By Erica Dias <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: January 2005.
Summary: Now that the ficus is gone, how can we live without our 'precious'? Lois and Clark must find it, and bring it back to us! A not-so-micro-little-tiny Christmas vignette.
Author's notes: First off, I need to explain why I chose a ficus as the object stolen in my story.
We have a very dear FoLC among us who once was on mIRC on the loisclark channel, and tried to make conversation. Unfortunately, no one answered her, and she got mad. She left the room and said she could make more conversation with a half-dead ficus than with the rest of the FoLCs in the room. They all laughed and the ficus immediately became our mascot on boards. This story is about the theft of our 'precious' ficus. I hope you all enjoy.
Thanks to my 'precious' BRs Sara (Farneighgirl) and JulieS for helping me with this. I'd also like to thank my other 'precious' GE, Tricia, for helping me. Readers, feedback is welcome. You hear me? :D
This is a link to the famous ficus picture for those who wonder how it looks like.
Dedicated to Meredith. I hope to hear from you soon.
There were only two days left for Christmas and the world seemed to be finally at peace. Lois and Clark were talking by Lois's desk, planning what they were going to do for Christmas. Clark's plan was to go to Smallville and visit his parents. Lois refused to spend the holidays with her own family. Thus, she decided she would invite a few friends to come over for dinner.
They were both laughing when Lois, to convince Clark to stay in Metropolis, made clear to him what her perceptions of Christmas in a small town would look like. But their laughter wouldn't last long.
"Lois. Clark. In my office!" The loud grouchy voice of Perry White echoed around the newsroom while the once opened door of his office was closed again in a matter of seconds.
Lois rose from her chair, immediately followed by Clark who gave her a puzzled look. Obviously Perry was aggravated and they couldn't help thinking what they had done wrong this time.
Clark slightly knocked on the window, sneaking his head around, once he opened the door. "You called, Chief?"
"Get in and sit down, you two."
"What is it, Perry?"
"I need you to work on a story about a theft." He tossed a file on his desk and came back to his seat. "It's very important that the object is found intact. It belongs to a collector and he made himself very clear, assuring me that the Planet can have the story as long as the object is found in one piece."
Lois was almost jumping in excitement, and slapped Clark on the shoulder while he read the file Perry had left on top of his desk. "Ooo… this is great, Perry. What is it? Jewellery? Money? Internet transactions or a…"
"…ficus," Clark interrupted, still reading.
"Ficus?! What the heck is a ficus?" She grabbed the file from his hand, without even caring about his silent protest on her move.
"A plant? You want us to investigate the theft of a plant? Honestly, Perry, this newspaper is not on its last breath yet. News have been slow lately, but I don't think we've sunk so low as to investigate why the heck someone stole a plant."
"It's not a common plant, Lois," Perry tried to explain.
Clark raised an eyebrow at Perry. "I'm sorry, Chief, but it is. You see many of those in people's houses. I have one at home. Mere, a friend of mine from the flower shop, gave it to me. They aren't expensive at all. So why are we investigating this? I have to agree with my partner on this one."
"Read the file, Clark. Check whom it belongs."
Both reporters started examining the file again and reached their answer at the same time. "Mr. Stern's."
Perry just nodded. "It seems that it was a gardening contest winner thing. Don't ask me why they do these competitions? I could never tell. Anyway, apparently it's a very expensive well- bred type of ficus and he wants it back for the big contest at the end of the year. And I told him I was going to make sure my best reporters would be looking after his…" Perry didn't know what to properly call the ficus. "…interests. We owe this to him anyway. Let's not forget he was the one who helped us when we needed him. He left us to do our job and never really questioned any of our moves around here. Now he needs us to find his… precious."
The word 'precious' almost made Lois and Clark laugh. For someone as rich as Mr. Stern this concept of what should be called worthwhile was questionable.
"Right, Chief. Maybe you should call him and tell him we will have to interview him about the robbery."
"No publicity whatsoever until we find it." Mr. Stern kept repeating it to both reporters, making sure they understood him. "We are talking about a very serious subject here and it involves lots of important people's reputations from inside and outside Metropolis. I want discretion."
"But will you recall the event for us, Sir?" Clark suggested.
"Well, yesterday around this time, I was entertaining a few of my closest friends. You know… Christmas gatherings," he explained.
"And one of them stole it," Lois assumed.
"I would hold my mouth if I were you Miss Lane. For a reporter you jump to conclusions quickly without proof," he warned her.
Lois caught a reprimanding look from Clark's eyes and decided it would be best if he carried on with the questions.
"Could you tell us anything about the plant's specifications, Mr. Stern?"
"Very well. The Weeping Fig, which is more commonly known as ficus, is one of the most popular houseplants. A bushy tree that might grow to fifty feet in its native Malaysia, ficus can easily be kept to a height of six feet or allowed to grow to ceiling height. There is one special kind called Rubber Plant, whose large, dark green, leathery, shiny leaves make the plant look artificial. Mine was one of them. It was kept next to my desk here in my office." He pointed out where it once was. "It was a very rare kind, equally but naturally shaped from all its sides, symmetrically perfect. It cost me more than a few to find and keep this preciousness."
Again that word 'precious' — Lois and Clark could only laugh at it, albeit mentally. But they were there to get their job done and seriously had to stop making fun of it.
"Can you give us a complete list of who was at the gathering yesterday?"
"Sure. My assistant can give it to you right away."
"When did you first miss the…" Lois wanted to say precious and keep the laugh despite anything else, but eventually she controlled herself. "…ficus?"
"Late last night when everybody was already gone. My guests arrived at five and left around nine. It was ten thirty when I came to my office, and it was gone."
"So you think one of them was responsible for that?" Clark asked.
"I hope not, but it seems so."
Lois looked at Clark and rolled her eyes. *Why when she had asked the same question but with different words, she was warned to keep her comments to herself and now that Clark asked the same thing he was getting a genuine answer?* she thought.
"So this is where the…" *Crime doesn't seem to fit it here.* "…ficus was?"
"Would you mind if we take a look around, Sir?"
"Not at all, Mr. Kent. I made sure no one entered the location of the crime before you came."
*Okay. He's taking it seriously. Perhaps location of the crime wasn't too much after all.* Lois kept the conversation in her head very active.
"I will get my assistant to try and find the list you asked for. There weren't many guests yesterday. Around six or less," the old man said, leaving both of them to do their job, investigating the place.
"Thank you, Sir."
For a couple of minutes while they were left alone, Lois and Clark tried looking around, thumbing here and there in between the books, when Clark found something under the desk.
"What's that?" He approached the desk.
"What?" Lois couldn't see anything where Clark was looking and pointing to.
"This." He showed her a diamond earring.
"How could you see that from so far?"
"I uh… It was the reflection of the light on the diamond, Lois. It shone brightly from where I could see it."
"Ahh. And what's that?"
"Oh, come on, Clark. You could see this little tiny diamond earring but you couldn't see this?" She showed him a little cigarette lighter that was placed on top of Mr. Stern's seat. It was silver made and bore the initials 'P H'.
"It seems that we have a clue," she grinned.
"Two actually," He agreed.
They smiled at each other while Mr. Stern returned to the room. "Here's the list you asked me for." He handed them the paper.
After examining it, Lois and Clark thanked him and retreated almost immediately. But before doing that, they asked a few more questions.
"Mr. Stern, would you please let us know if your wife has lost a earring any night recently?
"Why are you asking this?"
"Because we found this." Lois showed him the diamond piece of jewellery as he took it in his fingers, examining it, and finally handing it back to her.
"It's not my wife's," he answered.
"How can you be so sure, Sir?"
"Simply because in forty years of marriage, she has never come to my office."
"Very well, Sir. We'll keep you informed of any new evidence we find."
"No publicity! And no police, please. I just want my poor ficus back."
"Understood, Sir." Clark assured him while they both left the man heart broken there in his office.
Back at the Daily Planet, the two reporters closed themselves in the conference room, trying to check the names on the list of guests Mr. Stern had handed them.
"Let's see. We have nine guests on this list. Their names are Mr. Louis Kerr, Mr. Ruslan Nicoliev, Mr. Carl Riggs, Mr. Stephan Hughes, Seņor Luiz Pepito, Countess Lynn Ryann, hmm… Mr. Paul Harrison." Lois's voice trailed off.
"Paul Harrison?" The name caught Clark's attention.
"P. H. The main suspect. Don't you think?"
"Quickly promoted to be the one," he agreed.
"I think we should pay him a visit."
On the way to their interview with Mr. Harrison, Lois kept thinking about something she had wished she had asked earlier, but only now seemed to come back to her.
"Clark, why didn't you ask Mr. Stern about the lighter?"
"Because I thought that he would jump to the conclusion that anyone with these initials would be the one responsible for the theft."
"And you don't think this is what happened?"
"Appearances can be deceiving, Lois. What if someone planted that there, making us believe it was Paul Harrison or any other P.H. who had done it? No. We must investigate that before jumping to conclusions."
"Why do you always have to be so right?" she complained, more to herself than to him.
"I am not always right, Lois. But I certainly check the water level before I jump." He grinned.
Lois and Clark knocked on the door of Mr. Harrison's mansion and were welcomed by a butler who showed them the way to his office.
"Please, make yourselves comfortable while you are waiting here for Mr. Harrison. He won't take long to come."
"Thank you." Lois nodded.
As soon as the guy left, Lois started checking the place.
"Lois, what are you doing?"
"He's our main suspect, Clark. What do you think I'm doing? Trying to find evidence!"
"What do you mean by evidence? You actually think he would keep the ficus here? Thousands of dollars' worth of ficus in the middle of his office?"
"Well, Mr. Stern did it. I don't see why he wouldn't."
"That's because Mr. Stern owned the plant, Lois," he reminded her.
"Details. You only pay attention to details."
"Details are what make the difference, Lois. And by this you are truly assuming that the guy is guilty. How can you say that for sure?"
"He's guilty, Clark."
Clark was going to answer her on that, but the door of the office was now wide open, revealing a middle-aged but fit man coming in.
"Miss Lane. Mr. Kent. I was told you wanted to see me."
"We are here about Mr. Stern. Yesterday there was a gathering at his house and something precious to him is now missing." Clark's voice seemed controlled.
"I see. And you think I have something to do with that?"
"We are investigating the possibilities."
"Are you from the police?"
"We are reporters."
"Then I have nothing to declare," he said, turning around.
"We understand, Sir. We just wanted to return this to you." Lois handed him the lighter.
The look on his face was what Clark deciphered as genuine puzzlement. "What's this?" he asked.
"You should know it, Mr. Harrison. It's yours," Lois affirmed with a triumphant tone.
A loud laugh echoed as Mr. Harrison burst into it, almost leading himself to tears, making Lois terribly embarrassed by her words.
"Oh, my dear Miss Lane. Anyone who truly knows me, knows I am fiercely against smoking. I do not smoke and I can't stand it. You see no ashtrays around. Do you? That's because no one smokes in my house. That's a rule. Now would you kindly leave by your own will?" He showed them the door, truly annoyed by their presence.
"It's not him," Lois complained while opening her car.
"Lois, I told you things could be more than they seem to be."
"It's not him. Unless this was just a cover up." She started the car.
"Let's just stick to investigating the other ones. This time, let me make the moves, okay?"
Lois and Clark had interviewed most of the guests, but they couldn't find any conclusive proof. They were back to the Planet when suddenly, Clark was enlightened.
"Lois… what if… Do you still have that list?"
Lois furrowed her eyebrows and silently passed the list to him.
"Clark, we only have disgustingly rich people on this list. A gold-mine owner, a Russian Millionaire, a countess, a senator… all of them are VIPs."
"Countess Lynn Ryann," he mumbled.
"Of course!" Lois excitedly exclaimed. "The diamond earring. How could we forget that? What are we waiting for? Let's go talk to her." Lois grabbed Clark's tie and headed to the elevator, pulling him close behind her.
She pushed the button repeatedly while Clark tried to remind Lois not to jump to conclusions again.
"Clark, she was the only woman on the guests' list. She is perfectly rich enough to have a huge and expensive diamond earring like that. We both know it's not Mr. Stern's wife's so she's the only one left."
"Lois, I told you…"
"…that appearances can be deceiving. Right. I know that. But now we know she's the one."
"We don't know that for sure."
The elevator was open again and they walked through the parking lot.
"Clark, would you just knock it off? The woman is guilty. Period."
"You said the same thing about Mr. Harrison, and it cost you a big laugh in your face."
"I'm still not convinced that it wasn't him. And that laugh sounded too forced for me." She twisted her lips to one side as soon as she captured Clark rolling eyes at her comment. "Let's just concentrate on this woman, okay?"
"So what do we know about her so far?" Lois asked, while driving.
"Well, she is a Norwegian countess who apparently has a lot of money. She's twenty eight and she is twice divorced."
"Twice? I wonder how many pensions she's got. No wonder she's this rich. I wonder if she is really a countess."
When Lois and Clark arrived at her hotel, they were extremely well received by the countess herself. She served them tea, and offered some kind of Norwegian sweet she truly made them believe she couldn't live without.
She seemed genuinely shocked about the theft. She promised them she would help in any way she could. She answered all their questions in a very natural way, but when the small object was caught by her eye, she turned as white as paper, and started babbling in a similar way to Lois.
"I… I… yes. It's mine, but I wasn't wearing it on that day. I can't understand it. I haven't seen this earring in months. But please, I didn't have anything to do with this theft. You see I'm a huge plant collector myself, but I'd never do such a thing. I just went to the office to see it. Those men were just talking about silly things, and I needed some time alone. So I just sneaked into the office and stayed there for a while marveling at the plant. But I was distant, I didn't even come close to it, fearing I could harm that preciousness. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Well, not as perfect as the one my ex- husband gave to me a few years ago, but still. Mr. Kent…" She grabbed his hand and looked deep right into his chocolate eyes with a plea on her lips. "…I did not steal the ficus. Do you believe in me?"
"I do. Ma'am."
Lois looked at both of them and raised an eyebrow. For someone who warned her several times not to jump to conclusions, Clark was seriously contradicting himself now. Was it just because she was a woman? Was he that shallow? *Men!* she thought.
Lois entered the newsroom fuming. She and Clark haven't talked during their ride back to Planet. Clark couldn't understand why, but at this time it was a little irrelevant. He needed to confirm at least two more things and he would know who was the one who stole the ficus. Hopefully, his hunch would be accurate and he would finally find who the robber was.
"Lois, I need to go to the library and get a book before it closes."
"Again? You were there yesterday, getting yourself a book. How many do you read per day?"
"No. This time's different. I'm really going to ge…" he let the truth slip due to his uncontrolled excitement over his suspicions.
"Ohh… I see. So yesterday you were lying just not to pay lunch. Very clever, Clark Kent. Next time it's your treat. This and another will compensate. Maybe."
He grinned, relieved she only demanded two lunches instead of a long-sermon-length explanation about what he was doing instead of having lunch with her on the last day. Obviously he had used another lame excuse in order to save the world from an atomic explosion in South Korea.
He ran to the elevator and as soon as he could, he spun into the suit, arriving in an alley and spinning into normal clothes again just in time to be the last one to enter the library.
The next day, Lois found out that Clark wasn't waiting for her on her door-step as he usually did in the morning so she walked alone to the Daily Planet. What surprised her even more was to find her partner among what seemed to be thousands of files, small little papers, and heavy books written in a language she couldn't understand.
Clark seemed very focused when she greeted him good-morning. She rolled eyes after the fourth attempt to catch his attention, grabbing a heavy book from his desk, and sitting on her desk while browsing inattentively through the pages.
"Russian? Why the heck would you want to learn Russian at seven in the morning? Are you taking one of those long-distance courses or is it a Russian virtual woman that you're trying to impress?"
Clark shook his head, slightly aware of Lois's presence, but looking around anyway. There she was alternating hands to hold the heavy English-Russian dictionary he had found at the library. "Uh… What did you say?"
"Never mind. So does this have anything to do with the case? I mean after you just shut off the possibility of the thief being the countess, I thought you'd have a pretty good idea of whom it might be by now."
"Good. Let's hear what you got."
"Do you know that man, Mr. Ruslan Nicolaiev?"
"You think it's him?"
"Lois, why do you always have to jump to conclusions? I didn't say that."
"Ohh… I see. You're learning Russian for us to interview him. We hadn't done it yet. Well done, Clark. It will only take you… three or four years to be fluent in it so we can actually start asking him the questions we would want to ask." She sarcastically made a joke, mocking what seemed to her a useless try.
"Let's go." Clark grabbed his jacket and Lois's hand, heading to the elevator in a hurry.
"What kind of speed-up-course were you having?" she asked, shocked.
"You must apologize my English, Mr. Kent. I am still not very familiar with the language."
"We understand, Sir. But your English is just fine." Lois grinned, mentally mocking Clark for learning a language at seven in the morning and not needing it for the interview anyway.
"Sir. Are you a plant collector?" Clark asked, straight to business.
"No. I absolutely hate plants. You don't see any around do you?" His smile seemed honest.
"But are you a giver of roses?"
"No. I prefer giving something a little more special to my women. It depends on my mood."
"What do you mean?" Lois interjected.
"If I want to give something small, I give jewellery. If I want to give something big, a car. Ferraris are my passion."
"You give… red Ferraris to your women?" Lois gulped.
"Oh, no, Miss Lane. I don't think about myself as a simple person. I give them silver or black ones." He grinned at Lois's surprise.
"Why are you in Metropolis, Sir?" Clark intervened.
"I was here to visit my dear friend Mr. Stern and the Countess Ryann. But I'll be leaving in a couple of days. Ryann and Harrison are planning a cruise and she invited me to join her."
"I thought she was staying for the plant contest."
"Apparently, with the theft of the ficus, she isn't that interested anymore. She told me Mr. Harrison is the one who will be planning her cruise. I just hope he isn't coming either, but I guess I'll only know when we are about to leave. They didn't tell me anything else; just that."
Lois wanted to ask a few more questions, but Clark suddenly thanked the man for his time, terminating the conversation.
The three of them rose from the comfortable couch of the Lexor Royal Hotel suite, and the reporters started to make their way to the door. When suddenly Clark turned.
"Ochen preyatno s vami znokomitsa, Mister Nicolaiev." Clark shook the man's hand with a big grin on his face, truly satisfied by the answers he got.
"Tozhe ochen preyatno, Mister Kent," the man replied, truly surprised to hear his native language from a foreigner's lips.
"I'll drive this time, Lois."
Lois mutely followed him, furrowing her eyebrows to the point they seemed to be only one. "Where are we going?"
"Call Perry, Lois. Tell him we know who stole the ficus."
"Do we know that? " she asked surprised.
"Yes. Tell him that we're now heading to Mr. Stern's house and tell him to call making sure he himself receives us there."
"Clark… are you all right?" Lois measured his temperature with the back of her hand.
"I'm fine. Just give him the call."
When they arrived at Mr. Stern's residence, Lois and Clark were immediately greeted by the owner of the Daily Planet himself. He escorted them to his office and locked the door, sealing the three of them inside.
"Perry told me you know who the thief is." He looked straight into Lois's eyes, but she seemed as if she couldn't understand what she was doing there so he turned to the confident man right beside her. "Who is he?"
"Sir, exactly how much publicity do you want on this?"
"None. I thought I've made it clear."
"And what about the police? Should they be involved?"
"Absolutely not. These are very dear people to me, Mr. Kent. I want to believe this was nothing but a misunderstanding and I don't want it to affect my relationship with any of them. Not only because they are my personal friends but also because they are very important people of the world wide society."
"Therefore you just need to know we've found the thief, Sir."
"Clark…" Lois glanced him, trying to remind him he wasn't talking to a common man and that he couldn't possibly refuse to give him the information he had asked for.
However to Lois's surprise, but not Clark's, the man opened a wide smile and thanked them for finding his 'precious'. And that he would appreciate if the ficus was returned to him by the end of the day so it could still participate in the Christmas contest.
Clark nodded while Lois stood there frozen still until he pulled her out of the now open door of the office.
"Are you nuts? You refused to give him information. Well, it seems to me that both of you were crazy there once you refused and he just smiled. Why would he do such a thing?"
Clark took the wheel again, opening the door for Lois. "Lois, haven't you heard anything he said there? He said he didn't want this theft to interfere with his relationship with any of them. The only way to do that is making him suspect everyone and doubt no one, making peace and bringing him just what he wants: his 'precious'."
Lois kept silent for a few minutes, trying to absorb the logic of Clark's thoughts on this one. Of course he was right. Wasn't he right all the time? Rrrr… She hated that! "So where are we going now?"
"To get Mr. Stern's ficus."
"That quick? Clark, are you sure you're not jumping to conclusions, not checking the water level this time?"
"No, Lois. I'm sure."
They arrived at their destination, but Lois still couldn't understand why they were there. Clark led the way and knocked on the door which was answered by the same person who had answered it before.
"May I help you again, Mr. Kent?"
"Yes. Can we come in?"
"We're here to return Mr. Stern's ficus. Would you kindly give it back to us? I was asked to do so with all the discretion that the situation requires. No police will be involved. We assure you."
A laugh was heard, but Clark didn't move a bit. He was determined that the person was the one who stole the ficus.
"Very well, Mr. Kent. I will return in a moment with your precious ficus."
A moment later…
"Here it is."
"Thank you. Oh, and here is your lighter, Sir."
"Thank you, Mister Kent. You're far too kind."
With the ficus returned just on time for its presentation at the Christmas contest, Lois and Clark could finally start thinking about their Christmas.
Clark would go to Smallville while Lois would host a dinner at her house. Many people were invited, but only a few had confirmed. In the end, Lois feared none of them would go, but she wouldn't admit it to Clark.
Lois gave Clark a ride to the airport despite of his protests. He didn't want to be a burden mainly because he wouldn't be taking any airplanes on this night. She stopped the car in front of the terminal, wishing Clark a merry Christmas.
"Thanks, Lois. I'll see you in two days. Oh, by the way, this is for you." Clark showed her a large pack wrapped in a really beautiful Christmas wrapping paper.
"Awww, Clark. You shouldn't have." She quickly unpacked the box and immediately twisted her lips to one side. "A ficus?"
Clark laughed out loud. "Mere, the girl from the flower shop, helped me to choose the cutest one for you. She also helped wrapping it. I'm very clumsy with these things. I always miss the details."
"You? You always miss the details? Ha! Clark, how did you know it was Mr. Nicolaiev behind the theft of the ficus?"
"Well, Lois it was quite simple. You see, the countess had mentioned that she had gotten the perfect ficus from one of her ex-husbands. Well, Mr. Nicolaiev was one of her husbands, but he didn't confirm ever giving her anything."
"He was her husband?"
"Lois, it was on their profile. You just had to carefully read that."
"But what about the earring and the lighter? The initials were clearly a P and an H."
"Well, Lois, the earring belonged to the countess, but she swore she hadn't worn it that day. This and the fact that she admitted that she went to the office, made me believe she was telling the truth and that someone deliberately wanted to incriminate her."
"And what about the initials?"
"It caught me in the beginning as well. And that's why I had to make sure Mr. Nicolaiev was really Russian."
"Why is that?"
"Because the initials Ruslan Nicolaiev, R and N, are written like a P and an H respectively in Russian."
"Ahh… that's why you had all those books with you?"
"Exactly. I suspected him because it was obvious that someone deliberately left those clues there. The earring was irrefutable proof to incriminate the countess whereas the lighter which was his own, was to incriminate Mr. Harrison. They are lovers. Haven't you noticed how desperately Mr. Nicolaiev wanted us to believe they were going to travel together as soon as they could?"
"Oh, Clark. That's amazing! You must be super psychic to catch these small things in the air. Which reminds me…" she turned around, grabbing something. "…this is for you."
"Oh, Lois. Thanks." Clark held the small box tight on his chest, grinning like an eight year old boy.
"Hey, don't thank me until you open it up!"
"Right." He tore the wrapping paper and laughed even louder. "A plastic ficus?"
"Well, uh… I just thought that if you are just as careless as I am with details, you wouldn't be bothered watering the plant anyway."
They both laughed, each one with their own ficus now.