By Marta Olson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Clark must go undercover as a male stripper at a club where female clientele have mysteriously disappeared.
This story takes place at the end of Season One before the date, or any "real" strides in their relationship
With Creative Contribution By Allison Lavertu and Much(!!) Editing Assistance by Renate Brink
The lights were dim everywhere except at the front of the room. The spotlight was on a man as he walked from one side of the stage to the other. He was dressed in a business suit with a briefcase in one hand and a newspaper in the other. The stage was shaped like a "T" that split the room in half. On one side of the room, women stood along the edge of the stage, money in their hands, anticipation on their faces. On the other side women sat at tables, enjoying the music and the show.
As the music built to a crescendo and stopped, the man stopped at the top of the "T". The music began again with an almost wild beat as the man dropped the briefcase and paper, then ripped his tie off and threw it into the crowd. A woman screamed as the tempo of the music changed and the dancer proceeded down the ramp unbuttoning his shirt, swinging his hips to the music. It was Ladies Night at the Paradise Club, the entertainment limited to male strippers.
Shannon James and Kelly Morse were sitting at one of the tables. Shannon looked at her watch. She reached over to tap Kelly on the arm. "Hey Kel, I hate to say this, but I've got an early meeting. I'm going to run to the rest room, then, do you mind if we leave?"
Kelly leaned forward shaking her head, "I can't hear you." She yelled back at Shannon.
Shannon put her hand to her ear and shook her head to show she didn't hear what Kelly said. Kelly pointed to herself and did the same to indicate she hadn't heard either.
Shannon looked up in disgust expecting to see speakers above their heads. There were none. She motioned for Kelly to lean forward. Almost yelling in her ear, she said, "I didn't think it was that loud in here. I hate to say this, but I've got an early meeting. I'm going to run to the rest room, then, do you mind if we leave?"
Kelly looked at her watch as well, "I didn't realize it was so late, I'm ready any time."
"OK, I'll be right back," Shannon yelled then turned to leave. Kelly watched the dancer for a moment, then looked around to see Shannon walk through the door. Neither one noticed the man who followed quickly behind her.
The dancer finished his act and the next dancer came onto the stage. He was dressed as a construction worker.
Lois sat, tapping her foot in agitation as she looked at the empty place across the table from her. She looked around the restaurant noticing not for the first time that she was the only person sitting alone. She sighed and looked around again, finally noticing the decor.
The restaurant was fairly new, specializing in romantic dinners for two and Lois had been dying to try it. When Clark had suggested it, she had jumped at the chance, even though it was Clark and it would be after the late football game. "I hope he changes his clothes before he gets here. If he gets here," she thought to herself.
The red and white checked covered tables each held a single candle and one perfect long-stemmed red rose in a crystal vase. For a moment Lois allowed herself to picture Superman sitting across from her, enjoying the candlelit dinner for two that was the talk of the town. Slowly, in her mind, the vision of Superman across the table became Clark, smiling at her with his sweet, sincere smile. Lois smiled back for a moment until she became confused, why was she dreaming of Clark?
She took a sip of wine as the waiter approached the table.
"Are you ready to order?" He asked.
Lois smiled, "I'm meeting someone. I'll wait until he arrives ... if he arrives," she amended to herself.
The waiter nodded and left the table. Lois picked up a breadstick from the basket on the table, wondering to herself, "Oh, Clark, where are you? Maybe I should call him?" Her imagination took over as she pictured Jack and Clark in trouble at the game, Jack and Clark in trouble somewhere after the game, and then settled on Jack and Clark stopping off after the game to have a beer - coke for Jack, of course. "He's probably still 'male bonding' with Jack - forgot all about me. If I ever get my hands on you, Clark Kent, I'll... I'll... I'll think of something." She savagely snapped the breadstick in two, then slowly looked around the restaurant to see if anyone had noticed.
Kevin Mason walked down the alley using his cane to feel his way through the unfamiliar territory. "This is the last time I ever try to take a short cut by myself," he said to himself. As he passed one of the buildings, he shook his head as he thought about how loud the music must be inside to be this loud outside. He continued on down the alley trying to avoid the trash cans and general filth of the alley.
Suddenly, the door of the building with the loud music burst open. Kevin whirled around at the sound. Had Kevin not been blind, he would have seen Shannon run out of the door, closely followed by two men. One of the men was tall, the other short and fairly hefty. Before Shannon could even scream for help she was grabbed from behind by the tall man.
Hearing sounds he was unable to identify, Kevin called out, "Hello? Is anyone there?" The man who was holding Shannon dragged her back through the door of the club. Kevin called out again, "Miss, are you hurt?"
The guy remaining in the alley saw the white cane in Kevin's hand. "I gotta talk him outta this." He thought, "All we need right now is a dead guy in the alley behind the club." He called out, "Hey man, I hope I didn't scare ya, I tripped."
Kevin said, "Is the lady OK?"
"Ain't no lady out here," the man replied.
"I can still smell her perfume, can't you?" Kevin insisted. "I'm sure I heard someone else out here."
Seeing he was unable to convince him, he pulled out his gun. "Are you sure it ain't just the garbage?" He tried again as he cocked his gun. Kevin heard the click.
"What's going on here?" He asked as he backed away.
"You should'a just forgot about the girl. Now I gotta kill you." The guy replied as he advanced toward Kevin. Kevin turned and ran trying to escape.
"No, don't shoot me!" he cried. In his haste, he crashed into some trash cans, falling over them. He dropped his cane as he tried to climb over the cans toward the mouth of the alley.
"Can you believe that? Wow! What an ending to a game!" Jack exclaimed. "Double overtime! Rad, man! I never would have believed it if I hadn't been there. Like, Jimmy is really gonna be ticked he didn't come."
Clark said, "Only Elway could have completed that pass ... right where it needed to be!"
"No way, man, Elway and Superman. I bet he coulda put it there." Jack added.
Clark looked around as they walked past a club where the music was blaring out from the confines of the building. The street was deserted, the only businesses open were a bar at the corner across the road and the club they had just passed. One of the street lights at the end of the block was out, making the way seem much darker than usual.
Clark nodded and looked at his watch. "Well, Lois is going to be mad at me. I was supposed to meet her for dinner 20 minutes ago. She doesn't watch football so I'm sure she won't know the game went into overtime. I had a hard enough time convincing her to meet me afterwards since the game started so late."
Jack smiled. "Whoa! If she's still at the restaurant ..." Looking around he saw a bus stop in the next block. "Hey, man, go on. I'll take the bus home. I'd rather take the bus than face Lois when she's mad any day."
Clark sighed, "Are you sure?" He looked down at his jeans and T-shirt, "I guess I had better go change, too." he thought to himself.
Jack smiled and nodded, "You bet! Better you than me. Stay cool, man."
Clark heard someone saying, "No, no, don't shoot me." He looked around but couldn't see anything.
Jack noticed the tension appear in Clark as he began to walk away. "What's the matter?" Jack asked.
"Someone's in trouble," Clark replied. Just then there was a loud commotion in the alley near where they were standing. Clark ran into the mouth of the alley with Jack close behind. Once off the street Clark raced at "super" speed until he reached Kevin as he was frantically climbing over the trash cans.
"What's going on?" he asked as he bent to help Kevin up.
The guy with the gun stepped out of the shadows. "Didn't nobody ever teach ya ta mind your own biznis?" he sneered.
"I should have changed into Superman," Clark thought.
Jack ran up beside Clark, startling the guy with the gun. The gunman began firing at all three of them. Clark pushed Jack down to one side of the alley behind some trash cans and fell over Kevin to shield him from the bullets. When his gun was empty, the gunman ran back down the alley disappearing into the darkness.
As things settled down, Clark helped Kevin to his feet. "Are you OK?" he asked.
Kevin replied, "I sure am, thanks to you. Boy, am I glad you came when you did," he said.
"I'm glad I could help." Clark replied.
"Do you see my cane anywhere?" Kevin asked.
Clark looked around and found the cane. As he bent to retrieve it, he saw Jack still lying on the ground, face down.
"Jack?" Clark went over to Jack, who had not yet moved, and checked his pulse. It was still there, but faint. Carefully he turned him over. The blood on his forehead stood out starkly against the paleness of his face, even in the dim light of the alley. Sirens wailed in the distance.
"Is your friend OK?" Kevin asked.
"He's unconscious. I've got to get him to a doctor." Clark picked Jack up and looked around, making sure no one else had come into the alley yet. Clark assumed his Superman voice. "The police are on the way. They should be here in a matter of minutes. I'm Superman, I'll check with them later to see if they need any information. I'm going to take Jack to the hospital." With one last glance to make sure no one was watching, Clark flew away with Jack.
Kevin moved around saying, "Hello? Hello? Weren't there 3 of them?" He sighed as he waited for the police.
Lois was still sitting by herself at the restaurant. The basket of bread now held only crumbs. Lois signaled the waiter, "I'm sorry, I just can't wait any longer. May I have my bill please?"
The waiter nodded and placed the bill on the table.
Lois was very agitated, mumbling under her breath, "One time, Mr. Kent, you stand me up one time and you never get that opportunity again." Lois counted out the money for her bill with very deliberate motions. "You had better have a good reason for this, Clark, or I'll never forgive you." She placed the money and the check on the table, picked up her purse and left the restaurant, her head held high.
"I wonder where Superman is?" She thought to herself as she left the restaurant. "At least he'd never stand me up...well, not unless he had to."
Scanning the area around the hospital, Clark found a poorly lit spot in the back with no people around. He landed and headed directly for the emergency room entrance. The blood from Jack's forehead left very little trail as Clark zoomed around to the entrance. Once he entered the waiting area, the blood began to pool onto the floor.
"Can someone please help me?" Clark yelled. Almost immediately an intern entered the room. He took one look at Clark, Jack and the blood on the floor and went for a cart. A doctor and nurse were with him when he came back into the room. Clark put Jack on the cart and the doctor immediately started to examine him.
"Take him to room 3," the doctor said as they turned and rushed down the hall.
Clark watched them go until he could no longer see Jack. He sat down with his head in his hands and waited.
The door to the emergency room opened and Jimmy came running in. "CK, are you OK?" He asked as he approached. Clark looked up surprised to see him as Jimmy sat down.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I don't know about Jack though. I don't know what happened. He should have been all right." Clark sighed.
"He will be." Jimmy said, "Think positive."
The door opened again and Perry came in followed by Lois. Clark looked at them, "How did you guys find out what happened?"
Jimmy looked sheepish. "I was ... um ... listening to a ... um ... police scanner I have at home when a report came in. They said Superman brought him here." Jimmy rushed on with his explanation, "I called Perry and Lois to let them know and ah ... I left a message on your machine, you know. I wasn't sure if you'd be here."
Clark looked a little bewildered, "I was with Jack. I followed him and Superman here."
Lois sat down on the other side of him. "Can you tell us what happened?"
Slowly and deliberately he told them what he knew. Perry made a few notes as he talked. When he finished, Lois asked, "Where is Superman? I thought he brought Jack here?"
Clark improvised, "He heard the shots and came while I was checking on Jack. He thought it would be best if he brought him to the hospital right away. He had to leave again after I got here, another emergency or something."
He turned and looked at her in anguish, "I don't understand what happened. I thought I pushed him out of the way. He should have been OK."
Her gaze moved around the room as she considered her reply, settling briefly on the other occupants. There was a woman with a small child, and a couple of teenagers. The child was crying softly, one of her hands wrapped in a towel, blood beginning to show through. The teenagers sat very still, both of them looking at the floor.
Lois reached over and took both of Clark's hands in hers. "Listen to me. You did what you could, what anybody could. You're not Superman, you can't expect to be like him. You can't expect everything to always work out like it does for him. He's different than anyone else."
"But that's just it ... " he began to say when the doctor approached. "Mr. Kent? Jack is going to be fine. What we're dealing with is basically two injuries to his head, the superficial bullet wound and a fairly severe blow. Head wounds bleed more than you would expect. He's in shock and his brain is swelling. We are going to keep him sedated until the swelling subsides. It really shouldn't be more than a day or two." After answering a few other questions the doctor left.
"At the risk of sounding callous, I've got a story to call in," Perry said as he looked at his watch. "Actually, if you folks will be all right, I think I'll just go on over to the planet. Jimmy?"
"Yes, Chief?" Jimmy replied.
"Come with me. We've got a paper to re-do. We need to talk to the other guy in the alley and get a copy of the police report," Perry said as he walked out the door.
Jimmy sighed and rolled his eyes, "Oh man, it's going to be a long night," as he followed Perry.
Clark stood and walked to the window staring out into the darkness. Lois came to stand by his side, "He's going to be OK. Isn't that great?"
"Yeah, great," he replied halfheartedly. She looked at him puzzled. He continued, "It's my fault he's here. I pushed him down. I think I must have pushed him into the wall. He must have hit his head as he fell." Clark sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "My fault."
"You did your best. That's all anyone can expect, all anyone can ask for. Besides, he would have had to hit the wall very hard. I really don't think you caused his head injury."
"I know, I'm not Superman." He mimicked. "Well, I'm sorry that's just not good enough. Look, Lois, why don't you go ahead and go home now. We can't do anymore tonight and I need some air. I'll see you tomorrow at work."
"Well, if that's what you want." she said somewhat confused. "I'll see you tomorrow." They walked out the door and headed in opposite directions.
He walked with his head down as he thought, "No, Lois, it's not what I want. I want to tell you who I am. I want you to be able to understand what I am feeling. Really feeling. How it feels to be Superman and fail when it's a friend. I want you to know it's me." He paused as he reached the corner and turned to look at Lois. She stopped before crossing the street into the parking lot. She waved at him, then turned and walked to her car. His frustration complete, Clark walked home.
Clark was sitting at his desk staring off into space as Lois walked up to him. The morning edition of the Daily Planet was sitting before him, the headline "Daily Planet Employee Injured In Shooting In Alley" visible. Clark mentally shook himself and folded the paper in half.
"Good Morning. Feeling better?"
"Much. I'm sorry I was so rude last night. I guess I was in shock with what happened and all,"
"I understand. I guess that means I have to forgive you for standing me up last night. It really was unavoidable. You still owe me a dinner and a carton of Rocky Road. How's Jack?" Lois leaned on the edge of Clark's desk.
"I called the hospital and they said there's no change in his condition, and probably wouldn't be until late today or tomorrow. I talked to Denny. He's pretty shaken up. He's scared about losing his brother."
"Excuse me, but, are you Clark Kent?" asked the woman who joined them.
"Yes, I am," Clark said as he stood.
"I'm Kelly Morse. I saw the story in the Daily Planet about what happened last night." she paused.
"Is there something I can help you with?" he asked.
Kelly said, "I hope so. The address given in the paper is next door to the Paradise Club. My roommate Shannon and I were there last night and Shannon has disappeared."
Lois stood up. "Disappeared?" Kelly nodded.
"Maybe you had better tell us what happened," he said offering her a chair.
"We decided to do something different for a change. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, it's Ladies Night and they have male strippers. Neither one of us had ever been to a show like that so we decided to give it a try. We had just decided to leave, but Shannon wanted to go to the rest room first. I saw her walk through the door toward the rest rooms but she never came back. I never saw her again."
"Maybe she went home with someone else?" Clark asked.
Kelly added, "That's what the police said. They wouldn't even talk to me. You're not considered missing until you've been gone for 24 hours. No, that's not like her at all. I stayed until the club closed. We even looked for her after everyone left but she wasn't anywhere. She left her purse, money, credit cards, keys, everything with me. I also called her at work today but she never showed up and didn't call in. If the time in the paper is right, she disappeared a few minutes before your friend was hurt."
Lois looked around the newsroom. Perry was over by Jimmy's desk. Motioning for Clark and Kelly to follow her, Lois moved over to them. "Jimmy, do you still have that police report?" Lois asked.
As Lois read the report, Clark and Kelly filled them in regarding Shannon. "Here it is," Lois said triumphantly as she read from the report, "... heard someone struggling and smelled ladies perfume. The struggling appeared to stop when I was approached by a man with a gun who denied there was anyone else in the alley."
"It sounds like the two incidents may be related. Write up the story about the disappearance then go check out the club." Perry said. He turned to Jimmy. "Go take some shots of the alley and get a couple of the entrance to the club. If we hurry we can make the afternoon edition. Now, let's get to work."
Kelly gave a few more details to Lois and Clark. They finished the story and left the newsroom.
As they stepped out of the elevator in the lobby, Kevin Mason was standing, waiting to get on. "Mr. Mason, can I help you with something?" Clark asked.
"Superman, what are you doing here?" Kevin questioned.
Lois looked at Clark with a smirk on her face. Clark looked surprised, "No Mr. Mason, I'm Clark Kent. I was with Superman and Jack in the alley."
"Funny, you sound just like Superman." Kevin said. "Boy, you sure left in a hurry. When Superman took off with your friend I tried talking to you but you were already gone. I kinda figured you'd wait with me for the cops."
"I guess I really should have. I just wanted to get to the hospital to make sure Jack was all right." Clark explained.
"I can understand that." Kevin replied. He continued, "I work not too far from here, so I thought I'd come and see how the young man who was hurt is doing."
Clark replied, "He's sedated right now, but they say he will be fine."
"I'm glad to hear that." Kevin said as they walked out of the building.
Lois said, "I'm Lois Lane, Clark's partner. Are you sure there was a woman in the alley?"
Clark added, "We just found out a woman disappeared from the club last night. Can you think of anything else you might be able to add to the police report?"
Kevin thought for a moment. "No, I really can't. If I do, I will let you know. I need to get back to work." Kevin said as he turned and left.
Lois turned to Clark with a smile on her face. "You? Superman? Please!"
He said, "I've got a couple of things I need to do. Can you go ahead and talk to the people at the club? I'll meet you back at the Planet."
She looked at him, concerned, "Are you OK? Is something wrong?"
"No, I'm just concerned about Jack." he replied.
"Well, if you're sure." Lois said. As she turned to leave he said, "Oh, it might be better if you just ask about what happened in the alley. Don't let them know we know about Shannon yet. I should come with you."
"I'll be OK." she insisted. "That's a good idea, though. I'll make a deal, you don't worry and I'll take Jimmy with me, OK? See you later." Lois headed back into the building to get Jimmy.
Clark watched her go, still undecided if he should go with her and not go see Jack. Deciding on the latter, he turned and walked toward the hospital.
Clark entered the hospital room and closed the door behind him. Because of the circumstances surrounding his injury, the Daily Planet was providing a private room for Jack. He looked around as he entered. There was a single bed where Jack lay with bandages around his head and an IV tube attached to one arm. The bandages matched the pallor of his face and the sheets.
He walked over to him and stared for a moment. "I'm sorry Jack. I'm so sorry." Clark began. "I still don't understand what happened. When I pushed you down, I thought I was helping. I didn't mean to push so hard. I can help strangers and Lois, of course, but I can't help a friend." he paused as he turned toward the window.
He stood for a minute before turning back to Jack, running his fingers through his hair. "That's the toughest part about being Superman, knowing how much strength to use, how much force to use. I misjudged and now here you are in the hospital. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could re-do that one moment in time. There has to be a better way."
The door to the room opened and Jack's brother, Denny, came in. "Hi, Mr. Kent. How's Jack doing?" He asked as he approached the bed.
"He's about the same, Denny. How are you doing?"
"I'm OK. Is Jack really gonna be OK? They said he is, but he just lays there. He doesn't move. Is he OK?" Denny said, trying to hold back his tears.
"He's going to be fine, really. You've got to be strong now, for Jack. OK? Think about all the times he's helped you out. Now you need to help him out. Can you do that?" Clark said.
"I'll try Mr. Kent. Will you stay for a little bit?" he asked.
"Sure," Clark replied as he pulled the two chairs over to the bed.
Lois reached the Daily Planet moments before Clark. Clark arrived just as Perry was calling a conference of the staff. Perry began, "Well, did you all find out anything at the club?"
Lois answered, "I talked to the four waiters who were on duty that night. They all said they didn't see or hear anything. The music was loud, and the place was packed. It was a very busy night. None of them noticed anything out of the ordinary. Maybe I'm just trying to find what's not there, but one of them seemed a little uptight, almost like he was waiting for me to ask about something else. I assume it might have something to do with Shannon James."
Perry continued, "We may have stumbled onto something bigger than we thought. The afternoon edition has been out for almost two hours now, and we've had two calls regarding Shannon James' disappearance. Maybe I should say regarding similar disappearances. There have been at least three disappearances from the Paradise Club, all women, all on consecutive Ladies Nights." Silence descended into the conference room as the implication of what Perry had said hit.
"Didn't Kelly say that Tuesday and Thursday nights were Ladies Nights? That would mean that another woman could disappear tomorrow night?" Lois thought out loud.
"I know we want the story for the Planet, but don't you think we ought to take this to the police?" Clark asked. "After all, there is more than a strong chance another crime may be committed then."
Lois looked at Clark, "They wouldn't do anything anyway, except maybe increase patrols in the area. The women are disappearing inside the club, not outside."
Perry interrupted them. "I'm inclined to agree with Clark on this one. I think we need to let them know what is going on, but we are going to get the scoop, too. Lois, since it's ladies night, you talk to the police, tell them what we've got, but also let them know we will have people on the inside."
"Clark, you haven't been to the club yet. You're going in undercover. I've arranged for someone to come by your apartment tonight. He'll give you your costume and show you what you need to do. I heard through the grapevine that they have a job opening. You've got to get that job. The audition is at 2:00 tomorrow."
"Audition?" Clark asked.
Perry answered seriously but with a twinkle in his eye, "Audition. I'm sorry, son, but you're going undercover as a male stripper."
Clark paced around the room as he talked into the phone. "I really don't know what happened. I thought Jack was out of the way. He never would have been hurt if he had been with someone else."
"Oh, come on, son. You don't know that." His dad replied.
His mom continued, "You said Jack was grazed on his forehead, right? Well, maybe if you hadn't pushed him the bullet wouldn't have just grazed him. Maybe he'd be dead now."
"But mom, we don't know that." Clark interjected.
"No, we don't, son. We don't know why he was hurt." His mom continued.
"Now, you need to put it behind you and go on. The doctors said he will be OK, right? Isn't that good news?" His dad insisted. "Think of all the people you have helped. If you weren't who you are, how many people would be dead? Now, what else is going on?"
Martha glared at her husband who shrugged his shoulders at her.
"Well, Lois and I are working on a story. We really don't have any good information on it yet as to who we're dealing with. All we know so far is that women are evidently being kidnapped."
"Oh, my!" His mom gasped.
"They've all been at a club in town and it's only been on Ladies Night, at least so far. This also might have something to do with whoever shot Jack. We were right behind the club on one of the nights that someone disappeared." Clark continued. "I'm, um, going undercover." he paused.
"Son, what is it?" his dad urged him to continue.
Clark sighed, "The entertainment on Ladies Night is, um ... well, I'm, uh, going under cover as a stripper."
"Hot dog! I told you our son would light up that town! Those women are going to be crawling all over you. You may even find you like stripping better than being a reporter, all those women after you! And the money... " Martha winked at Jonathan who was trying hard not to laugh.
His father laughed. "Never a dull moment with you is there, Clark? Well, good luck and be careful, especially if this may involve whoever shot Jack. I think I'd rather face a guy with a gun than women at a strip joint, if what I've heard about them is even half true."
"So, are you going to wear your Superman suit?" His mom asked with a twinkle in her eye.
"Lois will know who I am then. I can't do that, not yet."
"Clark, I'm teasing." Martha said gently.
"Oh, yeah, sorry. I guess I'm kind of nervous about the whole thing. There's someone coming by this evening with a costume and a routine he'll teach me. I'm not sure what it will be. Perry set it up. Knowing Perry, it'll probably be Elvis. Well, I had better go. I've got some things I need to do before he gets here."
"Bye," his mom and dad said together.
"And be careful," his mom added.
"Bye," Clark sighed to the silent phone.
Shannon moved slowly as she struggled to wake up. Every movement emphasized the pounding in her head. As her vision cleared, she saw several faces looking down at her.
"Are you OK?" One of them asked.
"I think so," Shannon said. She moved to sit up, only to fall back to the bed as her world swam.
"Move slowly. We'll help you." She was instructed.
With help, Shannon was able sit up. She looked around the room barely able to see to the far end in the dim light. There were several cots, chairs, a table and a couple of small windows up near the ceiling allowing the only light in the room to come in. There was also a door on the wall opposite the window and four other women. Shannon eyed the them warily.
"Where am I?" Shannon asked.
"I wish we could answer that. I'm Jenna, this is Susan, Karen, and Melanie. With the high ceilings and windows, and the low quality walls, I think we're in a factory or warehouse somewhere," the tall blond said.
Susan, a petite brunette with green eyes added, "We must be close to the Paradise Club because you can still hear the music every night."
At the mention of the Paradise Club, Shannon looked up with surprise. "That's right! I was at the club!" She began.
"In the ladies room, alone on Ladies night, right?" Melanie added, her darker skin and dark coloring made her hard to see in the dim light. "So were we."
Before anyone could say any more there was a noise at the door. The door opened and two men came in, one rather tall with a gun, the other with a tray of food and water. As he put the food on the table, the guy said, "Enjoy! We gotta move ya the day after tomorra. At least it'll be better than this dump." He turned to leave.
"Can't you at least tell us what is going on?" Susan asked.
"Please?" Karen added.
The men looked at each other for a moment, then the tall one nodded. The other one said, "I'll tell ya this much. We have an order ta fill for six beautiful women. We have the five of ya, we'll get one more tomorra night. Then we'll move ya ta our boat ta get ready to hand ya over. Once that's done, you ain't never comin' back to the states again." With that, the two men walked out leaving the women in a horrified silence.
The doorbell rang at Clark's apartment. He grabbed his glasses as he went to answer the door.
"Clark? I'm Larry. Perry White sent me," he said reading from a slip of paper in his hand.
They moved back into the apartment as Larry said, "OK, let me see ..." he paused as he looked at Clark. "Very good. You'll be very good at this." He walked around Clark in a circle. "I brought a couple of costumes for you to try. I think the cowboy would work best. Perry tried to insist on Elvis, but so many do Elvis nowadays."
The lesson began as Larry uncovered the costume Clark would be wearing. The costume included a blue plaid western shirt with pearl snaps instead of buttons, a blue western vest, blue jeans, a version of leather chaps that tied around his waist and each leg, and a black cowboy hat. As Larry showed each item to Clark. "Always remember, you use every item you have as a tool. Put this on." Larry said as he handed him the hat.
He put the hat on as Larry continued. "Good. Leave the hat until the very end. That'll drive them wild. Just remember, exaggerate the movement of your hips, side to side and back to front. That's what they want and that's what you give them. I hope these sizes are right. They're the closest I could find to what Perry gave me. Go put your costume on."
Thinking of the Superman costume in his closet, Clark was tempted to ask which one. Instead, he took the cowboy gear and put it on while Larry set up the portable CD equipment he had brought with him and started playing a CD.
A familiar song drifted to Clark as he finished. It was a fairly new country song with a very upbeat tempo. The woman singing had a deep throaty voice which made the song seem very sexy, especially when he thought about what he was about to do. He stared hard at his reflection in the mirror for a moment before putting on the vest. His uneasiness deepened as he realized there was little difference between this outfit and his Superman suit in the way they fit. Thankfully the vest covered up the contours of his body to some extent. The jeans were tight enough that he wondered if they would split if he tried to walk. He wore his own cowboy boots with blue "covers" over them to match the rest of the costume. He put the hat on and returned to the living room, every step making him a little more uncomfortable with what he had to do. He thought of Jack and his resolve deepened.
"Isn't this a little bit too tight?" he asked as he came into the room.
"You'll get used to it, besides, it'll stretch a little bit as you move around. OK, let's get down to business." Larry said.
They worked for about an hour with Larry showing Clark the little tricks that went with stripping and the routine for the song. When the doorbell rang, they took a break.
Clark opened the door and Jimmy rushed in. "CK, I just have to see you do this. I can't picture you actually doing this!"
"Jimmy, please, this is hard enough as it is." Clark complained.
"Well, you know, I don't want to make it worse, but I just saw Lois drive by. I, uh, think she's coming, too." Jimmy added with a smile as he went past Clark into the apartment.
Clark rolled his eyes and sighed as he shut the door. "Let's do this again before Lois gets here." Clark said. Larry started the music at the beginning as he took his place on the "stage" they had marked out. He walked to the top of the T and faced what would be the audience. When the tempo changed seconds later, Clark began to dance.
The routine started off with some fairly sedate country line steps across the top of the stage. "Good, good." Larry said, "they'll start screaming, wanting more right about now. OK, give it to them."
The tempo changed again and Clark was at the top of the T. He started down the ramp, moving his hips from side to side which was accentuated by the fringe on the chaps. "Go, CK!" Jimmy encouraged.
Occasionally he'd stop and turn, then wiggle some more before turning back around and continuing.
As he was going down the ramp, Jimmy yelled, "If you shake it any harder you're going to throw a hip out!" Jimmy began clapping with the beat of the music.
Clark rolled his eyes as he continued down the ramp. When he reached the middle of the ramp, the music and Clark both stopped. As it started again, Clark slipped the vest off and swung it over his head and then into what would be the crowd. The doorbell rang again. Jimmy went to the door as Clark continued the routine.
Lois and Jimmy came back into the room and both took chairs to watch.
Clark hesitated for a second as they sat, before continuing to untie one leg of the chaps, then the other. With them still tied behind his waist, he turned to one side swirling the chaps around. Then he untied them and, twirling them above his head, threw them at Lois. She laughed as she caught them, then began clapping with Jimmy. Clark moved up and down the room to the music, his hips swinging wildly from side to side.
Over his initial embarrassment, Clark really began to get into the routine. He'd stop and move his hips seductively from front to back, pulsing with the beat of the music. Then he'd begin walking again and repeat what he had just done. He wondered if it was obvious that he was counting his steps. The song reached the point where the music hesitated again and as it stopped Clark whirled around and ripped open the snaps of his shirt.
In spite of herself, Lois watched mesmerized. She stopped clapping and stared at Clark. Jimmy noticed and reached over and jostled her out of her trance-like state. Clark saw the telltale red begin to creep up her neck and face. "Lois blushing!" he thought to himself. "I'd like to know what she was really thinking then!" After that he lost his concentration and couldn't seem to remember quite what to do.
Larry noticed and suggested, " "Clark, let's stop there and take a break." Clark readily agreed as Larry stopped the music.
Lois laughed as Clark came and sat down on the couch, "Clark! You're actually good at this! I'm amazed. I never would have thought, you of all people, would be able to do this!"
Larry said "and why not, he's a natural."
"Clark is the most straight person I have ever known. He's our office goody-two-shoes if you know what I mean." Lois explained.
"Believe it or not, the best strippers are people like that. They grow up inhibited, but when they finally let loose, they really let loose." Larry clarified.
"Then Clark should be excellent!" Lois added with emphasis on the excellent.
"Lois, please!" Clark shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Well, it's true! You're one of the most inhibited people I know. Maybe inhibited isn't the right word. You're a nice guy, Clark, and nice guys don't do things they shouldn't do. Like this, for instance." Lois said.
Jimmy agreed and added, "Hey, CK, do you realize, if you did that out on the street you'd be arrested for indecent exposure?"
"This is something I have to do. We have to get the guys who shot Jack and I'll do whatever I have to do to get it done." Clark replied with determination.
"I hate to interrupt the fight, but we still have half the routine to go over and the night isn't young anymore." Larry inserted into the conversation.
Jimmy said, "You're right. Lois, we better go. See you in the morning." Jimmy got up to leave.
"Oh, Perry wanted me to tell you to be sure and not miss the audition." Lois said as she and Jimmy left.
Once they left, Clark and Larry finished working on the routine.
"Do you think maybe you could lose the glasses?" Larry asked.
Clark arrived at the club the next morning with enough time to change before the audition. Surprisingly, there was only one other applicant. As they both stepped out onto the stage, the manager introduced himself as Mr. Smith and explained, "OK, I've got one opening for a dancer. Let's get down to business, you go first." He pointed to the man standing next to Clark.
Clark moved out of the way while the man gave his music tape to the waiter at the sound system. As he began his routine, Clark took advantage of the time to look around the club. It was a basic club, nothing out of the ordinary except, that women were turning up missing, he amended to himself.
Waitresses were silently moving around the club replacing matchbooks in ashtrays and other assorted things that were missing from the tables.
The other dancer had not gotten very far when the manager stopped him. He turned to Clark, "You're next".
Clark handed over his tape and got into position. He blanked his mind to the audience, not wanting to admit how embarrassed he felt out in public. In the apartment was one thing, but here in front of strangers was something else. What would tonight be like?
The music started and he began the routine. Funny how something can become familiar so fast, he thought. The music changed and he started up the ramp. One of the waitresses came over to watch. He turned around and followed the routine, counting his steps. Everything was going as planned. Feeling comfortable, he looked up and now there were three more waitresses watching.
As he took off the vest and dropped it on the floor, one of the waitresses began to clap. By the time he got to the chaps, all the waitresses were watching and clapping with the music. The manager looked around at the waitresses and then stopped Clark. "I guess you get the job. My gals know what the ladies like. Be here at 6:00."
Clark wandered around backstage after changing into his costume before the show. He didn't expect to find anything, but maybe he'd get lucky and not have to perform. He came across a room separated from the other rooms backstage. Curious, he tried the door.
It was unlocked so he slowly entered the room. From the light in the hallway he could see it was a storeroom of some kind. He closed the door and turned on the light. There was a noise behind him. He turned to find Lois ready to bring a board down on his head. "Lois!" he exclaimed in a whisper as he stopped her.
"Clark, what are you doing in here?" she gasped.
"Looking around. What are you doing in here?" he answered.
"Looking around." she said. "I didn't find anything either." she added softly.
"Lois, you're going to blow my cover."
"I wanted to be here to help. I thought maybe I could find where the women are before you had to go and demean yourself by dancing in front of these ..." she searched for the word "these...women," she added lamely.
"Demean myself? Lois, come on, I'm due on stage in a couple of minutes. Do you think this is easy for me? I mean in the apartment was one thing, but here in front of strangers, help me with this, OK? Don't make it worse than it is." He ran his hands through his hair.
"I guess it was a pretty slim chance that I'd find anything anyway." She started toward the door with Clark following close behind but turned to him before they got there. Clark was not expecting her to stop so they collided softly. Her hands went up against Clark's chest, his arms automatically going around her.
"Oh!" she said softly. She started to move away from him reluctantly.
He sighed as he let her go, "I guess I had better get ready to go on. If you want to help, go out in the audience; watch for anything suspicious. OK?"
She sighed, "OK."
Clark took his position on the stage ready to begin. He was more nervous than he expected to be. "For crying out loud," he told himself, "I eat bombs! Why am I so nervous about dancing in front of some women?" As he looked around before the stage lights came up bright, he saw Lois come in. She moved over to a table near the stage and sat down.
Nothing had prepared Clark for the reality of the stripping. As soon as the music started he began his act. As he moved down the ramp, the women began screaming and clapping with the music. The woman he threw his vest at appeared to faint. He peeked over at Lois to see if she was watching. He noticed with satisfaction the cold look she was directing at the women around her. A lady jumped up and stuck a dollar bill in the waistband of his jeans.
As he started with the chaps the crowd went crazy. Clark caught a disgusted look on Lois' face as she turned and walked away. Clark allowed himself a little smile. He continued with his act and threw the chaps into the audience.
Lois walked into the rest room fuming. There were two other women in the lounge area. One look at Lois' face and they hurried with their makeup and hair and left. Lois took one look at herself in the mirror and paced the room forcing herself to calm down.
"He's just doing this to solve the case, that's all." she told herself. "He probably likes it even less than I do." She paused at the mirror as she began to calm down a little. "I can't believe how those women were acting!" She rolled her eyes, "I'm talking to my reflection! I must be going crazy!" She thought as she continued to look in the mirror. Movement behind her caught her attention. "Oh, great! Company!" she thought. "Wait a minute, that's the wall!"
She turned and looked and a door was opening in the wall. A tall man with a gun stepped out. "Come with me." he demanded and pointed towards the door.
Clark watched as Lois left the room and entered the door ] under a sign that said "Rest rooms". As she passed from his sight he followed the routine, counting steps until the first series of turns. Once he was facing the audience again he moved his glasses down. With his X-ray vision Clark saw Lois in the lounge area of the rest room. There were 2 other women with her. He continued with the routine, stopping as the music paused after ripping his shirt open. He started moving again as the music began, ready to take his shirt off when he saw the other two women come back into the room.
Remembering to keep his hips moving Clark stopped walking down the ramp and used his X-ray vision again. Lois was alone in the lounge. As he watched she turned to face the wall. A door in the wall opened and a man with a gun stepped out.
Clark put his glasses back on and looked around the room for something to use as a diversion. Feeling frustrated his glance finally rested on the sprinklers in the ceiling. He stopped dancing entirely and concentrated his x-ray vision on the sprinklers. One started spraying water finally, followed by the rest of the sprinklers in the room. The women began screaming and gathering up their belongings, running from the room. Clark took advantage of the chaos to leave the stage. A moment later Superman stepped out onto the ramp. He jumped off the stage and headed for the lounge.
Lois preceded the man through the door and down the staircase that had been hidden from view.
"Hurry!" he urged her.
"Stop poking me with that gun!" Lois countered as she went down the steps.
"Just move it," he replied, pushing the gun further into her back.
Two men were waiting for them when they reached the landing at the bottom of the stairs. "Mr. Jones, something is going on upstairs. The monitor board shows all the sprinklers in the main room are on but they don't show a reason why," one of them said.
"Hey, that's the reporter that was here yesterday asking about the shooting in the alley." Jones exclaimed. "Mike, bring the van around to the back door, we're getting these women out now. Brad, go get the women. I don't like this." He continued. Mike headed up the stairs toward the car. A few moments later the other women joined Lois and Mr. Jones.
Before Mike reached the door of the rest room he encountered Superman.
"Superman!" he cried.
"Where's Lois Lane?" Superman demanded.
"Who?" asked Mike.
"The woman who was just kidnapped." Superman added.
"I, uh I don't know, uh, what you're talking about," Mike said as he pulled out his gun.
Superman sighed and said disgustedly, "Won't you guys ever learn?"
Mike fired and Superman caught the bullet. In frustration Mike fired again and again until the chamber clicked empty. Superman opened his hand to show all the bullets as he let them fall to the floor. Superman grabbed Mike by the shirt and pulled him to the back of the lounge. He glanced around until he found what he was looking for. In the corner was a pipe that ran from the floor to the ceiling with a couple of pipes intersecting at the top. Superman pulled Mike over to the corner. Above the connection was a water shut-off valve. He turned it off and pulled the pipe out of the floor. A little water trickled out. Superman twisted the pipe around Mike 3 times leaving him stuck against the wall with the pipe in the ceiling. "Now, don't go anywhere," Superman said.
"Yeah, right," Mike replied but Superman was already gone.
Upon hearing the shots, Mr. Jones told Brad, "Go through the warehouse and try to get out the back. It will be harder to get to the van, but we've got to make it."
One of the bullets Superman had stopped tumbled down the stairs. Brad picked it up looking at the one side that was flat.
"Superman" Lois said matter-of-factly.
Mr. Jones looked at her as he continued, "Take the rest of the women and go. I'll keep Miss Lane."
"Yes, boss." Brad replied as he left with the other women.
Mr. Jones pushed Lois down a hallway and through a door. Lois tried to struggle, to do anything to slow him down, but Mr. Jones was determined. Lois looked around as they headed up a flight of stairs. She realized that this must be the warehouse next door to the Paradise Club. At the top of the stairs, Lois found herself on a balcony overlooking the offices below. Only one office had a ceiling. She was able to see Brad and the other women making their way through the maze of offices toward the back. "Come, Miss Lane, we're going up there." he pointed to the catwalks crisscrossing the ceiling of the warehouse.
Superman reached the bottom of the stairs. There was no one in sight, just an empty hallway that branched off into two directions. Using his x-ray vision he scanned the warehouse. In one room he saw a table, chairs, and cots. He continued looking until he found the women and the man headed towards the back. The man had a gun. There was no sign of Lois.
Superman went the opposite direction and rushed around to the back door. He was lounging against the door frame as the women came into view. "Hi," he smiled as the women halted in front of him. Brad came last and just stared at Superman.
"Is one of you Shannon James?" Superman asked.
"I am," Shannon said.
"Kelly's been worried about you. Now, sir, if you would hand me your gun I believe there are some men out here waiting for you." Superman said as he inclined his head toward the alley.
"Not so fast Superman." Mr. Jones called over the paging system. "I have a surprise for you. Look up." A spotlight was trained up toward the ceiling. In the light, Lois was standing in a small riggers cage suspended on a cable from the ceiling. Mr. Jones continued, "Unless you allow my associate and the women to pass through the door two things are going to happen. When I count to 3, I am going to cut the cable holding Miss Lane and she will fall. At the same time, Brad, you will shoot Miss James since she also seems to be an acquaintance of Superman's. Can you stop us both? Who will live and who will die? The choice is yours." Mr. Jones grinned triumphantly.
"Wait!" Superman called out.
"No!" Mr. Jones answered angrily. "Now! One," Superman looked around for a way out of the situation. He looked at the fear in Shannon's face then at Lois.
Where is Clark? Lois thought to herself. He could at least distract one of them for Superman.
"Almost time Superman," Mr. Jones called out. "Two." Superman took action. Moving as fast as he could he raced to Brad, grabbed the gun then flew up to get Lois.
"OK, Superman, judgment day is here," Mr. Jones began.
"I think I'll take a raincheck" Superman interrupted. "I really just couldn't wait for three."
"What?" Mr. Jones looked over the railing. When he saw Lois standing next to Superman he began to freak out.
"What is going on! Brad, you moron why didn't you shoot him! Superman you were supposed to wait until 3!" He continued to rant and rave while climbing up toward the ceiling.
Superman turned to Lois and handed her Brad's gun. "Get them out of here before he does something really crazy. There are police hidden in the alley, they'll take over. Now, go!" The women needed no urging to get out the door to the alley as Superman paused to look at Lois.
"You better go," she smiled.
Superman nodded and flew up toward the ceiling.
"Brad! You traitor! Where are you going?" Mr. Jones yelled. "I oughtta kill you for betraying me!" He began firing at Brad and Lois as they left through the rear door. Superman flew erratically to stop all the bullets. He continued to fire until his gun was empty. Mr. Jones climbed until he could climb no more. He moved out onto the edge of the catwalk. Superman levitated on level with him. Superman said, "You've got no place else to go. You might as well give up now."
"No! You'll never take me alive!" Mr Jones cried as he jumped from the catwalk. Superman sighed as he took off and caught Mr. Jones before he could hit the ground. He set him on his feet and walked him out the back door to the alley.
As Superman walked out he was approached by two uniformed police who took control of Mr. Jones. He walked over to Lois. "How are the women?" he asked.
"They're fine. Glad to be free again." Lois said. She continued, "Thank you. I knew you'd work things out."
Superman began to speak but was interrupted, "Miss Lane! Clark! What's all the commotion about?" asked Kevin Mason as he worked his way towards them.
"Uh, I'm Superman, Mr. Mason." Superman said.
"Darn! I was so sure I had it right this time. I just don't understand." Kevin shook his head from side to side. Lois explained briefly what had happened. "Well, I thought I'd try this short cut one more time. Seems like I always pick the wrong day," Kevin muttered to himself as he turned to leave.
"No way!" Jack said, "Clark? a stripper? Anyone get any pictures?" Jimmy and Perry laughed.
"I thought about sending Jimmy in with a disguise but, oh well." Perry said.
"He actually was pretty good, too. The women in the club really liked your act." Lois added and smiled. Clark fidgeted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"Larry must have been right when he said that inhibited people make the best strippers." Added Jimmy.
Lois said, " The police finally let us have the information on Mr. Jones. It turns out that he is Simon Jones, a small time crook with big time plans. He's used this scam in two other cities. There's a total of 10 women still missing. He has agreed to give all the information he has on where the women are to Superman. By this time next week, they should all be home."
Clark continued, "There's a group of men, crooks actually, in Kardnia that picture themselves as something like the mafia. They are trying to finance a coup to take over their country and are using things like this to get the money."
"Kardnia?" Jimmy asked.
Perry explained, "It's a small country near India. It's currently run by a prince. The authorities suspect that they have tried to set up similar operations in several countries."
"This is the first real link to them." Clark inserted. "The women were going to be sold as slaves in the surrounding countries. Evidently there is a new market building for beautiful women as slaves.
Lois continued, "The organization put up the money for the club, and for the most part it's a legitimate business. Only a very few of the staff knew what was really going on.
Perry finished the discussion, "Apparently the organization does not allow mistakes, and now that the women are free Mr. Jones is on their hit list. He can't wait to start talking to the police. He feels it's only a matter of time until they kill him and he'd be safer in prison. His lawyer keeps trying to stop him, but I don't think he'll be able to."
Denny said, "When do you get to come home, Jack?"
"They said tomorrow." Jack answered.
Perry added, "well if you need more time off work, just let me know."
"Thank you, sir," Jack said.
"You know," Lois began, "the one thing I can't understand is Kevin Mason. He's the blind guy that was in the alley." She said to Jack. "How could he get Clark and Superman mixed up? Every time I saw him if I was with Clark he thought he was Superman. If I was with Superman he thought he was Clark. Blind people are supposed to have such great hearing ability." Lois, Perry and Jimmy looked confused.
Jack looked at Clark. Clark looked at Jack. They both smiled.