as he barely recalled stumbling up the beach to a nearby pay phone. It had been terribly difficult to fish the few coins he kept in a secret pocket of his suit for just such an emergency. After making the call, Clark collapsed next to the old phone booth, hoping that Perry could get to him in time.
It must have been a shock for Perry, finding Superman sprawled, nearly unconscious where he expected to find Clark. Clark didn't remember Perry wrestling him into his car, nor the trip to the hospital for treatment. He must have somehow stripped the costume from Superman, because it was Clark Kent who was admitted to the hospital that day. As it was, he had needed to be treated for hypothermia due to his extended exposure to the cold ocean waters. He had nearly died.
From his one other exposure to kryptonite, he knew that it could take away his powers but they had returned after a short time. This time they hadn't. Not only hadn't his powers returned, but whatever he'd been exposed to hadn't felt like kryptonite, at least not the crystals he'd been subject to that other time. Could there be other forms of kryptonite he wasn't aware of?
Clark mentally shook off those thoughts as he refocused on his present circumstances. He'd gone around and around with himself as to what had happened to him and why it had affected him the way it did to no good answer. Reviewing it now was pointless.
He had other concerns at the moment. For as much as a part of him yearned to share his misfortune with the vibrant and lovely Lois Lane, he knew he couldn't. Every night, in his dreams, he saw Lex Luthor's cruel, gloating leer. And Lois Lane was Lex Luthor's girlfriend…
Clark sighed and finally met her eyes. "What would you have me say?"
Lois gave him a sardonic shrug. "Oh, maybe you could start with why you have several Superman costumes hanging in a secret compartment in your closet." Lois stood and moved more closely until she was right next to Clark. "Then, perhaps, you could tell me what you know about the disappearance of that same… superhero? That is what you media types labeled him… isn't it?"
"What makes you think I know anything about that?" Clark couldn't look Lois in the eyes.
"Call it a hunch." Lois began to pace about the small bedroom. "Let's review the facts, shall we. That is what we detectives are supposed to do." She gave him an insincere smile. "Less than a year ago, this mystery man bursts upon the scene, saving the space station's shuttle from going boom. No one knows anything about him: where he came from, what he's doing here? He says he's a friend, and he just wants to help." Lois gave Clark a pointed look. "That is what you stated in your interview, isn't it?"
Lois ignored Clark's pensive look as she continued. "This 'Superman' goes on making one miraculous rescue after another. Over the months, countless lives and property are saved due to his unbelievable abilities. Suddenly…" Lois snapped her fingers. "He's gone. Just like that. No announcements or pronouncements… no body, just disappears into thin air. Which, considering his ability to fly, isn't such a far-fetched idea. Still no one knows what happened or where he went."
Lois went back to Clark's bed and sat down, continuing to fix her eyes on his. "Do you know how much pressure the department received to *solve* Superman's disappearance? For weeks on end we had to pull extra shifts and overtime, trying to follow up empty leads and false clues as to what happened to Metropolis' new favorite son. Hell, we even had to deal with the FBI sticking their nose into it and getting underfoot. But you know what we came up with? Bupkiss, nada, nothing. There were no clues. There were no answers. Superman was gone." Lois took a moment to indulge in a sigh of her own. "We had to conclude, as did everyone else, that one of two things had happened. Either the guy was 'just passing through'." She made the quotes sign with her fingers. "Or he was dead." Lois' eyes where bright with intensity as they bored into Clark's. He had to turn away.
Clark walked over to the window and made a show of looking out at the passing traffic. He could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He nervously cleared his throat before he could find his voice. "Again I ask, what makes you think I know anything about Superman's disappearance?"
Lois shook her head in amazement as she softly chuckled. "Let's see: you have his costumes hanging in your closet, you can't look me in the eye when I ask you a question." Lois stood back up, insinuated herself between him and the window, and laid her hand on Clark's chest. "And I can tell you are a lousy liar, Mr. Kent. So I'm going to ask you one more time… " But Lois didn't ask it, she merely pointed to the suits hanging in the secret compartment behind them.
"It's no big thing… really." Clark's voice was hesitant and he continually looked everywhere but at Lois directly. "I did his laundry for him. Superman didn't have a washing machine." Clark steeled himself to meet her gaze. "Is that so hard to believe?"
It was Lois' turn to shrug. "Maybe not, maybe you did launder his suits for him, but I'm convinced you know what happened to him."
Clark reply was guarded. "Why is that?"
"You told me you *did* his laundry for him, that he *didn't* have a washing machine. Past tense, Kent." Lois glanced quickly at the suits, then back to Clark. "You know he's gone and isn't coming back, and I'll wager you know what happened to him, too."
Lois stared hard at Clark Kent, trying to get him to tell her what she wanted to know just from the force of her will. She watched as he alternately frowned and bit his lower lip. It was obvious that he knew more than he was telling. Much more.
"I didn't kill Superman." Clark's voice was soft, but insistent.
Lois snorted. "I never thought you had." Lois took a breath. "Look, Kent, we don't know each other very well. I've only had a chance to talk with you a couple of times, but I've listened to my sister talk about you, and I'm observant. I see the things you have around your apartment. The kinds of books you keep, the mementos of friends and family. I've read your stuff in the Daily Planet. My impression of you is not that of a killer, despite what this circumstantial evidence may lead to. Just the opposite, actually."
Clark held his face expressionless. "Oh, and what would that be?"
Lois shook her head and let escape a silent chuckle. "Like I said, I don't really know you, but if asked, I'd say you were a chronic do-gooder. You are a Don Quixote looking for windmills to tilt at." Lois cocked her head. "You are passionate and tough, in your own way, but never mean- spirited. I'd guess, you'd be willing to give your life for a just cause, but never kill for it. Maybe that's why Superman trusted you with *his laundry* — you two seem a lot alike." Lois noted with interest the blush that came over Kent at her words. She was right about him. Now, she just had to figure out why he wouldn't talk to her.
He had turned his back to her and was looking out the window again. "I don't see what Superman's disappearance has to do with the current situation, the attempts on my life… do you?" he asked.
Lois had to fight back the urge to reach out and place her hand on that taught, tense back. She didn't understand what was happening to her. Nothing about Clark Kent seemed to make sense to her. He'd been so frank and open in their discussions earlier; now suddenly, he had clammed up. Something about his relationship with Superman had caused him to close himself off from her. But instead of zeroing in for the kill with hard questions and threats as she normally would have done, she felt like she wanted to put her arms around him and tell him everything was going to be all right. What was wrong with her?
"Look, Ken — er, Clark," she said. "Technically, you're right. The Superman disappearance doesn't have anything to do with our investigation into your attempted murder… unless you can provide me with a connection?" She sighed when no reply was forthcoming. "But you have to know that the Superman investigation has never been closed. Now I find several of the man's suits hanging in your closet. What am I supposed to think?" She timidly reached up and touched him on the shoulder. "What am I supposed to say?"
Clark turned and faced her. His lips were drawn in a tight line. "It doesn't matter. I don't think he'll ever be coming back."
Lois sucked in a short breath. "You don't *think* he'll be coming back? Do you know that for sure?"
A strange look passed quickly over Clark's face. It looked almost like — hope. But, just as quickly, it was gone. Replaced by a look of depressed resignation. "No, no, I don't. But I don't think it would do anyone any good to hold out any hope for his return."
Lois bit her own bottom lip. "I get the feeling that you think he's not dead. Is that true? Do you know what happened to him?"
Clark moved back to where he'd left his overnight bag and haphazardly began to throw things into it. "It doesn't matter; he's gone. Leave well enough alone." He threw a few more things into his bag and zipped it shut. "Are you still willing to take me to the hotel?"
Lois' emotions warred within her. She should be angry with the recalcitrant reporter. She should be threatening him with all the legal ramifications of withholding evidence on an ongoing investigation. She should be reading him the riot act, but something held her righteous anger in check.
Was it the look of utter defeat she saw in his eyes? Was it the certainty she felt that he wouldn't tell her any more no matter how she might threaten him? It was strange because she definitely got the impression that he wanted to tell her, but something held him back. He just wasn't ready to tell her… yet.
"Of course, I'll take you. Are you ready?" She saw him nod, and the two of them turned to go.
Lois Lane became a police detective for two reasons. One, she really wanted to make a difference in the world. Help right wrongs and make her city a better place. But also she loved a mystery. Her adrenaline was stoked by the unanswered question, the unknown motive. She lived to solve those mysteries. Now the possible answers to one of the biggest mysteries of recent times was almost within her grasp. If she had to invent reasons to stick with this reluctant journalist she would. She would find a way to win his trust, and get to the bottom of not only the great Superman mystery, but, also, she would find out who was behind the attempts on his life. She owed him that much. Besides, it was what she did, and she did it well.
Lucy watched the clock on the bullpen wall creep ever so slowly as the minutes dragged on. She still had quite some time left before she would need to leave to meet Clark's source in Centennial Park. At least, she assumed it was Clark's source. The guy never had come out and said that he was. She shook off that thought. She'd know soon enough.
She turned back to her computer screen. No sense not getting some more work done since she was going to be here a while anyway. She had called and left a message for Lois on the machine telling her she was going to be working late, and she had told Perry, when he'd asked why she was still there, that she had a lot of research to catch up on. Which was true. Her concern for Clark had caused her to fall a little behind in her day to day assignments. She hadn't been able to reach Clark. No one had answered at his apartment.
She felt a bit guilty for not telling Lois or Perry what she was going to do, but she knew what their responses would be. They would both hem and haw about the danger and probably tell her she couldn't go. Or insist that one of them go with her. She didn't know what this guy might have that could help the investigation but she couldn't risk not finding out. He'd said for her to come alone. If she didn't, he would probably leave and then she'd never find out, unless she read about it in the Star. Now there was something Perry wouldn't appreciate. No, contrary to what she had promised Clark, she felt she had to do this. Besides, she had made sure the meeting was in an open public place, and Lois wasn't the only one who knew some martial arts. Lucy was confident she could do this. After all, it was all part of the job, wasn't it?
She had finished up the last of her assigned tasks a few minutes ago, and now she had decided to turn her attention back to the Boynton mine ownership search. As long as she still had some time to wait before leaving, she might as well put it to good use. She was sure if she could trace it back to something more concrete than just an empty holding company, it would provide her and Clark with some clue as to what might be going on up there. It might even give her a bit of an edge when she met that source.
She had managed to follow the sale of the mine to a company called A.C.L. Holdings. It was an empty shell company, and her search had stopped there. Lucy stared at the screen for several seconds, looking for a different approach. She'd had no luck trying to find out who might be behind A.C.L., so maybe she should just see if there was anyone interesting *in* A.C.L.
It took her twenty minutes to track it down, but it seemed that A.C.L. Holdings' assets were controlled, on paper, by one person, Ariana Carlin. The name sounded vaguely familiar to Lucy, so she did a search on Ms. Carlin.
It turned out that Ariana Carlin was a successful celebrity psychologist. Now Lucy remembered where she recognized the name from. The woman had several best-selling self help books out, and she had a column in the Metropolis Star every Sunday. What the heck did a psychologist want or need an old, spent copper mine for? It wasn't like it would make a good investment for her portfolio. Lucy pursed her lips and launched into a deeper search.
She pulled up everything that was available on the ubiquitous Ms. Carlin. She quickly scrolled through the typical biographical stuff: birthplace, where she grew up, went to school. Lucy had to nod in appreciation when she saw that Ariana was second in her graduating class at college.
She frowned as the data seemed to skip the years right out of college to a time, not too many years ago, when she began to make a name for herself as a celebrity in her own right. Her first book had become a best seller, and she was a frequent guest on the late night talk shows. Her syndicated column was beginning to be picked-up by papers across the country. The rest, Lucy knew. There had to be something in that missing span of time after college, but what, she had no idea.
A.C.L. Holdings? She supposed the A. and C. could conceivably stand for Ariana Carlin, but what about the L? Was that significant? Was there someone else involved? Another name, another… married name? A smile split Lucy's face. Could that be it? she wondered.
Lucy glanced quickly at the clock again. Still an hour to go before she had to meet her mystery date in the park. Time enough to search the marriage license applications for the period of time in question. It took the better part of a half an hour to track down what she was looking for. The difficulty had lain in the fact that Ariana had been married at sea by the captain of a cruise ship.
Lucy's jaw dropped as the information came up on her screen. Things suddenly became a lot clearer… and a lot more confusing. A.C.L. clearly stood for Ariana Carlin… Luthor!
Knowing that she now had to hurry to make her appointment in Centennial Park, Lucy quickly printed out a copy of the marriage certificate and stuck it in an envelope. She wrote Clark's name on it and placed in on his computer keyboard, where he'd be sure to see it.
Wow! she thought as she hurried up the ramp toward the elevator. Lex Luthor had been married! Lucy couldn't wait to tell Lois.
Lois dragged herself out of bed with a great reluctance. She'd tossed and turned all night; her two minds had kept arguing with herself about what she should do about Lex. Her logical, practical mind told her to just tell Lex to kiss off. That she didn't need or want to have anything to do with someone who could rationalize the kind of behavior that he'd exhibited the other night.
The more loyal and forgiving side of her personality, and despite what some of her co-workers might say she did have one, argued for allowing Lex a second chance. Everyone was entitled to one mistake. Though her logical half would counter with the fact that this was no simple error of judgment. This was a major faux pas.
And so it went, round and round, most of the night. Never being able to arrive at a definite conclusion, Lois finally fell into an exhausted sleep, only to be woken up a few hours later when her alarm went off. A quick shower and change would be all she would have time for, unless she wanted to be late.
Lois poked her head out of her bedroom. "Lucy, are you up yet?" Lois listened for a moment, then raised her voice a notch. "Lucy?"
Lois had gotten Lucy's message that she'd be working late. She hoped that the girl hadn't stayed out too late and now wouldn't be able to get up. Lois had first hand experience at trying to get an overtired Lucy Lane out of bed… much too often.
Lois stuck her head through the door into Lucy's room. There was no one there. The bed was made and the clothes that she'd thrown over her chair the other day were still there. Lois doubted that Lucy had gotten up before her and had made her bed and quietly left before she woke up. That meant that Lucy hadn't come home last night.
"Dammit, Lucy, not again!" Lois harshly whispered under her breath.
Thoughts of her addle-headed sibling going back up to that mine site and getting herself into trouble quickly pushed their way into Lois' brain. She was going to have to have a talk with that editor of Lucy's… right after she locked her sister in her room and strangled her.
The shrill ring of the phone startled Lois, and it took her an extra ring before she realized what it was. Thinking it might be Lucy, she rushed over and picked it up. "Lucy?"
The laconic drawl coming from the other end of the phone was only too familiar and certainly not Lucy. "Noooo, this is your other partner. You know, the one that you occasionally work with. Lucy is the one you live with. Have you tried her room?"
Lois frowned into the phone. "I already did. She's not there." Lois debated whether to share her concerns with Bill or not. "She left a message last night saying she was going to be working late, but it doesn't look like she ever came home."
Henderson's chuckle wasn't the least bit sympathetic. "Maybe she got lucky. Just because it never happens to you doesn't mean that Lucy is going to be an old maid like her big sister." Lois could tell Bill was enjoying this too much. "Don't worry, she's a big girl. She'll turn up. She probably just fell asleep at her desk at work. Seems I remember that happening to you a time or two."
Lois sighed and counted to ten. "What do you want, Bill?"
Henderson's tone of voice suddenly changed to one that was more serious. "I've got some news for you. Talked to the Chief this morning. As of right now, we are off the Kent case."
Lois was stunned. "What? Why?"
Henderson snorted. "Heck if I know. Did you do something to offend Kent? Chief Andrews didn't say anything, but I got the impression that somebody put pressure on him to take us off the case. Could it have been Kent?"
Lois' mind raced back to the previous day. Her lips thinned as she remembered his reluctance to talk to her about the Superman suits. She hadn't pressed him beyond her initial inquiries, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't think she would pursue the subject. Which she had planned on doing. Maybe he'd called up the Chief and complained about her, though she didn't figure he'd tell Andrews the real reason for his wanting her off the case.
"Well, it's possible that Kent may have had me removed. I don't think he appreciated some of my questions," Lois finally replied.
"What kind of questions? And why am I not surprised?" was the amused response.
"Never mind that now. I've got to get going." Lois found herself impatiently tapping her foot.
"Oh, actually planning on coming into work on ti-, er, close to being on time?"
"No, I've got to go down to the Daily Planet."
It was Bill's turned to be surprised. "Whoa, there, partner. Which part of off the case didn't you understand?"
"Screw that," Lois growled. "I've got to find my sister. Expect me when you see me, and if Andrews doesn't like it, well, he knows what he can do about it too."
Lois replaced the phone onto its cradle, not waiting for any more replies from her partner. She rushed into her bedroom for that quick shower and change. Breakfast would have to wait for another day. She just hoped that they had some decent coffee over at the Daily Planet.
Lucy Lane was confused and very scared. She was sitting on a hard chair, her eyes covered by a cloth blindfold. The way the sound had echoed when she'd been 'escorted' into this place and whenever she'd made any moves in her chair suggested a small, empty room. The floor was hard under her feet, like tile, and the walls must be a hard finish also. She couldn't tell if there was any light or not. The blindfold was that tight.
She couldn't tell how long she'd been sitting in that chair but it must have been hours. She was tired, very tired, but she was too uncomfortable to fall asleep. She knew that she was in big trouble, and she had no idea what she should do.
She was also angry at herself for being so stupid. She had known that the meeting with the source could possibly be a trap, but she'd let her desire to be the 'big important' reporter blind her to the possible dangers. Her desire to be the one to come up with that special piece of information which would break the big story had caused her to ignore her own common sense and chase the proverbial golden goose. If only she'd been smart enough to tell Perry or Lois where she was going. Instead, she had wanted to show them all just how good an investigative reporter she could be, and now she was going to pay the price.
She choked back a sob as she, again, focused on what that price probably would be. She was sure she was going to die… and no one would know what had happened to her.
Lucy had approached her scheduled rendezvous with a fair bit of confidence and just a little pride. She'd felt good that she had picked a public place like Centennial Park. It had helped make her think that she would be safe. It was a critical mistake. She hadn't taken into account that at ten o'clock at night not that many people would be in the park to start with. She had also forgotten that the statue of Superman which was to serve as their meeting spot was at the far end of the park, near the lake. It was also near the densest stand of trees in the entire park.
She waited nervously for several minutes, constantly glancing around her, looking for anyone who might be her mysterious source. It was then that she began to realize how deserted the park actually was, and it unnerved her even more. She was just about to give in to her fears and leave when she heard a deep voice, the voice from the phone, whisper her name.
A tall figure came toward her from out of the trees to her right. It appeared to be a man, covered in a long trench type coat and a wide-brimmed hat, but beyond that she could make out no features. He whispered a cordial greeting and extended his hand to her. She took it, felt the pain of a sharp needle prick, and remembered no more. That was, until she woke up as she was being manhandled into this room and the chair she currently sat in.
She wasn't tied to it or bound in any way. Having regained consciousness and already blindfolded, she had been put in this room, in this chair and told to sit. So she sat. She had called out for a time, wondering if any one was there, and asking what was going on, but she never dared to move, nor did she risk taking off the blindfold. If she never saw her captors, she couldn't identify them. Perhaps that just might be the little detail that would let her come out of this situation alive. Eventually she gave up and just sat there in silence, wondering what she should do.
One horrible scenario after another kept spooling across the picture screen in her mind. She vacillated between being petrified in anticipatory terror, to trying to 'suck it up' and wondering what Lois would do in the same situation.
Suddenly her attention was seized by the sound of a door opening, *the* door, the door to the room. She swore that whoever's footsteps were approaching must be able to hear the clamorous hammering of her heart as she failed to keep it from racing like a Derby favorite. She tried to swallow but her mouth was too dry.
"Stand up." It was a simple command, one with which she immediately complied. "Take off the blindfold." Lucy hesitated. "Now!"
She ripped the cloth from around her eyes in a reflexive reaction to the stern tone of the voice. Lucy had to blink several times as her eyes watered from the abrupt change from dark to light. It took several moments for her eyes to adjust to the typical level of blue white light provided by a single, double bulbed fluorescent ceiling fixture.
She had guessed right. The room was very small, only about eight by ten, and there was no other furniture beyond the chair she had been sitting in. The walls were plaster, painted a simple beige color. The ceiling was plain white and the floor was mottled beige and white tile. The place looked almost… antiseptic.
Finally able to focus properly, Lucy turned her attention to the person who had entered. It was a man. Tall, dark, and… ordinary. There was no unusual or remarkable distinctness to his features. He looked like a hundred other guys she'd met in her young life — well, maybe a little larger. He was likely older than her, maybe in his early thirties, and pretty well built. She didn't think her very limited exposure to the martial arts would do her much good against him. His hair was short and light in color. His expression was hard to read. If she had to, she'd say he didn't have an expression.
"We are going to leave this room." His voice didn't carry any particular emotion, but the tone was one of expected compliance. "I will guide you. You will go where I direct you. You will not look back or to either side. You will stare only at the floor a few feet in front of where you are walking until we arrive at our destination. If you do not follow these instructions exactly as I have outlined them you will be punished. Do you understand what I have said?"
Lucy meekly nodded. The man didn't seem to put any heavy emphasis on what he'd said but she thought she was scared more by his total lack of emotion and his flat delivery than she would have been if he'd threatened her with outright menace. He grabbed her arm and led her to the door.
Remembering his warning, Lucy tipped her head down and picked a spot two feet in front of her and allowed his grip on her arm to guide her. The hallway was of a similar tile to what had been in the small room. While not daring to look to one side or the other, she did tuck her hair behind her ear in an unconscious response to it falling forward at the tilt of her head. Her peripheral vision gave her an impression of stark white walls and harsh fluorescent lighting. It was very institutional like. It felt like a hospital.
A few minutes and several turns later they stopped. She was able to see the bottom couple feet of a heavy metal doorway. Her 'companion' seemed to lean forward, and she could hear the unmistakable sound of a card being swiped at a security lock. The expected buzz never sounded but the card must have worked because the fellow was able to open the door and quickly ushered her through.
A couple of minutes more and another three turns later the pair stopped in front of a plain wooden door. Realizing they must have reached their destination Lucy allowed herself to look up. The door was solid, no windows, and a single brass number, six, was centered there. Her silent escort pushed down on the paddle handle and pushed the door open. He gave her a shove into the center of the room.
"Take off your clothes. You'll find a robe on the bed. The doctor will be in to see you shortly."
Lucy turned back toward him. "Wait, there must be some mistake, I don't need to see a doctor!" It was too late; he'd closed the door and left. "I'm not sick," she said plaintively
It was then she noticed that there was no handle on her side of the door. It obviously could only be opened from the outside. Taking a deep breath in an effort to calm her quickly rising fears, she took a moment to glance around at her new surroundings. She didn't like what she saw.
The room was a little bigger than her previous accommodation, but not by much. The walls were of a hard, plaster as was the other room. There were no windows. A simple cot with a thin mattress and blanket was against one wall. Next to it was another of those hard chairs and a small table. The other side of the room held what Lucy assumed was supposed to be the sanitary facilities. A single stainless steel sink hung off the far wall, and next to it was a simple toilet, also stainless steel. No consideration of privacy, no curtain, nothing. To Lucy, it looked like a prison cell. Considering the situation, that probably wasn't far from the truth.
She was puzzled by one feature of her little prison, though. The floor was tile just like it had been everywhere else, but in this room the glazed flooring gently sloped to the middle of the room where a large drain had been installed. Lucy couldn't think of any logical reason or purpose for it to be there, but it was. She frowned at the mystery.
Unlike a stereotypical cell, the room was well lit. Two large overhead light fixtures provided a level of illumination that one wouldn't think to find in such a place. It took Lucy a couple more moments to discover the reason why. High up in one corner of the ceiling was the telltale lens of a video camera. She also noticed that there was no obvious switch for the overhead lights. Wonderful, she thought; not only was her every move likely being watched, or at least recorded, she didn't even have the advantage of controlling the lights. Her gaze was inexorably drawn back to the toilet sitting out in the open.
A grimace stretched her lips. "Great."
Nigel walked into Lex's penthouse office in a black mood. Confound that woman, why did she always have to be such a problem? he asked himself. He had rued the day that Lex had decided to take up with Lois Lane. What he saw in the woman was beyond him. She was too independent, too self- righteous, and to top it off, she was a police officer. She wasn't even that good looking. Well, not to Nigel's eyes anyway. His tastes tended to run in a somewhat different direction.
Lex looked up from some papers on his desk when Nigel entered. "Ah, Nigel, tell me you have had your discussions with Chief Andrews and all has been taken care of."
Nigel gave Lex a slight, deferential nod. "I talked to him personally earlier and was assured that Lane would be taken off the Kent case immediately. My source in the department confirmed that Henderson had been told and called his partner early this morning."
Lex leaned back, a satisfied smile on his face. "Excellent, now we can concentrate on Kent without risking my lovely Lois." His face darkened for just a moment. "We have some *differences* to work out." His smile returned.
Nigel allowed himself a small sigh before clearing his throat to regain Luthor's attention. When Lex looked back at him, Nigel frowned. "I'm afraid there's still a bit of a problem, sir."
Lex's eyes narrowed. "What sort of problem?"
"Well as you know, sir," Nigel began. "We've been having Ms. Lane followed."
"And?" Lex's voice had a dangerous edge to it.
"It seems that the good detective didn't go directly to work when she left her apartment this morning."
Lex rolled his eyes, then sighed. "Why do I get the feeling you're going to tell me something I don't want to hear?"
Nigel acknowledged his employer's perceptiveness with a mildly chagrined smile. "She headed directly for the Daily Planet."
Lex closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. "Oh, Lois why must you always be such a trial?" Lex then shrugged and grinned. "But then that's what makes you so special, isn't it? You are a challenge. A challenge I intend to win." Lex looked at Nigel for a couple of beats before continuing. "You know what they say, all is fair in love and war."
"And which might this be, sir?"
Lex gave Nigel an uncharacteristic wink. "I'll let you know when I find out myself."
Mac entered the installation through the front mine entrance. There were a couple of other more secret and secured entrances, but most of the researchers came and went through the actual mine opening. It fit in with their cover as archeologists working in the old abandoned mine. If anyone happened to be watching them it would seem totally natural for the archeologists and their 'students' to come and go through the mine's 'only' entrance.
Mac exited the jeep that they all used when the need to go into town prompted a trip. Not that a trip into Boynton was any great thrill. At first, some of the younger guys used to go into the small burg on Friday nights, but they soon found that there really wasn't anything to do. Since 'The Powers That Be' discouraged trips to the big city, most of the workers no longer bothered to leave the installation very often. It was not that going off site wasn't allowed, it was just a major hassle. It was analogous to getting a pass in the military, only with even more paper work. That was why most only made the effort for 'special' occasions.
The restricted nature of the working conditions made having any kind of social life somewhat difficult, but the pay was good… no, it was very good, and the work was exciting. Under those circumstances, Mac figured he could easily endure his six month contract. And probably even sign up for another term.
There were only five people in his department, of which only one was a women, and she was significantly older than he. He wasn't sure of the exact count, but Mac would guess there wasn't more than twenty to twenty-five people working in the entire installation, including those working security. Of those, he'd only seen a handful of females and had met only two. That meant that the opportunity for any sexual liaisons was severely limited. Not that it made much difference to Mac. He had never been the kind of guy who engaged in sexual gymnastics just for the entertainment value. He was more old fashioned. He really enjoyed meeting and getting to know a woman first. All the rest would come later if it was right. And it would be that much better because of the waiting.
Mac pulled the two bags of groceries out of the back of the jeep just before the security person got in and drove the vehicle to its normal parking spot. The facility provided three squares a day, but anything beyond that was up to the individual. So Mac and some of the guys would take turns going into Boynton to pick up those extra 'special' supplies. Things like chips, beer, ding dongs, twinkies, and generally anything full of processed sugar or alcohol.
The rec center in the place was well equipped with many of the typical diversions such as pool and foosball tables, video games, and even a fully outfitted exercise room and gymnasium next to it. But the highlight of the off hours for most of the fellows was the giant, 54 inch, flat screen TV. Watching a big game on that television might not compare with being out someplace nice with a woman, but in a world with few women, it came a close second. Mac hustled himself inside with his two bags, one under each arm. It just so happened that there was a game tonight, and the gang would want their snacks well in hand before any pregame hype died down. Besides, his shift started in a few minutes so he'd best move quickly so as not to be late. Tardiness was frowned upon.
Mac hadn't quite gotten through the common area when, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted some movement off to one side. Turning to see what it was nearly caused him to drop his groceries. He recognized the big guy as one of the South Wingers, but the young woman he was with was a complete stranger to him. Mac had to admit that he didn't know everyone in the facility by sight, but he did know most of them. Occasionally there were full staff meetings where any new rules or situations were imparted to everyone. He couldn't remember ever seeing her at one of those, and he was pretty sure he'd remember her. She was beautiful. Still, it didn't necessarily mean anything. She could be new.
There was something wrong with the picture, though. The guy from the south wing had a tight grip on her upper arm, and seemed to be almost pushing her down the hallway. Not exactly the most friendly way to escort a new employee around.
There was something wrong with the young woman too. She seemed reluctant to be going where she was being led. She was biting her lip, and staring straight ahead at the floor a couple of feet in front of her. Her eyes never strayed from that spot in front of her feet. She looked scared.
Mac was just about to call out to them, when they turned a corner and passed from his sight. He hurried down the hall to the spot where he'd last seen the pair, but a few feet ahead was another intersection. He made it to the junction in another few steps but neither of them were anywhere in sight. He'd lost them.
Mac slowly retraced his steps, back the way he'd come, and continued on toward his own quarters. A frown furrowed his brow. He knew that he'd be dreaming of that lovely woman tonight. He had to find out who she was… he had to.
Lucy had changed into the robe as she had been instructed. Part of her wanted to defy her captors and not put on that flimsy hospital type robe, but she was too unsure of her situation and didn't want to do anything to anger them until she had a better idea of why she was there and what was going to happen to her. She assumed that she was somewhere either in or around that mine site near Boynton. It only made sense, but there was no way to be sure. The so-called offer of information on the mine from that mystery source could just have been bait to get her out to the meet. Her present situation could just as easily be about practically anything. Logically, nothing else came to mind, but she wasn't going to allow herself to not consider any possibility. She would have to try and keep her wits about her and keep her eyes and ears open.
Mindful of the camera in the corner, she undressed and put the robe on as quickly as possible. After that, she neatly folded her own clothes and set them on the single hard chair. She then sat on the edge of the bed and waited for 'the doctor' to arrive. She didn't have long to wait.
It hadn't been more than fifteen minutes after she'd been shown to this room when the door opened and a man in the white-coated 'uniform' of a doctor came through. He was middle-aged and in his younger days had most likely been a good-looking man. He had let himself go. His face showed more lines than it needed to and his chin was jowly. He wasn't tall, but carried the poundage of a much larger man. All in all he wasn't the most imposing sight, but he did seem to carry an air of confidence with him. Lucy stood as he approached her. It just seemed like the thing to do.
"My, aren't you a pretty young thing." He reached out and placed his hand under her chin, turning her head one way, then the other. Lucy felt like some prize animal being inspected before a sale. "I'm Doctor Mamba. This is my facility."
"I don't understand," Lucy spoke up. "Why am I here?"
Dr. Mamba stepped back for a moment and looked around the room, then back to Lucy. He smiled. "You are here because I need you. You have a very important function to fulfill. You are going to help further my research, and, I might add, make me a very rich man."
Lucy shook her head in confusion. She was getting more scared by the moment. She took a deep breath and tried to summon up a brave voice. "I have to tell you that some very important people know I'm gone. They are going to be looking for me. I'm Lu -"
Mamba placed his finger over her lips. "Shhh, no names. It doesn't matter who you were. That's all over now. Now you exist here." He moved his arm in a sweeping gesture to encompass the room. "You exist only to further my research."
Lucy's eyes got real big. "Are you going to kill me?"
Mamba shook his head and chuckled. "Oh no, my dear girl. You are much too valuable to me to kill outright. I have much grander plans for you. Now, if you would please sit while I take some untainted samples."
"Some what?" Lucy was clearly confused, but she sat.
Mamba reached into his pocket and pulled out a little glass dish. "Would you hold this for me?" He placed the cover of the dish into Lucy's left hand. "Thanks."
Mamba reached into his other pocket and pulled out some sort of metal instrument. It looked like something a dentist might use as it was long and thin but had a wide flat end to it. "Open up," he said, in a sing song voice as he nudged her lips apart. Before she knew what she was doing, Lucy had opened her mouth wide. Mamba inserted the stainless steel instrument and scraped it along the inside of her mouth. He then pulled it out and deposited the gunk he'd collected into the little glass dish. He took the cover from Lucy's hand and covered the dish, then put it into his pocket.
He proceeded to pull out a couple of small glass dishes; petri dishes were what Lucy remembered them being called. He set them on the table and removed the covers from each. Pulling a small pair of surgical scissors from his pocket, he grabbed Lucy's left hand and trimmed two of her fingernails down to her fingertips. He placed them in one dish. He then reached up and snipped off a lock of her hair and placed it in the second dish. These he also placed into his pocket.
Mamba went over to the door and knocked once. It opened and he spoke to someone, out of Lucy's sight, on the other side of the door. He turned back to her after the door was reclosed, holding a large hypodermic and a wet cotton ball.
"Please," Lucy pleaded. "Can't you tell me what's going on?"
Mamba bent over her and swiped her arm with the cotton ball. She'd gotten enough shots in her life to recognize the feel of the alcohol against her skin. "Now, don't fret so. All scientific advancement is gained through a combination of brilliant deduction, thorough research, and experimental trials." Mamba gave her a kindly smile that didn't have the desired effect. "I've already proved the brilliance and the research; now you are helping in the experimental trial phase."
"No!" Lucy recoiled in horror. "I'm not some lab rat for you to poke with needles and experiment on. I'm a person, a reporter." Her voice rose as she fought off the hysteria she felt rising in her. "Let me go… now!"
Mamba paid no attention to her, but merely walked back over to the door and knocked once again. This time the big guy who had escorted her to the room originally came in. He quickly strode over to where she was backed up against the wall. He seized her arms and held her tightly as Mamba approached, needle in hand. Lucy struggled, but it was like trying to move a large boulder.
Mamba again wiped the spot on her arm. "Don't want you getting any infections now, do we?" He then savagely plunged the needle into Lucy's arm and injected the colorless fluid the hypodermic held into her bloodstream.
Lucy had cried out in pain, but neither man seemed too concerned about it. Both walked back to the open door and made ready to leave. Mamba turned back to the sobbing young woman.
"Try not to worry too much," he said to her. "We'll be watching." After a single gesture toward the camera in the corner of the ceiling, Mamba slipped back through door and it closed with the solid click of a lock engaging.
Lucy stared at the sealed exit for a few moments, her head swimming in shock and confusion. What had Mamba meant? she wondered. Was his telling her that he would be watching supposed to be some sort of comfort? She quickly shifted her gaze back up to the camera just as a little red light switched on next to the exposed lens.
It was the barely audible hissing sound that alerted her that something was happening. Lucy quickly spun around and located the sound. It was coming from the drain in the floor. At least Lucy had thought it was a drain. Now she wasn't so sure.
Drifting up through that stainless screen was some sort of yellowish mist, or gas. It was an unpleasant shade, but had almost no odor. She backed away from the source of the gas, but was soon backed up against the wall. In moments she was enveloped by it. She began to cough.
Lois stormed from the elevator onto the newsroom floor of the Daily Planet. She didn't ask people for directions or if their editor was even in; she just stormed up to the office she knew belonged to Perry White. She brushed past a young reporter who was just leaving. She slammed the door shut behind her as she bearded the surprised editor in his own lair.
"Good heavens, Detective Lane! What are you doing here? Has there been a break in the case?" Perry was momentarily thrown off balance by Lois' actions, but recovered quickly.
Lois leaned on the acclaimed editor's desk and captured his eyes with her steely gaze. "Where — is — my — sister?"
Perry leaned back, using the few seconds to scrutinize the agitated detective before him. "I haven't seen her yet this morning. Is there something wrong?"
Lois took a deep breath before she answered. "She left me a message that she was going to work late last night, but when I got up this morning it was clear that she hadn't been home all night." Lois' fists clenched. "Do you know what she was working on and where she might have gone?"
A look of concern came over Perry's face. "When I left last night she was still working at her computer. She told me that she was behind in her requests for research and needed to stay to get caught up."
Lois calmed herself and let her police intellect take over. "Okay, what time was it when you last saw her?"
Perry steepled his fingers before his face, peering at the young woman through the arc. "I left here between eight thirty and nine o' clock. Are you sure she didn't come home? Could she just have gotten up before you?"
"And gone where?" Lois snapped back. "You said yourself that she hasn't been in yet this morning."
Perry leaned forward, a sigh escaping his lips. "Okay, I don't want to jump the gun on this and assume something's wrong until we have something more to go on. Reporters will often find themselves following a clue or some lead that takes them on an all night surveillance, or… " Perry waved his hand into the air. "Something."
"Yeah, but don't your reporters call in or leave messages when they go off and do something that isn't part of their normal assignments?" Lois asked.
Perry sighed. "Well, yes, my reporters would. But you have to remember that Lucy really isn't a reporter. She just a researcher right now. I think she has what it takes to become a good reporter some day, which is why I have encouraged her to get peripherally involved in any case where the reporter doesn't mind the help." Perry paused and took another breath. "But, truth is, she is not a reporter yet, and I'm sure she's not aware of all that is considered standard operating procedures in the world of investigative journalism."
Lois frowned suspiciously. "Well, maybe."
Perry turned to his computer and typed a few commands onto his keyboard. "Let's see what the security logs say. All personnel who come or go after 6 p.m. are noted on the security logs."
Lois cocked her head in surprise. "Why is that? I would think that a newspaper is a twenty-four hour a day operation?"
Perry completed a few more keystrokes. "Well, it is, but the newsroom night staff is much smaller and the powers that be want to keep track of who is or isn't on premises during what is normally considered off hours." Perry gave Lois a long suffering look. "They want to keep track of any potential overtime abusers. I think you know how that goes?"
Lois nodded knowingly. "Oh, yeah."
"There." Perry pointed to an entry on the log facsimile showing on his screen. "It shows she signed out at nine forty seven." Perry clicked onto a different screen. "Apparently, Ken was on duty at the time. I can get his phone number for you if you wish. He's not scheduled again until late tomorrow."
"I'd like that. Lucy might have said something to him as she left that could give me a clue as to where she planned to go because she certainly didn't come home." Lois waited as Perry jotted down the number on a slip of paper.
Just then the elevator bell clanged, drawing their attention to it. Lois watched as Clark Kent strolled off the conveyance and moved toward his desk. He seemed to be walking somewhat stiffly. Of course, given what he'd recently gone through, he was lucky to be walking at all.
Lois decided she should have another conversation with Mr. Kent. He might have some clue as to what Lucy was doing or where she went. She also wanted to know why he had felt it necessary to have her taken off the case. Were her questions about him and Superman that threatening to him? And if that were true, he had to know that she certainly wasn't going to back off now. He was hiding something from her, and, before this was all done, she was going to find out what. Officially on the case, or not, Mr. Clark Kent was going to be seeing a lot of Detective Lois Lane in the foreseeable future so he might as well get used to it.
Clark hadn't had a chance to do more than sit, gingerly, at his desk when Lois came storming up. Lois felt a momentary flash of sympathy for the man as she noticed his obvious discomfort. She guessed that he'd be feeling the aches and pains of healing muscle and skin for several days, if not weeks. Still, he was lucky to be alive, and Lois had another agenda to take up with Mr. Kent.
Clark looked up in surprise as he quickly became aware of Lois' presence next to his desk. "Det. Lane, what are you doing here? Do you have some news?"
The guileless look on Clark's face almost garnered a sarcastic retort from her. How dare he act so innocent, especially after he'd had her thrown off his case. She held her ire. Her personal issue with the reporter would have to wait. She had more important matters to deal with first.
"No, Mr. Kent, I don't have any news, but I do have a question. Have you had any contact with Lucy in the last twenty-four hours?"
Clark was clearly bewildered by the question. "I just got in. I haven't seen her since she left my apartment yesterday."
"Have you talked to her at all? Discussed any stories or anything?"
Clark shook his head. "No. What's this all about? Has something happened?"
Lois frowned as she took in a deep breath. Kent really seemed concerned. "I don't know. Lucy is missing. She left me a message that she was going to be working late last night. Security says she left the Planet a little before ten last night, but she never came home." Lois spied a nearby desk that was unoccupied. "See if you can think of any place she might have gone or any work-related reason why she wouldn't have come home last night. I've got a phone call to make." Lois left the befuddled reporter staring after her as she made for the empty desk.
Clark watched Lois as she sat down at Ralph's desk and, after consulting a piece of paper, began to dial the phone. Lucy was missing? He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. She wouldn't have gone back to Boynton… would she? No, not after she promised she'd consult him or Perry before she did such a thing again. So, what did that leave?
Once again, the loss of Superman brought forth feelings of frustration and guilt. If he still had his powers he could do a super-search of the area around the Daily Planet. It was possible that Lucy had gotten curious about some other story that she'd been doing some research on. Clark wasn't the only one to use her computer skills. Her spontaneous trip to Boynton the other day showed she had an impetuous nature. She tended to leap before she looked as it were.
But a part of Clark worried that Lucy might just have been another innocent victim of the increasing level of street crime that had been becoming more and more common since the disappearance of Superman. A young woman, alone, leaving the Daily Planet that late at night. If she hadn't found a cab right away, it was a recipe for potential disaster. As Superman, he could eliminate a lot of possibilities in a manner of minutes. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Wishing for that which was gone wasn't going to do Lucy any good.
He hadn't heard from her, but that didn't mean much since he hadn't been home last night. Lucy would have had no way of knowing where he'd stayed once he'd left his apartment. He quickly called his home phone to check his answering machine for any messages. There were none, but there had been an obvious hang up. Had Lucy tried to call him, but had decided not to leave a message?
Well, maybe if she hadn't left him a message on his phone, she might have left him a different message. E-mail, perhaps? Clark quickly pulled out his keyboard tray in preparation to booting up his computer in order to check his e-mail. It was then that he saw it. A plain white envelope sat on his keyboard. His name was written on the outside in a definite feminine hand. He reached for it, and quickly tore it open.
He quickly scanned the contents. He sucked in a breath at the short cryptic note claiming that Ariana Carlin was the person legally behind A.C.L. Holdings, and the screen copy of the marriage license that Lucy had found. Lex Luthor had an ex! And she was somehow connected to the suspect mine out near Boynton?
Clark swiftly refolded the papers and slipped them back into the envelope. He then tucked it into the top drawer of his desk, and closed it. He risked a quick glance over at Lois, but she was still involved in her conversation with whomever.
It took a moment for Clark to place the familiarity of the name. He'd done an article about the sudden rise of celebrity psychologists. It seemed that almost overnight the country was inundated with these purveyors of modern mental health through the media. Whether through the gloss and glamour of a slick and polished television production or the prestige of a nationally syndicated column in the largest newspapers in the country, these new healers of the mind proliferated. They varied greatly in competence: from fully accredited medical doctors to fast talking huckster wannabes.
Ariana Carlin seemed to be one of the better ones. She had the legitimate educational background and a popularity that allowed her to enjoy a fame and celebrity that ranked her up near the top of the heap. If memory served, Clark thought he remembered that at one time the Daily Planet toyed with the idea of carrying her syndicated column, but Perry had put the kibosh on that.
Somehow, given who she was and what she had accomplished for herself, Clark doubted that Doctor Carlin was actively involved in a company that owned an abandoned copper mine currently being used for supposed archeological research. It just didn't seem like the kind of property she'd be interested in. Her connection to Luthor, on the other hand, was very interesting. From the date on the marriage license, the happy couple were united quite a few years ago. Dr. Carlin must have been quite young, perhaps just out of college, at the time. Lucy hadn't actually mentioned that Ariana and Lex had divorced, but it seemed logical given that neither one had ever acknowledged the other publicly. Least wise, not that Clark had ever heard. So, the question was… what was Ariana Carlin's name doing listed as the C.E.O. of an obvious shell company?
It was not uncommon for business tycoons to use family members to front separate companies. This was done usually for tax purposes, but other, less ethical, reasons were also quite commonplace. Clark had no doubt that Ariana Carlin had little if any knowledge of A.C.L. Holdings. Most likely it was a company created by Lex to hide acquisitions and holdings that Luthor didn't want to be questioned about. Ariana, as a young, besotted bride might have signed some papers for Lex at one time which led to the origins of the company, but she probably had long forgotten about it. That was, if she ever truly knew about it in the first place. It did make the perfect place to engage in activities which someone might not want scrutinized by the authorities, a practice that Clark could easily see Lex engaging in. High profile ownership would automatically invite extra examination and questions no matter how innocent the business might or might not be.
Clark wondered if Lois knew that Lex had been married. It wasn't as if it was any major crime to be divorced any more. Actually it seemed to be more common than not. Still, it seemed strange that the marriage hadn't been splashed around in the tabloids, even if it had ended years ago. Both Luthor, and Dr. Carlin were well-known people, celebrities of a sort, and the rags just loved to roll around in that kind of mud. He didn't see Lois as the type who would enjoy being touted as 'the other woman', but then again, he didn't really know her at all.
Clark decided that the contents of Lucy's note would remain with him for the time being. He hadn't been able to really get a handle on Lois' relationship with Luthor, but he had to be careful. It was hard to say what relevance the information had to his own personal problem of people trying to kill him, but if it truly was tied to that mine in Boynton, Lucy's search had just placed Luthor squarely into the picture. And until he was more sure of the extent of Lois' ties to Lex, he'd keep this little nugget to himself.
Of course, it did raise the question of whether or not this information had anything to do with Lucy's disappearance. It seemed that Lucy had come by what she'd given Clark with just her usual expert knack of computer tracking. No reason to think that her finding what she had would've been cause for someone to take any unusual action against her.
Still, there was the trip she had taken to the mine site. If their suspicions that Clark's visit had been what triggered the attempts on his life were correct, it stood to reason that Lucy, if she'd been recognized, would also now be in danger. But there was little reason to think that she might be recognized…
Suddenly an uncomfortable thought invaded Clark's muddled musings. If Lex was behind the Boynton mine site, as it now appeared that he was, wouldn't he be able to recognize Lucy? But wait, didn't Lucy say that she had never met Lex? That might mean that he wouldn't automatically know who she was. But, again, if he did, he wouldn't risk Lois' disfavor by harming her sister… would he?
All this speculation was getting Clark, or Lucy for that matter, nowhere. Even if, as it appeared, Lex controlled the Boynton mine site, that didn't mean he was actively supervising whatever was going on up there. It was still quite possible that Lucy wasn't in any danger from that front. Again, the awful truth could be that she had just fallen victim to some random street crime as he had thought might be the case early on.
"Hey, Kent." Clark was surprised to see that Lois had suddenly appeared beside his desk. "You seemed to be lost in some pretty heavy thinking there. Care to share?"
Clark raised his eyes to hers and drew his lips into a tight line. "Who did you call, if I may ask?"
Lois frowned at his change of subject. "I called the security guard who was on duty last night when Lucy left. He wasn't much help. He did tell me he asked her why she had been working so late. Lucy had told him she needed to do some catching up. Which jives with what Perry White told me. Then, when he asked her if she was headed home for the night, she supposedly smiled and told him no. That she had a 'mystery date'. Those were her words… 'mystery date'." Lois shrugged. "I know she isn't currently seeing anyone. Does it make any sense to you?"
"No…" Clark shook his head. "No, not really. Is it possible that she met somebody? I know that she has been acting a bit strange lately."
"Really, how so?" Lois asked.
"Well… not so much strange." Clark blushed as he tried to find a way to voice his suspicions without sounding foolish. "It's just that she's been acting differently lately. Dressing up more, wearing more makeup. Being more outgoing and friendly. I got the notion that there might be someone special here at work that she has her eye on. Someone she wishes to impress." Clark shrugged. "Could she have finally made this guy notice her, and they hooked up for the evening?"
A sinking feeling came over Lois. Her heart went out to her sister, where ever she was. Kent obviously didn't know that the guy Lucy was trying to impress… was him. She could tell that he thought of Lucy as a friend and a colleague, but apparently nothing more. Lois bit her lip as she thought of how hurt her sister was going to be. She fought off a sigh. She would worry about comforting her sister later. First, she had to find her.
"No, I'm pretty sure that I'd know if that were the case. Lucy always tells me about any guy that she is interested in." Lois felt there was no point in bringing up Lucy's crush on Clark now.
Clark nodded, then, taking a breath reached out and took Lois' hand. "Ms. Lane, have you thought about calling the local hospitals?"
Lois sucked in a quick breath and looked away for a moment. When she brought her gaze back up to Clark's, her expression was a bit rigid. "No… not yet. It was a detail I'd been putting off. I hoped that I'd come here and find her sleeping at her desk… or something."
Clark instantly felt compassion for the woman. "I can imagine how you feel. Lucy's a terrific gal and a good friend, but I think we have to face the possibility that she might have just been the victim of some senseless street crime like a mugging."
Lois, still biting down on her lip, nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Do you think it's just ego that makes us, you a reporter and me a cop, think that anything bad that happens to us has to be the result of some elaborate conspiracy? That the multitude of commonplace evils that happen to folks every day can't happen to us?"
Clark gave her hand a squeeze and smiled sympathetically. "Maybe. If you want, I'll help you make the calls."
Lois returned his smile with a sad one of her own. "Thanks, I'd appreciate that."
Clark nodded, his smile a bit brighter. "I'll take any medical facility north of Center Street. You take those to the south."
Lois nodded and moved back over to Ralph's desk. The fact that Ralph had since come into work and was sitting there was inconsequential. Lois stood next to his desk and glared at him for all of six seconds before Ralph chose the better part of valor and fled.
Lex was frowning as he studied the flimsy copy of the fax he'd received a short time ago. He'd looked it over, in confusion, many times already. He looked up as the 'special' door into his office opened and admitted the man whose presence he'd requested.
Nigel St. John strolled over and calmly stood before his employer's desk. "You sent for me, sir?"
Lex studied his dependable assistant for several moments before answering. "Yes I did, Nigel. What do you make of this message I got from Mamba just this morning?" Lex handed the fax over to Nigel.
Nigel only gave the flimsy note a cursory glance, already guessing at what it said. "I'd say the good doctor seems to be making some real progress."
Lex nodded. "True, but I was more curious as to your reaction to his effusive thank you for the *live* human specimen I provided for his research." Lex cocked a brow at his nonplused aide de camp. "I assume you know something about this?"
Nigel stared implacably back at Luthor. "I do indeed. Dr. Mamba communicated his need to me during my last visit. I figured it was something I could easily take care of. I saw no need to bother you with such a trifling detail."
Lex leaned back in his expensive chair. "I see. Nothing more than a request for additional needed 'supplies'."
Nigel allowed himself a slight smile. "Exactly, sir. Did I err?"
Lex narrowed his eyes as he, again, studied his assistant. Nigel had been in his employ for a couple of years now and Lex had to admit that his 'special talents' had proved extremely valuable on more than one occasion. He supposed that it was quite possible that Nigel would think that providing Mamba with some human guinea pigs would be a minor matter. The man, to his knowledge, had never placed a particularly high value on human life. And it was true that if the request had been funneled to Lex, he would have just turned it over to Nigel for execution. Still, Lex never liked being out of the loop on things. He would have to pay a little closer attention to the redoubtable Mr. St. John for the foreseeable future.
Lex reached into an ornately carved humidor that sat on the corner of his desk. Taking out a cigar, he studied it for a moment before shifting his gaze back to Nigel. "No, you're right. It wasn't a big deal. I guess I was just surprised that's all. After all, it is a bit disconcerting to be thanked for something I never knew about."
"I'm sorry, sir," Nigel replied. "It is mentioned in the report I have nearly finished preparing on the subject of my visit to the Boynton site."
Lex nodded, knowingly. "Good. It seems that Dr. Mamba is close to having something ready for sale."
Nigel returned Lex's nod. "So it seems. He is tweaking the antidote now. He should have at least two or three strains of a particularly nasty biological agent ready to market quite soon."
"True," Lex said. "It's a shame that we have to provide a viable antidote for our products; it does slow down the process so. Still, I guess most folks are a bit skittish about using such virulent agents if they aren't themselves protected."
"It's the nature of the beast, sir."
"Ah, yes." Lex lit his cigar and took a couple of puffs. "I see he says that he should have his first full human clone through its accelerated growth period within forty eight hours. If that proves to be a success, then we can think about proceeding with our plan to build us a clone of the late, lamented, Man of Steel." Lex grinned. "So good of the superhero to have left us a blood sample on that rusty nail before falling into the ocean and washed out to sea. You know how dangerous those loose nails on those old docks can be."
Nigel gave Lex a bow of acknowledgement. "It was indeed most fortuitous, sir." Nigel stood there, silently, for several moments. "Will there be anything else, sir?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"Try to find out what Ms. Lane is doing over at the Daily Planet when she's supposed to be officially off the case." Lex waited for Nigel to nod his compliance. "That will be all." Lex dismissed Nigel by blowing a perfectly round smoke ring.
Lois got up slowly from Ralph's desk and dragged herself over to Clark's desk. She saw him shove his glasses up so he could rub his eyes. He seemed tired. She idly wondered how much sleep he'd managed to get last night. She knew that she always had trouble sleeping in a strange bed for the first time. She sat on the corner of his desk and waited for him to notice her.
"I don't know whether to be disappointed because I didn't find her or relieved," Lois said once Clark looked up at her.
Clark nodded. "I think relieved is best, but frustrated seems to fit also."
Lois returned his nod and was about to say something else when the arrival of the elevator diverted her attention. Her brow arched as she saw who got off the vertical conveyance.
"Ah, Lane, there you are. I was hoping to find you." Henderson came strolling down the ramp toward Lois and Clark. "I'm afraid our boss would actually like to have us do some police work that he assigns. And that, right now, would be a daring, daylight, jewelry store robbery in front of at least ten witnesses." Henderson shot Lois a cynical smile. "Care to bet how many of the eye-witness descriptions will actually match?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "No bet, but I can't go right now. I have to find my sister."
Henderson's sardonic look quickly changed to one of concern. "She hasn't turned up yet?" Lois grimaced as she shook her head. "I'm sorry," he said. "You know we can't do anything officially until she's been gone forty-eight hours and can be declared legally a missing person."
"I know that!" Lois snapped. "But this is my sister, and I know something is wrong!"
Henderson held up his hands in surrender. "Hey, I'm on your side… really. Tell you what. We keep our chief happy by going and interviewing all those witnesses, then on our way back to the station we make a few stops, see a few of our snitches, see if anyone has heard anything that might pertain to Lucy's disappearance."
Lois bit her lip, then sighed. "Okay, I guess. At least I'll be doing something. I'm not really sure what to do. I have no idea where to look, but I'm convinced that her disappearance has to have something to do with the same story that Kent is in trouble over." Lois waved at Clark as she talked to her partner.
Lois paced about, wrestling with herself. She didn't want to admit that she needed help, but the truth was… she did. She turned toward Kent. "Look, I know you don't like me, and that's your prerogative, but Lucy's your… friend, and I need your help. You can talk to the people here. Find out if anyone talked to her, if she mentioned where she was going."
"Of course I'll help in trying to find her." Clark gave Lois a look of puzzlement. "But why would you think that I don't like you?"
Lois frowned at Clark. "Well, having me thrown off your case is rather a giveaway clue, wouldn't you say?"
Clark looked even more confused. "Have you thrown off my case? What are you talking about?"
That stopped Lois' intended diatribe. She continued in a subdued voice. "Chief Andrews pulled Bill and me off your case this morning. Bill said it seemed like Andrews was bowing to outside pressure." Lois shrugged. "I figured, after the other day, that it had to be you."
Clark shook his head vehemently. "No, I haven't spoken to anyone about anything since I saw you last."
A strange look came over Lois' face. It was a combination of confusion and anger. She glanced at Henderson but he just shrugged his shoulders. When she spoke it was more to herself than to the two men close by. "If not you… then who?"
Mac was in a hurry. He was just getting off his shift and he couldn't wait to get back to his room. As excited as he was, given what had been going on in the lab today, he needed some time alone. He had a little research to do on his own.
It had been a crazy day. After his incident with the haunting beauty he'd seen early this morning, he'd barely made shift on time. There had been an air of excitement about the lab all morning. Their supervisor had hinted that something special might be happening that day so they had better be on their toes, just in case. That special something came just a few hours later, in the form of some actual human DNA to experiment on.
Less than a year ago a closed-minded Congress had passed a bill making human genetic experimentation extremely difficult. Realizing the valuable medical research that required the study and manipulation of human DNA, the bill didn't make it illegal, just hard.
Spurred on by the new interest in cloning, enough influential politicians on Capitol Hill had listened to the 'God lobby' and pushed through the bill. It was an election year, and those who felt that life could and should only be created as God intended were quite a vocal lot, and Congress deemed it prudent to listen to them.
So as not to hamstring what was considered good and useful research, yet keep the unpopular experimentation quashed, the bill instituted a grant of research process. If an institution, or even an individual, had the desire to follow a particular course of genetic research they had to request permission from the government to do so. All prior initial non-human study and experimental results were to be submitted to a blue-ribbon panel who would then review the findings, the stated direction for further study, and the need for human DNA in the research. If the panel decided that your line of inquiry was worthy of further study, they could grant you the permission to continue on, up to and including the use of the manipulation of human DNA.
The fact that they had finally gotten some live human DNA samples to work with caused everyone to believe that they had finally received the official approval to take their research to the next level. It struck Mac as somewhat funny that even a government facility would have to get permission from 'the government' to do the research the facility was set up for in the first place.
It was all very confusing, but Mac, like the others, didn't worry about that. The bureaucratic red tape was someone else's problem. He had just taken their gift horse and gotten down to work. It had been an exciting shift as everyone in the lab worked hard at getting everything just right.
Right before he went off shift, they had placed their embryonic mixture into the 'womb'. That was what they called the vat of chemicals and nutrient fluid that would stimulate and sustain the clone through its initial accelerated growth cycle. They would know within a few days if they had been successful or not.
Mac entered his room and quickly closed the door behind him. For all that his day at the lab was pretty exciting, he was anxious to get on with his search for the mysterious young woman from this morning. He'd mentioned seeing someone new to the others, but no one had a clue as to who it could be. No one had heard or seen anything about any new staff.
Mac booted up his personal laptop and accessed the private company database. He suspected that the information contained on the site was strictly 'in-house'. He doubted that anyone outside the facility and the higher-ups who actually ran this operation would be able to access it. Still, it existed for the use of the contracted employees. It contained all the rules and regulations, the shift schedules for work, and meals. It had a calendar of any upcoming special events or activities. Things like that. It also had an employee database.
He typed in his password access and brought the database up onto his screen. Depending on your level of clearance, the amount of information you could receive varied. Mac was able to get a basic listing of names and departments, but little else. Security personnel were listed under the common umbrella of 'security'. Other departments were merely labeled 'information not available'. Those, he suspected, were ones that existed in the south wing.
Next to each entry in the database was a small picture. Those were what Mac was looking for. It took him several minutes to scan through all the pictures in the personnel listing. He was disappointed not to have found the image of the young woman he was looking for.
Of course, that could mean that her file hadn't yet been created or she was beyond his security level of clearance. Either way, he wasn't going to find anything useful there. He shut down his computer and went over and flopped down on his single bed.
He clasped his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. He couldn't get the image of that dark-haired woman out of his mind. He had a couple of friends in security. Maybe they might know something. He'd make a point of checking with them tomorrow.
Clark had felt guilty not telling Lois the information that Lucy had left him concerning the Boynton mine site. He, too, was convinced that her disappearance had something to do with that enigmatic old mine. After the two attempts on his life, he was very afraid that Lucy might have been the recipient of a similar attempt; only this time, whoever was behind it had succeeded.
Clark had spent most of the day trying to track down everyone who had been at the Planet yesterday evening and might have seen or talked to Lucy. Several people had seen her at her desk working, and a few had talked to her briefly, but those mostly had dealt with either small talk, or a question on some research they had requested. There had been no indication that she had any plans out of the ordinary. There was no mention of this 'mystery date' the security guard had alluded to.
Clark leaned back in his chair and frowned at his computer screen. After checking the information Lucy had left him, he'd gone on and done some of his own computer tracking. He'd concentrated his search on Ariana Carlin herself. The more he found about her the more he was convinced that she was merely the name behind A.C.L. Holdings and had little or no knowledge of its true function. He'd even tried to call her, but was unsuccessful in getting her on the phone. He'd left a message as to who he was and mentioned an interview without revealing his real reason for the call.
It bothered him that nowhere in all the information that he'd found on the woman had there been any mention of her marriage to Lex Luthor. Not in her official bio, or in any unofficial ones. That part of her life had been carefully ignored. Clark wondered who it was that most wanted the marriage to disappear, Ariana or Lex. With a sigh and a look toward Perry White's door, Clark rose and headed for his editor's office.
The door was open, but Clark politely knocked on the door jam. "Ah, Chief, have you got a couple of minutes?"
White looked up and saw the conflicted look on his star reporter's face. "Sure, son, come on in." The fact that Clark closed the door behind him wasn't lost on Perry.
"You're aware that Detective Lane and I have been trying to locate Lucy?"
Perry nodded. "How's the investigation coming?"
"Not so well as far as finding Lucy goes, but she did manage to leave me some information she'd dug up which may have a connection." Clark had to keep from looking away from his boss's steady gaze. "She found out who supposedly owns A.C.L. Holdings which is the company that owns that mine site up in Boynton."
Perry expelled a noisy breath. "Carlin! That pop media psychologist? The one who's syndicated in so many papers?" Clark nodded. "Great Shades of Elvis, the boys upstairs have been pressuring me again to carry her column. How is this possible? What's the connection?"
Clark glanced over his shoulder in an unconscious gesture even though he knew they were alone in a closed office, and no one could overhear them. "A.C.L. Holdings stands for Ariana Carlin… Luthor." Clark expelled a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding as he waited for Perry's response.
Perry White slowly took off the reading glasses he'd been wearing and placed them on the desk. He then took several moments to rub his eyes before speaking. "Luthor, huh?" He shook his head in disbelief.
Clark nodded. "Yeah, Lucy found the registration of an old marriage certificate. Seems like Ariana and Lex were married some time back. From the date on the license, Carlin must have just been out of college at the time."
Perry pursed his lips. "So, how come nobody's ever heard about this marriage?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's just a matter of neither of them being anyone special at the time. It probably happened, and was over before either of them became the high-profile people they are now."
Perry frowned. "I guess that's possible." He moved his gaze back to lock with Clark's. "So what did Sergeant Lane have to say when you told her?" Clark turned his face away from the gaze of his boss, but not before his look of guilt gave him away. "You didn't tell her?"
"How could I?" Clark's look pleaded for approval. "She's Luthor's girlfriend."
"Is she? Or is she just a woman who has gone out with Luthor?" Perry studied his protege through steepled fingers.
"You knew that she's gone out with Luthor?" Clark was shocked.
Perry shrugged. "I've seen her with him at a couple of charity affairs in the past. They looked more like companions than a couple if you ask me."
Clark's uneasiness caused him to look down at his hands as he answered. "Well, that's what Lucy called her."
Perry sighed. "I see. So, Luthor is back in the picture again. You think that Lex is connected to that infernal mine site through this woman that he was apparently married to and divorced from so long ago?"
Clark nodded confidently. "Yeah, I do. I'm pretty sure that Dr. Carlin is nothing more than a name on the ledger sheet for A.C.L. Holdings. I'd stake my reputation that Luthor is behind whatever is going on up at that old abandoned mine."
"You're probably right," Perry acknowledged. "But don't allow yourself to be blinded by the obvious. Keep an open mind."
"My hatred for Luthor hasn't clouded my vision," Clark countered. "But you have to admit that the attempts on my life after I started to look into that site have Luthor's stamp all over them."
"Clark, reporters make enemies every day. Enemies that would gladly kill them rather than see something they wish to remain hidden come to light." Perry held up his hand to forestall Clark's coming protest. "But in this case I have to agree with you. The connection to Luthor is quite damning, even if it is quite circumstantial. It is the kind of trick he'd be likely to pull. And we both know that Luthor is not shy about dealing with his problems… in a most permanent manner."
Clark sighed. "That's why I'm so worried about Lucy. They tried to kill me after I'd gone up there to look around. What if she were recognized as a reporter for the Planet? They might have come after her too."
Clark could see the concern in his editor's eyes. "I'm worried, too. Lucy's a good kid and I would hate like the dickens for anything to have happened to her." Perry spread his hands wide. "So, what are you going to do? Do you think she went back up to that mine site? Even after she promised us she wouldn't?"
Clark shook his head, sadly, his guilt feeding on his helplessness. "I don't know. If anything happened to her because of me…"
"Hold it right there, son," Perry interrupted. "This is not something that you can shoulder the burden for. Lucy wants to be a reporter, and she has the drive to become a good one, someday. You didn't ask her to go up to that mine site originally. She did that on her own. You don't control the actions of others… you never did. Not even when you had the power to move mountains." Perry placed his hand over Clark's. "I think you'll agree that the willfulness of a determined individual is much tougher to affect than changing the course of a mighty river."
Clark nodded, somewhat shamefaced. "Yeah, but I still feel responsible. She was helping me out. I have to do something, though I'm not sure what I can do, besides just going up there again and hope that I can stumble onto something."
Perry nodded in his typical editor's manner. "I suppose you could do that."
Clark wasn't fooled by Perry's easy agreement. "But?"
Perry stared hard into the eyes of the concerned young man. "I think you need to talk to Sergeant Lane. Her relationship with Luthor notwithstanding, she is Lucy's sister, and she has a right to know the truth."
Clark mulishly set his lips in a tight line as he stood to leave. "I'm not so sure." Clark couldn't get the image of Lois with Lex out of his mind. "But I will consider it. Thanks, chief." Clark quickly exited the office.
If he'd still had his super hearing he'd have heard his editor muttering as he left. "What is it with you and Lois Lane, Clark? Does this go deeper than mere distrust? I saw you watching her during the day. Perhaps there's another factor involved here, perhaps… jealousy?"
Lucy stood on very shaky legs over the small wash basin at the far end of her little prison. She repeatedly splashed cold water over her face but she still felt hot and flushed. Not bothering to wipe the excess moisture from her face, she shuffled unsteadily back to the tiny cot and flopped down onto it.
Three times Mamba and his goon had come in and injected her with something. And three times the yellowish mist had floated up through the central drain in the floor. The first time she thought she was going to die. The gas had filled her lungs and made it hard to breathe. She coughed violently for several minutes, then was reduced to crawling on her hands and knees over to the tiny toilet to empty the contents of her stomach. Her stomach muscles ached and her throat burned from the severe and seemingly constant retching. She was so weak from the ordeal that she collapsed on the floor in front of the vitreous bowl.
A short time after, she could hear fans. She couldn't quite place where the noise was coming from, but she could vaguely see the gas being sucked back into the drain, and could feel a fresh draft coming from somewhere in the ceiling. Then a pair of 'sturdy' women came in and cleaned her up a bit, and fed her some bland bread-like substance and some water. Lucy remembered fuzzily thinking that she must have done something wrong to have already been placed on bread and water.
She had then been dragged back to the cot and left lying there. She didn't know how long she'd lain there, staring unseeing up at the ceiling, but in time she was joined by Mamba and his goon. She didn't put up any struggle when they prepared her for another injection. She didn't have any fight left in her. Once they had gone she heard that telltale hissing again. All she had the strength to do was to cry out, "No, not again."
Her reactions the second time hadn't been nearly as bad as the first time. She had still felt a certain difficulty in breathing, but her coughing fit hadn't been quite so strong or long. She had able to hold most of her food down too.
After the fans pulled the yellow gas back out of the room for the second time, the ladies returned to wipe her down and feed her. Lucy tried to refuse the 'generous' meal, but was forced to eat it. She guessed that whether she could keep down her sumptuous dinner was part of the trial. And she was under no illusions as to what was going on. She didn't completely understand it, but she knew she was merely a lab rat, subjected to the yellow mist just to gauge her reactions to it.
Again, Mamba and his friend came in and gave her another injection. She tried to talk to him. To ask him why he was doing this to her. He just smiled his insincere smile and told her she was doing just fine.
The third encounter with the yellow gas proved to be the easiest to take. For that she was grateful. She felt almost no tightness in her chest, nor did she have to cough more than a couple of times. And, thankfully, she never felt any desire to 'lose her lunch'. Hopefully, that was a good sign.
Her 'clean-up crew' hadn't even bothered to come in this time, and Mamba hadn't followed behind either. She was very weak from the repeated encounters and felt like she might have a bit of a fever, but Lucy reasoned that she would live out the rest of the day. However much of it was left.
Not only was she very weak, but, suddenly, she was beginning to get very tired. She didn't try to fight off the sleep that was quickly stealing over her. She welcomed it. Her last thought, before she drifted off was, if what she just had gone through was to be a typical day in the life of her new status as lab rat, then Lucy felt she'd just as soon not wake up.
Lois swore under her breath as she fumbled with the locks on her apartment door. She was so agitated that she had to stop and take a deep breath in order to get the key into the final lock so she could open it. Once inside her apartment, she threw her bag across the room and stormed over to one of the chairs around her kitchen table. She flopped down into the chair and allowed a sob of frustration to escape from her trembling lips.
She was tied up in knots. She was angry. Angry that she couldn't find her sister. Angry that Lucy had possibly gone off somewhere without telling anyone. And she was also angry with herself for losing her cool when she confronted her Chief concerning her being taken off the Kent case.
Chief Andrews was a pudgy, weasel of a man who was more concerned with the politics of running the Metropolis Police Department than with catching the bad guys. Lois confronted her boss as to the reason she'd been pulled off the case. He given her no logical reason. He merely told her that he had decided that her and Henderson's time would be better spent on other cases. He had turned the case over to Mully and Skulder. They were the newest members of MPD, having previously worked in Washington D.C.
That was when Lois had lost it. It was her opinion that Mully and Skulder would have trouble finding their way home, let alone finding the needed clues to bring a criminal to justice. To be pulled from a case and have it given to those two losers was the last straw.
Truth be told, Lois knew that Andrews was a lousy Chief and had bowed to pressure before, and if it weren't for the extenuating circumstances she would have probably just written it off as another typical blunder by their fat toady of a boss. But she'd been strung out all day. Her inability to find a clear lead in the disappearance of her sister had put her on a knife's edge.
It was obvious to her, just as Bill had thought, that it had been 'suggested' to Andrews that it would be a good idea to take her off the Kent case. She thought she had it figured out after her Superman conversation with the reluctant reporter the other day, but he'd said it hadn't been him. And she believed him. Also, there would've been no reason for Andrews to deny it if it had been Kent. A principal's request was one of the most common reasons for police reassignments. Lois tried to think of who else might have a reason to have her not looking into the attempts on Kent's life, aside from the person who had made the attempts of course. But she found she just couldn't concentrate on any logical culprit. She was just too worried about Lucy to focus on anything else.
After two wasted hours interviewing the so called eye- witnesses to the jewelry store robbery, an exercise in futility if there ever was one, she and Bill checked with all their usual suspects and snitches. They had turned up a big fat zero, and that had just added to Lois' frustration and foul mood. It was a wonder that she hadn't physically threatened Andrews. Actually, when she thought about it, if it hadn't been for Henderson's timely intervention, she might have.
Lois was scared. Probably for the first time in her life she was really scared. She, in the course of her job, had faced injury and possible death before. And in those instances she had feared for her life, but this was different. She felt helpless. In all those other instances, where it was just her life involved, she was still somewhat in control. She'd had the facts and was able to formulate a course of action based on her knowledge, skills, and the situation. Here, she was flailing in the dark. Her worst fear was that she might already be too late.
She was suddenly startled by a knock on her hall door. Wiping haphazardly at the few stray tears that had snuck out while she wasn't looking, Lois slowly rose to her feet and walked over to the door. It said something for her state of mind when she didn't bother to check the peep hole first. She just opened the door.
Lois was surprised when she saw who her visitor was. "Mr. Kent, what are you doing here?"
Clark gave her an apologetic look. "Bill Henderson gave me your address. May I come in?"
Lois abruptly stepped back from the door. "Ah, sure. Sorry, come in."
Clark slowly entered the apartment and looked around, as if consciously avoiding Lois' perplexed gaze. He finally turned to face her. He was twisting a piece of paper in his hands. "I think we need to talk."
Luthor leaned back in his overstuffed chair, swirling a drink in one hand, and watching the flames dance in his penthouse fireplace. He had left his office for the comfort of the den a short time ago. Even the head of a business empire the likes of LexCorp needed to step away from the desk eventually. Though, Lex mused, after the call he'd just received it seemed that his work for the day wasn't quite yet finished.
He looked up as Nigel St. John entered from the other room. The stately, but deadly, aide stood mute waiting to be acknowledged. Lex swirled his wine a bit more, took a sip, then carefully set it down on the ornately carved walnut end table. He turned his attention back to the fire.
"I had a disturbing phone conversation with Chief Andrews a few minutes ago." Lex didn't look at Nigel.
"Really, sir. Nothing too serious I hope." Nigel's response was typically bland and noncommittal.
"It depends on your point of view, I suppose. Apparently Lois' sister Lucy is missing." Lex raised his brow as he turned his head to meet his assistant's gaze.
"That is most unfortunate for the young lady, and I'm sure it has upset Ms. Lane greatly." Nigel nodded his head sagely. "Though it does explain a few things."
Lex stood and faced Nigel. "Such as?"
If Nigel was at all intimidated by Lex's firm stance and focused stare he didn't show it. "Well, it would explain why Det. Lane spent much of the morning at the Daily Planet instead of at the police station. And it could also explain why Mr. Kent is now at her apartment."
"He's what!" Lex exclaimed.
Nigel allowed himself the slightest of smiles. "He's at Ms. Lane's apartment. I just got word from our surveillance team. He arrived a few minutes ago. I must assume he is there about the younger Ms. Lane's disappearance."
Lex frowned. "No wonder Lois hasn't called me back regarding our next date." Lex's gaze captured that of St. John's. "So, how come you didn't know about Lucy Lane's disappearance?"
Nigel allowed one of his brows to rise. "I'm sorry, sir. I was under the impression that Ms. Lane's sister was merely a minor functionary at the Daily Planet. A… research assistant, or some such thing, if I'm not mistaken. I wasn't aware that she required, or you wished, her being kept track of."
Lex paced for a few moments, gathering his thoughts. "I'm surprised by you, Nigel. I would have thought that your normal thoroughness would have included the young woman as a matter of course?"
Nigel gave his employer the incline of his head that passed as a bow. "I'm truly sorry to have disappointed you, Mr. Luthor. I will endeavor to do better in the future."
Lex continued to frown, not really certain as to the outcome of the conversation he'd just had. "Well, see that you do." Lex waved his hand toward the doors of his sumptuous den. "See what you can find out about Lucy Lane. That will be all."
Nigel bent slightly at the waist. "As you wish, sir." Nigel turned to leave. Once he was facing away from Lex, a small satisfied smile tugged at his lips.
Lois was surprised that Kent had come over to her apartment, but she was also worried. He'd said they had to talk. That meant he had something to say, that there was some information he needed to impart to her. Given the nervous and guilty look on his face, Lois didn't think that it was going to be good news. No, not good news at all.
"Would you like to sit down?" she said, indicating the couch in her living room.
Clark nodded once. "Sure," he said as he made his way over to the hard, designer couch.
Lois sat in the chair across the coffee table from the couch. "So, what do we need to talk about?" Lois sucked in a breath. "What have you found out?"
Clark stared at the paper in his hands, not speaking, then he thrust the sheet at Lois. She took it, slowly uncrumpling the paper, and hesitantly looked at it. Lois bit down on her lip as she recognized what she was seeing. It was a copy of a marriage license. It was a copy of Lex's marriage license.
Lois folded the paper over once, and set it on the table. "So?"
Clark took a deep breath, then allowed his eyes to meet hers. "Lucy left that for me. She found out that Luthor had been married to this Ariana Carlin."
Lois' stomach knotted once as she digested the information. Lex had been married! He'd never told her. In fact, she wasn't aware that anyone had ever mentioned it. Was there a reason why Lex kept his marriage a secret? From her? From everyone? Was he still married?
Lois did a quick examination of her feelings and was surprised to find that she was actually hurt by the fact that Lex hadn't told her. If he'd been married and divorced, what was the big deal? She'd been with divorced men before; it wasn't a crime. It was just that he'd kept it a secret from her. She hated people keeping secrets from her. It looked as if it were just one more side of Lex Luthor that she hadn't known about. How blind had she been when it came to that man?
"So," Lois said carefully. "What does this have to do with anything? How does this tie into Lucy's disappearance?"
Clark held Lois' gaze. "A few days ago Lucy discovered that the mine site up in Boynton was owned by a holding company. Something called A.C.L. Holdings. She later found out that the only person on record as owning that company was Ariana Carlin, or as the marriage license implies, Ariana Carlin Luthor."
A jumble of thoughts fought for dominance in Lois' head. She pushed them all back and selected just one to start with. "You knew of this when I was at the Planet this morning?"
Clark nodded. "Yes, Lucy had left me a note which I found when you were on the phone to the security guard."
Lois clenched her fists so hard her knuckles turned white. How dare he! How dare he withhold such information from her. She had to close her eyes and count to ten to keep from shouting at Kent. Anger wouldn't serve her purpose now. She needed to know what he knew. And she needed to know why he'd kept this from her.
"You didn't feel this was important enough to share with me?" Lois' voice nearly cracked as she tried to remain somewhat calm. "You know I could have you arrested for withholding evidence." It wasn't a question.
Clark had the decency to look embarrassed as he shook his head. "No you couldn't. It hasn't been forty-eight hours yet. You can't have filed a missing person's report yet; besides I wasn't sure I could trust you."
That did it. "What!" Lois was outraged. "Lucy may be your friend and colleague, but she's my *sister*, and I love her dearly. What could possibly have gone through that thick reporter's skull of yours to justify not sharing this with me? Are all reporters that paranoid of the police that you'd keep back important information just because it could… I don't know what it could do!" Lois' eyes flashed dangerously. "You'd better do some fancy explaining, and you'd better do it now."
Clark fidgeted with his hands for a couple of moments before he was able to meet Lois' angry glare again. "I wasn't sure I could trust Lex Luthor's girlfriend."
"What?" Lois was dumbfounded.
"Lucy told me you were Luthor's girlfriend, so I wasn't sure how far I could trust you with this. I'm still not."
Lois shook her head in wonderment. "I'm at a loss understanding your logic here, Kent. What my relationship with Lex Luthor, besides being none of your business, has to do with this is beyond me." Lois sighed and took a breath to compose herself. "I agree that the Boynton site is the only real lead we have in this whole mess. But what does that mine being owned by an ex-wife of Lex's got to do with anything?"
Kent snorted in disbelief. "Are you saying you don't think that Luthor is pulling the strings here? That a renowned pop psychologist like Ariana Carlin is involved with attempted murder and kidnapping because she has something to hide in an old abandoned copper mine in upstate New Troy? Come on, Lois, not even you could be that naive."
She was jolted by his use of her first name but let it pass as some pieces came together. Ariana Carlin. The name had seemed familiar, but until Kent had mentioned it she hadn't made the connection. He was right in that it wasn't logical to think that Dr. Carlin would be behind whatever was going on up at that mine site, if indeed, it was anything. This whole thing could be leading them in the wrong direction entirely. Still…
"So, I'm naive, am I?" Lois retorted. "I don't know this Carlin woman. I don't know what she is, or isn't, capable of. But I do know Lex Luthor. I know that he's not the white knight he likes to think of himself being. And I know that businessmen in his position don't get where they are by being boy scouts. Sometimes they needed to resort to measures that you and I would consider ruthless. But I do know that it's highly unlikely that Lex is guilty of the things you're accusing him of. Just because this Dr. Carlin, whom neither of us knows, is a media celebrity you automatically figure she's pure as the driven snow. Now who's being naive?"
Clark's mouth was drawn in a tight line. He held Lois' flashing eyes with his own for several heartbeats. "There are only two choices here. Either you have been blind to who Lex Luthor really is… or… you know and are a willing accomplice to his perfidy. So you can see why it is that I don't know if I can trust you."
Lois was shocked speechless. This, this… reporter was accusing her of, of… she wasn't sure what he was accusing her of, but she knew she didn't like it. No, she didn't like it one bit.
His vehement implication that Lex was behind all this was a bit unsettling. His emphatic assuredness had to have a basis in something. But what? Her opinion of Lex Luthor had undergone some changes in the past few days, but to think that Lex was this vile monster that Kent painted him as?
"Look, Kent," Lois began. "I don't know why you have this vendetta against Lex, but, believe me, if the President himself were behind my sister's disappearance I'd personally kick his butt all the way to New Troy State Prison." Lois shook her head sadly. "I'm willing to have an open mind about this, but you have to give me something to hang onto here. Give me something besides your scandalous rhetoric."
"Okay," Clark responded with a sigh. "I can believe that Luthor is behind the attempts on my life, and probably Lucy's disappearance because I know he's done it before. I was there."
Nigel replaced the receiver of his special, secure phone line. The one he had put into his apartments in LexTower shortly after he had come into Luthor's employ. Not that he had any reason to suspect that Lex would have his phone calls monitored, but that was what Nigel would have done. Since he always felt it was good to have a bit of independence no matter who his current employer was, he'd secretly had a private line installed. One that he knew wasn't being tapped.
He smiled as he thought of the phone calls he'd just finished. Things were progressing as planned. Pieces were in place, and actions would soon be set in motion that would lead to the desired conclusion. Sometimes Nigel wondered if he did this for the results or just the fun of the planning and execution. No matter, this would all come to an end very soon; he was sure of that.
His conversations with Mamba had been satisfactory. Nigel wasn't sure how much he could trust the mad scientist, but he suspected that he could control the man long enough. Mamba assured St. John that he hadn't nor would he tell Luthor the identity of his live subject. Actually, Mamba didn't know who his subject really was. It wasn't important to him, so he never thought to find out. He told Nigel he'd send the young woman's personal effects to him first thing in the morning.
St. John figured he could use those and perhaps some unfortunate look alike to manufacture a sufficient deception to satisfy Luthor's curiosity over the disappearance of Lucy Lane. Of course, he might not even need to do anything. It all depended on Det. Lane and Kent, and how quickly they followed the path that Nigel and his 'partners' had laid out for them.
Once those two meddling busybodies had played their part, he could get rid of them once and for all. It had been hard for him to appear to fail in his prior attempts on Kent's life. It was an issue of professional pride, but more was at stake than his reputation. Nigel was always an 'end justifies the means' type of guy.
It became apparent early on that he'd need both Lane and Kent to carry out his plan. He couldn't be sure that one or the other would be able to figure out what he needed them to act on. But the two of them together would virtually guarantee that they would be pushed in the right direction. The addition of Lucy Lane had been an inspiration on his part. Her fortuitous decision to include herself into the middle of the whole scene had provided St. John with that last vital motivating piece to get his pawns moving in the right direction.
He had one more call to make tonight. The head of security for the Boynton installation was Nigel's man. He'd placed him there from the very beginning all those months ago just for such an occasion. For his plan to work, Nigel had to have complete control of the actions of the security force. His man there insured that he did. He picked up the phone and dialed.
Clark watched Lois carefully for her reaction. She was so beautiful, he had trouble thinking straight. But he couldn't afford to be distracted. He was going to have to play this by ear. He was fairly certain that she wasn't in Luthor's pocket, so to speak. He couldn't be sure if it was his head or his heart telling him that. Maybe he just didn't want to believe that she was a crooked cop so that made him think that he could trust her, to a point. Lucy was her sister and Clark was convinced that Lois did love her sister. That, more than anything made him think that her soul didn't belong to Luthor. She would never countenance harm to her sister, no matter what sort of relationship she had with that scum.
Still, that meant that she had been fooled by Lex, and he wasn't sure what that said about her skills as a detective. Was she blinded by the fame and celebrity, the power and the wealth? Was she going out with Luthor because of flash? Was she that shallow? Or was Perry right? Maybe Lucy had overstated the relationship. Could it be that Lois was just someone who dated Luthor occasionally? Another pretty face for Luthor to drape on his arm? That didn't seem right either. Clark shook his head as he returned his thoughts to how he was going to explain himself to Lois.
Her face had become a blank mask at his declaration. "I think you'd better explain yourself, Kent."
Clark took a deep breath, then plunged ahead. "You were right, back in my apartment. I do know what happened to Superman. I was there." He could see Lois' interest perk up. Her left eyebrow twitched. He knew he was going to have to be careful here. Even if he was no longer Superman, there was no reason to tell her that he had been. No reason to risk his parents, or even Perry, on the chance that she wouldn't tell anyone. He wasn't that sure of her yet.
"The night Superman… disappeared, I was with him." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "Have you ever heard of kryptonite?"
Lois was momentarily startled by the sudden change of topic. "I can't say I have. Does it have something to do with Superman?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah, the guesses are that they are pieces of Superman's home planet that followed along with his craft as meteorites as he came to earth from his doomed planet Krypton. Somehow they became radioactive in some manner which only affects someone from the planet Krypton."
Lois frowned. "Are you saying that this meteorite, this kryptonite, can hurt Superman? There have always been rumors of such a substance but nobody paid much attention to it since there had never been a public demonstration of it."
"Yes," Clark nodded. "Immediate exposure to it can incapacitate Superman, and prolonged exposure can eventually kill him. And you're correct that it is not public knowledge. Superman, and his friends who knew, have tried to keep it out of the public arena for obvious reasons."
"So who does know?"
Clark shrugged. "A few of his close friends. There was a rogue government group that discovered kryptonite and tried to use it against Superman a while back. You, and… Lex Luthor."
Lois couldn't hide her skepticism. "Lex? There is this substance that supposedly can kill Superman, and Lex is one of the only people who know about it? Why? Even if he did know, what possible reason could he have for even wanting to know about such a thing?"
Clark leaned back and stared at Lois in confusion. How could she say such a thing? Had she even spent time with the man? "I'm surprised you can say that if you've spent any time with the man at all. You have to have noticed his all-consuming ego. His lust for power. His need to be the absolute top dog in any field he chooses?"
Clark saw several emotions flicker across Lois' face. He'd finally struck a nerve! Maybe she wasn't privy to any of Luthor's more devious dealings, but she had to have confronted his overweening pride and ego at some time or another. He couldn't have remained the perfect, public persona the whole time she'd been with him.
"Okay, for the sake of argument," Lois countered, "let's say I'll grant you that Lex is somewhat egotistical, and can be selfish at times. And let's face it, you don't get to be the head of a multi-national corporate giant by settling for second place. Still, what does that have to do with Superman?"
Clark spread his hands in appeal. "Who was the Man of the Year in Metropolis last year?"
Lois pulled back in confusion. "What? Superman was, but what does that have to…"
Clark nodded. "And before Superman showed up, who always won the award, year after year?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on! What? Lex wanted Superman dead because he beat him out for Man of the Year? Come on, Kent, that's pretty absurd, even for a reporter looking for conspiracies where there aren't any."
Clark shook his head, sad that Lois didn't seem to understand. "No, well, in a sense yes. He saw Superman as competition to his status as the top dog in the city. He considers Metropolis his city, and in his mind, Superman threatened that position." Clark took a deep breath. "More importantly he also realized that Superman posed a greater threat. A threat, not only to his position in the city, but to his literal freedom." Clark reached over and took one of Lois' hands in his own. "Believe it or not, Lois, Lex Luthor is a criminal. Perhaps the biggest criminal on the entire eastern seaboard. He's good, very good. He's never come close to being caught in any of his illegitimate activities yet, but Superman's extraordinary abilities represented a new danger to his continued freedom. Of course he'd want to have Superman taken out of the picture."
Lois pulled her hand away and jumped up from her chair. She paced about the room in front of him, her hands flying wildly around her head. "Kent, listen to yourself! You sound like some wild-eyed fanatic. You throw accusations around like grade school valentines. Is there anything behind your paranoia? Do you have any proof?"
Clark followed Lois' manic antics and sighed. "If you mean, do I have the kind of proof that would stand up in court? Then, no, I don't. But I do have more than enough proof to satisfy myself." Clark stood and grabbed Lois and held her arms to keep her from pacing. "I told you I know what happened to Superman. I know because I was there. I know because I saw Luthor try to kill Superman."
Lois ceased her mild struggles against his grip, and stood stock still. Clark could feel her eyes boring into his. Too calmly, she disengaged herself from his hold and returned to her seat, never taking her eyes off him.
"I'm listening," she said, quietly.
Clark returned to his seat and ran his hand through his hair again. He had to tell this story just right. He had to tell her enough of the truth to convince her of Lex's culpability, yet not give away the fact that he was — used to be — Superman. "Sometimes Superman would take me with him on one of his patrols. It was a way for me to get some good eyewitness accounts of Superman activities for the paper."
"Convenient," Lois interjected.
Clark ignored her sarcasm. "I was with him that night. He hadn't been needed much and we were just about to call it an evening when he heard something. He said it had sounded like a scream for help." Clark took another breath. "We quickly flew to an abandoned pier down at Hobbs Bay. Superman dropped me off next to an old warehouse and hustled over to what looked to be a woman slumped against an old packing crate. There was someone running away but Superman's first priority would naturally be to see if the woman was all right."
Clark paused to gather his thoughts. Remembering that day was hard for him, but he had to keep his wits about him. He needed to tell the story as if he had watched it happening, not as if it happened to him.
"I was hidden in the shadows of that old warehouse, so I could see everything as it happened but no one could see me. What happened next will stay with me the rest of my life." Clark let his head drop for a moment, then returned his gaze to Lois. "It turned out that it wasn't a woman at all, but some kind of mannequin. It was a trap. The dummy exploded and Superman was drenched in some sort of green goop. It must have been kryptonite, or a kryptonite-based liquid because Superman immediately fell to the rotting boards of the dock in obvious pain."
"And you stood there while Superman rolled around in pain?" Lois held an outward calm, but Clark could tell he had her rapt attention.
"I didn't know what to do." Clark shrugged at Lois' raised brow. "Just as I was about to step out from the shadows to go to his side I noticed two men step out from behind some stacked crates. It was Luthor, and that assistant of his."
"Nigel St. John."
"Yeah, that English fellow." Clark had to pause as the memory of the pain he'd endured overtook him for a moment. "They taunted Superman, gloating over their victory over him. Superman tried to get to his feet but he stumbled and fell off the pier into the bay. No one has seen him since."
Lois had sucked in a breath when Clark mentioned Superman's fall from the pier. "And you just stood there? You did nothing? I thought Superman was your friend?"
Clark had to look away. "What can I say. I was stunned. I just saw Superman assaulted by two men with a booby- trapped mannequin. They probably had guns. I didn't know what to do." Clark looked back up into Lois' disapproving face. "I, I — guess I was scared."
Lois bit on her lip. "So Superman is dead?"
Clark shrugged. "He's gone."
"And you saw Luthor and St. John on the scene, apparently the ones behind the attack, and you didn't go to the police?"
Clark shook his head. "What good would that have done? It would've been my word against his. You can just imagine how useful that would have been. I'm sure he could have bought any sort of alibi that he would have needed. Then where would I have been? That's why I've spent the last several months trying to gather real proof against Luthor. Something I can show to the world that will expose him for the amoral criminal that he is."
"And have you any proof?"
Clark shook his head. "Nothing concrete. Nothing a DA would look at. Just bits and pieces, here and there, that only add up if you know the kind of man that Luthor is. Nothing that a good lawyer couldn't get laughed out of court."
"I see." Lois was quiet for several moments. Clark stared down at his hands. "You've kept this to yourself for a long time," Lois said. "You're a reporter; why didn't you write the story? Even without naming any names, I'm sure the public would have liked to know what happened to their super hero."
Clark sighed and clenched his fists. "You remember that time. Every wacko with a microphone, or access to a media outlet was coming up with their own version of what happened to Superman. Without any concrete evidence, I would have been just one more nut with a theory that couldn't be proved." Clark unclenched his fists and spread his hands in front of him. "The Daily Planet would never print any story without corroboration, or proof, even if Mr. White believed me."
Lois nodded, conceding his point. "So why tell me this now?"
Clark raised his gaze to meet hers. There were tears in his eyes which he could see had an effect on Lois. She was so beautiful. "Because it's not just me anymore. There's someone else in danger. Lucy's been dragged into my war with Luthor because she wanted to help me. If there's still a chance I can help her, I need to do that, but I don't think I can do it alone. I need your help. And in order to get that help, I need you to know the truth."
"Your truth." Lois had whispered it under her breath but Clark had heard her.
Clark stood up, his voice raised in irritation and anger. "Yes, dammit, my truth. But that's all we've got to go on. I'm going back up to that mine site tomorrow morning to see what I can find out. You can either accept my *truth* and come with me, or you can run off to your precious Lex and tell him all about the big bad reporter who's got it in for him." Clark stalked toward her front door. "It's your choice."
He paused, his hand on the door knob, and looked back at her.
Her gaze was steady. "I'll be ready by seven. We can take my jeep."
"Come on, Bill, don't give me any flak on this. You know I'm going to go out there anyway so just give in and accept it gracefully." Lois sighed, somewhat exasperated at her partner's complaints. "I don't care what you tell Andrews. Tell him I'm sick or tell him I quit; it doesn't matter to me. I'm going."
Lois paused and bit on her lip briefly as a sardonic smile found its way onto her face. "Look, I'm going to make your day for you. I need you to do some digging into Lex's past for me… No, it's nothing nasty, but it is — interesting. Seems Lex was married a while back… no, really. Lucy dug it up. Someone named Ariana Carlin." Lois grinned at Henderson's exclamation of surprise. "Yeah, the one that's syndicated all over." Lois shrugged even though she knew her partner wouldn't be able to see it. "I don't know, just check it out, see what you can find out about her. And see if you can find out why the marriage was such a secret." Lois frowned before answering Bill's next question. "Well, I don't think that would be such a good idea. Things between Lex and me are a little strained right now… stop laughing!" Lois glared at the phone. "Goodbye!" She slammed it down onto its cradle and stormed off to her bedroom to finish getting dressed.
Precisely at seven o' clock there was a knock on her door. She took a quick peek through the peephole before opening it. "Are you always so punctual?" she asked of the man standing in the hallway.
Clark grinned, and gave her half a shrug. "Usually."
Lois stepped back, allowing him to enter. "It's a good quality to have. I'm just about ready. There's fresh coffee on the stove if you want some."
"Thanks," he said as he moved into the small kitchen. "The hotel coffee is awful."
Lois paused in the doorway leading to her bedroom to take a good look at the reporter, Clark Kent. She had to admit that she liked what she saw. He was a solid six foot, six foot one. His shoulders and chest stretched taut the pullover shirt he was wearing under his jacket. As a reporter, when did he find time to work out, she wondered. She'd really be ticked off if he was able to keep his body looking that good without a lot of pain and sweat. She hated those people who'd smile and claim it was just 'good genes'.
He turned and saw her watching him. He gave her a salute with his cup of coffee and a smile. Wow! That smile could put someone's eye out. And speaking of eyes, she mused, his were beautiful; so soft and compelling. A girl could easily get lost in those mahogany pools. It was easy to see why Lucy had a crush on the guy. He — was — gorgeous.
That thought suddenly sobered her. It was too bad that Kent only thought of Lucy as a friend. Probably saw her as the eager kid trying so hard to be a big time reporter like him. Not that she could entirely blame Kent. He was obviously much more worldly than her sister. A guy who looked like Kent would have had his share of experience with women, but Lois was pretty sure he hadn't done anything untoward to encourage Lucy. He didn't seem the type. In her few encounters with the man, if one disregarded his vendetta against Lex, he came off as a genuinely nice guy.
The thought of what it might be like to have those firmly muscled arms wrapped around her suddenly crept its way into her contemplation. She could almost imagine leaning back into his sculpted chest. She would look up into his eyes, nearly drowning in them. His lips would part ever so slightly as his head lowered towards hers…
"Detective Lane… Lois? Hello?"
"What?" Lois squeaked, as she was jolted out of her reverie by his voice.
Clark laughed. "You seemed to be miles away for a moment there. By the funny little smile on your face, it must have been a pleasant place. Care to share?"
Lois blushed fiercely. "Ah, no, no it was nothing. Just, ah, thinking about how angry my boss is going to be when he finds out I've gone AWOL today."
Clark instantly looked concerned. "You aren't going to get into trouble over this are you? Your job isn't going to be in jeopardy?"
Lois was a bit touched that Kent was actually worried for her. She waved off his apprehension. "No, no big deal. Henderson will cover for me with the Chief. Even if he does get bent out of shape, I don't care. This is my sister we're talking about here." Lois reached into the bedroom and pulled a lightweight jacket off the back of a chair. "Shall we go?"
Nigel actually smiled as he thumbed off his cell phone. The caller had just informed him that his two most important pieces were now in play. He would have to call his people up at the mine site to be on the lookout for the intrepid pair. He didn't want things to get messed up by an unfortunate 'accident' caused by an over zealous employee.
Suddenly Nigel was struck by an inspiration. It was brilliant, if he did say so himself. The perfect bit of motivation to propel his puppets in the proper direction. It was a virtual guarantee to set in motion the exact set of responses he needed. Nigel shook his head as he thought of what Dr. Mamba was going to say about his 'request'. The good doctor was not going to be pleased, not pleased at all.
St. John shrugged off the anticipated displeasure he knew the scientist was going to feel. He was sure the doctor would be angry, but Nigel also knew that Mamba was very aware who really controlled the finances that allowed him to continue his pet research. When push came to shove, Nigel had no doubt that Dr. Mamba would eventually, if, reluctantly, accede to his wishes. After all, it wasn't as if it would be any permanent set back. Merely a delay.
Nigel, with a quick glance at his watch, began to dial the necessary number.
Mac was puzzled and just a bit annoyed by the ridiculous waste of time he'd just gone through. His department had just clocked in for their shift that morning when they were all called to a 'special meeting'. They'd all spent nearly an hour cooling their heels in Dr. Mamba's outer office waiting for the man to impart whatever pearls of wisdom he'd called them together to receive. Mac was briefly ashamed of his uncharitable thought. He knew he was just frustrated by the waste of time that they'd had to endure. After waiting all that time they'd been summarily informed that it had been a mistake and that Mamba hadn't needed to talk to them at all.
Mac looked over his notes from the day before, paying particular attention to the initial readings he'd made concerning the clone they were in the process of growing. Today was going to be exciting because much of the exterior physical growth would be complete by later today. The basic organs, systems, musculature, skin, hair, et cetera would be to full term by early this evening. The more complex nervous system, and brain cells would take longer to develop fully. It would be very interesting to see the progress their little clone had evolved overnight.
Mac, clipboard in hand, walked into the back room of the lab, where the clone vat was situated. Through the cloudy liquid he could just make out the form floating in the nutrient solution. He came closer. It was definitely a female form. The small firm breasts and lack of male genitalia confirmed the sex. Longish, dark hair flowed in the liquid. Mac frowned as he came closer to the large tube which held 'subject CL111AZ'. There was something familiar about the blossoming young woman in the tube.
Mac gasped as it struck him. The growing clone reminded him of the sad young woman he'd seen being escorted through the south wing the other day. He could imagine the clone in front of him looking like how that woman would have looked several years ago.
As he checked the reading being fed to the various monitors connected to the clone and the tube, he allowed his mind to ponder the question. Was it possible that the young woman he'd seen was the DNA donor for their experiment? He shook his head. No, that couldn't be right. Legally only samples of terminal patients were allowed to be used in research. Something about Mamba's process required the sample to be taken from a living person which meant that cadavers were out. That left only donors who were living at the time of the sample's being taken. But in order to avoid the moral complications of cloning an already living being only terminal cases were allowed. Otherwise, most researchers would've have long ago used their own DNA samples to experiment on.
Mac's heart did an involuntary lurch as the possibility sunk in. Did that mean that the young woman he saw was… terminal? Was that why she was so sad? She knew that she was going to die, but volunteered her genetic samples in the name of advancing science? He stumbled as he sought out a chair. He had to sit down. It couldn't be! He couldn't have spied the most incredible woman he'd ever seen only to find out that she was already lost to him. That would be too cruel.
Maybe that was why this particular clone was being grown, he thought, his hope springing forth. Perhaps the clone they were making would provide the answer to the young woman's problem. Was it cancer, or maybe some sort of organ failure? He clenched his fist as he glanced up at the clouded form in the vat. Somehow everything seemed more important. His work suddenly went from interesting and impersonal research, to a mission. A mission of desperate hope.
Mac forced himself to get up and continue checking the readings. He placed his hand against the glass. "I promise you," he softly said to the unconscious form floating obliviously in the giant tube. "If there is a way to save you with our work here, we will." There were a couple of stray tears blurring his vision as he completed his checklist of monitor readings.
"Tell me again why we're trudging up the backside of this mountain?" Lois was breathing hard as she negotiated the steep, rocky terrain. "I thought the mine entrance was on the other side?"
Clark reached back and took Lois' hand, helping her navigate a small patch of loose stones and onto the larger shelf rock that stuck out from the side of the hill. They sat next to each other, gazing up through the intermittent canopy of tree branches and leaves. The early afternoon sun shone down brightly. Both climbers were getting warm and had shucked off their outer jackets.
"I figure that there has to be a back way into this place," Clark began as he made himself a bit more comfortable on their granite chaise. "The front of the mine was all boarded up with only a small side door available for egress. If there is anything of consequence going on here they need a better way to get supplies and major equipment in or out of there."
"Unless it really is just an archeological dig," Lois quipped.
Clark snorted. "Fat chance of that. The guy I ran into was about as scholarly as Mike Tyson. You don't hire muscle like I saw to guard a site of academic learning."
"Yeah, that's the impression Lucy got when she confronted the guys camped out at the mine entrance." Lois fiddled with her hands.
Clark ran his hands along his thighs as he stretched to ease the cramps in his legs. Just something else he was having to get used to now that his powers were gone. "With my visit and Lucy's shortly after, I'm sure they are on a heightened alert. They will be watching to see if I or anyone else comes back snooping." Clark shrugged. "That's why I figure, looking for a back door…"
"If there is one."
Clark smiled. "If there is one, will be safer and more likely to give us a chance to find some results."
Lois shrugged. "I still think that you should have let me use my badge to demand entrance through the front door… so to speak."
Clark shook his head. "I know you're not as convinced that Luthor is behind this as I am, but I think you'll agree that whatever *is* going on here can't be on the up and up. Under those probable circumstances, I don't think the people here would respect your badge much." He sighed. "Look, Lois." Clark noticed the quick raise of her brow. " — er, I mean, Detective Lane, if Lucy is being held here that means that this place is definitely not above board, and if you just go barging in there you could endanger her even more."
Lois sighed and gave Clark a weak wave of dismissal. "No, you're right. And if we're going to be working together to get to the bottom of this, I suppose it makes more sense for you to call me Lois. Continually addressing me as Detective or Sergeant Lane, would get sort of tiring."
Clark smiled. "Thanks."
"So, what exactly did you pick up at that gas and grocery we stopped at?" Lois pointed at the small brown bag that sat on the rock next to Clark.
He pulled the bag into his lap and opened it. "I thought we might need a little something to keep us from fainting from hunger."
Lois laughed. "Great, I'll take a Caesar salad with vinaigrette dressing, a glass of wine, and a little fresh fruit for dessert."
Clark rummaged around in the bag for a few moments. "Hmmmm, I don't see any of that here." He pulled a couple of items from the bag. "Would you settle for a chocolate cupcake and a bottle of spring water?"
"Mmmmmm," Lois said, grinning. "My second choice."
They ate their elegant repast in silence. Lois kept sneaking glances at Kent out of the corner of her eye. She could see by the firm set of his lips that he was worried. Worried about what they might find? Or worried about what they might not find?
She quickly found herself taking on his mood. She was worried sick about Lucy, but many years on the police force taught her not to obsess about anything she couldn't control. As hard as it was to put on the brave, game face, she knew that she had to do it. Once she had some real knowledge or a concrete lead to Lucy's whereabouts, then she could act. Until then, she had to follow the course of action she and Kent had set for themselves. It was the best option they had.
She knew they still had some hiking ahead of them, and, after that, it would probably take some time to find the back door to the mine, if one existed. Even if they found it relatively soon, they'd probably have to wait until dark before they could approach it closely. That left a lot of time between now and then. Time which could be used to further other avenues of investigation.
She sighed as she finished off her cupcake and took a last swig on her bottle of water. She turned her head to face him. "So, do you think he's dead?"
"Who?" Clark knew who she meant.
"Superman," Lois said as she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Do you think that he died that night out on the pier?"
Clark avoided looking at her. "He's never reappeared. What do you think?"
One of the things that made Lois Lane a good police officer was her ability to read people. Not just their words or the way they said them, but their whole body language. What they didn't say and how they avoided saying it was as important as what someone did say. She was quick to note his avoidance of looking directly at her, of the way he never came right out and said anything definitive. He skirted questions, or turned them back on the asker. Lois knew that he'd been holding out on her that night in his apartment, but even after his revelation of the night before, she knew that there was still something he wasn't telling her, something he was keeping to himself.
"I'm not sure." She shrugged. "He may have died that night on the pier, or he may have been washed out to sea and drowned… or maybe it never happened the way you said it did."
Clark's head snapped around and faced Lois. "It did. If you believe nothing else I ever tell you, believe that Luthor was behind Superman's disappearance."
Lois caught Clark's referencing Superman's disappearance rather than his death. He knew more than he was telling. She was sure of it. "Okay, say I accept the attack you described as a given. We still don't know for sure what happened to Superman. No body has ever shown up. Believe me, I've had enough experience with bodies being dumped into the ocean. Sooner or later most of them show up, washed up onto some forgotten shoreline somewhere."
"Meaning, maybe he's not dead. Maybe he survived the attack and is just hiding or something."
Clark's brows knitted into a tight V. "Hiding? You think Superman is somewhere out there, hiding?"
Lois shrugged again. "It's possible. Suddenly the big guy finds out that he's not so indestructible after all, that there is a way for someone to actually kill him. Maybe he's just scared."
Clark turned away from Lois' gaze, his face marred by disgust. "Superman isn't scared… he's… gone."
Lois nodded in acquiescence. "Okay, I was just throwing out some possibilities."
Clark stood up. "Yeah, well, I think we have more important things to worry about right now. We'd better continue our search for that back entrance to the mine."
Lois watched Kent stride away, upward, toward the crest of the small mountain. Just a bit reluctantly, she rose and began to follow. At least she had her answer to one question. Whatever may or may not have happened to Superman, Kent believed the Man of Steel was still alive, and if Kent believed it then Lois would. The question now became: if Superman were alive, where was he? And more importantly, why hadn't he resurfaced?
Lucy was flat on her back, an oxygen mask strapped over her face. Her chest ached as her lungs gasped desperately for air. Her throat felt like it was blocked solid, but she knew that wasn't true since she was getting some air… just not enough. Two doctors, neither of whom she had seen before were administering to her needs. Slowly but surely, her ability to breathe was getting easier. Once again, it looked like she had made it through, but this morning's little test had nearly been her last.
The day had started out like the one before. Mamba and his goon had come in to administer an injection of some drug they wished to use her as a test subject for. After they left she knew what would be coming next. She grabbed the towel which hung next to her small wash basin and had rushed over trying to stuff it into the center screen where the gas had come through the day before. It hadn't worked. While she was trying to cover the drain-like plate in the floor, the gas was released and she received a large face full.
This time the gas had been slightly green in color, but had no odor at all. Lucy had fallen back, her lungs burning. Her throat felt like it was swelling shut. Alternately coughing and gasping, she tried to get away from the green death but only managed to crawl a few feet before she blacked out from a lack of oxygen. When she finally regained consciousness, she was lying on her bed being looked over by two guys in white coats whom she'd never seen before.
Dimly, from the corner of her eye, Lucy noticed that Mamba had entered the room. He held a short conference with the two other men, and they left a few minutes later.
Mamba came and stood over her, an attempt at a sympathetic smile was affixed to his face. "I have to apologize, my dear. It seems that the antidote that we gave you this morning wasn't the one you were meant to receive." He shrugged. "A careless lab assistant hadn't destroyed an earlier version of the drug and you were given that outdated effort by mistake. Luckily we were able to get the latest variation to you in time, and I'm delighted to say that it performed even better than out initial computer projections predicted." He leaned closer and placed the back of his hand onto her forehead, like a mother would to test her child's fever. "I don't think we'll be doing anymore testing today. Just rest, you need a chance to regain your strength."
Mamba turned to leave, but Lucy reached out a shaky hand and grasped his arm. "Why?" Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Why are you torturing me?"
If Mamba's look of puzzlement wasn't genuine, he was a great actor. "How can you say such a thing, my dear. I admit that I have had and will have to put you through some trying processes, but the only way to achieve remarkable advances in science is through sacrifice. Why, you are a hero. A hero of modern medical science." He patted her on the arm. "You should be proud."
Lucy was shocked speechless and could only watch, open mouthed, as the arrogant scientist turned and purposely walked to, then through, the doorway. After he'd left she stared at the closed door for several minutes. Her mind was a jumble of pain, despair, and disbelief. She couldn't take comfort in hating him as the villain of the piece who was visiting this vile torture on her as the plucky heroine. Doing evil because that was what villains did. He didn't see what he was doing to her as evil. What was worse, he didn't even see her as a person. She was merely a tool to be used in his research. Something to utilize until such time as it was no longer useful. Lucy Lane… lab rat.
Lucy rolled over and buried her face into the small, flat pillow she was provided and sobbed a silent scream of frustration and futility. Then the tears began to flow in earnest.
Mac was on his way back to his lab, but his mind wasn't on his work at that moment. He'd just had an interesting conversation with a friend of his that worked security for the installation. Well, maybe friend was a bit too strong a term. Amiable acquaintance was probably more accurate. It seemed that the guys in security tended to stick to themselves a lot. Most didn't seem interested in what the researchers were doing. Mac doubted if many of them had more than a high school education.
Pete was different. He was big and plenty menacing if he needed to be, but the thing that set him apart from the other security personnel was the fact that Pete seemed to have a brain. One that not only functioned beyond the eat, sleep, or scowl routine most favored by the rest, but the man actually had an imagination. And even more importantly, a level of curiosity that Mac had been able to take advantage of.
Over the past few weeks he and Pete had engaged in several friendly conversations. Pete had been nearby while Mac had been discussing things with a lab mate and had come up afterwards to ask some questions. At first Mac had been a little put off by this obvious muscle guy asking him questions about science. But once Mac realized that the questions weren't stupid, he warmed up to the man. It was fun showing off his knowledge to someone who could be impressed by it.
Through their conversations, Mac was able to get Pete to tell him something about the operations end of the installation. It had been interesting, but hardly noteworthy. Most of the stuff that Pete told him were things that one could guess as necessary to the running of a large, secret complex like this one.
Mac had always wondered about the need for such a large security force, compared to the scientific component. It was nearly one to one, and that seemed unusually high to him. Pete explained that much of the routine, day to day maintenance of the center was carried out by the security staff. Pete, himself, helped out in the kitchens on many occasions, and held a union card as a certified electrician. The explanation had made sense to Mac considering this was a supposed to be a hush hush government research center. Basic support staff would be more susceptible to security breaches than would those with more invested in the research. Who better to watch them than themselves.
Much of the information that passed between the two men in the recent past had been mostly generic in nature and fairly innocent. But this afternoon Mac had been on a mission. He wasn't sure how well he fared in making his queries seem off hand, but he'd managed to direct his seemingly innocuous questions to the subject of the South Wing and what exactly was going on there.
Pete hadn't been able to be much help. Apparently there were two completely separate security forces at the installation. The general one, the one to which Pete belonged. And a separate one. One which dealt exclusively with the South Wing. The only commonality between these two operations was their boss. Overall security, in both wings, was controlled by one man, the Director of Security, Lester Diggs.
Mac had never actually seen Diggs in person, but he'd heard many stories. The guy was rumored to be a real bastard. He was a control freak to the nth degree. Never consulted with any of his shift supervisors, nor solicited opinions. He merely handed out orders and expected them to be carried out quickly and without question.
The man had a large office near the back of the compound. Mac had never been back there before, but he knew where it was. Maybe a little later it would be a good idea for Mac to do a little sight seeing near the rear of the complex. Perhaps, pay the good director's office a short visit? Hopefully, the director wouldn't be in at the time.
Mac nodded to himself. Yeah, definitely, a good idea.
As he walked through the door into the lab he was met by a great deal of commotion. People were scurrying to and fro with seemingly little regard for where they were going and what they were doing. They were just in motion. Mac moved over and tapped a co-worker on the shoulder.
"Hey, what's going on?" he asked.
The young man turned and was somewhat startled to see Mac standing there. Worry and concern were evident in his features. "There's something wrong with the clone!"
The frame was round and metallic. The picture contained within was of two people carefully making their way across the loose rock, brush, and tough weed-like grasses of a rugged hillside. They were a handsome couple. A beautiful young woman with short dark hair and a fit and trim body of just under average height. Her companion was equally buff. A pair of glasses helped disguise what otherwise would be considered a very handsome face. Both were dressed in jeans and pullover shirts. Lightweight jackets hung open. The pleasant scene of an attractive young couple out on a nature hike was marred by the tiny cross hairs which divided the framed view.
"Bang." Lester Diggs lowered the high-powered automatic rifle, complete with sniper scope, and grinned.
Once again St. John had the situation nailed. Lane and Kent were right where he had said they'd be. It was as if they were following a script. Nigel had claimed that it had been relatively easy to point Lane and Kent in the direction he had wished them to go. The only problem had been, getting the surveillance tail off Lane long enough for them to leave town unreported. That was something Diggs didn't understand and didn't want to. That was obviously between Luthor and St. John, and he figured the less he knew about that dynamic the better off he was.
Diggs figured they'd find the back entrance to the complex within another half an hour. An hour, tops. He'd better make sure that he had some activity going on back there to make sure that the intrepid duo didn't accidentally miss the spot. It had been camouflaged to a point. Mostly to keep it from being readily seen from the air. It would also be a good idea to discourage Lane and Kent from getting too close, at least, until they wanted them to.
Diggs slung the rifle over his shoulder and stepped back away from his hidden observation site. Turning, he moved toward the third way in and out of the installation. The major difference between this door and the other two was this one was quite secret. Only three people knew of its existence. Diggs, Mamba, and, of course, St. John.
Lois was bored, no bored wasn't the right word. She was too anxious to be bored. She knew that what she and Kent were doing was important and possibly even dangerous, but she chafed at all the walking about without seeming purpose. She knew they had a destination, but she couldn't keep her mind from wandering. She wasn't an outdoorsy type so all the 'natural beauty' they were wandering through was lost on her. The air was fresh and the slight breeze felt good against her exposed skin, but mostly, all she could think about was the time that was passing. Time that Lucy might not have that much of left.
Kent's vehement denouncements of Lex kept intruding into her thoughts. Lois had to admit that since the other night at her apartment, it was easier to believe that Lex wasn't exactly the man she had originally thought he was. Not by a long shot. But did that mean he was a murderer? Could the suave and charming man who had taken her to the opera and the theater be the person that Kent painted him to be? A week ago she would have dismissed those accusations as demented. Now, she couldn't be so sure.
Kent's stories, while strictly his word with no hard proof, had a conviction that many people who manufactured slander had a hard time sustaining. Not only did Kent assert that Lex was behind Superman's disappearance, but he was sure that Lex was behind whatever was going on out here at this old abandoned mine site. The information Kent had shown her that Lucy had found did show a tenuous link to Lex, but it was hardly damning, let alone conclusive. Still, Kent was sure Lex Luthor was to blame. That would include Lucy's disappearance, and the attempts on his own life."
Lois suddenly stopped. "Omigod!"
Clark, noticing Lois had fallen behind, turned back toward her. "What is it? Is something wrong?"
Lois lifted her eyes to meet the puzzled gaze of her hiking partner. She had trouble getting the words to come out in a coherent manner. "Back at the hospital… omigod… I saw…"
Clark rushed back to her and laid a comforting hand on her arm. "What? What about the hospital?"
Lois dropped her head and took a deep breath. "Back at the hospital, just before the nurse came running in to tell us you'd gone into cardiac arrest I was distracted by movement out of the corner of my eye. A man was exiting through a side door." Lois began to pace in a small circle, no longer talking directly to Clark but just letting the words come out. "I thought that he looked familiar, but I dismissed it as ridiculous. After all, there was no way that *he* would be at the hospital dressed like a common orderly. It was just a remarkable coincidence that's all." Her arms began to wave about in the cooling mountain air. "Just someone who looked like him… but now? Could it have been him? And if it was… omigod!"
"Lois!" Clark grabbed Lois by the arms and held her in place until she looked at him. "What are you talking about? Who was at the hospital?"
"Nigel St. John." Lois was shaking her head in confused embarrassment. "I saw Nigel St. John at the hospital that day they tried to kill you again." A tear formed in the corner of her eye. "I'm so sorry, Clark … it looks like you've been right all along."
Lois felt Clark pull her close for a quick, sympathetic hug. As she sensed he was about to release her she tightened her grip, returning the hug. The two of them stood there, in each others arms, for several moments before Lois finally stepped back.
"Well, I guess we'd better get back to finding that back door to this place. We aren't going to be able to find Lucy standing around out here, and we definitely aren't going to be able to bring any bad guys to justice if we don't find some evidence."
Everything was chaos and confusion in the lab. People running around pushing buttons, turning dials, and flipping switches. Nothing seemed to work. The monitor panels hooked up to the clone continued to glow their ominous crimson.
"Core temperature is dropping," someone called out from behind him.
Mac, like everyone else, was in a state of panic. It couldn't be happening! Every thing had been checked and double checked just the night before. The process had been progressing flawlessly. There was no reason for all these failures now.
"Heart rate is fluctuating, pulse weakening."
Swearing under his breath, Mac tried several reset switches again, but he came up with the same negative results. He was just about to throw something against the far wall in frustration when a new disturbance was added to the commotion. Mac turned to see the jumble of techs suddenly part like the Red Sea. Striding through, Moses-like, was Dr. Mamba accompanied by two large fellows he'd never seen before.
"What's going on here?" Mamba's voice cut through the suddenly silent laboratory. The audio alarms had been turned off long ago, and talking had ceased once Mamba's presence was acknowledged.
The lab supervisor rushed to Mamba's side and began to explain the problem. Leading him over to the tank that held the clone, she tried to give him a brief report detailing the situation. Mamba listened for a few moments, then with a wave of his hand cut the supervisor off.
"I want everybody out of here," Mamba commanded. "I'll take over from here." He swept the room with his hand. "I want all of you to go back to your rooms and stay there until you are contacted." Mamba glanced at the young female clone floating in its tank. "I will take care of this. You will all be summoned for a briefing once I have finished here. Now go."
Mac had no choice but to schlep his way out of the lab with the rest of his befuddled co-workers. It irritated him to be dismissed so casually by Dr. Mamba, as he imagined it did the rest of the staff, but he had to admit that if there was any chance of anyone correcting what had gone wrong, it was Dr. Mamba. It was his process, after all.
As he dragged himself down the hall toward his room, Mac couldn't help but wonder what they had done wrong? How would this setback affect the young woman he saw the other day? He still hadn't had the time to find her and figure out what part she was playing in all this, but he swore that he would… he had to.
Clark checked the height of the sun as it played tag with the ever increasing cloud cover. A cloudy evening would be to their advantage as the sun continued to approach the western horizon. Once night fell it would help not to have the full moon shining down to possibly make it easier for someone to see them sneaking around. Also, a cloud cover would keep it warmer as the evening stretched on. As long as it didn't rain.
He figured sunset would happen within a couple of hours. They had plenty of time to find the back entrance and secure themselves into a good hiding place to watch over any activity that might be happening there until it was dark enough for them to make a closer inspection.
Clark looked around for Lois who had wandered a bit farther ahead. He quickly spied her at the top of the next rise crouched behind a large boulder. She must have sensed his approach because she turned and waved him up to her. She put her finger to her lips, indicating that he should be quiet.
Once Clark came up next to her he peered over the top of the boulder to see what she was seeing. They had found it. The back entrance to the mine was about a hundred yards down from their current vantage point. There was no doubt in Clark's mind that they had found the back door he had known had to exist.
There was a dirt road, barely more than a set of tire tracks, which quickly led into a copse of trees which effectively shaded the path from casual discovery. A modern, metal, roll up garage door was inset into a vertical cliff face. There was an overgrown overhang hiding the door from above. Clark didn't believe that the area, which was obviously an entrance to their eyes, would be visible from the air or from more than a few hundred yards.
Clark leaned close to Lois' ear. "I think we might get a better sight line from over there." He pointed to a group of several boulders jutting up from the ground a few hundred feet off to their right.
Lois nodded, and the two of them carefully made their way over to the area Clark had indicated. It was a good spot as it gave them a more direct look at the garage door and the small side door next to it. That was something they hadn't seen from their other vantage point. The other thing they hadn't seen was the presence of two armed guards leaning lazily against the cliff face. They were under the overhang, and thus not easily spotted unless you were looking directly toward the door.
The sentries were chatting, and seemed not particularly alert. That surprised Clark. He'd have thought they would have been on a higher level of alert considering that the site had been visited by unwanted guests a couple of times in the last week. Still, he wasn't about to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.
"Well, you were right about the back door," Lois said, her voice barely above a whisper, though Clark doubted that the guards would be able to hear normal conversation levels from that distance.
Clark shrugged. "It only made sense." He gave her a tight smile. "It's nice to be right once in a while."
Lois frowned. "Oh, I think you were right about some other things too." She reached out and laid her hand on his arm. "Look, Kent… Clark, I'm not very good at apologies. My partner says that I have a hard time with them since they go against my general belief that I'm always right."
Clark reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. "It must be difficult always being right."
Lois rolled her eyes, but returned his smile before she sobered again. "What I want to say is… I'm sorry. You apparently were right about Luthor. I let my personal feelings get in the way of seeing what I should have realized days ago."
"Don't blame yourself, Lois. We can only form our opinions based on our personal experiences. I had the advantage of seeing Luthor at his worst. You, obviously, got to see him at his best. He's fooled a lot of people for a long time."
Lois shook her head, sadly. "No, that's no excuse. You see, I have had opportunities to see Lex Luthor as you clearly see him, yet I chose not to really look. I guess I wished to hold onto the rich, handsome, Prince Charming fantasy I'd built up around him. Henderson continually warned me that there was more to Lex than he was showing me." Lois sighed. "Bill never liked Lex, but I let my vanity chalk it up to jealousy. We had tried the dating thing but it hadn't worked out." Lois chuckled softly. "I guess we were too much alike."
"You know you don't have to be telling me this, Lois."
She smiled up at his look of concern. "I know, but I want to. For some reason you are easy to talk to." Lois shrugged. "Maybe that's one of the reasons why Lucy fell for you."
"Well, I appreciate… what?"
Lois covered her mouth to stifle her giggle. "Oops."
Clark was appalled by what Lois had said. He liked Lucy… as a friend. She was a good kid, but he never thought of her in a romantic way. Suddenly it all made sense. Her change in dress and her manner around him. Her desire to be 'helpful' on his stories. Clark felt terrible. How could he not have seen it?
"Look, Lois, I think the world of Lucy but…"
"Hush." Lois placed her finger against Clark's mouth. "I know. I realize my sister built the whole thing up in her mind. She has a habit of doing things like that. I don't think for one moment that you did anything to lead her on, other than being nice to her." Lois' short bark of quiet laughter was more sardonic than jovial. "Of course, she's not used to guys being nice to her. I think it's a Lane curse of some kind."
Clark found himself being drawn to the beautiful, sad detective sitting on the hard ground next to him. "Lois, I…"
She shook her head, cutting him off. "No, don't say anything. We've got to concentrate on finding Lucy and getting her back. Right now everything else is secondary to that end." Clark nodded his agreement.
The cloud cover was now complete, and what little sun that was left did little to penetrate it. The gray of dusk was getting deeper by the minute, and the breeze was picking up. They could still make out the two sentries, but it was getting harder to see them clearly. But, conversely, it would make it harder for the guards to see them also.
Clark really hadn't thought out what he was going to do beyond getting here and finding a place to observe. Even if it got quite dark, it still didn't solve the problem of what they could do with the two watchmen. Just sitting here in the ever increasing cold as the night progressed wasn't going to do them much good. They would need to find a way into the mine.
Suddenly Clark was startled by a splash of cold against the back of his neck. It was followed shortly by another. Looking up, he saw the droplets beginning to fall from the heavy clouds overhead. "Great," he said as the rain began to intensify.
Lucy sat up in bed. Something was wrong, but she couldn't wrap her reasoning around what it might be. She was groggy from sleep. She looked around the small room. The lights had been dimmed but she didn't have any idea how long she'd been sleeping. She'd never had any control over the lighting in the room, and there were no windows to the outside for her to judge the daylight by.
She glanced up at the ever present video camera in the corner. The little red light wasn't on, which she assumed meant they weren't currently watching her. She imagined watching the lab rat sleep wasn't the most exciting way to spend an afternoon or evening, whichever it was.
She levered herself up off the bed and dragged herself across the room to the little basin and bowl she called her bathroom. A bath, what she wouldn't give for a nice hot bath. To luxuriate in a tub of warm, soothing water. To actually feel clean again.
There was no mirror on the wall but the large stainless steel backsplash behind the wash basin did provide somewhat of a reflective surface. In the dim light Lucy couldn't see much of an image reflected in the shiny steel. She didn't need to see herself to know that she looked terrible. She was feeling flushed again and was beginning to sweat. Her lank hair felt clammy against her skin.
After relieving herself, she fumbled at the roll of toilet paper, dropping it several times before finally managing to tear off a piece large enough for her needs. What was wrong with her? She was pretty sure they hadn't introduced any new gases.
She stood on shaky feet and began to stumble back toward the bed. Her chest began to tighten, and pain lanced through her. Her hands began to shake as the tightness in her chest became agony.
"Help me!" She cried out weakly as she fell to her knees.
Barely able to stay conscious, Lucy crawled over to the solid metal door and began to pound on it with all she had. "Help! Help me!"
No one came to open the door. With a sob and then another cry of pain, Lucy slumped to the floor, allowing blackness to overcome her.
Lois fumed as she watched the two security guards lean casually against the large roll-up door of the back entrance to the mine. They chatted amiably. Fine for them, she thought uncharitably; they were protected from the rain that had been soaking her and Clark for the last half an hour. Lois didn't like being wet.
Clark had offered her his jacket to supplement her own, but she'd refused his kind offer. It was not as if she were going to melt. Despite what some of the guys down at the station might say, she was not the Wicked Witch of the West. Clark had laughed when she had mentioned that analogy to him. He had a nice laugh.
Lois snuck a peek at her partner in misery. Exactly when had she started thinking of him as Clark rather than just Kent? She cautioned herself. He was easy to like, but even if he didn't have any romantic feelings for Lucy, it would be considerably bad form for her to start dating him out from under her, so to speak. Dating him! What was she thinking? She'd just come off a relationship with a supposed Mr. Perfect, only to find he was anything but. The last thing she needed was to get herself immediately involved with someone she didn't really know. Besides, he was keeping something from her, and that didn't sit well with Lois Lane at all.
Lois reached out and touched Clark on the arm. He twitched, startled, but turned to her. "So," she said, "do we have a plan besides sitting here in the rain until we get pneumonia?"
She could see his teeth in the dim light as he grinned. "You don't like that one?"
She shook her head and was rewarded with a soft laugh. It sounded so nice right then. "Not really. Do you have a plan B?"
Clark blew on his hands in an effort to warm them a little. "Well, I thought we'd wait a little longer to see if maybe the Bobbsey Twins there would figure that no one would be stupid enough to be sneaking about in this rain and go back inside. Then we could sneak up, try to pick the lock on the door, and see if we can get inside."
Lois made a show of wringing out the sleeve of her jacket, and watching the water cascading from it. She looked at Clark, her brow raised. "I could just go down there and shoot both of them."
He pretended to think it over, then he shook his head. "Too much noise. It might be heard by someone we'd rather not know that we're here."
Lois gave him a mock sigh. "Party pooper." She switched to a more serious tone. "What if they don't go inside?"
Clark shrugged. "I was afraid you were going to ask me that."
Lois smiled. "Tell you what. If they don't go back inside in the next half an hour, I'll circle around behind them. Then you create some sort of distraction, when their attention is focused on you, I'll come out and threaten them with my gun, but I won't shoot them… unless I have to." She grinned at the roll of his eyes. "Then you can gag and tie them up." She shrugged. "Or you could just club them unconscious with a large tree branch or rock."
"I think I'll find a way to tie them up," Clark said.
Lois cocked her head and studied his face for several moments. "Your serious. You don't want to hurt them, do you?"
Clark shrugged again. "Not if I can help it."
Lois frowned at his seeming naivete. "These are the bad guys. Why are you so worried about them?"
Clark reached over and grabbed Lois' hands and began to rub them in his own. The warmth that was generated felt good. "I don't know what's going on in that old mine. I just know that it isn't an archeological dig. That doesn't mean that there isn't something going on there that might appear legitimate to some of those working there." Clark used his head to indicate the two sentries they'd been watching. "Those guys might just be hired security, with no real knowledge of what's going on."
Lois snorted in mild derision. "You think way too much."
He just grinned at her and they fell into a comfortable silence again. Well, as comfortable as one could be while sitting on the hard rocky ground in a cold rain.
She waited several minutes before speaking again. "Why aren't you willing to tell me about Superman?"
"What?" Clark was clearly surprised by her question.
"Clark." Her voice was soft, but held a note of determination in it. "I'm not stupid. I know that you're keeping something from me. You have knowledge of what happened to him." She held up her hand to stop him from interrupting. "I'm not talking about the attack on the pier which you told me about. I mean now. You know what happened to him after that attack." She paused and took a breath. "I think you know where he is and why he hasn't shown himself in all these months."
Clark looked away from her, toward the two guards, then finally back at her. "Are you willing to tell me what happened between you and Luthor?"
Lois was stunned by the apparent non sequitur. "What? What are you talking about now?"
Clark took off his glasses and tried to wipe them on his shirt tail, which was equally wet. "You mentioned a while back that you'd had a chance to see Luthor for who he really was but chose to ignore it. Are you willing to tell me what happened?"
Lois glared at Clark, but the in the ever increasing darkness it was all but lost. "No."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because it's personal. And what do my problems with Lex have to do with what we were talking about?" she quickly threw back at him.
She saw his shoulders hunch. "Well, maybe it's personal between me and Superman."
Lois threw up her hands. "It's not the same thing at all. You claim there was an attempt on Superman's life. That's a crime. You are withholding information germane to an ongoing case." Her whisper became more fierce. "Look, I've been willing to cut you some slack on this because we have other things to deal with right now, but…"
"Shhhh." Clark grabbed her flailing hands in one of his, using the other to point to the door they were there to watch. "Something's going on."
Lois immediately forgot her anger at Clark and turned her attention to where he was pointing. The large garage door was moving upward. She was amazed at how quiet it was. The bright lights from the interior allowed her to see inside but she was disappointed by the lack of anything interesting.
A couple of typical green dumpsters, a pile of wooden skids, and several stacks of boxes were all that she was able to see. It was obvious that this was where they brought in and stored their supplies. The area she could see into went back only about thirty feet. Then her sight ran up against another wall and another large metal door.
Two more men had exited from inside, and they appeared to be carrying a bundle or bag of some sort. Lois was trying to make out exactly what it was because it seemed familiar in some way.
Suddenly she was distracted by movement coming from the other direction. It was a vehicle. Coming up the gravel path was an SUV. The vehicle had none of its lights on.
A fellow jumped out of the driver's door and ran around to open up the back. Lois turned her attention back to the guys who were carrying the large bundle. When the back end of the SUV was opened, an interior dome light came on. It allowed Lois to get a good look at what the two men were manhandling.
"No, oh please, no." The fear in Lois' voice caused Clark to shift his attention to her.
"What is it?" he asked.
Lois turned toward Clark. Tears running from her eyes. "Clark… that's a body bag."
Lois began to scramble over the rock outcroppings in front of her. Clark quickly reached out and pulled her back under the cover of their hidden shelter.
"Lois!" he hissed. "Where do you think you're going? They'll see you."
Lois' eyes flashed through her tears as she glared at the man who had pulled her back. "I'm going down to look in that bag. I have to know!"
Clark's heart was twisting in his chest. The fear and anguish Lois was experiencing struck him like a blow. He knew that the young woman he held was going through a personal hell that he could only begin to guess at.
His own fear of who might be in that body bag was an ache that tore at his soul. He wasn't sure how he would be able to deal with it if it turned out that Lucy had indeed been killed. Knowing how his own gut was twisted, he could only imagine what Lois, her sister, was going through. But for her own sake he had to make her understand that there was nothing they could do right now.
"Lois!" Clark's whisper was fierce as she continued to struggle against his grip. "Lois, look at me."
She twisted and through gritted teeth spat out a response. "What?"
"Think about it." He tried using a calm voice. "There're too many of them down there. We'd have no chance to get close." Clark softened his voice. "If it is Lucy, we won't be doing her any good by getting ourselves shot."
Lois recoiled as if struck. "No," she pleaded to herself. "No, it isn't Lucy. It can't be Lucy."
Lois suddenly slumped, bonelessly, against him. "It can't be Lucy."
Clark held the frightened woman against his chest for several minutes. He was at a loss for what he could do to help alleviate her fears, the trouble being that her fears were his fears also. Unless he was totally off base about Luthor and this old mine site, it was a very horrific possibility that Lucy had lost her life because of himself and his pursuit of this story. Even if she weren't the occupant of the ominous black bag being manhandled into the SUV below them, there was still no guarantee that Lucy was still alive. If she wasn't at this site, where was she?
That was the other nagging possibility that kept insinuating itself into his thoughts. Why did he think she was here at all? Yes, she had come up here and had made herself known to those at this site. It would be quite easy for someone in Luthor's camp to make the connection between her and Clark. Both were Planet employees, and, if they had any inside information, they might know that Lucy was helping Clark on the Boynton story.
But was that enough to reason that she would have been kidnapped and brought up here? They had merely tried to kill Clark, not kidnap him. If Luthor's minions had targeted Lucy, they would be more likely to have just killed her outright than to have kidnapped her and brought her up here. If he was honest with himself, it was mostly just hope that drove him to believe that Lucy could be here.
Clark knew the practical, intelligent police officer that Lois was would agree with that logic. But it was the loving sister that clung to the slim hope that Lucy would be found… alive and well.
Lois shivered, sucked in a deep breath, and pushed herself away from Clark. She glanced down at the scene of activity playing out just a few hundred feet below them. She turned back to Clark, her visage grim.
"We need to find a way to get down there for a look." She bit on her lower lip as she frowned.
Clark glanced down at the now lessening activity then back at Lois. "I guess one of us could circle back around, near the top of the mountain, and cause enough of a disturbance to bring the guards to investigate. Then the other one could sneak down and take a quick look."
Lois' frown deepened. "Okay," she said, hesitantly. "But it could be dangerous for the one who creates the diversion if they get caught. These boys do have guns, you know. Also, don't you think that at least one of them will stick around to secure the entrance?"
Clark shrugged. "I never said the plan was foolproof."
Lois snorted. "No, and it would take a fool to implement it… so who does what?"
Clark weighed the two choices in his mind. On the one hand, it was true that to draw the attention of men with guns to oneself wasn't exactly the safest course of action. He figured that he should, therefore, be the one to do that. He could run faster than she could if he needed to draw them farther away, but she was smaller and could probably find it easier to hide to escape detection. There was also the aspect of who had to check out the body bag. If it actually was Lucy, could Lois handle it? Could he?
He wasn't sure what he was going to suggest when suddenly movement from below caught his attention. He nudged Lois. "Hey, something's going on down there."
As the pair watched, one of the guards was seen talking into a cell phone. Neither could hear what was being said, but after the call, all four of the sentries headed back into the complex. Leaving the SUV, and its cargo, unattended.
Both looked at each other, expressions of puzzlement on their faces. Shrugging in unison, the pair quietly, but quickly began to make their way down to the vehicle.
It took them several nerve-wracking moments to make their way down, constantly checking the entrance door to see if the guard detail would return. Finally they reached their destination and Lois, with one last look over her shoulder, lifted the back hatch of the SUV.
As she extended her shaking hand toward the zipper at the top of the body shaped bag Clark grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Maybe I should be the one to look." The concern in his voice matched that which could be seen on his face.
Lois glared at him briefly, then set her lips in a tight line. "No," she said, shaking her head slowly. "I have to do this."
Taking one last deep breath, Lois reached out and pulled back the zipper for about a third of the length of the bundle. Barely controlling her palsied actions she managed to pull back the two sides of the heavy plastic bag to reveal its prize.
"Oh, Lucy." Her voice was an anguished whisper.
Clark quickly put his arms around Lois, supporting her, and drew her to his chest. He felt her slender body shudder against his as the sobs began. Looking over her shoulder he could see that the occupant of the body bag was indeed, Lucy Lane. Her eyes were closed. She seemed rather peaceful, as if she were merely sleeping. There wasn't a mark anywhere on her body that was exposed to their view. Clark was a bit puzzled by that, and by the fact that she didn't seem to be wearing any clothes. He reached out a tentative hand to the young woman's neck. He had to be sure.
Not only wasn't there a pulse, but Clark was shocked by how cold the body seemed to be. The poor woman must have been dead a long time. There was a faint sheen of moisture on the body which also puzzled Clark. Had they kept her in some sort of cold storage before deciding to get rid of the evidence?
Nothing seemed to add up properly, but it was enough for Clark to be certain now that whatever was going on inside that old mine site, it needed to be shut down, and shut down quickly. His and Lois' testimony should be enough to justify getting warrants issued and a visit by the police.
Still holding the grieving Lois, Clark clasped the tag of the zipper and began to close the bag. Lois pulled back from his embrace.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Lois, we have to get out of here before anyone comes back. We can't let them know that we were here."
Clark could see a tiny spark of fire flare up in Lois' eyes. "No, I'm not leaving her here. We have to take her with us."
He sighed. He could understand her pain, but knew that to do as she wished would be foolish and dangerous. "Lois, come on, you know we can't…"
Suddenly noises behind them drew their attention. Clark was the first to see the partially shadowed figures emerging from the side door of the mine entrance. It was clear that the guards were returning from whatever errand had pulled them away in the first place.
Clark quickly finished zipping up the bag and began to drag Lois with him, up the slope. "Come on, we've got to go, now!" His whisper was fierce in her ear, but she still struggled against his grip.
He didn't know if it was the darkness, the cover of the undergrowth, or just sheer dumb luck that allowed him and Lois to get back to their original observation post unnoticed, but he was thankful just the same.
Once it had been clear that they were not going to be able to take Lucy's body with them, Lois had quit fighting Clark and was scrambling up the incline under her own power. For that, he was also grateful. She was a handful, and fighting her all the way up the slope would have made their continued anonymity much more difficult.
"Lois, I…" Clark let his words die in the silence of the deepening night as Lois refused to acknowledge him. Her gaze was locked onto the scene below them, tears mixing with the rain that beat steadily down on them.
Mutely, the pair watched as the two guys who brought Lucy out of the installation initially got into the SUV and drove away.
Mac paced around his small room liked a caged animal. What was Mamba waiting for? Why did they have to stay in their rooms? Time was being wasted. Time that the young woman might not have that much of. With a final curse to the indifferent walls, he strode out of his room.
He soon found himself nearing the rear of the complex. He slowed as he realized where his instinctive steps had been taking him. Looking around, he was relieved that there was no one wandering the halls. Slipping around the last corner he was quickly outside of Lester Diggs office.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked. There was no answer. He tried the knob, but the door was locked. Of course it would be locked. Did he honestly think that the head of the installation's security would be in the habit of leaving his office door unlocked when he wasn't around?
Mac wasn't someone who had a checkered past nor had he grown up knowing how to steal cars and pick locks. He was a typical suburban kid who had grown up in a typical middle class neighborhood and raised with middle class values. Right now he wished he'd been raised on some mean streets somewhere, whatever that meant. At least that way he'd probably have the skills needed to do a credible breaking and entering.
Mac did have two things going in his favor. First, the area, for whatever reason, seemed to be deserted at this time of night. And the door was characteristic of interior doors: a somewhat flimsy, hollow core, wooden door with a simple key lock in the knob. There was no deadbolt nor was there any reinforcing in the door.
Mac stepped back a pace and, after one last look around, put a hefty boot to the door right at the junction of the lock and the frame. He grimaced at the loudness of the splintering wood. He also knew that he was now on a ticking clock. Once someone came by and discovered the broken door, security would be alerted, and a search would commence. He only hoped that he could find what he was looking for before that became a problem.
The office was smaller than he'd imagined it would be but he took that as a plus. Less area to search. Aside from the expected desk and matching chair, there were only a single five drawer filing cabinet and a small bookcase in the room. A map of the complex adorned the wall opposite the desk. Other than that there was nothing else on the walls. No pictures, posters, nothing, not even a clock. What a fun guy this Diggs must be, Mac thought to himself as he tried to decide where to start.
He was looking for something that could tell him who that young woman was, and more importantly, where she was. He just had no idea where that information would be found. He first looked at the file cabinet. It was locked, but it wouldn't take much to break into it when and if he might decide he'd need to. Most likely the personnel files of everyone in the place were kept there. He didn't know the woman's name so trying to look her up would be a futile search.
He turned his attention to the desk. It wasn't a neat desk, but it wasn't piled high with stacks of paper and other things that tended to accumulate on Mac's own desk. There were a few uninteresting memos lying about, but nothing that hinted at what he was looking for.
He tried the desk drawers. The center one opened, but it was only full of pens, pencils, paper clips, and other assorted office supplies. The side drawers were locked. Mac was just about to use a letter opener to pry open one of the drawers, when his gaze fell on Diggs' desk calendar. There was writing on it.
The scribble was hard to decipher, but today's date mentioned something about making sure 'the visitors saw what they were supposed to'. That made no sense to Mac, so he flipped the pages back. He froze. Two days ago Diggs had jotted himself a message. 'Test subject arriving today, place it in room 6' was what it said.
That was the day that Mac had seen the young woman being ushered down the hall in the south wing. Test subject, it had said. Had Mac been correct in his assumptions then? Was the young woman someone who was here for medical treatment? Something that required the growing of her clone to combat?
Mac moved from behind the desk and approached the map of the installation on the wall. Most of the areas designated on the layout were done in architectural representations, the correct sized rectangles and circles used to represent the positions of beds, desks, and other major furniture in each room.
He knew she was in the south wing, so he confined his search to that. It took him a few moments to locate what he was looking for. In a far corner of the south wing he found a series of small blank rooms merely denoted with numbers, one through seven. No furniture nor equipment of any kind was indicated, just the numbers. He memorized the location of room six in relation to the nearest entrance into the south wing itself.
As he left the room, he carefully pulled the door closed. It didn't latch since he'd broken the lock completely out of the frame, but from a distance the door wouldn't look like it was open. Of course, any direct look at the door would reveal its true condition. He just had to hope that Diggs wouldn't be back to his office soon and that no normal security patrol would be by this place anytime soon. Now he just had to find a way to get into the south wing. No easy task, that.
Mac nervously prowled around the hallways near the entrance to the south wing. Each passing minute made him more anxious that someone would discover his break in of the Security Director's office and the jig would be up, as they say.
The fact that few people were about in this part of the installation at this time both worked for and against him. There were fewer people to question what this odd fellow was doing wandering aimlessly up and down the halls, but also less opportunity of finding someone who could provide him with a way into the highly restricted south wing.
After taking his sixteenth drink from the fountain just a few dozen feet away from the key card secured door, he finally saw what might just be his chance. While still bent over the fountain, he noticed someone coming out the door. He gave a silent prayer of thanks when he saw that it wasn't a security guard, but instead a member of the medical staff. That should make his desperate plan a little easier to accomplish.
Keeping his head down, pretending to take a long drink, he watched out of the corner of his eye until the south winger was almost even with him. Then, with a satisfied final slurp, Mac pulled up and turned as if making ready to go on his way. Unfortunately for the unwary target, Mac stepped up and out, right into the young medic. Both men went sprawling to the floor.
Apologizing profusely, Mac made several clumsy attempts to help the poor fellow up. Each time pawing the man's jacket and shirt excessively. Finally the set upon medico was able to extricate himself from what he probably thought was a bumbling moron and, with an indignant glare, stormed off.
Mac watched until the man disappeared around a corner. Grinning, he opened his hand revealing the fellow's security key card which allowed him his access to the south wing. With one more look up and down the hallways to make sure no one was watching him, he moved toward the door.
Keeping his head bent, so the video cameras wouldn't get a good look at his face, Mac moved confidently to the door and swiped the card. There was no audible click, but a faint green light flickered on. He pushed on the door. He was in!
Mac moved quickly through the intersecting hallways toward the far corner complex of rooms he'd seen on the installation map in Diggs' office. It only took a few moments for him to get where he was going, but he pulled up as he neared the collection of mystery rooms.
There seemed to be some sort of uproar. Several people in obvious hospital garb rushed by him, not giving him a second glance. They had a hospital crash cart with them. It was a scene out of a television emergency room drama. He hung back and watched as they all hurried into one of the rooms. Carefully he approached the room the small group of people had disappeared into. He felt an icy hand grip his heart. He was close enough to distinguish the simple brass number on the door. It was a six.
Lois stared, no longer seeing, at the spot where a short time ago her sister, in a black vinyl body bag, had been taken from her. The vehicle which held her was gone, and the guards who had been keeping watch had obviously decided that no sane person would be wandering around the mountain top on such a cold and rainy night. They had gone back inside.
The rain still came down at a steady rate. The rain combined with the rapidly dropping temperatures and ever freshening wind made it uncomfortably cold. She didn't feel the chill of her outside surroundings. Her chill came from the inside. Her sister was dead.
She turned and looked at the dejected man sitting next to her, sharing her misery. "How could we have failed her so badly, Clark?"
Clark's despair was clearly written on his face. "Lois… I don't know what I can say?"
She sniffed back a new tear. "You don't have to say anything." Lois wrapped her arms around herself, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a shiver. Clark pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, offering what little protection against the cold he could. "I know that this is the point where we're supposed to be telling each other not to feel guilty over what happened. That it wasn't our faults. That the bad guys are the ones to blame, and that we need to direct our energies toward bringing them to justice… and we will."
She looked over her shoulder, up into his eyes which she could barely see in the darkness. She knew that tears were mixed with raindrops as they were with her. She turned in his embrace so she could face him. She reached up and placed her hand against his cheek.
"But I think we need our guilt," she said softly. "I'm her big sister, and I'm supposed to watch out for her. It's my job to keep my little sister out of trouble." She sniffed back another tear. "You were her friend and co-worker. It was your story that she got mixed up in. We can't help but feel a need to share in the blame."
The two of them sat silently, staring into each other's tear streaked faces, communicating their shared grief. Later, Lois would say that what happened next was merely the result of their emotions laying raw and open to each other.
Ever so slowly, as if of one mind, Lois lifted herself toward Clark as he lowered his head toward her. Their lips met in a kiss of affirmation. They were vulnerable and needed to affirm that life, amidst tragedy, could still contain some meaning. It wasn't passion, but the promise of support and comfort that was communicated in that kiss. For one brief moment Lois was able to forget the chill that had invaded her body inside and out, and just cherish the warmth that Clark's lips were able to disseminate throughout her shivering frame.
Reluctantly, the practical side of Lois forced the partners in heartache apart. "We have to leave," she said somewhat breathlessly.
She could sense the nod of his head in the dark. "I know. We have to get to a phone and call the police. I was able to get the license number of that SUV."
Lois found herself nodding. "That's good. I'll have Bill put out an APB on it. Hopefully they will be able to find it before they… well, before."
They both rose and began to make their way back toward where Lois' jeep was hidden. It would take them some time, but they didn't need to worry about whether or not anyone might see them. It was highly doubtful that any sentries would still be about now. Especially considering the cold and rain. Even if there were, they would practically have to run into each other in order to be seen.
Lois allowed Clark to take the lead as he seemed to have a better sense of their way back. At least she hoped he knew where they were going. She had to keep her concentration on her footing. They still had a lot to accomplish yet tonight, and it wouldn't do for her to have to deal with a broken ankle as well.
It took them about half the time getting down as it had going up, but finally Lois was just able to make out her Cherokee parked where they had left it.
"Do we need to get to a phone or do you have a radio in your car?" Clark asked as they approached the jeep.
"I have a radio."
"Good, that'll help. Henderson can put out that 'all points' you mentioned and get started on getting the warrants needed to raid this place." Clark was now next to the car. "I don't think the people at the mine suspect that they are at any immediate risk, but the sooner we can get back here with those warrants the better."
Lois joined Clark at the front door of her jeep. "I agree. And once we explain what we saw to Bill, I don't think he'll have any trouble finding a judge willing to issue the necessary warrants." Lois opened her driver's side door as Clark scooted around to the other side. "Since we're technically outside the city limits of Metropolis we'll have to include the county sheriff's office in on this, but I don't think that will be a problem. Once they realize how big this might be, they will be glad of the help. Besides, Bill can be very persuasive when he has to be."
Lois fired up her vehicle and began to back out of the undercover brush they had hidden it in. Clark strapped in as she reached for the radio. "I, for one, can't wait to come back here with a large contingent of police and see what really lies behind these granite walls." A note of grim determination had crept into Clark's voice.
Lois held the radio's microphone in her hand, but hadn't thumbed the on switch yet. "That's fine. I'll be happy to drop you off. I'm not interested in what's going on in that old mine. Bill and the county cops will be able to handle it. I have other plans."
Lois couldn't see Clark's features, but his voice betrayed his confusion. "What? I don't understand."
Even though her insides were in a turmoil, Lois' voice was rock steady. "After I phone in the information and talk to Henderson, I have another stop to make." She took a deep breath. "I think I need to pay Lex a visit."
Mac had found a storage closet at the end of the hall, and had ducked into it. Keeping the door open just a crack, he kept his eye on the door with the number six on the front. He was several feet away, so he couldn't hear what was going on inside but the way that the medical team had rushed into that room did little to allay his fears.
Was the young woman in that room? he wondered. If so, what kind of trouble was she in? His mind was a jumble of conflicting notions. Why had the clone failed? Was that failure a death sentence for the young woman he'd seen?
Mac watched the door, anxious as time passed, that his break-in of Diggs' office would be discovered at any moment. He had no real notion of how much time was passing. He only took a small comfort in the logic that told him that less time had probably passed than it seemed like it had.
So his best guess was that he'd been watching the door for about half an hour when he saw someone approaching the room from up the hallway. This wasn't another medical person, but someone from security. His heart jumped into his throat as he eased the door a little closer to closed. Were they on to him already? Was this fellow with his special patch, holstered hand gun, and cell phone in hand part of a search for him?
The security person went straight to the door of room six and opened it. He observed a scene that was slightly puzzling. Once the door had been opened — from the outside. The medical team he'd watched enter the room began to file out. One of the younger men, probably an orderly of some sort, was pushing the crash cart out ahead of him.
One by one the rest of the team filed out and allowed the door to shut behind them. If the young woman he'd been searching for was in that room, she was still in it. He had carefully studied everyone who had left the room and only those who had gone in had come out. Did that mean that the young woman, if she was in there, was dead?
Mac couldn't hold on to his patience any longer. He barely waited for the group of people to turn the corner on the hallway when he let himself out of the closet and moved quickly and silently toward the door.
He placed his hand on the paddle style handle and gave it a tentative push. It moved downward easily. It wasn't locked. The large, solid door swung into the room easily. There was no creaking or squeaking of hinges, for which he was grateful. Cautiously sticking his head around the door, he was able to see why the security man had needed to come and open the door. There was no handle, or door knob of any kind, on the inside of the door.
Mac frowned as the significance of that sunk in. Apparently, once you were in this room, you weren't going to be able to get out unless someone let you. Slipping off one of his shoes, he placed it between the door and the door frame. Thus the door wasn't able to latch, and he could escape when he needed to.
The room was actually undergoing a process of getting darker. The lights were obviously being controlled from somewhere else, either by some sort of timed mechanism, or by someone or something elsewhere.
As the light continued to dim, he did a quick visual sweep of the room. What he saw appalled him. It was more like a prison cell than a hospital room. The accommodations were Spartan and lacking in anything resembling a warm human touch. His gaze stopped once they alighted onto the small cot-like bed in the far corner.
It was her! Before the room got too dark he was able to get a good look at her as she lay facing toward him on the bed. It was the woman he'd seen two days ago. He hurried over to her side, his heart hammering so loudly that he thought he'd go deaf from the sound of it.
Her eyes were closed. He placed his hand next to her mouth. He released a breath he hadn't known he was holding with a sigh. She was breathing. She was alive.
Betsy Ann Joblonski leaned back in her chair as she snapped her gum again and again. She was bored. There was nothing duller than monitor duty. Especially when there was nothing to watch.
She'd been having a good time partying with her boyfriend Stewie when she'd gotten the call to come in for monitor duty. It had ticked her off because she and Stewie were getting pretty hot and heavy, but she didn't dare say no. She needed the job and couldn't afford to rock the boat.
Stewie had gotten her the job a couple of months ago. He was one of the installation's security force. When an opening had come up, he'd recommended her. Some guy named Briggs or Diggs or something interviewed her for about five minutes. Said he had the perfect job for her. Since then her on-duty time had been mostly spent staring at video monitors. She got to watch various security camera views. It was easy, but boring.
She found the fact that they had to live at the installation a bit weird, but since Stewie was here, it was cool with her. They got to 'party' a lot. She snapped her gum again. That was what she had been doing when she got the call. Apparently they'd needed someone to take on an emergency shift.
She didn't know any details. Betsy was just called in and told to sit and watch this one particular monitor. She didn't know why. The camera only showed a small room with one occupant. A young woman who was obviously sick or something. She looked terrible.
Betsy was told that the woman had had a heart attack and needed to rest. She was supposed to watch this gal as she slept to make sure she was okay. Boorrring. What was she supposed to watch anyway. The lights were being turned down low, she could barely see the gal. Besides, the beer was beginning to take its toll on her. She really needed to…
Betsy glanced around the small monitor room. There was no one else there. One quick look at the screen showed her that the woman was sleeping on her bed and the room was getting darker. It wouldn't hurt to be gone for just a few minutes. Who would ever know?
Mac placed his hand on the young woman's shoulder and gently gave her a shake. She merely moaned and tried to turn over. She sounded spent and looked it also. What had happened in here? He had seen a medical team leave here. Why had they been here?
He bent down close to her ear. "Miss, are you okay? Can you get up?"
The woman seemed to shrink away from him. "No, please, no more. I can't take any more. Leave me alone." Her words were mumbled from a semi-conscious state, but her obvious distress tore at Mac's heart.
What in the world had been going on in here? Why was this woman being kept in a facility with no way for her to leave… like she was some kind of prisoner? He found his gaze again sweeping around the little room which looked more and more to his eyes like a cell. His gaze finally alighted on the camera up in the corner of the ceiling.
The red light was on! That meant that this room was under observation. He had no more time to figure out what was happening or what he should do. He only knew that this woman had touched something deep inside of him, and he couldn't leave her there. Mac still had no idea as to what the whole situation was, but he knew it didn't seem right.
Making up his mind in that instant, he carefully slid his arms under the slender young woman. She weighed practically nothing. She was so thin. With her cradled in his arms, Mac moved quickly for the door. Taking a moment to slip his foot back into his shoe, he let the door close and lock behind him.
Pulling the woman tighter to his chest, he mentally took a moment to review a mind's eye picture of the complex as he'd seen it on the wall in Diggs' office. He was presently in the far, southeastern corner of the complex. The closest exit was the way he'd come in. He still had the ID card that would allow him to get around in the south wing, but the longer he stayed there the greater the chance that he'd be caught. He still had to worry about the break-in of Diggs' office being discovered.
There were no exits to the outside anywhere near where he was. His best bet was to get out of the south wing and back to his room. There he could hide the woman until he could find out what the heck was going on with her. Once she was awake, she could explain things to him, and then, together, they could decide what they needed to do.
Giving the young woman a look that could only be described as adoration, Mac hurried down the hallways, back to the exit door he'd originally come through. He prayed its being late night meant fewer people would be about, and he'd have a chance to get out of the south wing before anyone saw him or an alarm could be raised. He was a bit surprised that people weren't already after them since the room had been under surveillance. He hoped that meant either the camera was on automatic recording or that the darkness of the room had hidden him from the view of an overly bored, inattentive guard. Either way, he wasn't going to wait around to see which theory proved correct.
He was just about at the door to the north wing when he spied another fellow coming around the corner from the other direction. It was a bored-looking security woman. Figuring that his best bet lie in a strong offense, Mac hailed the guard before she even had a chance to see him.
"Hey, quick, get that door for me, would you? I've got a medical emergency here. Need to get this woman over to the other side asap." Mac stopped by the door and looked impatiently at the bewildered security guard.
"I — don't know. Why isn't she on a gurney?" The guard, reacting to Mac's glare, reached out and slid her card through the magnetic lock. "Why do you need…"
Once the door was opened Mac quickly shouldered his way past the stunned woman. "Hey, I'll worry about niceties like gurneys and such when I have time. Look up the word emergency, then get back to me." Mac hurried away from the flustered guard, making sure he turned a corner and was out of her sight as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there were even fewer people about in this part of the complex as he swiftly made his way to his own room.
Kicking the door shut behind him, he moved over to his bed and carefully laid the young woman down. Sometime during their journey she had instinctively put her arms around his neck so he had to gently untangle her arms. There was a moaned murmur of protest, but she didn't wake.
Like a balloon abruptly losing all of its air, Mac collapsed into the chair next to his desk and stared at the young woman who had so suddenly turned his life upside down. What had he been thinking? He'd kidnapped this woman from his own facility. Why had he done that?
He reached over and reverently brushed a lock of lank hair out of the woman's face. She had obviously suffered quite a lot. It showed on her tired and worn features. Even so, she was beautiful. Mac had never been one to believe in love at first sight or the concept of soul mates, but there was something about this young woman that stirred something deep inside him. Like she was the other half to his incomplete whole. It was a strange concept. He'd never had thoughts like that before. Not since that moment he first spied her being led down the hall. Now he could think of nothing else.
He glanced at the door to his room. He only hoped that she'd wake up in time to tell him what was going on before they were discovered. He admitted that he was working completely in the dark, but he also knew that there was no way he was going to leave her in that — that — cell any longer.
He gently stroked her cheek. "Please wake up and tell me what to do."
Lois glanced over at Clark out of the corner of her eye. He'd been pretty quiet the last hour. She wasn't sure if it was because of her declaration of going to see Lex or it was his fear of her driving. She'd been speeding, almost recklessly, back toward Metropolis ever since she'd gotten off the radio with Henderson.
Bill had been understandably shocked and solicitous when she'd told him about their discovery. He told her he'd have an APB out on the SUV as soon as they finished. He pumped her for as much information as she could give him. Granted, all they really had was the eye witness of Lucy's lifeless body being taken out of the mine site but, coupled with some of the other strange activities and actions that Clark would attest to and that Lucy had told Lois, Bill thought it would be enough to get the necessary warrants to pay that mine site a visit.
Lois knew that both she and Clark would have to be deposed before Bill could go to a judge for the warrants, but it didn't hurt to get things started so that once they got there everything would be ready to go. If they were lucky, maybe by then someone would have picked up the SUV in question.
Henderson had said that he knew a judge who didn't particularly like Luthor, so he figured that he wouldn't have much trouble getting the warrants once they returned. Lois hoped that was true. Bill also said that he'd get in touch with the local county sheriffs office and set things in motion from their end. If things fell their way, this whole mess could be broken wide open within the next twelve hours. Of course, then she'd have the time to dwell on the fact that her sister was dead.
Lois shook her head. Not now, not yet. She had to hold it together for a few more hours. She had to see this through, not only for Lucy's sake, but for her own.
She could feel Clark's presence sitting silently next to her. Was he brooding about Lucy too? She knew that he, like she, shared in the guilt over Lucy's death. He hadn't been in love with her or anything like that, but Lois got the impression that his friends were very important to Clark. Maybe more so than most people. He seemed the kind who wasn't afraid of his feelings and felt his emotions quite deeply.
Her mind flashed on the kiss they had shared, but she quickly pushed that from her mind. No time to dwell on that now. They had both been in a state of shock and very vulnerable. Clark might seem to be a great guy, but how much did she really know about him? And there was that something else. That situation with Superman that he was still keeping from her. It was personal he'd said. Well, someone had to make the move.
Lois took a deep breath, glanced over at Clark, then turned her attention back to the road. "Lex tried to rape me."
"What?" Clark was startled out of his silence.
Lois grimaced as she forced herself to remember that night. "You asked me what happened to make me question who Lex Luthor really was."
"He tried to rape you!" Clark tone was one of outrage.
Lois shrugged. "Well, not exactly. He did try to take advantage of me one evening."
Clark was clearly puzzled. "I don't understand."
Lois allowed herself a sad chuckle. "I don't think I do either, really."
She went on to explain the night in question. How Luthor had come over and been so charming early on. And then how it had ended up so badly. Clark sat in silence, never moralizing, nor accusing. He just let her get the story out. For that she was grateful.
"Have you talked to him since?" he finally asked once she had finished her story.
Lois didn't look at Clark. "Yeah a couple of times."
"And did he have an excuse for his behavior?"
Lois bit her lip, her mind flashing back to those conversations. "Not really. Oh, he apologized and all that, but I never got the feeling that he ever thought that he'd crossed any line. At least not like I had." Lois shrugged again. "I suppose he wouldn't have done it if he had thought it was inappropriate behavior."
Clark's voice soft, and careful. "Do you believe that?"
"Yes." Lois paused, then shook her head. "No… I don't know. I'm still conflicted. I do believe the things you've told me, and I'm just as sure as you are that something is going on up at the mine site that needs to be exposed. And that Lex is ultimately behind it. But still, I've known a Lex Luthor who is kind, charming, and benevolent. You tell me that it's all been an act to hide who he really is… and I believe you, I do. It's just…"
Clark reached over and placed his hand on Lois' arm. "It's okay. I understand. It's very hard to reconcile these two very different images you have of this man, because they are so very different." Clark took in a breath as if wondering if he should say anything more. Finally. "Did you love him?"
Lois stared straight ahead. Did she love him? That was a good question. Before all this started she would have laughed that notion off. She and Lex were just good friends who liked to do things together. That's what she always told herself. But had that been true?
Would his betrayal have hurt her so much if he'd only been this 'friend' she claimed he was? Or had she been harboring deeper feelings? Feelings she wasn't able to admit to herself. She had always been guarded with her emotions. Even before Claude, but especially after that.
Clark said that Lucy had called her Lex's girlfriend. She knew Henderson had always disapproved of her relationship with Luthor. Was that how others had seen them? As a couple? Were they ever a couple?
No. No, she never really loved Lex. At least not in the way that she viewed love. For her, it had to mean something more than just enjoying being in one another's company for a pleasant evening. It meant that you missed that person when he wasn't around. That you looked forward to the next time you saw him and literally counted the minutes until it happened. You cared more about his happiness than your own, and that definitely wasn't Lex. How could she love a man who so obviously didn't really love her?
Lois looked over at Clark and was momentarily shocked by the look of very real concern in his eyes. "No, no, I didn't love Lex. At least not in that sense. Not romantic love."
Clark still had his hand on her arm. He gave it a companionable squeeze. "Are you all right?"
Lois barked out a short, sad laugh. "No, I'm not all right. But I will survive. I'm a survivor, it's what I do."
Clark's voice was hesitant. "Well, I'll — help, if you want."
Lois reached up and grabbed the hand on her arm in her own and squeezed it in return. "Thanks."
Clark sat staring out the front window of the jeep as once again silence came over the vehicle. He knew that Lois' emotions were raw and exposed at present. Not only was she torn up about Lucy's death, but he knew it took a lot for her to open up to him like she did about Luthor.
He'd gotten the impression that trust was a major issue with Lois. He was sure that Luthor's betrayal of that trust was the single largest factor in her shattered image of the man she thought Lex Luthor had been.
She probably didn't give her trust very easily, but she had trusted him with this. What did that mean? And that kiss. It had been wonderful, but he knew better than to read anything special into it. She needed to be comforted in her pain, and he'd been there.
In a short time they would be back in Metropolis, and the police could raid that mine site. This whole ordeal would be over soon. Then what? Could he just turn his back and return to the Planet as if nothing had happened?
Well, of course, there would be repercussions. Lucy's loss would be felt at the Planet. Clark wasn't the only one who was fond of the young woman at the paper. He knew that, for all his gruffness, Perry tended to think of his reporters like his children. He knew he had a special soft spot for Lucy. Clark sighed. Perry was going to be devastated when he found out.
But could Clark just walk away from this incredible woman who was sitting next to him? He had to admit that he didn't really know her very well, but on another level it was as if he'd known her all his life. Would he be able to find reasons to continue to see her? Would she want him to, or would he be a constant reminder of what she'd lost?
And then there was that issue of trust again. She knew he was holding out on her, and he could tell it bothered her beyond the obvious legal aspects of Superman's disappearance. He felt he could trust her with the knowledge that he'd been Superman, but did he have that right? If it was just him at risk he wouldn't think twice about it. But it wasn't just him. He had to think of his parents' welfare also.
Even though Superman was technically no more, if it ever became known that Clark Kent had been the missing Man of Steel, people he knew and loved could still be in danger. Too many of his enemies would delight in taking revenge, even if Superman was no more.
Clark glanced over at his beautiful companion. She was chewing on her lower lip as they neared the outskirts of Metropolis. "I guess you're waiting for me to explain about Superman?"
Lois jerked her head to face him as if startled by his voice breaking the quiet. She stared into his face for a few moments before turning back to her driving. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, I was the one who brought up the idea of sharing personal experiences as a dodge to answering your question about my knowledge of where Superman is." Clark studied her profile for a couple of beats before continuing. "You shared your experience with Luthor. I can only suppose that you meant for me to tell my own story."
Lois visibly swallowed. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it held a note of expectation. "Only if you want to."
Clark sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Believe me, Lois, I really do want to tell you, but it's not so simple."
Lois shrugged. "What is?"
Clark nodded. "True enough. It's just that there are other people's lives at stake here. I'm not sure I have the right to put them in jeopardy just to ease your curiosity."
Clark could see the tightening of Lois lips in the reflected light of the ever increasing number of street lamps. When she spoke it was through a tautly drawn mouth. "Fine. If you think my questions had no more value that to satisfy some woman's idle curiosity, don't tell me. I certainly wouldn't want to endanger anyone by knowing something that could conceivably solve a major crime."
Sighing, Clark slumped back in his seat. He waited a few minutes. "Okay, Lois, you were right. Superman isn't dead, well, not technically anyway."
"You're going to have to explain that one to me."
Clark spread his hands as if trying to grasp the words he was looking for. "Well, the man is alive but the Super is dead." He almost laughed at the look on Lois' face. "I think I need to explain that."
"Yeah, I think so."
Clark took a deep breath and plunged into his story. "I told you about Superman being drenched in that kryptonite- like liquid. And how he stumbled off the end of the pier, into the ocean." She nodded, he continued. "I also told you how kryptonite works. It brings Superman great pain, and eventually, if exposed long enough, it can kill him. Well, even minimal exposure usually results in a loss of his powers, but in the past they've always returned over time."
"Superman was washed back up on shore as you surmised. He was still alive but in a bad way. A — friend nursed him back to health."
"He never regained his powers." Lois was about to interrupt but Clark rushed ahead, needing to get his point across. "Lois, there are people, friends and loved ones of Superman, whose lives could be at risk from vengeance seeking criminals if it became known who and where he was. He figured it would be better, since he can no longer protect them, if he just let people think he was dead."
Lois was silent as she negotiated the parking lot of the Metropolis Police Department. Once stopped she turned toward Clark. "I assume you know where he is?" She waved her hand. "No, don't answer that. Of course you do. I'm more interested in your comment as to 'who he was'. This isn't over, Kent, not by a long shot. But we've got more immediate things to deal with right now." They both got out of the jeep and started for the front entrance of the building. "Just know," she said, "that once this mess is over, you and I are going to have a long talk, and I *will* know everything that you know."
Clark stared after the slim bundle of remarkable woman as she hurried toward the steps to the MPD. His mouth was hanging open. There was no way that he'd ever be able to keep up with Lois Lane, just no way.
Mac was getting nervous. He wasn't sure how much time had passed because he was afraid to look at the clock on his night stand. He'd spent most of his time staring at the door, waiting for someone to knock and demand entry. There hadn't been any general alarm raised yet, but that didn't mean they weren't looking for him and the young woman. The one thing he had going for him was that he didn't think anyone, except that one female security guard, had ever gotten a good look at him. So maybe it would take them more time to find him. A groan from the bed pulled his attention away from the door. He rushed over and sat on the edge of the bed as the young woman seemed to be coming out of her deep sleep.
Lucy groaned as she stretched, trying to ease some of the stiffness out of her muscles. She ached all over. Rubbing at her eyes, she cleared away some of the sleep. She reluctantly started to open them, knowing what would greet her. The simple drabness of her cell.
"Are you okay?"
The concerned voice, so close, caused her to open her eyes with a snap. She blinked back a couple of tears as the bright light of the room caused her to squint. This wasn't her cell!
She sat up in the bed with a start. Mistake! Her head spun as she had to take several deep breaths to fight off the dizziness. She was finally able to focus.
"Where am I?" She was lying in a real bed, not that miserly cot she'd endured for the last few days. "Who are you?" She finally saw the handsome young man staring so openly at her.
There was something about his look that she found a bit disturbing and familiar. It took her a few seconds but she was able to remember where she'd seen that look before. In the mirror. It was the look she had when she thought about Clark.
"I'm Mac, er, Patrick McPherson. This is my room." He glanced back at the closed door. "Look, I don't know how much time we have until they find out you're missing. Can you tell me who you are and why you were in that… room? Were you a patient?"
Lucy narrowed her eyes. Was this guy for real? She glanced around her. Well, she definitely wasn't in her cell anymore. She supposed this could be Pat McPherson's room, whoever he was. The real question though was why was she in his room? She decided she had nothing to lose in trusting him, for the moment.
"My name is Lucy Lane, and I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet. I was investigating the irregularities concerning an old abandoned mine site in Boynton when I was kidnapped and held prisoner." Lucy captured his eyes with her own. "For the last few days I've been tortured by being subjected to medical experimentation which has almost killed me."
This Mac fellow clearly looked shocked. Right then, Lucy guessed that he hadn't been one of her jailers. Actually, it looked like he'd been responsible for her rescue. At least that was what she hoped.
Looking around, her eyes alighted on one corner of the room. It was a bathroom. A real, honest-to-goodness bathroom. She slowly levered herself up to a full sitting position on the bed. It surprised her how weak she still felt. She could see through the door into the small facility. It had a shower! Immediately she yearned to be under the warm spray of a shower head.
"Look, I'm betting that you aren't one of the bad guys here, but I don't understand what I'm doing here in your room." She watched for any reaction that would tip her off as to his intentions. "The last thing I remember is extreme chest pains and falling to the floor by the door to my cell. We definitely need to talk, get things cleared up between us, but first — I have to use that shower."
Lucy stood up and on somewhat shaky feet marched into the small bathroom. "You fill me in on how and why I'm in your room, and I'll tell you what I can about how I got here… after I've washed some of this grime off of me."
Lucy closed the door and quickly shed the rag that had served as her only clothing for the last few days. She turned on the faucets in the shower and stepped under the spray of warm water. It was like heaven.
Her body wanted to stay in that shower forever, but some instinct told her that time was probably not on their side. She only indulged herself for a few extra minutes before stepping out of the enclosure and grabbing the large towel hanging nearby.
"Okay," she yelled through the mostly closed door. "Fill me in."
Lucy was amazed at the young man's story. She didn't know yet how he fit into this whole installation she was trapped in, but apparently this 'Mac' had gone to great risk on her behalf. What she didn't understand was — why? Well, those questions would have to wait until they figured out what they were going to do next.
She finished toweling herself off, then turned to the small mirror over the sink. She looked better. She still looked tired and worn, and felt it. There were dark circles under eyes, and she had lost some weight over the last few days but, all in all, she was looking human again. She smoothed the wet hair back from her forehead and looked at the filthy robe-like garment that she'd been forced to wear. She couldn't bring herself to put it back on. Wrapping herself up in the towel she stepped out of the bathroom and back into the living quarters of her host.
"So, I don't suppose you have something that I can wear?" she asked with a blush and a smile.
Mac colored as he turned toward his wardrobe/dresser combination. "I might have a pair of sweat pants that you could cinch up so they won't fall off. I'm afraid most of my shirts are going to be rather big on you."
Lucy shrugged. "That's okay, I like them roomy anyway." She couldn't help the smile that snuck onto her face. It was just so nice to be making normal conversation with someone again. Well, if you could call discussing wearing someone else's clothes because you didn't have any of your own normal.
She accepted the dark blue sweat pants and a matching pullover sweat shirt from him and disappeared back into the bathroom. When she came out, nearly drowning in his clothes, he handed her a pair of slip-on sneakers. She looked at them with a cocked brow. He grinned and shrugged. They were going to be way too big, but she didn't relish the thought of running around barefoot like she'd had to in her cell.
Lucy sat back down on the edge of the bed. "So, what's the plan? From what you told me, time is probably running out. Can we get out of here?"
Mac frowned. "Yeah, I guess we should try to leave. The hallways could be crawling with security any minute, if they aren't already."
Lucy bit her lower lip. It was a habit she had picked up from Lois. She did it whenever she was thinking hard. Her gaze spotted a couple of racquetball rackets lying up against one corner of the room. She pointed to the sports gear. "You have facilities for such things here?"
Mac looked to where she was pointing. "Yeah, we do." He nodded as he caught onto what she was thinking. "I can change into some sweats myself and we can pretend that we are a couple of people just heading for the courts for a quick game. It's a little late for that kind of thing normally, but the rec center is open twenty-four hours."
"Good," Lucy said as she nodded to him while he rummaged through his dresser for his own outfit.
Within a couple of minutes he was standing next to the bed dressed similarly to Lucy. Only his stuff fit much better. He grabbed his wallet and keys and stuck them in a fanny pack he also wore. They stared at each other for several moments.
"Well," Lucy said. "Should be go? Time's a wasting."
Mac looked over toward the door; hesitation was clearly written on his face. "I guess so, it's just — security is going to be looking for us. Even if no one got a good look at me, I'm sure your picture is going to be circulated around." He shrugged helplessly. "I don't think we have any chance of making it all the way to the exit without running into some security people."
Lucy sighed. It made sense. She looked around the room. "Do you have a pair of scissors?"
"What? Why?" Mac asked, puzzled.
Lucy gave him a sad grin as she ran her hand through her long wet locks. "Well, those people out there are going to be looking for Lucy Lane, girl reporter. With these bulky clothes, and boats for shoes -" She grinned. "- I figure I could pass for a guy if we just chop off my hair."
Lucy watched with interest the emotions flickering across Mac's face. He frowned. He definitely wasn't enamored with the idea, but then neither was she, really. It just made sense. A quick and easy disguise. If she had a blonde wig she'd try that, but she doubted that Mac kept any fashion wigs in his room. He just didn't look the type.
Suddenly Mac's face lit up and he rushed over to his dresser and rummaged around in a bottom drawer. Lucy almost gasped at his action. He couldn't have a wig… could he? After a couple of moments he came up with an old battered baseball cap. Seeing the reverent way he handled it, Lucy figured there must be some story behind that cap, but this wasn't the time to ask about it.
He handed it over to Lucy. "Here, just shove your hair up under this cap. That should give you enough of a disguise to get us out of here. That way you won't have to cut off your beautiful hair."
Lucy raised a brow at his declaration. When had he seen her hair looking anything but lank and dirty? "Okay," she said giving him a smile. "Do you, by any chance, have a pair of reading glasses?"
"I normally wear contacts," Mac said. "But I do keep a spare pair of glasses around just in case." He pulled open a drawer in his desk and brought out a pair of black, heavy framed glasses and handed them to her.
Lucy took them gladly. "These will be perfect." She placed them on her face. "How do I look?"
Mac chuckled. "Ghastly, but no one will recognize you for who you are. It's funny how a little thing like a pair of glasses can make such a difference in the way someone looks."
Lucy finished cramming her hair up under the baseball cap. "Isn't it though. Well, I guess if we're going to do this, we best go now. Lead on, Macduff."
Mac just shook his head as he reached for the door knob.
They walked the nearly deserted hallways heading in the general direction of the recreation center. Mac told Lucy that the front entrance to the installation, the one that had been the actual front of the old mine, was only a few yards from there.
They considered themselves lucky not to have run into any one else along the way. They were just about at the door of the rec center when their luck ran out. A security guard, probably on normal rounds, came around the corner and saw them.
"Hey, you two, what are you doing wandering around at this hour?" A heavy set young man approached them.
Mac made a show to twirling his racket. "Couldn't sleep, so me and Dave decided to play a little racket ball. You know, wear ourselves out so we can get some sleep."
The security guard frowned, but knew there was nothing against late night use of the rec center. He stayed where he was until he saw Mac and Lucy enter the center itself.
Lucy's heart was pounding as the two of them leaned up against the wall just inside the door. She was shocked at how much that short walk had taken out of her. She was much weaker than she thought. She prayed that they wouldn't have to find themselves being chased. She doubted if she could out run her seventy-eight year old grandmother right then.
A quick look around confirmed that no one else was in the large outer room. She noticed the pool table, video games, and other forms of entertainment usually seen at your local watering holes. She also saw the double doors that led to what she suspected was the gymnasium and racket courts.
Taking advantage of their little respite to take several deep breaths, she closed her eyes for a few moments. Oh, it would be so easy to fall asleep again right there. Finally she nudged Mac's shoulder. "Do you think he's gone?" Mac just nodded, and the pair cautiously opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
Within moments they were nearing the outer door. Mac held up his hand and gestured for her to be quiet. She immediately saw why he had done so. Off to one side of the door was a desk with a single security sentry seated there. Mac pulled her back into an alcove just out of the line of sight of the guard.
"What are we going to do about him?" Lucy whispered.
Mac grimaced. "We have to figure a way around him. There could still be some guards outside, too, but I don't think we have to worry about them."
"See that corridor leading off to the left behind the guard's desk?" Lucy nodded. "That leads to the garage. Once we get there, we can take a car and be gone before the outside sentries can react. They are there to protect this facility from outside threats, not inside."
Lucy reached up and with a finger guided Mac's head so that they were facing each other. "You realize, if — when, we get out of this you are going to have to tell me exactly what this complex is all about."
Mac pursed his lips, then nodded. "Deal." He took a deep breath. "Come on."
Affecting a nonchalant walk, Mac, with Lucy following behind, strode right up to the guards' desk. "Hey, Pete, how's it hanging, buddy?" Mac then changed to a look of confusion. "You're not Pete."
The security guard cocked a brow at the pair now standing in front of his desk. "Good guess. What do you want?" His tone was a bit surly, but mostly bored.
Mac shrugged. "Sorry, man. I thought you were my buddy, Pete. I heard he was supposed to be working here tonight."
The guard shook his head, giving Mac a look of impatience. "I guess you heard wrong."
Lucy had been watching Mac, wondering what he had in mind. She didn't get the impression that he was going to try and overpower the fellow. She doubted that he would be able to. The guard was a pretty big boy. Easily six foot three or four and well over two hundred pounds. She felt that maybe she should enter into the 'negotiations'.
"Hey, what was that?" Lucy shouted and pointed down the hallway in the other direction.
The guard looked at her, then let his gaze follow where her finger pointed. "What? Where?"
Lucy slowly moved herself behind him. "Down the hall there. I thought I saw someone running past. Why would someone be running?"
Lucy's plan was to make a grab for his police-like nightstick when his attention was distracted and club him into unconsciousness. It sounded a little brutal, and was not the sort of thing that she would normally consider. But given what guys like this had been doing to her for the last few days, she didn't care. Besides, it always worked in the movies.
Just as she was about to reach for the club hooked at the guard's belt an ear-splitting alarm rang out through the complex. The security guard jumped up, knocking over his chair as he did so.
"Where did you say you saw that guy running?" The guard looked at Lucy, expectantly.
"Down that way." She pointed in the direction opposite to where they had planned to go.
The security guard stared at Mac and Lucy for a few moments, a frown of indecision on his face. "You two stay right here. I've got to check this out."
Mac and Lucy nodded innocently and watched as the big fellow dashed off in the direction Lucy had indicated. The moment the guard turned the first corner Mac and Lucy took off in the other direction.
Lucy clasped her hands over her ears and shouted at Mac running beside her. "That was awfully convenient."
He gave her a sidelong grin. "Not really. When you distracted him I hit his panic button and set off the alarm. Since he didn't call in, it will take a few minutes for them to sort out who hit the alarm and from where. By that time we should be out of here."
In thirty seconds, they had reached the garage. Twenty seconds more, and they had chosen a dark Ford Bronco with a full tank of gas. Since these were vehicles that were available to anyone at the center, the keys were always in them. Another ten seconds to start the engine and activate the camouflaged garage door. In one minute they had left the nerve-wracking jangle of the alarm as a fading nuisance behind them.
Lucy couldn't help but smile; she was on her way home.
Lois wasn't surprised that Clark had decided to come. For all his talk of wanting to get back up to Boynton to find out what really was going on in that old mine, she knew he'd wind up staying with her. Call it woman's intuition, a hunch, or just knowing when a guy feels protective of the 'little woman'.
Even though they had only become partners of convenience recently, she saw all the signs in Clark. He couldn't help himself, he was a do-gooder through and through. She had once referred to him as Don Quixote, but she remembered a recent seminar she'd attended where they called it the Superman Complex. In that context, they had been referring to officers who consistently felt they had to bring down every criminal, right every wrong, and make the world safe for Mom and apple pie. In the old days they were called Super Cops. Of course, that was before there actually had been a legitimate super hero.
The label fit others also. Doctors often fell into that category, as did fireman and other emergency services people. Also, crusading reporters. The kind who were always out there fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Kent was one of those.
It tended to bring out a protective streak in them also. The need to not only bring the bad guys to justice but to keep the weak and innocent safe was a big part of their motivation. Not that many people would consider Lois weak or innocent, but Clark probably couldn't help himself.
She had told him that she planned to confront Lex. It was a situation which had many potential outcomes. Many of them dangerous. So it was natural that Clark would want to come along… just in case. Not so much that she would need protection against Lex, but from herself.
Clark knew she was a duly deputized member of the Metropolis Police force and as such would never think to take the law into her own hands. But he had been at her side when they'd discovered Lucy's body. He wasn't stupid, he could guess at how that would have affected her. She knew that he grieved also. Lois figured that Clark would see himself as someone who could help out if she needed — a reminder. A reminder as to who and what she was, an officer of the law. Not the judge and jury.
His actions back at the mine site had shown her what kind of man Clark Kent was. He would never purposely hurt anyone if it could at all be avoided. It just wasn't in his nature. Herself? At that moment she wasn't so sure about herself. She glanced at her watch once again. Still nothing from Bill.
Once they had reached police headquarters things had really started moving. Bill had already found his judge and his Honor was just waiting on Bill to fax him copies of Lois and Clark's eye witness depositions before signing the necessary warrants. Henderson had needed to separate the two in order to get a coherent story from each of them. Together they had been stepping all over each other trying to get their account out as quickly as possible. It had chafed at Lois, but she, in hindsight, had to agree that it was best to take the time to get the depositions filled out all nice and proper.
Once he had the warrants in hand, Bill had called both the State Police and the County Sheriffs offices. He had briefed them earlier after receiving Lois' call. Henderson had assumed that Lois would want to be the one to lead the raid on the facility and was surprised when she turned him down. Lois, in turn, was surprised when Bill said he wasn't going to go up there either. He sent Mully and Skulder to represent the Metropolis Police. Bill told Lois that he'd stay at headquarters to coordinate things.
Lois had begged off, citing her drenched and filthy state. She told him that she just wanted to go home, take a warm shower and get some rest, but that Bill should call her on her cell phone as soon as he heard anything.
She knew he suspected that she was up to something when she told him to call her on her cell phone. It didn't matter. This was something she had to do. She no longer doubted that Lex Luthor was a criminal, and the one behind all the mystery and murder concerning the Boynton mine site. She just needed to know… why?
Once they left the police station, as she'd expected Clark had asked to come along with her to see Luthor. She had tried to talk him out of it, but he'd just given her those puppy dog eyes and she found she couldn't say no to him. What was it about Clark Kent that caused her to go against her better judgment so often? The thing that surprised her most was that she really wanted him to come with her.
Since they probably had a few hours until they would hear anything from the team gathering and heading for Boynton, Lois did indeed decide to go home for a nice shower and change into some dry clothes. She offered to drop Clark off at his place so he could do the same. He was reluctant to leave her at first, but relented when she promised that she'd come back and pick him up before they went to see Luthor. No Lone Ranger stuff, she had said, Scout's honor. Then she had held up her fingers in the traditional Girl Scout salute. That had seemed to mollify Clark, and she had dropped him at his place, then headed for her own apartment.
Now, some hours later, with dawn just beginning to peak its way between the buildings to the east, the two of them sat in Lois' jeep in front of the LexTower waiting for a call from Henderson.
Lois turned to her silent passenger. "Clark," she began softly, "I know you came along to make sure that I don't commit some crazed act of vengeance." She smiled at his guarded look. "That's okay. I appreciate your wanting to protect me from myself. But don't worry. I'm not going to go up there, put my gun to Lex's head, and pull the trigger." Lois leaned back in her seat and sighed. "I just need to ask Lex what he knows about all this and how deeply he is involved. I need to know why the third richest man in the world feels he needs to resort to criminal activities to get his kicks."
Clark's eyes clearly showed his concern for Lois' mental state. "Do you really think that he'll tell you anything?"
Lois let her hands flail in front of her in a helpless gesture. "I don't know what he'll tell me, I just know that I have to ask. I can hope that…"
Lois' words were cut off by the tinny ring of her portable phone. She thumbed the on button and listened, without responding, for several moments, then she thumbed it off and set it down next to her on the car seat.
She turned to Clark, her face showing no signs of nervousness or fear. "It's showtime."
Lois and Clark made their way into the large marble foyer of Metropolis' largest building and approached the heavy mahogany desk of security.
"Hi, Paul." Lois smiled at the large uniformed young man. "How are Cindy and the twins?"
He smiled in return. "They are doing well, Ms. Lane. Cindy can barely keep up with them." He glanced down at his clipboard. "I don't see you scheduled today, Ms. Lane."
Lois leaned her elbows on the raised counter that surrounded the desk and hid the various monitors from public view. "Come on, Paul. Since when have I needed an appointment to see Lex?"
Paul blushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I'll just call ahead so Mr. Luthor can expect you."
Lois frowned at the young man. "If you have to I suppose, but I'd really like to surprise Lex."
The young security guard frowned for a second, then nodded to her. "I guess it will be okay, as long as it's you, Ms. Lane. I'll unlock the elevator for you."
"Thanks, Paul, you're a dear." Lois, with Clark in tow, moved off to the far wall where an ornate elevator door was just opening.
"Ah, Ms. Lane? Who is that with you?"
Lois and Clark stepped inside the elevator. Lois turned to face the young man as the doors began to close. She flashed him another big smile. "He's the surprise." Then the elevator doors closed, cutting them off from the guard's puzzled look.
The ride to the penthouse had never taken so long. Lois was getting fidgety by the time the doors finally opened into the penthouse suite. The pair stepped off the car into an elegant office. A massive fireplace dominated one wall while an impressive carved wooden desk, surrounded by matching bookshelves, occupied the far end of the room. The third wall contained a seemingly well-stocked bar and a set of French doors which Lois knew led into the living area of the suite.
Lex was already sitting at his desk, his attention pulled away from his computer screen when the elevator disgorged its burden. He stood, a smile quickly plastered on his face.
He came around to the front of the desk. "Lois, this is a pleasant surprise." He held her hand and leaned in for a quick peck on her cheek. It took all Lois' will power not the scrub at it with her free hand. Lex turned his attention toward Clark. "And… Mr. Kent, isn't it? To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Lois immediately took charge. "Lex, I know about Ariana. I know about A.C.L. Holdings and its connection to you through her. I know about the old mine site up near Boynton and that it's not what it is purported to be."
Lex affected a look of puzzlement as he interrupted her. "Boynton? If memory serves, that's just a small pit stop of a town a few hours outside of the city. It's to the north, I think." He smiled at her as he shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't know what you are getting at here, Lois."
Lois sighed and took a deep breath. She didn't know why she had hoped that she would get a straight answer out of Lex. Maybe, deep down, she just wanted to hold onto a part of the Lex Luthor she had thought she'd known. Had it really been less than a week? It seemed like so much longer ago now.
"Lex, as we speak, a contingent of state and county police are conducting a thorough raid on that old mine site. Somehow I don't think they are going to find an innocent archeological dig up there, do you?"
Lex reached for Lois again but she pulled back out of his reach. He frowned. "Lois, I don't know what you are prattling about, but it has obviously upset you."
Lois' voice raised itself by several decibels. "No kidding I'm upset! Clark investigates that site and someone, twice, tries to kill him. Lucy goes up and takes a look around that old mine and gets herself kidnapped and murdered!" Lois' eyes blazed. "We find out that, through one of your clever shell companies, you own that particular mine site. Just what the blazes does a man in your position want with a played out copper mine?"
Lois paced a couple times before capturing a somewhat taken aback Luthor in her steel gaze. "I know you are behind this. I know that you are not the man I once thought you were. You are a criminal, perhaps one of the biggest crooks in all of Metropolis. I don't care about that now. You'll answer to those charges soon enough. What I need to know is…" Her eyes began to mist. "Why?"
Clark had remained quiet all during Lois' tirade. He knew this was her show. He was just there for support. He could physically feel Lois' pain and hurt. Lex had betrayed her trust very badly. He could tell that she still, even after all she'd heard and seen, didn't want it to be true. She didn't want Lex Luthor to be the slime he really was.
Clark found himself wandering closer to the bookshelves. What kind of books did a Lex Luthor keep on his shelves, the reporter wondered. A quick glance at some of the titles revealed an interesting mix. 'Citizen Kane', a several volume set of Dun and Bradstreet indexes, and Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' all graced the shelf nearest him.
As he began to approach the far bookshelves, the ones with some of Lex's mementos on them, he began to feel a bit dizzy and his head began to ache. Another step and it was like being suddenly thrust into a furnace. His body burned all over and pain contorted his features. He found he could no longer support himself and, with his fingers pressed against his temples because it felt like his head was going to explode, Clark slowly dropped to the floor.
Lex stared at Lois. How she had found out about Boynton, and exactly what she knew about it didn't interest Lex at that moment. He was too surprised by what else she had said. Lucy had been murdered? He was legitimately shocked to hear that and wondered how Lois thought it had been tied into the site at Boynton. He would never countenance any harm coming to the young woman. He would have had Nigel find a way to 'distract' the fledgling reporter. Kent he wanted dead, but Lucy wasn't even supposed to be involved in all this.
"Lois, I'm so sorry to hear about Lucy. What happened?"
Lois' fury was a palpable thing. "Don't play innocent with me. I'm not that stupid. You may have had me fooled for a while, but you showed your true spots that night in my apartment, didn't you?"
Lex watched as the anger grew in the slender detective, her body literally shook with rage. He was going to have to be careful if he was to convince her that she had it all wrong. That he would be able to bring her around to his way of thinking, he never doubted. For all Lois' bluster and denials, Lex was sure she still loved him. She was just rattled by her sister's death.
"Lois, look, I have apologized for my actions that night. And I know that we need to discuss it in more detail, but surely you don't think that I'm some kind of common criminal — a murderer, no less."
Lois was clenching her hands into fists so tight that her knuckles were turning white. "Common, no, but a criminal — oh yes. Let me spell it out for you, Mr. Luthor. Clark and I just recently came back from a visit to your little 'archeological dig site', and do you know what we saw?" She didn't wait for his answer. "We saw a couple of your goons bring a body bag out the back door of the place. Do you know who was in that bag? DO YOU!"
Suddenly it struck Lex… Nigel! Could the live test subject that Nigel had provided Mamba have been Lucy Lane? Nigel knew how Lex felt about Lois, so he certainly would have had to know that kidnapping Lucy would never have been condoned by him. It didn't make sense. Nigel would know better, unless…
Lex had been harboring some uncomfortable suspicions about his normally trustworthy aide-de-camp lately. Things seemed to be happening that either Lex hadn't ordered, or he hadn't even been aware of. Could Nigel be plotting against him? And if so, why?
Abruptly Lex's thoughts were yanked back into the real world by the sound of Lois' scream. Quickly seeing where Lois was looking he turned his head in that direction. Kent was lying on the floor, groaning and doubled over in obvious pain. Lex was confused by the man's actions. Whatever had gotten in to the reporter?
Lex stepped closer. The expression of agony on Kent's face seemed strangely familiar. He'd seen it before, he was sure of it. Puzzled, he looked around for some reason to explain the young man's unusual behavior. As he did so his gaze fell upon his most prized possession. Sitting on its custom walnut pedestal, its faint green glow barely visible in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the room, was his chunk of kryptonite.
Suddenly everything became clear. The reason why they never found Superman's body, yet The Man of Steel never returned to the skies over Metropolis. Luthor knew that Kent had been hurt in the car bomb explosion that Nigel had planted. The man had been hospitalized. Superman shouldn't have been hurt at all by the blast. Only one thing could harm Superman — kryptonite.
There on the floor, only a few feet away from him, Kent lay writhing on the floor, in the classic Superman reaction to the shiny crystal so harmless to normal humans.
His ambush with the liquid synthetic kryptonite must have failed in its intended purpose, but it must have succeeded in another. That Kent was Superman was not in doubt. But what was more interesting was the fact that Kent/Superman now appeared to be very much vulnerable. His powers must be gone. And if his powers were gone, then that meant he could be killed by more conventional means.
Lex leaned over the prone reporter. "It is you, isn't it? You've returned to me. How very fortunate… for me."
Lex quickly moved over to his desk and opened a lower drawer. He pulled out the Smith and Wesson .38 caliber he kept there for emergencies. Lex wasn't the kind to ordinarily do his own dirty work. That was best left to minions. But this particular task was his, and his alone.
"Lex?" He jerked his head in the direction of Lois' voice. "What are you doing?" He noted that she had drawn her own weapon and had it in a ready position, but not yet pointed directly at him. She must have seen the gun in his hand. She was rooted in her spot, her confusion obvious.
A barracuda-like smile slowly spread over his face. "He's been lying to you Lois. Kent, he's been lying to all of us. He's not some crusading all-American reporter. He's not even human." Luthor gave the moaning Clark a none too gentle nudge with his foot.
"Stop that, Lex. Put your gun away." Lois' voice screeched a little. It was obvious that the bewildering turn about of events had rattled her.
"I'm sorry, Lois, but I can't. He's an alien. He's been lying to us all. He's been hiding behind a mask." Lex leered at Kent, then looked over toward Lois. "I see you're confused. He's not the hero you so admired now, is he? I've exposed him for the fraud he really is."
He smiled as the change came over Lois' face. "Clark? Superman?"
Lex's laughter was chilling. "Yes! Yes, Lois, that's right, Superman. But not the so-called idol of millions as we were led to believe. No, he's a deceiver. Why the disguise? What did he have to hide? What secret agenda did this one time invincible invader from another world have? Were we to be his subjects? Slaves? Or merely his pets?"
Luthor lifted his revolver and pointed it at Clark's head. "The lie ends here." Lex pulled the hammer back.
"Lex, stop! I'm warning you, put the gun down." Lois had her own weapon raised and pointed at Luthor.
Lois felt her gut being twisted and torn. What was going on? Clark was lying on the floor in obvious agony. Lex said he was Superman. But how could that be? Superman was invulnerable, wasn't he?
Lois glanced wildly around the room for some clue. Lex's reverent look toward something on his back bookshelf pointed the way. It was a small greenish crystal of some sort. No bigger than a half a dollar. Could that be a piece of that kryptonite stuff Clark had told her about?
Clark had said that kryptonite could kill Superman if he were exposed to it long enough. But Lex had a gun pointed at Clark, and it was clear that he intended to use it. She fought off her confusion as she tried to focus on that last conversation she'd had with Clark about Superman. He'd told her that he knew what had happened to Superman, which made sense if he actually was Superman. But he'd also told her that, even though Superman wasn't technically dead, he'd lost his powers. In his mind Superman was effectively dead, and so it made no sense to pursue the lost hero any more.
Lois could now understand Clark's reluctance and the depression she hadn't fully realized before when she had questioned him. He was feeling guilt, guilt over the fact that he could no longer move mountains and save everyone who needed saving. He was now just an ordinary man, and he had to live with that. But he was having trouble adjusting to that fact. There was now only Clark Kent. Superman was, in his mind, dead. Now Lex, wanted to make it a fact.
Lois took a step forward, keeping her eyes riveted on Lex. "I'm warning you. Put the gun down. I don't want to have to shoot you, Lex, but I will."
Lex chuckled and gave Lois a look that she imagined he thought was disarming, but was mostly condescending. "Lois, put your weapon down before you hurt yourself. You know I'm right, and you know that you aren't going to shoot me." He smiled at her. "Admit it, Lois, even with all that has gone on recently, you are still in love with me. Say goodbye to the SuperFraud."
A single shot echoed obscenely throughout the elegant office.
Even though she knew she had acted appropriately, that there had been no other choice, Lois couldn't help but react to what she'd had to do. A single tear rolled down her cheek. It was the only gesture of remorse she'd allow herself. It was for the memory of the man she once thought Lex Luthor had been.
Quickly shoving her weapon back into its holster snugged into the small of her back, Lois rushed over to where Clark lay writhing in agony. Without thinking of what she should do, she reached down and took him by the arms and, with great effort, dragged him as far away from the offending little crystal as she could.
"Clark, Clark, can you talk? Is it kryptonite? What should I do?"
She leaned over his mouth so she could hear his tortured whisper. She took a moment to brush a lock of hair that had fallen onto his sweat covered forehead before jumping up and moving swiftly to the bookcase. She seized the small rock and stood for several moments as she debated what she needed to do with it.
She knew she had to get it away from Clark, but where? Was the next room far enough? And then what? What if someone else came along and found it? She didn't dare take it with her. Suddenly she snapped her fingers and rushed into the next room. She been up to Lex's penthouse enough times to know the layout of the place. Entering the bathroom, she quickly deposited the kryptonite into the toilet and flushed. As she came out of the room she hoped that by the time that evil green rock found its final resting place in the sewers of the city that it would be far enough away from Clark so as to never cross his path again.
She rushed back to Clark and found he had levered himself to a sitting position with his back to the wall. She promptly located her small hand bag where she had dropped it and found a couple of tissues. Kneeling down next to Clark she began to wipe his face with the tissues.
"How bad is it?" she asked, her voice full of worry. "Should I call the EMTs?"
Clark reached up and grasped her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "It was bad, but I'll be fine in a few minutes. The pain is already gone. I just need a few moments to rest."
She smiled at the strange, gentle man who, in such a short time, had managed to insinuate himself into her life. She admitted that she didn't understand it but, even given the horrors they had shared in the last twenty some hours, it felt better being with him than it did when he wasn't around. It was a feeling that was foreign to her, very foreign.
"You just lie back and rest." She stood, and her gaze instantly fell on the body of Lex Luthor. He was sprawled in an undignified heap where he had fallen when Lois had been forced to shoot him. She turned back to Clark and tried to give him a wan smile, but it turned into a sigh.
"I've got to call this in."
Suddenly they were both startled by the doors to the private elevators opening and seeing Bill Henderson stepping out and into the room. Lois watched her partner as he took in the scene with a hard gaze. His eyes shifted from Lois, to Luthor's body, then over to where Clark was propped up against the far wall.
He took a few steps closer to Lois. "I knew I'd find you here." His gaze was pulled back to Luthor's body. "Am I too late to have prevented you from ruining your life?"
"She saved my life."
Lois and Henderson turned to see Clark struggling to stand. Lois moved over and offered her shoulder to help him. "It's true," he said. "Luthor was threatening to kill me. You'll find the gun still in his hand."
Henderson allowed himself another glance at Luthor before turning back to Lois. "Is that what happened, Lois?" She nodded. Bill looked away, shaking his head. "I'm not even going to ask you how Luthor got the drop on you in the first place." He moved back toward the elevator. "You know that you'll have to face a shooting review board?"
Lois' face was impassive. "It was a good shoot."
Henderson shrugged. "I'm sure it was, but considering that the dirtbag was responsible for your sister's death, you have to be prepared for those who'll say that it was a revenge motivated killing." Lois didn't respond. "I'm going back down to the lobby. I suggest you and Kent review your story and get the *details* straight in your minds. The review board will try to pick your explanations apart."
Lois watched Bill step into the elevator and continued staring until the doors closed and the car was on its way. She led Clark over to a couch and urged him to sit. She sat next to him.
"He's right. They are all going to think that I came here just to gun down Lex because of what happened to Lucy. Especially since I had no *official* sanction to come here. I'm supposed to be off the case, and there hadn't yet been any warrant issued for Lex's arrest." Lois found herself biting on her lower lip again. "What are we going to say? We can't tell them the truth."
Clark placed his hand against Lois' cheek. "Yes, we can. I won't let you endanger your job or your reputation for me. You did nothing wrong. You saved my life."
She leaned into the warmth and comfort of his large hand for several moments before straightening up. "No, you were right when you said that it didn't matter whether you were still Superman or not. Your friends and loved ones could still become targets of vengeance if it became known that you are — were, Superman. I can't allow that."
"So what are we going to do?"
Lois gave him a smile as she somewhat timidly reached out and touched his chest. "We'll think of something. It's a long drive back to the station."
She stood, taking his hand in hers. "Are you strong enough to go?" He nodded.
They moved slowly toward the ornate elevator and waited in silence for the car to return from the ground floor. Once the doors parted, they stepped inside.
Lois tilted her head and gave Clark a look and a raised brow. "But don't think that this changes anything between you and me. You've still got a lot of explaining to do."
Clark knew that he and Lois were both tired and should probably just head home to get some much needed rest, but he sensed that Lois shouldn't be alone just yet. Now that all the running and the craziness were essentially over, he wanted to be there for her when the loss of her sister really hit home. That was why he suggested he accompany her to her place for some coffee and conversation. He figured that her curiosity over his being Superman and what had happened to him would be too much for her to resist. He was right. She had agreed.
They had spent several hours at the precinct telling their story to several different officers, but on the whole things went fairly easy. The fact that the raid up in Boynton was producing quite a few pieces of incriminating evidence leading back to Luthor helped smooth the way for their situation.
He and Lois had agreed to keep the story simple and as close to the actual truth as possible, with the one exception of leaving out the parts about the kryptonite and Clark's being Superman. Lois had told her superiors that based on what Clark, through Lucy, had found connecting Luthor to the Boynton mine site, she felt it germane to question the man as to that connection. Also, she was the logical choice to go given her past relationship with Luthor, even though she technically wasn't on the case any longer. Since it was the Daily Planet that had uncovered the link, Lois told them she had agreed to let Kent come along, strictly as an observer.
For some reason — why, Lois couldn't begin to guess — during the questioning Lex had lost his cool and had started threatening her and Clark. He had then knocked Clark to the floor, and by the time Lois had been able to draw her weapon, Lex somehow already had a gun in hand, and it was clear he was about to shoot Clark.
Lois then told how she had ordered Luthor to put down his weapon, and how he had ignored her, claiming that she would never shoot him. He felt that their past relationship would cause her to choose Lex's life over that of a virtual stranger in Kent. Which for the most part had been true.
On the way to the station Lois and Clark had gone over exactly what they would, and would not, say about the events in the penthouse, so when asked, Clark was able to back up Lois' story perfectly. Clark wasn't bothered by that since the omissions Lois had suggested had been to protect Clark and essentially didn't change the truth of what had actually happened. It didn't hurt that Henderson had backed their play either. He had seen the gun in Luthor's hand and Clark lying on the floor, so that supported Lois' claims also.
Lois was placed on a two-day paid suspension pending the outcome of the shooting review board, but the impression was that it would be a mere formality of paperwork before she was reinstated.
Lois pulled her jeep up to the curb outside her apartment. A dark Bronco was parked in her normal spot, so she grumbled as they exited her vehicle and made their way up the steps and into her building. Once in the elevator the long silence that had existed all during their trip here was finally broken.
"I know why you suggested coming over for a little coffee and talk when we both know how dog tired we are," she said as she placed a hand on his arm. "I just want you to know that I appreciate the thought. And you're probably right, I don't really want to be alone right now. Maybe talking some things out will help."
He smiled for her. "That's okay. I think I could use a little companionship right now, too. This thing has been tough on all of us. I still don't know what I'm going to say to Perry."
Clark watched as Lois fought off a stubborn tear that kept threatening to fall as she reached into her bag for her keys. It took a few extra moments for her to be able to get the key and the door lock to mesh, but finally the door swung open and the two of them stepped inside.
"Hey, where have you two been? We've been waiting for hours."
Lois dropped her keys to the floor as she stared, dumbstruck, at the two people just getting up from her couch. One was a handsome young man dressed in some sort of sweatsuit, but Lois didn't give him more than a passing glance. Her attention was riveted to the ghost of a young woman standing next to him. She looked tired and a bit thin, but otherwise well. Her eyes sparkled with repressed excitement and her face was split by a big smile.
Lois ran to her sister and enveloped her in a crushing hug. Lucy's laughter was echoing in her ears as tears slid down her cheeks. She pushed the young woman out to arms length but refused to release her for fear that she might disappear.
"How?" Lois stammered. "I saw your body." She glanced back at Clark who shrugged, obviously just as confused as she was. "We both did."
Lucy grinned as she stepped away from her sister. "Oh, that must have been my clone."
"Clone?" Two voices spoke up at the same time."
Lucy moved over and took Mac's hand in hers. "This is Mac. He rescued me from inside the installation where I was being held prisoner and being used as an experimental lab rat."
Lois' mouth opened and closed a few times before she finally turned to Clark with a look of entreaty on her face.
Clark stepped closer to the group. "I'm glad to see you're alive, Lucy, but lab rat? Rescue? What happened to you up there?"
Lucy chuckled. It was music to Lois' ears. "You'll have to read all about it in the pages of the Daily Planet. If I can just figure out how best to write it up."
"Oh no you don't." Lois stormed over and, grabbing each of the young people by the arm, led them over to the couch where she practically shoved them to a sitting position. "Neither one of you are going anywhere until I hear this story. The whole story." Lois sat herself down in a chair across from the couple on the couch as Clark came up behind her and laid his hand on her shoulder. "Begin."
For the next hour and a half, Lucy, with occasional additions from Mac, told Lois and Clark what had happened to her over that last couple of days. Starting with the phone call and subsequent kidnapping, right through to her incarceration, medical problems and, finally, the rescue and escape. Lois had expressed grave concerns when she'd heard what Lucy had been subjected to while being held for experimentation. Even though she claimed to be feeling fine right now, Lois made her promise to go see a doctor in the morning and be thoroughly checked out.
As for the rest of it, Lois, to her credit, didn't interrupt more than five or six times for clarifications and additional information. She found the whole scenario terrifying and was amazed that her sister had been able to withstand such an ordeal. Lois was justifiably proud of her sister and the guts it took for her just to survive.
She was very aware of Clark standing behind her during the entire telling of the tale. It was comforting to feel his strong, steady presence while listening to such a horror story. He seemed to instinctively know whenever she was particularly upset by something because he always gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze right at that moment.
Now it was over. Luthor was dead, but implicated beyond doubt in the horrible goings on that occurred up at the mine site. More importantly, Lucy was alive and well. All that was left was the inevitable mop up and a ton of paperwork. But considering what she'd had to go through these last few days, that would be just fine with her.
"So," she said getting up from her chair and fixing the two young people with a hard stare. "After Lucy gets checked out by a doctor tomorrow, both of you had better get your butts down to the station to make your statements."
"But what about writing up my story?" Lucy complained.
Lois shook her head. "That can wait — can't it, Clark?" Lois looked over her shoulder at him. He seemed lost in thought. "Clark?"
He snapped his attention back to her. "Ah, yeah. I'm sure Perry will want to go over things with you. You know, pick an angle, decide how to present your own involvement, but I'm sure that can wait until after you've talked to the police." Clark shrugged. "I'll be writing the basic story of Luthor's exposure and downfall. But your piece will be an excellent, personal sidebar for the afternoon edition."
"Great." Lucy stifled a yawn. "Well, I'd better get some rest if I'm going to be doing all that stuff tomorrow morning. Goodnight, Clark, 'night, Lois." Lucy reached back and took Mac's hand and began leading him toward her bedroom.
"Lucy!" Lois' voice was on the edge of being shrill.
She gave her big sister a mock pout. "Aw, come on, Lois. He did rescue me, and he's really cute. Can't I keep him?"
Lois grabbed Lucy by the hand and jerked her into the kitchen. "Lucy Jeanine Lane," she said in a fierce whisper. "What are you thinking? Clark's standing right there. I thought he was the one for you?"
Lucy glanced over Lois' shoulder and gave a big smile to the two clueless men standing in the living room. "You don't understand, Lois. I think I really like, Mac, I mean *really* like him. There is just something about him. We're practically the same age. We have so much in common." Lucy gave her sister a conspiratorial grin. "Don't worry, nothing's going to happen — tonight. We're both too tired."
"But what about Clark?"
Lucy shrugged. "You take him."
"What?" Lois could feel the heat rising in her face and knew that a bright red blush was betraying her.
"I knew it." Lucy laughed softly. "I could tell by the body language you two were showing all during my story. You guys have a thing for each."
Lois had to force herself not to look back at Clark. "Lucy, I barely know the man."
"Trust me, except for his taste in music, he's a great guy. I think you two will be great together." Lucy pulled away from Lois' grip and spoke at a normal volume. "Well, if there's nothing else, I think Mac and I need to get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow." She reacquired the young man's hand, and this time they made it all the way into the bedroom.
Clark approached Lois as she fumed. "That girl! Sometimes she can just be so stubborn… What are you laughing at?"
Clark stopped laughing but still had a grin on his face. "I was just wondering who she learned it from?"
Lois' eyes slitted and stared daggers at Clark. "Are you insinuating that she learned to be stubborn from — me?" There was a warning note in her voice.
Clark held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Ah, no, not at all. Let's forget I said anything. Why don't we start all over." Clark gave Lois his best disarming smile. "Hi, my name is Clark Kent."
Lois tried desperately to hold onto her anger but she just couldn't do it. Not with Clark. For some reason he just had a knack for getting past her walls and defusing her fury. She just couldn't stay mad at him.
She gave in. "Hi, I'm Lois Lane."
As their hands touched in a formal handshake, Lois felt a soothing warmth spread through her body. It was like a hole she never knew she had was being filled. It was a new experience. A bit scary, but definitely one she thought she might like to explore.
"Friends?" she asked with just the slightest hesitation.
Clark cranked the wattage up on his smile. "I think I'd like that."
Lois mirrored his smile. "Good." She poked him in the chest with her finger. "But don't think that this lets you off the hook for that Superman stuff. You still have a lot of explaining to do."
"I'm yours to command."
She grinned. "You just keep that thought."
Nigel St. John took a sip of his Dom Perignon as he studied the patrons wandering around in the dim mood lighting of the elegant east side restaurant. A sly smile creased the normally placid features of the seemingly genteel Englishman as he watched the beautiful woman slink her way toward his back corner table. Supporting his image as a continental gentleman, Nigel rose from his seat as the woman finally reached his table.
"Ah, Dr. Carlin. So nice to see you once again." Nigel inclined his head toward the woman as he allowed her to sit before he regained his seat.
"Thank you, Nigel." She glanced around the restaurant. "A nice choice. Somewhat off the main path, but it definitely has class."
Nigel acknowledged the compliment with a nod as he poured Ariana a glass of champagne. "Yes, it has its charms."
Ariana's voice suddenly lowered in volume and dropped the pretentious air of their small talk. "So, things went well?"
"Quite well, actually. Better than we'd originally hoped for. Luthor is dead, and there is plenty of evidence that is currently coming to light that unequivocally ties Lex to the whole sordid mess that occurred up in Boynton. With him gone, the investigation wraps up rather neatly and the police won't feel the need to investigate any further."
A sly smile graced Ariana's lips. "Isn't that unusual?" Her tone was dryly ironic. "Lex was always so careful about leaving anything around that could point back to him."
Nigel shrugged. "Even the most careful of people sometimes make mistakes."
"Especially when they have some help?" Ariana purred.
"One can only do what one can."
Ariana took another sip of her champagne. "So, you're certain that the authorities can't trace the mine site back to me?"
Nigel chuckled. "Oh course they can and will trace the mine site back to you. It's your name listed as the owner. But that's what will make you innocent in the eyes of the police and the public. Lex's files will show many shadow corporations like A.C.L. Holdings. You, as a young naive wife, never knew what the papers you signed for Lex were. You were just the poor dupe in all this. A pawn in the schemes of your sinister ex-husband." Nigel paused for another drink. "No one will believe that you, a successful therapist and writer, would have any knowledge of such a place let alone have any reason to think that you might be involved with what went on there. Especially since you've had no contact with Luthor since you split." He offered her his glass in a salute. "No, my dear, I think that once all this is made public you will be the sympathetic darling of the masses."
"I like that, it should help my book sales." Ariana's smile widened. "Yes, the perfect picture of a woman so determined to make it on her own that she never tried to capitalize on her past relationship with a man of Lex Luthor's obvious wealth and power." She chuckled. "So, of course, my shock and surprise will appear all the more genuine when that *unfortunate* clerical error is discovered."
Nigel leaned back into the lush upholstery of the chair he sat in. "Ah, yes, the divorce. A real pity that those papers were somehow never properly filed. I guess Lex just got too busy to deal with it and left that minor detail to some incompetent functionary."
"Yes, a real pity. With the divorce never finalized, I guess I'll just have to live with the consequences of still being the wife of Lex Luthor." She clinked glasses with Nigel. "It's going to be a real burden suddenly finding myself in control of all Lex's holdings. I think I'll need to have someone I can turn to for aid and advice. Can you think of someone like that, Nigel?"
Ariana glanced around the room, then leaned in closer to Nigel. Her voice took on a more conspiratorial tone. "So, you never did tell me why you decided to double-cross Lex. I find it hard to believe that you was merely motivated by the prospect of more money."
"I'll remind you that it was a *lot* more money, but you are right. That was just an added inducement. No, I found that I could no longer trust Luthor. His judgment had become suspect in my mind."
"Really?" Her voice was low and breathy. "How so?"
A genuine look of sadness came over Nigel. "Mr. Luthor had the potential for greatness, but he gained a serious weakness. He fell in love."
"Ah," Ariana said, nodding. "The ubiquitous Detective Lane."
"Yes, Detective Sergeant Lois Lane. Of all the women to get involved with, Lex chooses a woman who, not only is a police detective, but a stubborn, independent woman who was never going to allow herself to be molded into the compliant supplicant that Lex needed her to be." Nigel's tone was bitter. "Oh, he claimed he liked the fact that she had a brain and stood up for what she believed in, but we both know that Lex only values one thing in a woman."
Ariana nodded. "That's true, but I was willing to pretend to be that kind of woman for him." Her voice mirrored Nigel's bitterness. "But he threw me over."
"Yes, well, it was clear to me that Ms. Lois Lane would be his undoing someday. So, we just helped it come to pass sooner rather than later."
Ariana took a moment to take another sip of the celebratory champagne. "Are we going to be joined by any of the others?"
St. John glanced toward the door to the restaurant located at the other end of the building. "The good Doctor Mamba is, as we speak, winging his way to our little facility in the Swiss Alps."
Ariana licked her lips. "And does he have… ?"
"Oh yes," Nigel interposed. "We left several of the nasty biological warfare agents behind to incriminate Lex, but he took two or three of his favorites with him." St. John allowed a ghost of a smile to crack his normally serene demeanor. "I dare say they should fetch a tidy sum on the international black market."
Ariana looked furtively around her, making sure no one was close enough to overhear them. She leaned a little closer to Nigel. "And?"
Nigel was enjoying the woman's anxiousness. "I assume you mean our little prize?" He waited for her quick nod. "Yes, Mamba has the Superman DNA."
"And the process?"
Nigel actually chuckled. "I have to say that the good doctor was not pleased by my insistence that he sabotage his own experiment to aid us in making sure that Lane and Kent were properly motivated to see Luthor brought to justice. But he grudgingly saw my point, and since the late lamented clone had already progressed to the point where his process was successfully proven, he went along with it."
Ariana's voice nearly bubbled with suppressed excitement. "Does that mean what I think it means?"
Nigel finally let his smile overtake his whole face. "It does."
The pair of conspirators sat in silence for several minutes, just enjoying their drink and the successful completion of their scheme. Finally, Nigel noticed a tall, dark man enter the restaurant. The fellow was slim but had the look of someone who was quite confident in his ability to handle any situation he might find himself in. He strode directly to the table where St. John and Ariana were seated.
Nigel inclined his head in a nod of acknowledgement. Ariana gave him a smile. "Nigel, Dr. Carlin," he said to each in turn as he reached over and poured himself a large glass of the champagne.
"Inspector Henderson, so good of you to join us. I hope everything is proceeding well at your end?"
Bill Henderson gave his two table companions a sly smile. "I think you could safely say that." He raised his glass. "What are we drinking to?"
Ariana returned Henderson's smile with a coquettish one of her own. "What else? To the future."