By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <firstname.lastname@example.org> and friends
Submitted April 2004
Summary: Clark is missing and Lois is the only one who can save him! Whatever will she do? Where will she turn? Which possible leads will she follow? Who will help her make the right decisions, stop the bad guys, and find Clark? The FoLCs reading the story on the Fanfic Message Boards!
By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com> and the FoLCs of the L&C Fanfic Message Boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com)
Author's note: This was an unusual story. Although I did all the writing, I was not the one who decided what happened. That was done by the FoLCs at the Fanfic Message Boards ( http://www.lcficmbs.com ). The way it was supposed to work was this: I'd post every Monday. FoLCs would read the story and post comments in a separate message thread. In that thread, I'd ask a question, typically, "what should Lois do next?" They'd post their suggestions, and I'd read them over. On Wednesday, I'd create a poll using those suggestions. The poll would close on Friday, and no one could see the results until then. That kept the current results from influencing other voters, and it also kept me from being tempted to look at the (possibly misleading) results too early. Once the poll closed, I'd look at the results and, based on the voting, would write the next part.
So, that was the plan. To make it work, of course, I needed a plot. (To be clear, I came up with the plot before I worked out the exact schedule, but the basic idea to have a poll story came first.) The first thing I thought of was having someone kidnap Clark. The reason for that was that I wanted to limit the readers' options. They were going to be controlling the good guys. With Clark on the loose, they'd be able to use his powers, which could make things difficult for me. On the other hand, having Clark taken captive would not only wipe out all those potential problems, but it also made for good drama.
So, Clark was going to be kidnapped. The next question was "when?" I quickly realized that if the readers were going to be in control of Lois, it would be best if they knew exactly as much as she did. If Lois knew more than the readers, it could make things confusing. More to the point, if the readers knew more than Lois, it could influence their decisions. I wanted them to vote "in character," and if they knew something that Lois didn't, that could cause problems. So, the story would have to be set post-revelation. It would also be better if it was set during show continuity, so that there wouldn't be anything extra to explain to the readers. I decided to go for sometime after they were engaged, but before they were married.
That was right about where I got stuck. I needed a plot. I needed to nail down the timing. I needed to know all the background information because I had to be ready to explain anything the readers chose to have Lois question. It was a daunting prospect, and I wasn't sure if it would ever happen. One day, though, I brought the story up in conversation with Kaylle. We were just chatting, and I mentioned it. She liked the idea, and we got to talking, and, with her help, I got things figured out. More details were added over the next couple days. Soon, I had a solid backstory. The timing, the villains, their goals, their plans, what they'd been doing… just about everything I needed. Some details were added as the unpredictable story required, but those initial brainstorming sessions with Kaylle were the most crucial. Had it not been for her help, this story would still be nothing more than a very short file of notes mouldering away in my "in progress" folder.
With the backstory set, I wrote Part 1, Kaylle BRed, and I posted. For the most part, things went according to plan from there. Readers made suggestions, I turned them into polls as best I could, and I interpreted the results. Often, there was room to do more than one thing per question. When that happened, I took the vote totals as priorities. The option which had gotten the most votes was the one Lois considered most important. She'd then do whatever she had time for. The story would progress, and I'd stop when it came time for the next major decision. Kaylle continued to BR on short notice, sometimes in a single morning. Once she did it just after I'd posted, and I edited as the comments came in. A time or two, she was swamped with school work and couldn't read in time. For the most part, she somehow managed to come through, despite a full course load.
Of course, not everything proceeded as planned. A couple of times (after parts 3 and 7), there was no poll; the possible actions were too few. Also, due to RL, I wasn't always able to write and post the next part over a single weekend. Of course, I wasn't the only one with RL issues. Most of the story was posted during Kerth reading period, when many FoLCs were too busy to check the boards. Readership and participation declined, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to continue the story. After posting a poll about that, though, I kept going. Things picked up again after the Kerths, and all was well.
One other thing went differently than I'd expected: Clark stayed in the story. I'd originally planned on this being Lois's story, with Clark doing little if anything after the first part. The readers were supposed to be controlling Lois's investigation. If Clark was in the story, he'd learn things that Lois didn't know. The good readers, however, managed to outsmart me by coming up with some good suggestions for things he could do to improve his situation.
It was a surprise, but ultimately it worked out quite well. With Clark back in the running, I was able to do some things that would otherwise have been very difficult. The readers even came up with a way to solve the problem of Clark knowing more than Lois. Still, I'd set some pretty tight constraints on him. I couldn't change that, and so Clark's role remained unusually small. It was frustrating at times — for me, and, I suspect, for many of the readers — but I'm not sure the story could have worked without him.
So, that's the story of the story. It was written as much by the readers as it was by me. There are more than a few things in it that I'd probably have never thought of myself. Beyond the readers' suggestions for our heroes, I was often inspired by their other thoughts and comments. So, all in all, it was a very worthwhile experiment. I had a lot of fun with it, and I think the readers did, too.
So, this is the collected archive version. Hopefully, it will still be fun to read it, even if you didn't get the chance to participate. I've left the part numbers in the file, so you can see where I stopped to let people decide what to do next. If you're interested in seeing the original comments folders, polls, and whatever else, they're still on the boards. It's kind of like the DVD version. The table of contents can be found at the following URL: http://www.lcficmbs.com/cgi- bin/boards/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=6;t=000292
Speaking of the archive, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my GE, Kathy MacFarlane, whose extraordinarily diligent reading has saved you, the reader, from more errors than I care to mention. It's also saved me from the embarrassment of having you, the reader, see all those stupid mistakes. Well, maybe not *all* of them. Like I said, her reading, especially given the length of this story, was extraordinarily diligent. Still, there were enough to go around. Any mistakes left are, at this point, almost certainly the result of my own stubbornness.
The usual disclaimer: Lois, Clark, and related characters (including a few borrowed from the comics) belong to DC Comics, Inc., a subsidiary of AOL Time-Warner. This story was written for fun, not profit. No money was made from this story. No copyright infringement is intended. Captain America (whose name and history are briefly mentioned) and related characters belong to Marvel Comics.
One final note: In our universe, Feb. 1, 1996 was a Thursday. In this universe, I made it a Monday. Yes, I changed the day of the week. I have that power. Fear me, mortals!
Monday, Feb. 1, 1996
It was a bright, clear morning. I remember that. They'd been predicting snow, but I didn't see a cloud in the sky. I smiled to myself. It had been a week since I'd come home from Tempus's twisted alternate universe, and I was still riding high. I'd left the people of that world with newfound hope. With the help of the Clark Kent of that universe, I'd made a real, noticeable difference. It had felt good, really good. At the same time, the experience had given me a greater appreciation for the comforts of home. Sure, there were neighborhoods with gangs and guns, and many of the city's officials were probably corrupt, but it was a far cry from the world I'd left. It had been a place of fear and paranoia, where no one had walked the streets unarmed, where Tempus had nearly been elected mayor, and where, as far as everyone knew, Lois Lane was dead.
So, as I drove to work that day, I did so in a cheerful mood. I was warm and safe inside my Jeep, the weather was better than I'd been expecting, the people around me didn't have automatic rifles, and in just under two weeks, I was going to marry the most amazing man to ever walk the earth (or, for that matter, to fly above it). I did, however, spare a moment to grumble to myself about the capricious accuracy of the weather forecasters. When I was a kid, they'd been fairly consistent. If they'd told you it was going to snow, you could at least be fairly confident about crossing "snow" off the list of what to expect. In the years since then, the accuracy of their predictions had gone up from about five percent to about sixty, which was completely unhelpful. You just never knew what to expect.
When I got to the newsroom, the first thing I noticed was that Clark wasn't there. It wasn't like him to be late, and he'd have told me if he'd gotten a lead on a story. If he wasn't at his desk, it could only be because Superman was needed elsewhere. I hadn't heard anything on the radio during my drive over, so it probably wasn't anything major. Hopefully he'd be in soon.
I sat down at my desk and sorted through the messages that had been left for me. Half of them were about the wedding. My mother alone had called no less than eight times already that morning, hoping to settle some detail or other. The florist had also called with a minor crisis, the band was trying to get us to agree to pay overtime for the last hour, and some city bureaucrat was notifying us that we couldn't get a marriage license without certain documented blood test results. I put those messages in a pile on the side of my desk. I'd deal with them when Clark came.
Sifting through the work-related messages, I found little of consequence. Legal needed whatever evidence I could give them about Baron Sunday's criminal activities. After he'd escaped from Superman, he'd apparently left the country. He'd never been taken into police custody, but we'd still written the story. Now safe from arrest, he was attempting to sue the Planet. He didn't have a leg to stand on, of course, but Legal wanted to cover all the angles. I made a mental note to copy the relevant files and drop them into an interdepartmental envelope.
The next few messages were company memos. I glanced at them and tossed them out. An envelope from Washington, DC caught my eye. The government was still sorting through the aftermath of the treasonous NIA plot we'd exposed with the help of Jimmy's father. The president himself had made sure we were kept up to date on the progress of the investigation and the restructuring, or at least the details that weren't too highly classified. I looked through the latest. Nothing too earth-shaking, but certainly enough for a sidebar.
Having gotten to the end of the messages, I took a second to look around. Clark still hadn't arrived, and the news feeds still weren't reporting any Super activity. I squelched a pang of worry. Maybe the media hadn't caught up to him yet. Maybe it was just one of those days when small things cropped up, one after another. Nothing to worry about. I booted up my computer and took a minute to check my email. A message came in with the subject "A tip for you" from "SecretSanta@goal.com." It was probably just some crank, or someone with some worthless information they thought was a hot tip. The address itself didn't say much for the credibility of the sender, though it was intriguing. It was obviously an account which had been set up for anonymity. There was no name, just Secret Santa. Knowing it was from a GOAL address didn't help very much, either. Get Online At Lexcorp was a popular service provider, though I'd never understood why. My aversion to anything associated with Lex Luthor aside, I just couldn't see why anyone would put up with it. Their menus were all graphical, supposedly to make navigating through their maze of services a little easier. A good idea, in principle, but even with the Planet's modems, which were capable of transferring over fourteen thousand bits of data per second, a single menu took an intolerably long time to load. Still, like I said, a lot of people seemed to like it. A few businesses, too, so I couldn't even be sure that the message was from a personal account, although the anonymous username made it seem like a safe bet. I considered deleting the message, but then decided that it couldn't hurt to at least give it a look. There weren't any attachments, so at least it wasn't a virus.
DATE: 02/01/96 07:02:56 AM
RE: A tip for you
Dear Ms. Lane,
You may be interested in the contents of a certain shipment coming in to Pier 31 at around 11 PM tonight.
Your Secret Admirer
It was certainly an interesting message, I thought. I wasn't too happy about the implications of that signature, but if it meant a scoop, I was willing to put up with some extra attention. Not that I could be sure that the information was at all reliable, but it might be worth checking out. Maybe there was a legitimate reason behind my so-called admirer's desire for anonymity. Of course, it could also be a trap, but I wasn't too worried about that. I'd gotten out of plenty of tight situations before, and now I had Superman to back me up.
At least, I hoped I did. Clark still hadn't turned up, at work or on the news. Well, he was Superman; he could take care of himself. I pushed my growing unease aside and got to work on the NIA sidebar. As I was finishing it up, though, I heard a news report about an airplane that was in trouble. They were calling for Superman, but there was no sign of him. No one knew where he was, no one had seen him, no one knew how to find him. I tried calling Clark's pager. I groaned when I heard it beeping at his desk. He'd left it there last night after dashing out for a rescue. He must have forgotten to come back and pick it up. I had no way to get in touch with him, and my gut was telling me with increasing urgency that something had happened to him. I only wished I knew what it was, and, more importantly, what I could do about it.
I woke up to pain. It was dulled somewhat by the grogginess, but that wasn't much consolation. I wasn't really used to either sensation. I tried to remember what had happened, but couldn't come up with any useful information. Obviously, I'd encountered Kryptonite, but I didn't know how or why. I decided to give my head some time to clear before trying to prod through my memories again. Instead, I focused on taking stock of my surroundings.
I quickly realized I'd been blindfolded. Not a good sign. I tried looking through it, but it was no use. My powers were gone. From the feel of my skin, I was in the Suit. That didn't seem right, but I wasn't sure why. I tried to move around a bit, but didn't get too far. I'd been tied to something. A chair, probably, but I couldn't be sure. The bonds were tight, more than I could hope to break through or slip out of, given my weakened state.
My headache was starting to clear a bit. Not much, but enough for me to realize that there were voices nearby. I'd been hearing them since I'd woken up, but they'd been too indistinct to catch my attention through the pain. They were getting closer now, though. From the sound of their footsteps, I guessed that several people were walking through a nearby concrete hallway.
A door opened. The voices became much clearer.
"… about that, but I'm sure you can appreciate the need for secrecy." The voice was clearly male, but not one I recognized.
A female voice responded. It seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't come up with anything solid. "Yes, but I don't like it when the secrets are kept from *me*."
"Well, we can talk about that later. First, I'd like to introduce you to my guest."
He chuckled. "You still don't trust me, even with your… friends looking out for you?"
Her voice turned deadly serious. "I don't trust anyone."
"A sound policy, if a lonely one." I heard footsteps, then the man spoke again. "See? It's safe. No traps."
More footsteps. Some heavy ones, followed, at last, by a lighter set. "That's him?" she asked.
"Yes. Not much to look at now, is he?"
"I want proof. You say it's him. If he doesn't have his powers, how do I know that it's not a trick?"
"With this." Suddenly, I felt a searing pain. I gasped and pulled away. Then, as abruptly as it had come, the pain was gone. "Here," he continued, "take it. The box opens smoothly, and, as you can see, he's blindfolded. If it were anyone else, he'd have no way of knowing when you opened it."
A pause. Footsteps. Another pause, then pain. I struggled, but it only got worse. "Oh, it is him!" she exclaimed delightedly. The pain continued.
"Careful, not too much. I want to keep him around a while longer."
"For fun. Oh, it's safe enough. He can't get out of here, not tied up like that, and not if I keep that box around."
"It's still a risk."
"It's worth it. Here, watch." A TV turned on, but I didn't pay any attention to it. Not with the Kryptonite still there.
"What's that for?"
"Just wait. Close the box."
A pause, then the pain subsided. I knew that if my captor wanted me to listen to the TV, I'd be better off ignoring it, but it was the only sound in the room. I couldn't help but pick up the words. I was confused to realize I was listening to a commercial. It ended, and another one came on. Still woozy from the Kryptonite, I wondered if the plan was to torture me with an endless stream of commercials. Then a new voice came on.
"Welcome back. I'm Leslie Willis, and you're watching LNN. Our top story tonight: Where is Superman? There have been no reported sightings of the hero today, despite frantic pleas for assistance. Earlier today, a commercial airliner bearing 327 passengers crashed due to mechanical failure. LNN obtained this recording of the pilot's conversation with Metropolis International Airport's control tower.
"I shut down engine #4, but it doesn't look good."
"Try to keep it level. We're clearing the runway for you. Emergency teams are standing by."
"Oh !@#$! There goes #2! I don't think we're going to make it!"
"Stay calm. We're calling for help. Just try to keep it level."
"I'm trying, but if you want to send help, it better be soon. I'm losing control here! Oh, that's it. Only Superman can save us now!"
Leslie's voice came back on. "Calls were sent out through Emergency Services and the news media, but Superman did not arrive. All passengers and crew who were aboard the flight are presumed dead. The exact cause of the failure is under investigation, but preliminary reports suggest faulty maintenance. An FAA spokesperson told reporters that investigators have no reason at this time to suspect foul play. LNN is asking that anyone with information about the whereabouts of Superman please call our toll free news line at 1-800-555- 1234.
"In other news, gang violence in Metropolis is on the rise. In the last three months, the number of reported firefights has increased…"
The woman laughed, covering the sound of the television. "Oh, you're cruel. I like that!"
"So, do I get to join your little club?"
"I'd prefer to talk about that somewhere a little more… comfortable."
"Certainly. We'll just leave our guest to entertain himself, then."
The footsteps retreated. The door closed. I sat, weakened, pained, blindfolded, helpless. I tried to rest, to gather my strength, but I couldn't tune out the continuing litany of people I'd failed to save. I struggled, with myself and with my bonds, until sheer exhaustion finally brought me some measure, however temporary, of peace.
Monday, Feb. 1, 1996
It was all over the news. The plane had crashed, and there was still no sign of Superman. Something was definitely wrong. I had to find him. Thinking things through, it seemed like the best place to start would be to try to track his movements. I decided to look into the stories he'd been working on. Mostly, we'd been working together, but there was always a chance he'd started looking into something without mentioning it to me. Perhaps a lead he hadn't been sure would pan out, or something which had developed suddenly.
I started over to his desk, but figured that as long as I wouldn't be using mine, I could have Jimmy look into that email. It might somehow be connected to Clark's disappearance, and if I was going to follow the lead, I wanted to know as much as I could ahead of time. "Jimmy!" I shouted. He was there in a flash, ready for action. "I got this message today," I told him, pointing to the screen. "It seems suspicious. Look into it for me, will you? See what you can find out — who sent it, where it came from, anything — and let me know as soon as you can."
"You got it, Lois."
"Sure thing." He sat down in front of my computer and began scrutinizing that jumbled mess of letters and numbers that comes at the top of every email. I always scrolled right past it, but apparently all that nonsense meant something to him.
I shrugged and headed to Clark's desk. Acting as if I had every right to rummage through his files (I was, after all, his partner and fiancee), I began to search for any sign that he'd been working on something I didn't know about. There didn't seem to be very much. A few human interest stories, but that wasn't surprising. Clark knew I wasn't much for puff pieces, so he tended to work on them alone. He'd usually ask me to look them over when he was done, but didn't always bother to mention them before that. Looking over them, the only ones that involved any sort of danger were the stories which had started out as rescues. He'd already come away from those intact, so it didn't seem likely that any of them were related to his disappearance.
There was one file, though, which stood out from the rest. It was about gang fights. Coded notations indicated that most of the information consisted of things which he'd noticed as Superman. Apparently, the gangs were becoming more violent, and seemed to be using more dangerous weapons. Clark hadn't started looking into anything yet, but he was worried about the trends. There was a note that he'd been planning to mention it to me this morning so that we could get started on the investigation. He hadn't done anything yet, though, other than to stop a few of the fights. Come to think, when he'd left the newsroom last night, he'd mentioned something about gunfire.
Could that have anything to do with his disappearance? Only one way to find out. I needed to look into that rescue last night and see if anyone knew what had happened. The gang fights, for the most part, had been in Suicide Slum. I remembered that Clark tended to use the 68th Precinct as his drop-off point when working in the Slum; he said it was the one he knew best. I pulled out the phone book and found the number.
"MPD. Can I help you?"
"Yeah, hi. This is Lois Lane. I was wondering if you could tell me if anyone there has seen or heard from Superman recently."
The gruff voice turned instantly somber. "Oh, yeah. Hold on." There was a pause, and the next words sounded muffled, even though they were loud enough to understand. Clearly, he'd decided to put his hand over the receiver before shouting across the room. "Hey, Mags, got a sec? Lane wants to talk to you." Another pause, longer this time, and then he spoke into the phone again. "She'll be right with you. Good luck finding him."
"Thanks," I said, but there was no response. The silence told me I'd been put on hold.
A short while later, a new voice picked up. "Sawyer here."
"Hi. Lois Lane. I'm calling to find out if anyone saw Superman last night."
"Yeah, I did." She blew out a deep breath. "I've been wondering if I was the last one to see him."
"He flew into the precinct last night around midnight. He had some… passengers and a bag full of guns. Told me they'd been fighting in the streets. I brought them in for booking and took his statement."
"He thanked me, said goodnight, and flew away."
He'd thanked her? I smiled. Just like Clark… I brushed the thought aside. No time for that now. "Did he say where he was going?"
"No, he just left."
"Did you happen to see which way he went?"
She paused, but not for very long. "Uptown… Northwest. More north, I think."
I thought about it. There were any number of places north and west of the Slum, but one of them was Clark's apartment. It didn't sound like he'd been in a hurry when he'd left, so he probably hadn't been headed to another rescue. "Thanks."
"Sure." She sounded weary. "Look, we're trying to find him, too, but… This is off the record now, you understand?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
"We've got nothing. No leads. And just when we want to divert the manpower to help find him, we can't. Officially, we're not supposed to look for missing persons until they've been gone for at least 48 hours. None of us would bother with that, but we don't have the time to go looking anyway. We've already logged in more calls today than we usually get in a week, and things are getting worse. Every lowlife out there seems to see his absence as an opportunity. What I'm trying to say is… Good luck."
"Yeah. I'm heading back out. You find anything, think of anything, need anything… let us know, okay?"
"Sure, thanks again, and good luck yourself."
I hung up the phone, then glanced back at my desk. I was startled to see Jimmy using my phone. I went over to see what was happening.
"Here she is now," he said as I approached. "Good talking to you, Mrs. Kent."
Clark's mother. Of course. I'd been putting off calling her, hoping to spare her some worry, but obviously she'd seen the news. Bracing myself, I took the receiver from Jimmy. "Martha?"
"Lois! Have you heard from Clark?"
"No, Martha, I haven't. I guess you haven't either, then?"
"No. I tried calling his apartment, but there was no answer. When his work number was busy, I'd hoped…"
"Oh. I was using his phone, talking to someone who saw him last night. I'm looking for him, Martha. I've got a couple of things to look into, people to check with… I'll find him."
"Jonathan and I will be on the next plane out there."
"No, Martha, stay there. What if he calls home?"
"But what about you, Honey?"
"I'll be all right. Don't worry about me. I just need to find him."
"You'll do it. If anyone can, it's you."
"Thanks, Martha. I'll call you as soon as I hear anything."
She sighed. "Thanks. Bye, Lois."
"Everything okay, Lois?"
Jimmy. I'd forgotten he was there. "Just worried about Superman, Jimmy."
"Oh, yeah. I wonder where he is. I tried using my watch to call him, just in case, but he didn't show."
"Good try anyway, Jimmy."
"Thanks. Hey, where's Clark?"
"I haven't seen him today, Jimmy. Maybe he got sick or something. I'm going to go check his apartment soon, see if he's okay." As I spoke, I tried to think of a way to change the subject; this was not a topic I wanted to discuss too closely with him. "Did you get anything from that email?"
"What? Oh, right. Not much. Looking at the IP addresses, I can tell you it came through a server in New Troy, probably Metropolis. But anyone with a GOAL account could have dialed into it. Could have even dialed long distance from somewhere else, if they felt like throwing you off the trail. Can't tell you anything about the account. I tried to hack into the server, but Lexcorp's security is *tight.* Sorry, Lois."
"Thanks anyway, Jimmy."
"Sure. So, you going to go?"
"To the pier."
"Oh, right. Yeah, I'll probably check it out."
"You sure? Looks pretty suspicious…"
"I know, Jimmy." I'd been debating with myself about that. I couldn't not go, not if there was any chance it could lead me to Clark. I'd been considering going alone, but, if it was a trap… Better to be at least a little cautious, especially with Clark missing. "Listen, do you want to come with me? As backup? Take your camera, with a nice long zoom lens and some night equipment. Maybe you'll get a few good shots of whatever's going on, and if something happens to me, you can call for help."
"Really? You'd let me come?"
"Sure, why not? You could use the experience, and I could use a photographer."
"Thanks, Lois! … Oh, but I don't have any night equipment."
"I'll talk to Perry. Maybe he'll let you check out some of the Planet's gear."
"Oh, wow! I'd love to get my hands on some of that stuff. You know, they've got a set-up that will let you take high- contrast…" He trailed off, evidently realizing that I didn't share his enthusiasm. "Never mind. I'll let you get back to work."
I nodded to him, and he walked off. I turned back to the phone. I wanted to go to Clark's apartment, but there were a couple of calls I needed to make first. I picked up the receiver, punched the speed dial button, and then, after a moment's hesitation, hit the four. It rang a couple times and then someone picked up.
"Hello, Thai Palace."
"Hi, this is Lois Lane —"
"— Oh, yes! What would you like?"
"Reservations, actually, this time."
There was a brief pause, as if he needed a second to absorb this information. "Yes, reservations. What time?"
"For how many?"
"Four," I lied. Knowing my intended companion, we'd need the room on the table. I knew they wouldn't mind, in the end. I was, after all, a regular customer, and I was confident that we'd be ordering enough to make up for the empty chairs. Thinking of that, though, brought up another idea. We didn't want chairs, not if we wanted privacy. "Is there any way we can get that booth in the back?"
"Booth? Yes, of course."
I hung up, but only long enough to get another dial tone. Quickly, I put in another number, one that wasn't on the speed dial, but which I knew by heart.
"Bobby? It's Lois. Listen, do you have any plans for dinner tonight?"
When I woke up again, I was confused and disoriented. Gradually, I remembered what had happened and why I couldn't move. The TV was still on; I blocked it out as best I could. I forced myself to focus on my memories, to see if I could figure anything out about my captors. There was a man, but I'd never heard his voice before, not that I could remember. No, wait… I'd heard it once before. In my apartment. I'd just flown home and was about to get ready for bed when I'd felt something… Kryptonite. There'd been a voice then, that same voice. I couldn't remember what he'd said — I'd been too surprised by the sudden pain — but it was the same voice. So, someone had been waiting for me in my apartment with Kryptonite. Not a good sign.
Then there was the other voice. The woman's. Something about it had seemed like it should be familiar, but I couldn't place it. It nagged at me, but I couldn't make the connection. I put the thought aside, hoping it would come to me. Instead, I tried to think of what I could do. There didn't seem to be much. I was weak, tied up, and blindfolded. Well, if I couldn't do anything with my body, maybe I could do something with my mind. I'd felt a connection with Lois before. I didn't know how strong it was or how it worked, but maybe I could somehow reach her. I concentrated on her, tried to tell her what had happened. I couldn't be sure if I was getting through, but I tried.
Suddenly, a sound interrupted my thoughts. It took me a minute to realize that I'd been the source of it, and another minute to realize that it was related to the unfamiliar sensation I was experiencing. Finally, it clicked. The sound had been my stomach rumbling; I was hungry. I hadn't eaten very much in the past few days. I didn't really need to eat, usually, and we'd been so busy that I simply hadn't bothered. Now, my body was looking for fuel to help its recovery. At first, I was sorry I hadn't been eating, but then something else occurred to me. If I had taken the time to eat, I'd have processed that food, which would have brought up another need. It didn't seem likely that my captors would be particularly willing to untie me so that I could use the restroom.
On the other hand, they'd said they didn't want to kill me just yet. That might give me some leverage. I could ask for food… but no, they probably wouldn't give me any, not yet. Sunlight, though… I could tell them that I needed sunlight. Maybe, if they thought I'd die without it, they'd be willing to bring me near a window. If there was a window around here… Nothing I'd heard or felt seemed to indicate that there was one nearby. The other thing was that not many people knew I recharged myself with sunlight. If I didn't give them any reason to think it was important, they wouldn't know to keep me away from the light, if there was any. So, I'd probably be better off not mentioning sunlight. It might give me a chance to recharge without them realizing it. If that happened, and if I didn't give them any sign that I was doing better, I could gather my strength, maybe enough to escape.
Come to that, I could play that game even if there wasn't any sunlight. If I pretended to be sicker than I was, maybe they wouldn't bring the Kryptonite as often. Without sunlight, I'd recover slowly, but it would be something. With that thought in mind, I slumped in the chair, lying back as much as I could. I breathed shallowly, weakly. I focused on being as quiet and still as I could. Soon, I drifted back to sleep.
After making the arrangements with Bobby, I dropped by Perry's office, to let him know that Jimmy and I were going on a stakeout at the Pier. He agreed to let Jimmy take some of the Planet's surveillance equipment. Now, if anything went wrong, Perry would know where to start looking. Back in the newsroom, I found Jimmy and gave him the good news. I told him to meet me in the lobby with everything ready to go at ten o'clock.
Leaving the Planet, I drove to Clark's apartment. Maybe there'd be some clue there. I didn't have a key (I made a note to rectify that situation as soon as I'd found Clark), but I knew Clark had never bothered to get a particularly good lock. I pulled out my picks and examined the door. To anyone on the street, it would look like I was simply fumbling with a key. At least for the moment. Looking at the door, though, I noticed some tiny scratches near the lock. It might not mean anything, but it looked like someone else had tried to pick it. Someone inexperienced, or perhaps out of practice. I noted that with some trepidation, then tried the knob. It was unlocked. That definitely wasn't like Clark.
Inside, however, everything seemed to be in place. Well, almost everything. There was a window open.
Suddenly, I felt something. It felt like… Clark. It was a weak impression, though, as if he was far away or very tired. He was definitely in trouble. Then it was gone. I shook myself. Obviously, I'd been imagining things. This was Clark's apartment, of course I felt his presence! Of course I'd sensed he was in trouble! He was missing, and now it looked like someone had broken into his apartment. I got back to the problem at hand.
The open window was telling. Whoever it was who had broken in had come in through the door. Since the door wasn't locked, that person had probably left through the door, too. Clark, flying back from a late-night rescue, would most likely have entered through the window. Now he was missing. There could only be one conclusion: someone had broken into his apartment and waited for him, armed with Kryptonite.
Disturbed, I looked around for any other clues. There was nothing. I tried playing the messages on his machine, just in case, but the only new message was from Martha. She'd mentioned that she'd tried his apartment first. Nothing new there.
I left Clark's place and tried talking to his neighbors. I'd met some of them in passing, so I wasn't entirely unfamiliar to them. Trying not to show too much concern, I asked them if they'd seen Clark lately, or if they'd heard anything unusual last night. A few of them said they'd heard some noises, but it had been late at night. Only one of them had gotten out of bed to check, and all he'd seen was a car driving away. He couldn't even give me a good description; it just hadn't been important enough to note, especially at that hour.
I left Clark's neighborhood in low spirits. The only new information I had only served to make things worse. Someone had definitely taken him, and if that person had known to wait in his apartment with Kryptonite… Well, maybe someone had just noticed that Superman tended to go there. Everyone knew that Clark and Superman were good friends. Superman had even announced, during that whole mess with Diana Stride, that Clark kept his extra suits and did his laundry. There was a chance that Clark's captors had come for Clark, not Superman, and had only had Kryptonite in case their quarry's famous friend happened to show up. If Clark had come in as Superman, they might not even know about his secret identity. It was a possibility, at least. Whatever the case, I needed to find Clark, and to do that, I needed more information. Hopefully, Bobby Bigmouth would have it for me.
I got to the restaurant early. They'd kept the booth for me, like I'd asked. I sat down but declined to order. I told them I'd wait until everyone came. I sipped tea for the next fifteen minutes or so, and then Bobby showed up. As I'd expected, he promptly ordered enough food for three. When I'd spoken to him over the phone, I'd told him that if he could find what I needed, he could order whatever he wanted and keep the leftovers. When Bobby was done ordering, I ordered a dish for myself and informed the waiter that the "other two" wouldn't be coming, after all. He seemed a bit taken aback, but I assured him that Bobby would be taking their share home. He shrugged and left. I turned to Bobby.
"Thanks for meeting me here. I know you usually prefer something a little less public, but this is an emergency. What did you find?"
"As far as I can tell, Superman was last seen in Suicide Slum…"
"Stopping a gang fight. I know. He dropped them off at the MPD and left."
"You know that, what'd you ask me for?"
"I was hoping you'd have heard something more recent."
"Sorry, Lois. That's all I have on him right now. Heard a few rumors, but they're mostly just street talk. Nothing reliable, and they contradict each other."
"Any luck with the hospitals?"
"I looked into it, like you asked, but didn't find anything."
"What about Kryptonite?"
"There, I have a bit more for you. Not much, but something. Apparently, some sanitation worker by the name of Otis Flannegan found a piece in the sewers. He spread the word around that he was going to sell it off. Turned up dead in an alley two days later. It was the weirdest thing. Looked like he'd been shot point blank from the front. He had no business being in that alley, either. The auction wasn't until the next day, and he'd been trying to keep a low profile until then."
"Any word on who might have it?"
Dinner came. Bobby dove into his dishes, eating as if he hadn't seen food in days. He paused every once in a while to compliment or critique the dishes. I wondered how he could possibly taste it properly, eating at that speed. I ate more slowly, thinking things over. There didn't seem to be much else I could ask. Not much else I could do, really, until I looked into things at the pier. On impulse, I asked Bobby about the gang story.
"Oh, yeah. Things haven't been good. Something's got them riled up. There have been some pretty strange-looking guns turning up, too. Not many of them, but still… these aren't the kind of guns you'd expect some street kid to have."
"Where are they coming from?"
"I don't know. No one's talking."
"You seem awfully short on information, Bobby."
"Hey, I'm just a snitch. I know some guys, I keep my ear out… I don't know everything. Never claimed to."
"Sorry, I'm just tense. With Superman missing…"
"Don't worry about it, Lois. You're right; I don't have much for you this time. Listen, why don't we just say I owe you one? I'll keep looking. I find anything, I'll let you know, no charge."
He was already shoving more food into his mouth with his right hand, so he simply waved his response with his left. The rest of the meal passed in silence. I paid the bill, Bobby had the leftovers packed to go, and we went our separate ways.
I considered calling Martha, just to update her, but decided against it. The little information I'd found would only serve to cause her needless worry. Instead, I went home to get ready for the stakeout at the pier. I picked out a pair of navy sweat pants, a warm shirt, a dark sweater, and a pair of black sneakers — quiet, hard to spot at night, and appropriate for the winter. I tossed a few flashlights, a pair of binoculars, and some tools into a bag, and packed another bag with food. I put it all in the Jeep and drove back to the Planet to pick up Jimmy.
I got there half an hour early. Jimmy wasn't there yet, so I took the opportunity to go to the bathroom (always a good idea before a stakeout). I waited around until he showed up a few minutes before ten, encouraged him to use the restroom, waited while he did so, and then took him down to the Jeep. Along the way, he started to babble about how excited he was to be going on a stakeout and how cool the camera he'd borrowed was and how it had so many features, but I ignored him. Soon he quieted down, and we drove to the pier.
I parked across the street and looked through my binoculars. There was, indeed, a ship berthed at Pier 31. It was the "Cost Cutter," registered out of Jakarta, Indonesia. If they were smugglers, they had a bold sense of humor. The name of the ship seemed to be a deliberate pun on the Coast Guard's Cutter patrol ships. Of course, given the relatively shabby look of the freighter, the name might simply be a reference to the captain's financial strategy.
Looking around, it was a while before I spotted any activity near the ship. The area near the gangplank had been surrounded with shipping containers in what seemed to be an almost haphazard fashion. They could have been piled that way because it was convenient for the crane operator, but it could just as easily have been a deliberate attempt to hide the entrance to the ship from view. There were gaps, however, and by watching closely, I was able to see the men who were unloading the ship. They were working silently in pairs, carrying crates and stacking them near the piles of previously offloaded cargo.
Peering at the crates through the binoculars, I could see that the captain's frugal nature extended to packing materials. They were poorly made, and some of them had been damaged. I told Jimmy to take pictures of whatever he could, then got out of the Jeep and crept to the pier. Fortunately, the stacked containers served just as well to block the men's view of the outside as they did to block an outsider's view of them. Even better, they didn't know to look for me. I hoped.
I made my way through the maze of cargo to a position near the growing stack of crates. I snuck around to the far side while they weren't looking, then knelt to examine the boxes. I found the ones which were in the worst condition, and, as quietly as I could, expanded the holes. I took out a penlight, and, shielding the tiny bulb with my hand, used it to look inside.
I was so startled by what I saw that I nearly gave myself away. I stifled the reflexive gasp, then checked a few more crates, just to be sure. They did not, as I'd been half expecting, contain guns. They were full of drugs. Prescription drugs. Some over-the- counter ones, too. All neatly sealed in tamper-proof packaging. Perfectly ordinary items that you'd find in any pharmacy. So what in the heck were they doing being offloaded in careful secrecy in the middle of the night?
Monday, Feb. 1, 1996
There was only one way to find out what was happening — investigate! I grabbed a few of the smaller boxes, then left some others scattered near the crates. With any luck, if anyone noticed the missing inventory, they would simply assume that the boxes had fallen out in transit. That done, I carefully made my way back to the Jeep, stashed the boxes, and updated Jimmy.
He'd already taken some shots of the ship and the people unloading it. I wanted some close-ups of the crates and their contents. I hadn't been able to take samples of everything, since many of the drugs which looked to be prescription items had been packaged in large containers. I couldn't have snuck off with one of those larger containers, and the tamper-proof seals would have made it obvious if I'd opened one. Since the contents of those very containers were the ones I most wanted information on, I figured the best thing to do would be to get some pictures of the labels.
Cautiously, I led him to the stack of crates. I checked that he'd disconnected the flash, then pointed to the things I wanted him to shoot. He'd assured me the night lens would pick up enough light for the pictures to be clear, but just in case, I had him take a few shots illuminated by the faint glow of my penlight.
I considered trying to sneak aboard the ship and see what else I could find, but decided against it. I had enough for a solid start. No use wasting any more time here. Clark was still missing, and I was having even more doubts that the tip which had led me here was connected to his disappearance. I'd come to the pier because the timing seemed suspicious. I hadn't been willing to take the chance that there was no connection. Now that I'd found these crates, I'd finish with the investigation, but locating Clark was my main priority. Boarding that ship would not only be putting myself in jeopardy, but it would be hurting Clark's chances of rescue, as well. It wasn't worth the risk.
I signaled to Jimmy that it was time to go. We crept back out through the maze of shipping containers, climbed into the Jeep, and drove off. I kept a careful eye out for pursuit until we were well out of the harbor district. "Jimmy," I said when I was sure we were clear, "I want you to do some digging for me tomorrow. Take down the information from those labels — manufacturers, lot numbers, anything you can find — and try to track down where those boxes came from. When you've got everything you can off the labels, let me know. I want to send what we've got to STAR Labs for testing, make sure that those drugs are what the labels say they are. Then I want you to look into that ship. Find out who owns it, where it's been, and what it's doing here."
He blew out a breath, as if overwhelmed by what I'd asked, but then drew himself up. "You got it, Lois. And Lois? Thanks again for taking me along. That was so cool. Sneaking around, taking those pictures… they never even knew we were there! And that camera is amazing! That night lens, I'm telling you —"
I cut him off before his gushing went any further. "You earned it, Jimmy. Besides, I needed the backup."
He practically glowed at that, but then, after a moment, his expression turned more serious. "Lois, can I ask you something?"
For a second, I was afraid he was going to ask me out, but I tossed the thought aside. I was engaged, for heaven's sake! Jimmy deserved more credit than that. "What is it, Jimmy?"
"I was wondering… did something happen to Clark?"
"What makes you think that, Jimmy?" I asked nervously.
"Well, he didn't show up at work today, and then his mom called. I didn't mean to eavesdrop on your conversation, but I was right there and… It sounded like something was wrong. I know you said you were worried about Superman and you thought Clark might be sick, but wouldn't he have at least called in? And why would his mom call?"
Yup. Jimmy definitely deserved more credit than I'd given him. What a time to prove it, though! "Clark is…" What could I tell him? I tried to think quickly. Say he'd gone undercover? Then why would Martha have called? I could say that Clark and I had had a fight, but that had its own problems. There was only one thing to do. "Listen, Jimmy, can you keep a secret?"
"Sure, Lois. I won't tell anyone, I promise."
"Okay. Clark is…"
I took a deep breath. It was risky, but I didn't see what else I could do. "He's missing. I don't know what happened to him. I don't have any proof that there's something wrong, and I haven't wanted to add to the panic, but I'm worried. The police say they can't help. With Superman gone, crime's way up, and Clark hasn't been gone for 48 hours yet anyway. I was hoping that tip might have been related, but it doesn't look like it was. I checked his apartment. It looks like someone might have broken in, but I have no solid evidence of that."
"Oh, wow. Do you have any leads?"
"Not much, but I'm looking. I've got some more calls to make tomorrow."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Just look into that ship. There's still a chance it's related to something. I'll let you know if I need anything else. Thanks."
"Sure, Lois. Good luck… But what are you going to tell the Chief?"
"I'll let him know, Jimmy, but we'll probably tell everyone else that Clark is out sick."
"If you think that's best…"
"It is, Jimmy. Trust me."
He smiled, but said nothing more. Soon enough, we were outside his apartment. I dropped him off with the camera and the drugs, then drove home. It wouldn't be easy, but I needed to get some sleep so I could get to work in the morning.
I slept fitfully. I was weak, hungry, and probably feverish. I wasn't used to any of it. I needed the rest, though, and my body clearly knew it. So I slept, and I dreamed. Mostly, I dreamed of Lois, but oddly, one of them was about drug smugglers. It didn't really make sense, but then, dreams usually don't.
When I awoke, it was to pain. My captor was back, and it seemed he'd decided it was time for another dose of Kryptonite. Remembering my plan, I tried to look as weak as I could, hoping for minimal exposure. Playing sick, I found, wasn't all that difficult, given how I was really feeling.
When the box closed, I slumped in relief. I waited a while, to gather my strength and to play up my weakness. Then I spoke, in a harsh, struggling whisper. "Who… are you? What do… you want?"
"What do I want?" he echoed, surprise and anger in his voice. "What do I want?! I want revenge! You ruined my life, and you're going to pay for that!"
"You took away everything I had! You…" He paused. When he spoke again, it was in a much calmer tone. "Never mind that. It's in the past. I'm moving forward. It hasn't been easy, but I'm sure the therapy sessions will help."
"Oh yes. It really helps with my anger management. I believe you've met Dr. Greenstone? Here, let me reintroduce you…"
More pain, then blackness.
Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1996
When I got to the newsroom, I headed straight for Perry's office. "Perry, I need to talk to you about something…"
"Let me guess. Clark went out looking for Superman and got into trouble."
I blinked. That was certainly a better story than the one I'd come up with, but… "How did you… what makes you…?"
He quirked an eyebrow. "Yodel-a-yodel-a-yodel-ay-hee-hoo."
With his gruff voice, it sounded very odd. "Right. Definitely not the reason you got the job."
He grinned for a moment, then turned serious. "Now, do you have any leads? On Clark or Superman? If Clark went missing because he was looking for Superman, then it seems like the same people might well have them both."
"Nothing solid yet, but I'm working on it."
He looked at me, as if appraising my condition, then nodded. "Good. You need anything, you let me know."
Heading back to my desk, I wondered just how much he knew. After a moment, I set the question aside. Time enough for that after I found Clark. So, how to go about doing that? The newest lead I had was about the Kryptonite. Maybe the MPD knew more about Otis Flannegan's death than Bobby. Even if they didn't, I should let them know that his case was probably linked to Superman's disappearance. Whom to call? Bobby had said Flannegan's body had been found in an alley in a bad section of town. That probably meant the Slum. I already knew one officer there who was ready to help me. She'd even asked me to contact her if I found anything related to Superman. With that in mind, I called the 68th Precinct and asked for Officer Sawyer.
"Sawyer here." She sounded exhausted. I realized that I hadn't really been expecting to find her. It was morning, and as far as I knew, she worked a later shift.
"Officer Sawyer? Are you okay? Did the shift schedule change?"
"What? Oh, no. We're pulling double shifts, as many of us as can manage it. It's a mess out there, and we need as many people as we can get."
"Well, don't push yourself too hard. You won't be able to help anyone if you exhaust yourself."
"Yeah, thanks. I'll take care. So what are you calling about?"
"I wanted to know if you had anything on an Otis Flannegan. One of my sources told me that his body was found a few days ago."
"I can look. Why?"
"It seems he found a piece of Kryptonite. He'd been planning to auction it off when he got shot."
"Oh. My… Right, I'll see what I can find. Thanks. Anything else?"
"Yeah. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the recent rise in gang activity."
"Well, they've definitely become more violent. We've been seeing a lot more fights. Deadlier, too."
"There have been more guns involved. Some of them pretty powerful. Just a few, but enough to cause a lot of damage."
"Any idea where they're coming from?"
"No, we haven't been able to find anything."
"Is there any particular gang that seems to be getting them?"
"No, they're all getting them. Just one or two each so far."
"So someone's supplying all sides. Hmm. Anything else?"
"Well, nothing I can prove, but some of the gang members have been acting kind of… crazy. Taking bigger risks, doing things they shouldn't be able to do. Again, not many, but I've seen at least a few reports. I think it might be some kind of new drug or something, but I'm not sure."
"Hmm. I came across some smugglers last night. At least, I think they were smugglers. I'm still looking into it, but it seemed pretty suspicious. They were offloading crates full of what looked to be prescription drugs, but they were doing it at night, under cover."
"Interesting. Where was this?"
"Pier 31. A ship called the 'Cost Cutter.' I've got someone looking into it now."
"Well, let me know what you find."
"I will, as long as I get the exclusive."
She chuckled. "You got it, Lane… Okay, here. I've got Flannegan's file. Found dead in an alleyway off 15th and Shuster. Shot twice in the chest, at point blank range. No witnesses. No evidence pointing to why he was there, no known next of kin. Neighbors said he'd been behaving oddly. Suspected drug use, but no sign of it on the autopsy. Small shard of unidentified green crystal, assumed to be a fragment of a beer bottle, found embedded in his right hand. That's it."
"Hmm. Not much to go on. Thanks anyway."
"Sure. If that's it, I should get back to work."
"Yeah, me too. I'll call you if anything else comes up."
"Thanks, and I'll make sure someone looks into the Flannegan case."
I hung up the phone, then tried to think of what to do. I checked my email, but there wasn't anything worthwhile. I considered writing back to my admirer, to see if I could get any more useful information that way, but decided against it. Probably wasn't worth it, yet, and I didn't want to be too encouraging. I kept it in mind in case he wrote back again. With that decided, there didn't seem to be much I could do until Jimmy got back to me with his research. Then I remembered that Clark had some half-finished puff pieces at his desk. Even if he wasn't going to be in today, they still needed to be written. I didn't like it, but for Clark, and for the paper… I pulled out the files and got to work.
I was finished with one and struggling with the second when Jimmy came to my rescue. "I checked the lot numbers, like you asked," he said. "They come from all over the place. Most of the brand name stuff was actually made in the US. Some of the others were made in Canada. The generics were made overseas… China, Indonesia, India… all sorts of places. All of them are legitimate manufacturers, certified by the FDA. It's all legal, but every one of those packages was intended to be sold outside the US."
"Why would they be smuggling US-made drugs back into the country?" I wondered, thinking out loud.
"Well, a lot of companies sell their products more cheaply to overseas distributors. They mark up the prices because of the way the health insurance companies work. At least, that's what I've heard…"
While I thought that over, Jimmy continued explaining what he'd found.
"I checked the ship's registry. It's owned by some small Indonesian company, but they're owned by another company called Amalgamated International Transportation, Incorporated. Amalgamated is owned by what looks like a bunch of shell companies in the Caribbean. I did some digging on them, and finally managed to trace their ownership… to CostMart."
"CostMart? Intergang? Why would Intergang…? No, wait… Doesn't CostMart have a pharmacy department?"
"Yeah, I think they do…"
My mind raced through the possibilities. "So maybe they're smuggling cheap drugs back into the US to stock their shelves. Not all of them — there didn't seem to be enough in those crates to stock all the stores in the area — but maybe mixing them in with the legally purchased ones. They could lower their prices, drive the other pharmacies out of business, but still make a tidy profit. It would not only get Intergang more money, but it would be all the more reason for them to expand CostMart, giving them more fronts to work from. They might even be using the whole scheme to launder money. We'll have to wait for the lab results, of course, but I'll bet that's it."
He stared at me. "How do you do that?"
I grinned at him. "It's a gift."
"I wonder who sent you the tip, though. Do you think he's involved with Intergang?"
"Huh. I don't know, Jimmy. It looks like he might be, but then, why would he send me a tip that would expose one of their plots? One of their minor plots, but still…"
"Maybe he's a cop?"
"But then why wouldn't he have sent the tip to his superiors?"
"Good point. I don't know…"
"Well, no use speculating without any more information. We'll see what happens when the story hits the stands."
Jimmy wandered off, and I got back to work on Clark's puff piece. My heart wasn't really in it, though, and my mind wandered. I was trying to think of who might have Clark, and where they'd have taken him. If I was trying to keep Superman, even if I had Kryptonite, I'd want to stay on the safe side. I'd want to keep him in a place where it would be hard for him to escape, and I'd probably want to set things up where he couldn't happen across me before I was ready. Maybe, if I could find that place… "Jimmy!"
He rushed back. "Yes, Lois?"
"I just thought of something. Get me a list of every place in and around the city with reinforced walls and lead lining."
"Something Superman-proof! You got it, Lois!" He dashed off.
I started back to work on the article, but then the phone rang. "Lois Lane."
"Lois? This is Bill Henderson. I've got something for you. It'll be all over the news tonight, but I thought you'd want to hear it first. They found a body…"
I think it was the footsteps that woke me up. I realized my captors were coming back. I slumped in the chair, as if I was still asleep, too weak to wake up. From the sound of things, it seemed that the woman was back with her escorts. My guess was confirmed soon after the door opened.
"How's our guest doing today? Awww, all tired out, huh? Did you play too hard with your friends, Superman?" Her voice sounded different this time. It was the cutesy tones. She'd sounded more serious the last time I'd heard her. That time, I'd also been disoriented from my capture. This time, I was more focused, and with the vacuous intonation (which I only now realized must have been an act), I was finally able to place the voice. It was Mindy Church.
"He's been sleeping a lot," the man said. "I think I may have overdosed him with the Kryptonite last time."
"Well," Mindy said, "he's less fun to play with, but at least he's not getting in my way."
"Yes, but I may reduce the exposure so we can have more… fun."
"Be careful. We don't want to take any chances."
I listened to this with half an ear. I was more concerned with trying to figure out what Mindy Church was doing here. She'd seemed like nothing more than Bill Church's trophy wife, a bubblehead who'd caught his attention, but clearly there was more to her. Bill and his son had both been arrested four months previously, on charges connected to Intergang. Things had been quiet since. I remembered, though, that my captor had said something to Mindy about joining her club. If Mindy had taken over Intergang… She could have been laying low for the past few months, waiting for the investigation to blow over.
Once that clicked into place, I stopped to review the conversation I'd heard. Suddenly, it filtered through that I was going to be exposed less to the Kryptonite. The plan was working! Quickly, I squashed my exuberance. Letting them see my reaction would only serve to ruin what progress I'd made. I forced myself to remain slumped. They talked a little more, but, evidently realizing they weren't going to be able to have any "fun" with me, they soon left.
I shifted a bit, trying not to let my muscles get too stiff, but I tried to make it look like I was only moving in my sleep. Even though they'd left, I had no way of knowing if I was still under observation. Sitting back, I focused on Lois. I had no idea if she could hear me, but if there was any chance she could, I needed to let her know that I'd recognized one of my captors. I focused on trying to send her the name.
A few minutes later, I still had no idea if I'd been successful, but I stopped trying because a news report had caught my attention.
"The body of Lex Luthor was found today at a small private airport just outside of Metropolis. It is unknown at this time how or when Luthor, who was given a double life sentence last year for numerous criminal charges, managed to escape from Stryker's Island Prison. At a press conference this afternoon, a spokesperson for the Metropolis Police Department told reporters that, given the fact that Luthor's escape had not been reported, key prison officials are now under investigation. More details on this story as it develops.
"Coming up next, how safe are you? With Superman missing, the Metropolis crime rate has seen its largest overnight increase in recorded history. Is your home secure? We'll have some expert tips for you, after the break…"
Even a few hours after Henderson's call, I was still somewhat shocked. Lex dead? After everything I'd gone through with the man, it hardly seemed possible. I was just starting to get used to the idea when Jimmy came to me with the latest. He hadn't been able to come up with anything on the building search. To be more exact, he'd come up with too much. The city was littered with bomb shelters, old prewar buildings with lead paint, and converted buildings which had once housed dental offices with x- ray machines. That was just the legal side of things. There was no way to tell how many criminals had done some clandestine "remodelling" work since Superman had first shown up.
While I digested that, Jimmy handed me the lab reports he'd received. The drugs had checked out. They matched the labels and had not been contaminated. Working on autopilot, I called Officer Sawyer and told her that the drugs weren't connected to her case, after all. When I'd explained what we'd found, she suggested that I call the Coast Guard and give them whatever evidence I had. They could take care of the ship and turn the CostMart investigation over to the FDA.
It seemed reasonable to me, so I put the call in. I had a contact there from an old gunrunning investigation. I agreed to give him copies of the pictures Jimmy had taken along with the information we'd found on the ship and its cargo on the conditions that I remain an anonymous source, be kept up to date on their investigation, and be given the exclusive story.
After I hung up, I started thinking more about Intergang. I wondered who was in charge now that Bill and Bill, Jr. had been arrested. Out of the blue, Mindy Church came to mind. What if she hadn't been the clueless innocent she'd appeared to be? Suddenly I was sure that she'd been the one to take over. It was nothing more than a gut feeling, but I'd learned to trust my gut. Even if I was right, though, what could I do about it?
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1996
I came into work the next morning without any better idea of what to do about Mindy. I didn't have enough evidence to really go after her, I didn't have any solid leads to follow, and a direct confrontation didn't seem wise. The thing to do, then, would be to investigate the other loose ends and see if one of them would lead me in the right direction. If Intergang was still active, then there was a chance they might have something to do with Clark's disappearance.
There was Lex's death to consider. Henderson hadn't had too much information to give me, though he had promised to call me with the autopsy results. Still, it seemed like Intergang might have had something to do with that. He hadn't been nearly as powerful at the time of his death as he had been even a year or two prior, but he could well have been a perceived threat.
Then there was the gang situation. Something was happening there, and that might be linked to Intergang, too. They could well be the source of the guns, and I was wondering about drugs. The ones on the "Cost Cutter" had been prescription, but it seemed that there was something else going on. Officer Sawyer had said she suspected some kind of new drug in the gangs, and Flannegan had been acting strangely. Maybe there was something going around. It was something to consider, anyway.
So, I had a busy day ahead of me, which was just how I liked it. Before I got to work on any of those things, though, I called Jimmy over. I'd had a thought the night before, while I'd been lying awake in bed. If Intergang was active and if they were responsible for Clark's disappearance and if they didn't think anyone knew that they were around and active, then there was a chance that Clark was being held on Intergang-owned property. When Jimmy rushed over to my desk, I explained that to him.
"Makes sense," he said.
"Good. So, if you could take that list you found last night of all the lead-lined rooms in and around town and cross-index it with a list of properties owned by CostMart, then that might narrow things down enough that we could start checking places out."
"I'll see what I can do. CostMart has a lot of subsidiaries, and I might not be able to trace all of them. I'll get what I can, but there's always a chance I'll miss something."
"Well, do your best, Jimmy."
"You got it, Lois."
Since I couldn't do much about Lex's death until Henderson called back, I decided to get started on the gang problem. I called up a contact I'd made during a previous investigation, hoping he might know something that Bobby didn't. "Vinny? Hey, it's Les," I said in as deep a voice as I could manage. I'd met Vinny while I'd been working undercover as Lester Lewis, and he still didn't know that I wasn't "one of the guys."
"Hey. Been a bit. How ya doin'?"
"You know me. Les is more."
"Heh heh, yeah."
"So how're you doin', Vin?"
"I'm good. I'm good."
"That's good. So, look, Vinny, can I ask you a question?"
"Well, gangs around my place have been heatin' up, ya know? Fights all the time. Gettin' so I can't hardly sleep. They're not just usin' pop guns no more, either. Some of 'em been acting kinda funny, too. Know what I mean? It hasn't made things real comfortable around home. Can't entertain a lady all proper when somethin' like that's goin' on outside the window."
"Yeah. It's a problem."
"Exactly. So, I was wonderin'… You maybe know what's goin' on? Any idea if it'll blow over or what? Or maybe where they're gettin' their stuff?"
"What? You wanna piece of the action?"
"Me? Nah. You know that's not my thing. I just wanna know what's goin' on in my neighborhood, ya know? Be nice if I had someun I could maybe talk to, too. At the least, I'd feel better if I knew what was goin' on."
"Well, I'll tell ya, Les. I dunno if I can really help you here. These gangs, they're not really our thing, ya know? We don't bother with them, they know better than to mess with us."
"Yeah. I get that."
"I heard some things, though…"
"Not really what you're lookin' for. Actually, maybe I shouldn't tell you…"
"What is it?"
"Well, it won't exactly make you feel better, know what I mean?"
"Hey, I'd rather know than not, Vin."
"Okay, then. The thing I heard is that some of the gang members, they were goin' missin'."
"Yeah. Just kinda not showin' up no more. People who'd been hurt, but, ya know, not so bad as you wouldn't expect to see 'em again."
"Well, they don't have the fine medical care that you do, Vin."
"I know, but still… And, ya know, some of 'em do show up again. Not many, but a few. When they come back, though… they start actin' all funny, like they don't think no one can hurt them no more."
"That's weird. You'd think they'd be more scared, after bein' hurt an' all."
"Exactly. But no. They start runnin' around, doin' things they oughtn'ta be able to do… Jumpin' around and whatnot. Real fast. Real aggressive, too."
"You think they're juiced up?"
"I dunno, Les. Could be, but I dunno with what."
"Hmm. Got anythin' else?"
"Naw. That's alls I know."
"Well, thanks, Vin."
"Don't think nothin' of it, Les."
"Thanks. So, you hear about Luthor?" I asked, pretending to be casual.
"The boss man bitin' it? Yeah, everyone's talkin' 'bout that. Nobody seems to know nothin', though."
"Guy just escapes from prison, then turns up dead. It's weird."
"Hey, it happens. Not like he had so many friends after he got busted an' all, know what I mean?"
"Yeah. Bin nice talkin' to you, Les."
"You too, Vin."
"Hasta la vista, baby."
"Pasta la pizza to you, too."
"Heh. Later, Les."
Well, that had been an interesting call. So, injured gang members were disappearing off the streets, and the ones who turned up again were the ones who'd been acting differently. Not much to go on, but it was definitely a start. Maybe Bobby would know something more.
First, though, I needed something for my throat; that voice wasn't easy to keep up. I reached for my cup, unconsciously expecting it to be full of hot coffee, made just the way I liked it. It felt oddly light, though, which was, of course, because it was empty. Clark hadn't filled it for me, like he always did, because Clark hadn't been there to do it.
I stared at the cup, as if it had somehow betrayed me by not filling itself. Then a new thought occurred, and I looked at it with sympathy instead. It wasn't its fault. It was just that, without Clark, it was empty.
After a moment, I shook myself. It was just a stupid coffee cup. Staring at it wasn't going to help Clark. Staring at it wasn't going to make it magically produce coffee, either. I got up, took it to the coffee machine, and filled it from the relatively fresh pot. There. Just because Clark wasn't around to take care of it didn't mean it had to sit around empty. I'd managed to fill it just fine without Clark, and I could do it again for a while. Just until I found Clark. Maybe, when I found him, I'd even start bringing *him* a full mug of coffee. We could fill each other's cups. It would be… pretty silly, actually. Oh well.
I stirred in a packet of sweetener, carefully not thinking about the fact that it was artificial, then returned to my desk. I was still sipping at it, my throat almost back to normal, when the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Lois? It's Tom Black." Ah. My contact at the Coast Guard. "Those pictures and files you sent were enough to get us a warrant last night. We searched the ship. Just like you said. They were smuggling prescription drugs. The ship and the drugs have been seized. We've confirmed that the ship is owned by CostMart, so the FDA will be knocking on their doors soon. They'll probably deny any knowledge of the smuggling operation, maybe blame some low-level types, but we might be able to get them anyway. Worth a try. Meantime, we'll be keeping a close eye on all their ships."
"Great. So how much of this can I publish?"
"Everything I just told you. Except, of course, the bit about where the information came from. Officially, that's 'an anonymous source.'"
"Right. Thanks, Tom."
"Thank you, Lois. We'd never have found these guys without you."
"Hey," I said casually, ignoring the fact that I still didn't know who'd sent me the tip in the first place, "it's what I do."
He chuckled. "Well, thanks for doing it. I'll be in touch."
After I hung up, I got straight to work on the story. I'd been writing it in my head during the odd moments when I hadn't been working on something else, so it went pretty quickly. When I was done, I turned to call Clark to come read it over, then caught myself. Instead, I sent it to Perry.
That done, I decided it was time to call Bobby. "Do you know anything about what happens to injured gang members?" I asked, once we'd gotten past the pleasantries.
"They go to a doctor. Someone who will patch them up without asking too many questions. Why?"
"I heard that some of them have been going missing, and the ones that turn up act like they're on drugs or something. Stronger, more aggressive, that sort of thing."
"Hmm. I'd heard a rumor or two like that, but nothing I could be sure about. It's hard to keep track of all of the members, especially now that there are so many people being injured in the fights."
"Any idea what could be happening to them?"
"Nothing you obviously haven't thought of yourself. I'll look into it, see if I can find where they're getting treated."
"Thanks. By the way, do you know anything about Lex?"
"Just what's on the news. Escaped from prison, found dead at that airport just out of town, the one they use for small private planes. Maybe he was trying to get out of the country before the cops caught up with him. Although I did hear they found him closer to the hangars the crop dusters use than he was to the jet hangars. Maybe he was just taking the back way, to be more careful. I don't know."
"Hmmm. You find anything new about Flannegan?"
"Nah. No one seems to know anything about him, and believe me, there have been people looking. Not quite as much now that Superman's missing, but there are still plenty of people who want to know what happened to that piece of Kryptonite. Come to think, there's something strange there…"
"You know how I said people aren't as interested now that Superman's missing? Well, some of them have been even less interested than the others. I hadn't really thought about it until just now, but they have definitely been asking fewer questions lately."
"They're not saying who they're working for, but I'll give you good odds it's Intergang."
"So they probably have Superman. Probably killed Flannegan, too."
"I don't know about that. They might well have Superman, but I don't think they're responsible for Flannegan. They were asking just as many questions as everyone else for the first few days there."
"That could have just been a cover."
"I guess. Doesn't feel like it, though. They seemed pretty sincere in the beginning."
"Hmm. I'll have to think about that. Thanks, Bobby."
"Sure thing, Lois."
After I hung up with Bobby, I called the 68th Precinct and asked for Officer Sawyer.
"Sawyer here." She sounded just as tired as the last time. I didn't know how she was managing.
"This is Lois Lane."
"Hi. Got anything new?"
"I was calling to see if you did."
"Oh. No, not really. Nothing on Flannegan. We're looking into it, but the trail's cold. I called the ME to ask about that green crystal, but it had already been thrown out. They only have so much room there, and with the case as it was — no leads in days, bad part of town, no family to even notify — there didn't seem to be much reason to keep things around. So, no way we can be sure, but I think it's clear enough that it wasn't a piece of a beer bottle. Especially since there wasn't even a trace of beer in his system."
"Was that it?"
"Well, actually… Do you know anything about where injured gang members would go to get patched up?"
"The ER, probably. They won't refuse anyone, and they're not allowed to ask too many questions."
"Well, there are always a few people who will do that sort of work. Doctors in the area who won't ask questions because they care more about treating the patients or because they don't want to get involved in anything illegal. Others who aren't really doctors, or aren't able to practice legally anymore. Why do you ask?"
"I heard that some of the injured gang members have been disappearing. The few that come back are the ones you told me about, the ones who were stronger and more aggressive."
There was a pause while she digested that. "I see," she said, after a moment. "That puts a new face on things. I'll mention it to some of the guys on the beat, let them know to keep an eye out. I'll call you if anything turns up."
"Thanks. Take care. Try to get some rest."
"I'll try. Bye."
When I put the phone down, Jimmy came over, looking a little stressed. He had a sheet of paper in his hand.
"I finished this a minute ago. It's the list you asked me for. I checked the ownership of all the buildings on the old list. Crossed off all the ones I couldn't trace back to CostMart. That wasn't as much as you might think. A couple years ago, Intergang bought up most of the buildings owned by Lexcorp. That's a lot of real estate that we know they own. There were some other properties I couldn't be sure of, so I left them in, just to be on the safe side. Left the abandoned ones, too, like that old air base outside of town. Anyone could be using that."
I blinked. He was right on that score. Jimmy didn't know it, but Jason Mazik had used that base as a hideout for exactly that reason.
"I crossed some places off because the lead-lined rooms are too publically accessible," Jimmy continued, "but that still leaves all of these. I can't be sure the list is complete, either. They could have lined a room without notifying the city. They had that whole complex under CostMart, right? The one Bill Church was using as his headquarters? The police have been keeping an eye on that, but there's no way to tell if Intergang built anything like that anywhere else."
"Thanks anyway, Jimmy. It was worth a look — at this point, any possible lead is worth a look — but I can't even be sure he is being kept in a lead-lined room. They might not feel the need, if they have Kryptonite. Lead only blocks that vision gizmo of his, and he won't be using that if he doesn't have his powers." Of course, it blocked sunlight, too, but the fewer people who knew that was important, the better. Besides, there were plenty of other things that blocked sunlight just as effectively. "Come to that, lead blocks Kryptonite. They might not want to take the chance that he could use it to shield himself."
"Yeah, I guess not."
"Don't worry about it, Lois. It felt good to be able to do something to try to help. I'm just sorry it didn't work out."
Jimmy wandered off, and I turned back to my desk. Not seeing anything better to do, I picked up the puff piece I hadn't managed to finish the day before. I was just putting the finishing touches on it (and wishing Clark was there to help me do it) when Henderson called.
"I got the autopsy report," he told me.
"What did it show?"
"He was shot in the chest at point-blank range. Three bullets, fired in quick succession. Spaced fairly widely apart, given the circumstances. From markings on the skin, it looks like he'd been tied down for a while. No other marks or cuts. Given the range, the fact that he was tied down, and the trajectory of the bullets, it looks like the gunman's hand was probably moving around. Shaking, maybe. Now, no one at the airport heard gunshots, and someone tied up would be fairly obvious. So, clearly the body was moved after death. No idea why anyone would want to dump a body there. Maybe it was an accident, or intended to send a message to someone. Who knows?"
I didn't know what I'd expected, but that wasn't it. Who would have done all that? Lex had undoubtedly made more than his share of enemies, but why tie him up, shoot him, and then leave his body at an airport? If it was supposed to send a message, what was the message and whom was it for? Was the message for me? It was, after all, the airport where —
"Lois? You there?"
"What? Oh, yeah. Sorry, Bill. I was just thinking…"
"Oh. Well, I'll let you do that, then."
"Thanks," I said, still distracted.
"Bye, Bill." I hung up the phone, absent-mindedly. It still didn't make sense. Sure, it was the same airport where we'd landed after Lex had proposed to me, but who would know about that? It was also the airport where Miranda had hijacked a plane, intending to spray the city with her pheromone. So many other things had happened there, too, over the years. Maybe one of Lex's business dealings? Or maybe the killer had simply been an amateur who'd decided to make it look like Lex was trying to flee the country, without really thinking things through. There were so many possibilities, and none of them seemed quite right. What was I missing?
When I woke up the next time, I was alone. I couldn't tell how long I'd been asleep, but it seemed like it had been a while. Listening to the TV, I realized it had been about ten hours. So, I was being given a chance to recover a bit from that last dose of Kryptonite. I certainly wasn't about to object. I stayed slumped, trying to look as sickly as possible, just in case I was being watched. It wasn't hard. I was still pretty weak, and my muscles were feeling stiff from having been held in pretty much the same position for so long. Still, I was feeling better than I had since I'd been captured. If I could keep it up, there was a chance that I could escape, or at least find out a little more about where I was. I tried listening, but all I could hear was the TV, which was still tuned to LNN. There were more stories about people I hadn't been around to save.
I think my captor meant to torture me with those, but they only served to make me angry. Hearing those stories reminded me that I wasn't the only one my captor was hurting by keeping me here. Quietly, I strengthened my resolve to escape.
I stretched my aching muscles as best I could. I needed to be ready for any opportunity. I tried my best to make it look like I was weak and confused, shifting around to try to get loose, but unable to do so effectively. I did take the opportunity to test my bonds, but they were still too tight to break.
When I'd done the best I could with that, I slumped again. I listened for a while to the news. There was a follow-up story on Luthor, but I could tell that they were only trying to hide the fact that they had no actual new information. They moved on, and I listened to see if there was anything else of interest. Sometime during the weather report, I fell back asleep.
I didn't really manage to get much done that afternoon. I worked as best I could, but my heart just wasn't in it. My thoughts kept wandering. I was trying to think of anything else I could do to find Clark. Towards the end of the workday, Bobby called me back. He gave me an address on the outskirts of the Slum. He said that a lot of the gangs had been taking their injured members there. Most of them were treated and then sent back home to recover, but some of them had been kept longer. Those weren't always the most seriously injured, though. There wasn't really a clear pattern that Bobby had been able to find. Some of them were low-ranking members, others were leaders. Most of them were known as fighters, but then, that was the reason they'd been injured in the first place.
I wondered how to investigate that further. Go undercover, probably, but in what guise? Or was there another way?
While I was thinking it through, I took the time to check my email. There was a new message from my admirer.
DATE: 02/03/96 05:32:47 PM
My dear Lois,
I just saw this evening's paper. I knew you wouldn't let me down. Congratulations on getting the story, and so quickly, too!
Wise of you to keep yourself as an anonymous source. I do believe the investigation has made some people rather upset. Be careful. They may decide to wonder why you got the scoop.
If you're up for it, I have another tip for you. Take a look into the medical treatment in Suicide Slum, particularly the gangs'. I'm sorry I can't be more specific yet, but I have confidence in your capabilities.
Best of luck. Take care.
Your Secret Admirer
No new information this time, but my admirer probably didn't know that. Still, it seemed like all the more reason I should check out that address Bobby had found. Looking at it, though, something bugged me. I had a feeling I'd seen it before, but I wasn't sure where. After a moment, I had a thought. I grabbed the paper Jimmy had left on my desk. There it was, towards the bottom of the list of lead-lined buildings owned by subsidiaries of CostMart.
Intergang was running a mysterious illegal hospital with disappearing patients, and they'd lined it with lead. How very interesting.
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1996
I looked back at the email, wondering about its author. Whoever it was had tipped me off to the smuggling operation, and now this hospital. Both were Intergang operations. This message also mentioned that "some people" had been upset by my investigation. Presumably, that referred to Intergang's higher-ups. Thinking about that raised quite a few questions. Just who was my "admirer"? Where was he getting his information? How was he connected to Intergang? Why was he sending it to me?
Jimmy hadn't been able to trace the message, but maybe I could get some answers another way. I'd considered responding to the previous message, but decided against it. It just hadn't seemed important enough at the time. For all I knew, it could have been a one-time thing. Now, though, I definitely wanted more information. I hit the "reply" button and started writing.
Thank you for your information. As you know, your first tip landed me with a front page scoop. I'm always grateful for a good tip, but it doesn't get much better than that!
As for your second tip, I was already aware of the medical facility you mentioned, but I appreciate you telling me. It's always good to have confirmation.
While we're on the subject of information, why don't you tell me a little more about yourself? I've never been one for the mysterious type. Part of the reason that I'm an investigative reporter is that I like to know about people — who they are, what they do, why they do it.
If you're nervous, don't worry. I know when to keep things to myself. I've gone to jail to protect my sources more than once.
Looking forward to hearing more from you,
When I was done typing, I looked it over carefully. It seemed good. It had an encouraging tone, but it made no promises. Hopefully, my "admirer" would choose to open up a little more in his reply. I had just hit "send" when Jimmy came by, probably on his way out for the day. When he asked what I was up to, I showed him the message.
"Hmm. Can I have a look at it?"
I didn't see why not. Maybe he'd find something this time. I stood up and waved him towards the keyboard. He read through the jumbled mess at the top, just as he had with the previous message. After a minute, he turned back to me.
"Do you still have the last one? I want to check something."
"Yeah, let me pull it up." Since Jimmy was still in my chair and since I didn't want him reading through all my mail, I leaned over and used the mouse to open the message. He checked back and forth, then grabbed a piece of scrap paper and a pen. He copied some things from both messages, then stood up.
"I think I may be able to get something, Lois. It'll take a while, but I've got an idea…"
"Whatever you can find, Jimmy. Thanks."
He smiled and started to leave, but then something occurred to me. "Jimmy, wait a sec!"
"I got an address for this hospital, the one the gangs use… I'm going to check it out tonight. I don't need a cameraman, but I could use some backup, just in case."
"You're asking me?"
"If you're up for it."
"Great. Thanks, Jimmy."
He shot me an excited grin, then, remembering the paper in his hand, dashed off.
I smiled at his enthusiasm, but only for a moment. These weren't particularly cheerful times, and I still had work to do. For one thing, I needed to get ready for my little visit to the hospital. I considered staking it out, trying to see if I could find any patterns in the comings and goings, but decided against it. It could take days, and that was time I didn't have. No, a more direct approach would be better. Maybe I'd be able to find something if I went in undercover.
If I was going to do that, though, I wanted someone to know where I'd be, just in case. So, I went over to Perry's office. Even though most of the staff had left for the day, I was not surprised to see that he was still working hard. Briefly, I brought him up to date on my investigations and my plans for the evening. He wanted to talk more, but I wasn't in the mood. I was tired and I had a fair amount ahead of me. I also missed Clark, not to mention my obvious worry. All in all, I was feeling less than social.
So, I threw off Perry's questions and went back to my desk. There, I picked up the phone and called Officer Sawyer. I was starting to feel like I should have her number on speed dial. Maybe when Clark was safe and the city was back to normal (it was going to happen; there simply wasn't any other option), we could take her out to lunch or something. It would be good to talk to her in better times, and in person.
"Sawyer here," said the now-familiar tired voice.
"Hi, it's Lois."
"Hi, Lois. You calling with questions or answers?"
"Questions, I'm afraid."
"Ah, well. It was worth a try. What do you need?"
"I was wondering if you could tell me about any of those gang members who were acting more aggressive. Have you brought any of them in, alive or otherwise?"
"No, they've always managed to escape arrest. I think a couple have died, but, if so, the bodies disappeared off the streets. The one time we did get a body in, it vanished from the morgue."
"So someone really doesn't want anyone to get their hands on these people. I think I know who, too, but I can't be sure just yet…"
"Hey, a theory is better than nothing."
I considered telling her about the hospital, but figured that it was probably better to wait. What I had so far was vague, and besides, involving the police now could make for some tricky legal situations. "Well, I've found a couple of leads pointing to Intergang. I'll be looking into one of them tonight. I'll let you know if I find anything."
"Good luck, then. Anything else?"
"Not that I can think of. I'll call you if something comes up."
"Okay, I'll do the same."
We said our goodbyes, and I went to find Jimmy. He was working at his computer, though I couldn't tell what he was doing, exactly. With a little persistence, I managed to get his attention for a minute.
"I'm going to go home and change," I told him. "When do you think you can be ready?"
"Anytime, I guess, but if I could have another hour or so…"
"Sure, Jimmy. That should be fine. I'll meet you here or down in the lobby."
"Okay, sure," he replied somewhat absently. He'd already turned back to the monitor and was typing at full speed before I'd taken a single step away.
Back home, I found a message on my answering machine from Martha and Jonathan. I hurried to call them back.
"Martha? It's Lois."
"Oh, thank goodness! Jonathan, it's Lois!"
"I got your call. Sorry I wasn't here to get it. I was still at work…"
"Oh, don't worry about that, dear. How are you? Have you heard from Clark?"
"I'm fine, Martha, but no, I haven't heard from Clark. I think I know who has him, but I still don't know where. I'm looking, though. Checking every lead I can find."
"We're coming over. We're booked on a flight out of Wichita first thing tomorrow morning."
"What? But, it's not safe here… Haven't you seen the news?"
"Of course we have," Jonathan said, "but we can take care of ourselves. We're not going to stay at home when our boy is in trouble."
"Where will you stay?"
"In Clark's apartment," Martha answered, as if it were obvious. "We have the keys."
"No! You can't stay there! That's where they took him from! If they saw someone else was staying there…"
Martha gasped. "They were in his *apartment*?"
"Do you think they might… know?" Jonathan asked nervously.
"I don't know. They might. There's no way to be sure."
"But, if they know… they could be after you, too!"
"No one's come after me yet, Martha. If they do, I'll deal with it. Don't worry. I'm being careful."
"Well, what can we do?"
"Just… stay there. I know it's hard, but it's too risky coming here. Please. I'm doing my best, but if they got you, too…"
"— I know. I'm being hypocritical, and probably selfish, too, but Clark's been taken, and I miss him, only I can't stop to let myself miss him or be worried about him because if I do, I'll never be able to go out there and find him, and I have to go out there because the police are too busy because without him, the city is a mess and there are gangs and they have guns and who knows what else and yesterday the streets were clogged because everyone was panicked but today it's even worse because there's hardly anyone on the road and if anything happens, there'll be no one to see it and now I have to go to one of the worst parts of town to investigate this gang-infested hospital because something's going on there and whatever it is, it's being done by the people who have Clark and if there's any chance that it's connected I have to risk it because I need Clark, the city needs him, the whole world needs him, and I'm the only one who can do it and if you were here and I had to worry about them getting you or someone else getting you because the whole city is going crazy and anything could happen and —"
"— We'll stay."
It took me a minute to register. I'd almost forgotten that there was someone on the other end. "What?"
"We'll stay," Martha repeated. "If that's really what's best, for Clark and for you, then we'll stay here."
"Thank you," I said, pulling myself back together. "It is best, trust me."
The weight of that trust settled on top of the pile of my responsibilities, but I hardly felt the difference. I was starting to feel as overwhelmed as I'd been as Ultrawoman. I didn't know how Clark dealt with it all.
"Yeah, I'm here. Sorry. Look, I should be going. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. If there's anything we can do…"
"I'll let you know. Thanks."
"You'll find him, dear. I know you will."
Her confidence gave me the strength I needed to get myself back on track. I didn't know how she had it in her. Maybe that was Clark's secret. Maybe he could deal with the responsibility of being Superman because his mother had taught him how. "Thank you," I said again, though the words felt inadequate. We said our goodbyes, and then I went to dig some long un-used clothes out of the bottom of my closet.
When I woke up again, I was alone. The TV was still on, still tuned to LNN. I listened for a while, but there wasn't much to hear. The city was still in chaos, but I couldn't tell how much of that was exaggeration for the sake of ratings. There wasn't anything I could do about it, in any case. The police were still looking into Luthor's death, but there was nothing new there. People were still out looking for me, but nothing new there, either. Stocks were down and the temperature was due to rise, but I wasn't too interested.
I focused on myself. I was feeling better, but I did my best not to show it. I knew I still wasn't ready to test my bonds again, but I did try to see through the blindfold. Nothing. I tried my hearing instead. There was the TV. I focused past it. There was a faint hum and a wooshing sound, which I eventually realized were caused by a fan pushing air through some ducts. I breathed in through my nose. There was the scent of dust and recirculated air, but nothing more than that.
I sat back and tried to ease my cramped muscles as best I could. After a while, my nose caught a new scent. Perfume. I tried my hearing again. There, footsteps. Far away, I thought, but I couldn't be sure. They were coming closer, though. I knew that much.
I waited. Still the footsteps came closer. They'd been relatively far, then. There were three sets, I thought, though it was hard to tell with the echoes. Closer still, and then they were outside the door. It opened. I turned my head towards the sound, as if I was groggy and had only just heard them. "Water," I said, my voice weak and rough. "Please." I was thirsty, although I wasn't in desperate need.
Mindy laughed delightedly, as if I'd performed some trick for her amusement. "Is there any water down here?" she asked a moment later.
"What? You'd actually give it to him?"
"It'll be fun," she said in her usual vacuous tones. "Besides, I thought you wanted to keep him around to play."
"Oh, very well." I heard him go out the door, leaving me alone with Mindy and presumably a guard.
"Where am I?" I asked, figuring it couldn't hurt to try.
"Tied to a chair, silly."
Oh well. It didn't sound like she was going to be very forthcoming. Better to change tacks. "Who are you?" I knew the answer, of course, but there was no reason to let her know that.
"Awwww. You don't remember me? I'm the nurse."
She'd been Bill Church's nurse before their wedding, I remembered. I tried to think of what else I could say, but before I came up with anything, the door opened again.
"Oh, thank you!" she said, all perky. I heard the sound of a bottle opening, and then she walked over. "Here you go," she said as if talking to a child or a pet. "Have some water, Supey-doll."
I felt the bottle against my lips. I sipped at it. The water felt good, but I didn't want to drink too eagerly, to appear too strong. I also didn't want to risk drinking too much and getting into trouble later. She poured too fast, though, and some spilled down my chin. I ignored it.
"Awww. Supey-doll's all wet. Here, let me dry you off…"
I felt her hands patting at my chest. It was disconcerting, but I did my best not to flinch away. The sound of shuffling feet told me that the man was shifting uncomfortably.
After a moment, Mindy apparently realized that she wasn't going to get a reaction from me. The hands left. "You've had your water," she said. "Now it's time for your medicine."
Pain again. I moaned for a while, but then forced myself to fall back and lie still, as if I'd passed out. The pain went away, and I heard the door open. I followed the sound of their footsteps down the corridor, but I couldn't keep track of them for long. I gave up and let sleep take me again.
When I got to the Planet, Jimmy was waiting for me in the lobby. "I got it!" he said as soon as I walked in.
"Your admirer's information! See, the message itself was designed not to give away anything, and the account was secure, but he forgot about the phones! He used the same server both times, so I tracked down the access number. Then I went into the phone company's records and got the list of everyone who'd called that number in the last few days. It was pretty long, but there was only one number connected at the times from both emails. I have the address here. It belongs to a Bob Maxwell. I did some digging on him. He's 32. No close relatives that I could find. Worked as a delivery driver for Global Parcel Express up until he suddenly quit last week. Was hired yesterday by CostMart, as a 'special inventory manager,' whatever that means. That's all I could find."
"That's a heck of a lot more than I had a few hours ago, Jimmy. You're amazing! Thanks!"
"You bet, Lo—" He stopped, suddenly, his jaw dropping. "Whoa! That's some outfit!" Apparently, he'd been so wrapped up in his explanation that he'd only just noticed.
"Uh, thanks, Jimmy," I said somewhat uncomfortably. I'd decided to go undercover as "Angel," the persona I'd used the previous year during the investigation of Sean Mallory and the resurrection pills. That meant clothes which were tight and cheap. I didn't really like it, but on the upside, I figured they would fit in with the crowd at the hospital. Hopefully, they'd even help make sure I wouldn't be recognized. They weren't anything like what I'd wear normally, and, as Jimmy was demonstrating, they could be fairly distracting. Hey, it worked for Clark.
We made our way to the Jeep, and then I drove to the address Bobby had given me. I parked across the street. "Stay here," I told Jimmy. "Keep out of sight. If anything happens, or if I'm not back in half an hour, call this number." I handed him my cell phone and a slip of paper with the number of the 68th Precinct. It was the closest, and at least some of the officers there knew me.
I got out of the Jeep and crossed the street. The building, like most of the ones in the area, looked like it had seen better days. More to the point, it looked like those better days had been years before I'd even been born. There was a sign over the door. "Our Lady of Mercy, First Church of Metropolis, Medical Clinic." I thought about that for a second. I knew the building was owned by CostMart, or at least one of its subsidiaries. If I was right about who was in charge, then Mindy Church, I decided, had an odd sense of humor.
Inside, it looked like a fairly ordinary charity clinic. At least the reception area did. I rushed up to the desk. "My brother! I have to find my brother!"
"Okay," the woman on the other side of the plexiglass window said in soothing tones. "Who's your brother?"
"Spike! Where is he? I gotta see him! Is he okay?"
"Spike? I see. Uhm, last name?"
"He's Spike! He's my brother! Where is he??"
"Calm down, miss. I just need some more information…"
Feigning impatience, I ran off, past the desk.
"Hey, you can't just —" the woman called after me, but I ignored her. "Oh, forget it," I heard her mutter. "Good luck, girl." As I'd hoped, this part of the hospital, at least, wasn't too secure. Having established myself as relatively harmless, I would be able to wander freely. Also, while I'd undoubtedly made an impression on the woman, I'd been quick enough that she quite likely wouldn't be able to describe me in more than general terms.
I moved from room to room. The larger ones had rows of beds, their occupants down with what looked to be relatively minor injuries. A few of them called out to me, but I ignored them, pretending to search for my "brother." I passed some smaller rooms — examining rooms, individual rooms for the more seriously injured patients, a couple of offices — but I didn't see anything particularly noteworthy. It all looked perfectly ordinary. I was beginning to wonder if my information had somehow been wrong when I heard a conversation that made me pause. It was coming from inside one of the single rooms. I leaned against the wall and listened in as best I could.
"You're recovering nicely, Rick. Soon enough, you'll be good as new. If you want, though, we can make you even better."
"Yes, like we did for your friend, Mike."
"What do I gotta do?"
"Come with me, and I'll show you."
I realized they were about to leave the room. Quickly, I ducked around the corner, then sat down on the floor, my back to the wall, my eyes closed. Just a girl waiting around in a little hospital that didn't have enough space for a visitor's lounge. They walked by without pausing. I waited until they were well past me before opening my eyes. Rick, a muscular-looking young man in a somewhat threadbare hospital gown, was being led down the hall by a man in a generic white coat. Cautiously, I stood up and followed them down the hall, staying far enough back so that they wouldn't realize I was trailing them. A few turns later, the doctor, if that's what he was, stopped in front of a door. He opened it with a key and led Rick inside. He closed the door behind them.
I approached it slowly. There was a sign that said, "Staff Only." There was a small window inset into the door. I looked inside. It appeared to be a medical supply closet. A locked storage room where they kept the medicines and other things that shouldn't be accessible to the general public. There was no sign of Rick or the man who'd been leading him. There was no one else in the hall. Deftly, I picked the lock, then slipped inside.
At first I didn't see anything unusual, but then, walking around, I spotted a second door on the other side of the room. It had been hidden from view by some shelves. A camera on the ceiling was aimed directly at it. It was solidly built, and it had an impressive-looking electronic lock. It did not have a window. Some words had been stenciled on it in blocky, vaguely military lettering. They said, "S. Rogers Memorial Wing. Authorized Personnel Only." A small sign below that read "Enter At Your Own Risk."
I didn't see any way to get through that door, and something told me that, even if I did, I'd only get myself into big trouble. I knew, too, that Jimmy was waiting for me outside, probably counting the minutes. I did have some time, though. I stopped to think if there was anything else I should do before I left.
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1996
I waited a moment, trying not to think about how dangerous it was to stay there. A few years ago, it wouldn't have even occurred to me to worry, but that was another life. That was B.C. — Before Clark. I'd mellowed a little since I'd met him. I could admit that to myself, if no one else. Now, with him in danger, I had to be doubly cautious. Not only was I working without Super backup, but I was endangering Clark's chances of rescue every time I risked myself.
Of course, my "doubly cautious" was probably someone else's "slightly daring," but that someone else was a boring person. Besides, I had to take some risks, or I'd never get anywhere. Speaking of which, I still needed a plan, and all this musing about risk wasn't helping.
I'd already decided that I needed to get out of that room before anyone spotted me. I could come back later, better prepared to get through the door. Maybe Jimmy would know a way to get past that electronic lock. Maybe there was another way in. A whole wing couldn't have just one door, could it?
Maybe, though, I could grab some records on my way out. Medical charts or admissions records could give me more information about who was picked and why. I slipped back out of the room and then walked casually down the hall. There was no one around. Obviously, this was not a particularly well-travelled corridor. Not surprising, really, since they wouldn't want to take the risk that someone would find the secret door. Someone like me, for example.
I wandered around, pretending to be lost. Nothing to see here. Just a harmless girl from the neighborhood, here to visit her brother, but too bubble-headed to keep track of all this new territory. I kept the persona in place, all the while directing my "wanderings" to an office I'd passed earlier. I'd seen a filing cabinet inside, and it seemed as good a place to look as any. The front desk would be more likely to have admissions records, but it was also an area where it was far easier to be spotted looking into the wrong things.
When I reached the office, I carefully glanced around. As I'd hoped, in keeping with the charity clinic facade, the room was sparsely furnished. There was no good place to hide a camera. I picked the cabinet's lock on my first try, then carefully slid the top drawer open. It was the one with the lock on it, and also the most easily accessible. It seemed like the best place to start. I skimmed through the folder labels, looking for any ones containing "Rick," "Mike," or any variation.
After glancing through about a dozen files, I was pretty sure I'd found the two I'd been looking for. Riccardo Martinez and Michael Harisson. There was a fair amount of medical jargon, but my father was a doctor and my mother had been a nurse. I remembered enough to get the gist of most of it, and I certainly had no trouble understanding phrases like "possible candidate for special treatment."
Riccardo, it seemed, had come in with a broken leg. Michael had been shot in the arm. Both were relatively minor wounds — enough to keep them in the clinic for a while, but nothing life- threatening. Both had apparently met certain criteria involving, among other things, blood type, muscle development, and various physical proportions. Both also fit some kind of psychological profile, and had the "correct group affiliation to maintain the balance."
I was wondering what that was supposed to mean when I heard footsteps in the hallway. I hurriedly replaced the files, then eased the drawer closed and sat down in a chair, as if I was waiting for the doctor. I tried to think up some story, but fortunately the footsteps moved past the door. I waited a little while longer, just to be sure, then got the files back out.
I didn't have time to read any more, I knew, and the outfit I was wearing left no place to hide them. Fortunately, I'd come prepared. In my purse was a small camera that I kept for just such an occasion. It was a cheap model. Not the best quality, by any means, but it wouldn't be too hard to explain why "Angel" was carrying it around. With decent lighting and a short focus, the pictures should come out clearly enough.
Keeping an ear out for trouble, I hastily took a snapshot of each page. Then I carefully put the folders back together, replaced them in their proper locations, and closed the drawer. It took a little while to lock the drawer, since I was more skilled at to using my picks to open looks, but I managed to get it right.
I listened at the door before opening it again. When I was as sure as I'd ever be that there was no one nearby, I got back in character, put on the vaguely sheepish expression of someone who had yet again gotten lost and wandered into the wrong room, and stepped back out into the hallway.
I wandered around for a little while until I happened across a staff member who seemed to be taking a break, or at least not going anywhere in a particular hurry. I saw his eyes flick up and down when he saw me and noticed that his posture straightened a little. I smiled at him. A faint blush colored his cheeks. I walked over. "Hi, can you help me? I think I'm a little lost. I was looking for my brother, but he's not here. Now I can't find my way out. These hallways are so confusing!"
He smiled. "Yeah, they look a lot alike, don't they? Took me a while to get used to it when I first started working here. Come with me. I'll take you back to the lobby."
"Oh, thank you!" I said, flashing him a bright smile. This must be what it felt like to be Mindy Church, I thought suddenly. It was not an especially pleasing realization.
He led me down the hall, occasionally asking questions. I fed him my cover story, but thwarted all attempts at any kind of lasting conversation with strategic flakiness. Even as I concentrated on deflecting his conversational thrusts with deceptively fluffy finesse, I realized our path to the lobby was somewhat more circuitous than necessary. I worked the phrase "my boyfriend, Sean" into my artful babblings, and noted with amused satisfaction that our next turn put us on a more direct route.
Once we were close enough that the lobby door was clearly visible, my guide pointed it out and, claiming he needed to return to work, took his leave. I smiled to myself. Now, if anyone at the clinic asked about me, I'd be remembered as a complete airhead who had come frantically searching for her brother, only to find out that she was in the wrong hospital. I walked past the desk, looking disappointed and confused. The woman behind it was busy and didn't really seem to notice me.
When I got back to the Jeep, Jimmy looked intensely relieved to see me. He settled down quickly, though, and before I'd driven more than a block away, he started asking questions. I told him about my wanderings and the door I'd found.
"S. Rogers?" he repeated when I got to that part. "Whoa, just like Captain America!"
"Captain America. From the comic books."
I'd known that much. I had a vague image of a man in a red, white, and blue costume which, for some reason, had wings over the ears.
"His real name is Steve Rogers," Jimmy added after a brief pause.
I shook my head. Only Jimmy could hear a name from a serious investigation of an Intergang-owned hospital and somehow connect it with a comic book character. He continued to babble for a while about World War II, patriotism, an invulnerable shield that somehow acted like a boomerang, and some kid named Bucky. I ignored it, lost in more pressing thoughts. Then, something filtered its way up through my consciousness. "Wait a second, Jimmy. Say that again."
"Say what again?"
"That part about Rogers and the government project."
"Oh. Sure. It was World War II, and the government was trying to develop something to help win the war. They had this secret program, kind of like the Manhattan Project, except that this one wasn't supposed to make a bomb. They were trying to make a better soldier. So, they picked this guy, Steve Rogers, as a test subject. He was no one special. Just a private in the army. Scrawny, but with a good heart. Someone willing to volunteer, and who would be loyal, but also someone they thought was expendable, in case something went wrong. They took him to this lab and injected him with an experimental formula called 'Super Soldier Serum.' Just after that, though, one of the scientists started trashing the lab. Turns out he was a Nazi spy. The place blew up, and Steve was the only survivor.
"Without the lab and the scientists, there was no way to make any more of the serum. The only people who knew the formula were dead and all their notes had burned up with the lab. But Steve had gotten his dose, and it'd worked. He was stronger, faster, more agile… 'the peak of human potential.'
"Now, they'd been planning on making a whole army of super soldiers, but obviously, without the formula, they couldn't do that. So they decided to take Steve and make him into Captain America, a leader and a living symbol, a focus for the troops. Because of the serum, he was able to do things that no one else could.
"So they trained him and gave him this costume and a bullet-proof shield… Well, actually, the shield was supposed to have been the hatch of a tank, but due to one of those strange accidents that keep popping up in the comics, the metal was turned into something called 'Vibranium.' Completely invulnerable. Able to absorb the kinetic energy from any impact and distribute it away. Something like that. Cap used to jump out of airplanes and land on it, and it would absorb the impact. It was pretty cool.
"So, anyway, they took the hatch and made it into a shield and gave it to Steve and had him train with it. Then they sent him to go fight the war as Captain America. He led the troops and went on these missions and…"
I let the babble flow over me again as I thought over what he'd said. The part about the tank and the shield was just weird and confusing, but the description of the project… Could Jimmy actually be right? Could S. Rogers be a reference to the comic book superhero, an in joke they'd never expected anyone to get?
The pieces fit, all too well. Gang members were being offered a chance to be made "better." Many were disappearing, but the ones who came back were stronger, faster, and generally better fighters. Someone was taking pains to make sure that if they died, their bodies were never found.
If Intergang was trying to develop better soldiers, then the gangs would make ideal test subjects. From Intergang's point of view, they were completely expendable, but at the same time, they were locked in war with each other, these days more than ever. It would make them look for an edge, something to make them better than the rest. Some of them would be more than willing to take a risk if it meant a chance of getting what Intergang was promising.
Intergang would take those volunteers and experiment on them. They'd have to let at least some of them back out, or they'd run out of volunteers. If the gangs saw that it worked, though, more members would be willing to try.
The bodies were disappearing. What did that mean? Obviously, they were keeping track of their experiments. Probably watching to see how well things worked. They wouldn't want anyone else to see what they'd done, because that would raise suspicions. They'd probably also want to run more experiments, to improve the process. So that fit, too.
The reference to "balance" suddenly clicked. For things to work, Intergang would need to carefully maintain the balance of power between the gangs. If one got too strong, it could take over the Slum. Then its members wouldn't have as much of a reason to risk volunteering.
What else was there? The guns. How did those fit in? Was Intergang supplying them? If so, how? More importantly, why? Supplying the guns would escalate the gang wars, increasing the number of wounded. That, in turn, would send more people to the hospital, giving Intergang's scientists more potential subjects. Was that it, I wondered, or could there be something else going on?
Other questions… Just what could I do about the hospital and the lab? I could call Sawyer and tell her what I suspected, but I had no solid proof. That aside, what about Clark? Was there any chance this was connected to him? Could he be in the lab? I needed to know more. Tomorrow, I could make some calls, but for tonight, there was only one other thing I could do. I needed to get those pictures developed.
"Decades later, they found him and thawed him out. Because of the serum, he survived intact and because he'd been frozen, he hadn't aged. So then…"
Jimmy was still talking about his comic books! He'd actually been babbling away the whole time. I didn't think even I could babble that much. Didn't he realize I hadn't been listening? Or was he just that wrapped up in his own story? Well, whatever the case, I still needed to get those pictures taken care of.
"… and that's when they made him the leader of the Avengers. He was a natural at it, of course. Able to direct —"
"That's great, Jimmy, but if you don't mind my interruption, I could use a favor…"
"— each team member in a way that… What? Oh, a favor? Uh, yeah… What do you need?"
"In my purse over there is a camera. I used it to take pictures of some files in the clinic. Can you develop them for me? Preferably without letting anyone else seeing them."
"Sure, no problem. I'll be careful."
"Thanks, Jimmy. Oh, there's something else…"
"Yeah? Anything I can do to help, Lois, you got it."
"Thank you. I'm glad I can count on you."
"You bet," he said, smiling. "So what do you need?"
"I want to go back to the hospital, see what else I can find, but I'm going to need to be better prepared next time. See what you can dig up for me? Blueprints for the building and the ones next to it, and anything else you can find. Also, I'm going to need some way to get past security. The door I saw had a camera on it and some kind of electronic lock. If there are any other doors, they'll probably be just as well guarded. The place has probably got a backup generator, even if I was willing to cut the power to a hospital, so I'm going to need something that can get me through. The camera I can probably take care of with the old Polaroid trick, or even just a can of spray paint, but I'll need some way to get around that lock."
"Electronic lock? I don't know. I'll see what I can do…"
"Anything you can come up with would be great."
"Well, maybe… Actually, you know what? I don't have the stuff to deal with a lock like that, but I know just the guy to ask — Jack!"
"Great idea, Jimmy!" I'd completely forgotten about Jack. He'd worked at the Planet for several months a couple years back, but hadn't rejoined the staff after the place had been rebuilt. He'd claimed that it hadn't felt right. Originally, he'd been implicated in the bombing which had destroyed the building, and, although he'd been cleared, he'd felt that people still treated him as if he'd been guilty. So Clark had used a contact to get him a job offer at a home security company. There, he was able to put his talents to good use, helping to identify vulnerabilities in the systems as they were being designed. I'd lost touch with him, but I knew that he and Jimmy were still friends. Jimmy was right; if anyone could help me get past the hospital's security, it would be Jack.
"I'll call him tomorrow," Jimmy said, a note of excitement in his voice. "See what he can come up with."
I dropped him off at his place not long after that, then headed home myself.
When I woke up again, I was alone. From the TV, I could tell that it was late at night. I was still tired, weak, and sore, but I was feeling better than I had, none the less. Slowly, I was gathering my strength. Still, I didn't really have very much that I could do. I wasn't strong enough to break free, and the TV wasn't telling me anything I needed to know.
I decided to see if I could figure out where I was being held. I replayed everything in my mind. What did I know? Mindy Church was one of my jailers, but she hadn't been the one to originally capture me. The man had done that, and he'd said something about my capture getting him into Mindy's "little club." So, he hadn't been associated with Intergang before.
When I had woken up that first time, Mindy had been skeptical that I was really Superman. By her reaction, I could be fairly sure that that encounter had been the first time she'd seen me since my capture. So, I probably wasn't on Intergang property.
The last time I'd woken up, I had gained enough strength to hear footsteps from fairly far away, but I hadn't been able to hear anything else. For that matter, I'd never heard any footsteps other than those belonging to my captors. So, I was probably in a fairly secluded place. Maybe someplace soundproofed, too.
That same time, Mindy had asked the man if there was any water available. That confirmed that I wasn't on Intergang property, and it also said a fair amount about just how isolated this place was. When the water had come, it had been bottled. That was probably important, too.
On the other side of the seclusion issue was the fact that my captors came to visit every day. I probably wasn't too far from the city if they could do that. Perhaps even somewhere in the city itself. There was also the TV. LNN was a cable channel. There might be a satellite dish, but Mindy had specifically said "down here" when asking about the water. It might just mean that I was south of the city, but it seemed more likely that I was underground. The recirculated air lent credence to that conclusion.
The construction might also give me a clue, I realized. The walls were made of concrete. I'd known that from the start; the echoes produced by the material were fairly distinctive.
What sort of place was I in? Someplace underground, isolated from any obvious sounds. Someplace where no one went. Someplace in or near the city. Someplace with concrete walls. Someplace stocked with bottled water. A bomb shelter seemed the most obvious conclusion, but the long corridors suggested this place was much bigger than you'd expect a bomb shelter to be.
I puzzled it over, but got no further. I tried again to see through the blindfold. Nothing. I'd been able to hear footsteps from fairly far away, but I still couldn't x-ray through the blindfold. I couldn't be sure, but that probably meant that it had a layer of lead. That didn't necessarily say anything about where I was, though; my captors might simply have decided to be extra cautious.
I still didn't know where I was, but I'd gotten a good start. I resolved to stay alert for any other possible clues. Maybe, if I could pin down a location, I'd be able to do something with that information. It seemed like my best hope.
Thursday, Feb. 4, 1996
When I came into work in the morning, the first thing I did was to check my email. Sure enough, my admirer had sent me another note.
DATE: 02/04/96 07:14:23 AM
RE: RE: Congratulations!
*My Dear Lois,
I'm glad my information about the ship was so helpful to you. I'm sorry that my other tip was not as useful, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you'd already known. Your resourcefulness never ceases to impress. Just one of your many fine qualities.
I must admit, however, that I am a little worried. I have heard that certain people suspect that there was an intrusion last night at the facility in question. They haven't confirmed anything yet, and to my knowledge, the perpetrator has not been identified. Whether or not it was you, I advise caution. You must take care of yourself, particularly with your famous friend unavailable.
As for myself, I do appreciate your interest. I'm sorry that I can't be more forthcoming just yet. My situation at the moment requires that I, too, maintain a certain level of caution. I trust you, of course, but there are still risks involved. I'm sure you understand. When circumstances improve, as I am confident they will, I'll be happy to share more with you. Until then, it would be better if you would direct your curiosity to other matters.
Actually, I have something which may well serve the purpose. There is still the medical facility, of course, but you may prefer to let that situation cool down a trifle. I believe that some new weapons are about to hit the streets, if they haven't begun to do so already. Their source is connected with the organization in charge of the clinic. I regret that I can't tell you more, but I've heard people call him "The Dealer." I don't think I have to tell you to be careful if you go looking for him. The weapons he sells are extremely dangerous, and the man himself no less so.
Best of luck. Stay safe.
Your Secret Admirer*
So, he wasn't willing to talk about himself, huh? Not surprising, really. Oh well, it had been worth a shot. I had other ways of finding out about Mr. Bob Maxwell. He didn't know that, of course, and it was probably better that things stayed that way. I looked around for Jimmy, but he wasn't in sight. A staffer told me that she thought he was working in the darkroom. Undoubtedly developing the pictures from last night. I reminded myself to ask him about Maxwell later.
In the meantime, I had other things that needed to be done. I reached for the phone and called the 68th Precinct.
"MPD. Can I help you?"
"This is Lois Lane. Can I speak to Officer Sawyer, please?"
"Sawyer? She's not in. They finally got her to take some time off and get some rest. She'll be back in tonight, I'm sure."
"Oh, thanks." The news was a relief, but frustrating at the same time. I was glad that Sawyer was taking care of herself, but I'd wanted to talk to her about the clinic.
"Sure. Anything else I can do for you, Lane?"
I thought about it. I didn't have anything solid. There wasn't really anything they could do about it yet. "No, that's okay. Nothing that can't wait a bit longer."
"Okay, then. Bye."
I was about to hang up when I was struck by a sudden thought. "Oh, wait a second."
"I don't know how reliable it is, but I got a tip today that some new weapons may be hitting the streets soon. A few of them might be out there already."
"New guns? Aw, great. Just what we needed."
"Yeah, I know…"
"This source of yours tell you where they're coming from?"
I almost said "Intergang," but thought better of it. I didn't really know the cop on the other end, and there was always the chance someone else was listening in. I did want to warn the MPD, just in case, but I didn't want to take unnecessary chances. "Some guy who calls himself 'The Dealer.' You heard of him?"
"I've heard a few rumors, but nothing more than that."
"Oh well. At least the name's right."
"Yeah, I guess. Thanks for the info."
"Sure. Be careful out there."
"We'll do what we can."
"Right. Good luck."
I hung up, then considered my next step. I decided to see what Vinnie could tell me. It wasn't much, as it turned out. Vinnie had heard of the Dealer, but said he was part of "the competition." Apparently, there was some kind of cold war going on between Intergang and Vinnie's "associates." Neither group went after the other directly, for fear that it would result in large messy clashes, which would only serve to attract more public attention than either wanted. They did keep tabs on each other, but the Dealer had managed to maintain a delicate balance between secrecy and power. Put simply, watching him was more trouble than it was worth.
So, that hadn't been much help. Maybe Bobby would know more.
"Bobby, it's Lois."
"Hi, Lois. What do you need?"
"Do you know anything about a guy called 'The Dealer'?"
"Him? Yeah, I've heard of him. Not someone you really want to mess with."
"Well, I heard he may be selling high-powered weaponry to the gangs. I'm sure he's dangerous, but anyone who puts guns in the hands of teenagers so they can shoot each other needs to be stopped. So, what can you tell me?"
"He is known for guns. He's also got connections. Rumors say those connections are with Intergang, but I can't be sure of them. Supposedly, he likes to play poker. At least, I heard the name has as much to do with poker as it does with selling guns. Beyond that, not much. He works out of some place in the northeast corner of the Slum, the part closest to the harbor. They say that he doesn't let anyone but his buyers know where to find him, and he picks his buyers carefully. That's all I've got."
"Carefully? He's selling to gang members."
"Yeah, that's new. I'll tell you, though, if they're buying from him, it's because he chose them."
"Hmm. Well, thanks, Bobby."
"You're welcome," he said heavily. "I just hope I'm doing the right thing telling you." He sighed. "If I hadn't, you'd have found out some other way, most likely. Just… be careful, will you?"
"I will. Thanks."
"Yeah. Bye, Lois."
I was mulling over the conversation when Jimmy came by.
"Here are the pictures, Lois. I claimed the darkroom first thing, so no one else got in to see them."
"Sure thing. Oh, and I talked to Jack. He can get us something that should open that lock you mentioned, but he's not sure what else he can do. There are bound to be guards, and he can't do much about them, especially not if you can't take out the lights. No way to tell what other security they have, either."
"Right. Well, it's a start. Maybe the blueprints will help, if we can get them."
"I'll see what I can do. I should be able to get the ones for the main clinic and the buildings near it, but there's no guarantee that things haven't changed. And whatever is on the other side of that door, I don't think they'd have filed blueprints for it anywhere that I could find."
"Whatever you can get, Jimmy. Oh, and whatever you can find about Bob Maxwell, too."
"I'll get right on it."
He nodded and dashed off.
I looked through the pictures. They looked pretty clear. Jimmy had done an impressive job. He'd even blown them up so that they could be more easily read. Now I just needed someone to read them. I picked up the phone.
"Dr. Klein? This is Lois Lane. I was wondering if I could ask a favor of you."
"Sure, what is it?"
"I have some medical records of people whom I think were being illegally experimented on. Would you be able to take a look at them for me?"
"Medical records? Those are supposed to be confidential…"
"A hospital isn't supposed to use its patients as guinea pigs, either."
"That's a good point. Well, as long as you have the records, I can take a look at them, I guess."
"Thanks, I'll send them right over."
"Sure, you do that. Uhm, excuse me. I just remembered that I've got a rather delicate mixture brewing in the lab. It's really interesting, actually. It turns out that if you immerse a chunk of pure osmium in liquid helium and add —"
I interrupted hastily. "I'm sure it's fascinating, but didn't you just say you needed to go take care of it?"
"Oh, right. Thanks. Bye."
I heard the sound of a phone being put down, but no dial tone came. In the background, I could hear the clattering of lab equipment. He must not have hung up quite right. I shook my head and hung up my end. He'd find out in time. I hoped. I put the pictures in an envelope, scribbled a quick note, and called a courier service. Someone would come to pick it up within twenty minutes, I was told. I tried to think of what else I could do. I realized that I could do some digging of my own into the mysterious Mr. Maxwell. I pulled out the phone book.
"Global Parcel Express, Human Resources division. This is Diane. How can I help you?"
"Hi, this is Ellen Samuelson. I'm the manager of Luigi's Pizza and Subs. I'm considering hiring a Bob Maxwell as one of my delivery drivers. He listed GPX as a reference, but didn't leave any more detail. I was wondering what you could tell me."
"Bob Maxwell? Let me check the system. Oh, yes. Worked as one of our drivers for just about ten years. Evaluations list him as 'steady' and 'reliable.'"
"I see. Do you know why he's no longer employed there?"
"Says here he quit, for 'personal reasons.'"
"Is there anything else you can tell me?"
"No, that's pretty much all I've got here."
"Well, do you know who wrote those evaluations? Is there any chance I could speak with him?"
"You're being awfully thorough, aren't you?"
"We had some problems with our last driver. We're trying to be more careful this time."
"I guess. Let's see… his manager was Ed Portman. Ed's in the 51st street office. That's 555-8031."
"Glad to be of service. Have a good day."
I pressed the button to hang up the call, then dialed the number she'd given me.
"Global Parcel Express."
"Hi, I'm looking for an Ed Portman."
"Oh. One sec."
I heard hold music, but thankfully it wasn't more than a minute or so before it went away.
"Is this Ed Portman?"
"Yes. Who's calling?"
"This is Ellen Samuelson. I'm the manager of Luigi's Pizza and Subs. I'm considering hiring Bob Maxwell as one of my delivery drivers. He listed you as a reference. I was wondering what you could tell me."
"Oh, Bob? Huh. I thought he was done being a delivery driver."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, he quit. Said he felt like he was driving all around town, but not really going anywhere. Something like that. Said he had plans. Was going to make something more of himself. Midlife crisis, I figured. Must not have gotten too far, if he's looking to hire on with you. Guess he just didn't want to come back here, after saying all that."
"I suppose. He didn't really say what he was planning to do."
"Yeah, that's Bob, all right. Never was much of a talker. I think that little speech when he quit was the most he ever said to me in one day."
"Oh? Was he not very social?"
"No, not really. Nice enough guy, but he pretty much kept to himself. I think that's why he was so happy as a driver. Spent most of the day in his truck, never really had to talk to anyone. Not that he was rude or anything, mind you. Customers never had a problem with him. No one ever had a problem with him, come to that. He never bothered anyone. I guess that about sums it up, really. He never bothered anyone."
"I see. Do you know what he did outside of work?"
"He never really said. He had a few buddies he hung around with, guys he was comfortable with, you know? Met a couple of them now and again. Good guys, but I don't think they really knew him, either. He was just someone they hung around with sometimes."
"Hmm. Do you think there's any chance he was… involved with something?"
"Bob? Are you kidding me? What makes you ask that?"
"We had some trouble with our last driver…"
"Oh. If you say so. Anyway, I can't see Bob doing anything that wasn't completely above board. He just never seemed the type. Never seemed the type for much, actually. Bob was just sort of… there."
"Sure. And hey, you want my advice? Hire him. He's a good driver, knows what he's doing. Smiles at the customers, otherwise leaves them alone. You could do a lot worse, trust me."
"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
We said our goodbyes, and I hung up. I sat back, thinking about what I'd learned. The image Ed had presented didn't seem to fit at all with the man who'd been sending me information about Intergang. Ed had spoken about a nice, if boring guy. Someone you would never expect to be involved in criminal activities. Someone who'd been content with the same job for nearly a decade.
Sure, the shy quiet types did have a tendency to be doing more than you'd really expect. They also tended to be a lot less shy when they had a computer between them and everyone else. Even so, it seemed odd that he'd quit his job out of the blue, somehow get involved with Intergang, and then start sending me tips on their activities. Just what had happened to change everything so suddenly? It didn't seem to make much sense.
I was still thinking it over when the phone rang.
"Lois? It's Bill Henderson."
"Oh, hi, Bill."
"I got some information that I thought you might want to know."
"It's about Lex Luthor. We still haven't been able to find out where he was killed — just haven't had any good leads there — but something interesting did turn up at the lab. You know how every gun makes a distinctive pattern on the back of the bullets it fires? Well, one of the techs was looking at the bullets from another case that recently got moved up in priority, and he thought the pattern looked familiar. He checked around, and they matched the ones from Luthor's body."
"So the same gun was used to kill Lex and someone else?"
"Right. The other guy's name was… let me see… Otis Flannegan."
"Otis Flannegan? That's the guy who had the Kryptonite!"
"Yeah, that's why the case was reopened. He found a piece of Kryptonite. He was going to auction it off, but before he could, someone shot him and took it."
"Wow. You'd think he'd have been more careful if he'd just told everyone that he had the stuff."
"That was the really odd thing. He was being careful, until he suddenly decided to take a walk through the back alleys of Suicide Slum."
He blew out a whistling breath. "That name has never sounded more appropriate."
"Tell me about it. Anyway, no one seems to know who did it or how they knew Otis was going to be there. The whole thing stinks, even more so because the murder wasn't that long before Superman's disappearance."
"Oh boy. Yeah, I can see why the case was bumped up. I wonder what the link is with Luthor."
"Me too. Both of them were shot with the same gun, in the chest, at close range, but Lex was tied down and Otis apparently walked right up to his killer. Who would want to kill both of them? Who would know where to find them? Lex made a lot of enemies, but if it was revenge, why didn't the killer do anything else to him?" I sighed. "There are just too many missing pieces."
"Well, now we have one more."
"Yeah. Thanks, Bill."
"No problem. Talk to you later."
So now I had even more to think over. One more answer, half a dozen more questions. I tried to sort through it all, but hadn't gotten any further when the courier came for the pictures. I sent him on his way, then got back to thinking. I still hadn't gotten anywhere when Jimmy came back.
"I got the blueprints for the buildings in the area. Don't know what's changed since they were filed, but at least it's something. Here's the hospital building. It looks like there are side doors here and here."
I looked where he was pointing and tried to put the image together with my memories of the inside of the building. One door opened into the clinic itself. Probably a staff entrance. The other went to the back of the building. It looked like it might go to the Rogers wing. There was no way to be sure, though; I didn't even know how big the Rogers wing was, or even if it was above ground. Security was probably just as tight on the back door, too, but at least I wouldn't have to go through the clinic again. It was something to consider. "Jimmy, what's outside this door here?"
"That one? Let me see…" He pulled out a diagram of the block. "It should open into this alleyway here, behind this warehouse."
I thought about it. A back entrance like that would make sense if they needed to get sensitive materials such as expensive lab equipment into and out of the building. So, it probably did go to the Rogers wing, eventually. "Who owns the warehouse?"
"Uhm, let me see… It's owned by FoodUcopia. They stopped using it, though, because they had too many problems with security. It's been on the market for a while. I guess they didn't find anyone willing to buy. Not surprising, really. It's not like the area's any safer now. So, I guess it's pretty much vacant."
I nodded. Intergang couldn't have asked for better neighbors. They didn't have to buy the place outright, but, at the same time, they didn't have to worry about anyone seeing or hearing anything that they shouldn't. Ironically, that could work in my favor, too. I could use it for cover. I wasn't sure if I still did want to go back there, but at least I had a good start if I did decide to go through with it. The warehouse might make a good place to set up surveillance, too, but I didn't know if I could afford the time for that.
"Thanks, Jimmy. This could be really helpful."
"Sure, Lois. Oh, and I did some more digging on Bob Maxwell. Didn't find too much more than I already gave you, though. I tried to find out where he's working, but all I could find was that he's being employed by CostMart. No information about where, and I still can't get any more idea of what he's doing for them than that title. 'Special Inventory Manager.' That could mean anything…"
I'd had a thought about that, but there was no way to be sure. He'd been hired the day after Clark had been kidnapped, but that didn't necessarily mean that "Special Inventory" referred to Superman.
"Sorry I couldn't get anything more for you…"
"That's okay, Jimmy. You got plenty. It's amazing that you even got a name and address, let alone the employment history and everything else."
"Thanks. I do what I can. Speaking of which, I should get back to work. The Chief wants me to finish updating the Planet's website today."
"Good luck, Jimmy."
He nodded, already running off.
I went over to Perry's office to update him on what I'd found and what I suspected. He was interested, but had nothing to offer that I hadn't thought of myself. Still, it was good to keep him informed. After that, I went back to my desk and updated my notes. I wanted a clear record of everything, and sometimes it helped to get it all on paper. I was jotting down a few random speculations when the phone rang.
"Lois? This is Bernard Klein. I got the files you sent. They do look suspicious. There's a lot more information here than the doctors should really need for these cases. Some of it I'm not sure why they'd need at all. Do you have any idea what they were trying to do?"
"I'm not sure, but I think they were experimenting on these people, trying to turn them into some kind of physically enhanced soldier."
"Oh my. Well, that might explain some of these tests… physical measurements, chemical compatibilities… hmm…"
"Can you tell anything from that? See what they were doing?"
"I don't know. I can figure out some of the types of chemicals they're probably using. Let's see… some kind of specialized steroid… something that interacts with adrenaline… uhm… modified endorphins… hmm… a fair number of immune system tests here, not sure what those are for… let's see… that looks like a neurological work-up… I can only guess what that's about… Sorry, Lois. I'd need more information to tell you anything else."
"That's okay. But you're sure that those tests would have been unnecessary under normal circumstances?"
"Oh, yes. There's no reason to have done most of these tests if they were only trying to treat the wounds noted here. A few of them I could see on a precautionary basis, but even that would be a stretch. This is a charity clinic, you said?"
"Yes, at least that's their story."
"If that's the case, then I certainly can't see why they'd use the money and resources to do all these tests. Some of them are pretty expensive. I don't even know how they did some of them. It doesn't look like they were sent to an outside lab, but I can't see how a charity clinic would have the facilities to do these antibody titres, let alone this whole adrenal panel. I don't see how they can justify getting the electrophoresis gels you'd need for these genetic screenings, either. They're not that bad, but they shouldn't have enough of a need for them to be willing to stand the expense."
"Thanks, Doctor Klein. That helps a lot."
"Sure. Let me know if you find anything else."
"I will. Bye."
I turned back to my notes. I added in the newest information while it was fresh in my mind, and sat back to consider the possibilities. It was definitely suspicious, but I doubted it would be enough. I wondered, though, if I should continue the investigation myself. Clark was still my priority, and I had nothing to show that the clinic had any connection to him. Just a vague suspicion that Bob, who had pointed me there, might know where Clark was being held. Not knowing Bob's motives, however, there was no way to tell if he would point me towards or away from Clark. Of course, I didn't have any better leads to follow…
The phone jolted me out of my musings.
"This is Maggie Sawyer. One of the boys told me you'd called." She still sounded tired, but it sounded like she'd rested relatively well. At least she didn't sound completely exhausted.
"Oh, yes. I wasn't expecting you to be in yet."
"Bad enough that I slept as long as I did."
"You needed it."
"Yeah, I guess."
"You can't do everything. Not even Superman can. If you want to take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself first." A little voice in the back of my head piped up to say "look who's talking…" but I ignored it.
"I know. So I did. Now I'm back. What were you calling about?"
I chuckled for a moment, then turned serious. "I wanted to let you know about a suspicious hospital. The 'First Church of Metropolis Medical Clinic.' You know the place?"
"Charity clinic, on the other side of the slum."
"Yeah, that's it. I went to check it out last night. I think they're the source of those 'special' gang members you've been running across. I think Intergang is using the clinic as a front for a lab. They're trying to develop some kind of process to make super soldiers, and they're using the gangs as guinea pigs. Unfortunately, the closest thing I have to proof is a copy of a pair of medical files. They show that the clinic's doctors did a lot of testing — much more than they had any reason to do, and definitely more than they should have been able to afford. Other than that, I overheard one of the doctors offering a patient the chance to be made 'better.' He agreed and was taken to a secret door in the back of a supply closet. A door with a very expensive electronic lock."
She blew out a breath. "Wow… Okay, that would explain a lot. Without proof, though, I don't think there's much we can do. Not officially. Officially, we shouldn't even look at those records. I could go down there, show my badge, and ask a few questions, but I think that would do more harm than good at this point."
"Yeah, better not to let them know that the police are interested. Besides, if it's as big as it seems, they might send someone after you."
"I can take care of myself. Still, it doesn't seem worth the risk this time. I'll see what I can do that is worth the risk. Thanks for letting me know. Oh, and thanks for the tip about the guns, too. That came just in time. Don't tell anyone else, but one of the guys out on patrol came across a gang member with a very unique weapon. A multiple grenade launcher or something like that. Kid fired off tear gas, some kind of acid, and several explosive rounds before he ended up bringing a building down on top of himself. Don't think we'll be able to recover the body or the weapon, but thankfully no one else was hurt."
"That's… not good."
"No, and I'm not looking forward to seeing what turns up next."
"Well, I've got a lead or two on the source. Goes by 'The Dealer.' I'm going to see what else I can find on him."
"Good luck. We'll be looking, too."
"Good luck to you too, then."
"Thanks. Got anything else?"
"No, I don't… Oh, wait! Did you hear about Flannegan?"
"The ballistics match with the Luthor case? Yeah. Got the note about that when I came in."
"Just wanted to make sure."
"Thanks. Don't know what it means, but it's certainly interesting."
"That pretty much sums up my reaction."
"Well, I should be going. Thanks for the info. I'll let you know if anything else turns up."
"Thanks. I'll be in touch."
I hung up and looked back over my notes. A few more answers, a lot more questions. Foremost among them, what should I do next? The few leads I had were pulling me in too many directions, and I wasn't sure what I could do about any of them. The hospital, the guns, the gangs, the mysterious link between Flannegan and Luthor… Above all that, Clark was still missing. I needed to do something, but what?
Thursday, Feb. 4, 1996
The clinic seemed like my best bet. It would be dangerous, but I didn't know what else to try. I called Jimmy over and told him to get things ready. We'd go back tonight. I stopped by Perry's office to update him and let him know about my plans. He wasn't too happy about it, but he knew me well enough to know that he wasn't going to stop me.
I went back to my desk and made some more calls. I started off looking for more information on Maxwell, but got nothing worthwhile for my efforts. I only managed to confirm what I'd already known. The people who remembered him as anything more than a guy in a uniform who delivered packages described him as a nice enough guy, but lacking in personality and ambition. His buddies, when I managed to track them down, said that he'd recently stopped showing up at their get-togethers. They weren't sure when, exactly. It didn't sound like they'd really missed him.
It just didn't add up. From everything I could tell, Bob was not at all the type to have written anything like the letters I'd been receiving, let alone be involved with Intergang. What had also been nagging at me was that those letters seemed very much like Lex's style. He was also much more likely to be somehow involved with Intergang, maybe even interested in taking them down. Things would make a lot more sense if my "admirer" was Lex, but Lex was dead.
At least, I thought Lex was dead. But I'd thought that before. Against all odds, he'd managed to survive jumping off the top of the Lexcorp building after our failed wedding. What if he'd somehow cheated death again? I had to be sure.
"Bill? It's Lois. I've got a favor to ask, but it's going to sound strange…"
"Uh-huh. Stranger than, say, asking me to find a voodoo priest who, despite being trapped inside a locked airplane being carried by Superman, managed to disappear into — pardon the expression — thin air?"
"Stranger than having to arrest a pro football player, a country music star, and a supermodel because they were all secretly Nazi agents who had been frozen for fifty years?"
"Maybe not *that* strange…"
"Stranger than the time you asked for my help tracking down a vigilante ninja with magic powers?"
"Okay, okay," I said, laughing. "You made your point."
"Good. I'm glad I didn't have to go all the way back to the time I watched a six foot bat taking down a three hundred and fifty pound talking crocodile."
"One of many reasons I moved out of Gotham."
"So what new strangeness do you have for me?"
"Huh?" I shook my head, trying to clear out the image of a giant talking crocodile. "Oh, right. I wanted to know just how sure you are that it's really Lex Luthor's body in the morgue."
"Oh, don't worry about that. They were very careful. Believe me, they were very surprised when the body came in. They checked and rechecked, and I made sure they checked again. Fingerprints, dental records, blood type, DNA… everything matches. It's really him."
"And the body… it's still there?"
"Yeah, I checked that, too. Put extra security on it, just to be safe. After the problems last time, I made extra sure he wasn't going anywhere."
I blew out a breath. "That's a relief. Thanks, Bill."
"Sure. Anything else I can do for you?"
"No, that's it."
We said our goodbyes, and I sat back, thinking. It had been a good theory, but I was glad it hadn't panned out. Still, there was something up with Bob, and I wanted to know what. I just didn't know how to go about finding out. I sighed and put the issue aside. Instead, I called up Doctor Klein.
"Doctor Klein? It's Lois Lane."
"Oh, hi. How are you?"
"I'm fine. How are you?"
"Oh, fine, fine."
"That's good. Listen, I was wondering if you'd found out anything more from those medical records I sent you earlier."
"What? Oh, those. No, I'm afraid not. They don't really list anything about the procedure you mentioned. They just list the tests that were done to see if the patients would be good candidates for it. I guess they must have other records at the lab, wherever that is."
"Oh. Well, is there anything else you can tell from the tests? Maybe the kind of drugs that they might be using?"
"Well, I can figure out some of the generalities, but no, I don't think I can give you anything specific."
"Hmm. Well, thanks anyway."
"Sure. Sorry I can't be of more help."
"You've done a lot already."
"Well, glad I could do that much."
"Thanks. Oh, one more thing?"
"Be careful when you hang up this time."
"What? Oh, yes. Thank you. I did find the phone off the hook earlier today. I guess I must have been so caught up with… what was it that time? The rocket belt? No, I wasn't on the phone when we were doing that… The fusion generator? No… The —"
"Oh, sorry. What were you saying again?"
"Just be careful when you hang up the phone."
"Right. I will. Bye, Lois."
"Goodbye, Doctor Klein."
Well, so much for that. I glanced at the clock. Time to get going. I went home, threw together a quick dinner out of random leftovers, changed, tossed some supplies into the Jeep, and headed over to Jimmy's apartment. He was waiting for me, with a battered knapsack, ready to go. I smiled, recognizing his old "goodie bag." It had been a while since I'd seen it, but I was glad he'd come prepared.
"Jack couldn't come," he told me, "but he sent some stuff that should do the trick."
"Great. Let's get to it, then."
He nodded and we headed back out.
I drove to the Slum, and left the Jeep parked across from the warehouse. I gave Jimmy my cell phone and told him to run for it if anything happened. He argued for a while, but eventually agreed. That settled, we got out of the Jeep, and, as carefully as we could, made our way around the outside of the warehouse. Soon, we spotted the back door to the clinic. As I'd expected, it had a security camera. I pulled a Polaroid camera on an extendable pole out of my own "goodie bag," and used it to take a picture of the door from the camera's point of view. I waited for it to develop, then attached it to the camera with a wire coat hanger and some tape. It was a trick I'd seen in more than one movie, but it worked well enough. It was certainly better than unplugging the camera. That was far more likely to alert security. With the camera taken care of, I picked the lock on the door, and we slipped inside.
The hallway was dark and quiet. I pulled out a small flashlight and looked around. Nothing interesting. Just another hallway. Good. We moved along, exploring cautiously. There were a few more cameras along the way. These moved back and forth, slowly scanning the length of their respective domains. We timed our movements carefully so that we were never standing anywhere near where they were pointed.
Eventually, we found what we were looking for: a set of double doors with an expensive electronic lock. I took care of the camera focused on it and Jimmy used Jack's equipment to get past the lock. I went for the door, but Jimmy motioned for me to stay. He pulled something else out of his "goodie bag" and traced around the doorframe.
"There's a backup alarm here," he whispered, pointing at a spot about a foot off the floor.
"How can you tell?"
"Jack said there'd probably be something like this, so he gave me a circuit checker. It finds intact wires with magnetic induction. It's cool. Jack says you can also use it to find the broken bulb in a strand of Christmas tree lights."
"Oh. That's great. Can you get past the alarm?"
"Yeah. I should be able to do it, but it'll be tricky. Jack said that an alarm like this would probably be a small button in the door frame. The door holds the button closed. When you open the door, it trips the alarm."
"So, we have to hold the button closed. I've got a bit of hard plastic here from some old packaging. I'd have used a credit card, but that would have had my name on it…"
"Right. So, you'll use that to hold the button down?"
"Exactly. I can't fit it in now, but if you open the door very slowly, I should be able to slip it in before the button pops out far enough to set off the alarm."
"Okay, let's do it."
He nodded and held the bit of plastic at the ready.
I grabbed the doorknob and started to open the door, very gradually, keeping my eye on Jimmy. As soon as the door opened far enough, he pushed the bit of plastic through the crack. I held the door steady as he got the plastic in place. He held it firmly, and nodded to me. Then he handed me a roll of tape. I took it, and went through the door. I glanced around. No cameras on this side. That was a relief. I knelt by the doorframe and taped the plastic down. I stood up and poked my head back out the door to let Jimmy know it was done. He let go of the plastic and followed me through the door. We were in.
We walked down the broad hallway, seeing nothing of interest. As we moved further, though, we started to see more doors and intersections. There were some small rooms that appeared to be chemistry labs, but we decided to leave them for the time being. There wasn't anything obvious to look at or take, and we weren't sure we'd know it if we saw it. Neither of us had enough of a background in chemistry or medicine to make it likely.
We also saw some storerooms filled with bottles of drugs and chemicals with obscure names. We took some pictures and moved on. Further along, we started to hear some more noises. Some kind of machinery, and the little beeps associated with medical monitors. We moved on, cautiously. Soon we started to hear distant footsteps. We glanced at each other nervously.
"Jimmy, take what we have and get out of here."
"No, I'm not going to leave you here, Lois."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm just going to go a bit further, see if I can find an office with some files or something. I'll be careful, don't worry."
"Then why are you telling me to go?"
"Because I want to hedge my bets. Look, Jimmy, we don't have time for this. The longer we stay, the further we go, the more chance there is that something will go wrong. Just go. I'll follow in a few minutes."
"Go, Jimmy. I'll be fine. How about this? I want you as backup, too, okay? If I'm not back at the Jeep in half an hour, call the number I gave you."
"But… Oh, fine. I'll go, but you be careful."
"I will. Thanks, Jimmy."
He waved, frustrated but resigned, and left.
I passed a room with a complex-looking operating table and a lot of equipment. I took a few snapshots then moved on. The next door looked promising. It seemed to be an office of some kind. I slipped inside and looked around. There was a filing cabinet against one of the walls. Perfect. I deftly picked the lock and started searching through the folders. It was a gold mine of information. I flipped pages and took pictures as quickly as I could.
"I don't know who you are, but this is my office, and I'm pretty sure you're not the cleaning lady."
I froze, cursing myself. I'd been so intent on what I'd been doing that I'd missed the sound of the door opening. I looked up, slowly. The man facing me was wearing a lab coat, with appropriate accessories. That was good. Much better than a guard or something. He was also pointing a gun at me. That was bad. I raised my hands over my head and walked slowly towards the door, coincidentally bringing me closer to the man who'd caught me.
"That's good," he said, "just walk slowly this way and out the door."
I nodded and kept moving. When I got close, however, I suddenly darted forwards — towards him, but a little to the side. He had good reflexes. The gun fired. Fortunately, he hadn't anticipated the direction of my movements; he'd been prepared for me to rush directly at him. The shot went wide. I spun and kicked the gun out of his hand, then followed that up with a few quick strikes. He fell to the floor, gasping. I dashed back to the desk, grabbed my camera, and ran out the door.
I raced down the hallway at top speed, desperately hoping that if anyone had heard the shot, they'd be at the wrong end of the corridor. A flicker of motion dashed that hope. I had just enough time to recognize the butt of a large rifle before it hit and blackness took me.
Friday, Feb. 5, 1996
When I woke up, I felt strong. Not super strong, by a long shot, but better than I had been. Strong enough that my muscles no longer ached. Strong enough that I forgot my hunger. Strong enough that I felt ready to test my bonds. I had only just started to stretch them, though, when I heard the distant sound of an elevator. I tried harder, hoping to free myself before my captors returned. I managed to loosen the ropes, which was a relief, but no more. All too soon, the approaching footsteps were dangerously close. I gave up my frantic efforts and sagged back, feigning weakness and exhaustion.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," Mindy greeted me when my three usual visitors were all inside the room. Her voice sounded odd. There was a note of forced cheer undermining her usual carefree perkiness.
I considered several possible responses, but ultimately decided to ignore her. Best not to play her games.
"Aww. Little Supey-doll all tired out? Well, I've got some news that should get you going."
I refused to rise to the bait.
"It's about your little friend, Lois Lane," she said, walking towards me. Again, I noticed a twinge of something in her voice. There was a bitter twist to her sweet tones.
The mention of Lois had me worried, but I didn't give her the satisfaction of seeing that.
She was behind me now, running her fingers over my bound arms. "Little Lois bumped her head," she murmured, "but don't you worry, Supey-doll. Nurse Mindy has some good people to take care of her. Soon she won't hurt anymore."
"No!" The word erupted out of the depths of my soul. I couldn't help it. It almost made me miss the softer echoing cry from the other side of the room.
"What, you don't want us to take care of her? Fix her boo-boo? That's not very nice of you, Supey-woopy. Well, whatever you say, I'll take care of her, just the same. I have to, after what she did." There was a definite hard edge to those last words. I wondered what Lois had managed to do. I knew better than to ask, though.
"Don't hurt her. Please." I knew it was futile, but that I had to try.
"Don't hurt her? Don't hurt her?? What do you think of me, asking Nurse Mindy not to hurt a patient?"
I said nothing. I'd already said more than I should have.
"Hmph. Well, let's put that behind us. We have other things to talk about. You know, Supey-doll, things were supposed to be so nice while we took care of you here. We were supposed to be able to play however we wanted. Instead, I lost my ship, and now I lost my lab, and my board is getting all grumpy and growly. I don't like that. I am not a happy camper." She paused for a moment, then, and I tried to figure out what she was talking about. Then she continued, suddenly perky again. Not a good sign. "Don't you worry your pretty little head, though; I know how to make it all better!"
The pain came again, harsh and relentless. I pretended to pass out, but it still didn't stop. Instead, it got worse. I gasped, and she laughed. I felt something sharp press against my chest, and the burning pain came with it. Had it ever been this bad? I couldn't remember, couldn't think. There was only the pain. This must be the end, I thought, and then there was nothing.
Friday, Feb. 5, 1996
I woke up disoriented, groggy. My head hurt. There was a pressure on my arms. I must be tied up, I realized, all too familiar with the circumstances. "Help, Superman!" I cried, automatically. Then I remembered. Superman wasn't going to come rescue me this time. In fact, I was supposed to be rescuing him. This was not good. I struggled a bit, but I was tied too tightly. I wasn't going anywhere for a while.
I tried focusing on my senses, trying to piece together where I was. The room around me was bare. Nothing but blank concrete walls. That wasn't too helpful. My ears gave me a little more information. I could hear noises. Footsteps, voices, machinery. It was hard to tell anything specific. Walls and distance muffled the sounds, merging them into the generic thrum of a busy workplace.
I racked my brains, hoping my memory would give me some clue. I'd been in the clinic, I recalled. Investigating the mysterious Rogers wing. Jimmy had been with me, but I'd sent him away. I could only hope he'd managed to escape.
So, I'd been captured in an Intergang facility. I wondered if I was still in the lab, destined to be their next guinea pig. Probably not. The last thing they'd want to do would be to make me stronger. Unless, of course, there was something else they could do to me. Not a pleasant thought.
At least Perry knew where I'd been going, I suddenly realized. Even if Jimmy hadn't managed to make it out, Perry would know where to send help. Assuming I was still in the clinic.
So, if I was in the clinic, I could expect torture, but possibly also rescue. If I'd been taken elsewhere… I wasn't sure what that would mean, but I knew it wouldn't be good. On the bright side, there was always the chance that I'd been taken to the same place where they were holding Clark. If I could somehow free myself, I might have a chance to help him. It seemed like a slim hope, but I clung to it desperately, none the less.
A few minutes later, I ran out of positive thoughts. There didn't seem to be anything I could do for myself, and Clark was still in danger, assuming he hadn't already been killed. Something in me told me I'd know if he was dead, but that seemed like wishful thinking. The panic I'd been holding down for so long took over. I'd been Clark's best chance of rescue, and I'd blown it. There was nothing I could do. I was going to die, and so was he, and the whole world would pay for my mistakes.
I began sobbing uncontrollably. I tried to stop myself, but I couldn't even do that much. That thought made it even worse, and I sobbed all the harder. I gave up trying to hold it back. I'd been keeping a firm lid on it for days, but now… what did it matter? I cried until I ran out of tears, and my sobs turned to dry painful coughs.
Eventually, the coughing stopped. I slumped, physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I'd have fallen over, but I was held upright by the firm embrace of the ropes. I sat, listless, too weary even to fall asleep.
Some time later — I had no idea how long — the door opened. I hardly noticed. Someone walked into the room. A man. I looked up, not really caring, but simply out of habit. Curiosity was just too deeply ingrained to ignore. I looked him over. Early thirties, I guessed. Handsome enough, though nowhere near Clark. Clark. I closed my eyes and slumped again.
"Oh, my dear Lois," he said tenderly.
That got my attention. It was not at all what I'd been expecting. Pieces clicked together. I looked up again. "Bob?" I said it out loud, too tired to worry about the wisdom doing so.
He blinked and frowned at me curiously. I wondered if I'd been wrong. It was only a moment, though, before something flickered across his face. That expression flashed by too quickly to identify, replaced by obvious surprise, mixed with just a hint of amusement. "Oh my. Even more resourceful than I'd anticipated. I suppose I should have known better. Yes, it is I, although I would appreciate it if you'd call me Robert. So much more dignified."
His mannerisms seemed familiar, his tone even more so. I wondered again if, somehow, despite all the evidence, the man in front of me could be Lex. Maybe he'd had plastic surgery. A lot of plastic surgery. It didn't make much sense, and I wasn't exactly in a condition to sort through it. "Uh, sure," I said. "Robert." He smiled, and that, too, was eerily familiar. "What are you doing here, Robert?"
"I came for you, of course," he said smoothly.
"How did you know —"
"Never mind that now. Time is of the essence."
"What are you going to…?" I trailed off as he pulled out a knife and started walking towards me. I held my breath as the blade drew closer. His other hand reached out, grabbing at me. The knife moved in, the point aiming for my chest. I swallowed. The metal touched my shirt. I stared at it, fixated on its gleaming edge. Then it moved upwards, slicing through the rope.
Only seconds had passed, I realized as I exhaled in relief. Quickly, efficiently, he tugged my bonds aside. I stood up, shaky. He put out an arm to support me, tucking the knife away with the other.
"Come on," he said. "Let's get you out of here."
I nodded, unable to do anything else.
He led me to the door. I moved back so he could open it. Reluctantly, he let me go. He stepped outside, looking around cautiously. Then he nodded and turned back to me. He held the door open for me and gestured for me to go past him and to the right. Not seeing any better options and far too weary to run, I did as he asked.
He stayed a step behind me as we walked. I wondered why. It could be that he wanted to keep an eye on me, to make sure I was okay. It could be that he wanted to be ready to catch me if I stumbled. If, however, the man who'd rescued me was somehow, despite all odds, Lex Luthor, then it seemed more likely that he was staying behind me because he wanted to be in control.
"Turn left at the next hallway," he whispered.
I nodded my understanding, then turned my head to the side. "Why are you doing this?" I asked over my shoulder.
"Shh. Not now."
I sighed to myself. I didn't like waiting, but he was probably right. The less we talked, the less chance we'd be overheard. I kept walking. He directed me through a few more turns, then through a door that led to a staircase. We went up. After two flights, he told me to open another door. This one led into what appeared to be a warehouse or stockroom of some kind. He touched my arm to get my attention, then pointed down one of the rows. I nodded and started walking again.
His silent instructions took us through a maze of stacked boxes. I was not surprised in the least to see that most of them bore the CostMart label. Eventually, our path took us to a wall. Searching around, I quickly spotted a door. I looked at him. He nodded towards it. We made our way over, all but creeping on tiptoe, and managed to reach it without incident. He opened it for me, and I stepped outside.
I looked around. We were standing in a nondescript alleyway. The harbor district, I guessed, though I couldn't be sure. I turned back to Bob. No, I reminded myself. He wanted to be called Robert. Best to respect that, under the circumstances.
He pointed the way, and I went. I could break and run, I knew. I was feeling more together now that I was free again. Better than I had been, in fact, with the tension of my suppressed panic relieved, at least for the moment. Still, I had an opportunity here. Robert had the answers to at least some of the questions which had been plaguing me. He also, I reminded myself, had a decent-sized knife. Of course, he'd had plenty of chances to use that on me, if that's what he wanted.
I was still weighing my options when he stopped me and pointed to a car parked nearby. I hesitated. He looked at me, his lips quirking with some hidden amusement. "I've had a rough day," I said, a little defensive, "and…" I paused for a moment, considering my next words. Best not to directly say that I hardly knew him, that I didn't trust him. On the other hand, I did have a reasonable objection. Sort of. "You have a knife."
His smile broadened. "And you'd rather not be in an enclosed space with the man holding it, even if he did use it to rescue you? I suppose I can forgive that this once. As you say, you've had a rough day. I hope you'll learn to trust me more, in time."
I looked at him, not sure what to make of that.
"Well, then, are you up for a walk? Your Jeep is parked wherever you left it. They probably would have done something with it by now, but they've had other things to occupy them around there. I even managed to get the keys when no one was looking. Your cameras are a total loss, and I didn't see anything else worth the risk it would have taken to retrieve. The keys, though, were small enough that I could get away with it. So, here they are. I assume you parked reasonably close to the clinic. That's about a dozen blocks from here."
I thought that over. Twelve blocks. A little more than half a mile. That would almost certainly put us in the harbor district, given the warehouses around here. Not exactly a neighborhood I felt like walking alone, not the way I was feeling. My enigmatic suitor wouldn't have been my first choice for company, but beggars can't be choosers. At least he seemed to want me alive. It would be okay. Probably. Twelve blocks would give us time to talk. I nodded. "Let's go."
He gestured grandly down the street. I turned in the indicated direction. He walked beside me.
As we strolled casually along the sidewalk, I thought over the questions I wanted to ask him. Best not to start with anything too big, I decided. Start with something easier. Test the way. "So, Robert, what do you do for a living?"
He laughed. "Well, on paper, I'm a glorified stock boy."
He thought that over. "In reality, I guess you could say I'm a glorified stock boy. For now, at least."
"Have big plans?" I asked, casually.
Something flashed across his face. A deadly seriousness that I'd seen on only a few people, Lex among them. "The biggest," he said.
"Care to enlighten me?"
"In due time," he told me, smiling again.
That line of questioning, obviously, was not going to get me too far. "Okay, if you won't share your plans, can I ask you about something else?"
"Of course, although I can't guarantee I'll have the answers you're looking for."
"Fair enough." I considered asking about Superman, but realized it would be better to leave that question for later. Asking might well upset him, hurting my chances at getting answers to other questions. So, what else did I want to know? The resemblance to Lex nagged at me, impossible as it was. If that nagging was right, then showing that I hadn't forgotten about the body might well serve to improve Robert's disposition. Besides, I was curious. "Do you know anything about what happened to Lex Luthor?"
His eyes widened, startled. Some emotion stirred in them, but was gone before I could place it. His posture, which had evidentially stiffened while I'd been focused on his expression, relaxed — possibly by a conscious effort, though I couldn't be sure. "I'm afraid I can't help you there. To my knowledge, Intergang had nothing to do with that."
"Just what are you doing with Intergang, anyway?"
He took a moment to answer. "Spying on them, I guess you could say. Finding little tidbits, piecing them together, and passing them on to you."
"So that you can use those brilliant investigative skills you're so well known for to take their plans apart."
"But why me? Why Intergang? Why do this at all?"
"I have my reasons."
"Care to share of them?"
Again, it was a little while before he answered. "Let's just say they took something from me."
That, I realized, could mean almost anything. Still, it would give me something to go on when I got back to the Planet. "So, what else can you tell me? Have anything more that you didn't include in your last email?"
"Well, how about the Dealer? What's going on with him? Why is he selling those guns to the gangs?"
"Oh, that? It's the same as the lab, of course."
The same as the lab? The lab was experimenting on gang members, using them to… of course. "It's a field test."
"Exactly. They keep track of every weapon sold. When the guns don't work, the designers get to see what went wrong. When the guns do work, the Dealer gets tapes of an effective demonstration."
"And, in the meantime, the gangs are paying for it. Both with the money for the guns and with the wounded, most of whom end up at the clinic."
"A neat little operation, isn't it?"
I wondered how to take that, but pushed the question aside. There were more important matters. "So how do I get the Dealer? Do you have any way I could find him? Anything I could use?"
"No, I'm afraid not. That's all I have for now. I'll keep my ears open, you can be sure of that, but everyone's become more wary now that a major operation has been shut down."
"The clinic. Nice bit of work, that, even if you did get yourself captured in the process. I told you to be careful…"
"I was careful. As careful as I get, anyway."
He chuckled at that, but there was an underlying seriousness to his expression. "Well, see if you can learn to be a little more careful in the future. I might not be able to come get you next time."
"You don't get anywhere if you don't take a few risks. But tell me… what happened at the clinic? You said it was shut down?"
"Oh, of course. You wouldn't have heard. My apologies. Apparently, the police raided the facility last night. An anonymous tip, or so I heard. I'd assumed that was your doing."
I thought it over. "It was, although not directly. I brought… backup. With instructions to call the cops if I didn't come back out in time."
"Ah. A wise precaution." He looked like he was considering adding to that, but said nothing further.
"It was only sensible, all things considered."
"Sensible?!" He looked and sounded completely incredulous. It was hard to tell if he was amused or horrified. All I could tell for certain was that he was shocked. "You set out to break in to a major Intergang lab in the middle of the night, after their security has already been increased, and you think…" He stopped, shaking his head. "You are a singularly bold woman."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
He smiled at that, but said nothing.
My turn, then. I was almost out of questions, we were getting close to my Jeep, and he was in as good a mood as he was probably going to get. "Well, then, if I may be so bold, I've got something else I wanted to ask you about…"
He smiled again at my phrasing. "Yes?"
"Do you know anything about Superman? What happened to him, where he is, anything?"
His smile vanished. His face was a closed book as he said, "Superman? I've heard a few rumors, but no more than that. Some of those rumors say Intergang has him, but that's only natural, considering that the people spreading those rumors are within Intergang itself. Not a single one of them has admitted to knowing where he is, either. You'd think they'd be bragging about it, at least to other Intergang members, if they did know."
He was hiding something. I could feel it. But I could also tell that I wasn't going to get it out of him with any kind of direct approach. Better not to push him. Come to that, it was probably better to downplay just how important Superman was to me. Showing that attachment would only antagonize my source, and there was also a small chance it could endanger Clark's identity. "Hmm. Well, thanks. Getting him back would make going after the Dealer a lot easier…"
"I'm sure you'll manage," he said, his expression clearing a bit. "You're quite capable without him. Just try to be careful. The Dealer is a very dangerous individual."
"I will. Thanks."
I looked around. The Jeep was half a block away. Amazingly, it was still intact, despite the rough neighborhood. I wasn't sure if it was luck, the proximity to a major Intergang installation, the recent police activity in the area, or a combination of factors which had kept the thieves and vandals away, but I wasn't about to complain. "Robert," I said as we got closer, "thank you. You saved my life."
"A life well worth the saving. I'm just glad I was able to get there in time."
"Me too. So, uh, is there anything I can do to thank you?" I wasn't exactly happy to make the offer, but I felt compelled, given the circumstances. I just hoped he wasn't going to ask for more than I was ready to give. That could make for an awkward situation.
"Well, I would like to ask if you'd be willing to spend some more time with me, now that you have that time to live. Dinner, perhaps. Sadly, though, I don't think you'd be very comfortable with that at this point. So, for now, all I'll ask is that you take care of yourself. If, sometime down the road, you think you would be up for dinner, well, you know how to contact me."
I smiled at him, relieved. "I'll keep that in mind. Thanks again."
"You are most certainly welcome. Take care."
"Thanks, you too."
I got into the Jeep. He waved. I waved back, then drove off.
I was back at the Planet in half an hour. Walking into the newsroom had never felt better. I was free, I was safe, and I was home. Now, I just had to find a way to get all that for Clark.
Jimmy ran over to me before I'd made it halfway to my desk. "Lois, you're back! You're okay! Hey, everyone, Lois is here!" Soon the whole newsroom was buzzing as people greeted me, applauded, or exchanged comments with each other. I did my best to ignore it all. Jimmy, meanwhile, was peppering me with questions. "Where were you? How'd you get here? Are you okay?"
"They caught me, but I got out." I decided to leave out the help I'd gotten. It was more complicated than I felt like explaining at that point. "I'm fine, Jimmy. Thanks."
"Oh man, Lois. I was so worried! When you didn't come back out, I called that number you gave me, like you asked. Officer Sawyer came right over with a whole bunch of cops. Since I'd heard that gunshot, they said it counted as 'probable cause,' or close enough, anyway. They raided the lab, got everything. Then they said that they couldn't find any trace of you. Then you didn't show up this morning… Oh man. I'm just glad you're okay."
"You did great, Jimmy. Thanks."
He stood there and smiled for a moment, but suddenly snapped his fingers. "Oh, I almost forgot! You should go talk to Myerson. He's working on the lab story."
My mouth dropped open. That was my story! I was taking a breath to start a long stream of objections when Jimmy hastily continued.
"We got the exclusive, thanks to your involvement, but we need to get it out for tonight's edition. When you didn't show up this morning…"
I sighed. He had a point. "Right. I'll go talk to Myerson. Thanks, Jimmy."
He seemed startled, then immensely relieved. "Uh, sure. I'll just get going now. Welcome back. Glad you're okay."
I grinned at his departing back, then started over towards Myerson's desk.
"Lois! My office! Now!"
Still grinning, I turned and headed over to Perry's office, as requested. "You wanted to see me?"
"You bet I did! Great shades of Elvis, I thought we'd lost you for sure this time!"
"Well, you're stuck with me for a little longer, Perry."
"Yeah, well, you ever pull anything like that again, I'll have you doing state fairs and dog shows for the rest of your life! I may have ink in my veins, but I still need the old ticker to move it around. I don't know if it can take another ride like that."
"What were you worried about? The way I hear it, we got the story, even without my showing up this morning."
"Yeah, and if I sent you to a dog show, you'd come back with a page one story about diamonds being smuggled in the collars. Aww, it's good to have you back, darlin'." He pulled me into a hug, and it was a long moment before either of us was ready to let go.
I stayed in his office after that, going back over everything that had happened. He listened through it all, not interrupting with anything more than the occasional Elvis-related exclamation. It was good to get it all out, and to go over it again, out loud. Still, by the time I was done, I felt exhausted. I hadn't exactly had the best night's rest, and I was still emotionally rung out. I knew I had to talk to Myerson, and Sawyer would probably want a statement, but I found myself ready to collapse.
I curled up on Perry's couch, and told myself I'd take care of everything else soon enough. I needed to rest for a while. Then I could get going again, try to find Clark. He was out there, somewhere, needing someone to rescue him, just as I'd been rescued that morning, just as he'd rescued me so many times before. I'd find him, I told myself. Somehow, I'd find him. I just needed to rest a bit first. Dimly, I heard Perry get up to leave, but I was sound asleep before he got to the door.
When I woke up again, I was weak and sore. Despite that, I was feeling pretty good. Lois was okay. I didn't know how I knew, but I felt it strongly enough that there wasn't room for doubt. She'd survived, she'd escaped, and she was going to help me. If only I knew where I was! I thought back over what I knew, but it still felt like I was missing something. I was still thinking things through when exhaustion overcame me, and I fell back asleep.
When I woke up, I felt energized. Clark was still alive, I could feel it. Somehow, I had an impression of where he was, too. No solid images or anything, but solid feel, none the less. Concrete, underground. Like a bunker, but bigger. Controlled by someone else, a man. Not Intergang. I thought that over. If not Intergang, then who else could it be? The answer came to me in a flash. Lex. Somehow, he was masquerading as Robert Maxwell. He was the one who had Clark. He'd been hired by Intergang the day after Clark had disappeared. No doubt, he'd used that as a bargaining chip to get himself included.
What did he want? Revenge? He'd said they'd taken something from him. What could… No matter. I could worry about that later. First I needed to get Clark. A large bunker, owned by Lex, far underground… his old shelter! The one he'd prepared in case the Nightfall asteroid had hit! Hardly anyone alive knew about that place, and the few who did would never think to go there. There was no reason to, not with Lex supposedly dead (how had he managed that, anyway? Something else to worry about later…). That was it. That was where Clark was. It had to be.
I jumped up and ran to my desk. I grabbed the phone and hastily started punching in numbers. I waited impatiently while it rang. What was taking so long? Had they suddenly decided to make the rings longer? Why couldn't the woman —
"This is Lois Lane —"
"Lois! You're alive! Where are you? Can you come down here? We need —"
"Never mind that now! I need a S.W.A.T. team! I know where Superman is!"
"What?! How? Where?"
"Just get a team together and meet me at the Lexcorp tower. I'll explain what I can when you get there."
"The Lexcorp tower? But —"
"There's a secret elevator in the basement."
"You mean the wine cellar?"
"No, that one goes up. The one in the basement goes down. Go into the lobby, down one flight of stairs, then past the pump room. There's a small room between that and the furnace. The elevator is in there."
"Okay, I'll get a team together. I hope you're right about this."
"I am. I have to be. I'm heading over now. See you there."
"Lois, you will wait for —"
I hung up before she could finish the question, pretending not to have heard her start it. I'd done my part keeping the MPD informed. Not something I'd normally have done, but with Superman missing, it had only seemed reasonable. Now I was going to get him. I'd wait for a while, because I really did want backup, just in case, but I wasn't feeling patient enough to make any promises.
I raced out of the newsroom and made it crosstown in record time. Unfortunately, Sawyer did not. I waited around for half an hour or so… Okay, twenty minutes… Fine, fine. Maybe it was more like fifteen. Well, fifteen-ish. The point is that I waited, and they didn't show up. They knew where to go. They'd be along soon enough. Clark was waiting down there, somewhere, and I knew that time could well be crucial. I headed down.
Once I was in the shelter, though, I had to stop and think. The place was practically a small city unto itself. Where would Clark be? There was a map down the hall. I stared at it. Suddenly, something clicked. There was a replica of my apartment down here. Lex wouldn't keep Clark there — it would be too recognizable — but there was another room, right next to it…
I started down the hall, but then I remembered Sawyer. She'd be even more lost down here than me. I grabbed a pen out of my purse and marked the map. She'd see it. I knew she would. It was obvious. The map was right there, and my mark was the only one. The diamond around the "S" was a little smudged, but it was clear enough. It would be fine. Clark was waiting for me. I ran for it.
I woke up to the sound of footsteps. Something was different this time, though. They were moving faster. Running. And there was only one set. One set that seemed oddly familiar. It couldn't be… could it? I tried to focus, but I was still weak from the Kryptonite. My head still hurt, and my hearing wasn't nearly as sharp as I was used to. Certainly nowhere near sharp enough to listen for that familiar heartbeat, that steady, fluttering beat, with the cute little premature contraction every twenty beats or so. Nothing dangerous, just a slight tendency to get ahead of itself.
I realized I was drifting. I forced myself to focus on the sounds. It *was* Lois! I could feel it. Not in the sounds, but just… a feeling. What was she doing here? How had she found me? Time to wonder about that later. She'd tell me when we were clear. The footsteps got closer. The door opened, almost hesitantly.
The next thing I knew, she was there. She couldn't move at super speed, could she? There was a tugging on the ropes that were holding me.
"It's okay, Clark. I'm here. I'll have you free in a second."
"Oh, Lois." I slumped in relief. The blindfold came off. I blinked, unaccustomed to the light, little as there was. The ropes started to come undone.
"What are you doing here? How did you…?"
I looked up at the voice, my heart falling. It was the first time I'd seen my captor. Why had he had to come in at just that moment? A few more minutes, and we would have been free and clear. Well, no use wasting energy on that thought. I looked at him, seeing for the first time the face that went with the voice. It wasn't at all familiar. What had I done that had made this man so angry at me? Why had he done all this? Who was he?
Behind me, Lois had stiffened. Slowly, she stood up. "Lex."
Her tone startled me. I'd never heard so much acid in her voice. Then the name registered. Lex? The man in front of me looked nothing like Luthor. Besides, he was dead, wasn't he?
"Ah, you do know me, despite the… differences. You'd know me anywhere, wouldn't you? You see, Lois? We were meant to be together."
"Yes, I recognized you, Lex. A snake who sheds his skin is still a snake."
"A snake? No! He's poisoned your mind! Don't worry, my dear. I'll help you. Look! I'm young and strong. Soon, I'll have wealth and power once again. You turned away from me in my absence. I can forgive you that. But now I'm back. We can be together again. We can pick up where we left off…"
"Where we left off? Sure, Lex. Why don't we do that?"
"You mean it? You're not saying it to protect this… alien, are you?"
"Oh, I mean it. Let's see. Where did we leave off? Oh, right. I was telling you that I wasn't going to marry you, and you were jumping off the top of a very tall building. Why don't we just get back to that?"
I was still a little out of it from the Kryptonite. I'd been having trouble following the conversation, but one thing stood out in the rapid exchange. "Luthor. It really is you, but… how?"
"An old associate of mine. A mystic by the name of Asabi. He possesses a certain stone which allows him to transfer souls from one body to another. Very useful little trick. He wasn't sure it would work on you, but I didn't mind. You have your strengths, but you also have your… vulnerabilities."
"Flannegan," Lois said, suddenly. "That was you." I wished I had some idea of what she was talking about.
"Yes, a little test run. I took over his body, brought myself the Kryptonite, switched back, and shot him. It worked so neatly, and the police were completely baffled. Lovely."
"So then you took over Maxwell…"
"For a fresh start, of course. Tied him up, until I was sure, and then got rid of him."
"Why not? Young enough to have a full life ahead of him, old enough to be mature. Just a little older than you, so we'd make a fitting couple. Reasonably handsome, if I must say so myself. No one to miss him if he suddenly went away. Why, he even has an 'x' in his name. What more could I want?"
"So you just… murdered him? That's… That's…" Lois seemed to be at a loss for words. It was a rare moment. Not that I could blame her. What *could* you say to something like that?
"Well, I couldn't very well walk around as myself. There were too many people out looking for me, your over-muscled boyfriend here not least among them. How was I supposed to get close to you with him always there in one suit or another?"
"One suit… what are you saying?"
"Oh, I think you know what I mean. Nigel, traitor though he turned out to be, kept such an *interesting* diary…"
"Oh yes. It made trapping him so much easier."
"But, if you know, then why hasn't…?"
"You didn't think I'd share a secret like that, did you? Even with him in my power, that little bit of information still has potential use. I wasn't about to give that up without good reason."
A distant sound distracted me from the conversation. Footsteps. There were people coming this way, slowly. So that's why Lois was asking all those questions! She'd brought backup, and now she was stalling for time! Luthor seemed to think himself secure. He was comfortable enough to answer those questions. Probably still hoping to somehow win Lois over.
Best to make sure he didn't hear anything before it was too late. He might still panic and kill us both. I searched around. I needed something that could make a lot of noise. The ventilation system? But I had no way to activate it from here. The TV? I couldn't possibly reach it without being noticed. It did have a remote control somewhere. A remote that acted on the infrared band. Maybe, if I could control my heat vision tightly enough…
Oh, that was ridiculous! I'd have to get the code exactly right, which meant split-second timing, and I didn't even know the code I needed! On the other hand, I realized, looking around, the TV wasn't the only thing in the room activated by heat. There was a fire alarm on the ceiling. Weakened by the Kryptonite, I wasn't sure if I could trip it, but it was my best chance. I had had some rest since the last "dose." All I needed to do was to heat that one little area just enough… I focused on it with everything I had.
A minute later, I was ready to give up. I had nothing to show for my efforts but a massive headache. Still, I persisted. I just… needed to… get it… a little… warmer… I slumped back, exhausted. It was no use. I'd given it everything I had, and — Suddenly, my headache got a lot worse as my efforts were rewarded with an annoying buzzing sound. Nothing deafeningly loud, but certainly enough to cover the sounds of any footsteps, or at least distract from them.
"What is going on?" Luthor demanded, angrily. Water gushing from the ceiling answered him. "Oh, the fire alarm." He laughed. "Nice thought, but it won't do you any good. This is a fallout shelter. That alarm isn't connected to the surface. It only serves as a warning to anyone else in the compound, and, at the moment, that would be precisely… no one."
I ignored him, once again feigning utter exhaustion with hardly any real strain on my acting abilities. The water from the sprinklers washed over me, a long overdue shower. I drank some in. It was cool and refreshing.
"Well then," Lois said, "as long as we're alone, would you mind explaining one more thing to me? I haven't quite been able to make sense of it."
"Certainly, my dear. I'll be happy to satisfy that curiosity of yours any way I can."
"Why have you been sending me information about Intergang operations? If you want power, why sabotage the organization? Surely not just to get in my good graces."
"So I could take over, of course. With my help, you shut down two of Mindy's projects and have been poking at a third. The board was already nervous from that whole fiasco with Bill and his son. Some of them weren't too happy about their new leader, either, the circumstances of her ascent aside. With her careful plans falling around her faster than she could possibly hope to pick them up, it's only a matter of time before they decide to — How shall I put this…? — /fire/ her. That will throw the entire organization into utter chaos. Chaos which offers unparalleled opportunities to someone who has already earned a reputation for handling certain… difficult individuals."
That last phrase referred to me, obviously. Although he had said "individuals," plural. Did I count twice? Once as Superman and once as Clark? Or was he talking about someone else? Mindy? Luthor himself, perhaps? Given that everyone thought him dead, it seemed possible, if more than a little strange. I just hoped he didn't mean Lois.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. I looked up, startled. I'd almost forgotten about the approaching footsteps.
"I don't like traitors," Mindy said, pouting at the still form of Luthor's stolen body. "Oh, don't put that away yet," she added, turning to her bodyguard. "We have a couple more little… inconveniences. Be a dear and take care of them both for me, will you?"
Well, I thought, so much for Lois's backup, and my little fire alarm trick. I'd helped Mindy get the drop on Lex, but it hadn't done me any good.
Okay, maybe I was wrong, I decided, grinning.
Mindy and her bodyguard hesitated, but soon realized they were trapped. Reluctantly, they surrendered.
I blew out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. Behind me, Lois started working on the ropes again. Soon, I was free. I stood up, shakily. After having been tied down so long, I wasn't quite steady. Lois rushed forward to support me. I leaned into her, grateful. Everything was going to be all right.
"Well," she whispered to me, "now that that's all taken care of, there's only one crisis left."
Something else? I froze. "What?"
"The caterer called. He says that with all the trouble in and around the docks this week, he won't be able to do the fish…"
I stared at her. She grinned. I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing.
On the other side of the small room, the cops looked up. One of them, the one who'd been reading Mindy her rights, lifted a questioning eyebrow in my direction.
She looked familiar. Officer… Sawyer. Maggie Sawyer. From the 68th. I'd worked with her more than once. I liked her. She was a good cop. "Just glad to be free again," I explained, smiling. It wasn't a lie, not really. Under any other circumstances, I wouldn't have found the latest glitch in our wedding plans nearly so amusing.
She smiled back, just as widely. "Glad to have you back, Blue."
A few short minutes and one elevator ride later, we were on the street. Mindy and her bodyguard were being guided into the back of a police car. I was sopping wet from the sprinklers, not to mention weak, exhausted, and pained from the repeated Kryptonite exposures. But I was also free, and I was with the woman I loved. The woman who, in just over a week, would be my wife. I didn't think I'd ever been happier.
Everything went smoothly from there. The Kryptonite was taken to STAR Labs and safely stored away for future study. Doctor Klein had hopes that he could someday find a way to counter its effects. Mindy was in police custody, with a mountain of evidence against her, including eyewitness testimony from a respected reporter, half a dozen cops, and Superman that she had had someone killed and had ordered the deaths of two others. Intergang itself was yet again under investigation, with the help of the information from the lab and the base where I'd been held prisoner.
My fiance spent the weekend sunbathing, while I put my time into the not unpleasant task of nursing him back to health. Superman was back not long after that. With his help, the Dealer was quickly located and taken into custody.
The president came to town later that week. Some lunatic tried to get control of the government by implanting hypnotic suggestions in the president's mind. Apparently, it had been a hastily thrown-together plan. The original idea had been to replace the president with a clone, but that had fallen through when the cloning experiments had failed. The scientist in charge had complained of a lack of funding. Doctors Mamba, Deter, and Mendenhall, along with their co-conspirators, were all handed over to the FBI. Clark and I got the exclusive, as well as a promise of a lengthy personal interview with the president, to be scheduled at our convenience. All in a day's work for Lane and Kent.
In the meantime, the mayor announced the creation of a new police branch. He said that the chaos resulting from Superman's disappearance had shown him just how much the city had been relying on the hero. While always grateful for the help, the mayor felt that the city should be better equipped to handle crises on its own. To that end, he was creating the new Special Crimes Unit, a team of elite officers trained to deal with the type of large-scale emergencies which, in the past few years, had been left solely to Superman. They would even be equipped to deal with criminals who had "unique abilities."
Clark and I, along with the rest of the city (or its law-abiding population, anyway), heartily applauded the move. The two of us were especially glad to hear that one of the officers chosen for the new unit would be Maggie Sawyer, who had been honored for her dedication during the crisis, above and beyond the call of duty.
After that, the week rolled by without any more difficult surprises. Clark and I split our time between a series of front- page articles (follow-ups on the major stories of the past couple weeks) and wedding preparations.
Finally, Sunday came. St. Valentine's Day. The wedding went off without a hitch (well, except for the one that was supposed to happen…). The ceremony was beautiful, the way I'd always dreamed. My family even managed to behave themselves. The reception was a blur of greetings, dances, and occasional bites of food. It was fun, but, to tell the truth, we enjoyed it more when we had the luxury of watching it at our own pace, on video.
After the wedding, of course, came the honeymoon. Clark left every once in a while to fly a patrol around the city, but he always came back quickly. Everything there seemed quiet, for a change. So, we actually got to enjoy a nice long vacation on the lush tropical volcanic islands of Hawaii. It was amazing. Gorgeous sights, stunning views of nature in all its splendor. There were breathtaking peaks, formed by pressures great enough to move the earth, fueled by fires hot enough to melt solid rock… Oh, yes, and sometimes we left the hotel room to go sightseeing. That was good, too.