By Jon B. Knutson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: It's time for Superman to catch up on his mail.
Clark Kent had no idea what a simple phone call could lead to.
It had been an ordinary Wednesday up to that point; Lois had made her standard complaint of the day (it seemed every day she had something different to complain about — today it was that the coffee tasted funny), Jimmy made his pitch to Perry to let him write a story instead of just taking photos, and Perry had turned him down, suggesting that Jimmy was a much better photographer than a writer (that the Planet was short one staff photographer may have had something to do with that … Clark had wondered why it took so long to fill the position).
But at 9:15 that morning, Clark got a phone call that was to change the remainder of the day for him.
The phone on his desk rang, and he answered. "Clark Kent here."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Kent … I've been told that you know how to reach Superman?"
"Um, that's right … I can get a hold of Superman. Who is this?"
At Clark's mention of Superman, Lois suddenly started paying close attention to Clark's conversation.
"This is Mr. Lumpkin from the main post office. We'd like to have Superman come by and collect his mail."
"His mail?" Clark asked. "I didn't know Superman got any mail."
There was a sigh on the other end. "I used to think we got a lot of mail addressed to Santa Claus, but St. Nick only gets mail during one time of the year … Superman's been getting mail since he first hit the front page of the Planet … and since he hasn't picked it up, it's been gathering in the dead letter office."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know … that is, I'm sure Superman didn't know. How much is there?"
"Well, let's put it this way: If you have a place we can deliver it to, we'll need five trucks."
"That's a lot of mail."
Lois, impatient, finally asked Clark, "What's this about Superman and mail?"
Clark covered the mouthpiece of the phone and said, "It's the main post office … they've got five truckloads of mail for Superman there, and they want to know what to do with it."
Clark uncovered the mouthpiece. "Can you have it delivered to my apartment? I can make arrangements for Superman to pick it up from there … and for future mail, I think I can swing it to have it delivered to the Planet."
"That would be wonderful … we've just about run out of room here!"
"Fine … my address is … "
"We have your address, Mr. Kent. After all, we are the post office."
"Okay … when will it be delivered?"
"We'll start loading up the trucks now … expect us there in an hour or so."
Clark hung up the phone to find Lois glaring at him. "You're having Superman's mail delivered to your apartment? Why not here?"
"I think I probably have more available space in my apartment than there is here."
"There's that much mail?"
"Five truckloads, they said … and more arrives every day. We need to talk to the chief right away."
Lois followed Clark to Perry White's office, where they sat down in front of his desk. "Chief, we've got a problem."
"I thought you two were getting along just fine," Perry answered.
"Different kind of problem," Clark said, cutting Lois off before she could say anything. "I just got a call from the post office, and they need a place to have Superman's mail delivered. I said I'd try to make arrangements to have it delivered here."
Perry leaned back in his chair. "Well, it might be a bit tricky to work out the logistics, but if Superman's amenable to the plan — and is willing to come in and collect it at least once a week, I think it can be arranged."
"I'm sure Superman will be happy with the arrangement," Clark said. "Don't you, Lois?"
"Ah, sure, Clark … why wouldn't he?"
"Then it's settled. I'll call the post office personally to make the arrangements," Perry said.
"There's one more thing, chief … I made arrangements to have the backlog of mail delivered to my apartment, and I kind of need to leave early to be there when it arrives," Clark said. Turning to Lois, he said, "I could use Lois' help, too … I figure between us we can at least sort it out for Superman, so he only has to deal with the letters that need his personal touch."
"That sounds like a plan. Looks like Superman needs a publicity agent to handle this, but I'm sure we can find room in the budget for it … might be worth a headline or too, as well. Talk to Jimmy about getting some photos printed up for Superman to autograph on your way out," Perry decided.
"Thanks, chief … although we may have to go outside to get the photos done."
Perry dismissed Clark's concern with a wave of his hand. "Whatever it takes … Superman's done a lot for this city, as well as for the Planet, and it's the least we can do. Just get it done!"
With that, Clark and Lois left Perry's office. They were lucky to run into Jimmy almost the second they stepped back into the newsroom.
"Jimmy! Got an assignment for you!" Lois said.
"Writing or photography?" Jimmy asked.
"Photography-related," Clark offered. "We need to have you make arrangements to get some photos run up of Superman … so Superman can sign them and send them off to his fans. Perry okayed it already."
Jimmy sighed. "Okay, CK … I'll get right on it. How many do you think we'll need?"
"Better get a few hundred printed up for now … you'll probably have to contract it out," Lois said. "On second thought, maybe you should make that a few thousand … there's a lot of mail for Superman to answer."
Clark and Lois arrived at Clark's apartment at the same time the mail trucks did. By the time the trucks were unloaded, Clark could hardly see the floor of his apartment.
He and Lois just stood there for a few moments, stunned at the volume. "This is going to take a while," Clark said.
"I suppose you had a plan in mind?" Lois asked.
"No, not really … I guess we'll make it up as we go along."
With that, each of them opened up a bag and started scanning through letters.
As it developed, they were able to sort the letters into three groups. The first group was to be responded with an autographed photo … these were mostly letters from children. The second group of letters were marked for forwarding to different social groups, which would be best able to handle them. The third and final group were letters that Superman should deal with personally.
After the first two hours, Lois and Clark were fairly adept at identifying which group a letter belonged to. Clark, of course, could move much faster, but doing so would be a giveaway to his dual identity … and he had been trying to be extra careful around Lois lately.
Clark found himself wishing that he'd realized that the citizens of Metropolis (and other parts of the country as well) would be writing letters to Superman much sooner. One letter in particular really wrenched his heart … but looking at the date of the letter, he decided it may not be too late. Clark quickly memorized the letter, then set it in the "Answer personally" pile.
Clark stood up and stretched. "I need a break, Lois … I'll tell you what: if you keep at this, I'll run out and get us a pizza or something. Deal?"
"Deal … no anchovies, okay?"
"No anchovies … check." Clark walked out of his apartment and closed the door behind him. After making sure there was no one coming up the stairs or the elevator, Clark quickly changed into Superman, opened the hallway window, and flew out.
Once he'd cleared the Metropolis skyline, he hit his top flying speed, heading for Seattle, Washington. The ground below him passed in a blur, but Superman was navigating by the stars rather than landmarks anyway.
At his fastest speed, he was able to arrive in Seattle fairly quickly. A few minutes after his arrival, he was able to spot Swedish Hospital. He landed outside the emergency entrance and walked in. "Hello," he said, "is Dr. Connors still in the hospital?"
The nurse manning the station looked up. "You actually came?"
"I would've been here sooner, but I've been having problems receiving my mail."
"Ah … Dr. Connors is still in. I'll page him."
Dr. Connors chose that moment to walk into the emergency room. Seeing Superman, he cried, "Thank god you're here … another day and it would've been too late! Follow me."
Superman was led into an operating room. Before long, a patient was rolled in, and several doctors and nurses were scrubbed up for the operation.
"I assume you read my letter completely?" Dr. Connors asked.
"Yes, I did."
"So you understand exactly what I needed your help for, then?"
"I believe so … this man was in an accident several weeks ago, and several slivers of glass were embedded in his body, some of which you weren't able to find with standard x-rays. You need me to use my x-ray and microscopic vision to tell you where the remaining slivers are, right?"
"I'll do my best … unfortunately, my medical training stops short of first aid and CPR."
"Just so long as you can direct me to where the slivers are."
The operation took an hour, with Superman guiding Dr. Connors through it very carefully. Finally, Superman announced that the remaining slivers had been removed. Dr. Connors asked one of the assisting doctors to close for him, and he left the operating room to clean up. "Superman, you were a godsend in there. This patient has undergone four operations previously to have the shards removed, but we could never get them all … that one near the heart would've been fatal if it hadn't been removed, as I feared."
"It was my pleasure, Dr. Connors. Next time you need my help, rather than writing me a letter, you can contact the Daily Planet directly … ask for Clark Kent or Lois Lane, and they'll be able to pass word along to me. Now, if you'll pardon me, I really must be going."
"Oh, I don't mean to keep you. Thanks again."
"My pleasure!" Superman left the hospital and flew back east to Metropolis at top speed again. By the time he'd returned, two hours had passed. "Pizza'd take another half hour … and Lois will be mad enough with me as it is," he murmured to himself as he entered the city limits. "Ah, I've got it!"
Superman swooped down, landing outside a Chinese take-out known for having food ready to go at a moment's notice, due to their also having a nightly buffet. He decided it really was a good idea for Ma Kent to start sewing pouches with Velcro fasteners in his capes … she'd even thought ahead and had Clark stash at least $20 in each cape pouch for emergencies … and this qualified.
Superman entered the restaurant and ordered a dinner for two to go. Fortunately, this restaurant didn't have their logo on take-out bags … just simple brown paper ones. The order was ready in minutes, and Superman paid for the food, then zoomed back to Clark's apartment, re-entering through the hallway window and changing to Clark.
When he re-entered his apartment, Lois was in tears. Clark set down the food quickly and walked over to her. To his surprise, she immediately hugged him, a hug Clark returned. "What's the matter?" he asked gently. "It's not that I took so long to get dinner, is it?" he said with a smile, trying to cheer Lois up.
Fortunately, Lois saw the smile, and knew he was kidding. "It's this letter," she said, handing him a letter dated from last year. Clark took it from Lois and read it.
The letter was from a five-year-old child named Tina Watkins, who wrote to ask Superman to fly her father back from overseas so he could be with Tina and her mother for Christmas. Clark recognized the last name … from a list of Americans who had been killed in a terrorist attack in the middle east. "Oh, god … " Clark whispered. If only he had known about this before, Tina's father would still be alive.
"Lois, why don't you go home … I'll work on these for a while longer. Besides, Superman won't be here until tomorrow morning anyway."
Lois wiped a tear from her eyes. "How is it that you know Superman's schedule?"
"Ah … while I was heading to the take-out place, I saw Superman flying overhead, and managed to flag him down. I told him about that doctor in Seattle who needed his help, and he said he was going to fly out there, but would come by tomorrow morning to see what else needed an immediate response."
Any other time, Lois wouldn't have bought Clark's story. However, in her current mood, she was too upset to think straight. Lois agreed to go home (Clark offered her part of the take-out, but she'd lost her appetite), and she left Clark's apartment.
Clark looked at his watch … it was 10:30, but it might not be too late. He'd automatically memorized the address from Tina's letter, so he quickly changed into his Superman costume (thinking he was setting a personal record for shortest time between costume changes), opened his balcony window, and flew across town to the address on Tina's letter.
The address belonged to an apartment in a middle-class area of Metropolis. He knocked on the door quietly, loud enough to be heard, but soft enough not to wake anyone up. A woman in her mid-30s answered. "Yes … oh, my … you're Superman!"
"Yes, ma'am. You're Tina Watkins' mother?"
"I am … Kathy Watkins. But why are you here?"
"Did Tina tell you about a letter she wrote to me last year?"
Sudden realization showed in Kathy Watkins' face. "Oh, no … that was so long ago, I'd almost forgotten. I guess you know what happened to Tina's father, then?"
"Yes, ma'am … I'm very sorry I didn't get Tina's letter much sooner … you don't know how sorry. If it's all right with you, I'd like to apologize to Tina personally."
Kathy looked pained. "I don't think that would be a good idea … she still hasn't gotten over her father's death, and I'm afraid if you talked to her, it might bring back the pain again … I'm sorry, I know you mean well, but I can't allow it."
"I understand. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Watkins. Goodbye." Dejected, Superman turned and walked away.
If he had chosen to use his super-hearing as he walked away, he would've heard Kathy close the door, rest her head against it, and whisper, "I'm sorry, too."
Superman flew back to Clark's apartment, an occasional tear falling from his eye and dropping to the street below. When he arrived back, he didn't waste time changing back into Clark's clothing. Instead, he went through the rest of the letters at super-speed, completing the sorting process. Once he'd done that, he went through the bags of letters to be forwarded to social and other support groups and sorted those by the appropriate group. These he flew out and delivered directly to the organizations so they'd be able to start on them first thing in the morning. He'd written a brief cover letter for each organization, instructing them to contact the Daily Planet if they wanted confirmation.
When he returned from that errand, he looked over the "Superman Personal" stack. As he read (and in some cases, re-read) the remaining letters, he was relieved to find that there were no life-threatening items. There were some that he was disappointed he hadn't seen earlier, but nothing near the scale of Tina's letter.
Once he had completed this, he took Clark's laptop computer and started inputting names and addresses into a "print merge" format that would allow him to send out a form letter to respond to some requests, such as personal appearance requests that weren't for non-profit organizations. There were a number of requests to license his image, and a new form letter was written to accommodate these; the letter specified that a certain percent of the profits would have to be donated to charitable organizations … he realized he'd need to ask Perry for the name of a good lawyer to handle these negotiations.
He also began to work up a schedule to visit the children's wards at the various hospitals in Metropolis at least once a month, if not more often. He knew he'd have to coordinate these with other hospital activities, but the sheer volume of letters received from children was a sure sign to him that he'd have to fit this in.
Superman realized he'd lost all track of time when Lois showed up abruptly, opening up the door to Clark's apartment without knocking. "Hi, Clark, sorry to barge in, but I saw the light was on, so I decided to just … oh, Superman! Clark said you'd be by this morning!"
"Hi, Lois. Actually, I've been here all night, sorting these letters out. I've got a lot of things to set up I hadn't thought of until now."
"Oh. Where's Clark?"
"Ah … he went out, to check on the photos."
"Well, he won't find them … " Lois stepped out of the door and carried in a box marked "Photos." "There's five more boxes on the way … they'll send them over as soon as they're done."
"Good … I think we'll need a lot of manila envelopes, pens and stamps. Clark already typed in the addresses into his laptop to generate mailing labels."
"Good grief, he must've stayed up all night, too."
Superman smiled. "You could say that."
"Well, as far as pens go, I think I've got about a dozen of them floating around my purse … " Lois started digging through her purse as Superman opened up the box of photos. To her surprise, she came up with 14 pens, no two the same.
She handed them over to Superman, who started autographing photos of himself at super-speed.
"Oops," he said, looking up. "I'll have to sign slower … I think I melted the point of this pen." He signed the remainder of the photos in ten minutes, only going through three of the pens. "Maybe I should go find Clark and let him know we need everything but photos at this point … "
Lois nodded. "Okay … gee, I thought there were more letters than these."
"There were … but I forwarded some of them already. That reminds me … do you know of a good attorney that could handle licensing agreements?"
Shortly, Superman flew off, leaving Lois alone in Clark's apartment. Under normal circumstances, Lois would've used this as an opportunity to snoop … especially since she's figured that Clark knows much more about her than she knows about Clark. However, this time, Lois decided discretion was the better course … besides, she half-expected Superman to show up again as soon as she opened up one of Clark's desk drawers.
She decided to occupy herself with running off the address labels from Clark's laptop. Fortunately, she didn't have to snoop around to find label sheets … in fact, it looked as if Clark had been ready to do that himself before he got distracted.
As the sheets printed out, Clark arrived with a few boxes of manila envelopes. "Superman caught up with me before I got to the Planet … and when I got there, Perry said to bring the filled envelopes to the mail room, and he'll deal with it from there."
"Okay. Isn't Superman coming back?"
"He said he'd try to return later, after some more photos arrived for him to sign. But in the meantime, he had something else to take care of."
"Maybe if he gets back by noon, we can all three go out to lunch," Lois suggested. "It would be fun for the three of us to get a chance to talk … after all, you and Superman get to talk, and Superman and I get to talk, and of course, you and I get to talk, but never all three of us together."
"That would be something," Clark agreed, smiling.
Between the two of them, they labeled, stuffed, and sealed the signed photos in an hour.
"Lois, why don't you run this first group over to the Planet?" Clark suggested.
Lois responded by taking her car keys out of her purse. "Here," she said, tossing them at Clark. "take my car."
"You're going to let me drive your car without you in it?" Clark asked. "Wait a minute, I thought you were going to take the photos over?"
"I'd rather wait here."
Resigned, Clark said, "Okay, I'll take them."
Clark picked up the two boxes full of addressed envelopes and carried them out the door. Once he was in the hallway, he changed to Superman and flew them to the Planet. Turning the boxes over to Jimmy and Perry, he flew back to Clark's apartment in time to find that a few more boxes of photos had arrived.
He entered the apartment as Superman. "Clark may be back a little earlier than expected … I saw him driving over to the Planet, and I offered to fly the signed photos over there to save him some time. Looks like the next batch is ready."
"Yes, here they are," Lois said.
Having a better gauge on what speed to safely sign photos with, Superman signed all the photos that had been delivered in half an hour. As he signed, he said, "You know, Lois, I was surprised to find Clark driving your car … I was expecting to find you driving it."
"Oh … well, I wanted to wait for you to come back here so I could invite you to join Clark and myself for lunch."
"Yes, Clark mentioned it to me … but I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time. But you and Clark should go … it'd be a nice break for the both of you, especially after spending so much time dealing with my mail."
"Oh, it's no problem at all … in fact, it was my — I mean, our — pleasure."
"Really? It looked like a lot of work to me … especially for Clark, staying up all night helping me out."
"I guess it was a lot of work after all … especially for Clark. Superman, do you think I might be taking Clark for granted?"
Superman had to fight a smile. "It's possible, Lois. But you know how Clark is … I'm sure he wouldn't complain if you were."
"That's now Clark is, all right … sometimes I wonder how I got to be so lucky to have two such great guys in my life."
"Ah … well, Lois, I should get going again … "
"A super-hero's work is never done?"
"Something like that. Clark should be back soon anyway. See you later!" With that, Superman flew out Clark's window, making a sudden turn straight up so he could fly into the hallway window on the opposite side of the building and change to Clark. He was once again thankful that he seemed to be the only tenant on his floor.
When he walked into his apartment again (and getting mighty tired of switching to Superman and back over and over), Lois was stuffing envelopes with signed photos.
"Hi, again, Clark," Lois said.
"Hi again yourself," Clark replied. "Did Superman get back here?"
"Yes, he did … you just missed him. Turns out he can't join us for lunch."
"Oh, that's too bad … I was beginning to look forward to it." Reaching into his pocket, Clark extracted Lois' car keys and tossed them to her, saying, "Catch."
Lois didn't react quickly enough, and the keys bounced off her shoulder. "Hey!" she protested.
"I'm sorry, Lois … I should've just handed them to you."
"Darn right you should have. But you've been up all night, so I'll forgive you. Now get your butt over here and start labeling, sealing and stamping these envelopes, will you?"
"You've got it … anything for the Man of Steel."
They worked on the envelopes in silence for a minute, until Lois broke it by saying, "You know, Clark, Superman really does appreciate your helping him out with this. It was very sweet of you to allow the use of your apartment this time."
Clark noticed Lois didn't mention Superman appreciating her help. "What was I going to do? There wasn't any space at the Planet for this, and I couldn't see messing up your apartment with mail bags."
Lois laughed. "I guess mail bags don't quite go with my decor."
It was Clark's turn to laugh. "Ah, but they do go with my decor? That's my decor — modern American post office!"
Lois laughed some more, and said, "Couldn't be … your apartment has better hours, and more reliable service."
Clark laughed again at that comment, then yawned. "I guess lack of sleep's put me in a silly mood."
"Well, don't try to stay awake on my account … if you want to grab a nap, go ahead … I'll just keep working."
"Thanks, Lois, but I think I can keep at this for a little while longer."
Three envelopes later, Clark was beginning to blink furiously. Lois recognized this as a sign that Clark was about to nod off.
"Clark, you are not going to fall asleep in that chair! Get your butt over to your bed … then you can fall asleep!"
Clark responded with a mock salute, saying "Aye, aye, cap'n … " and stumbled to his bed, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Lois watched this, and said, "Oh, Clark, you're going to wrinkle your suit … " She walked over to Clark's sleeping form … fortunately, he fell asleep on his side.
After several minutes of effort, trying not to wake Clark, Lois managed to pull Clark's jacket off him, and draped it over a chair. Clark had taken off his tie last night, so she didn't have to worry about that … and decided Clark could live with wrinkled pants.
There was a blanket folded at the foot of the bed, and Lois draped it over Clark. She stood there afterwards, looking at Clark sleeping soundly, and then, on impulse, she leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.