By Nan Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story
are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros.,
December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally claim
them. The story is originally based on the Lois and Clark
episode "Witness" and any recognizable parts (of Witness or any
other episodes of the series) are credited to the writers of
the show. Any new characters, scenes and the story itself are
This is the sequel to "Four Days to Nightfall" and begins two
days after "Charlie" deflected Nightfall, thereby saving the
Earth from destruction. There is no Superman, yet, and Clark
Kent has just been hired at the Daily Planet...
And now: Teamwork By Nan Smith
"Clark Kent, this is Lois Lane," Jimmy said. "She's..."
"I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Lane some time ago," Clark
Kent said. "How are you, Lois?"
"Fine, thank you, Clark." Lois said, politely. "How are things
in Smallville, these days?"
"Much better than a few days ago," Clark said. His eyes were
twinkling. "My parents said to say hello to you for them."
"That was nice of them," Lois said. "So, you're joining the
Clark nodded. "I'd been planning to try for a job in Metropolis
for some time," he said. "The Nightfall thing made me decide to
speed up my plans a bit. Jennifer has been ready to take over
as editor of the paper for quite a while, really, so I turned
it over to her a week early and here I am."
Jimmy grinned. "I guess something like that makes a lot of
people think," he said. "I finally decided to re-enroll in the
night classes at Metro City College and finish getting that AA
degree in computers. It will take a couple of years, going to
school part time, but it should mean a real improvement for my
"It certainly will," Clark said. "I'm told you're pretty good
with them, already."
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, but it was mostly self-taught. Those
letters after my name will make a big difference."
"Sad but true," Lois said. "Maybe it'll translate into a bigger
"I wouldn't mind," Jimmy said. "Come on, CK, I better show you
the rest of the layout. Over here, we have the sports section.
The Sports Editor is Pete..."
Lois watched them go, or more accurately, she watched Charlie -
- or Clark -- walking away. The man certainly made that suit
A low wolf whistle made her turn her head. Cat Grant, clad in
something that was at least theoretically a dress, was also
watching him with an expression that reminded Lois of a tiger
contemplating its prey.
"Who's the new tight end?" she inquired.
Lois shrugged, suppressing a twinge of annoyance. Charlie had
made it pretty clear a few days ago that Cat really wasn't his
type. Besides, she was darned if she'd let Cat know that
anything the woman did bothered her. "Why don't you throw your
usual forward pass and find out?"
Cat smiled her usual irritating smile and whipped out her
compact to check her heavy lip makeup. Lois deliberately looked
the other way but couldn't help listening as the gossip
columnist parked herself directly in his path.
Lois glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Cat was
blocking his way, blatantly displaying her not-inconsiderable
assets. She extended her hand. "Cat Grant. Cat's Corner?" she
added, smiling brilliantly.
Charlie -- Clark, Lois reminded herself -- smiled back, a
little hesitantly. "Oh, yes. I've read your column, Ms. Grant."
"Cat," she corrected.
"Cat," Clark agreed. "I'm Clark Kent."
"So, Clark," Cat said, trailing a finger up his arm, "are you
new to Metropolis? I know how lonely it can be, those first
days in a new place. Maybe we could have dinner someplace
tonight and I could show you around..."
Lois gritted her teeth. If Charlie was foolish enough to accept
that invitation, she knew what Cat would be showing him! Trust
the woman to move in on an attractive male -- or *any* male --
like a steamroller!
"Why, thank you, Ms. Grant." Clark adjusted his glasses. "I
appreciate the offer, but I'm pretty busy, right now. Maybe
after I get settled..."
Cat's smile widened and she patted his arm. "It's a date." She
turned and walked away, hips swaying.
Clark turned his head and looked at Lois, his expression almost
comically dismayed. The expression was so eloquent, Lois's
irritation vanished as quickly as it had arisen and she had to
master a sudden urge to laugh.
Jimmy wasn't paying attention to the byplay, however. He was
watching Cat walk away. Lois got to her feet and crossed the
office to where the men were standing. "Wipe the drool off your
"Huh?" Jimmy's gaze snapped to her.
"Have you finished the tour?" she inquired.
"Huh? Oh, yeah."
"Good, because it's past my lunchtime. Clark, if you've
finished your paperwork for the moment, I'm going to get lunch.
Want to come along?"
"Sure...if Mr. White doesn't want me to do anything else."
"Even new employees get time off for lunch. You can tell me
what you've been doing since I saw you last."
It was already past noon. As they stepped outside the Daily
Planet, Lois turned to Charlie -- Clark, she reminded herself
again, but it was hard to think of her companion during the
Nightfall crisis as anyone but Charlie. He was Charlie to her
and probably always would be. "Where would you like to eat?
There are a lot more places open, this time around."
He chuckled. "That's a nice change. I don't know. The burger
place we went to would be fine."
"Okay." They started up the block toward the hamburger stand.
Lois glanced sideways at him, wondering how to start the
conversation. This wasn't the Charlie she had known, the man
without a memory. This Charlie was Clark Kent of Smallville,
the editor of the town's little paper and in full possession of
"I guess those were your glasses that I found in the crater,
after all," she said.
He nodded. "Probably. Normally, I wear my glasses all the time,
even when I'm flying. It's a habit."
"Don't they blow off?" she asked, curiously. "I mean, you must
be able to fly pretty fast, if you reached the asteroid swarm
in under five minutes."
"Yeah, I do. I don't know-they seem to stick where they are
without any trouble."
"Oh." She digested that. "Why glasses, though? You don't really
need them, do you?"
"No, not to see," he admitted. "Mom came up with the idea to
remind me not to use my special vision without thinking about
it. The lenses are made of lead crystal."
"That was one of the things we didn't figure out," he said.
"I'll explain later when we aren't in public, but basically, I
can't use my x-ray vision very well while I'm wearing them."
"*X-ray* -- " She cut the sentence off. "I can see you've got a
lot to tell me," she continued after a minute. At his nod, she
said, "Well, you can do that this evening. We'll get some take
out and go to my apartment-unless you have one of your own by
"Not yet. I'm staying at the Apollo Hotel until I find the
right place. I wouldn't invite my worst enemy over there."
"That bad, huh?"
"Worse," he said. "Your place is much nicer. Was the food I
left you still warm enough when you got home?"
She nodded. "It was fine. You probably only missed me by a few
"I'd have stayed, but I had a lot of things to do. Mt. Pinatubo
was erupting and there was a village right in the path of the
lava -- "
"Yeah, I know. I figured that was probably you," Lois said.
"I've been following the news pretty closely the last couple of
days, trying to figure out what was coincidence and what was
your work. How do you manage without people seeing you?"
He shrugged. "Sometimes I don't. I can move pretty fast, but
sometimes I can't avoid being seen. Dad keeps telling me that
sooner or later somebody's going to catch me with a video
camera and the jig will be up."
"Hmm." Lois mulled that over. "Maybe you should wear a mask or
something. As fast as you can move, you could put one on in no
He didn't answer for a moment, and when he did, he sounded
slightly surprised. "You know, I never even thought of that."
"Well," she said, "we're going to have to work on some way for
you to keep from being recognized, if you're going to keep
helping people. You don't want to have to explain yourself and
I don't want you to have to, either."
"Dad always said that if anyone ever found out about me, the
government would put me in a lab and dissect me like a frog,"
he said. "Mom and Dad were pretty worried when they first found
out that you knew. I told them they didn't have to worry."
"Good," Lois said, "because they don't. Besides, how could
anybody dissect you? If ramming Nightfall didn't kill you, I
doubt anything the government could come up with would be able
to. Still, I'd rather people didn't know. We'd never have a
He didn't answer at once. Finally, he said, " You still feel
the same way, then?"
"Of course I do," she said. "Why shouldn't I? Unless you've
changed *your* mind."
He was shaking his head. "Not a chance."
"Well, as long as we have that straight." The hamburger stand
was doing a brisk business. They joined the line, waiting for
their turn. "What do you want for lunch?"
He grinned. "You bought last time. This time it's my treat."
"Actually, Perry bought the burgers from this place," Lois
He waved that away. "Only a technicality. I'm buying. What
would you like?"
"I think I'll get the chicken sandwich," Lois said. "The days
of unbridled eating are over."
"I don't think you ate much at the time, actually. Did you ever
get the chance to go shopping?"
"Yeah, the next morning I stocked up on frozen dinners. They're
fast and I'm not much of a cook."
"Well, I am," Clark said. "Wait until I get my own place. I'll
invite you over for an apartment-warming dinner."
"That Chinese food you brought was great," Lois said. "Was it
really from -- you know?"
"Yeah, I found the place about three years ago, while I was
traveling," he said. "I've gone back there ever since, every
time I want good Chinese take-out. It's only a few minutes away
for me and the food is worth it. Besides, I figured it couldn't
be worse than that petrified stuff you threw in the garbage the
other night. They closed down Feng's Chinese Garden two months
ago -- and it wasn't that great when it was open."
"You've been there?"
"Sure. I like discovering good places to eat. That wasn't one
of my better choices, though."
The teenager ahead of them paid the cashier, collected his
burger and fries and departed. The woman at the counter turned
to Lois. "What'll it be?"
Lois gave her order and then listened in a state of slight
bemusement as Charlie -- Clark, she reminded herself again --
ordered enough food to feed a small army. While they waited,
Lois looked out at the now-bustling city, reflecting how
different it had been the last time she and Charlie had stood
He leaned against the counter, looking relaxed and comfortable,
smiling at her and she thought again, as she had been doing
since she had met him, that it was a shame that they hadn't met
years ago. Charlie -- or Clark -- was so completely unlike
Claude, it was like night and day. Maybe being from a small
town had something to do with it, she thought. She'd always
thought of people from small town America as naive and
unsophisticated, but looking at Charlie -- Clark Kent -- she
was beginning to wonder if that was such a bad thing -- or if
it was even true.
Several other people had come and gone before the large bag
containing their lunches was deposited on the counter and Clark
(was she ever going to get used to calling him that?) paid the
"Do you want to eat at one of the tables?" he asked.
"Sure." She took a spot near the sidewalk, comfortably
positioned with the sun to her back and he presented her with
the chicken sandwich and the diet soda. When he unwrapped his
own meal, however, she eyed his choices with a certain amount
of envy. "Don't you ever have to worry about fat or
"I doubt it," he said, keeping his voice low. "I've never found
anything that can hurt me, since I was about twelve."
She was removing the wrapper from her sandwich but at that, she
looked up. "So, there was a time when you weren't...um..."
"Injury proof? Well, I fell out of a tree when I was six and
broke my leg. I think that was the worst thing that ever
happened to me, though. It healed up in about two weeks, but
nobody knew that except my Mom and Dad."
"Oh." She took a bite of the sandwich and chewed thoughtfully.
"So, I take it that the Mr. and Mrs. Kent we talked to are your
"My adoptive parents," he said. "I've never known who my real
parents were. I was kind of left on their doorstep -- so to
speak. Actually, they found me in a field."
She stared at him, slightly shocked. "You were abandoned?"
"Um -- not exactly. At least, I don't think so. I'll tell you
more about it this evening."
That was probably a good idea, she decided. With the sounds of
the passing traffic and the general noise of Metropolis, it
wasn't likely that his low voice would be heard but she wasn't
anxious to take the risk. She concentrated on eating her
chicken sandwich and watched with some amazement as enough food
to feed a small army disappeared from in front of Charlie in record
time. Well, for a man who was as fast and strong as he was and
who could fly besides, it probably wasn't all that big a meal,
she reasoned. He must burn up energy like crazy. No wonder he
looked as if he worked out constantly. She knew what Cat saw in
him, all right -- outside of the simple fact that he was young
and male. Cat had to be closing in on forty, but she had never,
in the time Lois had known her, ever let that stop her in the
pursuit of an attractive guy-and most of the men seemed to find
Cat to their taste. She hoped that Charlie wouldn't fall under
her spell, though. To his credit, he hadn't seemed particularly
"Is something wrong?" Charlie's voice broke through her
"Huh? Oh -- no, not really. I was just thinking about Cat
trying to move in on you a while ago."
"Oh, that." Charlie rolled his eyes. "I was going to ask for
your advice about that. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but
I really don't want to have dinner with her."
Lois simply looked at him. Were there really men like this or
was it because Charlie was an alien? In spite of the way she'd
seen him react to Cat twice now, she still had difficulty
comprehending his behavior. Every man at the office, with the
possible exception of Perry, would probably jump at the
opportunity Cat had dangled in front of him, and he was trying
to figure out a way to avoid it? True, he definitely wasn't
your ordinary, average guy, but something about Cat brought out
every insecurity Lois had ever had about her own appeal to the
male of the species. Charlie had to at least suspect what was
being offered and apparently really didn't want any kind of
fling with her. After a few seconds, she regained her composure
and cleared her throat. "Um -- let me give it some thought,"
she said. "I'll figure something out."
"Thanks. Cat just isn't my type."
"Oh?" Lois said, unable to resist the temptation. "Just what
*is* your type, then?"
"I didn't have a 'type' until I met you -- or at least, I
didn't know what it was," he said, with a small grin. "I guess
I'm just very selective, because I've never met any woman like
you before. Does that sound silly?"
"I think," Lois said, "that I'm taking back everything I ever
thought about small town guys. It might be silly, but I like
"Good." He looked down at the table and then back at her face.
"I don't want to rush you -- I mean, you've only known me for a
few days -- but I was wondering if you'd like to go out to
dinner, after I get a little more settled. There's this little
café that I know in Paris -- "
"Paris? Could you do that? I mean -- "
"Well, sure, it's not dangerous. I've taken my mom and dad
places that way and I've never dropped them, yet."
"Oh, no I didn't mean that," Lois said, quickly. "I just hadn't
realized you could -- I mean, you could take me flying with
you?" The idea was dazzling.
"Sure. How about this evening?"
Suddenly, evening couldn't come fast enough. "Wow! I mean,
"Have you ever been to the Brazilian rainforest?" Lois asked,
as they headed back toward the Planet a short time later.
"Well -- " Lois glanced upward at the cloudy sky. A light
dusting of snow had begun to fall. "I wondered. It seemed
likely that you had, considering what we found out about you
that day the power went out. They're picking the new head of
the Rainforest Consortium, you know. It was all over the papers
before Nightfall kind of crowded it off the front page. The
results are going to be announced Tuesday."
"Yeah. Rumor says the front runner is Barbara Trevino. If it's
true, she'd be the first woman to ever hold the post. Quite an
"Exactly. It's big news. Anyhow, I'm supposed to try to get an
interview from her for the Planet. I was wondering if you could
give me a little general information about things -- you know -
- what the rainforest is like, the situation with the timber
companies and the clear cutting operations -- what it looks
like to a visitor and so forth. If you don't mind."
"Sure," Charlie said. "Any time you like."
"Well, how about this evening, then -- before you tell me about
He shrugged. "No problem."
As they entered the Planet's lobby, Lois glanced at the
newspaper and magazine stand. Barbara Trevino's face smiled
from the front page of two different magazines and the same
shot, much smaller, graced the front page of the current copy
of The Daily Planet.
"The papers are sure playing it big," Charlie said.
"Yeah," Lois said. "Won't everybody be embarrassed if they pick
somebody else, after all this?"
"Why do you say that?" he asked, sounding mildly curious.
"No reason. It's just that I'm a firm believer in Murphy's
"I see what you mean," he agreed. "Well, let's hope it doesn't
Lois glanced at her watch. "Oh, great, look at the time. I need
to change clothes. I have an interview in about an hour."
"Big story?" Charlie asked.
"Maybe," Lois said. "I got a call from Vincent Winninger this
morning. You know who he is, don't you?"
He nodded. "Sure. He has quite a reputation -- not all of it in
the scientific community."
Lois couldn't restrain a grin. "True. But he wanted to talk to
me, and far be it from me to toss aside a chance like that. Go
on up to the newsroom. I'll see you in a minute."
It was rather more than a minute before Lois arrived in the
newsroom and hurried over to her desk to retrieve her recorder.
Glancing up, she saw Charlie's appreciative gaze riveted on her
with quite a different expression on his face than the one with
which he had regarded Cat.
"How do I look?" she asked.
"Very...nice," he said.
Lois glanced down at the short, red dress that showed a good
deal more leg than most of her office wardrobe. "Thank you."
Jimmy stopped in mid step and nearly fell over his feet. "Whoa!
Where are you going?"
"To interview Vincent Winninger," Lois said, trying not to
"You're kidding!" Jimmy looked suitably impressed. "The Mad
"He's not mad," Lois said. "He's eccentric."
"*You're* going to interview Vincent Winninger?" Cat's voice
said, behind her. Lois turned. The gossip columnist was
removing a leopard-spotted coat to reveal a dress that
uncovered different patches of skin than the creation she had
worn this morning.
"Yes," she said, trying not to bristle.
Cat snorted. "That explains the vain attempt to look sexy."
"You better be careful," Jimmy said. "Vincent Winninger is a
notorious -- "
"Wolf," Cat said. "Womanizer." She didn't sound as if the
thought bothered her. "Maybe I should go with you."
"Maybe you shouldn't," Lois said, without hesitation. She found
the recorder in the second drawer she opened and thrust it into
her bag. "I'll see you all later."
Cat cast a final glance at the red outfit and sashayed away
toward her desk. Charlie -- Clark, she reminded herself again.
She really had to start calling him Clark even to herself, or
she was going to slip at the wrong time -- *Clark* had a faint
grin on his face. "Don't tell me," he said. "Are you planning
to exploit your femininity to -- "
"To get the story of one of the strangest and most reclusive
scientists of our time?" Lois completed the sentence. She
grinned. "You bet."
Clark chuckled. "I was right," he said. "Any editor would kill
to have you on his team."
"That's for sure," Jimmy said. He resumed his interrupted
progress toward the storeroom. Lois waited until he was out of
earshot before answering.
"You're welcome, but I was only telling the truth," he replied.
"You shouldn't let Cat get to you like that. It's just envy,
"Maybe," she said, glancing at her watch. "I have to leave or
I'm going to be late. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
It wasn't until she had stepped into the elevator and the doors
had closed that it occurred to her to wonder how he had known.
It seemed that Charlie was a lot more observant than she had
"Scientists, philosophers, historians, hippies -- hah!" Vincent
Winninger broke off with a snort of laughter. "Elimont Center,
the intellectual commune: named after -- " Again he paused and
said on a musing note, "I don't remember who he named it after.
Lois turned from her examination of the wall full of
photographs to look at him, uncertain whether the scientist
actually expected an answer. He was a tall, athletic man with
an engaging manner that Lois found quite charming, even if a
good proportion of his remarks left her slightly confused.
Winninger gave her a half smile. "Whoever he was, you can bet
he was obscure."
He must be joking, Lois decided. She turned back to the photos.
There were a lot of them, photos showing Vincent Winninger with
politicians, astronauts, actors -- famous personages from all
walks of life. She leaned closer, taking in the famous faces.
"And these theatrical photos?"
"The commune had a theater group," Winninger said.
An extremely famous face caught her eye. "Isn't that...?"
"Frank Sinatra?" Winninger filled in the blank. " Uh, no.
That's Sebastian Finn. Mr. Make-up, we called him. He could
make himself look like anyone. His Bette Davis was ...
Fascinated, Lois examined the image of the imposter closely. If
there was a difference, she couldn't see it in the photograph.
"What happened to him?"
Winninger shrugged. "I don't know. He sort of disappeared. His
make-up was better than his acting."
The photo of Winninger and a past president caught her
attention. "Isn't this...."
He nodded, looking unexpectedly serious. "Barbara Trevino," he
said, indicating the woman standing in the background. "She's
come a long way. From radical hippie to..."
"To chairperson of the Rainforest Consortium," Lois said.
Belatedly, she snapped on her recorder. "Do you mind if I
He shook his head. "Be my guest."
"Thanks. You were talking about Barbara Trevino, the new
Chairperson of the Rainforest Consortium -- "
To her surprise, Winninger unexpectedly shook his head. "Well,
not until Tuesday. But we're going to change all that."
Lois shot him a startled glance. "We?"
"Yes, you and me. That's why you're here." The scientist took a
seat on the sofa and reached to extract a small book from a box
sitting on the coffee table. "Did you know that I spent several
years living with an Amazonian tribe?"
There must be some point here, she thought, even if she wasn't
seeing it. The scientist waved her to a seat beside him and
held out the book. "The Life and Times of Vincent Winninger. In
this play, Barbara Trevino has a leading role. She's the femme
Not rambling after all? Lois leaned forward to take the book,
avoiding the tray holding a pitcher of iced tea and two glasses
that sat on the table, and her skirt inched upward, baring a
stretch of shapely thigh. Winninger's eyes flicked toward it.
"You know," he said, resting a hand casually on her knee,
"you're a very good-looking woman, Ms. Lane."
"Thank you." She firmly removed his hand.
He gave the faintest of smiles, acknowledging the action. "How
do you feel about increased male potency?"
"What?" She quickly pulled her skirt into place. "Look, Dr.
Winninger, I know your reputation with women is only exceeded
by your scientific one, but I think it's best if we keep this
Feeling as if she were grasping at mist that melted as she
touched it, Lois stared at him. "What am I missing here?"
Winninger's smile had vanished. "Barbara Trevino is going to
sell all of us and the ozone layer straight down the river," he
said, "and destroy our chances for increased male potency."
Lois stared at him in shock. The man was clearly rambling. "I
guess the sixties were pretty good to you," she said, finally.
Winninger didn't seem to be offended. "Hear me out. It will all
become clear." He picked up the pitcher of tea. "Would you like
some iced tea?"
He began to pour a glass for her, but the liquid splashed
slightly, spattering her blouse. Winninger set the pitcher down
quickly and snatched up a napkin, attempting to blot away the
tea. "Oh, I'm so sorry!"
"That's okay," Lois said, hastily. "I'll get it." She rose
quickly to her feet and hurried toward the bathroom, still
clutching the notebook. Behind her, she heard a knock on the
Later, she would marvel at the workings of chance and at the
fact that the minor accident had probably saved her life.
Dabbing at the small spot of tea on her clothing, she heard
Winninger's voice, speaking to someone out of her range of
"You're back early."
There was no answer from the newcomer, but the next word
brought her around in alarm.
"No!" The scientist's voice was filled with sheer terror. "No!"
The second word cut off in the middle and Lois almost ducked at
the sound of a shot fired from a silenced pistol.
Why the sound it made was called silenced she wasn't quite
sure, for the shot was anything but silent to her startled
ears, but she supposed that it wasn't as loud as an unsilenced
one. Marginally, anyhow. Someone outside probably wouldn't know
what had made it. Quickly, she peeked through the crack in the
door, trying to see what was happening.
Winnenger collapsed suddenly into her range of vision and she
almost jumped. There was something about the way he lay there
like an empty sack that left no doubt in her mind that he was
dead, and her heart began to thump painfully in her chest as it
occurred to her for the first time that she was in real danger.
She had nearly witnessed a murder; she had certainly heard it,
and the killer was standing right there in the other room, less
than fifteen feet from her. Biting her lower lip to keep from
making any inadvertent sound, she sneaked one eye past the edge
of the door again, trying to see.
Motion. She could see a leather shoe and then a pantleg. A man
knelt beside Winninger and felt for the pulse in his neck. For
a numb second, during which her brain didn't seem to be
functioning, she didn't absorb the scene before her, then
reality seemed to rush back. She was seeing the murderer
checking the efficacy of his work.
She almost gasped but managed to stifle it and consciously
tried to breathe quietly. She needed to remember what she saw,
she told herself, but it was hard to concentrate. Then the
breath caught in her throat as the killer got to his feet and
turned toward the bathroom.
As silently as possible, she eased back against the wall and
pressed herself as flat against it as she could manage.
The book. Too late, she saw the notebook she had been holding,
lying on the lid of the commode.
The door was pushed back suddenly and she barely stifled a
squeak of alarm. The man entered the room and walked directly
to the sink, ignoring the book that lay openly on the lid.
Methodically, he removed his shirt, then unwrapped a bar of
soap, tossing the wrapper into the trash.
Lois couldn't be certain what he was doing because she didn't
dare move. Flattened behind the door, if she did anything to
draw his attention he would be bound to see her. The self-
defense moves she had learned wouldn't be very useful against a
gun, and in any case, the bathroom was too small for much
maneuvering. Trying to breathe silently, she remained
The sound of running water reached her ears and she dared to
lean forward just slightly. The killer was washing his face.
Now was her chance, probably the only one she would have.
Feeling the perspiration break out on her forehead, Lois
reached out and seized the book, retreating once more behind
the door. If she could have, she would have left the bathroom
and fled, but the space between the killer and the door was too
narrow. She would have brushed against him and given herself
away. As it was, her heart was pounding so hard in her chest,
she was surprised he couldn't hear it.
How long was the guy going to scrub himself, she wondered. She
felt suffocated from trying to breathe lightly and silently. At
last, he turned from the sink, his eyes closed tightly, and
reached for the bath towel hanging neatly from its rack. His
hand missed the towel rack and he leaned forward, feeling for
the towel. In a moment, he was bound to open his eyes to find
the thing he sought and the jig would be up. Moving quickly and
quietly, Lois seized the item, almost thrust it into his
seeking hands and flattened herself against the wall once more.
Every second seemed like a small lifetime as the murderer
carefully dried his face and hands. At last, he turned and left
the little bathroom, taking the towel with him. Lois let out
The fact that she had so far escaped detection must have given
her a small jolt of courage. She was still scared; she admitted
it freely, but her brain and sense of observation were
beginning to recover.
He had taken the shirt as well, she saw. This guy, whoever he
was, wasn't any amateur.
Lois could hear the man's retreating footsteps and breathed a
sigh of relief.
Too soon. The footsteps were returning. She held her breath,
not daring to move. The footsteps entered the bathroom, and she
saw a hand reach down into the trashcan to remove the soap
More movement. This time the footsteps retreated purposefully
and quickly, and she heard the door open and then close.
Lois released her breath explosively and then, feeling slightly
dizzy, sucked in a lungful of air. He was gone.
Slowly, she emerged from behind the door. Vincent Winninger was
sprawled face down on the rug of his study, and a wide patch of
red soaking the carpet next to him had formed itself most
appropriately into a lopsided question mark.
Giving the scientist's body a wide berth, Lois made her way to
the phone. With shaking hands, she dialed zero and waited what
seemed like an hour for the operator to answer.
"Operator," a woman's nasal voice said in her ear. "What
"This is Lois Lane," she said, amazed at the steadiness of her
voice. Her insides felt like jelly. "I want to report a
"Lois, are you okay? What happened?"
Charlie ... no, she firmly reminded herself; Clark. Clark
jumped to his feet as she emerged from Detective Horner's
"How long have you been here?" she asked.
"Half an hour or so. I got here right after you phoned Mr.
White to tell him where you were," he explained. "I overheard
the call -- I wanted to be sure -- well, that you were all
right. Are you?"
"More or less. At least, the guy didn't see me. I need to get
back to the Planet, though. I have a story to write."
Charlie lowered his glasses and glanced past her. Lois looked
over her shoulder but saw nothing except a closed door. "What?"
"Tell you later. Where's your car?"
"Parked over on the cross street." Lois started toward the
glass doors. "Come on. I'll fill you in."
Clark held the door for her and followed her out. "What
happened? I heard you tell Mr. White that Vincent Winninger had
"How did you ... oh, yes. Your hearing. Yeah." Lois started
down the steps to the sidewalk. "Winninger was murdered. I was
there when it happened."
"*What*? I thought you'd found him dead. You were there?"
"I'd gone into the powder room to get a spot of iced tea off my
blouse. I heard someone knock on his door and ..." Lois
succinctly told him the story while they made their way to the
Jeep. Charlie -- Clark, she reminded herself, sharply --
listened in complete silence until she finished.
" -- And then I called the police." She glanced up at his face,
surprised to see that he had lost color. "I'm fine, Char --
"I know. It's just -- you could have been killed."
"But I wasn't," she reminded him. "He never knew I was there,
and I got a good look at him when he came into the bathroom to
"That makes you a witness," Clark said. "You can identify him."
"I know," she said. "But he doesn't know it. I'm going to find
out why Winninger was killed and who the guy was that killed
him. My bet is, it's because of what he was going to tell me
about Barbara Trevino."
She unlocked the passenger door and then went around to the
driver's side. When she slid into the seat, Charlie was
frowning over his shoulder, glasses sitting on his nose, but as
she slammed her door, he pushed them back into place and turned
to look at her. "Why do you think that?" he asked. "You could
be right, but are you guessing or do you have another reason?"
"It's more than a guess," Lois said. "While I was waiting for
the police, I noticed something. The box of journals that was
sitting on the coffee table while Winninger and I were talking
had disappeared. Winninger gave me one from that pile -- I
think it might have been what the killer was looking for.
Here." She extracted the little book from her bag and handed it
to him. "I can't read it -- it's written in some other
language. But if I can get it translated ..."
He opened it and frowned at the handwriting. "It's in
"You can read it?" Lois asked.
"Yeah. I lived in Rio de Janiero for a few months a couple of
years ago," he said, absently, flipping through the pages.
"It's a diary, all right. I don't see anything in here worthy
of murder ... it looks like Winninger's record of three years
spent in Brazil, living with an Amazonian tribe ... but there's
some kind of chemical formula on the last page. That might be
what you're looking for. We're going to need a chemist to
figure it out, though."
Lois found herself gaping at him. "How fast do you read?"
"Pretty fast." He lowered his glasses and looked back in the
direction of the police station again. "I thought so."
"Detective Horner is headed back to Winninger's house with
Inspector Henderson. Winninger had a roommate -- a Dr. Hubert.
He's flying back into Metropolis in about an hour. They've
already made an appointment to talk to him when he gets there."
"How do you know that?"
"I heard him talking to Inspector Henderson when we were
leaving and I've been watching them to see what they were going
"That's what you were looking at?"
"Yeah." Clark nodded. "I thought maybe you'd want to know what
was going on after you left --and they're on their way out
right now. "
"You bet I want to know!" She started to insert the key into
the ignition but paused as a new idea struck her. If Charlie
would work with her on this, she might have to share the
byline, but think what an advantage they would have! Not just
on this investigation, but on any future ones. True, she had
never worked with a partner, but they seemed to get along so
well -- and anyway, if they were going to embark on any kind of
a relationship, this might be the very test to see if they were
as compatible as they initially seemed to be. Besides that,
with these abilities, Charlie was bound to be one heck of a
reporter. If anyone was going to have that kind of leg up on
the competition, it was going to be her!
"Charlie -- " she began.
He gave a little smile. "Clark."
"Right; Clark. Sorry, I still think of you as Charlie. Look,
would you mind working with me on this case? I realize you're
probably used to doing things on your own, especially with
these incredible abilities, but -- "
He grinned. "I was wondering how to suggest it. Not that I want
to barge in on your story, but if we work together we might be
able to find out some things the police miss."
She discovered that she was blushing. "Charlie -- Clark, I know
an investigation brings out all my predatory instincts, but I'd
love to work with you ... if we can figure out how to present
it to Perry. I don't want him to recognize you as Charlie."
He nodded. "Neither do I. As far as I'm concerned, Charlie can
just sink back into obscurity. There were too many weird things
about the guy. I don't want him connected with me."
"Me, either. But to me, I think you'll always be Charlie -- at
least a little." She leaned forward again to start the engine.
"I'll think of something. Let's get back to the office. I want
to go back to Winninger's in time to see the roommate, and
maybe Jimmy can find someone to figure out that chemical
formula ... " She broke off. "What?"
Clark was looking at her with a small grin still on his face.
"You," he said. "Why didn't I meet you before? You're
"Well, I could say the same thing about you." She thrust out a
He took it. "Partners."
"'Only minutes before his death, Dr. Winninger produced diaries
which he claimed contained evidence that would abort the
impending introduction of Barbara Trevino into the Rain Forest
Consortium.'" Perry White leaned over Lois's shoulder to read
the short article about the murder of Vincent Winninger. "You
don't want to write this."
"And why not?" Lois demanded.
"Why shouldn't she, Chief?" Jimmy chimed in.
"Because I can't print it."
"Because she doesn't have the diaries."
"I may not have the diaries, but I have the recording," Lois
said. "The police made a copy of it and gave me back the
original. I'll play it for you if you like. And I did have the
one diary I gave to Jimmy."
Jimmy nodded. "I can't read it, though. It looks a little like
Spanish, but I don't think it is."
"It's Portuguese," Lois said. "Clark lived in Brazil for a
while and he says so. We're only interested in the chemical
formula in the back, though. Find someone who can read it,
"I'll do my best," Jimmy assured her.
Perry shook his head. "Lois, if I print that part without some
corroborating evidence, the paper could be open to a lawsuit."
"Can't we go with a disclaimer?" Lois protested. "We're only
quoting Winninger, and I have him on tape."
"We could, but without the diaries there's nothing to back it
up -- just the word of a dead man against Barbara Trevino. And
saying that there were diaries and that the killer took them is
gonna tell him you were there."
"I *was* there!"
"Yeah, but he won't know that unless you tell him. If he
figures that out, he could come after you."
"Perry, I just spent five hours with the police and they didn't
say anything about me being in danger."
"Did they know about the missing diaries?"
"Well ... I mentioned that they were gone."
"Yeah, and they're probably ashes by now. But I'll bet anything
that you didn't tell them about the one you had."
"They've probably got tons of forensic evidence. They didn't
need this, too. Besides, we don't know for sure that it's
"Uh huh." Perry White glanced at Clark, who was keeping his
face carefully expressionless as he read the article. "The
killer might not know about that one, but if he knows Winninger
well enough to kill him, then he may. And if he realizes it's
missing, he'll start trying to figure out where it went. And
that will lead right to you."
Lois sighed and made several changes. "There, does that make
"I called Barbara Trevino's spokesperson," Clark interrupted,
diplomatically. "She's en route to Metropolis now. She has a
meeting at the Trade Center tomorrow. He wouldn't tell me where
she was staying, though."
Perry refused to be diverted. He indicated one of the original
passages. "Change this from 'minutes before' to 'earlier in the
day' -- just to be on the safe side."
Rebelliously, Lois obeyed, revising for the second time. "How
about the part that says the man is dead? Can I keep that?"
Perry again glanced at Clark, who maintained his blank
expression. Lois jabbed the key to transmit her story to the
printer and pushed herself to her feet. "I'm going back to
Winninger's house. His roommate ought to be there pretty soon.
If I stay here much longer, I won't have a story." Hastily, she
cleaned the fingerprints off her monitor screen and hurried
toward the elevator. Clark glanced quickly at his boss for
permission and followed.
She was standing at the curb, waiting for the light to change,
when he caught up with her. It was well past sunset and the
street lamps were on. The strings of Christmas lights that
looped from building to building, coiled around the lampposts
and wound through the glittering silver arches of tinsel
proclaiming the holiday season, lit up the night in a myriad of
rainbow colors. The activity on the streets hadn't decreased at
all with the coming of evening.
"Lois, are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Perry's right. I'm going to need a
lot more facts before this is a real story. Anyway, I think
we've given Dr. Hubert time to get here. I want to talk to him.
Maybe he'll have some ideas about why Winninger was killed."
"Maybe. I did some checking on Dr. Hubert while you were
writing," Clark said. "It turns out he's been in Washington DC
since last night, apparently attending a meeting of the
National Science Council. He was scheduled to give some kind of
presentation this afternoon. I thought it might be a good idea
to be sure he had an alibi, just in case."
"Any idea whether he actually made the presentation?" Lois
Clark shrugged. "Can't say. I guess we can ask."
He glanced sideways at the sound of skate wheels on the
sidewalk in time to see a long-haired skateboarder come
careening toward them, somehow managing to miss the other
occupants of the sidewalk. Until, that is, one of the wheels of
his skateboard hit a hole in the walkway where a chunk of
concrete had broken away. The wheel jammed and the board
tipped, sending the man lurching forward, desperately trying to
regain his balance. He slammed into Lois, and the two of them
tumbled into the street, directly into the path of an oncoming
Clark didn't even think. One instant, Lois was on her hands and
knees in the street and the next he had seized her and shoved
her back onto the sidewalk. Almost absently, he grabbed the
skateboarder by one arm and threw him, somewhat less gently, to
safety. Avoiding a physical collision with the truck (one that
would certainly have caused far more damage to the vehicle than
to him) took more than normal speed, but in the confusion, he
doubted anyone would notice. The skateboarder was staggering to
his feet. Clark glared at him for an instant and turned quickly
to help Lois, wasting no more time on the cause of the almost
fatal accident. "Are you all right?"
She nodded, looking a little stunned as he set her upright once
more and he could hear her pulse racing in the aftermath of the
near-disaster. The light changed to green at that moment and
the "Walk" sign flashed on. The crowd that had been waiting to
cross surged past them, paying no attention to the incident
other than an incurious glance or two in their direction. The
skateboarder retrieved his battered board and departed, dodging
pedestrians in his progress down the walkway. He didn't even
"Lois, are you sure you're all right?" Clark asked again.
Lois took a deep breath. "Yeah." She made a visible effort to
regain her composure. "Come on, we're going to miss the light."
They crossed the street and made their way to the Jeep. Lois
hadn't said a word since assuring him she wasn't hurt, but once
inside, she put a hand on his arm. "Thanks, Charlie. You saved
my life. I guess that's two I owe you."
He shook his head. "You don't owe me anything, Lois."
She gave an unsteady little laugh. "Yes I do. Every human on
Earth owes you something. You saved us all from Nightfall and
no one knows it but me -- and I guess your mother and father.
This is just one more thing to add to the tally."
"I'm not counting," he said. "Besides, if it wasn't for you, I
couldn't have done what I did and you know it. If anything, the
world owes you, not me."
Lois stared at him for a long moment and finally shook her
head. "You're incredible, did you know that? Anyway, I hope
nobody else back there noticed how fast you moved, just now."
"I doubt it. Everything was pretty confused."
"And it's not that bright out there," she agreed. "Still, I see
why you're afraid of being seen. We're going to have to try to
think of some way to protect you. I don't want anyone else to
realize what you can do."
"When we get a few minutes of our own," Clark agreed, relieved
that she seemed to be recovering quickly. Still, he was
worried. Sure, this time it had only been an accident, but what
about next time? Once her story came out in the paper, he had
no faith at all in the hope that the killer of Dr. Winninger
would fail to put two and two together and conclude that Lois
had seen him commit murder. Once he realized that, Clark was
quite sure he would try to eliminate the witness to his crime.
There was no point in drawing that to Lois's attention, though.
She had to realize the danger, even if she wouldn't admit it
aloud. Clark remained silent as she started the Jeep and pulled
out into the moderately heavy evening traffic. Losing her for
any reason wasn't something he was prepared to do. He was just
going to have to be on his toes.
The police guard let them past when they arrived at Winninger's
house, directed them to Inspector Henderson and warned them
sternly against touching anything at the crime scene. Lois
agreed impatiently, and she and Clark made their way to the
Henderson was standing in the hall with Detective Horner,
speaking to a man whose back was toward the two reporters. Lois
took one look at him and felt the hair on the back of her neck
try to stand up. She hurried toward them, Clark on her heels,
and moved around to a spot from which she could get a good view
of the stranger's face.
"Henderson!" she said. "This is the man who killed Dr.
Inspector Henderson shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Lois."
"But I saw-"
"I know. That's what I thought, too." Henderson gave a half-
smile. "This is Dr. Hubert, Dr. Winninger's associate."
"Dr. Hubert has been in Washington DC since last night,"
Henderson explained, not very patiently. "He was there today at
two o'clock when Winninger was murdered."
Lois fixed Hubert with a stare. "Did anybody see you?"
Hubert didn't hesitate. "The thirty or forty men and women who
attended the National Science Council meeting ... and heard my
presentation. Including the Vice President of the United
Henderson raised an eyebrow and smiled, sourly. "I'd call that
an alibi, wouldn't you, Lois?"
Lois stared at Dr. Hubert, totally confused. She had seen this
man in Vincent Winninger's bathroom. She had got a close-up
view when she handed him the towel to dry his face. She
couldn't be mistaken. But, evidently she was.
A memory tugged at the back of her mind. Winninger had said
something while they had been talking, but whatever it was
slipped away as she reached for it. She glanced at Clark,
standing silently beside her, his glasses perched on the end of
his nose, and then back at Henderson.
"Something is really weird here," she said, flatly. "If it
wasn't Dr. Hubert, then it was his twin brother. I *saw* him,
Henderson sighed. "I don't know who you saw, Lois, but it
wasn't Dr. Hubert. We've already checked out his alibi, very
thoroughly. He was exactly where he said he was at the time of
the murder." He looked at her with a faint hint of sympathy.
"Look, you've had a rough day. I already promised you that we'd
keep you informed if we find anything you can print. Why don't
you go home and get some rest?"
"Well, Henderson obviously thinks I've lost my mind," Lois
said. "I suppose you do, too?"
Clark shook his head. "No. I think there must be another
explanation, even if I don't have a clue what it might be." He
glanced at his watch. "It's nearly eight o'clock. Why don't we
quit for now and get something to eat? I believe you had a few
things to ask me."
"Good idea. I've had enough of butting my head against a stone
wall for one day." Lois kicked an innocuous twig out of her
way. They were heading back toward the Jeep after leaving
Winninger's house. The air was crisp and cold, and Lois could
see frost already starting to form on the dried grass of
"Looks like it's going to be cold tonight," Clark said.
Lois nodded, still fuming, but already her curiosity and
investigative instincts had superseded the annoyance of being
wrong about Dr. Hubert. "Did you say something about Chinese
takeout from Shanghai?"
Clark grinned. "You bet. Let's go back to your place and I'll
make a quick trip for food. Then, we can talk and eat and you
can ask me all the questions you want."
"I don't think it was necessary for you to escort me into my
apartment," Lois was saying as she closed the door behind them.
"I doubt if there's any danger -- at least yet. My article
won't even appear until tomorrow morning, so how could the
murderer have any idea I saw him?"
"I know," Clark said. "Let's say I'm just being careful.
Besides, I'm going to leave from your window to avoid being
seen." He lowered his glasses and turned his head slowly back
and forth. Knowing what she did about him, she guessed that he
was scanning her apartment for intruders. "Nobody here. Is your
Lois turned and began to fasten the array of locks. "It is,
"Good. In that case, I'll go get the food." He strode to the
window and unfastened the catch. Lois held her breath as she
saw him casually defy gravity for the second time since she had
known him. He floated upward from the floor and drifted out the
open window. Standing on nothing, he turned and smiled. "Back
in a few," he said and shot skyward.
Lois took a deep breath. "Wow," she murmured.
"Wow" really didn't describe it, she amended, looking after
him. Slowly, she removed her coat and went to her coat closet
to hang it up, hardly aware of what she was doing. Charlie --
no, Clark, she reminded herself for the hundredth time -- was
even more amazing than she had realized, until he had pulled
her out of the path of that truck this evening. Half of the
shock she had been coping with had been simply seeing him move
so fast that for an instant he had been literally a blur to her
eyes. Knowing in theory that he was capable of some really
incredible feats somehow didn't measure up to actually seeing
him in action. And seeing him matter-of-factly floating in the
air, as if it were an everyday thing ... well, that nearly left
her breathless. The thought of actually flying with him as he
had suggested this afternoon, had her feeling like a little kid
whose parents had promised her a trip to Disneyland.
The cold breeze from the window finally snapped her out of her
abstraction and she moved forward to close it. A whoosh of air
made her pause, and then Clark was floating back in the window
as gently as he had left. This time, however, he held a large
bag, which was producing delectable aromas that made her mouth
start to water.
"That was fast," she said, after a startled instant.
"I flew straight," he explained. "I'd have been faster, but I
didn't want to risk the food."
Almost absently, she closed the window. "Well, shall we eat?"
"Suits me," he said. "Is your kitchen table okay?"
"Sure. I'll get some plates."
"Do you want tea with this?" he asked. "I can make it pretty
"Sure." When he said fast, he undoubtedly meant *fast* she
thought. "What's a Chinese dinner without tea?"
"My thoughts exactly. Where do you keep your teapot?"
True to her expectations, he set the teapot on the table only
about three seconds later. "It'll take a few minutes to steep,"
he said, taking a seat across from her. "So, did you want to
ask me some questions?" He waggled his eyebrows comically at
Lois found herself giggling at his antics. "Sure. Let's eat,
though. This smells too good to wait any longer."
They began to spoon the food onto their plates. Lois looked
expectantly at him. "Now, why don't you tell me your life's
story? Let's start with: where do you come from?"
"That's a good question, but I'll tell you what I know." Clark
picked up a pork roll and bit into it. "I have no idea where
I'm originally from."
"None?" she asked, startled.
"Nope." He popped the remainder of the roll into his mouth,
chewed and swallowed. "None at all. Mom and Dad think I might
be a Russian experiment, but nobody knows for sure. On May 17,
1966, just after sunset, Mom and Dad were driving past Simpson
Quarry, west of the Elbow River near Smallville, when they saw
a fireball in the sky -- kind of like you did." He gave a one-
sided smile. "They thought it was a meteor. It came shooting
overhead and crashed among the trees in Shuster's Field." He
lowered his glasses and looked at the teapot. "I think the
Lois reached for the teapot. "Go on," she commanded,
He grinned. "Okay. Well, my mom, being who she is, had to check
it out. They went to where they thought it had come down and,
of course, they didn't find a meteor. They didn't even find a
crater. What they found was a trough in the dirt where it had
come in, and at the end of the trough, a tiny rocket or
spaceship, with one occupant: a baby about three months old. Of
course, I was the baby."
"And there was no clue to where you came from?"
He shook his head. "None. There were some kind of symbols or
hieroglyphs on the ship itself, Mom told me, but she doesn't
know what they could have been. Anyhow, Mom and Dad didn't have
any kids; they couldn't, for some reason, and they hadn't been
able to adopt, either. Since it didn't seem likely that anybody
was going to claim me, they took me home. With the help of the
town doctor -- who was Dad's cousin -- they got a birth
certificate for me, and I became Clark Kent."
"So you grew up in small town America," Lois said.
"Yeah. No one ever came looking for me. Mom and Dad worried
about it for a long time, though. Considering how they found
me, and the fact that it was in the middle of the Cold War,
they thought maybe the whole thing might be some kind of
Russian experiment or something. Mom told me later that she
decided that same night that she wasn't going to give me back
to anybody who would experiment on a baby. Still .... " He
paused, staring at his plate. "Still, you wonder, you know?"
"Well, sure," Lois said. "Even ordinary kids wonder why their
parents gave them up. You'd have more reason than most."
He nodded. "Not that Mom and Dad weren't everything I could
have wanted as parents," he added, hastily. "To them, I was a
miracle. Still, I sometimes wonder what the real explanation
"Well, if it was some kind of government experiment, your real
parents might not have had a choice," Lois pointed out.
"I've thought of that." He agreed. "If it happened that way, it
would have been pretty bad for them. I guess it really doesn't
matter now, but I'd like to know."
Lois took a sip of tea. "I guess I understand that," she
agreed, soberly. She reached out to take his hand. "Still, the
chances are, we'll never know. Whatever the explanation was,
I'm glad you're here, now."
He squeezed her fingers gently and smiled. "So am I." He seemed
to shake himself. "Anyway, I grew up on our farm -- just
another kid in a rural community."
She released his hand. "No one ever noticed anything different
"No. At least, not at first. I was pretty much the same as
every other kid -- except that I didn't seem to get sick. I
grew up like any farm kid -- doing chores, helping Mom and Dad,
going to school -- until I was somewhere around ten or eleven,
when I started to develop my powers. That was when we realized
I wasn't just any kid, and Mom and Dad had to tell me how they
really found me. I didn't get them all at once, either." He
smiled. "Flying was the most fun, but I didn't do that until I
was eighteen. After I graduated from high school, I went to
MidWest U and got my degree in journalism, then I traveled
around the world for a few years before I came back and joined
the town newspaper for a while. Then the editor was killed in
an accident, so I took over temporarily. I'd been planning on
coming to Metropolis to try for a job on one of the papers
here, when Nightfall kind of accelerated my plans." He reached
out to pick up the teapot and pour himself a cup of tea.
"That's my whole life story in a nutshell, up until I met you."
"Not quite," Lois said. "When did you start using your powers
to help people?"
"Oh, that." He shrugged. "After my powers started to come in
and I found out I was faster and stronger than other people,
and that nothing could hurt me, sometimes I was able to help in
an emergency without other people finding out. I always had to
be really careful, though. I wanted to help whenever I could,
but Dad reminded me all the time that if the government found
out about me, they'd put me in a laboratory and dissect me like
a frog. He was scared that the authorities would take me away
from him and Mom if anyone ever found out what I could do."
"He might have been right," Lois said, thoughtfully. "Remember
what happened to the Dionne quintuplets. Their government
decided the parents couldn't take care of the girls adequately
and took them away. I can just see some agency in Washington
trying something like that on you and your parents. You're a
lot more unique than a set of quintuplets and, even if they
can't dissect you, I don't have much faith in a bunch of power-
hungry, government types."
"Neither do I," he admitted. "I understand why Dad worried so
much. Still, I'd like to find a way to use what I've been given
to help people openly -- without having to worry about someone
finding out it's me. I've been thinking about it for a while,
now. I'm still not sure how I want to handle it, but the mask
is probably a good idea in the meantime. At least then, nobody
would see my face."
"I suppose it will do for a stop-gap measure," Lois said, "but
we need a permanent solution. If you wear a mask, people will
realize that you have something to hide and really start
looking around, trying to figure out who you are and where you
come from. We've got to think of something better."
Charlie looked confidently at her. "I knew I was right about
you," he said. "We'll work something out."
"You've got an awful lot of faith in me," she said.
"I have reason to," he pointed out. "Nobody else could have
figured out what you did about me. Even I didn't." He poured
himself a second cup of tea. "So, if you can help me work out
something that would fool even you, I don't think I have to
worry about much."
"Well, let me give it some thought," Lois said.
They finished dinner in companionable silence, Lois mulling
over what Charlie had told her. Somehow, the thought of him
being an experiment, from Russia or any other country, didn't
really sound right. If it were possible to produce a super
being like Charlie, why wouldn't the makers have made more? The
Soviets had never been particularly concerned about the welfare
of individual humans and there were plenty of other countries
with the same attitude. If they had lost their prototype,
wouldn't they simply have created another? In her experience,
destroying a scientific discovery didn't prevent its
development, in the long run. Once the genie was out of the
bottle, it stayed out. Something once invented would be
invented again within a short span of time because the level of
scientific knowledge made it possible and human beings were
infinitely clever and curious, sometimes to the dismay of the
rest of the world.
So, it followed that the technology to create a super man like
Charlie didn't exist. If it had, whichever country had it would
have used it to make more like him and -- since Charlie was
probably in his mid to late twenties -- the world would have
known it long before now. So, where had he really come from?
"Charlie, what happened to the ship your parents found you in?"
she asked, suddenly. "They didn't leave it for anybody to find,
"I never asked," he said, "but they didn't leave it around. Dad
always just said he hid it. Why?"
Lois stood up and began to gather the plates and silverware
from the table. "I'm not sure, really -- but I don't buy the
idea that you're a Russian experiment. I'd like to see it,
someday. Call it my natural curiosity as a reporter."
"I'll ask the next time I talk to them," he said. He closed the
containers of food. "What do you want to do with this?"
"Put it in the refrigerator," Lois directed. "You can bet it
won't sit there like the stuff from Feng's did. It's too good.
Unless," she added, "you'd like to take some of it home,
He shook his head. "If I want more, I'll fly over to Shanghai
and pick some up. And speaking of which," he added, "I think I
promised to take you flying tonight."
"Yes, you did," she said, trying to sound casual and calm about
He wasn't fooled. He grinned. "Why don't you get your coat?" he
suggested. "It might get a little cold out there."
Lois swallowed nervously. It wasn't that she didn't trust
Charlie. It was simply that the whole idea was so incredible
that she couldn't help but be a little nervous. Still, if he
said it was safe, she believed him. She hurried into her
bedroom, found a heavy sweatshirt to pull on and rejoined him
in the living room less than a minute later.
Charlie had opened the window and was looking out. He glanced
around when she re-emerged into the room and smiled. "Ready?"
Silently, she nodded. His smile widened slightly. "Don't be
nervous. It's completely safe -- I promise."
"I know." She stepped up beside him and looked out. The sky was
clear and cold. The haze of city light blotted out the stars,
but the full moon shone down brightly, clearly visible even in
Charlie stooped and lifted her effortlessly into his arms. That
would be reasonable, a detached part of her mind pointed out.
To a man who could push aside an asteroid the size of
Nightfall, the weight of a mere woman would be negligible.
She nodded, feeling her heart starting to beat faster -- not
with fear but with excitement. Suddenly it seemed as if she
weighed nothing at all. The pull of gravity had disappeared.
Looking down, she saw that Charlie's feet were no longer on the
ground. He was rising from the floor, taking her with him. They
floated out the window so smoothly that she almost wasn't aware
of movement, and he turned to let her slide it closed behind
them. Looking down, she could see that there was nothing
between them and the ground, five stories below, except very
thin air, but Charlie was standing on empty space as easily as
if his feet rested on solid ground. He was regarding her
seriously when she looked up. "Are you all right?"
"This is incredible!"
It was the right answer. His smile returned and suddenly the
apartment house was dropping away beneath them. Lois looked
down once, watching the city dwindle into a mass of lights, and
then up, again. The sky was growing darker as they ascended,
and the stars began to appear, at first only the brighter ones,
and then more and more, like uncounted diamonds scattered
across black velvet. There were more stars than she remembered,
but then, she'd been in the country at night only infrequently,
and usually on business that didn't involve stargazing.
Looking around, she could see the lights of the harbor and the
luminescence of the bay. The dark, irregular patch that must be
Suicide Slum stood out by its lack of lighting. Uptown, she
could see the brightly-lighted business district and for a
moment, the glittering, fifty-foot letters that flashed across
the top story of the Lexor Hotel were on a level with them,
then they were falling behind as Charlie continued to gain
"Like it?" he asked.
She could only nod. The lights were sliding to their rear as
they began to move forward, at first slowly and then with
increasing speed. They were headed south, Lois saw, and within
a very few minutes they had left the city of Metropolis behind.
It was strange, too, she thought. They had to be moving pretty
fast, but the wind wasn't bothering her, nor was she
uncomfortable. Somehow, being held closely in Charlie's arms
appeared to protect her from the discomfort that she should
have felt while flying at this speed. "Where are we going?" she
asked, raising her voice slightly to be heard above the wind.
"Your choice," he replied. "You don't need to shout, though. I
can hear you all right."
Naturally, she thought. That incredible hearing of his. "How
far can we go?" As she asked the question, it dawned on her how
silly it was. A short time ago, this man had casually flown to
Shanghai and back in the space of about fifteen minutes just to
pick up dinner. An idea occurred to her and she hesitated, her
instinctive desire to avoid personal, potentially emotional
interactions warring with her curiosity. Curiosity won. "I'd
like to see your home town."
"Really?" He sounded both surprised and pleased. "Okay."
He made a long, swooping turn. They flew over a mass of lights
that must be another, smaller city and headed west.
As they drew away from the cities and flew over the Appalachian
mountain range, Lois looked at Charlie ... no, at Clark Kent.
"Why did they name you Clark?" she asked, suddenly.
"Huh?" He seemed surprised at the non sequitur. "Oh. Clark is
Mom's maiden name. Jerome was my paternal grandfather's name."
"Clark Jerome, huh?" She sighed. "I guess I'd better get used
to calling you Clark, even though you're Charlie to me."
He chuckled. "I don't mind as long as you don't call me Charlie
"Yeah, but if I don't get used to calling you Clark, sooner or
later I'm going to make a mistake. Your name doesn't matter,
anyway. You're still the guy I ... well, that I wish I'd met a
long time ago."
His arms tightened around her for a second. "I wish you had,
too. I'd started to think that I wasn't made to fall ... to
feel like this about a woman. Like whatever makes me different
had made me different that way, too."
Lois rested her free hand lightly on his upper arm. "Believe
me, you're not that different."
He glanced at the hand and swallowed. "I can tell ... now,
She didn't smile. "I'm glad. I hope you think that way after
you've known me longer."
He cocked his head sideways. "Why do you think I might not?"
Lois shrugged uncomfortably. "Most men feel threatened by a
successful woman in a man's job."
His eyebrows flew up. "I thought we'd already established that
I'm not 'most men'."
"I think that's pretty obvious," Lois said. "But you know what
"Yeah, I do. But Lois, my odd abilities have nothing to do with
whether or not I'm a good journalist. I can find things out,
but writing about them effectively is something completely
different. I'd get nowhere if I couldn't write. That kind of
thing has nothing to do with gender -- or super-human powers or
anything else. It takes ability. Talent. Why should I feel
threatened because a smart, aggressive woman can do the job as
well as I can? It's up to me to prove that I can compete."
That was true. He might make a good private detective, but to
be a journalist required the ability to write. She patted his
arm. "I understand, I think. Even with your super powers, we're
on a level playing field in our profession."
He was watching her closely. "It's not just that, though -- is
She looked down, unwilling to meet his eyes. "No."
"You don't think you're likeable, do you? Why?"
The gentleness in his voice caught her by surprise. She looked
up to see his worried expression and felt her barriers start to
crumble. What was it about this guy, she wondered, that he
seemed to be able to walk through all her carefully constructed
defenses as if they didn't exist?
"I'm not," she said. "I don't have friends. Not many, anyhow."
"You have me," he said, gently. "And, unless I'm very much
mistaken, you have Perry."
She gave a short laugh. "I guess so. I'm Perry's protegee."
"You said something back in Willow Rock -- about how maybe this
time it wouldn't have turned into a disaster," he said. "Has
She'd hoped he hadn't noticed what she had said in the heat of
the moment, but obviously Charlie had a very good memory, now
that it was working right, she thought wryly. She looked down
at the dark land passing underneath them. "Yeah. Every time."
"Lois, look at me," he said, softly.
Reluctantly, she obeyed. He was smiling at her. "Just because
other guys haven't got the sense to see what an incredible
person you are, doesn't mean I'm stupid, too," he said. "I've
never met anyone like you in my life. You're a complicated
person." He grinned suddenly. "You're domineering,
uncompromising, pigheaded and cynical. You're also loyal,
tenacious, and determined to do the right thing. You're a
brilliant, investigative journalist who cares about people --
and under all the prickles and armor is somebody who is very
lovable. I know. What I don't know is why the other guys
couldn't see it, too, but I'm glad they didn't."
In spite of herself, she could feel her eyes beginning to fill
with tears. What was happening to her? Lois Lane *never* cried
but she had started to cry twice in Charlie's presence. Maybe
it was because he had described her so accurately. He *knew*
what she was and it didn't seem to bother him at all.
Determinedly, she blinked the moisture away.
He was still smiling at her. "I don't know how to say it,
really," he said. "It's just that together -- we seem to work.
I stopped Nightfall, but without you, I wouldn't have
remembered in time. It was you who figured out the important
stuff. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"That together we're stronger than we are separately?"
His smile widened. "Together. That's the concept I was thinking
of. Does it make sense?"
She gulped. Was he saying what she thought he was? "I think
"Good." He rested his cheek lightly on the top of her head. "I
don't want to rush things," he added. "We need to get to know
each other better ... but I'm already sure. It's up to you to
set the pace. Is that all right with you?"
She nodded, unable to speak. Charlie was saying that no matter
what she thought of herself, he wanted her, that he valued her
-- and that she could make the rules. When had any of her other
previous relationships begun that way?
She found that the stars were blurring for a second time and
quickly blinked away the moisture. She mustn't jump to
conclusions just yet, she told herself. But it was a promising
To the north of them, a patch of lights was growing. Another
city, she thought. Charlie -- Clark -- avoided it, keeping to
the darker skies. They flew along in silence for a while. Lois
glanced up at the stars, almost dazzlingly clear in the pitch
black sky. She'd had no idea how bright they could be away from
"Beautiful, aren't they?" Charlie said.
She nodded, pointing northwest. "That one's really bright."
He glanced up. "That's Vega. One of the brightest stars in the
"I guess you'd know, wouldn't you," she said.
"Some," he agreed. "When I'm over the ocean, I use them for
She hadn't thought of that. "Sort of like the old sailors, I
"Exactly," he said. "We're in the Midwest now, coming up on
Kansas. We'll be over Smallville in five minutes. My parents
want to meet you, to thank you for what you did. Do you want to
see the house where I grew up or do you want to put it off
How did he know what was in her mind without her saying a word,
she wondered. "Do you read minds?"
He gave a soft laugh. "I don't think so."
She swallowed and gathered her nerve. "Well -- if you don't
think it's too late at night."
"You forget -- It's earlier here than it was in Metropolis," he
pointed out. "Mom and Dad won't mind a bit."
Lois hesitated. "Well ... okay."
The lights of a small town were approaching as they spoke.
Unlike other towns, Clark didn't try to avoid it but flew
directly over the buildings, too high to be seen by the people
still frequenting the streets and sidewalks.
Christmas music floated in the air, and she could see that the
little town was decorated in red and green and silver. The
holiday was only three weeks away and the whole setting of the
town was right out of a picture of middle America, something
she had always avoided as unbearably bucolic and corny. Now,
however, looking at it from above, the picture was unexpectedly
attractive. She had grown up in Metropolis and was used to
Christmas in the city. To her, Christmas was an ordeal to be
gotten through, a time when her father disappeared early in the
day, her mother got drunk on eggnog, and she and her sister hid
in their room to avoid the unpleasantness that inevitably arose
before the sun went down. Somehow, she was sure that that
wasn't the kind of Christmas that Charlie -- Clark -- was used
to and she was suddenly slightly envious.
The town fell behind and in the dark countryside below, she
could see solitary lights here and there, marking single
houses. The snowy fields reflected the light from the almost
full moon that hung like a lantern to the south. They were
approaching a farmhouse now, and her private pilot was losing
altitude. They came down lightly in a snowy yard and he set her
gently on a path that led to an old fashioned porch.
"Here we are," Charlie said. "They heard us land."
As he spoke, the porch light came on and a second later, the
door was flung open. A small woman stood in the lighted
"Hi, Mom." Clark strode up the walk, pulling Lois along by the
hand. "We decided to drop by for a visit. This is Lois."
Clark's mother was already looking at her and Lois fought the
urge to hide behind her companion. "Hello, Mrs. Kent."
Clark's mother smiled widely. "Oh, honey, call me Martha.
Clark, bring her in here right now before she freezes!"
Clark obeyed at once and a moment later, Lois found herself in
a small, living room. A fire burned vigorously in the room's
brick fireplace and a grey-haired man of about sixty was
sitting in an easy chair in front of the television set, a cup
of something in his hand. He set the cup on a coaster and rose
to his feet when he saw Lois.
"Lois, this is my dad, Jonathan Kent," Clark said. "Dad, this
is Lois Lane. She's the one who found me when I crashed in
"I guessed that, son," Jonathan Kent said. "You don't normally
come flying in with a passenger."
He smiled at Lois. "I was hoping we'd get the chance to thank
you, Lois. Clark says it was you who saved all of us. Thanks
for taking an interest in our boy."
"He told us how you shoved him off the three story building,"
Martha Kent said. She sounded amused. "That was a smart move."
Lois turned to look at him. "He told you about that? Char--
His mother laughed. "He was bragging about you, Lois. To tell
you the truth, if I'd been there, I'd probably have done the
same." She waved to the sofa. "Have a seat. I'll make some more
"I'll help you, Mom," Clark said. He followed his mother, and
Lois sank slowly onto the old fashioned sofa.
Jonathan Kent settled back into his easy chair and pushed his
glasses into place. "You've certainly made quite an impression
on my boy," he said. "He couldn't stop talking about you after
he came home."
"Really?" Lois asked.
The farmer nodded. "We were a little worried at first," he
continued. "If anyone ever found out what Clark can do -- "
"And I'm a reporter," Lois added. "His secret is safe with me,
Mr. Kent. Even if I wanted to tell anyone, who would believe
"With all the crazies running around nowadays, you never know,"
he answered. "Anyway, now that I've met you, I won't worry
anymore. And, my name is Jonathan."
Clark re-entered the room at that instant, a tray of steaming
mugs in his hands. Martha followed with a dish of cookies.
"It's always so convenient when Clark is around," she said,
setting the cookies on the coffee table. "He can heat up the
chocolate in seconds without scorching it."
Lois accepted one of the mugs and raised it experimentally to
her lips. Clark sat down next to her on the sofa with his own
cup. Martha took the rocking chair and reached out for a
cookie. "So, what brings you back so soon?" she asked. "Did
everything go all right today?"
"Oh, yes," Clark said. "Mr. White hired me to cover the city
beat and I'm kind of back to guarding Lois." He took a sip of
chocolate, his eyes dancing at Lois over the rim of the cup.
She smiled back at him.
"Oh?" Martha said. "Why? Or shouldn't I ask?"
"I witnessed a murder today," Lois said. "I got a good look at
the murderer, but there's kind of a mystery about it. He looked
just like the victim's roommate, but the roommate has a perfect
alibi -- so it had to be somebody else."
"My, you seem to have an exciting life," Martha said. "First
Clark and Nightfall and now a murder. Who was the murder
"A scientist named Vincent Winninger," Lois said. "He was going
to tell me why Barbara Trevino shouldn't be inducted as head of
the Rainforest Consortium, but he was killed before he could
"Vincent Winninger?" Martha said. "Good heavens!"
"You've heard of him?" Clark asked.
"Oh yes," Martha said. "Years ago, I knew him when I lived at
the Elimont Center. They called it the Intellectual Commune-
named for somebody called Morris Elimont."
"Who was he?" Clark asked.
Martha shrugged. "I have no idea. It was certainly different,
though. There were all kinds of people, all dedicated to the
ideals of the sixties. I was very idealistic at that point in
my life, too, and one summer a friend suggested I visit. He
said it was an intellectually stimulating environment. I don't
know about that, but it was inexpensive, and I was trying to
save up money for my next semester at college. Anyway, that was
where I met Vincent Winninger and Barbara Trevino. They were an
acknowledged couple, of course. He was handsome and very
charming -- quite a ladies' man, even then, although I
understand his reputation grew a lot more in later years. She
was one of the most beautiful women there, and I always said
she was a bad influence on him. If he was trying to keep her
out of the Rainforest Consortium, I can't say I'm surprised."
"You knew both of them?" Lois asked, her reporter's instinct
instantly aroused. "Can you tell me anything else about them?"
Martha took a sip of chocolate. "Not much, I'm afraid. Vincent
was younger than I was by about five years. He was very
intelligent and charismatic. I only stayed at the commune for
about two months, but it was like watching a real life soap
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you've probably heard about the 'free love' of the
sixties," Martha said. "Vincent and Barbara could have been
poster children for the era. They couldn't keep their hands off
of each other, but the last week or so that I was there, he
dumped her just like that. Something about having discovered
that she wasn't living up to the ideals of the group, I think.
Anyway, he started showing symptoms of interest in me, and I
didn't want to make a fuss about it, so I just left to avoid
trouble. That was right before I met your father," she added,
with a glance at Clark. "Barbara had already taken up with one
of the members of the theater group. I don't remember who it
was. I never trusted her, though. There was something about her
that struck me as phony."
"Hmm," Lois said. "That's interesting. Did you know a Dr.
Martha frowned. "No, I don't think so. I probably wouldn't
have, though. There were a lot of people at Elimont and I
didn't stay there long."
"Well, there was some reason Winninger was killed, and the
connection seems to be Barbara Trevino and the Rainforest
Consortium," Clark said. "I wonder if checking into the names
of some of the other residents of the commune might tell us
anything. Barbara Trevino didn't kill him, but-"
"But she could have been behind it," Lois agreed. "Jimmy is
supposed to be researching her background, so we should have
that sometime tomorrow. What really confuses me is the person I
saw. He looked just like Hubert, but Hubert was giving a
presentation in Washington DC at the time, in front of a crowd
of people. Henderson probably thinks I was seeing things."
"Henderson?" Jonathan Kent asked.
"Inspector William Henderson, Homicide Division," Lois said.
"He was there when I accused Dr. Hubert of being the killer."
"Oh," Jonathan said. He swallowed the last of the contents of
his mug. "You say you got a clear look at this guy? How did you
do that without him seeing you?"
"I was in the bathroom," Lois said. "He didn't know I was there
and I stayed behind the door when he came in to wash, but he
was standing within a couple of feet of me. I got a close look
"Could he have been wearing a mask or makeup?" Martha wondered.
"He came in to commit a murder, after all -- wouldn't he try to
make sure no one would be able to identify him later, in case a
snoopy neighbor saw him or something? I know it seems like some
kind of Hollywood trick, but some of those makeup artists can
do some amazing things."
Lois stared at her, shocked. The thing that Vincent Winninger
had told her, that she had been trying to remember ever since
she had misidentified Dr. Hubert as the murderer, clicked
suddenly into place. "That's it!"
"What is?" Clark asked, obviously puzzled.
"Who?" Clark asked.
"Winninger told me about him! There was this guy in the theater
group at the commune who could make himself look like anyone.
What was his name..." She frowned, trying to remember. "Sam, or
Sean or -- something that started with an S. I can't remember."
"I remember him," Martha said, unexpectedly. "I never knew his
real name, but I saw him at one of the plays that summer. He
played the part of Lady Macbeth. You're right, Lois; his makeup
skills were incredible, but he couldn't act very well. I
remember that, too."
"Lady Macbeth?" Clark said, sounding slightly incredulous.
"Yes," Lois said, impatiently. "I need to get hold of the names
of the commune's theater group. I'll recognize the name if I
"We can probably get it tomorrow morning," Clark said. He set
down his empty mug. "We'd better be getting back. It's late in
Metropolis and we have a busy day tomorrow."
Lois glanced at her watch, which read 11:45. "You're right,"
she said, a little reluctantly. To her surprise, she had
enjoyed the brief visit with Clark's parents. She turned to
Jonathan and Martha. "It was nice meeting you both."
"Likewise," Jonathan said. "Come back when you have the chance
-- when you're not saving the world." She could see the smile
lurking in his eyes and couldn't help smiling in return.
"I'd like that," she said. It was nice to be able to utter the
commonplace pleasantry and actually mean it. This evening had
turned out differently than she had expected, but in all, it
had been enjoyable. And now she wouldn't dread meeting her new
boyfriend's parents -- not that she had ever met the parents of
any of her other potential boyfriends. Maybe that should say
something about the type of relationship she and Charlie
already had. It was definitely something to think about.
The flight back to Metropolis was accomplished more quickly
than the outward-bound one had taken. Clark held her while she
slid open the window, floated inside and set her gently on the
rug. The warm air of her apartment still smelled of the
delicious dinner they had eaten earlier, and Lois sniffed
appreciatively. "I'm going to have to take advantage of your
special talents more often, after this."
He grinned. "I hope you will." His expression sobered quickly.
"Lois, be extra careful tonight, will you? If anyone knocks,
think twice before you open the door. If the killer really is
this 'Mr. Makeup,' he could look like anyone, even Perry or
Jimmy. If I were in his place, I'd be trying to find out what
the police know about the situation, and if he figures out that
you were there, he may try to eliminate you just to be on the
"Char -- Clark, I've been taking care of myself for a long
time," she said. "I know enough to look out for myself."
"I know -- and I know you can handle yourself in a fight better
than a lot of men -- but be careful anyway, okay? Karate is no
match for a gun."
She smiled at him. "I will. I promise."
"And if you feel the least bit scared, yell your head off. I'll
hear you and be here in seconds. Okay?"
"I promise!" She couldn't decide whether to be irritated or
flattered by his concern. "I'll be fine!"
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Sorry, Lois. I know
you're used to taking care of yourself. It's just that, well, I
worry, you know? You're important to me. I don't want anything
to happen to you."
Irritation vanished. "I understand." She laid a palm against
his cheek, feeling the faint rasp of bristles. "I guarantee you
that if I'm the least bit worried, I'll scream loud enough to
wake up the whole apartment house."
"Good," he said. "I'll take that as a promise. And I'll be here
first thing in the morning. It won't hurt if this guy tries
something while I'm with you."
"I hope he does," Lois said, privately thinking that Mr. Makeup
would be in for the biggest surprise of his life if he tried to
face down Charlie. "I'll see you in the morning, then."
"Okay." He hesitated for an instant and then leaned forward.
Lois had debated what she should do if he tried to kiss her,
but when the moment arrived, she didn't hesitate. She had
kissed him the first time; now it was his turn. His lips
brushed hers, lightly. She leaned into the kiss, and his arms
slipped around her. It was different than before but no less
intense. Lois was aware of the blood pounding in her ears and
the feeling that she never wanted him to stop. When he finally
drew back, she saw that his cheeks seemed to be a little
flushed, but she said nothing, sure that hers were equally
He gave a shaky smile. "Good night, Lois."
"Good night," she replied, and watched as he turned and floated
lightly out the window, again. An instant later, he was gone.
Clark Kent walked slowly into his two-room "suite" at the
Apollo Hotel. It had been an eventful day, that was certain. He
wondered briefly if every day in Metropolis was going to be
like this. Except for the fact that Lois was involved and that
her life was probably in danger, the excitement wasn't a bad
thing. There was something about the city, he reflected,
changing out of his clothing. The pace within its borders was
something quite unlike Smallville, a fact that he had noted in
every great city he had visited during his travels. Now that
Metropolis was going to be his home, at least in the
foreseeable future, he found that he was looking forward to it
with wary anticipation. Life wasn't going to be peaceful, but
it was going to be enjoyable, as long as he could keep Lois
She was a large and critical part of his future, he knew. For
years, he had believed that his differences were so profound
that the ability to fall in love was beyond him. He'd had
female friends, certainly. He'd dated and engaged in most of
the social life of his male friends. He hadn't wanted to stand
out and had made an effort to blend in, in every way possible.
Still, although he enjoyed the company of women, whatever it
was that bound a man and a woman together had somehow escaped
him--at least to the point that he might ever have been tempted
to make such an arrangement permanent, and that had held him
back from anything that might push him into a commitment. It
wasn't that he was immune to the temptations presented by the
opposite sex; far from it. But he had never--until now, anyway-
-found a woman he had been willing to commit to for life.
Lois Lane had changed all that. Brother, how she had changed
it! Their actual meeting was a bit fuzzy in his memory: he had
probably still been somewhat stunned from his crash-landing in
Centennial Park, but it hadn't been long before he'd become
aware that this was no ordinary woman. Lois Lane was everything
he had ever imagined in his wildest dreams. She was
intelligent, headstrong, opinionated, independent--stubborn as
a mule, sometimes, he reflected with a wry smile--and the fact
that she was beautiful didn't detract from her appeal, although
he suspected that he would have thought of her as beautiful in
any circumstances. The trick was going to be to convince her
that she was someone worthy of being loved. That she doubted it
was something that he found extraordinary and yet it was
obvious that she did. How any human male could meet her and not
be instantly infatuated was something he couldn't quite grasp.
Still, it was apparent that she hadn't had much luck with men.
Maybe, an irrational part of his mind considered, maybe she was
like him in some way--simply waiting for the right man to come
along. Well, it was up to him to convince her that he was the
In the meantime ... He changed into a pair of black jeans and a
long-sleeved, dark blue flannel shirt and shrugged his
shoulders into a leather jacket he'd bought two years ago in
Argentina. In the meantime, he had every intention of staking
out her apartment tonight. She wouldn't appreciate him hovering
over her, so he simply wouldn't tell her. Lois was highly
independent; that was obvious to him and he thought he
understood why. She'd depended on her father and her father had
let her down. He'd not only tried to force her into the mold he
wanted, he'd let her feel that he found her a disappointment
and left her to manage on her own when she chose to go against
his choice of a career for her. She'd found out the hard way
that the only person she could depend on was herself. He hoped
that he could show her that now she could depend on him as well
and that he would never intentionally disappoint her.
He opened the door to his room and stepped out into the dingy
hallway. No one was visible as he strolled toward the window at
the end of the hall, opened it carefully, stepped through the
aperture and closed it quietly behind him. A split instant
later, he was zipping silently through the icy, winter air of
Metropolis in the direction of Lois Lane's apartment. Even the
short time he had been away from her had left him nervous about
her safety. If this Mr. Makeup was as good at impersonations as
Clark had been led to believe, there was nothing to prevent the
man from simply walking into the local police station and
finding out everything there was to find out about what the
authorities knew concerning the murder of Vincent Winninger.
And, if that was so, it meant Lois was almost certainly in
danger. He had every intention of thwarting any attempt on her
life. Lois might not know it, but she had acquired an around-
the-clock bodyguard until the killer was in custody.
Avoiding the streetlights, he landed in the alley next to her
apartment building and strolled casually out onto the sidewalk.
A quick glance with his x-ray vision assured him that Lois was
undisturbed, moving about her apartment, preparing for bed.
Satisfied on that point, he glanced around, looking for the
best position from which to mount his surveillance. A wooden
bench at the bus stop, diagonally across the street, presented
an excellent position for him to observe the building, as well
as Lois's apartment window on the fifth floor. Without fuss, he
purchased a copy of the Daily Planet from a vending machine on
the corner and made his way to the bench. A transient shuffled
by, pushing a battered shopping cart before him. The man eyed
him for a moment and then resumed his progress down the
sidewalk. Clark took a seat on the bench, opened the newspaper
to the Sports section and settled in to wait. It was just after
Clark didn't look up as the police cruiser, that covered this
section of town, went by for the third time, but his attention
was tuned to the men inside the vehicle.
"Isn't that the same guy that was there last time?" That was
the short, fat cop, riding shotgun.
There was a pause while the driver glanced briefly at Clark.
"Maybe. What's he doin'?"
"Same as before. Reading the newspaper."
"Forget him. He's not breakin' any laws."
The car continued on down the street. Clark casually turned the
page. His watch informed him that it was now three-thirty in
the morning. The number of persons moving about the area had
diminished a good deal, but there were still people around. The
transient he had noticed, hours ago, was huddled tightly in his
ragged coat in the alley, sleeping on a grate where the heat
from below rose to keep him warm. So far, nothing seemed
unusual, but he didn't relax his vigilance.
A van was coming along the street, and as he watched, it pulled
up in front of the newspaper vending machine. Clark could see
the words "Daily Planet" on the side of the vehicle and
realized that this must be the delivery of the paper's morning
edition. A man, thoroughly wrapped up for the frigid weather,
hopped out, the back of the van opened and a second man handed
a thick stack of bundled newspapers to him. As Clark watched,
they removed the two remaining issues of last night's edition
and replaced it with the new ones. Then both men jumped back
into the van, and it trundled away toward its next destination.
It had all been done in less than a minute. Clark folded his
copy of the paper up and stuffed it into a wire trash basket
then strolled back to the vending machine again to obtain a new
paper. A selection of other newspapers was available for
purchase besides the Daily Planet and after suitable
consideration, in addition to the Planet, he selected the
National Whisper. A little fiction might be entertaining for a
change. He resumed his seat on the bench and opened the
The article about the aliens from Uranus that had diverted the
Nightfall Asteroid and then given the reporter, Leo Nunk, the
exclusive, looked interesting, to say the least. And then,
there was the one below it about the vinegar and pomegranate
diet that cured psoriasis. That one he simply had to read.
These guys should try their hand at a book, he thought. They
had the imaginations for it.
He had finished the entire paper and was opening the Daily
Planet when motion at the corner of his eye caught his
attention and he looked up. A man was approaching along the
sidewalk, carrying a large bag labeled "King's Hardware," and
he recognized the manager of Lois's apartment house. Mr.
Tracewski mounted the stairs of the building with a brisk step
and entered. Over the tops of his glasses, Clark watched his
progress until he was certain the man wasn't headed in the
direction of Lois's apartment and then returned to his reading.
Still, he wasn't able to completely relax. Something wasn't
right about the situation. He glanced at his watch. What would
Mr. Tracewski be doing wandering around outside the place that
he managed at four in the morning? He supposed that it was
possible some sort of emergency might have dragged him out of
his bed in the middle of the night, but unless it was something
fairly serious, wouldn't the man have just waited until
daylight? Well, it couldn't hurt to check. Clark laid his paper
down and started across the street. Halfway there his enhanced
sense of smell picked up a distinctive scent, and he broke into
a run. He went up the steps in a blur and through the doors,
leaving them wide open behind him.
Inside, the smell was much stronger, at least to his senses.
Clark was forced to slow down momentarily as he tracked the
source of the odor. It was coming from above, he realized, and
raced up the stairs, following the growing smell of gas.
It was strongest on the fourth floor. He burst from the
stairwell, less than five seconds after entering the building.
The smell was coming from a door labeled "Keep Out." The door
appeared to be locked, but he unhesitatingly broke the lock and
yanked it open. The space beyond was a large closet. Inside,
various pipes ran up the rear wall, and in one corner stood an
industrial size water heater. Clark x-rayed the device. The
valve controlling the gas had been turned up full, and the
pilot light was out. The room was full of gas, much stronger
than in the hall outside. And sitting innocently on a shelf was
a small device with an attached clock, counting down.
He x-rayed the package. The thing, as he expected, was a small,
explosive device. By itself, it wouldn't cause significant
damage. Surrounded by a closet full of gas, the explosion would
Well, first things first. He strode forward and shut off the
gas. Then, he exhaled completely and inhaled, sucking in the
deadly fumes. Holding his breath, he picked up the device,
careful not to smudge the fingerprints he could see on the
casing. Something like ten minutes remained on the timer, but
it was an elementary device. In the last few years, he had had
occasion to observe the work of explosive experts and had
disarmed a couple of similar devices on his own. The first one
had exploded due to inexpert handling on his part. He had
smothered the explosion, but it had taught him how to avoid
such mistakes in subsequent attempts. He studied the thing with
his x-ray vision and saw at once how to disarm it. Quickly and
precisely, he pulled the critical wire free.
The man he had seen enter the apartment house some fifteen
minutes earlier was almost certainly the one who had set this
up, he thought. The scheme had been a good one, simple and
direct. Give the gas time to build up in the closet and then
detonate it with a small explosive. It would have taken out
everyone in the building with no way for anyone to prove that
it had been anything but accidental, and no way for anyone to
be sure who the target was, in the unlikely event that the
authorities suspected foul play. Clark crushed down the fury
that was growing in him at the callousness of the man who had
murdered Vincent Winninger and who was now stalking Lois, and
forced himself to think calmly.
Lowering his glasses, he looked around. Mr. Tracewski--the real
Mr. Tracewski, he realized--was sleeping soundly in his bed, in
the manager's apartment on the first floor. There was no sign
of the would-be killer. Carefully, he set down the device and
made a super speed exit to the top of the apartment house,
where he exhaled the lungful of gas. It was time to wake Lois
and call the cops.
Lois Lane awoke to the sound of someone knocking on her door
and after a moment, managed to sit up and stagger into the
living room, wrapping her bathrobe around her as she did so.
By the time she reached the door, she had recollected Charlie's
warning and took the time to check through the peephole to see
who was knocking. Charlie--no, Clark Kent--was there, and he
was frowning. Lois started to undo her locks and paused,
recalling the warning. Was that really Clark or a cleverly
"Yes?" she called.
"Lois, it's Clark. I just disarmed a bomb in the water-heater
closet on the next floor down. You need to call the cops. I'll
stand right out here until they get here."
"A--a *what*?" she stammered.
"Somebody just tried to kill you -- and everybody else in this
apartment house. Call the police." His voice was calm, but she
could hear the anger underlying it. "Hurry."
Lois made her way to the phone, her mind whirling. Charlie had
disarmed a *bomb*? What had he been doing here, anyway?
The answer to that was obvious, she realized as she dialed the
operator. Charlie had been watching the building, guarding her.
She should be angry, she thought, but how could you be angry
with a man who had just saved your life and the lives of
everyone else in the building?
A short time later, she was standing beside Charlie, along with
a very indignant Mr. Tracewski, watching two officers from the
bomb squad carefully removing the small explosive device from
the shelf next to the water heater. Their boss stood next to
Lois, watching the whole operation critically. "I see what you
mean, Kent," he said. "I can still smell the gas a little. How
did you figure out it was here?"
Lois said nothing, figuring she'd get the real story later.
Clark, not Charlie, she reminded herself, firmly, was frowning.
He hadn't stopped frowning since she'd seen him through the
door. "I smelled it," he said. "I'd been hanging around by the
front door because I was worried about Ms. Lane, and I thought
I smelled gas. I went in and followed my nose. That was all
there was to it. I shut off the gas and pulled the wire on that
thing free. Fortunately, I learned something about explosive
devices while I was in Colombia, working as a free lance
journalist. Then I opened the windows at each end of the hall
to clear out the gas, just in case."
The man nodded. "Normally, I'd probably lecture you about
leaving this to the professionals," he remarked, "but I won't,
this time. You probably saved the lives of everyone in the
building. But don't get cocky."
Clark didn't answer. The man moved forward to examine the small
device and then turned to the manager. "I suggest you lock your
doors until whoever did this is in custody," he said. "You were
just lucky that Kent has a sharp nose." He added to Clark,
"You'll need to come down to the station to make a report...."
Lois sighed. "I'll go with you, Clark," she said. "I'm not
going to get any more sleep, anyway."
"So let me get this straight." Detective Thomas fixed Clark
with a hawklike gaze. "You smelled the gas from out in front of
the apartment house and decided to investigate?"
"Well..." Clark sighed. "I had another reason to check,
Detective. I didn't want to go into it at the apartment because
it's pretty complicated. Lois, to explain this, I think we
should tell him about Mr. Makeup."
"Mr. Makeup," Lois said. "Vincent Winninger told me about him
during my interview. We've talked to someone since who knew
about him, too." She proceeded to explain to Thomas what the
murdered man had said. "I think that might be why I thought the
murderer was Dr. Hubert. He looked just like him, but Hubert
had a perfect alibi."
The detective raised an eyebrow. "Interesting theory. You say
this had something to do with why you checked, Kent?"
"Yeah." Lois thought the look Clark gave her was slightly
apprehensive. "I -- well, I knew you didn't want me to hang
around guarding you, Lois, but I was worried about you after
what happened. I kind of staked out your apartment house from
the bus stop across the street. At about four o'clock, I saw
your apartment manager, Mr. Tracewski, come walking along with
a bag of stuff from a hardware store."
"At four in the morning?" Lois asked, incredulous.
"Yeah. I didn't think that was quite right. I kind of stewed
about it for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then decided I'd
better go check, so I went inside and--"
"And that's when you smelled the gas?" Thomas asked.
"That's about it. And later, when the police showed up, they
had to wake up the manager. He'd been sound asleep in his bed.
He said he'd been there since eleven last night. If he'd rigged
that thing up, he wouldn't have been anywhere around or it
would have killed him along with everybody else."
The detective gave him an exasperated glare. "And you didn't
see fit to tell the officer on the scene about it?"
Clark shrugged. "Like I said, it was pretty complicated -- and
I was about as sure as I can be that the man I saw wasn't
Tracewski. The real killer was long gone, so I figured I'd tell
somebody when I came over here and could explain."
Thomas grunted. "Well, there's no proof the guy you saw had
anything to do with it," he conceded. "We'll have to interview
Tracewski to pin down the facts, but next time, Kent, why don't
you let us decide whether it's important?"
Clark hitched his shoulders uncomfortably. "It was important. I
just didn't want to add to the confusion when there wasn't
anything that could be done, anyway."
The man grunted again. "Reporters! Is there anything else that
you've conveniently neglected to tell me?"
"No." Clark met his eyes. "I think you should take this attempt
on Ms. Lane seriously, Detective. I don't think it's a
coincidence that she witnessed a murder yesterday afternoon and
this morning someone tried to blow up her apartment house."
"You seem to be doing a pretty good job of guarding her, Kent."
Thomas leaned back in his chair and stretched the kinks out of
his arms. "Unfortunately, we don't have the manpower to put a
guard on every witness to a crime in Metropolis, so unless Ms.
Lane doesn't object to being held as a material witness and put
under armed guard--"
"No way!" Lois said, emphatically. That was the last thing she
"I thought not. You can both go as soon as you sign your
statements. And I'll relay this 'Mr. Makeup' stuff to
Henderson. He's handling the Winninger case, so he can decide
if it's worth investigating."
Lois glanced at her watch as they left Detective Thomas's
office and headed down the hallway toward the main doors. It
was a few minutes before six, almost time for the shift change,
and so she wasn't surprised to see William Henderson standing
in front of the coffeepot behind the Chief's station, pouring
himself a cup of the murky-looking brew.
The officer seemed to sense her gaze and turned. He sighed.
"Oh, nothing," Lois said, airily. "Winninger's killer probably
tried to blow up my apartment house, that's all. Thomas will
tell you all about it."
She was sure she heard him mutter "I'll bet," under his breath
as she and Clark left the police station. Clark had a small
grin on his lips and she found herself starting to giggle at
the memory of Henderson's sour expression. The giggle died,
however, when she saw Clark lower his glasses slightly and look
"Do you see anybody?" she asked.
"That's the problem," he said, quietly. "There are a lot of
people around. Even if the murderer is one of them, I wouldn't
know it. He could look like anybody." He gave her an apologetic
look. "Would you mind sort of walking a little behind me--just
in case? If somebody takes a shot at you, I want the bullet to
hit me, not you."
Lois complied at once, a little surprised at herself. His
argument made sense, though. He couldn't be hurt and she could.
The open space around her was suddenly intimidating.
"This is very creepy," she said, almost to herself. "Don't you
think this is creepy? I mean ... " She glanced nervously at a
coffee vendor who was in the process of opening his stand. "The
killer could be anybody. Anybody you see could be somebody
Clark glanced at her, then put an arm around her. "Come on.
Let's get into your car. You're less exposed that way."
She nodded. "Good idea."
The SUV was parked just around the corner, and they hurried to
it, but as she took out her keys to unlock the driver's door,
he caught her hand. "Just a minute. Let me check before you
She was about to ask what he intended to check for when she saw
him lower his glasses and turn his head, sweeping the Cherokee
from front to rear. "Just being sure there aren't any surprises
waiting for us."
For some reason, she hadn't thought of that. He hadn't removed
his arm from around her shoulders, she noticed. It was
surprising, just how reassuring it was. It was amazing in a
way, too, at the confidence that she felt about him. In another
way, though, it wasn't. She'd already seen Charlie do the right
thing in spite of the fact that she knew he had been afraid of
the job. He'd gone after Nightfall a second time, unable to put
his own safety above that of the Earth -- and of her. How many
of the men in her life before now had been willing to put the
welfare of others over their own? None of them, she knew. Not
her father, not Paul, certainly not Claude. Why did she always
pick the losers?
Well, not always. The exception to the rule was standing beside
her with one arm holding her firmly against him, checking her
car for explosives.
"It's clean," he said. "Go ahead and get in." He released her
and stood behind her, blocking anyone from getting a clear view
of her. Quickly, she unlocked the door and clambered in.
"It's too bad you don't have bulletproof glass," he said,
shutting the door behind her. An instant later, he was getting
into the passenger seat. "Let's not hang around here too long.
I don't want you to be a stationary target."
Lois started the engine, released the brake and looked back
over her shoulder, checking for traffic. As she did so, she
felt herself shoved down hard across the seat. All at once,
Clark's big body was pressing her painfully onto the emergency
brake, and she heard the sudden, almost musical splintering of
glass, not once but twice and then a third time. She didn't
hear the shots, but a second later, she heard a sharp report
echoing in her ears, and a scream of unmistakable pain. More
reports and again, glass splintered.
"Stay here. Stay down." Abruptly, his weight was gone.
Uncharacteristically, she followed his orders, her paralyzed
brain still trying to process the unbelievable events.
Someone had shot at them, she thought belatedly, almost
dreamily. Charlie had somehow realized what was happening and
protected her again. Turning her head, she saw that her
windshield was a mass of cracks. Four holes marred the glass as
well. Irrelevantly, it flashed through her mind that if she got
her hands on the shooter, she was going to wring his neck. He'd
damaged her beloved car and that was unforgivable. Then the
realization swept over her that those shots had been meant for
her and she felt a surge of sheer, primitive fear.
Keeping her head down, she slid to the floor under the steering
wheel. Her knee came down painfully on something that felt like
a rounded piece of gravel and, feeling around for the small,
offending stone, her hand encountered a smooth, hard object
that felt horribly familiar to her fingers.
It was a bullet. She stared at the irrefutable evidence in her
hand and felt herself begin to shake. Somewhere in the
background, she heard the wail of sirens.
Someone was pounding on her door. She peered up to see William
Henderson, his face uncharacteristically pale, looking through
the window. "Lois! Are you all right?"
Behind him, Clark appeared and she heard a key turn in the
lock. She hadn't even noticed that the engine was off and that
her car keys weren't in the ignition. Henderson wrenched the
door open. "Lois, are you hurt?"
Numbly, she shook her head. The cop seemed to relax. He glanced
at Clark. "Don't let her get out. He's probably gone, but I'm
not ready to count on it." He turned quickly away from the
door, and Lois could hear him shouting something unintelligible
at someone out of her range of vision.
Clark got into the passenger seat. "He's gone, I think, but
you'd better stay down for a few more minutes. Are you okay?"
The feeling of shocked numbness was beginning to lift and the
shaking was getting worse. Clark put his hand on top of hers
and with the other, he lifted his glasses, peering up through
the cracked windshield. Abruptly, he seemed to relax. "He's
gone. You can get up."
Her body didn't want to move. Slowly, she slid back onto the
seat. Surprisingly, her brain was beginning to function
coherently again, but the shaking wasn't going away. "He tried
to kill me," she whispered. She could hear the trembling in her
voice. Clark looked at her narrowly and all at once, pulled her
into his arms, holding her close.
"It's all right," he murmured in her ear. "You're safe. I won't
let him hurt you, Lois, I promise. You're safe."
The approaching sirens cut off abruptly. Lois burrowed against
his chest and closed her eyes, trying to block out the
confusion. With his arms around her, she had this incredible
feeling of security. Somehow, she knew that Charlie would
protect her no matter what, even from a faceless killer who
came and went in plain view and was never seen.
Lois stood on the sidewalk next to the Jeep, Charlie's arm
closely around her, watching the confusion and trying to shake
off the lingering numbness of shock.
A couple of the bullets fired from above had struck innocent
persons. That was what had prevented Charlie from capturing the
shooter, she knew. He had paused to stop a young man from
bleeding to death. Lois had heard the paramedics talking about
how the bullet had amazingly cauterized the severed artery and
kept the victim alive until help arrived. It just underlined to
her what she had already known but had somehow not
internalized, before. This wasn't a game; it was deadly
Police had spread out, looking for the shooter, but she was
already sure they would find nothing. A high powered rifle,
complete with a telescopic sight, had turned up on the roof of
the building across the street from the spot where she and
Charlie had left the Jeep. The killer must have been lying in
wait for her to return. It was only because of Charlie that she
was still alive.
"I'd like a hair off that rabbit's foot that you carry,"
William Henderson's dry voice said, behind her. "From the looks
of your Jeep, you should be dead." The inspector moved into her
range of vision. "Are you sure you're not hurt, Lois? He put
four bullets through your windshield."
"I'm all right," she said again. "Thanks to ... " She had to
forcibly rearrange her thoughts to keep from making an error.
In the stress of the moment, she had been thinking of her
companion as Charlie, again. "Thanks to Clark."
Henderson shifted his attention to Clark Kent. "You're Kent,
aren't you? I think I saw you at Winninger's last night."
"Yes, sir." Clark nodded.
"Bill Henderson, Homicide," he introduced himself. "Do you mind
telling me what happened?"
"Sure." Clark hesitated. "Could we get Lois inside, somewhere?
I don't like having her out in the open like this, right now."
"Let's go to my office," Henderson said. He beckoned to them
and started back toward the police station at a fast pace. "I
doubt there's any danger at the moment. We have the area
blanketed and whoever did this is probably making tracks away
from here as fast as he can move."
"Maybe," Clark said. "Did Detective Thomas have the chance to
tell you about Mr. Makeup?"
"Who?" Henderson shook his head. "He'd just handed me the
report about last night's attempt on Lois when we heard the
shots." He had moved unobtrusively to walk on the side nearest
the street as he spoke, placing his body between her and the
possible places where a shooter could hide. "I'm sorry, Lois. I
didn't think you'd be in any danger. Obviously, I was wrong."
He glanced at Clark. "You were saying?"
"After last night, I was afraid of something like this," Clark
explained. "I was watching for anything that might be a threat.
We'd just gotten into the Jeep when I saw the guy with a rifle
on top of the building across the street." He tapped his
glasses. "I have a pretty strong prescription. Anyway, I
grabbed Lois and shoved her down on the seat, just before the
"You probably saved her life," Henderson said. He glanced at
the back of Clark's jacket. "Are you all right, Kent? It looks
like he hit your jacket."
"Yeah," Clark said, after a startled moment. "I was lying on
top of Lois. I guess he must have just missed me."
Henderson raised an eyebrow. "Forget the hair off that rabbit's
foot," he said after a short silence. "I just want to touch it.
That should give me all the luck I'll need for the next ten
years." He seemed to shake himself. ''Now, what's this about
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time Lois and Clark stepped
off the elevator into the Daily Planet newsroom. The
decorations draped around the room seemed frivolous and
irrelevant, compared to what had happened this morning, Lois
thought as she and Clark passed the glittering office Christmas
tree, gleaming under its load of ornaments and tinsel.
"Lois are you okay?" Perry fell into step beside them.
"I'm fine," she said, briefly. The question had been asked so
many times since the events at the police station that the
answer had become automatic.
"Well, what're you doin' here?"
"I work here," Lois said. "I have a job to do."
"Well, your job ain't goin' to be worth the sweat flyin' off an
Elvis imitator if you end up dead." Perry looked back at Clark
who was walking behind them. "Kent, you saved her bacon. Can't
you talk some sense into her?"
Lois cut in. "Look Chief, apparently the killer can find me
anywhere and can look like anyone, so I'm probably safer around
a lot of people I know." She turned her head, looking for
Jimmy. "Jimmy, did you find that stuff I asked for?"
The young computer expert waved a paper. "Got the list right
"Good, let me have it." Lois dropped into her desk chair. "I
want to see if I recognize the name of this guy."
Jimmy laid the list on her desk and Clark leaned over the back
of her chair to read.
"Great shades of Memphis, Kent," Perry said. "What happened to
"Huh?" Clark straightened up and removed the item. "Oh. I was
going to go back to my place and change, but Lois was in a
hurry to get to the office."
Lois had seen the damage to the jacket, earlier. "That happened
when the guy was shooting at us, Perry. He just got the jacket,
though. You should bring a change of clothes to work, Clark.
That's what mostly everybody else does."
Perry shook his head. "It looks like I nearly lost two
reporters this morning, not one. You two be more careful from
now on. Got it?"
"Got it, sir," Clark said.
Lois had been scanning the list. "There are some famous names
here. Let's see ...." She scowled at the paper. Then she saw
it, and the sense of recognition was like a slap in the face.
"That was it. I knew I'd recognize it if I saw it. Jimmy, find
me everything you can, especially the whereabouts of Sebastian
Finn, AKA Mr. Makeup."
Clark put down the phone. Normally, Lois would have excoriated
any colleague who presumed to sit on the corner of her desk or
use her phone without permission, but this time the impulse
hadn't even occurred to her. "Henderson says he just finished
listening to his copy of your interview," he said. "He said it
was too bad you didn't start the recording until after the
conversation about Finn, but he agrees that there might be a
motive there. He also said to remind you to watch your step."
"Yeah, yeah." Lois shrugged off the reminder. "So I was a
little shaken up before. Getting shot at will do that to you."
"No kidding," Clark said. "I was, actually. Anyway, we know
Finn knew both Winninger and Trevino--"
"They were all in the same photo," Lois said. "I'd say there's
no doubt of it. But what's the tie-in between Barbara Trevino,
the ozone layer, increased male potency and the Rainforest
Consortium? Winninger mentioned all of them just before he was
murdered, and I refuse to believe there was no connection. You
don't deliberately go out of your way to murder somebody like
Vincent Winninger without a good reason."
"You're not getting any argument from me," Clark said. "Maybe
when Jimmy gets that formula analyzed it will tell us
something. Winninger must have thought something in the book
was important. I tried to call Dr. Hubert to ask him about it,
by the way, but he's disappeared."
"Yeah. Not even the police can find him."
"He's probably afraid of Finn, too, after what happened to
Winninger," Lois said. "Hubert's probably the only person left
who might know anything about what Winninger was going to tell
me. We'll just have to keep looking for him." She glanced at
the clock. "Let's go get some lunch. We have to be at Trevino's
press conference in about an hour."
"I'll go get it for you," Clark offered. "We can eat in the
"Clark, you don't have to coddle me."
"I'm not," he said, and she saw the worry in his eyes. "It's
not that I want to tell you what to do, Lois. I just don't
think it's a good idea for you to make yourself a target when
this guy is so determined to eliminate you as a witness. I'm
not infallible, and if something happened to you, I don't know
if I could live with myself. I--" He broke off, swallowing,
clearly wanting to say more but thinking better of it.
"Clark, I'm a grown woman. I can take care of myself."
He said nothing and Lois could feel the charged silence between
them stretching thin. The memory of the glass of her windshield
splintering and the feel of the bullet under her knee flashed
through her mind. If Clark hadn't been there, she wouldn't be
sitting here now, arguing about her ability to take care of
herself, she knew. She'd be in the hospital ... or the morgue.
But it was hard to say it aloud.
She had never, since her childhood, been willing to take the
risk of depending on somebody else. Hard experience told her
that they always let you down when you needed them the most.
And when you started depending on them, there were always
strings attached. But that had been before Charlie. Three times
now -- no, four, if you counted Nightfall -- he had come
through for her and demanded nothing in return. Was it possible
that she had finally found the one person whom she could truly
All right, so no one could take care of herself all the time,
she admitted, grudgingly. It was no shame to sometimes need the
help of someone else, especially if that someone else was
Charlie. Heads of state, actors, famous people of all kinds,
had bodyguards to do for them what they couldn't always do for
themselves. She wasn't particularly famous, but she *had*
witnessed a crime, or close enough. The killer couldn't know
for sure that she was no danger to him -- at least, in her
ability to identify him by sight -- and had apparently decided
to remove her as a threat. Was it cowardly to simply show a
little care for her own safety? Mad Dog Lane didn't have to
prove the truth of the sobriquet by stupidly putting herself in
danger to no purpose, did she? How important was it that she
display her independence by going out in the open simply to get
She realized suddenly that the she was staring at Clark, who
was studying his own knuckles as if he had never seen them
before. She might not like to admit it, but he was right. There
was no point in making an unnecessary target of herself for
something like this.
Besides, her car was currently in the hands of Henderson's men.
That seemed to settle it. She really didn't want to walk.
"You're right," she said, so abruptly that she saw him jump
slightly. "Why don't you go get me something to eat?"
Clark really had to work on hiding his emotions more
effectively, she thought. The expression of relief on his face
was unmistakable. She smothered a grin. "Don't let this go to
your head, Kent," she said. "I don't think I've admitted I
might be wrong more than twice in my life. Pick me up a Chinese
chicken salad and a diet soda, would you?"
He nodded. "Any particular place?"
"The deli over on Maple is where I usually--"
"Say no more. I know where it is." Clark stood up.
"Wait a second. I'll get my purse."
"That's okay. You can pay me when I get back." He gave her a
brilliant smile and headed for the exit.
Lois shook her head, smiling after him, then turned back to the
preliminary information Jimmy had turned up on Sebastian Finn.
The man had briefly done work in Hollywood as an extra and then
gone to work as a double for famous personages. After that he'd
sort of disappeared. Hopefully, with a little more time, Jimmy
would be able to find out what he'd been doing since.
"Where did Kent go?" Perry's voice asked from behind her.
Lois jumped and spun her chair around. "Don't sneak up on me
like that, Perry! I've had enough shocks today! He went to get
Perry raised an eyebrow. Lois quickly explained, "He didn't
think I should go out unnecessarily, right now."
"He's right," Perry said. "You two seem to have become friends
Lois shook her head, recalling what Clark had told Jimmy
yesterday afternoon. "I've known Clark for some time. We met at
a journalists' conference a while back."
"Oh, I see. Old acquaintance, huh?"
"That's right. We had some mutual interests. Clark's an unusual
person. He's done a lot of traveling, for one thing -- he's not
your ordinary country boy at all."
"I got that impression when Jimmy said he'd disarmed that bomb
at your apartment house," Perry said. "Maybe it would be a good
idea for you to hang around with him until they catch this guy
that's gunnin' for you."
Lois looked down at her keyboard. "That was pretty much what we
decided," she said. "It wasn't really a bomb, though. It was
just a little explosive set to detonate the gas from the water
"I can't say I see the difference," Perry said. "In any case,
if you don't mind workin' with him for awhile, he can help you
out with this Mr. Makeup thing."
"After this morning, I don't mind at all," Lois said.
"Good," Perry said. "You can tell him he's assigned to you when
he gets back."
Clark returned some twenty minutes later with the requested
chicken salad and soda, as well as a steak sandwich for
himself, and they adjourned to the conference room to eat and
talk without being overheard by various colleagues.
"So, we met at a journalists' conference, huh?" Clark said,
sounding amused. "Which one? We should probably get our story
straight, just in case anyone asks."
"How did you know I said that?" she asked, startled.
"I was listening," he admitted. "I probably shouldn't have
been, but until this Mr. Makeup is caught, I'm sort of hyper-
aware of you."
"Oh. How far away can you hear?" she asked, intrigued.
"Well, most of the time, I don't hear any farther than ordinary
people," he said. "I tend to pick up the sounds of people in
trouble, bad accidents, that kind of thing from some distance.
And, like in your case, I can hear somebody I'm concentrating
on from several blocks away. It's kind of selective, though. If
I did it for everything, I'd go nuts."
"I guess you would," she said. "Okay, which journalists'
conferences have you been to -- if any?"
"I've been to quite a few," Clark said. "Last year's conference
in Memphis --"
"I wasn't there," Lois said. "Perry went. How about the one in
New Orleans, the year before?"
"I was there, but only the last two days."
"So was I," Lois said. "We met in New Orleans, then."
"Okay," Clark agreed. He began to unwrap his sandwich. "On
another subject, I wanted to bounce an idea off of you.
Something you said this morning about bringing a change of
clothes to work made me think of it. Yesterday, you said a mask
would make people think I had something to hide. What about an
-- an outfit of some kind? -- a costume that would attract
people's attention, that I could wear whenever I used my powers
to help people."
"That's a thought," Lois said. "Maybe a change of hairstyle,
too -- and you'd have to lose the glasses."
"Naturally. If I'm using my powers openly, the last thing I'll
need is something in the way. Besides, it would help change my
appearance. So, you think it might work?"
"I think it just might," Lois said. "But how are you going to
get this costume? I can do a lot of things, but my sewing
talents are pretty much limited to fixing a torn hem or
replacing a button."
"My mom can sew," Clark said. " I was pretty hard on my clothes
when I was a kid. She made most of them when I was in school,
to save money. I'll call her this evening."
Lois took a bite of salad. "What do they -- your parents, that
is -- think of this idea of going public? Or haven't you
mentioned it to them? Your father seemed pretty worried about
the idea of anybody finding out about you."
"I've discussed it with them," Clark said. "Dad isn't crazy
about it, but he won't stand in my way. He knows how much I
want to be able to help, openly."
"But without giving away who you really are," Lois said. "I
should think that would make the difference."
He nodded. "It does." He glanced over his shoulder and Lois saw
"What?" Lois asked.
"Charlie," she said, warningly, "you're frowning. What did you
He shrugged. "The guy with the thinning hair..."
"He thinks I'm trying to make a pass at you and wondering if he
should warn me ..." Abruptly, his frown deepened. "Why that
dirty-minded ..." He broke off. "That's why I don't usually
eavesdrop, but I heard your name and it got my attention before
Lois shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Ralph still hasn't gotten
over what happened when *he* tried to make a pass at me. He
thinks he's God's gift to the female of the species and didn't
take 'no' for an answer ... at first."
Clark's expressive eyebrows flew up. "Should I ask?"
Lois grinned. "Only if you want a description of his
picturesque walk for the next several days."
Her companion laughed. "Nice work."
"I thought so." She glanced at her watch. "We better hurry.
Barbara Trevino's news conference starts in twenty minutes."
"Don't worry; we won't be late."
"We will be if we have trouble getting a cab," Lois said. "You
haven't forgotten that the cops have my car, have you?"
"No, but we're leaving from the roof." Clark jerked a thumb at
the window. "It's clouding up nicely, out there. If I'm
careful, nobody will see us and if Finn is watching for you,
we'll avoid him completely."
The thought of flying to the news conference hadn't occurred to
her, but now that he brought it up, it was the obvious option.
"It's nice having a private pilot."
He grinned. "It's nice being your private pilot. Are you
She picked up her wrappings, crumpled them into a ball and
tossed them into the trash. "Now I am."
He pitched the wrapper for his sandwich after hers. It bounced
from the wall, off the table leg, and into the basket. He
looked at her, slyly.
"Show off," she said, after a startled instant. "Wish I had
reflexes like that. Let's go, okay? I don't want to cut it too
He got to his feet and opened the door for her. "After you, Ms.
"It's a global village now," Barbara Trevino said. "We of the
Rain Forest Consortium have to act accordingly."
From her position in the second row, Lois observed Barbara
Trevino appraisingly. She was still a beautiful woman even in
her early fifties, assured and, in her own way, powerful. If
the inference Vincent Winninger had made was correct, this
woman would be a dangerous opponent. Could she have the
ruthlessness it would take to send a hired killer after
Winninger? If she did, then Barbara Trevino was the real enemy
and Finn was just her lackey, albeit a dangerous one.
"How does it feel to be the first woman to hold this post?" The
question came from Bambi Wilson of the Star.
Barbara Trevino smiled modestly. "Well, I don't officially hold
it for two days, but at the risk of being premature..." Her
smile widened. "... It feels great."
A ripple of laughter filled the room. Lois spoke up quickly.
"Ms. Trevino, concerning the death of Doctor Vincent Winninger
Barbara Trevino's smile disappeared and for a second she saw
the woman's beautiful, civilized mask slip. A pair of dark,
piercing eyes met hers and irrationally, it seemed to Lois as
if Barbara Trevino were reading her mind. Then, an expression
of gentle sorrow suffused her features.
"Dr. Winninger was a brilliant scientist and a dear friend of
mine for many years. I was shocked and saddened by his death."
"How do you feel about the ozone layer?" Lois asked, almost on
the heels of the last word.
There was a silence, then a soft, confused murmur among the
assembled journalists. Clark's face remained unreadable.
"And," Lois continued, "what's your view on increased male
potency?" Resolutely, she ignored the incredulous glances from
nearby colleagues, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on Barbara
The woman was staring at her, her eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet. I interviewed Dr. Winninger only a
short time before his murder."
Barbara Trevino's face had lost all its expression. "Well, Ms.
Lane, I find your sense of humor odd, to say the least, and
totally inappropriate. I suggest this would be a good time to
close this press conference." Without another word, she turned
and left the podium.
"Well, Lois, that was interesting." The speaker was Linda King
of the Metropolis Herald. "Been missing your appointments with
your psychotherapist again?" She gave a laugh and turned to
follow the crowd of departing journalists.
Clark glanced after her and then turned back to Lois. "I take
it you had a reason for that."
"Did you see the look on her face? " Lois said, softly. "She
knew exactly what I was talking about ... even if I didn't."
"I saw it," Clark said. "The question is, how are we ever going
to get to her, now?"
"I'll think of something," Lois said. "Come on, Clark, let's
"Excuse me." A short, slightly chubby man, with a reddish beard
and mustache was standing beside her. "Ms. Lane?"
At her nod, he continued, "I am Dr. Trevino's administrative
assistant. She wishes me to tell you that she will discuss
whatever you wish ... privately."
Lois glanced quickly at her companion. "I'm here with Mr.
The little man also glanced at Clark before turning back to
Lois. "Just you, she said. You understand."
"She wants to talk woman-to-woman, kind of a sisterhood thing,"
Lois said, not at all sure that she had any wish to be alone
with Barbara Trevino.
Clark smiled engagingly. "Sure, I understand completely. But
I'm still going with her."
The little man looked at Clark's solid form and shrugged
helplessly. "Very well. This way."
"This way, please." Barbara Trevino's assistant gestured Lois
ahead of him as they exited the elevator but stepped out ahead
of Clark. Beyond the elevator doors, Clark saw a short,
uncarpeted corridor that led to a door at the end marked "Roof
Access." On one side of the wall nearest the elevator was a pay
telephone and on the other, a glass case that housed a fire
extinguisher. Two doors, both closed, opened off either side of
the hall, but no one was to be seen. Lois turned to look
questioningly at Clark.
"Just a minute." Clark couldn't shake the feeling that
something wasn't quite right. He put a hand on the other man's
arm. "Why would Ms. Trevino be waiting for Lois on the roof?"
"Ms. Trevino wished for privacy." The aide had a faint but
definite accent, but to Clark, it rang false. Clark Kent spoke
347 languages and he had never heard an accent quite like that
of the little man -- except for those put on by actors on
television and the silver screen.
He almost reacted, but stopped himself in time. If this was the
assassin, he was after Lois, and now was the chance to capture
him -- except for the fact that they had absolutely no proof,
whatsoever. He had to wait for real proof, he told himself --
but if it looked as if Lois were in real danger, he would act
immediately. There was no way he would allow Mr. Makeup to harm
her, even at the cost of revealing what he could do.
He released the man's arm and stood back. Their guide pushed
the door open and gestured for Lois to go ahead of him.
Lois cast another questioning look at Clark and preceded the
aide through the door. The man followed her and pulled the door
shut in Clark's face. He heard the bolt click home on the other
side. Without pause, he moved with a speed born of desperation,
out of the hallway and toward the roof.
As the little man slammed the door behind him, Lois knew at
once what she had half suspected -- that this was the man who
had been trying to kill her. From the other side of the door,
she heard the telltale "whoosh" that meant Charlie was moving,
literally faster than a speeding bullet, to get to her within
seconds. Sebastian Finn undoubtedly thought he had a helpless
woman at his mercy, now that her protector had been neutralized
-- and he was wrong on both counts. She only needed to keep the
killer off balance for a very short span of time before she had
The little man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a
handgun. Lois didn't wait for him to point it at her. As he
withdrew the weapon, she snap-kicked him in the knee as hard as
Her shoe connected with his kneecap and he howled in pain as
the leg collapsed under him. He made a desperate effort to save
himself and went painfully down on the pebble-strewn roof, his
leg unable to support him. Lois ran.
She ducked around one of the big metal structures that dotted
the roof here and there and nearly jumped out of her skin as
she came face to face with Charlie. He touched his lips with
one finger, signaling for silence and gently pushed her into a
position behind his body.
Together, they waited. Lois saw that Charlie's glasses were
sitting practically on the tip of his nose and he was
apparently staring straight at the big steel structure behind
which they were hiding. An instant later, he removed them and
gestured for her to stay behind him. Quite deliberately, he
stuck his head out and very quickly pulled it back, too fast,
she thought, for Finn to get more than the glimpse of a human
head. A gunshot answered the move and she saw dust spray from
the graveled rooftop.
Charlie gave a satisfied little nod, keeping his eyes fixed on
the scene beyond the steel wall that only he could see. Lois
could hear the slow crunch of footsteps as the man approached
their hiding place.
All at once, she felt Charlie's arm around her, and they moved
so quickly that she literally didn't have time to catch her
breath. They were suddenly behind another, smaller rooftop
structure, crouching down behind it to stay out of sight. Her
companion was still looking at something that she couldn't see.
Again, he very deliberately stuck his head out and pulled it
back as another shot echoed through the cold, afternoon air.
Lois heard the impact and the whine as the bullet ricocheted
from the metal behind the spot where Charlie's head had been.
Chips of stone flew as it struck the low wall that surrounded
Footsteps approached them again, crunching in the pebbles, and
Lois noted the irregularity of the sounds. The man was limping.
Evidently, her kick to the knee had been fairly effective,
Without warning, they were moving again. All at once, they were
behind the figure of Sebastian Finn as he passed a third of the
big, metal structures and Charlie reached out to tap him on the
Finn spun. His eyes widened as his eyes took in the sight of
Charlie standing solidly in front of him, and Lois saw his
finger contract on the trigger, but fast as the assassin was,
Charlie was faster. He reached out, calmly seized the man's
wrist and pushed it sideways with inexorable strength. The
bullet whined harmlessly to the side and imbedded itself in the
door through which they had reached the roof.
"I'd say that's sufficient," Charlie said, and Lois saw his
hand tighten. An expression of pained surprise crossed the
assassin's face, and his fingers opened, helplessly. The gun
fell to the ground and Charlie kicked it casually out of reach.
"I think the various bullet holes and your fingerprints on the
gun, combined with Ms. Lane's and my own statements should be
enough for the police to make their case." Effortlessly, he
spun the man around and grasped his free hand. Holding Finn's
wrists lightly but firmly with one hand, he glanced at Lois.
"I'm making a citizen's arrest, Lois. Would you like the honor
of calling the police? I think I saw a phone in the hall."
"My pleasure," Lois said. Her eyes narrowed as she studied
their prisoner. Something about the thick mass of reddish curls
didn't look quite right. On impulse, she reached out and
grasped the heavy shock of hair on his head. If it turned out
to be real, too bad, but not at all to her surprise, the hair
came free in one piece, revealing a hairless dome beneath it.
Lois thrust the wig into Clark's free hand and seized the
mustache and beard, which peeled off as easily as the wig.
"Sebastian Finn, I presume?"
The man's eyes flickered, but he didn't answer. Lois glared at
him. "Why did you kill Vincent Winninger?"
Finn smiled, slightly. "His Rosencrantz was atrocious."
"But, why come after me?"
A faint frown line appeared between his brows, as if he thought
the answer was obvious. "You could identify me."
Lois glanced quickly at Charlie, who shook his head slightly.
"Where does Barbara Trevino fit into this?" she asked.
One corner of his mouth curved up slightly, but he didn't
answer. Lois shrugged. "Hang onto him, Clark. I'll call
Henderson. Maybe Mr. Finn will talk to him."
The man chuckled softly. "Not likely, Ms. Lane. I do
congratulate you on your luck, however. I've never failed to
fulfill a contract before. Now, someone else will have to
finish the job in my place -- and it *will* be fulfilled; don't
ever doubt that. Your efficient friend can't always be there to
protect you, you know -- although I would like to know where
you got your training, Mr. Kent. You're very good."
Clark smiled without humor. "You'd be surprised, Mr. Finn."
"It can't be just that you can identify him," Clark said.
"Otherwise, he wouldn't have said what he did about a
'contract.' Whoever's behind him -- "
"Barbara Trevino," Lois said.
"Probably. In any case, whoever is behind him wants you dead,
and there has to be a reason."
"She knows I interviewed Dr. Winninger just before he was
killed," Lois said. "However, she doesn't know what he told me.
For all she knows, I might know about whatever it is that was
behind Winninger's murder."
They were flying back toward the Daily Planet from the 12th
Precinct, two hours after the arrest of Sebastian Finn. Lois
had already phoned the story to the Planet, but the sense of
relief brought about by the killer's capture was tempered
slightly by the remark Sebastian Finn had made just before she
had gone to call the police.
"That's a possibility," Clark said, thoughtfully. "I wonder if
she and Finn know about the notebook that you took."
"Maybe. You said there wasn't anything in it, though -- except
"But neither of them know that," Clark pointed out. "For all
Trevino and Finn know, Dr. Winninger has written all his
suspicions down. Whatever it is must be pretty urgent."
"Well, he said I was going to help him prevent Barbara
Trevino's induction as head of the Rainforest Consortium, which
is only two days away. I'd say that's urgent."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "So, I guess the next thing on the agenda
is to try to figure out whatever dark secret she's hiding that
will disqualify her from holding the post."
"You got it," Lois said. "Welcome to big city journalism, Mr.
He was descending feet first toward the roof of the Daily
Planet. "Oh, I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the concept, Ms.
She laughed and punched his arm lightly. "I kind of figured
that out. We're going to be the hottest reporting team that
ever hit Metropolis. Just wait and see."
"Maybe," he said, cautiously. "First we have to find out what
Barbara Trevino's up to and defuse the contract on you. I'm not
going to relax until this whole thing is over."
"According to the police," Jimmy was saying, "Sebastian Finn
wasn't just moonlighting when he killed Winninger. Apparently,
he's been a successful, independent hitman for years -- I guess
he finally made his ability to disguise himself as anyone pay
off. The FBI has been hunting him for quite a while. They call
him 'The Reaper.' You know, like the Grim Reaper? Henderson
says he thinks the guy came up with the name, himself."
"That figures," Lois said. "I hate actors."
"Police investigators interviewed Barbara Trevino," Jimmy
continued. "She's got an airtight alibi, of course. She was
getting into her limo and claims she has no knowledge of any
attempt on your life."
"Naturally," Lois said. "But we still don't know the connection
between increased male potency, the rainforest and Barbara
Trevino. Jimmy, I want you to do a thorough background check on
her. I want to know about her finances, her associates,
whatever organizations she's associated with -- everything you
can find on her. I want to know more about her than her own
mother does. Got it? We've got to find the tie-in!"
"I got it." Jimmy said.
Clark put down the phone and pushed his chair over to Lois's
desk, beside Jimmy's. He lowered his voice. "Remember Dr.
Hubert, the man nobody could find?"
"Yeah," Lois said.
"Well, the police found him by dragging the river."
"Great," Lois said. "Finn?"
"Probably. It looks like they're eliminating anybody who might
have any idea of what Winninger was going to tell you."
"It must have been pretty hot stuff," Lois said, thoughtfully.
"What have we stumbled over here?"
"That's a good question," Clark said.
"I wish I could talk to Barbara Trevino, myself," Lois said.
"Yeah, good luck with that." Jimmy pushed his chair away from
her desk and back to his own. "Well, back to work."
It was after dark when Clark floated at the window of Lois's
apartment while she opened the window for him. The moon was up,
but snow clouds covered the sky, and the room beyond the window
was unlighted, making it impossible for them to be seen by the
naked eye. He floated through the opening, set her lightly on
the floor and turned to close the glass behind them.
"Stay here," he said. "Let me check the place first."
Lois waited in the darkness by the window while Clark made a
quick search of the entire apartment. It took only a few
seconds and he stood next to her again.
"All clear. Make sure your door and windows stay locked,
especially that window that opens on the fire escape, all
She nodded, suppressing the slight feeling of nervousness in
the pit of her stomach. "I'll be fine, Clark."
He nodded. "I'm going to check the building completely before I
go. Mr. Tracewski is keeping the doors locked at night until
the police tell him not to, isn't he?"
"I think so."
"I'll check that before I go, too," Clark said. "Are you sure
you'll be all right, Lois?"
"Sure." She would, Lois assured herself. She couldn't expect
Charlie to hang around and protect her every second. Sebastian
Finn was in jail. Surely Barbara Trevino wouldn't be able to
get another assassin that quickly, could she?
Clark hesitated. "If anything scares you, scream. I can be here
in half a second flat."
"I will, I promise."
He took half a step forward, taking her by the shoulders. "If
anything happened to you now, I don't know what I'd do, Lois.
I've been waiting all my life for you, without knowing it. I
can't lose you now."
"You won't." She slipped her arms around his neck. "I've been
waiting for you the same way. I'm not going to get myself
killed before I have the chance to see what it's like to -- "
She paused and took a deep breath. " -- To be in love," she
His arms went around her. "See to it that you don't," he said.
"I'm finding out about it for the first time, too. I like it."
He nodded. "I know it's not supposed to happen so fast," he
said, "but I think I fell in love with you that first night
when you found me in the park. Is that possible?"
"I don't know," she said, "but if it isn't, I don't want to
"Me, either." He leaned forward to kiss her and she tilted her
face up. The apartment was silent for several seconds. At last,
he drew back. "I suppose I'd better go."
"Yeah," she agreed reluctantly. "We need to get up early
tomorrow, and it's nearly midnight."
"Uh huh." He glanced at the clock. "I don't want to leave,
Lois. I have this scary feeling that if I do, something's going
to happen to you."
"Clark, you can't stay with me every minute. I'll be fine."
He nodded, not answering.
At that instant, the ringing of the phone broke the silence of
the apartment and they both jumped. It rang again and Lois went
to pick up the receiver. "Hello?"
Silence on the other end. "Hello?"
There was a sudden click and the caller hung up.
"Wrong number," she said.
There was a smash. Something sailed through the window and
Clark reached up to catch it so fast that she felt a gust of
air against her face.
"What -- " she began.
Clark went through the broken window in a rush, knocking any
remaining glass from the frame.
Hurrying to the window, Lois saw a flash in the sky, and a
second later, she heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion.
Then, he was back.
"What happened?" she whispered.
"Rocket propelled grenade." He was looking grim. "I don't know
where it came from. You're not staying here, tonight, Lois. Get
something to sleep in. I'm taking you somewhere you'll be safe
for the night."
Almost in a daze, she obeyed. When she returned to the living
room a moment later, she saw that he had covered the window
with cardboard and taped it down securely, although she knew
that there had been no cardboard or masking tape in her
apartment a few moments ago.
"That should keep the snow out," he said. "Come on, we're
leaving by the door. Let me go first."
"Char -- Clark what's going on?" she whispered. "Ordinary
hitmen don't have access to this kind of stuff, do they?"
"Not normally, no. But it's not impossible to get, if you have
the contacts. The drug cartels in Colombia were using worse
when I was there. How do you think I learned to disarm a bomb?"
He undid the locks on her door and stepped out. "It's okay.
She obeyed, stepping quickly out into the hall, half-expecting
to feel the impact of a bullet as she did so. Clark closed it
behind them and waited until she had secured the lock. "Where
are we going?"
"To my parents' place for tonight," he said. "No one's going to
find you in Kansas." He scooped her up in his arms and Lois
felt the cool rush of air. An instant later, they were
launching from the roof of the apartment house into the cloud-
covered sky. Tiny snowflakes were beginning to sift down, but
Clark took them straight up. In less then five seconds they had
emerged from the clouds into a clear night sky, spangled with
stars. Beneath them, a cottony white layer of clouds shimmered
in the moonlight, blocking her view of the city. Lois put her
arms around his neck, holding him more tightly than was
strictly necessary, and closed her eyes, trying to control the
shivering that had nothing to do with the chilly air.
Over and over, her mind replayed what had just happened.
Someone had called to verify that she was in her apartment and
then had cold-bloodedly fired that thing through her window. If
not for Charlie, she would have been dead -- again. Could
Barbara Trevino have the resources to hire the kind of high-
powered hitman who had just tried to kill her? It seemed
unlikely. Just what was really going on here?
"Lois, I promise I'm not going to let him hurt you," Charlie's
voice was saying in her ear. "We're going to find out what's
behind this and expose it. Then there won't be any point in
killing you." His arms tightened around her. "God, Lois, don't
shake like that! You're scaring me!"
She became aware that her whole body was trembling and that his
voice had taken on a desperate edge. She had to get hold of
herself, she thought. This wasn't the first time she'd been
targeted. Others had tried to dispose of a snoopy reporter who
stuck her nose into their business, and she had always managed
to expose the bad guys before they could fulfill their
intention. But this time it was different. Lois had been sure
the threat came from Barbara Trevino. She was certain the woman
was mixed up in it, somehow, but it had become evident,
starting with Finn's comment this afternoon, that there was
more to this than met the eye. Besides Barbara Trevino, there
could very possibly be someone else to whom she presented a
threat and a nuisance that needed to be removed.
But she was Lois Lane. She didn't let shadowy criminals
intimidate her. And she wasn't just Lois Lane anymore. She was
part of a team; she had Charlie -- Clark Kent -- to back her
up, a man with superhuman abilities who was going to be her
permanent partner, as soon as she could wangle it without Perry
getting suspicious. Together, they would dig up whatever it was
that Barbara Trevino was hiding and expose it to the light of
day. Somebody, she thought, had made a very big mistake
"Feeling better?" he whispered.
Lois nodded, aware that the trembling had begun to ease off.
"I'm okay, Clark. I've decided to stop running and start going
after whoever is behind this besides Barbara Trevino. We're
going to start tomorrow morning."
His arms tightened around her. "That's the Lois Lane I know,"
he said, quietly.
"I haven't thanked you," she said, resting a hand on the side
of his face. "You saved my life, again. That makes three times
in one day, once last night and once yesterday."
"However many times it takes," he said.
They were sinking through the cloud layer again and Lois felt
the dampness of mist brushing her face, then, they were beneath
the clouds and dropping toward a single light in the dimness
beneath them. Instants later, he set her on the familiar path
that led to the door of his parents' Kansas farmhouse. Snow was
falling, much more heavily than it had been in Metropolis, and
Lois found herself standing in several inches of the stuff
where it coated the path. A brisk wind whipped the snow into
her face, and she squinted her eyes against it.
They had made their descent so silently that Clark's parents
hadn't heard their arrival. Clark led her up to the door and
knocked gently. A moment later, Martha opened the door. "Clark!
Lois! Come on in!"
"Hi, Mom." Clark let Lois precede him into the cozy living
room. "We have a favor to ask. Would it be all right if Lois
stayed here, tonight?"
Martha raised her eyebrows. "Of course. What's wrong?"
"Someone's trying to kill me," Lois said. "Clark's saved my
life four times since last night."
"Oh, heavens." Martha closed the door behind them. "Are you all
"More or less." Lois could feel herself relaxing, further. The
old farmhouse might not be a modern apartment in the city, but
here was the feeling of safety that she hadn't had all day.
"Somebody must be pretty desperate to get rid of you," Jonathan
said, slowly. "Was it because of the murder you saw yesterday?"
"Partly," Clark said. "We think it might be because of what
they think Winninger told her when she interviewed him."
"The thing is, he hadn't actually said much," Lois interjected.
"Now we have to figure out what they're trying to cover up."
"'The wicked flee when no man pursues,'" Martha quoted.
"Exactly," Lois said. "So, now we know for sure that there's
something to hide. Hopefully, Jimmy will have more information
for us, tomorrow. He's doing an in-depth background on Barbara
Trevino. Maybe that will tell us something."
"Who's Jimmy?" Jonathan asked.
"Jimmy Olsen," Clark said. "He's the office gofer, junior
photographer, researcher and computer wizard. Very bright kid."
Lois nodded, giving her junior colleague his due. "He really
is. If there's anything to find, he'll find it."
"Well, that's reassuring," Martha said. "In any case, you're
certainly welcome to stay here tonight, and any other night as
long as you want." She gave her son a look that Lois couldn't
quite interpret. "Come this way. You can sleep in Clark's old
********** Clark looked out the window at the falling snow.
Here in Kansas, the snowstorm that had hit Metropolis was
dwarfed by a cloud of flakes growing thicker by the minute. In
the fireplace, a log had been mostly devoured by fire, and the
embers were still glowing brightly.
"Do you want me to get some more logs from the woodpile?" he
Jonathan shook his head. "It's nearly my bedtime," he said. "I
have to get up at four-thirty to milk the cows, remember. Not
like you lazy city folks." He grinned at his son.
Clark snorted. "We may get up a little later, but life in
Metropolis has been anything but lazy in the last couple of
"I sort of figured that out," his father said. "Seriously, do
you think you'll be able to get to the bottom of this?"
"We have to, Dad. Lois's life depends on it."
Jonathan removed his glasses and began to polish the lenses
with an old polka-dotted handkerchief -- the same one, Clark
thought, that he had carried for the last ten years, strictly
for the purpose to which he was now putting it. "You really
like her, don't you, son?"
"Yeah." He came to sit in the rocking chair across from his
father. "I think she's the one, Dad. No, I *know* she's the
Jonathan blinked at him. "That was pretty fast. You've known
her for what -- a week?"
"Six days. The thing is, I knew the first day I met her. Or,
the first night, since technically we only met after dark when
I crashed back to Earth. I felt like I'd been kicked by old
Ferdinand; it was that sudden."
Jonathan grinned. "I remember the time that bull let you have
it when you were sixteen. He limped for a week. But I get it.
It was kind of the same way for me when I first saw your
mother. Lois kind of reminds me of Martha -- not in looks, but
the way she thinks. Smart women, both of them."
Clark found himself grinning in return. "You don't have to tell
me that. Look, why don't I get you a stack of logs and dry them
off for you? That way you won't have to bring them in
"I'd appreciate that," Jonathan said. He hoisted himself out of
the recliner. "Looks like we're in for quite a storm tonight."
"It didn't show any sign of clearing when Lois and I were
flying in," Clark agreed. "If you like, I'll check on the
animals while I'm out there."
"Thanks, son." Jonathan Kent regarded him with a smile. "It
looks like you've finally found your niche, doesn't it?"
Clark shrugged. "I hope so, Dad. Working at the Planet, meeting
Lois -- it's like a dream come true. Now, if I can find some
way to use these extra powers that I've somehow been given -- "
"It looks to me as if you've already found a way to use them.
She said you saved her life four times in twenty-four hours."
"You know what I mean, Dad. Lois and I came up with something
that might work. She doesn't want anyone to know what I can do,
either, but if I can wear some kind of disguise that will
misdirect people, convince them that I'm somebody else ...
maybe I can do what I've wanted to do for a long time."
"It sounds to me like that young lady has a lot of sense,"
Jonathan said. "I said a long time ago that you needed a smart
woman in your life. Lana was never right for you, you know."
"I know. That's why I left when I did. She wanted more, and I
couldn't give her more. It wouldn't have been fair to either of
His father smiled. "Well, if you're sure Lois is the right
woman, who am I to argue? Life with her certainly won't be
boring, though, if this week has been any example."
He surprised himself by laughing out loud. "That's for sure!"
"What's for sure?" Martha Kent re-entered the room.
Clark smiled at his mother. "Dad said life with Lois won't be
boring. Is she all right, Mom?"
Martha nodded. "I think she'll be fine, Clark. I just came down
to find out your plans for the night."
"I'm going to check the animals, bring in some wood and then
bed down in the living room for the night," Clark said. "That
is, if you don't mind. Lois and I have to be at the Planet
early tomorrow morning to get a jump start on this thing." A
thought occurred to him. "By the way, is your sewing machine
"I think so. Why?"
"Well -- I think I'm going to need some kind of outfit." He got
to his feet and started toward the door. "I'll tell you all
about it later. I better go take care of the animals."
Lois readied herself for bed, looking around at the room that
had been Clark Kent's while he was growing up.
One wall was lined with shelves, starting about three feet from
the floor, and two of them held models of planes and cars.
Grouped on a separate shelf were various trophies for high
school football, volleyball and wrestling. Framed certificates
for excellence in various subjects adorned the walls. One,
above all the others, proclaimed to one and all the fact that
Clark J. Kent had maintained a 4.0 average throughout all four
years in high school. Another one was awarded for his service
as the editor of the Smallville High School Sentinel, obviously
the school newspaper. A home-made bookshelf held a surprising
array of literature, from boys adventure stories and a book
entitled "Mandarin for the Beginning Student," to a copy of
Shakespeare's Comedies. A photograph of a much younger Clark
and Jonathan Kent, holding up a huge fish almost as large as
the little boy, held a position of honor on the dresser.
Another picture, this one of Jonathan, Martha and Clark,
together, sat on the bedside table.
Everything about the room spoke of a happy and secure childhood
and of a family that loved each other a great deal. Lois stood
looking at the photograph of the young Clark, grinning proudly
as he displayed his catch and found herself smiling. He had
been an adorable little boy, she thought, and had grown up into
an amazing man, and somehow Fate had decided that he would
literally drop from the sky into her life. Who was she to turn
away from the incredibly fortunate circumstance that had
brought them together?
There was a light tapping on the door and she turned to find
Martha Kent standing in the opening.
"Did you find everything all right, Lois?"
She nodded. "Yes. I was just looking at the picture of Clark
and his fish."
Martha chuckled. "I remember the day they showed up with that
thing. They were both covered with mud and soaking wet, but
Clark was so proud of himself. I guess we should have known
right then how extraordinary he was, but it wasn't until he was
about eleven or so that we realized it."
"He said he started developing his powers at about that age,"
Lois said. "He also told me how you found him. Wasn't there
anything that gave you any idea where he came from?"
Martha shook her head. "Just the ship itself. We were afraid
someone would find it, so Jonathan went back later to get rid
of it. It was just as well he did."
"Oh?" Lois asked.
Clark's mother nodded, coming into the room. "A few days
afterwards, some men showed up." Her voice had dropped and she
spoke very softly as if, even now, she was afraid someone who
shouldn't would overhear. "They said they were with the space
agency, and they were looking for some debris from a Russian
satellite that had come down."
"Probably. We didn't tell them anything, of course, and after
while they went away."
"Good," Lois said, more vehemently than she had intended.
Martha's face crinkled into a smile.
"It's so good to be able to talk to another woman about my
boy," she said. "You care about him, don't you?"
Lois nodded. "He's ... he's something pretty special. I only
wish I'd met him a long time ago."
"I wish you had, too. He was everything we could have wanted in
a son, but after his powers began to develop, he began to
isolate himself from his friends. When he was thirteen -- about
the time when he started to get really strong -- he made the
decision by himself never to tell anybody. He said that he
wanted to fit in -- but, of course, he couldn't." Martha's
smile wavered a little. "Not really. It broke my heart watching
him have to hide what he could do. I was afraid he was always
going to be alone."
"Didn't he have friends?" Lois asked. "I mean, wasn't there
anyone he could talk to?"
Martha shook her head. "No. Just us. We were always afraid that
if he did, someone would find out and -- " She shrugged. "I
think that when he learned to fly it opened the whole world to
him," she said, almost offhandedly. "He could go anywhere in a
matter of seconds. After college, he traveled the world that
way -- always looking for the right place to settle down, but
he couldn't keep from stepping in when someone needed help, and
after while, people would start to ask questions, and he'd have
to move on. Finally he came back here. He'd planned on moving
to Metropolis to try to get a job. He said it was less likely
that anyone would notice anything odd about him in the city."
"That's for sure," Lois said. "I think a Martian could walk
down the street there and no one would notice -- and Clark
looks just like anybody else, except that he's so good-looking,
that is." She scowled at a memory. "The office man-eater is
already after him."
At Martha's questioning look, she elaborated. "The paper's
gossip columnist is trying to start something with him. She
collects men like some people collect stamps."
"Oh, poor Clark." Martha couldn't restrain a small laugh.
"Clark really isn't much of a ladies' man. I mean, girls liked
him, and he dated a little here and there during high school,
but he's never gotten serious with any woman, really -- until
he met you." Lois found that Martha Kent was regarding her
soberly. "You're the only woman he's ever been serious about."
"And you want to know if I'm going to break his heart," Lois
said. She picked up the photo of Clark, looking down into the
childish features. Martha Kent didn't speak. After a moment,
Lois put the picture down.
"The answer is, not if I can help it." She looked up to meet
the older woman's eyes. "I've had a few relationships -- none
of them worked out. But I've never met anyone like Clark before
-- and I don't mean because of what he can do. I feel this
really strange connection to him. It's like I've been waiting
for him all my life, and the others were just -- well, killing
time while I waited. And unless this thing we have somehow
turns sour -- " She smiled. "No, I won't break his heart. He's
the man I've been waiting for all my life. I'd be pretty stupid
to throw him away, wouldn't I?"
"Well, I'd think so, but I'm his mother."
"What would you think about me?" Clark asked, appearing in the
"We were just discussing your finer qualities," Lois said with
a smile. "I'd tell you, but I don't want you to get a swelled
"Oh." He looked slightly disconcerted. "I just came up to see
if you were okay. I'm going to sleep down in the living room. I
just gave Mr. White a call and told him what happened --
suitably edited, of course. I said you were in a safe place and
that we might be a little late tomorrow morning. He said to be
Martha patted Lois on the shoulder. "Well, you just try to
forget about this evening and get a good night's sleep, Lois.
Good night. Don't keep her out of her bed too long, Clark."
"I won't." He stood aside to let his mother through the door.
"Good night, Mom."
"Good night, honey." She kissed him lightly on the cheek and
disappeared down the hallway.
Clark smiled at her. "May I come in a moment?"
Clark entered the room, looking around. "I probably should have
redecorated it after I came back, but I never got around to
"I stayed here after I was through traveling, but I only slept
here. I didn't stay in the room enough to bother changing it."
"Oh." Lois glanced around the room again. "It looks like
there's a lot of history in this room."
He nodded. "Yeah. He nodded at the photograph on the dresser.
"What do you think of my fish?"
Lois glanced at the picture with a smile. "It's almost as big
as you were."
He nodded. "I still remember that fish. My line got tangled on
an underwater log and I was afraid it was going to get away, so
I ended up wading right into the lake and grabbing the fish
with my bare hands, before Dad could stop me. He was afraid I
was going to drown, but I didn't. My dad and I went fishing a
lot when I was a kid. It was his favorite sport, and I loved it
because he did. He and Wayne Irig -- he's our nearest neighbor
-- still go on a fishing trip every year. I've gone with them a
Lois smiled. "I suppose I'll have to put up with that, too,
won't I? I warn you, though, if you catch any fish, you get to
He walked to her and slipped his arms around her. "Funny thing,
that's the rule my mom always had. Come to think of it, Dad and
I had to clean her catch too, the times when we went camping --
when she caught any."
Lois giggled. "I knew I liked your mom."
He smiled. "I'll clean all the fish you want me to, and any you
catch, too, if we ever go camping. That's a promise." He looked
down into her face. "Are you all right, now?"
She nodded. "I'm all right, Clark. It was scary when it
happened, but I've been shot at before and I've been threatened
before. What we have to do now is to find out what's behind
this attempt to kill me and expose it. My guess is it has
something to do with what Winninger wanted to tell me. After
Jimmy gives us the background check on Barbara Trevino, we'll
need to find out if there's anything there that's somehow
connected to her becoming chairperson of the Rainforest
Consortium -- and if she has any connections that would benefit
from her being in the office. My guess is that it's something
very profitable and probably illegal."
"I think you're right," Clark said. "While we're doing this,
though, I'm going to stick to you like glue -- and we're going
to take every precaution with your safety. I'm not going to
lose you now, for any reason."
"I guess I can't argue with that." She found his face
descending toward hers and closed her eyes. Some seconds later,
he drew back, and she discovered that she needed to breathe.
"Wow! Being able to hold your breath that long sure gives you
He hadn't let her go. "I think," he said, smiling, "that I'm
going to need every advantage I have to keep up with you. Where
have you been all my life?"
"Waiting for you," she said, very softly. "I just didn't know
it until now."
Clark Kent stepped out of the elevator, glanced carefully
around and then beckoned to Lois, who followed him. Perry had
to smile even through his concern. It was certainly refreshing
to see Lois actually being cautious. Kent was definitely having
a beneficial effect on her.
He strode forward. "I'm putting on extra security," he told
them. "People are going to have to show special identification
to get in here." He looked specifically at Lois. "Are *you* all
Lois nodded, looking determined. "I'm fine -- thanks to Clark.
Anyway, I'm tired of being a target. We're going after these
people as of this morning."
"You got any leads?" Perry asked, raising an eyebrow.
"A few. Hopefully, Jimmy will have some stuff for me by now,
Perry grinned. This had all the earmarks of a front page story.
"Okay, honey, go get 'em -- but in the name of Elvis's sainted
aunt, be careful!"
"I will be. I'm not going to let these people win by default!"
"Default?" Perry asked, slightly confused.
"Yeah. If they kill me, they win. There's no way I'm going to
give them the satisfaction!"
Perry watched her march down the ramp with a businesslike
stride and glanced at Kent, who grinned slightly and shrugged.
"You heard the lady."
"Yeah." Perry gave a sudden bark of laughter. "But I've never
heard somebody describe getting killed as the other side
winning by default."
"Well ... " The other man gave a shrug. "Lois is kind of
He certainly couldn't disagree with that. "You said a mouthful,
Kent. Don't let anything happen to her, okay?"
"Not if I can help it, sir." Kent followed her down the ramp,
looking as businesslike as she had. Perry watched him for a
minute. That young man was going places, he thought. He had the
feeling that for the first time, his star reporter might have
met her match.
"Where's that stuff they handed out at the press conference?"
Lois asked, rummaging around in her desk. "I put it in here,
"I have a copy." Clark produced a sheet of paper from a side
drawer of his desk and handed it to her.
A long, hose-clad leg, ending in a foot in an impossibly high,
stiletto heel, was planted on the seat of his chair, directly
in front of him. Clark glanced slowly up at the leg to where it
disappeared into the high slit skirt. Cat leaned forward, and
for an instant, he feared the low cut blouse would be unequal
to the strain of containing its contents. "Hello there,
handsome," she drawled, running a finger across his jaw.
"Remember that dinner date?"
He glanced briefly at Lois and straightened up. "I'm sorry,
Cat. I haven't even had time to think about it. Lois and I are
right in the middle of the Winninger investigation."
"You are?" Cat said, raising her perfectly plucked and
pencilled eyebrows. "I thought that was Lois's story."
"Perry assigned Clark to partner with me on the investigation,"
Lois said, crisply. "It's a good thing he did, too, or I'd be
pushing up daisies right now. You don't want to hang around us
too closely. You might pick up a stray bullet."
"And tonight?" Cat asked, running a finger along Clark's cheek,
to his acute embarrassment.
"Tonight, too," Lois said, firmly.
"Can I give you a raincheck for later, when we've finished?"
Cat straightened up, placing her foot on the floor, and smiled
at Clark. "I'll remember that. Just don't wait too long." She
turned and walked away, the material of her skirt straining at
the hips. Clark breathed a sigh of relief.
"This is interesting," Lois was saying, a short time later.
"According to this bio, Barbara Trevino is on the Board of
Directors of Hobbs Mining."
"That might be a connection," Clark said. "I wonder if Hobbs
Mining has any interests in the Brazilian rainforest, or
anyplace else relevant."
"That's a good question," she said. "At the very least, I'd
call it a conflict of interest."
Jimmy approached at that moment, waving a sheaf of paper.
"Here's the background that you wanted, Lois. Barbara Trevino
is associated with a bunch of different organizations, and I
did a little research on each one of them. It's all there. If
you need any more, let me know."
"Great." Lois took the papers and riffled through them. "Here's
Hobbs Mining ... Clark, they have a strip mining operation in
Lois was reading. "It's in an area of the rainforest that was
logged over last year. Jimmy!"
Jimmy paused in mid step. "That was fast. What did I leave
"Which company conducted logging operations in the area of the
rainforest that Hobbs Mining is operating in?"
"It's in there," Jimmy said. "I thought it was an interesting
"What was an interesting coincidence?"
Jimmy sighed. "The logging company, of course. It was Lexwood
Logging. Trevino is some kind of environmental advisor to the
company. It's a subsidiary of LexCorp, believe it or not."
"LexCorp?" Lois said. "As in Lex Luthor?"
Jimmy nodded. "I said it was an interesting coincidence."
"Why does it have to be a coincidence?" Clark asked.
"Lex Luthor is a well-known philanthropist as well as a
businessman," Lois said. "Remember, I told you about him? He's
the third richest man in the world. Besides, he's one of the
sponsors of ... " She broke off at an unwelcome thought. "No,
it can't be."
"What can't be?"
"He's one of the sponsors of the Rainforest Consortium. Like
Jimmy said, it has to be a coincidence."
"Probably," Clark said, after a short silence. "What are they
"Um ... " Lois was reading. "Uh ... uranium. And several other
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "I took a look at the mineralogical
reports. Apparently that section of Brazil is rich in all kinds
of mineral deposits. It's a mining engineer's dream."
Another silence. "Jimmy," Lois said, slowly, "I realize that
this is really reaching, but I want you to do some more
research. Find out how Lexwood Logging got the permits to log
in that section of the rainforest ... and I want you to do an
in-depth on Hobbs Mining. I want to know the name of their
parent company, if any. And find out about any new applications
for mining permits they may have made in the last few months.
I'm probably way off base here, but I don't want to leave any
"You don't think Lex Luthor had anything to do with it?" Jimmy
said, sounding slightly incredulous.
"Probably not. Lex Luthor is one of Metropolis's leading
citizens. I can't see him being mixed up in anything illegal.
But it wouldn't be the first time a subordinate in a company
did things the boss wasn't aware of."
"That's true," Jimmy said. "Okay, I'm on it. Everything I can
find out about Hobbs Mining and Lexwood Logging in Brazil. I'll
have it for you as fast as I can."
Lois was frowning thoughtfully. "And Jimmy -- "
"Find me Barbara Trevino's home address -- and the Brazilian
headquarters of Hobbs Mining."
Jimmy shrugged. "Okay. I might have to do some hacking. I don't
think her address is available to the general public."
Lois nodded, her mind racing. "Clark, can I talk to you in
private? I have an idea."
Watching Lois's mind work was a fascinating exercise, Clark
thought as he followed her toward Conference Room Two. It no
longer amazed him that she had put two and two together about
his powers and figured out what she had about him.
Lois shut the door behind them and twisted the lock. "Char --
Clark, we need to get a look at Barbara Trevino's private
records, and you can bet she's not going to let any snoopy
reporter see them."
Clark had a sinking sensation in his gut. No wonder she had
wanted the woman's private address. "Don't tell me, you want me
to -- "
"No, I don't want you to break into her home. You're going to
help *me* do it."
"Lois, that's breaking and entering. It's illegal!"
"So is murder," Lois said, unarguably. "Will you help me?"
Put like that, it wasn't so difficult to decide. "You know I
"Good. The same goes for the Brazilian office of Hobbs Mining.
Are you with me?"
He gave a faintly dismayed laugh. "Of course."
"Good." Her voice was businesslike. "We'll have to scout the
area and come up with a way in, but --"
He shrugged. "Don't worry about that. I think I can manage.
Let's wait until we get a look at the lay of the land before we
make plans." He felt his face turning pink. "I -- uh -- I've
done a little in that line, myself."
"Oh?" She looked instantly interested.
"Um -- yeah. I was investigating one of the local government
officials in Manila a few years ago. It turned out he was using
his office to smuggle drugs past Customs. It was the only way
to get the evidence on him to shut down his operation."
"Someday you're going to have to tell me about some of the
things you did while you were traveling," she remarked. "It
sounds as if it wasn't your usual world tour."
"Well, no -- not exactly." He glanced back out into the office
where Jimmy was leaning forward to read something on his
computer screen. "Can Jimmy trace phone records? I'd be
interested in who Barbara Trevino has been talking to in the
last few days."
"He's done it before," Lois said. "At the least, he could try.
I'll tell him I need them."
"Okay, here you go." Jimmy presented Lois with the fruits of
his search, a satisfied look on his face.
"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary," Clark said.
Jimmy nodded. "I think you two are on the trail of something
big. The section of the rainforest in question was supposed to
be protected. The proposal for logging was rejected -- and
then, a month later they were suddenly granted a permit,
without even another proposal being submitted. I hunted around
and found the name of the official who signed the permit and
noticed that he suddenly made a purchase of a large estate on
the outskirts of Brazilia, right about the same time.
Interesting coincidence, huh?"
"Very," Lois said. "Anything on Hobbs Mining?"
"Yeah. It's all there. Hobbs Mining is a subsidiary of Carlin
Investments, which in turn, is a subsidiary of LexCorp. They
applied for the mining permit a month or so after the area was
logged over and received it within weeks. There's another
permit application for mining in the area right next to the
logged section where they're mining right now. I didn't see
anything else about it, so the application is probably still
pending, but that's a protected area, too."
"I'd sure like a look at a mineralogical report on that land,"
Clark said, softly. "Lois, extensive mining operations in the
protected areas of the rainforest would constitute an
"And if Barbara Trevino becomes the head of the Rainforest
Consortium," Lois said, suddenly, "she could sign the permits
to grant Hobbs Mining what it wants without the necessity for
paying out more bribes. Jimmy, did you get those addresses for
Jimmy nodded. "They're in with the rest of the stuff. In
summer, Barbara Travino lives in a penthouse apartment in New
York. Her winter home is in Florida. I included both addresses
with the other info."
Lois didn't even blink. "Okay, thanks. Now, I want you to see
if you can get hold of her telephone records for the last
month. I want to know who she's been talking to."
Jimmy sighed. "You don't ask much, do you? I'll see what I can
Lois gave a slight smile. "Thanks, Jimmy. I knew I could count
on you. Come on, Clark."
"Where are we going?" Clark asked.
"See anybody?" Lois asked, softly.
"No. The Security patrol is down at the other end of the beach.
We've got about ten minutes." Clark lowered his glasses --
probably checking out the burglar alarms, Lois thought. "Hold
it a minute." His expression became intent and Lois saw a thin
spiral of smoke emerge from a tiny, pinprick of a hole in the
door frame -- a hole that had not been there an instant before.
He took a grip on the doorknob and turned it. Lois heard a
crunch, the door opened easily, and they stepped inside.
"Don't you worry about fingerprints?" she whispered. Hastily,
she polished the doorknob with the tail of her blouse.
He grinned. "Thanks. Yes, I'm careful not to touch the metal
with the tips of my fingers, but it's just as well not to take
chances. Come on."
Quietly, he closed the door and led the way through the
entrance hall toward a door near the back of the house.
Barbara Trevino's winter home was a luxurious beach house in an
elite neighborhood, patrolled by a private security firm and
walled away from the common masses by a high stone wall and
iron gates that admitted only the residents and their guests.
Fortunately, Lois thought, smugly, the security measures hadn't
been prepared for an intruder who could fly, see through walls
and over great distances or disable the house alarm and break
the front door lock by sheer strength, as she suspected Clark
He pointed. "That seems to be her office. There's a desk with a
computer and a filing cabinet." Lois could tell by the tilt of
his head that he was listening for sounds that she didn't have
a prayer of hearing. "I don't hear anyone nearby but we better
not fool around."
Hastily, Lois produced the scrap of lace that served as a
handkerchief and used it to turn the doorknob. Clark was
looking around, his glasses resting on the tip of his nose, and
the sight almost made her giggle. Quickly, they slipped within,
and Lois closed the panel gently behind them.
"I'll take the computer," Clark said. "If she has a password, I
can break it faster than you can."
Lois started to object and then realized that he was correct.
There was definitely an advantage to being able to move so
fast. Even without the perk of being well on the way to falling
in love with her new partner, this arrangement was working out
better than even she had envisioned. She went to the file
cabinet and tried the top drawer.
"Locked." She removed her trusty lock pick and dealt summarily
with that particular obstacle. "Let's see what we have here ...
Behind her, she heard the computer booting up and a moment
later, the soft whir of Clark's fingers over the keys. He gave
a soft exclamation of satisfaction. "Got it. Now, let's see
what we can find .... " The whir resumed, and a few seconds
later the beep that warned of an overflowing buffer made her
grin and shake her head. He was absolutely incredible, she
thought, going through the files at a more modest pace.
A file containing geological survey reports and another marked
"Hobbs Mining" caught her eye and she withdrew the little
camera she always carried on these jobs. She didn't have the
time to read the documents as she photographed them as fast as
The second drawer down yielded more files, and she located the
one designated for LexCorp. She didn't seriously think that the
head of LexCorp could be involved in the affair, but that
didn't mean that other, lower ranking officials weren't doing
things their boss had never sanctioned.
Clark had slipped a floppy disk into the computer and was
copying files as fast as the machine could work. As she looked
over her shoulder, she saw him remove one disk and replace it
with another. He glanced at her with a slight grin. "I've never
done this with a partner before. It's more fun than I
Lois grinned back, replaced the LexCorp file and pushed in the
lock. Meticulously, she wiped off the handles of the cabinet,
making certain that all traces of her fingerprints were
eradicated. "I think I have everything I need for now. Are you
"Almost." He had lifted his head. "Security is coming this way.
Stay away from the window."
Silence except for the hum of the computer faithfully copying
data. Then Clark moved quickly. "They're stopping. Barbara
Trevino's maid is telling them she thought she saw someone by
the front door!"
"Where was *she*? I thought you said there was no one in the
"In the maid's quarters -- that little house down by the gate."
Quickly, he extracted the floppy and snapped off the computer.
"I hope it got everything."
"Wipe off your fingerprints." Lois thrust the handkerchief into
his hand. He obeyed, hastily and quietly opened the door,
careful to touch the knob only with the cloth.
"Which way?" Lois asked.
"Out the side door. They're just coming up the walk." He
scooped her up in his arms and the surroundings blurred for an
instant. Then, they were out the side door, and Clark had
closed it gently behind them. Another brief burst of speed past
the swimming pool and beautifully landscaped grounds, and he
set her down on the sidewalk that ran past the rear of the
private property. "Just look casual," he said, softly, handing
her back the somewhat smudged handkerchief. "I want to listen
in. Pretend you're taking pictures of the scenery."
They stood together, apparently admiring the ocean view while
Clark listened. Faintly, from the other side of the wall, Lois
heard the sounds of excited voices and bursts of static from
the radios and a few minutes later the engine of another
vehicle. Security was apparently searching the grounds of
Barbara Trevino's home very thoroughly. At last, Clark took her
hand, and they began to walk slowly away toward a section of
the beach that was open to tourists.
"Hopefully," he said, "no one will realize we got into the file
cabinet or the computer. As far as I could see, we left it the
way we found it."
She nodded, trying to maintain the appearance of a casual
tourist out for a stroll in the late afternoon sun of southern
Florida. Clark really couldn't fly them out of here at the
moment, she knew. There was too much chance of someone seeing
them. He had taken enough of a risk whisking them over the high
wall in the back of the property. Hoping she looked casual,
Lois glanced around, trying to determine if anyone was paying
them any undue attention. There didn't appear to be, however.
Clark had moved pretty fast, so, if anyone had caught a glimpse
of them, he most likely wouldn't realize what he had seen.
"Hey, you!" A truck, marked with the insignia of the Coconut
Palms Resort security firm, had pulled up beside them. Lois and
Clark stopped and turned slowly toward the man who had shouted.
"Can we help you, officer?" Clark asked, sounding completely
"Yeah! Did you see anyone suspicious hanging around out here --
or maybe climbing over the wall back there?" The man pointed
back toward the stretch of sidewalk from which they had just
Lois opened her mouth to deny it, but Clark intervened. "I
think there were a couple of teenagers, maybe sixteen or
seventeen, walking along the street. They headed back that
way." He pointed. "Why?"
"What did they look like?"
Clark shrugged. "Just a couple of kids. I didn't really notice.
Is something wrong?"
The man didn't answer, but the truck swiveled around, making a
U-turn in the middle of the street and headed back the other
way. Clark pulled Lois after him toward the steps leading to
Lois glanced after the men. "They'll come back when they don't
find anybody," she warned. "We better get out of here."
"They'll find someone," Clark said, smiling faintly. "There's a
guy about seventeen and a girl around the same age getting
pretty hot and heavy in the bushes just up the street. I saw
them. It'll be just as well if the security guys do spot them
before things go much further." He continued to set an
unhurried pace toward the line of palm trees that lined the
edge of the white, sandy beach. "There's a place right down
that way where no one can see us. We'll leave from there." He
added, thoughtfully, "If you want to check out the Brazilian
office of Hobbs Mining, I think we'd better go after dark."
"Look at this, Clark." Lois indicated the photograph of the
record from Barbara Trevino's file that she was studying. "This
was a Xerox of an authorization for a 'discretionary payment'
to 'facilitate' the acquisition of that land for logging --
'prior to mining operation.' Remember that official who bought
the estate in Brazil?"
"Yeah." Clark gave a low whistle at the size of the payment.
"Looks like Hobb's Mining and Lexwood Logging were cooperating.
You know, I can see a subordinate in one of the companies in
business for himself, but with both companies working together?
That sounds like someone higher up was involved."
It was late evening at the Daily Planet. Except for Jimmy and
Perry, and, of course, themselves, the only persons in the
office were members of the night staff.
"Well, it looks like Trevino negotiated the whole thing," Lois
said. "And there was that other thing ... " She rummaged in the
stack of printer paper. "Those financial records of hers. This
payment from LexCorp's discretionary fund ... the dates
coincide. This stuff can't be on the up and up."
"Lots of 'discretionary' payments," Clark murmured. He glanced
at his watch. "We can head for Brazil any time you're ready.
You want some coffee?"
"Sure." Lois handed him her coffee mug. "Two sugar
"I know how you like it," he said, taking the mug with a smile.
"Be right back."
Perry emerged from his office and crossed the room to her. "I
promised Alice I'd be home before ten. Are you two gonna be
"Sure, Perry. Clark and I will be here for a little bit, then
we have one more place to go before we quit for the night. We
might have something for you by tomorrow."
"Just don't take chances," Perry said. "I don't want to lose my
best reporter, you know."
"Barbara Trevino becomes head of the Rainforest Consortium
tomorrow. If we're going to stop it, we need to have all our
information before then," Lois said. "We'll be careful, Perry -
- I promise."
"Just be sure you are," Perry said. He glanced around as Clark
returned with the coffee. "Keep her alive, Kent."
"I will," Clark said. "Good night, sir."
Perry grinned, faintly. "That's what I like to hear from my
reporters. Respect -- something I don't get much of around
"Don't worry, Clark will learn," Lois said. "Good night,
Her boss chuckled and turned to pick up his coat. "Good night,
Jimmy emerged from the copy room as their boss stepped into the
elevator and crossed the Pit to the Sports desk where one of
the four night employees was swinging idly back and forth in
his desk chair. "Here you go, George."
With an inarticulate grunt, the man took the stack of paper
that Jimmy presented to him. The gofer hurried over to his desk
and opened a drawer. "I almost forgot, Lois. While you and
Clark were out of the office, a guy from STAR Labs returned
that journal along with an analysis." He extracted a large,
thick envelope from the inbox. "Man, who needs a workout at the
gym? I've probably covered fifty miles today, just in the
office. Here you go. Dr. Brennon said it might interest you."
Clark stepped around Lois's desk to take it. "Thanks, Jim." He
pried up the little metal clasps and removed the journal and
several sheets of paper. "Let's see what we have here .... "
"Well, don't keep it all to yourself," Lois said. "What does it
"Just a second." She saw him flip quickly through the papers.
When he said a second he meant it, she thought, irrelevantly.
"The formula is plant-based," Clark said.
"Apparently it contains a combination of phytochemicals that,
when combined with certain enzymes, appears to increase sperm
count and ... um ... stamina in the monkeys they tested it on."
"Nope. See for yourself."
"Oh, I believe you. Didn't you say the journal was a record of
his stay with an Amazonian tribe?"
"Uh huh. He has a bunch of tribal lore about plants that the
medicine man used for medicinal purposes, including one that
was supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Do you suppose .... "
"'Increased male potency'," Lois quoted. "I guess he was
telling the truth after all. It's possible more of the details
might be in the other journals that Finn stole."
"Better sex through science," Clark said. "I guess that would
explain why he thought it was so urgent to stop Barbara Trevino
from becoming head of the Rainforest Consortium tomorrow. He
knew she was going to give Hobbs Mining a carte blanche to wipe
out acres and acres of jungle -- and the discoveries he made
while he was there."
"Not to mention the ones still waiting to be made," Lois said.
"Let me see that report."
He gave it to her. "Are you about ready to head for -- " He
glanced at Jimmy, a short distance away at his desk. " -- The
Lois hesitated. "Can you do it by yourself, Clark? I want to
finish going through all the stuff we found this afternoon. I
need to put together an article for the paper tomorrow that
will at least delay Barbara Trevino from taking the office. I
promise not to go anywhere."
"I guess I can." He bit his lip, indecisively. "I'd rather not
leave you, alone."
"I'll stay with her." Jimmy glanced up from his computer
screen. "Nobody's going to get in here."
Lois nodded agreement. "Security is pretty tight, Clark. No one
will know I'm still here."
Clark hesitated. "All right, but I'm holding you to your
promise. And I'll be back as fast as I can manage."
She nodded. "Just be sure to get everything. Don't rush."
"Right." He glanced around, taking in everything, she thought,
but as usual, the night staff was working quietly at their
desks and the only person moving around the room was the drab
figure of the cleaning woman emerging from Perry's office,
pushing her cart. Quickly, he strode toward the stairs and
vanished through the door.
Silence descended on the office. Lois continued to read, making
notes as she did so, assembling the facts for the article that
would, if not derail the appointment of Barbara Trevino, at
least delay it, pending further investigation. Jimmy worked
quietly at his computer, a few feet away, finishing up
someone's research for tomorrow. He yawned suddenly and
stretched, then pushed back his chair. "I'm gonna get some
coffee. Want some?"
"Sure. Two -- "
"Sugar substitutes, yeah, I know." Jimmy collected her mug,
snatched up his own, and headed across the room toward the
Lois turned back to the documents. Glancing at her watch, she
noted that Clark had been gone nearly fifteen minutes. In spite
of her brave words, she was beginning to be a little nervous
without his presence to reassure her. It was certainly her
imagination, but she could almost feel the calculating eyes of
a predator watching her, waiting for her to make the slip that
would put her at his mercy. After all, until she and Clark had
done all the damage to Barbara Trevino's plans that they were
capable of doing, there was still an incentive to dispose of
Shaking off the chill that ran over her scalp at the thought,
she again scanned the documents before her. Printouts of the
data that Clark had downloaded from the woman's office computer
showed several more "coincidences" that together with the file
data added up to an incriminating scenario. Still, something
was missing, she thought. Barbara Trevino was unquestionably up
to something quite illegal as well as highly unethical, but
there was certainly more behind it and it looked as if the
place to look for that something might very well be LexCorp.
Maybe it was time for her to put more effort into getting that
interview with Lex Luthor after all. Who at the organization
would have the power to direct two of the company's
subsidiaries to cooperate in this project? One of his company
officers? Or was it even barely possible that the
philanthropist might have a hand in it, himself?
Well, Lex Luthor probably hadn't gotten where he was without
cutting a few corners, but would he involve himself in
something like this? Well ... power did strange things to men.
It wasn't highly likely, but she shouldn't assume anything
about him. How many apparently squeaky-clean individuals had
turned out to have skeletons in their closets? She'd unearthed
more than one, herself.
She reached for her scheduling notebook to make a note of the
thought and the pencil lead snapped as she began to write. With
a sigh of resignation, she opened the bottom drawer of her
desk, groping for the pencil box stored there.
It was, naturally enough, empty. Lois sighed and got to her
feet. There were more pencils in the storeroom. Normally, she
would have sent Jimmy, but he was busy at the coffee maker,
apparently engaged in measuring out coffee grounds for brewing
a new batch. It would only take her a minute to get herself a
new box of pencils, after all, she thought, hurrying toward the
storeroom. Besides, she needed to stretch her legs after an
hour of sitting behind her desk.
The storeroom light came on, illuminating the shelves loaded
with office supplies. It took her only a moment to find the
boxes of pencils, and she appropriated one.
A sound behind her made her turn quickly, but it was only the
cleaning woman, and she let out her breath. "You scared me. Are
you looking for something?"
The woman shut the door and twisted the lock. "I found it."
Turning, she slipped a hand into the pocket of her coverall.
"Now, tell me where that notebook is."
Barbara Trevino. Lois stared at her, making out the woman's
beautiful features under the makeup and straggly hair only
partially covered with a scarf. Instinctively, she stalled. "I
don't know what you're talking about."
Barbara Trevino removed her hand from the coverall's pocket,
bringing with it a gun. She pointed the muzzle directly at
Lois. "The notebook," she repeated. "The one Finn didn't find.
Winninger gave it to you when you interviewed him."
Lois gulped. She was cornered. Barbara Trevino wasn't going to
let her go, that was certain. She knew too much. And the
distance between them was simply too great for her to handle
her opponent the way she had handled Sebastian Finn. Only one
thing might keep her alive until Clark got back -- the belief
that there was more evidence in that notebook than there really
was -- and the knowledge that Lois could get it for her.
"Yes, he did," she said, striving to keep her voice calm. "He
told me about you and why you wanted to be Chairperson of the
Rainforest Consortium -- and your connection to Hobbs Mining.
Everything is in the journal -- along with his formula for
increased male potency. Tell me, Ms. Trevino -- how much money
are you getting for doing this?"
The older woman smiled, grimly. "A lot," she said. "More than
enough to kill for, and with the mining proceeding as we speak,
there isn't much you can do to stop it. Now, I want that book."
"I can't give it to you," Lois said. Try as she would, she
couldn't quite control the fear that made her voice quiver very
slightly. "My partner has it. And if anything happens to me,
he's going to take it straight to the police."
"That's too bad," Barbara Trevino said, "I guess I'll have to
take my chances with him but you, at least, are one loose end
that I won't have to worry about any longer." She raised the
Behind the woman, there was a crunching sound that Lois
recognized as the method by which Clark had "unlocked" the
front door of the luxurious vacation home, earlier that
afternoon. Barbara Trevino spun around, trying to bring her
weapon to bear on the door as the panel was pulled suddenly
open. Clark Kent stood framed in the doorway, and in one hand
he held the journal.
"Is this what you wanted, Ms. Trevino?" he inquired.
Lois wasn't at her desk when Clark stepped back into the
newsroom from the stairwell, but he could hear her heartbeat
clearly. It was loud and agitated and tuning his hearing, he
could hear her voice speaking.
It was coming from the storeroom, and one glance with his x-ray
vision made his heart jump into his throat. Instantly, he
descended the steps to the Pit and crossed the floor with a
purposeful stride, not even pausing as he snatched Vincent
Winninger's journal from its inconspicuous spot on the corner
of Lois's desk.
Jimmy was crossing the newsroom with a mug of steaming coffee
in each hand. Clark brushed by him without a word and paused at
the storeroom door.
"I can't give it to you," he heard Lois's voice say. "My
partner has it. And if anything happens to me, he's going to
take it straight to the police."
Over the top of his glasses, he saw Barbara Trevino raise the
small pistol in her hands. "That's too bad. I guess I'll have
to take my chances with him, but you, at least, are one loose
end that I won't have to worry about any longer."
Clark didn't hesitate. With his free hand, he gripped the
doorknob and twisted, feeling the lock break. Without pause, he
yanked the door open.
"Is this what you wanted, Ms. Trevino?" he asked, holding up
His sudden entrance had shaken her, he saw, but the expression
of grim determination on her features didn't change. "Give it
"No," Clark said. "Are you going to kill me in front of Lois
and five other people? You can't possibly get us all."
"Give it to me!"
"Okay." Clark casually tossed the journal toward her. "Catch."
Instinctively, she grabbed for the book and fumbled the gun.
Lois lunged forward, grabbing her from behind. An instant
later, it was all over.
"Clark, we have to do something!" Lois said as he propelled
Barbara Trevino out the door. "Hobbs Mining is starting early!"
"I know." He nodded toward the phone. "Call the police, Lois.
Tell them what happened and tell them I'll be by later to make
my statement. I have to call a friend of mine in Brazil. We may
be able to stop this before it goes too far. It wouldn't hurt
to tell the police what's happening with Hobbs Mining, too."
Without effort he shoved his captive into a chair. "I guess I
can always get another tie."
"What ...?" He barely heard Lois's half-formed question as he
pulled off the aforementioned article of clothing and used it
to bind Barbara Trevino's hands behind her.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he told his flabbergasted
partner and half-ran toward the stairs.
Cruising above the Brazilian rainforest, Clark Kent made a
beeline for the mining site. This was going to be a delicate
task for him. He still had friends on the police force in Rio
de Janiero, and a call to a certain police chief had produced
quick results. Now, all he had to do was to delay things until
the authorities could arrive -- and do it without being seen.
There beneath him was the camp and his better than human
eyesight showed him that men were setting the explosives to
begin their operation. Floating silent and invisible above the
activity, he watched as the demolition crew finished setting
the last charge in their initial series and hurried back to
their makeshift command post. A horn blared and a loudspeaker
relayed orders to take cover. Men scurried here and there,
diving behind the shelter of rocks. Then the horn fell silent.
Clark traced the wires running from the detonator and severed
them quickly and neatly with his heat vision.
The leader of the crew threw the switch and Clark smiled at the
language issuing from various individuals below when the
charges failed to explode. Men looked at each other in
puzzlement, and then the activity commenced anew as they began
to try to find the problem. In the distance, Clark could hear
the approach of the law along the dirt road that led to the
mining camp. In a very few minutes, he would be able to safely
abandon his post and return to Metropolis. Once the news came
out about the arrest of Barbara Trevino and the exposure of the
scheme to mine the rainforest, the danger to Lois would
probably abate -- as long as the unknown mastermind behind it
all wasn't alerted to the fact that he wasn't safe yet.
Because, he wasn't. Whoever this person was, he was dangerous -
- very dangerous. Clark wasn't fooling himself by considering
for a moment that Barbara Trevino was the one behind that
attack on Lois in her apartment. Mr. X -- whoever he was --
must have a great deal to lose if his identity were to come
out. Which meant that he had to be their next target.
The door to the stairs opened, and Clark Kent stepped out to
stroll casually out into the newsroom. Lois and Jimmy turned at
the sound of his arrival, and he could tell by the expressions
on their faces that the news had preceded him.
"I guess the word is good?" he inquired.
One of Lois's eyebrows slid up. "The Planet's Brazilian office
just called. The police made it in time, the mining operations
have been suspended, and the authorities are cleaning house at
the Rainforest Consortium. Funny thing, though, it wouldn't
have worked out nearly as well if the wires to the explosive
charges hadn't somehow been severed."
"Amazing," Clark said. "Do you suppose someone on the crew
could have had something to do with it?"
"I'm sure somebody there did," Lois said, noncommittally. "Have
you seen Henderson, yet?"
"Not yet. I was just about to head over to the precinct. Do you
want to come with me, or shall I take you back to your place,
first? I want to be sure the hit man has been called off before
I leave you by yourself."
Lois reached for her coat. "I'll come along with you. We have
some things to talk about, Kent."
They stepped into the elevator and Clark punched the button for
the roof. "Do you mind if we fly?" he asked. "I don't want to
relax until the story appears tomorrow. Whoever sent that guy
with the rocket grenade after you may not think he's safe,
"I thought of that." Lois took his hand and he curled his
fingers around hers. "I was careful not to hint that we thought
anybody higher than Barbara Trevino was involved when I wrote
the article for the morning edition."
"Good. But until then, you're still in danger. I'd like to take
you back to Kansas tonight."
She hesitated. "You know I always like to fly with you, but I'm
not sure I should impose on your parents again, Clark."
"Didn't you hear what Mom said last night? She and Dad want you
to be safe, and so do I. Besides, Mom wanted to consult you
about my outfit."
"Uh huh. So people won't recognize me."
"Oh, yeah." She nodded. "Okay. Let's go take care of your
statement to Henderson and then head for Kansas."
Clark gave her hand a squeeze. He was feeling good. The whole
mess had worked out both better and sooner than they had
expected and other things were on the way to working out as
well. It was amazing how fast things had turned around for him.
A week ago, it had looked as if the world wouldn't survive
beyond four days. Now he had found the woman of his dreams, had
the job he had been aiming for since the day he had become
editor of Smallville High's newspaper, and was on the verge of
realizing his other long-held goal: being able to use his
amazing powers openly without ruining his life. Could it
possibly get much better than this?
The thought was almost scary.
Clark's feet had barely touched the snow-covered walk of the
farmhouse when Martha Kent opened the door and waved for them
to come in. They quickly ascended the steps to the porch and
hurried inside, dusting away the little flakes that feathered
their hair and clothing. The storm had stopped and the sky was
crystal clear, but a brisk wind filled the air with clouds of
snow from the trees and fields that surrounded the Kansas farm.
"We were hoping you'd come," Martha said, shutting the door
behind them. "It was all over the news a little while ago."
"I know," Lois said. "What we found just scratches the surface,
though. Next we're going after whoever it is that's behind
Jonathan Kent entered the living room with a glass of steaming
milk in one hand. "I wondered when you two would get here," he
remarked. "I guess you've been pretty busy today. Am I wrong to
suspect Clark might be behind those severed wires they were
"You think?" Lois asked, trying to keep her expression blank.
"Um ... yeah," Clark admitted. "I had to keep the explosives
from going off, without being seen, so I cut the wires to the
detonator with my heat vision."
"Speaking of which," Lois interjected, "you were talking about
an 'outfit' you could wear while you're doing these things in
public. What did you have in mind?"
"Well ... I was thinking that you and Mom might have some ideas
about that," Clark said.
Martha Kent looked at Lois. "What do you think, Lois? Do you
want to help design a uniform?"
"Well ... I can't sew very well," Lois said.
"Oh, I'll take care of that part," Martha said. "What I want is
another critical eye." She glanced out the window, where a full
moon illuminated the snowy landscape. "We can't do it now, but
on your next day off ... "
"Actually," Lois said, "tomorrow *is* my day off. I'll call
Perry in the morning and ask him for Clark's help. After this
last thing, I think he'll go along." She patted Clark on the
arm. "After all, he saved my life again, tonight. That's pretty
good for just three days on the job."
"Well," Jonathan said, "I guess you could say, he's not your
Lois gave a snort of laughter. "That's probably the
understatement of the year."
The grandfather clock began to chime. Martha Kent glanced at
the timepiece. "Goodness, look at the time! And we have to be
up early to do the chores!"
"Don't worry, Mom, I'll take care of them," Clark said.
"Just the same, it's past my bedtime," Jonathan said. "G'night,
"Good night, Mr. Kent," Lois said.
"Jonathan," he said, starting for the stairs. "Nobody ever
calls me Mr. Kent but the delivery boy."
"Jonathan," she said.
Martha smiled. "I'm going to bed, too. Turn off the lights when
you turn in, Clark."
They waited while Martha Kent ascended the stairs. Lois saw her
companion remove his glasses and glance at the fireplace. The
smoldering log flared up again with a crackle and a small burst
He tugged on her hand. "Want to sit and talk for a few
"Sure. I'm a little too keyed up to sleep yet." Lois followed
him to the sofa and took a seat. Clark settled down beside her.
He hesitated and then tentatively slipped an arm around her
shoulders. Lois relaxed back against his arm.
"So," Clark said, "you said we had some things to talk about?"
"Sure. When we were leaving the Planet."
"Oh, that. I was just making conversation. You saved my life
again tonight, Clark. You can't thank somebody for that."
"You don't need to. Like I said, yesterday, 'as many times as
it takes.' I couldn't stand to lose you, now."
"So you had a selfish motive, huh?"
"You bet I did. In one week you've become necessary for my
happiness. I've never known anyone like you before. I'd almost
given up ever finding someone I could share my life with --
someone who would accept me as I am."
"Oh, Clark. I'm not as perfect as you think."
"Don't you think I'm the one to decide that?" he asked. "You
might not be perfect for someone else, but you're perfect for
She hadn't thought of that. "Maybe. I sure wasn't perfect for
"Does it matter?"
"Maybe not. I'd just about decided, after Claude, that I was
the problem. I mean, there was my dad -- I told you about him.
He was always disappointed in me, first for being the wrong
sex, then because I didn't want to be a doctor -- "
"That was his problem, not yours. He's got the right to decide
what to do with his life but no one else's."
"Maybe. But when he and Mom split up, I thought it was my
fault. I know, now, that it wasn't, but kids don't understand
"That must have been pretty painful."
"Yeah. It was a long time before I realized that was just how
people are, Clark. They can make the deepest commitment to each
other, and even have children and then, because they're selfish
and they only think about themselves ..." She broke off. "Then
there was Paul, in college. We were dating. He was the editor
of the paper, and I had this big crush on him. I'd been
investigating this thing at the school about these football
players that weren't taking their own exams, and I thought if I
wrote it up, it would impress him and make him notice me more."
She shook her head. "No. Do you remember Linda King?"
"I don't think so."
"That red-headed reporter from the Herald. She made a pass at
you at the EPRAD press conference."
"Well ... sort of. When you were still Charlie."
"Oh, that red-headed woman. You did introduce her, but I wasn't
really paying much attention to her."
"She was my roommate in college and we were best friends. She
found my notes, wrote them up and submitted them under her own
name. I tried to explain, but he told me I was being petty,
trying to claim her story. It got pretty ugly. I guess that was
why I didn't fight harder when Claude ... "
"You mentioned his name before. Who was he?"
She grimaced. "I thought he was the great love of my life. He
was French. I was a rookie reporter, and he was a pro." She
fell silent, gathering her courage. Clark deserved to know, she
thought. "Anyway, one night I told him about this story I was
working on. This perfectly reputable business was a front for
one of the biggest gambling operations in Metropolis. The next
morning when I woke up, he was gone -- and so was my story. He
won an award for it and didn't even thank me for my input." She
sneaked a look at him, but his expression hadn't changed. "Do
you ... do you mind?" she asked.
"Of course I mind." Clark began to frown and her heart sank.
"What a jerk! I mean, that was a pretty lousy thing to do. I
wouldn't mind having a word with him -- in private."
"I meant ... "
He tightened his arm around her. "Lois, you have to know I'd
never do something like that to anyone, especially not you. You
don't get to be a successful journalist by stealing someone
"Oh, Clark, I meant that he and I ... " She gulped. "I just
wish I'd waited, that's all."
"Oh, that." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. What
happened in your past is none of my business. What matters is
that you're my girl now, and that isn't going to change unless
you change *your* mind."
She sniffed determinedly. "Not a chance, pal."
"Good." He took her chin in his fingers and tilted her face up.
"You know I'm going to kiss you, don't you, Ms. Lane?"
She quickly wiped away the moisture that was blurring her
vision. "What are you waiting for, Mr. Kent?"
After that, the only sounds in the room for a considerable time
were the gusts of the wind against the sides of the house and
the crackle of the fire.