Home: On The Fourth Day of Christmas
By Nan Smith email@example.com
Submitted: December, 2003
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else may have any legal right to claim them, nor am I profiting by their use. Any new characters, settings, and the story, itself, belong to me.
This is the latest in the "Home" series. Anyone who has not read them is advised that the story will make much more sense if you read at least the vignette, "Home". Basically, this is a soulmates-type of story, wherein Lori Lyons is the next incarnation of Lois Lane, at the end of the 21st Century.
For Artemis's genealogy of the Kent clan, go here:
Christmas. It had always been the time of year that she loved. Her mother and father always went out of their way to be sure that she got all the things that she had asked for over the year but this Christmas season hadn't gone the way she had hoped. At least, not so far. She still didn't have the one possession that she wanted the most, and it didn't look as if it was going to fall into her lap. The only other solution was for her to go and get it herself.
Uma Kent scowled at herself in the mirror. No, that expression would definitely put him off. Clark liked his women smiling, she knew. And he liked them with dark hair and eyes and perfect figures. His first wife, Lois, had looked that way. Lois had been her grandmother, some generations removed, and Uma liked to think that she looked a little like her. Of course, Clark was her grandfather, several times removed, as well; her great-great grandfather, if you wanted to be technical, but that made them related only by one-sixteenth, if her math was correct. Certainly nothing wrong, if he chose to have a relationship with her.
And he sure didn't look like anybody's grandfather! He was young and handsome, and
Uma's young heart did flip-flops every time she saw him! He had the super powers, too -the ones she should have had if life had been fair. Her father had them, and so did her brothers, but through some cruel whim of luck, she didn't. She had the telepathic talent, of course, but it wasn't the same. She felt cheated, and although Mother and Father clearly felt guilty that she hadn't received the same powers as her brothers, it was their fault that she had been left out. But if she married Clark, it would be almost as good. He could take her everywhere in his strong arms. She had dreamed all her life - well, ever since she had begun to notice boys -- of someday being able to present herself to him as a grown woman, and have him fall in love with her.
But then, last year, he'd met and married that Lyons female!
Her mother and father had been thrilled, but Uma had been devastated, and hated Lori Lyons immediately, sight unseen. He couldn't really be in love with this woman, Uma had assured herself. She clearly wasn't good enough for Clark. No woman was good enough for him after Lois, except, Uma was sure, herself. She looked so much like Lois, after all. She had the dark hair, the dark brown eyes and the face shape of her great-great grandmother. She was even the same height! Of course, the thought of doing all those dangerous things that family legend said that Lois had done was definitely scary; but then family legend was probably wrong, anyway. No woman in her right mind would do all that crazy stuff. She was sure that Clark would want a quieter woman, one that wouldn't scare him to death, anyway. One who did what he wanted, and was ready to wait on him and take care of him the way they did in those romances about the Twentieth Century that
people bought in the romance section of the bookstores. History wasn't her strong point,
she acknowledged, but she thought she knew enough about it from what she'd read, and he had been born in the Twentieth Century, hadn't he? That was probably why he hadn't married again after Lois had died until this Lyons woman had come along. Certainly, modern women weren't that way, especially not Lori Lyons, who had risked her life to catch the terrorists that had tried to blow up the Mayflower, and later single-handedly caught a dangerous pair of drug dealers and saved Meriel Olsen's life in the process. She must have deceived him with her pretty face, Uma thought. Or pleased him in other ways that Uma didn't want to think about. He couldn't actually be *in love* with her, could he?
Of course, Uma wasn't really like that either, even if she didn't catch drug dealers in her spare time, but Clark didn't have to know that, did he? And if he loved her enough, he wouldn't mind if he found out later that she wasn't. She was sure of that.
She had refused to go to the big party at Uncle Jon's in honor of Clark's new wife, or to the big wedding later that they had held for the family. She'd even stayed away from the
Christmas party that year, held at Cousin Carrie's. She just couldn't bear to look at the woman who had usurped her rightful place. She'd had to go to this year's Christmas party at Aunt Lara's, though. Her parents hadn't let her get out of that, and so Uma had come. And that Lyons woman had been there and had the nerve to act like she was really one of the family.
Uma had been shocked at the sight of her. She had refused to look at any of Clark's wedding pictures, or any of the ones that Aunt Rhonda had brought to her parents of their
Hawaiian honeymoon, so she had no idea what Lori Lyons looked like. She had imagined some ditzy blond female with lots of makeup and an overblown figure. The picture she had built up in her mind didn't match the real person at all; Clark's new wife wasn't anything like she had imagined. Lori Lyons was slim, petite and athletic, and she looked enough like the pictures of Grandmother Lois that she could have been the same person, although she was younger than the pictures of Lois that Uma had seen in the family archives. She wore her hair in a long bob, and her eyes were exactly the same, with the long eyelashes that Uma had been so proud of inheriting from her grandmother. She was everything Uma had tried to be, and she hadn't even had to try! Uma felt a wave of bitter jealousy. She had almost given herself away, then, but had managed to project an air of cool, sophisticated calm.
Of course, Meriel Olsen had been her usual snotty self; she obviously was completely fooled by this interloper; grateful, no doubt, that Lori Lyons had saved her life the year before, and besides, Meriel had never made a secret of the fact that she didn't like Uma. Then, when those home invaders had come in, Lyons had stepped in and saved the day, or so everyone said. Uma knew differently. Her brothers and cousin Donny had done the work, and Lori was getting the credit for it. Even Barry, Mike and Donny thought she was the coolest, and Barry hadn't been able to stop talking, later, about how she'd just taken over and planned the whole thing. Uma thought he had a crush on her, which was really sickening. Didn't he know the woman was nothing but an intruder, who had taken away the love of her life? And then Clark had shown up, too late to get the real credit, and had treated Uma like a little girl, and acted soppy-in-love with Lyons. Then, the next day, Clark had come by with gifts for Barry and Mike, to thank them for helping with the crisis. He hadn't really paid her the attention she deserved, and seemed somewhat distracted while she tried to explain to him how frightened she had been and how much
she wished that he had been there to help them all.
That was when Uma had decided that it was time to take action. She had to force Clark to realize what a mistake he had made. He had, no doubt, believed that she thought of him as an old man, and would probably be surprised and delighted when he discovered that she found him to her taste. Then he would, no doubt, divorce Lyons, or, to save face, simply not renew their contract when the term was up. She could wait, she told herself. She and Clark could marry, and Uma would be the new first lady of the Kent Clan. It would almost make up for her not having inherited the super powers. They were destined
to be together. She'd known that for years.
She'd contacted her cousin, John Olsen, the Editor of the Daily Planet, and presented him
with the story she had prepared, only to learn that Clark and That Woman were on their
Christmas holiday, and wouldn't be back until the 28th of December. Even the thought of him spending any time with his so-called wife was annoying, but there wasn't much she could do about it, so she had made her arrangements to arrive on the day of Clark's return. After she saw him, everything would be straightened out. And she would be Superman's wife. It was Destiny.
"I don't want to tell anyone yet -- except Ronnie, of course," Lori said. She closed her
suitcase and snapped the catch. "I mean, I lost one baby in February. For all I know, it could happen again."
"I don't think that's likely, honey," Clark said. "You're young and healthy, and Ronnie
told you that there was no reason you should have trouble with future pregnancies. It
was just one of those unfortunate things that happen, sometimes."
"Just the same," Lori said, with a touch of stubbornness, "I don't want to raise everybody's hopes and then disappoint them. Besides, I have this feeling that if everybody gets all excited about it, something's likely to go wrong."
"But, going skiing didn't scare you?" Clark asked.
"Of course not. You were there," Lori said, reasonably. "Skiing was a wonderful way to
spend Christmas. When did Ronnie say we should get to her office?"
"In about an hour," Clark informed her. "This is her 'Family Day' at the office. Plenty of time for me to drop off the suitcases at home."
"Are we likely to see any of our other relatives there?" Lori asked. "Family day" was the one Rhonda reserved for members of the "Superman clan" who needed treatment of one sort or another. She had taken over the service that her grandfather, Bernard Klein, had provided for her other grandfather, Clark Kent, and later for his children.
"Probably." Clark rolled his eyes, but couldn't help grinning slightly out of sheer happiness. It was times like this that *he* was the one having deja vu. Lori had no
difficulty with completely contradictory reasoning when it involved her, even though she could reason with the incisive logic of a professional investigative reporter when it concerned her job. "You don't have to tell any of them why we're there. If you like, you can say you have a hangnail."
"As if *I* would make that kind of fuss over a hangnail," Lori said. "Go ahead and take the stuff home, would you? I don't want to be late."
He returned from his trip across the continent within bare minutes. Lori, he saw, hadn't moved from her seat on the foot of the bed and he could see her biting on her lower lip as she did when she was stewing over something. She looked around when he opened the door and got to her feet. "Let's go, shall we? I'm in a hurry to get this over with."
"You're not in the least excited about it?" Clark asked. She was, he knew, but if he knew his Lori, she wouldn't even let herself acknowledge it until she was sure everything was all right. He understood her apprehension. Having lost one baby, she wasn't going to let herself be disappointed again.
"Not yet," she said, on cue. "I don't want to be disappointed."
"Lori, there's nothing wrong with you, physically. Besides, you're still feeling nauseated, aren't you?"
"Well ... yes."
"Then, things are going okay."
"So far. I'll relax when I'm sure," she said. He saw her smile waver slightly. "I just don't want to get my hopes up, Clark."
He slipped his arms around her. "Honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make fun of you."
"I'm just a little afraid to start hoping, yet," she said.
He tightened his arms, pulling her into a warm hug. "I understand," he said. "We'll let Ronnie check you over and get her opinion. If you want tests, we'll do that, too, just to be sure. I know you're a little scared but Ronnie said there isn't anything wrong with you."
She sniffled softly and drew in her breath. "I know. Let's go, shall we?"
"Okay." He held out his arms. "If you need me to stop part way or anything, just tell me, okay?"
The waiting room at Rhonda Klein's office was neat and professional. Even the reading material was up to date.
Lori checked in with reception and took a seat next to Clark, who smiled reassuringly at her. Across the room a dark-haired woman, whom she recognized from family gatherings as Henry Olsen's wife, was holding a small girl by the hand. Lena Olsen glanced at her and then gave her a second look. "Lori? What are you and Clark doing here? You didn't get hurt during that thing at Lara's the other night, did you?"
"No," Lori assured her. "Just a checkup." She looked at the child. "Is Paula okay?"
"Just here for a physical," Lena assured her. "I think she takes after Henry. She hasn't caught a cold or an ear infection or anything since she was born."
"That's great," Lori said. "Marcy's beginning to wonder if Robby takes after Ryan. He hasn't had so much as a sniffle, at least so far."
"So, when are you and Clark going to -- " Lena broke off. "Sorry, none of my business."
Clark grinned. "Eventually," he said.
The door slid open and one of Rhonda's personally selected nurses stuck his head out. He was one of the Kent family, Lori knew, although she didn't recall his name. She vaguely remembered him from some of the family gatherings, but the Kent descendents and their mates were numerous enough that she hadn't memorized all of them, yet. "Paula Olsen," he called.
"Right here," Lena said. She rose, scooping up her daughter, and followed the man through the door.
Lori waited until it closed behind the trio and glanced at Clark. "Is *everybody* in the family wondering when we're going to have kids?"
"We...ll -- " Her husband squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, they haven't exactly said so, but -- "
"They're hinting, aren't they?" Lori said.
"Uh -- well ..."
"Never mind," Lori said, sounding resigned, even to herself. "I should have known."
"Well, honey, the thing is -- " Clark gave an embarrassed smile. "Lara and the others are all hoping they'll have a baby brother or sister pretty soon. And any baby of ours will have the -- um -- family talents, you know."
"I know." Lori said. "All your kids will have them. But that's why I don't want to tell anyone until I'm sure everything's all right." She glanced around as the door opened and a tall, blond woman walked in followed by three youngsters, the oldest of which might be nine or ten. She proceeded to the check-in station and Lori raised her eyebrows at Clark.
"That's Louise, Clark Frazier's wife," Clark said, softly. "Arnie's sister-in-law."
Lori wrinkled her nose in an effort at memory. Clark Frazier, as she recalled, was one of Carrie's sons who lacked the super powers. He resembled his brother, Arnie Frazier of STAR Labs, but was considerably shorter than the scientist.
The nurse stuck his head through the door once more. "Lori Kent?"
"That's me." Lori got to her feet, casting a quick glance at Clark. He smiled and rose as well.
"Okay. This way, please." The nurse gestured Lori into the main screening room. Neither by expression nor tone of voice did he let on that he recognized her. He smiled professionally at Lori, "Why are we seeing you today, Ms. Kent?"
"I just found out I'm ... " Lori hesitated. "I'm pregnant. I -- I lost a baby back in February, and --"
"I'm sorry." The man nodded at the scale. "Let's get your weight, and then we'll take your blood pressure..."
Some minutes later, he escorted them to a small examining room, presented Lori with the usual flimsy, disposable garments, and departed. She changed into them and sat down on the examining table, feeling terribly exposed. Clark leaned against the table and took her hand. "It'll be okay, honey," he said, reassuringly.
She swallowed and nodded but didn't speak.
Barely ten minutes had passed when there was a knock on the door and it opened.
Rhonda Klein said, "Clark, Lori -- so, I hear I should be congratulating you."
"I hope so," Lori said. "Clark says I'm pregnant."
Rhonda let the door slide shut behind her. "You are," she said, smiling. "I can hear a heartbeat."
"She's worried," Clark said. "You remember what happened last February."
Rhonda nodded. "Of course I do. But you remember, Lori, that I examined you and I told you that there was no reason you couldn't have more children. It was unfortunate, but it happens. Still -- " She smiled at the much younger woman, "I know it can be scary. I'll run the standard blood tests and throw in a couple designed to detect any genetic abnormalities. Will that make you feel better?"
Lori nodded. Rhonda's smile widened. "So, lie down and let's check you over, first, okay? Would you like Clark to step outside?"
She shook her head. "Can he stay here with me?"
"No problem," Rhonda said, as Lori lay back on the padded table. "After all, he has an interest in this, too. Why don't you stay up there by her head and hold her hand, Clark? I usually find that works well."
Clark squeezed Lori's hand. "Just what I was thinking," he said.
"So," Clark said, as they flew through the crisp, December air toward Metropolis, "It will be a July baby. Are you sure you don't want Ronnie to tell you what the sex will be?"
"Positive," Lori said. "I want this first one to be a surprise. And, don't you dare peek!"
"Wouldn't dream of it," he assured her, maintaining a poker face with some difficulty. "Besides, I might have a little trouble telling at this point, anyway. You can't see much at nine weeks."
"Well, no peeking later, either."
"Superman keeps his promises," Clark said. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Anyway, Ronnie said everything looks fine. I guess you feel better about it, now?"
"Some. I'll feel even better after the results of those tests come back." She snuggled closer to him. "I don't mean to be a worry- wart, but I just don't want it to happen again. Especially since this is a special baby. One of yours," she clarified.
"Honey, *all* babies are special," he said.
"I know. But the whole family is going to be all excited about it. I guess I'm just scared of disappointing them."
"Lots of pressure, huh?" he said.
"Lori, nobody expects miracles even from you, you know. I know they've been hinting at the subject, but I told Lara that there was plenty of time."
"Well, when we know for sure that everything's okay, then you can tell them," Lori said. She paused. "Oh, heck!"
"How on Earth am I going to tell Mother? She'll be sure my career is ruined!"
Clark tried to smother a snort of laughter and failed. Lori glared at him. "It's not funny!"
"You'll just have to show her that you can still do the job, that's all," he said, making a valiant effort to keep the quiver of mirth out of his voice. Lori was in panic mode, and though he sympathized with her feelings, it reminded him of the fact that certain qualities belonging to his soulmate carried faithfully through the incarnations. "It will all work out. You'll see. Your mom adjusted to the idea when Marcy told her about Robbie, didn't she? It was more of a risk that a pregnancy would interfere with her modeling career than with your reporting career -- and besides, your dad will be thrilled."
Lori eyed him suspiciously. "You're enjoying yourself," she accused.
He hugged her, unable to suppress a grin. "Do you have any idea how much I love you, sweetheart? It's been a long time since I've been a new dad. I can't help being all excited about this."
She was silent for several seconds and then sighed. "I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm sorry."
"It's okay, honey," he said. "I like it when you babble, remember? It's one of the unique things about you."
"You must be the only guy who does," she said, but she gave a small, embarrassed smile.
"I'm just as happy about that," he said. "Or I would be, if it were true. Haven't you ever noticed the looks you get from men? Mark Butler, down in Sports, practically drools every time he sees you, and he asked me last month when our contract was up. I was sorry to have to disillusion him. But not much." He smiled at her surprised expression and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Really, though, it'll be okay. We don't have to please anybody but ourselves -- and we don't have to spread the news for a while, if you don't want to. John won't say anything until we tell him he can."
"Well, it's not the kind of thing you can keep secret forever, you know. People are going to notice after a while."
"True, but it'll at least give you a little time to get used to it."
"Yeah, that's true." She gave him an anxious look. "It's not that I'm not happy about it, Clark," she assured him. "It's just that last night, it suddenly hit me about how important this is. What if I'm no good as a mother? I don't know much about babies. I mean, Lois did such a great job with Lara and CJ and Jon and Annie -- what if I'm terrible at it? What if I put her diaper on backwards? What if I drop her?"
"Or him. That part doesn't matter, Clark! What if -- "
Clark firmly controlled his twitching lips. "You've held Robbie and you've never dropped him," he pointed out.
"Yes, but this is *our* baby! I've only diapered Robbie twice and you had to help me the first time!"
"I'm sure Marcy will let you practice diapering Robbie," Clark said, "and I've had a certain amount of experience over the years." He grinned. "Lois didn't know much of anything about babies, Lori. She learned what she knew from her mom and mine -- and through experience. You're going to do fine. I know that for certain."
Lori didn't look entirely convinced but she didn't pursue the subject. They were flying over the mountains to the west of Metropolis, covered in snow and evergreens, and he nodded toward the terrain below them. "Looks like there was a snowstorm while we were gone."
"Well, it is the twenty-eighth of December," Lori said, prosaically. "Three days until New Year's Eve."
"But, no champagne for you," Clark said.
"Believe me, I can live without it. I'd rather drink milk, anyway."
"So," John Olsen said, "how was your Christmas?" He leaned back in the desk chair and planted his heels firmly on the desk in front of him.
"Fine," Lori said.
"We spent Christmas Day skiing," Clark elaborated. "The snow pack in Aspen was fantastic."
John surveyed Lori with a smile. "No casts on your ankles today, I see."
"Clark was right next to me all the time," Lori said. "He made sure I didn't fall."
"Smart boy," John said. "I take it nothing's official, yet, huh?"
Lori could feel her cheeks turning crimson. Clark glanced at her with a smile and shook his head. "Lori wants to be sure everything's all right before we announce anything," he said. "Stage fright."
John nodded solemnly, but his eyes were twinkling. "Don't blame you a bit."
Lori threw her husband a dirty look. "This is important, Clark! I don't want to disappoint anyone."
"She's right, you know," John said. "Annie wouldn't thank me for saying it, but it's been over eighty-five years since a half Kryptonian was born. I can think of four people who will be pretty happy to find out that they have a new brother or sister on the way. You'll have more babysitters than you'll know what to do with."
Lori gulped. Clark put an arm around her. "Nobody's going to be disappointed. Cut yourself some slack."
Lori took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I guess I'm sort of blowing it out of proportion, huh?"
"Sort of?" Clark said. "Honey, you're in a full-scale panic. You have another seven months to prepare for it. It'll work out. You'll see."
John grinned. "Maybe you should start babysitting for some of the family in your home. That way Clark can give you lessons. And I'm sure Marilyn would be willing to help."
"Do you think she would?" Lori asked.
"Sure do. Would you like me to ask her?"
She hesitated. "She won't say anything yet, will she?"
"Of course not," John said. "Neither of us will say a word until you give permission."
Lori glanced at Clark, who nodded. "I think Marilyn would be the perfect person to help," he said.
"Okay, then." Lori made up her mind. "Could you ask her for me, John?"
"No problem." John's eyes crinkled at the corners. "I'll give her a call at lunch. In the meantime, I have something for the pair of you to do. We're still a news service, if you remember. I need somebody to do a write up on the floats for the New Year's Day parade. I realize that it's not your usual fare, but it's been a quiet news day, so far. Eva hasn't got back yet, and Wally called in sick, today. His wife says he's got some kind of stomach bug. So if you two wouldn't mind ..."
The tour of the floats, still in the stage of being assembled, took the rest of the morning. Lori had appointed herself the official photographer for the day, and was careful to obtain a complete view of each float for the holographic illustrations that would grace Clark's article. Clark made a point of getting a short quote about each one, intending to sort them out later. When they had finished at last, they returned to the Jeep and Lori climbed into the driver's seat.
"Do you mind of we stop for something to eat before we go back to the Planet?" she asked. "I'm so hungry I can't see straight."
"There's a coffee shop one block over that I can recommend," Clark said. "And, next time, tell me. I don't want you passing out from hunger."
"Clark, I never faint."
"Yeah, we'll you've never been pregnant with a superbaby before, either. Believe me, it burns up fuel like crazy. Ask your sister."
"I'll take your word for it," Lori said. "I've been thinking about a double banana split for the past two hours."
"Well, that's lucky, because they serve banana splits. Let's go. But I'd like you to get something a little more substantial at the same time."
"Okay, okay," she said, starting up the engine. "I was actually thinking of a Philly cheese steak with a side of fries and some onion rings, and a salad. Maybe a bowl of soup, too, and a big glass of milk. I'll have the split for dessert, if I still have room."
"Believe me, you will ..."
Clark munched on a club sandwich, watching, unsurprised, while his wife put away enough food to feed three ordinary women. The first time Lois had been pregnant, her enormous appetite had astonished both of them and Bernard Klein, but in the hundred years since, he had seen it happen over and over with the non-super wives of his super-powered male descendents, and had come to accept it as the norm.
Lori finished the last French fry. "That was good," she said. "I'm ready for the banana split, now."
Clark glanced around. "It's almost ready," he said. "Would you like anything else besides the split?"
Lori shook her head. "Clark, you're hovering."
He gave a slightly shamefaced grin. "Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry."
"That's okay. Just remember that I'm a grown up girl, now. But, I love it that you care."
"I'm sorry, honey," he said. "I guess I'm pretty excited about being a dad again."
The banana split arrived and he saw her eyes light up at the enormous ice cream confection. When they were alone again, Lori reached across the table to lay a hand atop his. "I know you are, and I hope I don't disappoint you, again."
"You've never disappointed me," Clark said, firmly. "Even if it had turned out that for some reason we couldn't have children, I still wouldn't have been disappointed in you, because I have *you*. That's all I need, Lori. Don't ever doubt that."
"But you love children," Lori said.
"Yes, I do. But *you're* essential to my happiness. There's a difference." He nodded to the small mountain of ice cream in front of her. "Now, go ahead and eat that monster. I'm going to organize my notes while I wait."
Uma Kent hesitated in front of the huge building that housed the headquarters of the Daily Planet News Service. It was bigger and more intimidating than she had expected it to be. John had said she could come by about one and he'd see to it that she was brought right up to the newsroom. He'd really bought that line she'd given him about doing a report for her Journalism Science class. It would be her opportunity to meet Clark without all the family members around. Somehow, the thought of any of them overhearing her conversation with him was embarrassing. Now that she actually was standing here, the thought was unexpectedly daunting. What if she made a fool of herself?
Nonsense, she reminded herself. Clark was meant to be hers. She'd seen him in action on the vidscreen many times, and, of course, spoken to him at family gatherings. Surely, he must know that they were meant to be together. She knew that those of the Kent family who had the telepathic talent, as she did, bonded immediately with the person they were meant to spend their life with, and she was sure that the feeling that she had for Clark meant that she had bonded to him. Why, even thinking about him with that Lyons woman made her want to claw Lori Lyons' eyes out! How dare she encroach on Uma's territory?
But surely, she told herself, after Clark explained to her that their marriage was a mistake and that Uma was the true love of his life, Lori Lyons would accept the inevitable and let their contract end. It was the only way for her to keep his friendship, not that Uma intended to let him anywhere near her after they were married -- but he didn't need to know that. All that needed to be done was for her to explain the situation to him. They were soulmates, destined to be together all their lives, just the way her mother and father were.
It would, she told herself, be a good idea to let him wait until his contract ended, anyway. Uma wouldn't be eighteen for nearly two years, and her parents would surely object to her marrying before she was of age, but it would be just as well to make sure she and Clark had an understanding before then.
John must have already notified Security, she thought, for the big door opened instantly for her and she crossed the wide, marble-floored lobby to the bank of elevators. One opened for her at once, and she stepped in.
There were two occupants already there, and she was startled to see that they were the very two about whom she had been thinking. Clark looked as handsome as he had at the party last week, and he was holding the Lyons woman's hand. Uma looked significantly at their laced fingers, but neither took the hint. Clark glanced at her casually and then gave her a second look. "Uma?" he said. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh ... um, I've got a report to do for my Journalism Science class," she stuttered. "I'm supposed to shadow a journalist for a couple of days, and I picked you."
"Really," Clark said. "Well, Lori and I work as a team, you know, so if I'm not available, you can always go with her until I get back. Do you remember Uma, Lori? She's a relative of mine."
"We met at the party," Lori said, noncommittally.
"Um ... yeah." Uma glanced quickly at Lori's face and back to Clark. Now wasn't the time to bring up such an intimate subject, she thought. Later, when his so-called wife wasn't around to distract him ...
The elevator arrived on the newsroom floor and Clark stood back to let Uma exit first. She daringly took his free arm, ignoring the startled look he gave her, and the three of them left the elevator together. Annoyingly, he didn't let go of Lyons' hand, either, while Uma had him by the other arm. Surely, she thought, he could have been enough of a gentleman to give her more attention. As a matter of fact, he disengaged his arm from hers and was helping Lori remove her coat. "Can I get you anything?" he asked. "A snack or something to tide you over until the break?"
"My usual," Lori said. "And an extra doughnut, if there is one."
"If there isn't, you can have mine," he said, escorting her to a desk that Uma saw, by the name prominently displayed on its surface, apparently belonged to her. "Would you like a doughnut, Uma?"
"Sure," Uma said.
"This way," he said and led the way to a table on one side of the room where a coffee machine and a large box of doughnuts resided. "Take your pick."
While she hesitated, trying to decide how to broach the subject, Clark selected two large,
chocolate doughnuts with chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles, and assembled a drink consisting mostly of chocolate with a small amount of coffee for flavoring, and then chose another doughnut and a cup of coffee for himself.
"Is she going to eat all that?" Uma said, a little disdainfully. "She'll be fat in no time!"
Clark shook his head, looking a little surprised. "Not Lori," he said. "Go ahead and choose what you want, and then go on into John's office. It's through there." He nodded in the direction of the office marked "Editor" while he skillfully balanced his burden of doughnuts and coffee. "He'll need to know you're here."
Frustrated, Uma watched him stride back across the newsroom floor to his wife and set his offerings on her desk. It was disgusting, she thought, watching him lean over her shoulder to look at her computer screen, resting one hand on her shoulder with familiar affection. Lori turned her head to look up at him and he kissed the tip of her nose. Uma's heart sank. Clark obviously had some feeling for this woman, and she knew how he hated to hurt anyone. Detaching him from Lori Lyons might be more difficult than she had anticipated, but surely, she pointed out to herself, he wouldn't want to hurt Uma, either, and she was meant to be his wife. She'd known it for years. Now, all she had to do was to draw it to his attention. This could all be handled without a fuss, Uma thought, assuming that Lori Lyons would give in to the inevitable like a lady. She certainly wouldn't want to look bad in front of Clark, after all.
The door of the Editor's Office opened and John stuck his head out. Uma jumped guiltily, aware suddenly that she was staring at Clark and Lori. It wouldn't do to give herself away too soon. She picked up a doughnut without even glancing at her choice and made her way toward John's office.
John had always intimidated her a little, and she had to remember how much respect he would have for her once she was Superman's wife. Clark -- Superman -- was the real head of the family, after all. All of them respected him, not only because of that but because of the fact that he had lived longer than all the others and had the most experience. All of them would be respectful of her as well, once she was his wife. The thought that she would be married to him and that they would all look up to her, was a heady feeling.
"Uma," John greeted her, matter-of-factly, closing the door behind them, "Now, since you want to shadow Clark for the next couple of days, you must realize that there are times you won't be able to, if he has to leave for some of his other duties. However, since Kent and Lyons are a team, I'm sure that Lori won't mind if you accompany her when Clark can't be there. It can only be a plus for your report. Kent and Lyons are a well-respected reporting team."
Uma nodded, but she wasn't able to completely hide her grimace of distaste at the thought of having to accompany the woman she was going to replace on her reporting duties. John tilted his head to the side. "Is there something wrong?"
"No," Uma said. "I just ... didn't expect to have to go with *her* while I was shadowing Clark."
"There shouldn't be a problem," John said. "Lori is a very nice person."
"I met her, at the party," Uma said. "She seems okay."
"I'd forgotten," John said. "Well, that incident should have shown you a few things about her. Lori is an extremely competent journalist, Uma; nearly as good as Clark." The corner of his mouth twitched. "In some ways, she's better than he is, and he'd be the first to tell you so."
Uma felt startled. How could *any* woman be a better reporter than Clark? Especially one like Lori Lyons? She hadn't even been a real reporter for a full two years, yet! "That's not possible," she said, hoping she sounded reasonable. "How could somebody like her be as good a reporter as Clark? He's got so much more experience than she does."
"But she makes the intuitive leaps of logic," he explained. "That's how she broke the NTSU drug ring last year, when none of my investigators managed to connect the dots. If she hadn't, both Meriel and Clark would have been dead. You can learn as much from her as from Clark. Go on out there, now. They're going to be heading out in a few minutes. There's been another murder, and I want them to cover it for the Planet."
"*Another* murder?" Uma felt slightly dismayed. Her single semester of experience on the Garner High School Roadrunner hadn't included any murders.
"Unfortunately, yes." John said. "We've had a series of murders recently, and the police think it's the work of a single person: a serial killer. Go ahead. It should make an interesting point in your report."
Uma gulped. She hadn't expected this.
"They call this guy the Christmas Killer," Lori said. She was driving, which Uma thought was kind of odd. Most guys preferred to drive the car. It was just one more indication to Uma that Lori wasn't the wife for Clark. She was just too aggressive. Clark was a nice guy who let her walk all over him, she thought. Otherwise, how could you explain the way she held his hand as if she was afraid he might stray from her side? Possessive, Uma decided. Clark needed to be free to pick the wife he wanted. Her, of course.
Clark glanced back at her as Lori negotiated the streets of Metropolis. "Whoever it is, he started it last year. He killed twelve young women, one a day, starting on the day after Christmas, then suddenly it stopped. They thought he'd been killed or got himself arrested on something else, but it seems that he's back."
"How do you know it's the same person?" Uma asked.
"According to the police report John gave us," Lori said, "he started again on the 26th, and left a note. They matched it to the note he left last year when he started this; same printer, same idiosyncrasies in the wording."
Uma remembered vaguely seeing something about it on the news, but she hadn't really paid attention. There were so many murders that most of them got ignored, except locally. Somehow, she hadn't thought of Clark as having to associate himself with this kind of thing. He was a superhero who dealt with disasters and exciting rescues. He shouldn't have to get involved in sordid things like murders. "And they don't have any clues?" she asked, weakly.
"Sure," Lori said. "They've even got suspects -- a whole bunch of them -- but no way to prove anything -- yet, anyway. Clark and I worked on it last year, but came up dry. Anyway, according to Velma Chow, it's him, all right."
"That's scary," Uma said. "Who's Velma Chow?"
"She's a Police Lieutenant, here in Metropolis," Clark said. "She was the officer in charge who showed up at the Christmas party."
"But, why do *you* have to investigate stuff like this?" Uma asked, before she thought. "I'd think that Superman would do things that are so much more important than report on ordinary things like murders. I've seen you catch shuttles and stop aircar crashes ..."
"The first thing you need to remember," Clark said, sounding unexpectedly stern, "is that when I'm not in my costume, you must never associate me with Superman, Uma. You know that. Secondly, reporting is my *job*. I'm an investigative reporter, just as your father is a civil engineer. My job involves things like investigating the murders of young women by serial killers. And sometimes because of that, I can stop those killers from killing anybody else."
Uma looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap, figuratively kicking herself. She'd made a mistake there. You didn't criticize a guy before you got a commitment out of him. There would be time enough to convince Clark to change his job later. Maybe he could try out for Editor, she thought. That would better suit his status. Wasn't John old enough to retire in a few years? Clark should be running the paper, not working for it as a mere reporter. "I didn't mean that," she said, quickly. "I was just surprised. Who were these women that he killed, anyway?"
"Mostly, he seems to pick them up in bars," Lori said, her voice almost expressionless. "A number of them have been hookers, but not all. Some were just women who went to the bars for ... company."
Hookers, Uma thought with an inward sneer. Well, didn't they know the dangers of their profession? They should be more careful, especially with a killer who prowled the bars looking for his victims. Didn't the police - and Superman -- have more important things to occupy their time?
"The girl who was killed last night," Lori said, still in that expressionless voice, "was a runaway, sixteen years old; just about your age. She was found on the Bayview Expressway, just before the launch point for the skystream. She'd been strangled."
"A ... runaway?"
"Trying to break into show business," Clark said. "Whoever this guy is, women seem to trust him."
"Let's see what else Velma will tell us about it," Lori said. "I want to continue last year's investigation, Clark. If there's any chance ..."
"Why do you think that you can do what the police can't?" Uma asked, trying not to sound as incredulous as she felt. "You're just a reporter."
Lori didn't speak for several seconds, and Uma felt a little thrill of triumph. Score one for her! Maybe it would make Clark realize that Lori Lyons was too conceited for him. How could she even imagine that she could solve a crime that the police couldn't?
"I don't know if we can," Lori said, finally. "But we need to try. Someone has to stop this person before he kills somebody else, and we do have a few advantages the police lack."
"Superman?" Uma said. "If the police, and the supermen in the city can't catch him, how is that going to make a difference for you?"
"I wasn't referring to Superman," Lori said, and Uma thought she sounded a little irritated. "I was referring to the fact that Clark and I are an investigative reporting team, and a darned good one. We've got nine days left before this guy disappears for another year, Clark. I say that we see what we can do. It can hardly hurt."
Clark didn't answer for a moment, then he glanced at her. "Are you sure you can handle it? Especially now?"
"You bet I can," Lori said. "Just because there's one little complication that didn't exist before ... Besides, it will give me something to think about until Rhonda gets back to us."
"Complication?" Uma said, conscious of annoyance. "I know how to stay out of the way."
"Lori wasn't referring to you, Uma," Clark said. "Actually, you've got a point, honey. She said we should have the report by tomorrow, anyway. I think it's time we got seriously involved in this thing."
Uma shook her head in disgust. How on Earth could he not see through the woman? She had to get him alone soon, before he made a complete fool of himself. He was a superhero, not a cop. Her father helped the police apprehend criminals, just as he helped the emergency services when some kind of disaster occurred, but she'd never once seen him playing detective to track down killers. She'd seen the Kent and Lyons byline on articles about crimes and stuff since she'd been taking this class, but really! Reporters just didn't normally get into actually solving crimes, did they?
True, she was taking an introductory class in Journalism Science, but only as an elective. Mostly, she'd taken it so she would be able to sound informed about the job of her husband-to-be. It didn't really seem like something that would interest her. Uma actually wasn't sure what her final choice of a career would be, but journalism didn't appeal to her. She had considered the possibility of being a nurse, but the summer she had spent as a Candy Striper had convinced her that it wasn't for her, either. Taking care of messy sick people wasn't something she wanted to do. Being a day care provider had sounded good, until she'd tried it as a volunteer. A two-year-old boy had thrown up on her best slacks and she'd decided that was out. If she had been tall enough, being a high fashion model would have been perfect, but she wasn't. She'd considered that possibly a career in business would be the best for her. A business executive had a lot of prestige and made scads of money, like Uncle Jon, but how one got such a position was a little unclear in her mind. You had to attend business school in college, she knew, but even the idea of having to deal with accounts and stock markets and all that stuff was daunting, and besides, math wasn't exactly her best subject. It was too bad you couldn't have a career in cheerleading, since she was the head of the Cheerleading Squad at Garner High. Still, Clark would probably know how to go about it. He'd been around long enough that he probably knew a lot about nearly everything. Once they were married, he could arrange something for her.
She had been thinking so hard she hadn't realized that they had stopped moving until Clark opened his door and got out. She glanced quickly into the mirror to assure herself that her hair was smooth and her makeup hadn't become smeared, and opened her door as well. Lori and Clark were already standing on the sidewalk waiting for her when she stepped out to join them.
Lori raised an eyebrow but didn't comment when Uma moved between them and took Clark's arm. Clark said nothing either, but after a moment he disengaged his arm from Uma and gave Lori a hand up the embankment toward the small group of men and women standing around a sheet-covered form among the ice plant and the inch-thick layer of snow. Uma scrambled up the inclined surface, struggling a little, and Clark reached down a hand to help her but released her as soon as her feet were on level ground. "Careful," he said. "Don't slip. Come this way, and don't touch anything unless Lieutenant Chow says you can."
You couldn't pay her to touch anything around here, Uma thought, distastefully. If she'd ever been in doubt about being a journalist, this would have convinced her that it definitely wasn't for her. There was mud all over the place, the police looked nothing like the handsome young detectives they portrayed on the vidscreen, and the thin, sour-looking woman who was directing the whole operation definitely wasn't the glamorous female detective-type she had seen on "Angels in Uniform" the other night. In fact, she reminded Uma unpleasantly of her neighbor who was always complaining about the Kent family dog burying his bones in her flowerbed. And the fact that there was the body of a murdered woman under that sheet turned her stomach. Murders weren't real. You read about them, or heard the vidnews reports about them, but they didn't really happen. Uma stood back, watching Clark and Lori talking to Lieutenant Chow and tried to pretend that it was nothing but a vid drama. When one of the police flipped back the sheet to show Clark and Lori the face of the victim, she looked away. Investigative reporting certainly wasn't the job she wanted for Clark. He was much too good for such horrible stuff. She really had to get him away from it, or they would never be able to have a happy married life together. Surely he'd want her to be happy, she told herself. But she had to talk to him soon. She wasn't going to be able to endure this for very long.
"Are you all right, Ma'am?" A young police officer clad in a heavy coat against the chill of the December air, was standing beside her.
"Yes. I'm fine." Uma drew a deep breath, keeping her eyes averted from the victim.
"I'd offer you a place to sit, but I'm afraid there isn't any," the man said, smiling. "Kent says you're accompanying him and his partner for a school project? I take it you're not really used to this kind of thing."
"Not really," she said. "I'm Uma Kent. I'm taking a journalism science class, and I'm supposed to shadow a real reporter for a couple of days, then write a report on it."
"Well, it can be interesting," he said, "but it isn't for everybody. If it bothers you, don't look."
"Thanks." Uma kept her head turned away. "I didn't expect a murder."
"Well, if your high school gave you the assignment, they must have known it was a possibility," the cop said.
And, of course, they did. That was why Uma had chosen this particular excuse, only the actual shadowing assignment was scheduled for later in the year. Her father had already signed all the necessary forms when she had signed up for the class in September.
She nodded. "They told us that, but I didn't really expect it when I picked ... Uncle Clark," she said.
"Oh, you're related to Kent?" the man asked.
"He's a distant cousin," Uma said, conscious of the usual cover story. "I've always called him my uncle."
"I see. Well, my boss told me to give you the facts, if you want them right now," he said. "Basically, this is probably the Christmas Killer's latest. It's too bad. She had a fake ID, but her real identification was in her purse." He nodded to the pathetic little bag lying in the mud a few feet from the sheet-covered form. "The police database matched it up within a couple of minutes. She was a runaway from Cincinnati, according to the report; several friends believed she was trying to break into the theater."
Uma shuddered. This was unbelievable. Things like this didn't happen in real life. Not at Christmas. The cop patted her on the shoulder. "Why don't I take you down to your car again," he suggested. "I think you've seen enough for now."
Uma thought she had, too. She didn't even look back as the young officer led her down to the Jeep.
Clark helped Lori carefully down the embankment, surreptitiously utilizing his flying ability to prevent either of them from slipping. Uma was sitting in the front seat of the Jeep, looking away from the crime scene. He glanced at his wife's expression. Lori's mouth was set and her face was paler than usual, which didn't surprise him. He doubted that Lori would ever become hardened to the loss of life or the fact of murder.
"Are you all right, honey?" he asked her, softly.
She nodded. "Clark, she was just a little kid!" she burst out, her voice breaking. "We're going to get that son of a ..." She bit off the word sharply. "Whoever he is, he's a monster!"
"Yes, we will -- one way or another," he assured her, a little startled at her vehemence. "Come on; let's get back to the Jeep."
She didn't say anything more until they had pulled back onto the Expressway. "Did Velma give you all the details?" she asked.
"She said she'd send anything else they found over," he said. "I promised that nothing will be printed without her okay." He put a hand over hers. "Are you sure you're okay, honey?"
"Clark, I'm fine! Just a little upset, that's all. I'll never be able to do what Dr. Pruden told us -- to always keep a proper perspective on our stories and not to get emotionally involved. I can't see something like that and not get angry!"
"Neither can I," Clark said, quietly. "I guess it's personal, now, huh?"
"You bet it is."
He nodded soberly. "For me, too. Head back for the office, and we'll get started." He glanced back at Uma, who was watching them curiously. "Are you okay, Uma?"
She nodded. "I can't believe you do this stuff all the time," she said.
"It's part of the job," Clark said. "We don't have to like all the parts of it but it serves a purpose. We're going to catch this guy. He'll be looking for another victim, tonight. It's his pattern. Lori and I have some research to do, and in a hurry."
"You don't really think you can figure out in one evening what the police haven't been able to figure out since last year, do you?"
"Maybe not," Lori said, "but we have to try."
Shadowing Clark as he went about his job wasn't turning out quite the way Uma had expected. She had hoped to have a little time alone with him by now but right after their return to the office, he had been called away by an emergency. Minutes later, Uma saw him on the monitors, along with Superwoman and Henry Olsen in his red and black uniform, clearing away a weather related accident in the anti-gravity field above the bay.
Lori was busy on her computer, and Uma wandered over to see what she was doing. Clark's wife was studying what appeared to be a police report, munching on a doughnut and drinking a cream soda as she worked.
"Last year, the guy killed twelve women," Lori said, not removing her eyes from the screen. "Each time, they were apparently killed between twelve midnight and one A.M. I figure there's not enough information to identify him, but we might be able to get some idea of where he's going to hit, tonight. I've superimposed the locations where last year's victims were found on a map of Metropolis, marked in red, and their last known location before they were killed, in blue. I've also marked as much as we know about the locations of the three victims so far this year, before and after, in green and yellow. Do you see any pattern?"
Uma shrugged. "Not really. You don't really think you can solve this thing if the police can't, do you?"
"We have before," Lori said. "Ask Clark about the theft of the Westhaven diamonds, sometime."
Uma shrugged, crossly. "He shouldn't be doing this sort of thing, anyhow. He's better than ..." she glanced contemptuously around at the busy newsroom, "...This."
Lori glanced curiously at her. "You seem awfully interested in how Clark lives his life, Uma. Why are you really here?"
"I told you. I have to shadow Clark for my project. It's a third of my grade."
Lori raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Sure you do. I took high school Journalism Science too, you know, eight years ago. That's usually the big project at the end of the year -- not at the end of the first semester."
Uma bristled. "Maybe that's how they do it at your school, but not at mine."
"Garner High, right? In Virginia." Lori turned back to her computer. "I checked out the course outline for Journalism Science at your school. The Shadow a Journalist project is due to be assigned in April. I don't know what you're up to, but you're not shadowing Clark for any school project."
Uma stared at her, feeling her cheeks burning with both anger and shock. How on Earth had this little tramp figured that out? She'd been sure her cover story would fool everyone
- and it had fooled John and Clark, but Lori had caught on. "That's nonsense!" she said, weakly.
"Is it? What would happen, I wonder, if I contacted your school and asked your instructor? I can, you know. I looked you up, and I happen to know your Journalism Science class is in Third Period and is taught by Mr. Putnam."
"They wouldn't tell you anything!"
"Probably not," Lori agreed. "But it's a sure bet that they'd tell your parents if I asked the right questions. Besides, I'm sure a lot of people, including your mother and father, would be very interested in what you're doing, and why, don't you?"
Lori didn't glance away from her computer screen. "Try me."
"If you got all that information, you had to have hacked into the school records. That's illegal!"
Lori smiled. "Prove it. You won't find any traces on my computer -- *or* on theirs; I guarantee it."
"I'll tell Clark!"
"Go right ahead," she said. "You won't be telling him anything about me that he doesn't already know."
"It's ... what I'm doing is none of your business," Uma said, a little desperately.
Now she did look at Uma, meeting her gaze levelly. "Uma, you're part of Clark's family, so I really hope you aren't doing anything that can hurt my husband. But if you are, I'm warning you right now: Don't. If you even try, you're going to have to deal with me first, and believe me, when it comes to his welfare, I'm not anywhere near as nice as he is. Is that clear?"
There was an eerie familiarity to this situation, Uma thought, uneasily. It was rather like the time they had been holding the big company party at her home, and her mother had confronted that junior engineer, the one at the firm where they both worked who had been trying to undermine her dad and get him fired. Her mother had ripped into him like a tiger, right in front of the boss, and ended up getting the other guy fired, instead.
Uma stiffened her backbone. "Are you threatening me?"
"Not at all," Lori said, mildly. "If whatever you're up to doesn't hurt Clark, then it's none of my business."
"I wouldn't hurt Clark!"
"Then there isn't a problem, is there?" Lori said.
Uma didn't answer. Lori's discovery of her falsehood had thoroughly shaken her. John had been right when he'd told her that Lori was smart. Uma wouldn't underestimate her again.
Clark stepped out of the stairwell nearly two hours later. Uma watched him cross the room to Lori's desk and lean over her shoulder. She moved quickly to interrupt before they could get all lovey-dovey again. If it hadn't been so annoying it would have been pathetic, watching the two of them making out in public like lovesick seventh graders. "How did it go?"
Clark straightened up and glanced at her, his heavy eyebrows drawn together in a slight frown. "Fine, Uma. I got a quote from Superwoman to fill out the article, too." He turned back to Lori. "Find anything, honey?"
"Maybe a pattern." She indicated the screen. "The red numbers are the locations and sequence of last year's victims, and the blue are their last known location before they turned up dead. And the green and yellow --"
"Are this year's," Clark finished. "This was the location of Mandy Hart." He touched the tiny, yellow 3, grimacing at the reminder of the earlier scene by the Expressway. "Her last known location, according to what Velma told me a few minutes ago, was the Old Telephone Company Bar, over on Notary Street."
"About a mile away." Lori added the green three. "See the pattern, Clark?"
He nodded. "I think so."
"What pattern?" Uma demanded.
"The names of the streets. He's picking them up in locations starting with the same letters as the ones last year, and in the same order," Clark said. "Which means that sometime between twelve and one, tonight, he's going to be on some street beginning with the letter D, looking for his next victim."
"Tell me," Velma Chow said, sounding as sour as Clark had ever heard her, "how do you and Lyons come up with these things?"
"Lori figured it out," he said. "I'll email you a copy if you like, and you can look at it for yourself."
"Do that," Velma said. "At the most, we know a little more than we did, but do you have any idea how many streets in this city start with the letter 'D'?"
"A lot," Clark said. "Superman says he's notifying the others to be alert, tonight."
"Tell him thanks for me, would you, Kent?" Velma said. She rubbed a hand across her face. "If this pans out and we get him, it'll be the first full night's sleep I've had in three nights. Every precinct in the city will have its whole fleet of aircars up, too, but a few 'super' eyes in the sky could make the difference."
"Funny, that's what he said."
The lieutenant gave a dry smile and signed off. Clark turned back to his wife, waited while she sent the promised email and then grinned at her woeful expression as she looked unhappily at the empty doughnut box. "How about we go get some dinner, Lori? I think you've done enough for today. It's almost nine-thirty."
Lori hesitated and then removed her laptop from one of the drawers of her desk. "I have the feeling I'm missing something, Clark. I want to take this along."
"What could you possibly be missing? There's only so much a map can tell you."
"I don't know, but there's something." Lori stood up and he reached out to take the laptop and clasp her fingers tightly in his.
"Okay, but we're going to get you a full meal. Doughnuts aren't exactly the most balanced diet in the city."
"Where are we eating?" Uma inquired, appearing next to him and taking his free arm.
Clark extracted his arm from his great-great granddaughter's hand, wondering how he was going to shake her when it came time to go home to bed -- or did she plan on coming back to the apartment with them as well? John had mentioned she was staying in the spare room at his place, but it was starting to look as if Uma had attached herself to them for the duration. "Sorry," he said. "It's a little awkward to walk that way, carrying a laptop."
Uma glanced significantly at his and Lori's joined hands, but he deliberately ignored the hint. If he chose to hold his wife's hand, it wasn't anyone's business to tell him he couldn't.
"I suppose we could eat downstairs," Lori said. "The lunchroom doesn't close until ten."
"Forget it. Kerry's will be open until midnight."
"Okay," Lori agreed. "We haven't been there in a while."
"What's Kerry's?" Uma asked.
"It's a family restaurant where we eat once or twice a month," Lori said. "Their food is really good."
"Oh." Uma didn't seem impressed but she followed them as they headed toward the elevator.
Kerry's was about half full when they arrived, and a dusting of snow had begun to sift down. Clark let Lori and Uma precede him and followed them into the warmth of the restaurant.
There were several people ahead of them, waiting to be seated, but the delay was only a few minutes before Amy, the pretty hostess, greeted them. "Hi, Mr. Kent! We were wondering if you'd forgotten us. We haven't seen you in almost a month."
"No," Clark said. "Just busy. Lori and I just came back from Aspen this morning."
"Oh, wow," Amy said, enviously. "I'd love to go to Aspen for a holiday. How was the skiing? I see that Lori doesn't have a cast on her ankle, this time."
"I wasn't quite so adventurous this year," Lori said. "I think I'm getting better, though."
"Definitely," Clark said. "A couple more skiing trips and you'll be really good."
"I've been skiing since I was six," Uma said. "I was on the advanced slopes at Vale, last year."
"Amy, this is my niece, Uma Kent," Clark said. "Amy's family runs Kerry's, Uma."
"Oh," Uma said.
"Nice to meet you," Amy said. "Would you like your usual table?" At Clark's nod, she picked up three menus. "This way."
The small table near the rear of the restaurant was Clark's favorite. The lighting was dimmer than near the front but not so dim that people had to inspect their plates carefully in order to be certain of what they were eating.
Clark held Lori's chair and then turned to Uma. She gave him a brilliant smile as she took her seat. "Thank you, Clark. You're always such a gentleman."
He slid into the chair next to his wife's. "My mother and father made sure I learned good manners," he said, mildly. "I've never forgotten them."
"I wish more people did," Amy said, with a smile. "Sometimes I wonder who's running the families these days, the parents or the kids." She set the menus down and smiled at them. "Is there anything else that you need?"
"Not yet," Clark said. "Thanks, Amy."
She smiled. "Only the best for you and Lori. Jake will be here in a few minutes."
"That was disgusting," Uma said, when she had gone.
"What was?" Clark asked, surprised.
"That woman. She was flirting with you."
"Amy?" Clark said. "Amy's happily married and has a new baby. She was just being friendly."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"I've been coming to Kerry's for years," he said, calmly. "I know the whole family. Amy's husband is one of the cooks here. He used to work at Kerry's full time but he graduated from gourmet cooking school a few months ago, and he's just been hired by La Provence as one of the new assistant chefs, so now he's only here two evenings a week. He and Amy just had their first child three months ago. Her father owns the place, and her mother handles the business end. Her brother, Jake, goes to Metro City College and works here part time, too. Here he comes, now."
A boy in his late teens was approaching with water glasses and silverware. He grinned at Clark and Lori. "Hi, Mr. Kent. Hi, Ms. Kent. Have a good vacation?"
"The best," Clark assured him. "You?"
"I'm doing great," Jake assured him, setting the tableware neatly in front of them. "Take some time to look over the menu and I'll be back to take your order in a few minutes, okay?"
"Sounds good," Clark said. He glanced across the table. "This is my niece, Uma, Jake. She's visiting for a couple of days."
"Nice to meet you," Jake said, with a smile. "Back shortly."
Uma scowled after him. "Are *all* the employees here this chatty?"
"It's a family restaurant, with a regular clientele," Clark said. "I've been coming by here for nearly five years, and I brought Lori here for the first time over a year ago. They know us. Why?"
Uma shrugged. "No reason. I guess I'm not in the mood to talk."
"It's late," Lori said. "You're probably tired, Uma. When we're through here, why don't we take you back to John's place? Clark's going to be out late tonight, after all, and we're going to want to get an early start tomorrow morning."
"No," Uma said. "You're going to be waiting to see if they catch this guy, aren't you? I'll wait, too."
Clark resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. "You said yourself that it wasn't likely that we'd find anything," he pointed out. "If we do, we'll call John and he'll let you know."
Uma shook her head, looking stubborn. "I'm supposed to write a report about this experience," she said. "I'll stick it out. I can sleep later."
Lori cast a glance at her, and Clark saw her start to open her mouth and then close it, firmly. "Well," he said, "why don't you pick out what you want. Jake will be back in a few minutes."
Uma glanced quickly at the menu. "I always watch my calories very strictly," she said, closing it. "Would you order me the chicken salad and a diet soda if he comes back before I do?" She smiled sweetly at Clark. "I'm sorry I sounded cross. You're right, I'm a little tired, but I wouldn't miss this for anything. I'm just going to the powder room to freshen up."
"Sure," Clark said.
Uma walked quickly away from the table. Clark raised his eyebrows at Lori. "What do you suppose got into her?" he asked, softly. "I get the feeling she isn't really enjoying this Shadow a Journalist thing."
"I think I'd better tell you ..." Lori was beginning, when Clark's wrist talker beeped very softly. With an apologetic look at her, he lifted it to his lips. "Kent," he said.
"Clark?" Rhonda's voice said. "It's Ronnie. I have the results of those tests for you."
He turned the sound down and held the little device close to Lori's ear. "Yes?" he said.
"I thought you'd want to know as soon as possible," Rhonda's voice said, "so I put a rush order on them for you. You can tell Lori that she can relax. Everything is fine."
"Thanks," Clark said. "I'm glad to know it, and so is she."
"You're welcome," Rhonda's voice said, and he could hear a chuckle in it. "I'll be waiting to hear the announcement. Good night, Clark."
"Good night," he said.
Lori was looking at him with wide eyes, and he grinned at her. "Well, that's it. Ronnie says we have a green light, honey."
Her eyes filled suddenly with tears, and he handed her his napkin. "Are you all right?"
She nodded, hastily blotting at her face. "I guess I didn't realize how scared I was," she said.
He took her hand. "Well, the suspense is over," he said. "Why don't you order something special, tonight? This is worth a celebration."
"Uma will think I'm being a pig," she said. "She already mentioned how much I eat while we were waiting for you, earlier."
"I don't really care what she thinks," Clark said. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. "And I don't think she should hear about this before the brothers and sisters-to-be, do you? How about the prime rib, with all the trimmings?"
"That sounds wonderful," Lori agreed. "And some of the nonalcoholic champagne, to celebrate?"
"That's a great idea," he agreed, smiling back at her suddenly beaming expression. "Non-alcoholic champagne it is. Here comes Jake."
It was after eleven when they left the restaurant. Uma watched as Clark helped Lori with her coat and put a solicitous arm around her waist. "Are you sure you want to stay up for this, honey?" he asked. "You should be getting more sleep. I can let you know what happens."
She shook her head. "I have an interest in this too. Besides, I'm still trying to figure out what it is I'm missing. Uma and I will go over to the 12th Precinct. Maybe Velma will let us listen in on what's going on."
"I was hoping I could go along with Clark," Uma said.
"No," Lori said, flatly. "This part is his job, Uma, and we're not going to get in his way."
"Don't you think that he should be the one to decide that?" Uma said, bristling. "Just because you're married to him doesn't mean you make all the decisions, does it?"
"No, of course it doesn't." Clark sounded surprised. "She's right, though. Having anyone with me will just slow me down. We're trying to catch a killer, tonight. I need to be able to concentrate on what I'm doing." He added, "I'm wearing my wrist talker as usual, Lori. If you need to get hold of me for any reason ..."
Lori nodded. "I'll only call you if it's important. Why don't Uma and I drive over to the 12th now. We'll meet you there afterwards."
"I'll drive over with you," he said. "Far be it from me to leave the two of you alone with a killer out there."
She made a face at him. "All right, but I'm driving."
"Who else?" he said. "Let's go, shall we?"
"Why does Lori always drive?" Uma asked, suddenly. "When my mom and dad go places, my dad usually drives."
"Because Lori gets motion sick," Clark said. He opened the back door of the Jeep for Uma and then walked around to open the driver's door for Lori. "Let's hope that after tonight the Christmas Killer's only concerns will be the State of New Troy's justice system."
"Amen to that," Lori said. In the rear seat, Uma rolled her eyes. How many millions of people did Metropolis currently have? They weren't going to catch the Christmas Killer except by the sheerest good luck, even if this so-called pattern that Lori had discovered actually meant anything, which Uma doubted. And how dare this woman -- this intruder in her plans -tell her that she couldn't accompany Clark! If Lori hadn't raised the objection, Uma was certain that she could have talked him into it, and then she would have had the chance to speak with him alone and straighten out the terrible mistake he had made.
Never mind, she told herself. Tomorrow, she would find some way to get him alone, and then things would be settled.
The ride to the 12th Precinct occupied the next twenty minutes. Traffic moved slowly in the increasingly heavy snow, and by the time they arrived at the station, Lori was glad to park and turn off the engine. Maybe, she thought, when Clark got back, he could just fly her home and take Uma back to John's in the Jeep. Much as she disliked admitting it about one of Clark's descendents, Uma Kent grated on her nerves, and she still wasn't completely sure what the girl was up to, although she was beginning to form certain suspicions. If she was right, Clark was likely to have an embarrassing time letting her down gently, especially since Uma almost certainly would not take rejection well, no matter how diplomatically phrased, and the news of Clark's impending fatherhood was bound to cause a scene. On the other hand, it certainly wouldn't be doing Uma any favors to let her continue to dream of a future with him. Clark might or might not suspect what was going on; sometimes it was hard to tell what he was thinking. She'd intended to voice her suspicions in the restaurant, but Rhonda's call had interrupted and then it had been too late. Oh well, she could tell him later tonight, after they were at home in bed. There were still a *few* places where Uma couldn't accompany them. At least, Lori fervently hoped so. Clark accompanied them to the precinct, and left them in the hands of Velma Chow's capable assistant, then made his excuses and departed. Lori and Uma waited for nearly twenty minutes before the lieutenant was able to grab a few moments to see them.
"I figured you'd be here to see how things went," Velma said. She glanced at Uma. "Weren't you the young lady at the crime scene this morning?"
"This is Uma Kent, Clark's niece," Lori said. "She's following us around, today."
"I see." Velma nodded in a businesslike way. "Well, since you spotted the pattern, you and Ms. Kent can sit in my office and listen in on the operation, if you like, but stay out of the way, got it?"
"Got it, Lieutenant," Lori said. "I was supposed to let you know that if you need to get hold of Superman, I can contact him for you."
Velma Chow raised an eyebrow at that. "Other than just yelling 'Help, Superman'?"
"I have his 'talker number. I'm not supposed to give it out, though."
"Not even to me, I suspect," the officer said, sourly. "I'd sure like to know why they do things the way they do, but I guess they've got their reasons. All right; I have to get going, but give me your number, just in case."
Lori did so, then followed the assistant back to Velma's office. The receiver was already tuned in to the police frequency, and the man gestured to the couch and two armchairs that, besides the lieutenant's desk and chair, a file cabinet and a single side table, were the only other pieces of furniture in the room. "Make yourselves at home."
"Thank you," Lori said. "Is it all right if I work on my laptop while we're waiting?"
"Not a problem. Call if you need anything." The man left, leaving the door ajar.
Uma shifted restlessly on the leather chair and glanced at Lori. Clark's (temporary) wife was absorbed in something on her computer screen and seemed to be oblivious to the occasional reports coming over the speaker. Since nothing seemed to be happening, at least so far, it wasn't surprising. She glanced at the chronometer on her wrist talker.
It was only three minutes before midnight. Somewhere out there, in some bar, the Christmas Killer was probably moving in on his next victim. The idea was a little creepy, but she reminded herself that the women who frequented those bars should be more careful. Her parents had always warned her about the hazards of going with strangers from the time she was small. *She* would never take the risk of going off with some strange man, no matter how trustworthy he looked.
She yawned behind her hand and shook herself. The unaccustomed activities of the day must have been more tiring than she realized. If she sat here much longer, she would be sound asleep when Clark came back to pick them up. That wasn't the kind of childish impression that she wanted to make on him.
Lori also looked tired, she noticed for the first time. There were dark circles under her eyes, but she was scowling intently at her computer screen. Obviously, the woman was obsessing about this killer.
Uma shrugged. Let her obsess. The sooner Clark got away from her the better, as far as Uma could see. She wasn't the kind of woman who should be the wife of Superman. She was bossy and possessive, and seemed to take her job way too seriously, sticking her nose in where she had no business. She'd had no right at all to start snooping into Uma's affairs! And look at her tonight; trying to do the job the cops were hired for! All work and no play, Uma thought, contemptuously. No wonder she was just now learning to ski. Clark had probably had to drag her away from that dreary newsroom long enough to actually take a vacation. When you lived with a man who could fly, the very least you could do was to utilize his talents. When she was married to Clark, she intended to insist that they eat in a foreign country at least once a week.
Uma got to her feet and walked to the door. There was a water cooler across the hall, and she went to get a drink. The water woke her up somewhat, and she looked around, wondering if there was any kind of candy machine around this place. In spite of what she'd told Clark this evening, Uma usually ate considerably more than she had at dinner and her stomach was rumbling.
"Can I help you?" a male voice asked. Uma turned in surprise.
A young police officer was standing behind her and Uma recognized him at once as the cop who had talked to her this morning at the crime scene. He seemed to recognize her as well. "Ms. Kent, isn't it? Why are you here?"
"I'm with Lori Lyons," she explained. "Lieutenant Chow -- I think that's her name - is letting us listen in on --"
He nodded. "On the operation, tonight," he said. "I'm just going off duty, myself. We've all been pulling double duty what with the usual Christmas viruses and this business, too. Is there anything I can do for you? You seemed to be looking for something."
"I was looking for a snack," Uma explained. "I'm supposed to be shadowing Kent and Lyons, but I'm falling asleep just sitting in there."
"Oh." The young man grinned. "Well, unless you like petrified sandwiches, and coffee that'll dissolve a spoon if you leave it in your cup longer than a minute, there isn't much to eat around here."
"Oh," Uma said.
"Tell you what, though," he continued, "there's a deli just around the corner. Why don't I take you over there and you can pick up something to tide you over? I'll drop you off back here before I go home."
Uma hesitated, but the urge to do something besides sit in a room with an uncommunicative companion, listening to boring police reports coming out of a speaker, was too strong. Besides, Officer Benson was a handsome man, even if he wasn't Clark. "Okay," she agreed.
"Great. You get your coat and meet me out front. I'll have my car waiting by the time you get there."
"Okay," Uma said, telling herself that she would be back long before Clark returned. "I'll be right there -- uh, Officer Benson."
"Gary," he told her. "See you in a few."
Lori glanced up as Uma re-entered Velma Chow's office. The girl removed her coat from the rack behind the door.
"Going somewhere?" Lori asked.
Uma sealed the front of her coat. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she mumbled.
"You're not planning on going out alone, I hope," Lori said. "As long as you're with us, Clark and I are responsible for you."
Uma glanced at her, and Lori could see the dislike in her face. "Not that it's any of your business," she said, shortly, "but Officer Benson is taking me over to the corner deli. That chicken salad wasn't very filling."
"Oh," Lori said. She turned back to the computer as Uma left the room with an excellent imitation of a flounce.
Silence descended on the room as she stared at the screen, broken only by the monotonous reports issuing from the speaker on Velma Chow's desk. The map of Metropolis with the colored numbers stared back at her. Lori rubbed her face, trying to concentrate. There was something here that she was missing, she thought for the hundredth time, something so obvious that she should see it, but somehow she wasn't able to pin it down.
Well, the pattern of the Christmas Killer's murders hadn't been really apparent until tonight. There was no way, a year ago, that she and Clark, or anyone, really, could have spotted what she had this evening. The street names were different, but of the three murders that had taken place this year, so far the first letter of the street where the victim had disappeared matched the first letter of the street on the equivalent day last year. The guy had a very definite pattern. It must have something to do with the sequence of streets, she thought. Why hadn't she considered that before? Maybe if she listed the street names in order, it would tell her something.
A moment later, she was staring at her answer, something, as she had thought before, that was so obvious that they had all missed it.
Uma glanced at Gary Benson as he pulled his ground car out into the thinning traffic.
Even at this hour, with the snow falling, there were a respectable number of cars on the streets. The young officer gave her a cheerful smile.
"The engine warms up pretty quickly," he said. "I'll turn on the heater in a minute."
That would definitely be a good thing, Uma thought. It was cold enough in here, even with her coat on, that she could feel the goose bumps on her arms.
"Where's the deli?" she asked, as he pulled up at the corner stoplight.
"One more block down, on the corner of Domino and Wyoming," Gary said. "Wyoming is the second cross street." He pointed at the glow of the red light ahead of them, blurred by the blowing snow. "We'll be there in a couple of minutes."
Uma crossed her arms over her chest and huddled back in the seat. She was beginning to have doubts about this whole trip. It wasn't worth freezing to death just to pick up a deli sandwich.
"Heater on," Gary said.
A blast of warm air responded and Uma gave a sigh of relief. "That's better."
He nodded, smiling.
"You missed the turn," Uma said suddenly, as they went through the light at the next intersection.
"There's a pothole right in the middle of that lane," Gary explained. "I'm going down one more street and around the block."
Uma nodded, accepting his explanation. The inside of the car was quickly reaching a comfortable temperature and she uncrossed her arms, soaking in the warmth. The car slowed at the next intersection, and he took the turn to the left.
"The next street's a one way, the wrong way," he said. "I'm going to have to go another street over. It won't take long."
Uma sighed, definitely wishing now that she hadn't gone along with this plan. Still, it would only be a few more minutes.
They crossed the street that Gary had said was one way. It didn't look like a one-way street to Uma, but a police officer would know the city better than she, especially since she was only visiting. Ahead, across the next street, Uma could see an unlighted patch and the silhouettes of tall trees against the sky: a park, she thought.
Gary turned left and headed back in the direction of the deli, but why was he slowing down? She stiffened, a touch of nervousness beginning to run along her nerves. Abruptly, Gary turned the car right, into a narrow road that ran directly into the wooded area, and cut his lights.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
He didn't answer, and now she could see that the smile had vanished from his face. He slowed further, only the dim parking lights illuminating the surface of the road ahead of them.
Uma stared at him, a horrifying possibility bursting in her mind. She reached for the door lock.
"Don't," Gary said. "If you put up a fight, it'll be much worse."
A jolt of panic shot through her. Gary Benson grinned slightly.
"Didn't your parents ever teach you not to go with strange men?" he asked.
She stared at him in paralyzed shock. This couldn't be! The man was a police officer!
The car slowed further as the road curved to the right. Uma cowered back in the seat, one hand still groping for the door lock.
Gary chuckled, softly. "I think the best part is when they realize who I am," he said, glancing at her, and suddenly his face wasn't handsome in the least. "I like to see that part."
Uma moved suddenly. One foot came down hard on the brake pedal and the car jerked to a halt. Gary swore, but she wasn't listening. She shoved open the door and threw herself out into the snow.
Sandra Benson. Lori stared at the name while her computer printed out the list.
This string of murders had something to do with a woman named Sandra Benson.
She got to her feet, taking the printout with her. This was important. She had to tell Velma's assistant at once, to let him know what she had found. Whoever Sandra Benson was, she must be the key to this whole, horrible episode. The name sounded familiar, somehow, but she was sure she didn't know a Sandra Benson ...
The hall was deserted when she stepped out, but she could hear voices from the front of the station, and she hurried in the direction of the voices. The desk sergeant on duty now, she saw, was Jim Parker. The two of them maintained an armed truce, but she was well aware that the man regarded her as a nuisance who stuck her nose in where it didn't belong a good deal more than necessary. He was speaking to a tousled looking woman with a black eye, and Lori winced, guessing that it was the reason for her presence. As she approached, he pointed, directing the woman toward a desk and then turned to Lori.
"Yeah?" he asked. "Did you need something, Lyons?"
"Um, ... yeah," she said. "Is Lester around, Sergeant? I think I've found something that he might want to know."
Parker regarded her stolidly. "Why don't you tell me, and I'll decide if it's worth interrupting him for," he said.
"I think it might be," Lori said. "I was looking at the streets where the Christmas Killer picked up his victims last year and I tried listing the names in sequence." His eyebrows rose. She stopped and thrust the printout under his nose. "Look!" she said.
He stared at it. "What am I looking for?" he inquired.
"Look at the first letter of each street name," she said, patiently. "I think it may be the key to this whole thing."
He cast her a skeptical look and then took the paper and examined it more closely than he had the first time. His eyebrows rose. "Sandra Benson?"
Lori nodded. "Does it mean anything to you?" she asked.
He didn't answer, but touched something on the board in front of him. "Les, Lyons is out here and needs to talk to you. She has something that I think you should see."
"Send her back," Harold Lester's voice said, "but it better be important."
Parker handed her the printout. "Go ahead," he said. He hesitated. "Sometimes you can be real useful, Lyons."
"Gee, thanks, Sarge," she said and headed back in the direction from which she had come.
The door to Lester's office was closed, but Lori marched up to it and knocked firmly. In the back of her mind, a sense of urgency was growing, the conviction that time was of the essence.
The door slid open and Lester glanced up from his computer. "What is it, Lori?"
"Here." Lori set the printout on the desk in front of him. "These are the streets where the Christmas Killer picked up his victims last year. In sequence. Look at the first letter of each street."
Chow's assistant didn't waste time asking questions, she noted. He read the list and his bushy eyebrows snapped together. "Sandra Benson?"
Lori nodded. "Does it mean something to you?"
Lester didn't answer. Instead he spoke into his office intercom. "Dispatch! Put out an APB for Officer Gary Benson. He's driving his own vehicle, and he went off duty about twenty minutes ago. Move!"
Lori stared at him, and suddenly she knew why the name sounded familiar. "Oh my god! Uma went with him! She said he was taking her to the corner deli!"
Lester was on his feet and heading out the door, speaking into his own wrist talker. Lori looked after him, and then punched Clark's 'talker code into her own. Less than a second elapsed and Clark's voice said, "Superman."
"It's Lori," she said, rapidly. "Cl... Superman, Uma is with a cop. His name is Gary Benson, and he may be the Christmas Killer. They're putting out an APB right now.
She left with him about fifteen minutes ago, so they may still be somewhere in the vicinity of the Precinct."
"Got it," Clark's voice said. The connection went dead.
Uma scrambled to her feet, nearly unaware of the snow that coated her hands, face and clothing and ran, not looking back. Behind her, she heard a breathless curse from Gary Benson, the slam of a car door and muffled footfalls as he came after her.
Uma ran as hard as she could, slipping and skidding on the icy ground, back toward the street and the relative safety of the lights and passing cars. Would he dare to attack her and commit murder in the open? Probably not, but the man had to be insane. Who knew what a crazy man would do?
She wanted to scream for help, but with the breath tearing in her throat, it was all she could do to breathe and her one attempt to summon a scream produced only a faint, breathless gasp.
But, this was an emergency! The telepathic talent that was her inheritance from Clark Kent was permissible in an emergency!
*Uma!* The shout that echoed in her head was so loud that she thought for a second that she was hearing it with her ears.
*Clark!* she screamed, as loudly as her mental voice could project. *Help me!*
From behind, a pair of arms caught her and swung her around, and Gary Benson laughed breathlessly as he slammed her body to the ground and pinned her there with his own.
"Nice try." His voice was a breathy whisper. "But useless. No one gets away." His fingers closed on her throat and exerted pressure. Uma strained uselessly, trying to pry them free, to no avail.
Wind burst over them both like a hurricane, and his hands were wrenched away. Another pair of hands was lifting her to her feet, and through a blur of tears, Uma saw Gary Benson struggling uselessly, while Superman effortlessly pinned both his wrists behind him. The superhero's face was grimmer than she had ever seen it, and the anger blazing in his eyes frightened her a little. She had never seen Clark really angry before.
Blue Lightning was standing beside him, and a little behind him, CJ Kent, her great grandfather, in his guise as TanEl. Henry Olsen, in the red and black of Cyclone, produced a thick bar of metal, and an instant later, it had been twisted around the Christmas Killer's wrists. Her Aunt Lara, in the red and blue of Superwoman had helped her to her feet, and now looked balefully at Gary Benson. In fact, Uma realized in surprise, all the superheroes who had made Metropolis their home were present.
"Are you all right, Ms. Kent?" Superman asked.
Uma became abruptly aware of the fact that tears were running down her face and she was beginning to tremble in every limb. From somewhere not far away, came the wail of rapidly approaching sirens.
"Yeah," she whispered, through a throat that was going to be bruised and sore for several days, "now I am."
Headlights flashed across them as the first of the police cars dropped out of the sky to a fast landing in the snow-covered expanse of the park, followed by a dozen more in quick succession. The blue-clad forms of Metropolis's finest converged on the little knot of superheroes and their captive. Velma Chow, looking unexpectedly bulky in her heavy coat, surveyed her former subordinate.
"Well, Gary," she said, in a voice devoid of emotion, "this isn't going to do your career any good." She gestured to two burly officers. "Take him back to the station. Les, you take over here. The rest of you, find his car and recover every piece of evidence you can find. If he's linked to the other murders, there's bound to be traces." She turned to Uma, who was staring at her in stunned silence. "I knew who it had to be as soon as I heard what Lyons had found," she said. "Are you all right, Ms. Kent?"
Numbly, Uma nodded.
"We'll have a doctor check you over back at the Precinct," she said. "We've already called Olsen. He'll meet us there. May I give you a lift?" She glanced at the superheroes. "I'll see the five of you there, too. I want a statement from every one of you."
"We'll be there," Superman said.
The flashing lights of at least a hundred police ground- and aircars glittered off the snow, turning the scene eerily psychedelic as Uma followed Chow obediently back to her vehicle. Behind her she heard the characteristic "whooshes" that marked the departure of the supermen. Slowly, she got into the rear seat of the aircar and cautiously felt her bruised throat. It hurt, but she had to know what Velma Chow had meant. "What did Lori find?" she asked, as the officer slid into the driver's seat.
"The first letters of the street names where the victims disappeared spelled the name of his ex-wife," the lieutenant said, briefly. "She was a cop that worked at the Precinct. They'd had a rocky marriage, but then, two years ago, on December 26th, she left him."
"Oh," Uma said, and the hoarseness of her voice was a grim reminder of what she had escaped. "I guess I sort of understand why."
"I guess it makes sense, in a sick sort of way," John said. He planted the heels of his shoes firmly on the writing surface of his desk and leaned back so far that Uma expected him to tip over. On the desk, the headline blared "Christmas Killer Caught!" and underneath it Uma could see the byline of Kent and Lyons. That was still something she had to take care of, she thought. True, Lori had indirectly saved her life by alerting Clark to the identity of the killer and giving him some idea of her location, but Uma didn't *want* to feel grateful to her. Lori Lyons had still stolen the man who was meant for her and she was determined to get Clark alone before she had to leave and straighten out this mix-up.
"It doesn't make sense to me," she said, knowing she sounded sullen, and not caring. It hurt to talk, and she had to constantly remind herself not to clear her throat.
"It's a familiar pattern," Clark told her. "You see it with a lot of serial killers. Each time they kill, in their minds they're killing a particular person. Only the real target isn't really dead, so the killer has to keep killing, over and over -- until he's forcibly stopped. Sandra Benson has dark eyes and hair like each one of Benson's victims." He shook his head. "He was taunting the police with that clue, I think - daring them to catch him. I doubt he really expected anyone to pick up on it, though."
"I guess he didn't figure on Lori," John said, sounding just the slightest bit smug. "You might want to do a general background on the subject for your report, Uma. I'd say you've got a potential "A" waiting for you."
She might, at that, Uma thought. She might be able to submit this as her report on the project, after all. There wasn't any mention of exactly *when* the shadowing of a journalist had to be done. Maybe she could explain that she had known the assignment was coming up, and that she had taken the opportunity when it arose. With such a well known journalist as Clark as her subject, she just might be able to get away with it.
"Yeah, probably," she said.
"How are your parents taking it?" Clark asked, watching her with an expression that she couldn't read.
Uma shrugged. "By the time they found out what happened, it was all over," she said, offhandedly. "I told them I'd be home tomorrow. I still have another day to shadow you."
"Oh," Clark said, and she was sure he was trying not to grin. "Well, we're going for an easy assignment this afternoon. We're interviewing the Muskrats - that's the team coming in to play the New Troy State Spartans after the parade. Not exactly dramatic journalism, but Metropolis's sports fans will appreciate it."
"Where's Lori?" John asked. "I notice she didn't come in with you, this morning."
"Lori will be in about ten," Clark said. "I suggested that she sleep in a couple of extra hours this morning, and she didn't fight very hard."
"Not a bad idea," John said.
Uma shrugged. "That's okay. I'm really supposed to shadow you, anyway."
"Well, I'm not going anywhere until she gets here," Clark said, "unless there's an emergency or something. I still have some follow-up calls to make about last night, and there's a bail hearing, today. The judge is going to deny bail; nobody doubts that. If you want to listen in, you're welcome to, Uma."
"Okay," Uma agreed, glancing at her chronometer. It was nine-thirty. That meant she had better get Clark alone pretty quickly. Once his so-called wife was here, she wouldn't let him out of her sight.
"By the way," Clark said, turning to John, "Rhonda got back to us last night. It's official."
John grinned, swung his feet to the floor and extended a hand. "In that case, let me be the first to congratulate you," he said.
Clark took the hand and the two men engaged in a hearty handshake. Uma watched the little routine with a sinking sensation, hoping that it didn't mean what she was afraid it did.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Clark and Lori are expecting a baby," John said.
Uma stared at him in shock. It wasn't possible! Not after all the planning she had done!
"I didn't know," she said. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," Clark said. "Now my only problem is going to be how to get her to cut back a little."
"Good luck with that," John said, dryly.
"Yeah," Clark agreed, but he was smiling.
"Looks like you can start now," John said, waving at the room beyond, visible through the window of his office. Uma looked around and grimaced. Lori Lyons had just stepped out of the elevator.
It was too much. Uma couldn't stand it any longer. She burst into tears.
Clark glanced at his editor and John got to his feet at once.
"I have a few things to take care of," he said. "Uma can stay here until she feels better. I'll just go have a few words with Lori."
Clark nodded. John was a smart guy he thought, but he would have expected nothing else of Jimmy's great grandson.
Uma was sobbing miserably. Clark waited patiently until the storm began to wear down, then quietly fished out his handkerchief and put it into her hands.
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose on it, and Clark smiled a little sadly as he remembered Lois doing the same thing to more than one of his handkerchiefs. Uma looked a little like her great, great grandmother, but only a little. Still, that trace of Lois was there. He had seen it last night in the way she had managed to survive her encounter with Gary Benson when so many other women and girls had not. Hurting her wasn't something that he had any wish to do, but he couldn't give her what she wanted.
"Better?" he asked, finally.
Uma shook her head. "I'll never be better," she whispered.
"Uma." Clark tilted her chin up with one finger. "Do you know how old I am?"
"You were born in 1966," she said. "But ..."
"Yes, I was. By Earth standards it was probably about the end of February in 1966 - or at least that was my parents' guess. They figured I was between two and three months old when they found me. We never knew for sure, but by the time you were born, I was over a hundred years old."
"You were over a hundred years old when *she* was born, too!"
"Yes, I was, but it's not the same. The bond makes the difference."
His great, great, grand daughter looked at him, tragically. "How can you be so sure?"
"That the bond is there? Once it happens to you, there won't be any doubt in your mind. And it will -- someday."
"But I love you," Uma said, softly. "I've known it for years."
"I love you too," he said, keeping his voice gentle. "But not that way. That kind of love is reserved for Lori, and will only be for Lori for as long as the two of us live." He took her hand. "Uma, even if you were married to me, it wouldn't work. I know - I've known for years - that you felt cheated when you discovered that you hadn't inherited my powers, when all of your brothers did. It's not fair, but it happens, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. John is the only one in his family without super powers, but he didn't let it stop him."
"It's not the same," she whispered.
"Isn't it? Did you know that before we married, Lois had my powers for a short time?"
"I didn't know that was possible," Uma said.
"Let's say the situation was unusual. Lois and I were exposed to Red Kryptonite, which hasn't been seen on Earth in nearly a century, and it temporarily transferred my powers to her. Do you know what she discovered?"
Uma shook her head.
"She found that super powers weren't the picnic that she had imagined they would be. She discovered that even a super powered being can't be everywhere or do everything, and that even Ultra Woman could fail." He met her eyes. "Being super-powered means tremendous responsibility; it means making life and death decisions every day, of sometimes choosing who lives and who dies. You don't have that responsibility, but it doesn't mean you can't someday make as much of a difference to the world as John Olsen -or Lois Lane. It just means you'll have to do it the normal human way."
Uma wiped her eyes. "You knew all along."
"Well, not all along, but I figured it out pretty quickly," he admitted. "That's one of the advantages to having lived so long. You get so you don't have to be a telepath to know what people are thinking." He smiled at her. "Uma, I'm truly sorry that I can't give you either of the things that you want so badly but I married Lori because I love her, and I always will. Nothing can ever change that."
Uma sat for some time, absorbing what Clark had said. It was funny, but with all her hopes and dreams crumbling around her, she should have felt worse, and she didn't quite understand why she didn't.
Her grandfather was watching her, and she was struck by his expression -- and his
His eyes were warm and kind, and for the moment, completely understanding. She wiped away a stray tear on her cheek. "I guess you think I've been pretty stupid," she said.
He smiled. "Now that's a loaded question," he said.
"Don't answer it," she said with a watery laugh. "I don't want to hear the answer."
He chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it." His expression became serious. "Uma, you aren't stupid. You were disappointed, and rightfully so, when you found out that you didn't have super powers, but there's nothing anyone can do about that. And I can't marry you; I'm your grandfather, admittedly several generations removed, and already married to someone I'm very much in love with. But I don't think you're as disappointed about that as you thought you'd be, are you?"
She sniffed and wiped her eyes, but at the same time, she felt curiously relieved. "How do you do that? You always seem to know."
"Experience. It's the result of years of practice reading expressions and body language. You wouldn't really want a husband who could do that, would you?"
"I guess not," she admitted. "How does Lori stand it?"
"That's the strange thing," he said. "Sometimes I can tell exactly what she's thinking, and other times she's a complete mystery to me."
"I'm glad of that," Uma said. She hesitated. "Do I have to apologize to her?"
"I think," Clark said, "that it would embarrass her."
"Yeah," Uma said. She examined the toes of her shoes. "Should I leave?"
"And leave your report unfinished, after everything you went through for it? Of course not -- although I can't promise that what we do today will be anywhere near as exciting as yesterday."
"I'm just as happy about that," Uma said. She rubbed her throat reminiscently. "I guess I should tell you the truth about ..."
"That the assignment is given in the spring, and not over the Christmas holidays? I think if I have a word with your instructor, he might give you some leeway. After all, you did shadow a team of journalists for two days -- or you will have by this evening -- and you'll have quite a story to tell about it."
"That's for sure," Uma said.
"I take it you had a talk with her," Lori said, a few minutes later. Uma had retreated to the Ladies' Room to repair her makeup.
Clark nodded. "I think she was almost relieved," he said. "I suspect the idea of being married to a man who is able to tell what she's thinking just by looking at her was kind of intimidating."
"Clark Kent!" Lori stifled the urge to giggle. "You let her think that?"
"So I exaggerated a little," Clark said. "It's actually truer than you realize - except for you."
"Darned good thing," Lori said.
He put an arm around her. "So, did you get enough rest?"
"Close enough, I think," she said. "What are we doing today?"
"Well, first, I have some phone calls to make, and then we're off to interview the Muskrats, and I have to put up with a bunch of young studs ogling my beautiful wife."
She swatted his shoulder. "As if you're worried!"
"Well," he defended, "how am I supposed to know that you won't suddenly be smitten with a younger man?"
"Believe me, no younger man could possibly measure up," she said. "But don't tell Uma that."
"No other *woman* could possibly measure up to you, sweetheart," he said, leaning down to kiss her lightly on the lips.
"Hey," Andrea Waltham's voice said. "Floor show!"
There was a cheer and several catcalls from the other staffers. Clark straightened up with a slight grin on his face and Lori felt herself blushing.
Andrea patted her on the head as she continued on by. "Nice going, honey." Lori's face turned from pink to red and she heard Andrea chuckle. Clark lifted her hand and kissed the back of it, prompting another ripple of applause.
The door to the Ladies' Room opened and Uma emerged. Clark gave Lori's hand a squeeze. "Well, here we go," he said. "Let me just get those calls out of the way, and we'll head over to the Lexor to see the Mighty Muskrats ..."
"Thanks for everything." Uma's father shook Clark's hand and turned to Lori. "And thank *you*, Lori. Uma told me that you figured out the clue to the killer's identity. You saved my little girl's life."
"Well, she had something to do with it, too," Lori said. "She got away from him, long enough for Clark and the others to get to her."
"I know. But if it hadn't been for you, they might not have." Vernon Kent turned to Uma. "Are you ready to go home?"
Uma hugged Clark, took a deep breath and faced Lori. "Thanks," she said.
"You're welcome," Lori said.
"And ... congratulations," Uma added, after a second's hesitation.
"Thanks," Clark said. "I guess we'll see you at the Christmas party, next year."
"Or at the baby shower," Uma said. Her smile wavered slightly, and then steadied. "You take good care of my grandfather, Lori. And don't be nice if anybody tries to hurt him, okay?"
"Count on it," Lori said.
Vernon picked Uma up in his arms and together they rose toward the skylight of the Kent apartment. A moment later, they were gone.
There was a moment of silence and in the background, the lights of the live Christmas tree twinkled merrily, then Clark raised an eyebrow at his wife. "That was a cryptic comment," he observed. "Do you have any idea what she was talking about?"
"Not a clue," Lori said. "You know, Uma isn't so bad once she lets go of the chip on her shoulder."
"She was a charming little girl," Clark said. "She still has some growing up to do, but I think she'll be okay."
"So do I," Lori said. "I think she's on the way to it, anyhow. Once she finds the right guy, and gets over her crush on you, Superman, she'll be fine."
"I'm glad you agree," Clark said, sliding his arms around her waist. "Anyway, I don't want to talk about Uma, anymore. This is the first time I've been able to get you alone and awake at the same time for nearly two days."
Lori grinned, holding him off with one hand. "Down, boy! I guess our news is out, huh?"
"Yeah. You were three-quarters asleep last night when I flew you home, or I'd have mentioned it then. I passed the word to Lara and CJ, and the others, on the way to the Precinct, and I'm sure they passed it to Annie and Jon."
"So, by now the whole family knows," Lori said, sounding a little resigned. "Oh well. I'm going to call Marilyn tomorrow. I haven't forgotten John's offer, if she's willing to help."
"I think she will be," Clark said. "How are you feeling, by the way?"
"Okay. A little queasy in the morning, but nothing I can't handle. Actually, I was wondering about dinner."
Clark glanced at the clock. "It's only seven. Would you like to go out or eat here?"
"Would you believe I've been thinking about one of your pasta creations for the last two hours?"
"Say no more, my lady," Clark said. "Pasta it is. And then we can open our long-delayed Christmas presents!"
Lori glanced at the tree and the small treasure-trove of unopened packages under its tinseled branches. "I think you did it this way on purpose," she informed him, darkly.
"Would I do that?" Clark said, striving to maintain an innocent expression. "We spent a great Christmas holiday skiing in Aspen, and now we get the additional fun of opening our presents."
His wife eyed him suspiciously, but he saw that she was trying hard not to grin. Lori, like Lois before her, had little tolerance for the suspense of waiting to open her Christmas gifts. He had made a point of setting the one that he had selected for her prominently under the tree as soon as they had finished decorating it, nearly three weeks ago, and had watched her shake it, heft it, sniff it and feel it numerous times since, whenever she thought he wasn't looking.
He slipped an arm around her waist and hugged her. "I get too much fun out of watching you," he informed her. "We can open them right after dinner."
"Good," she said. "I have a special one for you, too."
"Oh?" he said.
Lori nodded. "I still have to wrap it up nicely for you ... and it won't be under the tree."
He raised both his eyebrows suggestively. "I'm counting on it."