|Home V: Obsession
Author: Nan Smith PM
This is the next in the Home series, following Home New Year's Wishes. Lori and Clark are on the trail of a serial killer who may, in fact, be an old friend of Lori's. In typical Lois Lane style, Lori becomes the killer's next target.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi/Mystery - Words: 69,520 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-17-05 - id: 2442695
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Home V: Obsession
By Nan Smith
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.
Introduction: This story is part of the Home series and will make more sense to anyone who has not read the previous stories if you read the short story, "Home". Quickly summarized, it is a Soulmates-type of story, wherein Lori Lyons is the next incarnation of Lois Lane at the end of the 21st Century.
Home V: Obsession
By Nan Smith
The Valentine Festival in Metropolis's Old Town was in full swing. Lori Lyons looked appreciatively up and down the street, decorated in cotton-candy pink, candy-apple red and lacy white. It was funny to think that when her husband had been a young man, Valentine's Day had been a minor holiday. These days it was an important event that was celebrated for a week prior to the actual day. Clark had told her the real history behind that, of course -- something that wasn't actually covered except as a three-sentence paragraph in the history books. The governments of the world hadn't wanted it known, for fear of panic, he'd told her, and had suppressed the information. It had been near the end of the Decade of Unrest when the birth rate of the planet had dropped drastically, due to the work of a deranged New Reich scientist who had managed to sterilize three-quarters of the women on Earth. The leaders of many nations had gone to great lengths to promote an increase in the birth rate, which had resulted in a drastic realignment of many of the marriage customs of humanity, and, among other things, included elevating Valentine's Day to the status of a major holiday. The chaos of those days was now a footnote in the history books but the importance of the holiday remained, though few actually knew why.
Clark Kent escorted his wife into the little bistro and approached the reservations desk.
The woman behind the desk was a willowy blond, Lori saw, dressed attractively in a low-cut dress of Valentine red that showed off her figure to best advantage. She looked Clark directly in the eyes, which, Lori thought, was a distinct improvement over the way many women eyed her handsome husband. She had no doubts whatsoever about his faithfulness to her, but she didn't really enjoy it when some female stood there ogling him and practically drooling while Lori was standing right next to him. Even then, however, the knowledge that he was exclusively hers, was a heady feeling.
"Yes sir," she said briskly before he spoke. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Yes," Clark said. "Table for two. Clark and Lori Kent, for eight o'clock."
She glanced at her computer readout. "Yes, Mr. Kent. Your table will be ready momentarily. Have a seat and you'll be called."
"Thank you," Clark said.
Lori glanced around appreciatively as he led her into the seating area. "This is nice, Clark."
He smiled down at her. "It's designed with a late Twentieth Century theme," he agreed. "There are a few inaccuracies, but they're pretty minor." He indicated the single seat available. "Sit down, honey. Would you like something to drink? They serve some really good non-alcoholic cocktails here."
"Sure. Why don't you get me my usual," she said.
"Be right back." He made his way to the old-fashioned bar and she saw him speaking to the bartender.
She sat back in the padded chair, glancing down at herself and feeling slightly self-conscious. This evening, when Clark had announced that he was taking her out for a Valentine's Day dinner, she had discovered that the dress clothing that she had chosen was too tight around the middle, and every other dressy outfit in her possession had the same defect. Several of her in-laws had presented her with maternity clothing, since their announcement of the upcoming event, and she had finally decided that the dinner dress given to her by Marilyn Olsen would be suitable. It was a beautiful dress, but since it was unquestionably designed for a lady in her condition, it advertised to the world that she and Clark were now expectant parents. She hoped she didn't run into anyone from the Daily Planet, since they hadn't made the official announcement at their place of work yet. So far she had gotten by at the office by wearing loose clothing that concealed the slight thickening of her waistline, but it was clear that she was not going to be able to hide her incipient motherhood much longer.
Clark's reaction hadn't surprised her for an instant, however. He had taken one long look and produced a wolf whistle, and hadn't been able to stop smiling since.
"Here you go." Clark was standing beside her when she glanced up, holding a pair of drinks in his hands. Hers was an exotic tropical concoction, bristling with colorful fruit. His was a more standard Scotch on the rocks, which he sipped with slow appreciation. Lori smiled. Her husband liked the taste, which was why he frequently chose the drink. The alcohol, of course, had no effect on Superman.
"Hey, Clark!" The cheerful voice was that of Barry Marston, the business editor in their office. Lori sighed. It looked as if Murphy's Law was operating in fine form tonight.
Clark lifted a hand and Barry spoke to his attractive female companion, then the two of them crossed the waiting area to Lori and Clark. Lori folded her hands across her middle and tried to be inconspicuous.
"Hi, Barry." Clark greeted his coworker cheerfully. "Out for a Valentine dinner?"
"Yep," Barry said. "This is a friend of mine, Deirdre Monitor. Dee, I'd like to introduce you to the Planet's star team of investigative reporters. This is Clark Kent."
Clark extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Deirdre smiled and took his hand. Lori caught the barest glance as she gave Clark a quick once-over. Oh well, it wasn't surprising, she thought in resignation. Clark was definitely worth looking at.
"And the lovely lady sitting next to him is his wife and partner, Lori Lyons," Barry concluded. He glanced down at Lori with a smile, and then took a second look. Lori took Deirdre's hand to acknowledge the introduction, aware that their secret was out.
Barry's eyebrows went up. "So, Clark; I see you and Lori have been keeping the office in the dark."
Lori felt her face burning. Clark smiled with just a hint of pride. "We were planning on making the announcement in a couple of weeks."
Deirdre smiled at Lori. "Congratulations. When is the baby due?"
"The first week in July," Clark said.
"Boy or girl?" Deirdre asked.
"Don't know," Clark said. "Lori wanted it to be a surprise."
Barry grinned. "Don't blame you. This is great. There's been a pool going for months about when you two were going to start a family. Looks like I won."
Lori couldn't help laughing. "Why does everyone hear about these things but me?"
Clark laughed too. "Us, honey. I didn't know about it either." He turned back to Barry. "Do you mind not mentioning this until we make the announcement? It won't be more than a few days."
Barry grinned. "Not a problem," he said. "I won't breathe a word."
"Kent, party of two," a voice announced. "Your table is ready."
"Wups, that's us," Clark said. He gave Lori a hand up. "See you later, Barry. It was nice meeting you, Ms. Monitor."
"It was nice meeting you," Deirdre said. "Have a nice dinner."
"It was a wonderful evening, Clark," Lori said, as they touched down on the carpet of their living room. Clark floated upward to close the skylight again and dropped beside her. "You pamper me."
He grinned, beginning to peel off her coat. "I like pampering you. And the evening isn't over yet. This is a Valentine's Day celebration you know."
"Just what I was thinking," Lori said. Her hand gravitated to the top button of his jacket. "In a few months things will be different. We won't be able to just do this kind of thing whenever we feel like it. I want to make the most of our time until then."
He leaned forward to kiss her. "I agree. You're not regretting that we're starting our family so early, are you?"
"Of course not," Lori said. "Still, it's going to be a big change. It will take a little getting used to, but --" She rested her hand over her abdomen. "I want to have your little boy or girl, Clark. I just can't believe sometimes that I've been so lucky. You won't think I'm ugly when I get farther along, will you? Some of the guys I used to know never wanted to have kids because they couldn't stand the way women looked when they were pregnant."
He leaned down and cut off the rest of what she might have been going to say with a thorough kiss. "Not on your life, sweetheart. Just the thought of you with my baby growing there -- " He put his hand over hers. "It's a real turn on. I think it makes you sexier than ever, and you weren't exactly a slouch in that department before. It's all I can do to keep my hands off you when we're in public."
Lori discovered that somewhere between the beginning of his sentence and the end they had made the transition to the bedroom, and from clothed to unclothed, and giggled breathlessly before his mouth descended on hers again. There were definite advantages to being married to Superman, she thought. But then, she'd been of that opinion for some time.
Lori finished her article just under the deadline, sent it on to John Olsen for editing and leaned back in her chair, stretching her arms above her head. Her neck and shoulders were stiff and her head was throbbing in time to her heartbeat. She pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes, willing the pain to abate.
It was late afternoon and she was definitely looking forward to going home and catching a nap. She would never admit it to Clark, but besides the fact that she seemed to be unable to pass a deli or a candy machine without stopping to buy some form of edible, she was also tired most of the time.
Rhonda Klein, besides being a family practitioner, also maintained a small, private obstetrical practice, which consisted of herself and three other members of the Kent clan, for a select group of clients: the members of the Superman family. She had adopted Lori as her own personal patient at Clark's request, and Lori had become much better acquainted with Clark's granddaughter as a result. Rhonda had explained to her that super-babies required extra nutrients and a lot of energy from their mother. This wasn't a problem when the mother in question was one of those with the super powers, but when, like Lori, the mother had no super powers, it was necessary for her to eat a great deal more than would be recommended for the mother of a non-super baby. It was also necessary that she rest a good deal, and take extra vitamins for the developing fetus. Her grandfather, Bernard Klein, had determined these facts when Clark and Lois had first come to him to ask for help with Lois's pregnancy, and had developed the routine that was now standard for the mothers of future super-powered children.
Lori did her best to follow the guidelines but there were times, like today, when the demands of her job were intense. She had attended a political fundraiser for Metropolis's local congressman who was now making a run for the Senate, and had scheduled an appointment for a personal interview on the following day. Then she had reported on an emergency at one of the local power plants, which had shut down, leaving over a million people without power. Then she had raced to a location in a section of Metropolis not far from the apartment that she had rented for the first few months that she had been employed at the Daily Planet. A resident had discovered the body of a woman barely half a block from the Hobs Health and Fitness Center where Lori and Clark had just enrolled in the Expectant Parents Fitness Class. Following that, she had hardly had time to send her report in to the rewrite desk when there had been a police chase involving the occupants of a stolen aircar who had refused to surrender. When the car had been brought down in the bay by a nullifier in the hands of the police, it turned out that the fugitives were a child abductor and his girlfriend, whose latest victim was locked in the trunk of the car. The two-year-old had nearly drowned before the SWAT team managed to take the felons into custody and search the car for the missing child.
Superman had been involved in a massive search and rescue operation in the Sierra Nevada and had been unable to help her, so Lori had done the job for both of them, but now the stress of the day descended on her full force. The terror of the little boy tore at her, and although he had been unharmed in the end, her own incipient motherhood gave her a more personal view of the incident than she had ever had before. By the time she had returned to the Daily Planet she had developed a throbbing headache. She had had plenty of those recently. Rhonda had told her they were due to stress and fatigue, and to give herself more rest and recuperation time, but that was going to have to come later.
A hand set a cup of coffee -- light on the caffeine, heavy on the chocolate -- down on her desk. She glanced up to see her editor gazing at her with concern. "Are you all right, Lori?"
She nodded and then regretted it as the throbbing in her temples increased. John Olsen eyed her closely. "No, you're not. You're off for the day. Now."
She pinched the bridge of her nose again and squinted up at him through the sparks that seemed to be shooting through her range of vision. "Did anyone ever tell you how much like Clark you are?" she mumbled.
"Well, that's not surprising, considering," he said. "In my office. There's a very comfortable couch in there and you can take advantage of it for a while. March."
When her boss spoke like that, Lori knew better than to argue. She got carefully to her feet, feeling as if her head was going to explode, and made her way toward the Editor's Office, aware of the fact that several persons were giving her odd looks. Andrea Waltham took a couple of steps toward her.
"Are you all right, Lori?" The society columnist sounded uncharacteristically concerned. It wasn't surprising. Up until the last couple of months, Lori had never complained about anything, including a roughing up by a pair of muggers on the slidewalk.
"Migraine," John Olsen said, briefly, answering for her.
Andrea made a face. "Ooh."
John was right. The couch looked incredibly inviting. Lori settled carefully down on it and gave a faint sigh of relief. She was barely aware of John leaving his office and closing the door behind him.
Her husband's voice woke her some time later. She blinked up into his concerned face, thankfully aware of the fact that the blinding headache was gone.
"Hi," she murmured. "Did you find him?"
"Oh, yeah. He'd holed up in a cave and was fine. Are you?"
"Yeah." She sat up, rubbing her eyes. "I guess I was tired."
"John said you had a bad headache."
She shrugged. "Yeah. I'm okay, Clark. I probably need to get more rest, like Rhonda said."
"Hmm." He didn't look convinced, but he didn't press the subject. "I think the time has come."
"Time for what?"
"For the announcement." He gave her a hand up from the couch. "Do you want to make it public, or just start mentioning it?"
"I'd rather not make a big fuss."
He nodded. "Why am I not surprised? Low key seems to be your watchword. Okay, but from now on it's official. Ready to go home?"
"I guess so," she said, "since I'm not going to be allowed to do anything else, anyway."
"You finished your articles, didn't you?"
"Then there isn't anything else to do. Let's go."
"Did you finish your piece on the rescue operation?"
"All done." He smiled at her. "Taking care of yourself now doesn't mean you're not as good a reporter as you always were, honey. It just means you have to be a little easier on yourself in the immediate future. You have a healthy baby to grow. That's at least as important as getting a story."
"I guess you're right. I'm sorry, Clark."
He put an arm around her. "You really don't need to prove anything, you know. Everybody knows the kind of investigative journalist you are."
"My mother doesn't," Lori muttered.
Clark frowned. "When did you talk to her last?"
"Yesterday." Lori ducked her head. "She thinks I'm going to let my professional credentials slide because of the baby. There was some friend of hers who had to take extended medical leave until her baby was born because of a threatened miscarriage. I guess I wanted to show I could still do the job as well as ever."
"Hmm." Clark didn't answer but there was a slight frown on his face. "Look, honey, your job is in no danger, but if you aren't careful you could hurt yourself. You're pregnant with a half-Kryptonian baby, and you need to cut yourself some slack. Your mom doesn't understand the unusual circumstances here. I'm sure she wouldn't want you to have complications because you were trying to prove a point. Even Rhonda took things a little easier while Oliver was on the way."
"I know. I'm sorry, Clark."
He hugged her. "No, I am. I should have been here to help."
She shook her head. "You were where you needed to be. I'll try not to let Mom's hangups affect me after this. I know better; I just wasn't thinking."
They were in the elevator when Lori's wrist talker beeped. She lifted it to her lips. "Lori Lyons."
"Lori?" her mother's voice said.
"Your father and I wanted to let you know that we're going to be in Metropolis for four days, starting tomorrow. Your father has a conference to attend, and we're celebrating our anniversary during Metropolis's Valentine Festival."
She cast a despairing look at her husband. "Will you be staying with us?"
Rob Lyons's voice chimed in, "No, we're staying at the Lexor, but we'd like to see you while we're in town."
"I'm sure we can arrange that," Clark said. "Lori and I will be working all the rest of the week, but we can meet for lunch or dinner. Would you like us to pick you up at the shuttleport?"
"No, there's a car reserved for us," Rob said. "We'll be in tonight at around twelve, so it would be a little late for you to meet us."
"Give us a call when you get here," Lori said.
"We will," Mariann said. "I'd like to see your place of work while we're there, Lori. I've never seen the headquarters of the Daily Planet before."
"No problem," Clark said. "I'll tell John we'll be bringing you by."
When her parents had signed off, Lori leaned back against the elevator wall. "Oh, this is just great."
Lori awoke at the insistent chiming of the vidphone. Clark's side of the bed was empty, although the imprint of his head was on the pillow. It looked like his Superman duties had called him away. She sat up.
"Answer," she told the vidphone.
The screen lit up with the faces of her mother and father. "Hi, Mom; hi, Dad. I guess you're here."
"We're at the Lexor," Rob said. "Room 2768." He appeared to be looking past her. "Where's Clark?"
"He's meeting a source," Lori said, automatically.
Her mother's eyebrows went up. "At this hour?"
Lori told herself not to bristle at the implied criticism. That was just her mother's way with anything that didn't meet her own set of expectations. "Some of our sources don't work nine to five jobs, Mom. Some of them won't show their faces by daylight. I'll give you a call in the morning and we can arrange to meet for lunch, all right?"
"That will be fine," her father said. "Good night, honey."
Five minutes later she heard a whoosh and an instant later Clark walked into the bedroom and made a beeline for the shower, leaving the scent of chemicals and combustion behind him. Lori lay down and waited. She heard the shower come on, then go off, and a moment later, he stepped out of the bathroom, a short towel around his hips. Lori wolf-whistled.
"Thank you, madam," he said, reaching for his sleeping shorts. "Your appreciation is appreciated."
His skin was cool and slightly damp when he slipped into the bed beside her and his hair smelled of shampoo.
"Messy job?" she inquired.
"Chemical spill in the harbor," he told her. "Fortunately Henry and I were able to get it all mopped up before it could go very far."
"A freighter collided with a barge. The freighter was carrying volatile chemicals and started leaking."
Lori grabbed her recorder from its spot on her nightstand. "Let's have the details, Superman."
He gave her a succinct description of the event and the names of the ships involved. Lori asked several pertinent questions, tapped into her database to fill in the background, and a moment later transmitted the story to the night editor at the Planet under the Kent-Lyons byline. Finished with her task, she snuggled down in her husband's arms. "Mom and Dad called while you were out. You were meeting a source," she said. "Better make sure you know who you were meeting when Mom quizzes you about it."
"Count on it."
He chuckled. "It's a good thing I went through this with Lois's mom," he said. "I got pretty fast on my feet."
"That would have been Ellen Lane, right?" she asked.
"That's right. Ellen was definitely an education for a naïve kid from Kansas." He settled his pillow at a more comfortable angle and re-adjusted his arms around her. "She and my mom were like night and day. My mom figured I knew my own business best and only gave advice if I asked for it. Ellen loved Lois but didn't know how to show it, and it always came out as criticism. It drove Lois crazy."
"Sort of like Mother," Lori said. "At least she didn't scare you off."
"Not a chance," Clark said. "The only person who could have gotten rid of me was you."
"I wish I'd known your parents," Lori said, wistfully. "I think I'd have liked them."
"They'd have loved you," Clark said. "Just as they loved Lois. I still miss them sometimes."
Lori put an arm across his middle, resting her head on his muscular chest. "Well, maybe their souls came back the way Lois's did," she said. "If it could happen to me, maybe it happens to other people too."
"I'll have to tell you about that sometime," he said softly. "But that's a subject for another time. Good night now, honey."
"Good night," she said. "But don't think you're going to get away without explaining after a remark like that."
"I wouldn't dream of it. Go to sleep."
Lori and Clark had barely stepped out of the elevator on the newsroom floor when John Olsen opened the door to his office. "Staff meeting in Conference Room One in ten minutes!"
"Sounds like the day is off and running," Lori said.
Clark helped her remove her coat and hung it with his on the coat rack. "Did I tell you today that you look beautiful, honey?"
Lori glanced down at the trim, fashionable maternity business ensemble that she had put on this morning. It did look smart, she had to agree, but it also left no doubt about her condition. Of course that was one of the reasons that Clark was more appreciative than usual of her appearance. "I think you said so six or seven times, but you can say it again if you like," she said.
Andrea, crossing the pit, nearly fell over her feet with a double take as Clark and Lori passed her on the way to their desks. "Lori?"
"Good morning, Andrea," Clark said, and Lori could swear that his chest stuck out just a little bit farther than usual as the society columnist took in Lori's outfit.
Andrea's lips split in a wide smile. "Congratulations!"
"Thanks," Lori said. "We decided after yesterday that there was no point in trying to hide it anymore."
"I guess not. I was kind of wondering, what with all those loose outfits you've been wearing recently. This is wonderful. When is the baby due?"
"The first week of July." Clark put an arm around Lori's waist.
Andrea laughed. "I guess this should cool Brendon's jets. He was figuring your contract would be up soon. I told him he was nuts, but he didn't believe me."
Lori glanced at Clark in surprise. "Brendon?"
"Oh sure. He's been talking about wanting to try his luck with you," Andrea said with a wider grin. "He's had his eye on you since the Mayflower investigation. He figures you're his shortcut to a Kerth."
"Just to end the speculation," Clark said, "Lori and I have a lifetime contract. She won't be available in the foreseeable future."
"I thought as much," Andrea said. She nudged Lori. "Nice work, honey. If I'd caught one like him, I'd have tied him up for life, too."
Lori could feel her face burning, but Andrea winked at her and crossed to her desk to retrieve a sheaf of hardcopy before she headed for the conference room.
Lori and Clark stopped at their desks to deposit their briefcases and for Lori to pick up her palm computer. As the conference room door slid open in front of them, Greg, the new hire on the city beat, glanced at Lori. "Been eating watermelons, Lyons?"
Lori didn't answer. Greg was unofficially the "office wit" and everyone came in for his share of ribbing. Unfortunately, her ravenous appetite had provoked more than the usual amount of jabs aimed at her seeming inability to pass the doughnut box or the candy machine without stopping to get something to eat and the joke was beginning to wear thin. Clark pulled out a chair for her without comment and departed to get them both coffee.
Barry Marston glanced at Lori and grinned. "I'm a lot richer today thanks to Lori," he remarked. "Too bad, Greg. Better luck next time."
John Olsen had seated himself at the head of the conference table in anticipation of the meeting, and was watching his staff filter in.
Clark Kent and Lori Lyons entered the room, and John raised his eyebrows a fraction of an inch in reaction to the fact that today she hadn't dressed in the loose clothing that she had taken to wearing lately to disguise her thickening waistline. Instead, the trim, professional suit that she was wearing was unmistakably designed for an expectant mother. It looked as if it was finally official, and about time too. Clark somehow looked taller today as he escorted Lori past several of the other occupants of the newsroom and John had to work not to chuckle. His great-grandfather might be the one and only Superman, but in most ways he was like every other man John knew. He had a beautiful wife, who made him the envy of most other men, and a baby on the way, and was understandably proud of it.
Clark pulled out a chair for Lori and made sure she was seated comfortably before he headed for the snack table in search of coffee and doughnuts for both of them. John looked down at his palm notebook to keep from grinning as Clark selected his usual plain cake doughnut along with a thick chocolate one with chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles for Lori. He returned with the items and two cups of coffee a moment later and set his offerings in front of her. She accepted them with a smile, and John saw her bat her eyelashes playfully at her husband. John had to work harder to keep his face solemn. Little did Lori know the difference that she had made in Clark Kent's life.
Clark had always been an outstanding reporter, but since Lois's death Clark seemed to have lost the joy of living that had always characterized him during John's younger years -- until Lori Lyons had burst onto the scene. John had seen Clark come suddenly and magically to life in a way that he hadn't known for a very long time, and it had given the Daily Planet a crack team of investigative reporters the like of which the news service hadn't seen since the days of Lane and Kent. There had been good ones, to be sure, but none of their caliber. Even more remarkable, it had taken his somewhat grim and obsessive ancestor and made him young again. John liked the transformation.
Slowly, the remaining people filtered in and finally John rapped on the table for attention.
"Okay, people, let's get this show on the road," he announced, parking his elbows on the table. He glanced at Barney Farrel. "What's the word at City Hall?"
Barney rubbed his nose. "The City Council is still wrangling over the allocation of money," he reported. "Measure A provided funds for the city's repair of the sewer system, but there's a move to postpone that in order to transfer funding to construction of a new stadium for the Tigers, and they're already talking about another initiative for this year's ballot to make up the funding -- "
"Make sure you bring that out in your article. The next time there's a sewer blowup in downtown Metropolis, they're going to want more money to fix it. We're supposed to be the watchdogs for these people," John said. "They've been playing fast and loose with the taxpayers' money for long enough."
"Wasn't there supposed to be some kind of accounting measure that would prevent the City Council from diverting the funds again?" Clark asked. "I could have sworn that was on the ballot when they were pushing the initiative two years ago."
"Tell that to them," Barney said. "This has happened six years in a row. They always promise to use the money to fix the system, and it always goes somewhere else -- and they've always got a good excuse. Once the money is in the General Fund, there's nothing to prevent them from using it any way they want."
John figuratively shook his head. Fixing the sewer system, of course, wasn't nearly as glamorous as building a new stadium, but if it didn't work correctly the city would have big problems. "I think it's time we called them to account," he said. "I imagine those aren't the only funds they've diverted for other projects. I want you to dig a little deeper. That's your main assignment while you're covering the rest of the happenings at City Hall. It's high time the City Council tended to the city's business. It's an election year; maybe we can use that to get some concessions out of them."
Barney nodded, his expression brightening slightly. He had wanted award-winning assignments and ended up with the sewer system story. Not exactly something that a reporter thought of as Kerth material, John knew. Now, however, if he could prove fiscal irresponsibility and/or mismanagement and maybe even corruption at City Hall it could lead to better things for his career. John turned to Kent and Lyons. Lori was munching on her doughnut, making notes on her palm computer with her free hand. "Lori, I want a follow-up on that child abduction, yesterday," he told her. "Wasn't the guy a repeat offender?"
She nodded. "Three time offender, on parole, subject to good behavior. I already called Lieutenant Chow this morning. I have an interview with Timmy's parents right after lunch, and one with Moore's lawyer this afternoon."
"Good. Now, the story on the Jane Doe over on Unger Street -- "
"They've identified her. My source is supposed to call me back with more details later."
"All right. Don't let him forget. Now, about the story you were on, Clark: the missing hiker -- "
"I'll have the follow-up for you by this afternoon," Clark said.
"Now, politics. Congressman Bradford -- "
"His secretary called me this morning," Lori said. "They're postponing the interview because of an 'unforeseen commitment'." She grinned slightly. "I know when a politician's avoiding me. Don't worry, I'm not going to let him wiggle out of it. I'll keep after him, and if he keeps dodging me, I'll let him know that I intend to write an article about how he's afraid of an interview -- more delicately phrased, of course. He'll talk to me."
John hid a grin. Lori had grown a good deal more self-confident in the time she had been at the Planet. Congressman Bradford didn't stand a chance of avoiding her. "Andrea, the allegations about Councilman Waters' relationship with the call girl?"
"He's denying them," Andrea said. "I have a meeting with my source in an hour. She claims he hired the girls from her -- association -- to entertain at private political events, and that she has the proof. We'll see what she has."
"Just make sure that we're not open to a lawsuit over it."
Andrea tossed her platinum head. "Leave it to me."
John nodded briefly, beginning to grill the Events editor on his feature in the evening edition.
John's wrist talker vibrated slightly and he paused for a moment to tap the "accept" button. "Olsen."
"Mr. Olsen," a male voice said, "this is Bill Verney, in the lobby -- Security, sir. There are a Robert and Mariann Lyons here to see the newsroom. They claim to be relatives of Ms. Lyons."
"Yes, thank you," John said. "Send them up." He glanced at Lori. "Your parents are on their way up. We'll be done in a few minutes." He tapped his wrist talker. "Ned! Lori's mother and father are on their way up. Show them her desk and get them some coffee and doughnuts until we're through."
Lori nodded. "Thanks," she said. "They wanted to see where I worked while they were in Metropolis."
"No problem." John returned to his cross-examination of the Events editor. Finally, he closed his palm computer. "Okay, that about covers it. Conyors, make sure your sources about the former Prime Minister's sex change are absolutely reliable. We don't want to be open to a lawsuit. And get the details on the wedding next month."
"Will do, Chief."
John stood up. "Let's get a move on, people. We have some space to fill up."
Mariann and Robert Lyons stepped out of the elevator and looked around the newsroom. It seemed oddly quiet, Mariann thought, compared to the representations of news offices that she had seen on the vidscreen.
A slender young man approached them with a tentative smile. "Are you Ms. Lyons' parents?"
Robert nodded. "Yes."
"I'm Ned. Mr. Olsen told me to show you where she works. They're in the morning meeting right now. It should be over in a few minutes."
"I see. Well, lead on." Robert glanced around the huge space. "So this is the Daily Planet."
Mariann followed their guide down a short ramp and across the big office. Ned escorted them to a pair of desks sitting at right angles to one another, separated by some space from the others, and Mariann saw Lori's name on one of the desks. The other belonged to Clark Kent, she noted.
Mariann sighed. It was too bad that her daughter had seen fit to marry, but Lori had always been headstrong. She sincerely hoped that her unfortunate marriage to Clark wouldn't adversely impact her career. Still, Robert was right. Mariann hadn't appreciated her father's attempt to force her into the life that he had wanted for her, and although she would never mistreat Lori as her father had mistreated her, Robert had pointed out that Lori's idea of what was best for her might not coincide with Mariann's. If she really loved Lori, she would let her live her own life the way she wanted, rather than try to force their daughter into her own mold. Such a course, her husband had said mildly, would be bound to push Lori into a full-scale revolt and might end up with her excluding them from her life. She loved her daughter and wouldn't wish that, but she couldn't help wanting the best for her. It was unfortunate that what Lori considered the best for her included Clark Kent. Clark was a charming man and Mariann couldn't help liking him, but his presence in Lori's life was bound to hold her back.
A door at the rear of the room opened and a crowd of people spilled out. Mariann recognized John Olsen, the editor. Clark Kent let Lori exit ahead of him, and Mariann blinked at her daughter's crisply professional image. She looked a good five years older than she had appeared the last time they had spoken on the vidphone. Even the business suit designed for an expectant mother failed to subtract from her air of competence. She waved to them, spoke to her husband, and crossed the floor to her desk.
"Hi, Mom and Dad," she greeted them. "You're here early."
"We wanted to have a chance to see you before you went off to do whatever you do during the day," Mariann said. She glanced around as Ned reappeared with the doughnut plate. "Why, thank you."
Lori helped herself to a chocolate doughnut. "Have one. Who's got the doughnut run this morning, Ned?"
"I do, Ms. Lyons. Is there anything in particular that you'd like?"
She nodded, picking up her shoulder bag. "If you could get me a box of assorted doughnuts and pastries, I'd appreciate it. Half chocolate," she added. "Just leave it on my desk if I'm not here."
"Of course." Ned smiled, accepting the bills she held out to him. "Oh, by the way, congratulations."
"Thank you," she said.
Ned departed in the direction of the editor's office. Mariann glanced after him. "Are you sure you should be eating all that sweet stuff, Lori? As I recall when I was expecting, the doctor made me watch my calorie intake very strictly. It won't do you any good to have a hundred pounds of weight to lose after the baby's born, you know."
Lori didn't answer. She bit into the doughnut. "Come on," she said, "let me give you the grand tour. I'm expecting a call from a source in a few minutes, and I have to get hold of Congressman Bradford's secretary to reschedule an interview. He ducked out on me, earlier. I have a few questions to ask him about some of the local issues that he's been dodging questions on for weeks. If he's going to run for Senator of New Troy, he's going to have to give the people of the state a few answers."
She led the way across the room. "This is Mr. Olsen's office. You know he's our Editor-in-Chief, of course. And over here we have the Business desk. This is Barry Marston, our business editor -- "
Mariann followed her daughter around the room, a little stunned at her brisk confidence, and at the obvious liking and respect accorded her by her colleagues. Her daughter seemed almost like a different person here in her own environment. Was this the Lori Lyons that her peers saw every day? Unexpectedly she felt the urge to sigh in regret. Her baby wasn't a little girl anymore. She had grown up and, married or not, was obviously the success that Mariann had wanted her to be.
"These are pictures of some of the Daily Planet's most famous reporting teams over the last century and a half," Lori was saying. "This is Norcross and Judd, receiving an award, and across from them is the team of Lane and Kent -- "
Mariann raised her eyebrows at the name and looked more closely at the picture. "He'd look a lot like your husband, if not for the glasses," she observed, indicating the man in the picture.
"That's the first Clark Kent and his wife, Lois Lane," Lori said. "They're receiving a Kerth in that picture. It was taken in 1998. Clark's family has a lot of ties to the Daily Planet." She added, "A Kerth is an award for outstanding investigative journalism, like the one they gave Clark and me last year. Ours was for our investigation of the theft of the Westhaven diamonds a few months after I came to work at the Planet. We've been nominated for one this year, too, but the results won't be announced for another month."
"I thought that was a Meriwether Award," Mariann said.
Lori shook her head. "No, we were nominated for one of those, too, but the Herald beat us out."
Robert had leaned forward to look at the picture more closely. "She looks a little like you," he observed, "only a few years older. Did you say Lois Lane?"
Lori nodded. "They were one of the Planet's top reporting teams."
"That's interesting," Robert said. "My Great-grandmother Lucy's maiden name was Lane. I wonder if there's any relation."
"It's possible," Mariann said. "It would probably account for the resemblance. So, Lori, have you given in and asked about the baby's sex yet?"
Lori shook her head. "No. Clark and I want it to be a surprise." She finished the last of the doughnut and glanced around as her husband approached.
Clark nodded cheerfully at Mariann and Robert. "How are you this morning?"
"Fine," Robert said. "We're going to be touring Metropolis's Old Town. I have a business meeting this afternoon at the Lexor, and then I'm free until tomorrow. How are you, Clark?"
"Fine," Clark said. "If you go to Old Town, be sure you check out the Bazaar. They have some terrific shops there that sell custom jewelry, pottery, exotic candles and incense -- and, of course, souvenirs. Just watch out for some of the merchants. They're sharks."
"We plan to," Robert said. "We wanted to see where the two of you work, though, early enough so as not to interfere with your jobs."
"Lori and I are an investigative team, so we don't have to worry particularly about set hours," Clark said. "Has Lori shown you everything?"
"Well, not everything," Lori said, "but most of it." Her wrist talker beeped at that moment, and she stepped away from the three of them. "Excuse me. Lori Lyons," she said to whoever was calling.
Mariann fell silent as Robert and Clark exchanged small talk, and strained her ears to hear her daughter's conversation.
"-- Victim was an instructor at the Hobs Fitness Center," the voice from the wrist talker said. "I'll email you the information."
"I'd appreciate that," Lori said. "Thanks."
"No problem." The caller signed off and Lori returned to Mariann and the two men.
"That was my contact at police headquarters," Lori said to her husband. "She's sending me the information about yesterday's stabbing victim."
Clark glanced at his chronometer. "I have a call to make, too." He turned back to Robert. "Should we make a date to see you at lunch or dinner?"
"Lunch would be nice," Mariann said. "Do you have a recommendation?"
"Mamacita's is excellent if you like Mexican food," Clark said. "Or, if you'd like a nice family restaurant, Kerry's is a good one."
"That sounds like it would be best," Mariann said. "What time should we meet?"
"How about eleven?" Lori said. "Clark can give you the address. We'll phone in, and be sure they have a table for all of us." She glanced at her wrist talker. "I need to pick up that email from my contact at Metro PD."
"You're not getting into anything dangerous, are you?" Mariann asked, while her husband was writing down the address of the restaurant. As much as she wanted her daughter to make a success of herself, the thought of her dealing with anything violent was frightening. The memory of the Christmas Killer still made her blood run cold. Somehow, when she'd dreamed about her youngest daughter's brilliant future career, she hadn't envisioned Lori being involved with anything risky, but then, she had wanted Lori to be an attorney. Lori had unequivocally turned the idea down and all Mariann's further arguments had had no effect.
Lori shrugged at the question. "I doubt it," she said. "There was a knifing last night over in the area of my old apartment. It's a seedy part of town. Anyhow, I'm just doing the follow-up on it today. I don't really expect to be chasing down any muggers or anything."
"Don't worry," Clark said. "Most of this stuff is just dull research."
Robert took her arm. "Come on, dear," he said calmly, "let's leave Lori and Clark to do their job."
Mariann turned reluctantly toward the elevator. The urge to warn her daughter to be careful was strong, but then the greatest risk that Mariann had ever taken on her own behalf was to run away from home at the age of sixteen. Lori, on the other hand, and, of course, Clark Kent, had helped foil the sabotage of the first star ship, assisted in the recovery of an internationally famous jewelry collection and Lori had actually caught a dangerous pair of drug dealers single-handedly, and saved the life of John Olsen's daughter. She and her husband regularly made headline news that was picked up by the other news services. Somehow, cautioning her to be careful seemed inadequate. Much as she hated to admit it, Lori Lyons of the Daily Planet was already the success that Mariann had wanted her to be. Happily married and with a baby on the way, she seemed to have it all. Her only real problem seemed to be the fact that she ate enough for three women. She had never appeared to worry about her weight, but Mariann had noticed at the Christmas party that Lori's appetite seemed to be completely out of control. She really needed to speak to her about it. If nothing else, her husband wouldn't appreciate it if she gained so much weight that she lost her svelte figure. Men tended to regard a woman's physical appearance as important, Mariann knew. Much as she disapproved of her daughter's marriage, Lori would be heartbroken to lose him. She had to do something before that happened.
"That went well," Clark said hopefully a short time later, as the elevator doors closed behind Lori's parents.
"So far," Lori said, with a certain cynicism. "Let me check my email, then we can head over to that first interview. Moira said she'd send me the details on the stabbing over by my old apartment." She took her seat in front of the computer and called up the email. "Let's see what we have -- " She leaned forward, reading the information on her screen. "Not much here. Name, age, occupation. No suspects, at least so far."
Clark read over her shoulder. "A woman was killed over by your old apartment? Have I mentioned that I'm glad you moved out of there when you did?"
"A few times," Lori said. "Anyhow, since I was there when the call came in, I covered it. It happened about half a block from the Hobs Fitness Center, where she worked. Remind me not to go walking around there after dark."
"Maybe we should have signed up at a different fitness club," Clark said.
"Maybe, but you know why I wanted this one," Lori said. "Connor's an old friend of mine. He graduated a year before I did, but he worked for the NTSU Clarion while I was the editor." She grinned. "He wrote the exercise advice column. 'Fitness and You' by Connor Cooper."
"What kind of parents would give their child a name like that?" Clark said.
"I always wondered about that, myself," Lori said. "Name or not, though, he's a very good instructor, and he's really working to get his health club off the ground -- in a business sense of course." She picked up her shoulder bag and stood up. "Let's go."
"Lead the way." Clark retrieved her coat from the rack as they passed it on the way to the stairs.
He held the coat for her while they waited for the elevator. "So I guess you want to help him?" he remarked.
"Well, since I know him, and I'm a 'famous journalist' --" She rolled her eyes. "-- At least according to him, I thought a little publicity for his business venture couldn't hurt. You know, take the maternal fitness course and write up my experiences in the class."
There was a soft chime and a door in the bank of elevators opened invitingly for them. Clark let Lori enter first and followed her. It was empty, and Clark took the opportunity to slide an arm around Lori's shoulders as it slid smoothly into motion once more.
"Actually, it's a good idea," he said, continuing the conversation of a moment before. "Did your friend explain why I'm supposed to be doing maternity fitness, too? I understand the part about childbirth classes, but maternity fitness? Not that I mind; I'm just a bit curious."
"Couples are supposed to go through it together," Lori said. "You're supposed to learn how to help me with some of the exercises, including the stretching. It's designed to help me stay fit for the delivery." She made a face. "I've heard all kinds of horror stories about that. I hope they're not true."
"All the old hands like to tell stories about labor and delivery to the newbies," Clark said. "I was with Lois all four times, and I've delivered a few babies myself in emergencies, you know. We found out that when I was there, holding her hand, she got through it a lot easier than when I wasn't. Bernie Klein always thought it had something to do with the aura, and the bond. Ronnie subscribes to the theory, herself."
"Well, you're going to be there with me," Lori said, in her no-argument tone. "The others can cover for you, because I want you with me every second. I don't believe in this new trend to 'preserve the mother's dignity' by keeping her husband out. What idiot thought that up, anyhow?"
"Some guy whose wife never had a baby, I suspect," Clark said. "Just like the child experts who don't have any children of their own. I guess that makes it easy to be an expert. Anyway, that was the accepted practice in the early Twentieth Century. You'd be surprised what couples had to go through to finally get hospitals to 'allow' husbands to be with their wives during childbirth." He added, "Fortunately, by the time CJ was born the battle was already won, but a friend of my Dad's got arrested because he wanted to be with his wife while she was having their baby. He had to handcuff himself to her to get in the delivery room, and the hospital had him arrested for trespassing after it was over."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. Fortunately, Dad said they dropped the charges when a reporter got hold of the story and decided to give it some publicity. Prosecuting a man because he wanted to be with his wife while their baby was being born didn't make the hospital look very good."
"I'll say," Lori agreed. She hesitated. "You and Ronnie have mentioned Bernie Klein before. He was Ronnie's grandfather, right? I feel silly asking this, but he wasn't the Bernard Klein, was he? The scientist that everyone reads about in the history books in sixth grade -- the one who developed the anti-gravity field and all that other stuff? The names are just a coincidence, aren't they?"
"I'm afraid not," Clark said with a faint smile. "Bernie was unique; the kind of person you meet once in a lifetime. I knew him better than almost anyone, and I've never known anyone else quite like him. I wasn't a bit surprised when he made it into the history books. He deserved it." He grinned. "Bill Klein reminds me of him sometimes, but he resembles his mom more than his dad."
"Wow," Lori said, after a startled instant. "No wonder Ronnie's so smart."
"You mean I'm not?" Clark asked, striving to sound hurt. He must have succeeded because Lori gave him a sharp look.
"Clark, you're the smartest man I ever knew," she said. "You don't think I -- "
He hugged her. "I was just teasing," he assured her.
"Don't kid about things like that," she said, and he was horrified to see tears in her eyes.
"Honey, it was just a joke," he told her. "Don't cry."
"Sorry." Lori sniffled and wiped her eyes determinedly. "It's these darned hormones, I think. I start crying over really dumb things."
"I should have known better," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Why should you have?" she asked. "Even I don't know what's going to make me cry. I feel so silly." The elevator doors slid open at that point and they exited into the tall parking structure where Lori had parked the Jeep.
"Well, I should know better," Clark said. "Lois used to call it the 'nine-month nutsies'. It was her way of poking fun at her hormones."
Lori gave a slightly watery giggle. "'Nine-month nutsies.' I like that. And I'll only have them for about four or five more months. Do you think you can stand me that long?"
He hugged her again. "A lot longer than that," he said. "I'd tell you to kick me the next time, but you'd hurt your foot."
Lori giggled. "I'd never kick you, even if you weren't invulnerable," she said. "I only kick bad guys."
"No, you hit them with golf clubs," Clark contradicted. "And very effectively, too."
"Hopefully I'll never have to do that again, either," she said. She triggered the lock to the Jeep's doors. "You can drive if you like. I think I'm almost past the nausea thing."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded. "It's about time you got used to driving again."
Clark shrugged. "Okay. Your wish is my command, my dear."
"Don't be an idiot."
Velma Chow looked around at the sound of someone calling her name as she left the 12th Precinct. Metropolis's crack reporting team of Kent and Lyons was hurrying toward her and she stopped, waiting for them to catch up.
Velma would never admit it, but she envied Lori Lyons somewhat. If she had been younger, and the marrying kind, Kent would have been the ideal partner. He was intelligent, well-educated, charming, and his looks were enough to catch even her cynical attention. Lyons, of course, was nearly young enough to be her daughter, but she had won the reluctant -- and sometimes exasperated -- respect of Velma and her superiors with her almost intuitive deductive skill. Despite the traditional antagonism between the police and the Press, Velma liked both Lori and Clark, among other things because they always gave her men a fair shake and never twisted a quote to make it mean something other than had been intended. Other journalists often did that just to stir controversy but these two seemed to value truth even over selling their news service's subscriptions and making themselves famous, which they seemed to do without any difficulty at all. If other reporters would adopt those standards, she thought, they would have less difficulty getting the police to talk to them.
The two journalists arrived and Chow raised her eyebrows at Lori Lyons' ensemble. "Congratulations," she remarked, dryly.
To her amusement the younger woman's cheeks flamed red. "Thanks," she said. "Do you have time to talk for a minute?"
"I'm on my way over to the courthouse to give a deposition," she said, "so if you don't mind going along with me -- "
"No, that's fine," Kent said. They joined her on the slidewalk a moment later. The traffic wasn't heavy at this hour in the morning, and only a few scattered individuals could be seen. Kent, she noted, kept a hand lightly on his wife's arm as the moving walk bore them along at a steady four miles an hour.
"What can I help the Press with today?" she inquired.
"You were investigating that stabbing over on Unger Street, yesterday," Kent said. "We were hoping you might have some more information than the victim's name, age and job. Any suspects?"
That case was a special one, or might be. Velma hesitated, but from experience, she knew that these two could be trusted to keep information quiet until given permission to release it. Besides, if she didn't tell them what they wanted to know, Lyons would undoubtedly dig it up herself. It was just as well, she reflected, that the woman had chosen to become a reporter rather than a cyber-criminal. She would have been a major headache for the cyber crime task force. "This information is strictly off the record," she said finally. "At least for now. Is that clear?"
"Oh?" Kent said. "All right."
"She may be another victim in a string of killings we've been following in the last three years."
"Another serial killer?" Lori asked.
"We aren't sure. There's a tenuous link between this one and the killings of four other women, but it's not enough to label it a serial killing."
"What's the link?" Lori asked.
"Every one of them knew the same man."
"You think he's the killer?"
Chow shrugged. "If he is, we haven't been able to prove it. Two of the victims were killed when he was known to be elsewhere, with several witnesses present, and there hasn't been any physical evidence to tie him to the crimes. Alibis often don't really mean much, but this time they seem to be airtight. Naturally, however, he remains a 'person of interest'."
"I can see that," Kent said. "Can you tell us his name?"
Velma shrugged. "I don't see why not. I don't have to tell you that this is sensitive information. The guy is innocent until proven guilty, remember. His name is Connor Cooper. He owns the Hobs Fitness Center."
"I can't believe Connor had anything to do with any murders," Lori said flatly. "I know him pretty well, remember. He wouldn't hurt a fly."
Clark made a left turn onto Melon Street, two blocks from Kerry's. It was nearly the lunch hour and the traffic was noticeably heavier than it had been half an hour before. "I didn't say anything," he pointed out. "If Velma had enough evidence, your friend would be in jail. Besides, in two of the cases, the killing apparently took place while he was somewhere else -- and with a bunch of witnesses. Still, that doesn't mean there's no connection at all."
"He's not a killer," Lori said.
"Okay, I'll take your word for it," Clark said mildly. "But if he isn't the killer, then what is the connection? I take it you don't think it's coincidence, do you?"
"I don't see how it can be," Lori said reluctantly. "I suppose it's barely possible that that's all it is, but I don't believe in coincidences like that."
"Neither do I." Clark turned into the parking lot for the restaurant and took the last parking spot. "I guess I can't talk you into taking a fitness class at some other place."
Lori cast a sideways glance at him. "You guessed right. Since we were enrolled in the class before the killing, it's a perfect cover for some snooping."
He cut the engine. "That's what I thought. I gave Ned a call while you were over at the snack machine. He's going to dig up as much information on the cases as he can find."
"You agree with me, then?" Lori asked.
"Well, let's put it this way. I trust your judgement, and the law says he's innocent until proven guilty -- and if I don't help you, you'll investigate on your own, anyway, so I might as well give in gracefully."
Lori put a hand on his arm. "Thanks, Clark. I knew I could count on you."
He lifted the hand to his lips. "Always," he said.
She blinked back the infuriating tears that seemed to appear with annoying regularity these days. "I love you, Clark."
"And I love you," he said. He fished the handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the single teardrop that had leaked onto her cheek. "But if you go in there with smeared makeup, your dad's going to wonder if I'm mistreating you."
She giggled and leaned forward to check her face in the mirror. "Or Mom will hope we're getting a divorce. I think I look okay, don't you?"
He looked her over critically. "Well, I think you're beautiful with or without makeup, you know, but I guess you'll pass inspection."
"Then let's go. I'm hungry."
"Big surprise there," Clark said. He opened his door and got out. A quick glance at the restaurant told him that Lori's parents had already arrived and were waiting in the seating section. "Your mom and dad are here," he added.
Lori took a deep breath, and he could hear her heart rate speed up. She was nervous, he realized in surprise. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"What else?" she asked in a wry tone. "I think Mother's picked up on my appetite."
"Oh, you mean that doughnut comment this morning?"
"Yeah. She thinks I eat too much sweet stuff."
"Well, order something healthy while we're here," he advised. "You can pick up anything else later."
She cast him a skeptical look. "You don't know Mother, do you? She's got that 'I'm on a mission' look in her eye."
He chuckled. "Well, they'll only be here for four days. You certainly look slim enough to me."
"Clark, I'd look slim to you if I was fifty pounds overweight!"
"Well, maybe, but you aren't, and it doesn't matter how much you eat while you're pregnant. Junior there will burn it up and then some without any problem at all. Has Ronnie spoken to you about supplements yet?"
"She says she's starting them next month."
"Okay. Anyway, since your mom will be back in LA, you'll be able to eat what you want."
"All right." She took a deep breath. "Lead the way."
Clark took her arm and they proceeded around to the front door.
Robert and Mariann Lyons were seated along with several other customers along the wall, and Robert got to his feet as they entered. The lunchtime crowd was heavy, and Clark could smell the aromas of the superbly prepared food wafting around him.
"Smells good," Lori said.
"It certainly does." They crossed to her parents, and Robert gestured to his chair.
"Here, honey, sit down."
"Thanks, Dad." Lori took the chair beside her mother, and Rob turned to Clark.
"I told the hostess that we were waiting for two more people."
"Okay." Clark raised a hand as Amy, the owner's daughter, appeared.
"Hi, Mr. Kent." Amy glanced at Rob. "Is this the rest of your party?"
"Okay, right this way." Amy looked at Lori and her smile grew wider! "Oh my! Congratulations, both of you!"
Clark saw his wife's cheeks turn pink and grinned. Since the days of the enormous drop in the birthrate, the population had stabilized once more, but the legacy remained. A baby was a big event, even more than it had been when he had been a young man. "Thank you," he said. "Amy, these are Robert and Mariann Lyons, Lori's parents. Rob and Mariann, this is Amy Burns. Her parents own this restaurant."
Rob nodded to acknowledge the introduction. Amy smiled cheerfully at them, picked up four lunch menus and led the way toward the back of the little establishment.
"Is this table all right?" she asked, indicating a corner booth.
"Fine," Clark said.
"Someone will be by in a minute to take your order," she said.
Clark saw to it that Lori was seated on the outside, in case she needed to leave the table for any reason, and opened his menu. Rob glanced around the restaurant. "Nice place."
"They seem to know you here," Mariann said.
"We come here a lot, Lori said.
"I brought Lori here on our first date," Clark said.
"I didn't even know it was a date," Lori said. "Someone had broken into my apartment. Clark came over and fixed my door and then brought me here for dinner."
"Did you ever find out who did it?" Rob asked.
Clark nodded. "Gaia's Children," he said. "They were after the information that Brad gave her. They didn't find it because Lori had asked our editor to keep it for her in his office safe. That was actually the evening she and I decided we needed to investigate them more thoroughly."
"I'm surprised you asked the office intern to help you with such an important investigation," Mariann said.
Clark shook his head. "Lori was already doing some research on them for me, and I knew she was pretty smart. As it turned out, it was a winning combination." He opened his menu. "Anyway, I'm glad we decided to work together on the investigation. The last I heard from EPRAD, the ship is on course and right on schedule. They've received reports regularly that everything is going according to plan."
"That's good to hear." Rob had also opened his menu. "What do you recommend?"
"Anything you like," Clark said. "The food here is excellent."
A girl of about seventeen appeared beside them with napkins and silverware and proceeded to set the table while they studied their menus. Clark smiled at her. "Hi, Josie. How's your Math class going?"
"Pretty good," Josie said. She set water glasses in front of them. "Somebody will be here in a minute to take your order."
"Do you know all the employees here?" Mariann asked, sounding a little sharp. Clark saw Lori roll her eyes. He shook his head.
"No, but we met Josie last week. She's new."
"Clark has a good memory for names and faces," Lori said. "It's one of the things that makes him a good reporter."
"Speaking of reporting," Mariann said, "you weren't home when we called last night. Who on Earth would you be meeting at that hour?"
Clark took a sip of water. "He goes by the name of Motormouth Marvin. Marv is one of our most reliable informants, but he's been lying low recently. One of the persons we've been investigating apparently is looking for him, and he doesn't want to be found." This was quite true, only that meeting had actually taken place two nights before. Still, he hadn't exactly said that he'd met the man last night.
"Why on Earth not?" Mariann asked.
"It would be bad for his health," Clark said, mildly. "He wouldn't say any more."
Mariann glanced at her husband, but Rob merely began to scan the lunch choices available. Clark put a hand over Lori's under the edge of the table and squeezed. She squeezed his hand back and laid her menu on the table. "I think I'll have the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich," she said. "And maybe Cole slaw instead of fries."
Clark nodded, aware that she was cutting back on the size of her usual order considerably for the sake of her mother's presence. He was going to need to take her somewhere else after lunch to make up the difference. "Don't forget the milk," he said, letting his eyelid flicker in a wink that only she saw. "You know what the doctor said about getting your calcium."
She kicked him lightly under the table. "Yes, dear."
Clark saw the corners of Rob's mouth twitch. Mariann was nodding wisely. "Clark is right, Lori. You need to watch your nutrition very closely while you're expecting."
"I am, Mother," Lori said. "We're also taking a maternal fitness class starting this evening, on my doctor's recommendation."
"Oh really? That's a very good idea. Who is -- "
A young man approached the table. "Are you ready to order?"
"I'm glad he interrupted us," Lori said quietly to her husband as they walked out to the Jeep an hour later. Ahead of them, Rob and Mariann were getting into the rental car that was their transportation while in Metropolis. "The last thing I need is Mother getting nosy about which fitness center we're going to and who my doctor is. I don't want to have to explain that my doctor is in Houston and that I fly out to see her once a week."
"No kidding," Clark agreed. Metropolis was the largest city in North America, and, despite the drop in the world's population, three or four times the size it had been when he had first set foot in it a century ago, with plenty of obstetricians and specialists in the various problems that could arise during a pregnancy. Mariann would be bound to get either suspicious or worried, or both, and start asking even more awkward questions if she were to discover that her daughter was seeing a specialist in Houston when there were hundreds of perfectly competent doctors available in her home city. Of course, the only specialist in the world in her particular complication resided in Houston.
Lori waved to her parents as they pulled out of the lot and let out her breath. "So far, so good." She glanced at her wrist talker. "I have two interviews this afternoon. I'm due at the first one in forty-five minutes and I want to stop somewhere on the way for a hamburger or something."
"Thought you might," Clark said. "Why don't you go through McFeegle's drive-through? They're only a couple of blocks from here."
"I think I will," Lori said. "What's your schedule for the next couple of hours?"
"I have to interview the head of yesterday's search team, but that's all," he told her. "After that, I can call you."
"I wouldn't mind having you with me when I interview the lawyer," Lori said. "Last I heard, he was claiming police entrapment for his client."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "Right. That was why a couple of dozen cars chased him across the bay and they had to use a nullifier to bring him down. All right, I'll call as soon as I've finished." He opened the passenger door for her. "Do you mind if I drive you to the first interview? Superman can leave from there."
"Sure." Lori climbed into the passenger seat. "Any specific reason?"
He closed her door and a moment later was climbing into the driver's seat. "Nothing in particular. I just happen to enjoy your company."
Lori grinned. "I'm hardly likely to object to that."
Clark unlocked the door to the top-floor apartment that he and Lori shared. He had chosen a high security building when he had decided to return to Metropolis, as it made things that much more difficult for intruders to get into his home, which was important considering his second job. The fact that it was on the building's top floor with a convenient skylight was also a definite plus for his Superman identity.
"The class orientation starts in an hour," Lori said, glancing at her wrist-talker as Clark closed the door behind them. "Any calls for help?"
He shook his head. "I notified the others that this particular time is reserved for you and me," he explained. "They know about the fitness class."
"That's convenient," Lori said. She flopped down on the sofa and pulled off her shoes. "These things should be condemned as a hazard to navigation," she added, rubbing her toes. "I don't see men wearing instruments of torture on their feet."
"Fashion isn't fair to women," Clark agreed. "Maybe you should get a pair of that new kind we saw them advertising the other evening. You know -- the comfortable business shoe for women executives."
"I just might," she said. "I've had it with these things. They're rubbing a callus on my heel." She tossed the shoes onto the coffee table and stood up, flexing her toes on the carpet. "That feels better."
Clark glanced at the clock. "Maybe I should give you a foot rub."
She shook her head. "Last time you did that, we forgot about a dinner engagement. Your foot rubs are dangerous."
"Well, it wasn't the foot rub exactly," he pointed out.
"No, it was what it turned into," she replied, with a grin. "And that may have been where Junior here came from." She patted her stomach. "Maybe you could give me one after we get back from the class. In the meantime, I'm going to get into my gym clothes."
He laughed. "Killjoy. Okay, the class it is, but I'll keep that foot rub option in mind."
"Do that." Lori headed for the bedroom to find her gym clothes. "At least I'll be wearing gym shoes. The only problem with them is they make me look so short."
"Who cares?" Clark asked. "Nobody in their right mind would think your height made a difference."
"Oh yeah? You don't have to worry -- you're six feet tall. I'm five feet four inches in my bare feet."
"Look at it this way," he remarked. "It might make the next bad guy underestimate you. Not that I want to see you facing down any more bad guys."
"Clark, it wasn't my fault I walked in on a jewelry store robbery the day after New Year's. And I wasn't about to let him take me hostage."
He couldn't help a snort of amusement. "He found out the hard way that it wasn't a good idea. You gave me deja vu that time. I think it's part of your karma or something."
"Probably it was just as well that he was a first-timer," Lori said. She shed her blouse, wiggled out of the slacks and hung the clothing over the back of a chair. "Not to mention that Superwoman and Blue Lightning showed up five minutes later, ready to tear him apart. Poor guy nearly had a nervous breakdown on the spot. I almost felt sorry for him."
"I didn't," Clark said. "Besides, you probably dissuaded him from a life of crime."
She giggled, pulling open her bottom drawer to dig out her gym clothing, but didn't answer. Clark held the sleeve of her shirt when she groped blindly for it, the garment over her head. "I only wish trouble didn't just seem to find you so easily," he said as her head emerged from the depths of the clothing. "I know you don't go looking for it, but it happens to you all the same."
The Hobs Fitness Center was a large, nondescript building originally intended to be a warehouse, Clark saw as he touched down in the shadows of an alley across the street from the establishment. A sign had been erected over the doorway announcing the Hobs Fitness Center, and a row of cars pulled up against the side of the structure showed that it was indeed open for business. The area immediately around the building was well lighted: not a bad precaution to take, he thought, considering the seedy nature of the neighborhood. That was why he and Lori had elected to fly this evening. She had been unwilling to risk their vehicle to the uncertain conditions obtaining in this section of the city.
He set his wife on her feet and took her hand. "Shall we go, Ms. Kent?"
"Let's," she responded, looking him up and down with an appreciative lift of her brows. "You look good in sweats, Mr. Kent. I'll be the envy of every woman in the class."
He grinned, reflecting that a number of the men in the place would probably have better builds than he did, if they worked out there at all frequently. Lori could have been reading his mind.
"You're built just right," she told him. "Not underdeveloped, and not overdeveloped, either. Some of the body builders I've seen look positively grotesque. You look just the way you should."
Well, at least he wasn't grotesque, he reflected as they crossed the street. Still, it didn't matter how much or how little he worked out. His body always remained exactly the same when it came to muscular development, so it was just as well that Lori liked him as he was.
He glanced down at his petite wife and smiled. In spite of her attempt to suck in her middle, her rounded tummy gave away her condition for all to see. He knew she had trouble understanding it, but it made her all the more beautiful to him. He slipped an arm around her waist.
"Clark Kent, you are a completely hopeless romantic," she said, with disconcerting accuracy. "Do me a favor and don't change, okay?"
"Not on your life." He pushed open the unpowered door and they stepped into the Hobs Fitness Center. The young woman at the receptionist's counter looked up and her face lit up with a smile of recognition.
"Mr. Kent! Ms. Lyons! I didn't expect to see you again so soon," Deirdre Monitor said. "I take it you're here for the maternal fitness class?"
"That's right," Lori said.
"You're a little early," Deirdre said. "If you like, I can have someone show you around while you wait."
"Lori!" Clark turned his head at the yell, and saw a tall, muscular young man with a crop of shoulder-length blond hair and a handlebar mustache of truly magnificent proportions charge across the room toward them. He engulfed Lori in a hug, sweeping her off her feet. "Baby, it's great to see you!"
Connor Cooper, Clark surmised, as the young Atlas set Lori back on her feet.
"It's great to see you too, Connor," Lori replied, unruffled by the exuberant greeting.
"Let me guess," Connor said, surveying Clark critically. "This must be the lucky guy you married."
"Well, he's the guy I married, anyway. This is Clark Kent," Lori said. "Clark, I'd like you to meet Connor Cooper."
Clark extended a hand, only to find it engulfed in Cooper's, being enthusiastically shaken. Connor Cooper was at least six inches taller than he, Clark thought, and would have out-massed him by a good forty pounds if he had been human. He made Clark think of one of the traditional Viking warriors of old, who should have been swinging a battleaxe, not running a gym.
"Great to meet you," Connor was saying. "I figured you had to be some kind of super man to convince Lori to actually marry you. She always said she wasn't going to get married until she got her first Pulitzer."
Clark raised his brows and looked at his wife, who had turned red. Connor laughed. "I've been reading your stuff since the Mayflower deal. I wasn't surprised. I figured Lori'd shake up any news service that hired her."
"You were right about that," Clark said. "You worked on the college paper with her, didn't you?"
Connor nodded. "That's right. She joined the Clarion staff a year after I did, and two years later, she was the editor. Conned me into writing a health and physical fitness column for the whole last year."
"I figured you'd write best about what you really enjoyed," Lori said. "I was right, too. If you don't mind, I thought we'd take your maternal fitness class and write about our experiences here."
Connor grinned. "That'd be great," he told her. "I can use the publicity to get this place off the ground. Lots of guys have to be talked into this kind of class," he added with a glance at Clark. "Your other half looks like he knows his way around a gym, though."
Lori nodded. "Clark's pretty athletic," she said, straight-faced. "He didn't argue about the class, though."
Clark laughed. "Well, I have a part in this, too," he pointed out. "If I can learn how to help Lori get in shape for this whole thing, it's the least I can do."
"Good attitude," Connor said. "Lots of women let the physical fitness part slide during a pregnancy, but the best thing she can do to give herself an easy delivery is to stay fit. That's why we offer the class. Doesn't hurt the expectant dad to keep in good condition, either, and the two of you taking it together is good for both of you. Lori'll do a lot better with you to help than by herself." He wrapped an arm around Lori's shoulders and steered her toward the other persons who had been watching their meeting from the reception counter. "Come on. I want to introduce you to the other instructors here. Our receptionist is Deirdre Monitor --"
"We met the other night," Lori said. "I didn't know she worked here, though."
"Okay. I don't think you've met my instructors, though." Connor pulled her forward. "Guys, this is Lori Lyons and her other half, Clark Kent. She works at the Daily Planet now, but she used to be my editor at the NTSU Clarion." Connor indicated a short, muscular man with closely cropped dark hair and a set of shoulders as wide as his own. "Lori, this is Paul Brown, who's in charge of the weight room. This," he continued, indicating the remaining woman, dark-haired and tanned, "is Marcella Evans. She's going to teach your class." Marcella, Clark thought, looked fit and trim, and if she carried any extra fat, he couldn't tell. "Marce was a phys ed major at NTSU like me," Connor continued. "We were in the same class. And this is Jacob Prince." He indicated the second man, a taller, leaner version of Brown. "Jake instructs Aerobics, and is assisting Marce with the maternal fitness class. Clark and Lori are going to take the class and do a piece on it for their news service," he added to his employees.
"Pleased to meet you," Paul Brown said, sticking out a hand. "I guess you must know any new business always has a problem getting started. We can sure use the free publicity."
Lori took his hand. "I know. Connor got hold of me a couple of weeks ago and told me about his gym. I figured that, since my doctor had recommended a class, this was the perfect opportunity to help him and myself at the same time. Besides, this is something a lot of women don't seem to know much about."
"I guess you two were pretty good friends at school?" Marcella said.
Connor grinned. "She was more a drill sergeant than an editor," he said. "I ended up writing that fitness column because of her." He dropped an arm over her shoulders. "Me, writing, of all things!"
"It got you through your English requirement, didn't it?" Lori said, giving him a jab in the ribs with one elbow. "Do you have any idea how hard I had to work to convince your English professor to give you credit for that?"
Connor nodded. "Seriously, I owe her a lot," he said. "Anyway, I wanted you all to meet the lady who helped me get where I am. Come on, Lori, let me show you and Clark around before the class starts."
The class was slowly breaking up, and Lori experimentally flexed an arm. The exercises hadn't been particularly strenuous, but her muscles knew they'd been working. Clark got smoothly to his feet and gave her a hand up.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"Of the class? I think it's going to put me in good shape. Do you remember all those stretches I have to do every evening?"
He tapped his forehead. "All memorized."
"Naturally," Lori said. "What was I thinking?" She glanced over her shoulder at the two instructors, who were answering questions from several of the students. "I guess I'll get interviews with them next time. Or maybe I can come by here tomorrow when they're not so busy."
"Give them a call in the morning," Clark advised. "Right now you'd have to fight for time with them."
"Yeah." Lori picked up her towel. "Are you ready to head for home? I want to write up my impressions while they're still fresh in my mind."
Clark nodded. "All set. You can write and I'll fix us something to eat."
"Something healthy, I hope," Connor's voice said from behind them.
Lori turned around. "You still haven't broken that habit, I see," she said.
"What habit?" Clark asked.
"Sneaking up on people from behind and scaring them out of their pants," Lori said, fixing Connor with an accusing stare.
He grinned. "You can't intimidate me with that look anymore, Lyons," he told her. "Actually, I was wondering if you have a few minutes to talk," he added in a lower voice, becoming serious for a moment. "The gym closes at ten, but I'm off in a couple of minutes. There's a coffee shop down the street where we could talk privately. It's called Marge's Coffee Corner."
"Do they mind having people coming in, in their sweats?" Lori asked.
"Nope," Connor said. "I go there for dinner a lot. They know me."
"No problem, then," Clark said. "Shall we wait and go with you or meet you there?"
"I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes," Connor said.
"I wonder what's up," Lori said as they left the gym a few minutes later.
"Good question." Clark said. "I guess we'll find out." He led the way into the nearest alley, and a moment later, Superman flashed upward fast enough that even someone who was watching carefully would have seen only a blur, and certainly couldn't have identified his passenger. Marge's Coffee Corner was a little establishment at the end of the block, frequented, it seemed, by working class men and women with jobs in the nearby areas. Only a few older ground cars were parked in the lot behind the coffee shop and no aircars at all. Clark landed in the shadows provided by a burnt-out street light, and a moment later he and Lori entered Marge's Coffee Corner.
There was an empty booth in the far corner, and Clark led his wife directly to that one. As they took their seats, Lori took out a notebook. "I need to make a few notes," she explained, "before I forget what I wanted to say about tonight's class."
"Go ahead. I'll watch for Connor," Clark said.
"Thanks." Lori began to scribble furiously.
A waitress appeared with silverware and water. "Would you like to order something to drink?" she inquired.
"Two coffees for now," Clark said. "And a extra-large nachos for an appetizer."
Lori barely glanced up. "Extra guacamole, sour cream and cheese," she said. "And an order of breaded mozzarella sticks with dipping sauce. And a glass of milk," she added as if in afterthought.
"Connor will be scandalized," Clark observed. He glanced at the waitress. "We're waiting for someone, so we'll order the rest of the meal after he gets here."
"All right," she said. "That was extra guacamole, sour cream and cheese? And mozzarella sticks?"
"That's right," Clark said. "And a large milk."
"You're from the Fitness Center?" she asked, glancing appreciatively at Clark.
"Yes," Clark said. "Do people from the gym come here often?"
"Sure," she said. "All the time. If you can eat like that and still stay in this kind of shape, I gotta sign up."
Clark didn't comment. Lori made a final note and closed the little book. "There," she said. "I think that covers everything for tonight."
The waitress departed and Clark glanced toward the front of the restaurant just as the door opened to admit Connor. He raised a hand to attract the man's attention. "Connor's here," he said.
Lori looked up, as Connor slid into the seat opposite them. "Thanks for coming," he said without preliminary. "I need to talk to you. After what happened yesterday, I knew I had to find someone who could help me. You two are investigative reporters, and I need someone who understands this stuff."
"Are you talking about --" Lori began.
"I saw your article about the woman who was stabbed last night not far from the gym," Connor said, keeping his voice low. "Her name was Ginnie Talbot. The police were questioning me about her this morning, Lori. Since you wrote the article, you probably know she was one of my instructors."
Lori nodded. "I talked to the police today."
"What you may not know, however," Connor said, "is that there have been four other murdered women in the last three years, and all of them knew me! I'm a suspect, and I don't blame the cops a bit. The only reason I'm not under arrest is that for two of them, I was teaching a class and couldn't possibly have been the killer, but there's got to be some connection to me. It's too much of a coincidence otherwise. I need you to help me find out who's doing this and stop him before he kills anybody else!"
Clark glanced at Lori, then back at Connor. The body builder was looking pleadingly at them, and Clark could hear the man's pulse pounding fast and hard.
"Lori and I are investigative reporters, not police," he said. "We can try to find this killer for you, but we don't have their resources. And, of course, we have no proof that you're not somehow involved."
Connor nodded jerkily. "Yeah. I realize you don't know me from Jack," he said, "but I know your reputation, Mr. Kent. People say you're a straight shooter, and besides, Lori married you." He bit his lip. "If she trusts you, I do. Please, I need someone who can investigate and maybe find out some stuff that the police haven't. Whoever this guy is, he's killed five women who knew me. I don't know why, but I want it to stop. You guys have a reputation that won't quit, and a legitimate reason to hang around the gym. Will you help me?"
"When you put it that way, I don't see how we can say no," Clark said. "All right, tell you what. We probably shouldn't talk about this in a public place. Come over to our apartment after we eat and you can tell us everything you know about the murdered women and your relationships with them. We'll start from there."
Connor blew out his breath. "Thanks," he said. "I appreciate this."
"Don't thank us until you see what we can manage," Lori said. "I'll try to get the police reports on the killings by tomorrow." She lifted her head. "Here come our appetizers."
Connor raised his brows as the waitress set the nachos and breaded mozzarella sticks on the table before them and followed it with two cups of coffee. "Are you ready to order?"
Connor glanced at the food and then at Lori. "Still on your usual health food kick, I see." He looked at Clark. "I never could convince her to eat healthy food. Maybe you'll have better luck."
Lori gave a tiny smile and opened the menu. "I'll have the steak and fries, please, with green beans."
"Choice of bread?" the woman asked.
"Garlic bread," Lori told her. "And the milk, of course." She looked innocently at Connor. "See? I'm getting my calcium."
Connor rolled his eyes.
The waitress gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh and turned to the two men. "Are you ready to order?"
"Well, I'd call this an interesting development," Clark said. They were flying through the chilly night air toward their apartment after bidding good night publicly to Connor. "Still, I don't blame him. If he's innocent, he certainly doesn't want women dying because of him." He saw her slight frown. "Personally, I think the probability is that he's telling the truth, but I have to keep the slight possibility in mind that he might not be."
"What could you tell about him while we were talking?"
"He was nervous," Clark said, "but that isn't exactly surprising."
"I could tell that myself, without super hearing or smell," Lori said. "What did he smell like?"
Clark grinned. "Nervous," he said. "I also think he was genuinely happy to see you."
"Yeah, that was kind of obvious. Connor and I were pretty good friends when we worked on the Clarion. I even dated him a couple of times, but there was nothing between us. He was just fun to be with, and I was too focused on my studies to let myself get involved with anyone. Lots of girls chased him while he was at New Troy State, but I don't think he took any of them seriously."
"Then I guess I don't need to worry," Clark said.
"Definitely not," Lori said. "There isn't a man on the planet who can measure up to you, at least for me." She cupped his jaw with her free hand and stretched up to kiss him. He responded with enthusiasm, and then had to correct his flight sharply as he nearly clipped the corner of a building.
"Nice place you have here," Connor said.
"Thanks." Lori waved him to the big armchair that sat at right angles to the couch. "Sit down. Can we get you anything to drink?"
"Sure." The body builder sank into the armchair. "This is nice. You have chairs for real people. Most of the time I'm afraid I'll break the chair."
"Herbal tea, right?" she asked.
On cue, Clark emerged from the kitchen with the teapot and cups. "Lori tipped me off in advance," he said, setting the tray on the coffee table. "Help yourself."
"Thanks." Connor did so.
Lori waited until he set the teapot back down and had settled back in his chair, then broached the subject. "So," she said, "what can you tell us about this situation?"
Connor cautiously sipped his herbal tea, seeming to gather his thoughts, then he set his cup down carefully.
"I've been trying to figure out exactly what happened," he said. "I dug out my old diaries -- " He broke off, looking embarrassed. "Yeah," he said, "I keep a diary. Don't spread it around, okay? Anyway, after it finally dawned on me that this somehow had something to do with me, I got them out and re-read what happened, trying to figure out what might have been behind it. You can probably get the police reports and everything, but I didn't know what else to do. It's no fun to have a friend killed like that."
"I know," Lori said.
"The diaries didn't really help," he said. "I mean, I can't see any connections, but I'm not a detective or --" he smiled briefly, "-- an investigative reporter. It doesn't make any sense, but I can't ignore the fact that it's happened, and the police are watching me. It's got to be stopped. Outside of the fact that I don't want to be arrested for something I didn't do, I don't want anyone else to get killed."
Clark could hear his heart thumping like a drum, and it was clear from his other bodily reactions that the man was genuinely distressed. If he was guilty of the crimes that Lieutenant Chow had told them about, then he was the best actor Clark had ever met. No, unless something very extraordinary had taken place, Connor Cooper was an innocent man.
"Why don't you tell us about your relationships with the murdered women," he said. "We can read the police reports, but that's still a long way from a personal viewpoint. Maybe you'll tell us something that will help without knowing it."
Connor gulped the remainder of the cup of tea and Lori refilled it without comment. "Okay, but if you can pick anything useful out of it, it's more than I can. The first murder happened just after I graduated -- about a month later, actually. I'd gone to work part time for a health club -- the Metropolis Fitness Center. One of my instructors at NTSU knew the owner wanted a couple of people who were looking for a beginning spot, who could do general cleanup and basic maintenance on the equipment, and help out teaching the occasional class. He recommended a couple of us, and the owner offered us a job. It didn't pay enough to live on really, so I worked part time at the Metro Quality Pre-Owned Air- and Groundcar Dealership, too."
"The ones that got busted six months ago for failure to meet minimum safety standards," Lori said.
"Yeah," Connor said. "I didn't know about that part, though. I worked as a detailer. Anyway, Dolly worked in Parts and Maintenance. We went out to lunch a couple of times. She was just a nice, friendly girl. Three weeks after I went to work there, she was apparently stabbed to death when she entered her apartment house. It was pretty bad."
"Did you have any reason to think she might be afraid for her safety?" Clark asked.
Connor shook his head. "No. She lived in a pretty decent part of the city. Not the best, but not the worst, either." He looked grim. "The day it happened, she'd come over to the gym after work. I'd been trying to talk her into taking a fitness class, and she was thinking about it. Whoever killed her was apparently waiting for her when she went into her place. The police called it a botched robbery attempt."
"You don't think it was?" Clark asked.
"I did then," Connor said. "Now, I don't." He gulped the liquid in his teacup, draining it. "I only started to wonder later, though. It just seemed awfully coincidental."
"So, what happened next?" Lori asked.
"Well, I'd quit work at Quality and gone to work flipping hamburgers at the local McFeegle's," he confessed. "I don't know -- I didn't want to work there anymore after Dolly was killed. Gave me the creeps. Anyway, her name was Mercedes Young. She was an assistant manager at McFeegle's. We actually dated a couple of times, but we were a long way from getting serious. She'd started working out at the gym -- trying to work off all those hamburgers, she said --" He smiled briefly. "Anyway, a couple of months after our second date, she was stabbed to death apparently when she was getting into her car. The police said she'd been stunned and then stabbed." He had begun to wring his hands, and stopped when he noticed what he was doing. "I was teaching a class at the exact time, subbing for another instructor who had called in sick."
"Had she said anything to make you think she was worried for her safety?" Clark asked.
Connor shook his head. "No, nothing. I just thought it was a horrible coincidence, but it kind of spooked me."
"It would spook me, too," Lori said. "Go on."
Connor nodded. "Nothing much happened after that. I'd kind of sworn off dating, anyway. I was wondering if I had some kind of curse on me, or something. I mean, I was friends with lots of people, but two women who'd dated me had been killed. I mean, how many people do you know that have had one friend murdered, much less two"
"None," Lori said. "Except you, of course."
"Exactly," Connor said. "It scared me. Anyhow, I was working three jobs for a while. I didn't really have time for a social life. I'd always intended to start my own gym, you know, but I figured it was going to be years before I could actually do it." He shrugged. "Anyway, about a year later, I'd stayed at the gym to teach a class, like I always did on Thursday nights. Just as I was leaving, the police showed up, wanting to know where I'd been for the past hour. It turned out that one of the tenants in my building -- the woman who lived across the hall from me -- had been killed the same way as Dolly and Mercedes. I had plenty of witnesses who had seen me in the gym the whole time, and it obviously couldn't have been me -- but the police weren't really convinced."
"I don't see how they could have connected that one to you," Lori said. "Except by the fact that she was killed the same way as the others, that is."
Connor shrugged. "I couldn't, either," he said. "She and I had exchanged hellos when we passed each other in the hall a few times, but that was it. We barely knew each other."
"How about now?" Clark asked. "Any ideas?"
"Maybe, but it seems awfully far-fetched."
"Never mind how far-fetched it is," Lori said.
Connor shrugged. "Okay. There was one tenant there -- Mr. Whittaker. You know how gossips can take anything and turn it into a scandal? He used to watch everybody in the building, and had the wildest stories about all of us. As far as he was concerned, the whole apartment was a hotbed of scandal and illicit love affairs. One of them involved me and Mary Roberts. Everybody used to laugh at the whole thing -- until she was killed. The police picked up on it, of course -- but they couldn't prove anything, because there wasn't anything to prove."
"You're right," Lori said, "that's pretty far-fetched. You're sure there wasn't any other connection?"
"Absolutely positive," Connor said. "And, of course, I didn't put it together until much later. I mean, I knew about the rumor, but nobody in his right mind would have taken it seriously, any more than they took all the others the guy spread around seriously. Everybody knew Mr. Whittaker."
"Okay," Clark said. "And you weren't dating anybody at this time."
Connor shook his head. "I didn't have the time," he said.
"Okay," Lori said. "Go on."
"Well, about eight months ago," Connor said, "I got promoted to instructor at the gym and got a raise, so I was able to quit my job at McFeegle's. I got a job a couple of days a week at a convenience store to make ends meet, but I started spending most of my time at the gym. I worked a split shift lots of days -- three hours in the afternoon and three in the evening. I went to a nearby coffee shop to eat dinner a lot so I wouldn't have to go home and then come back, since I lived across town. The people there got to know me pretty well, especially one of the waitresses."
"I think I see where this is going," Clark said.
"Yeah. I used to look forward to seeing her on the days I worked the split shift, but I was careful to keep it casual. I didn't want her to be killed too!" Connor poured himself more tea and gulped it down in two swallows. "You can call me stupid, but I still didn't actually realize what was happening. I still hoped that the other killings had been some kind of horrible coincidence, but I was getting kind of superstitious about it, so I didn't ask Lily for a date or anything, although she was kind of hinting she wouldn't say no if I did. One day she didn't come to work. That evening, the police showed up to question me. She'd been stabbed to death in the parking lot behind the building while I was sitting inside, waiting for her. They said she'd been stunned first and then stabbed. I think the only reason they didn't arrest me then was that a couple of the staff were pretty sure I hadn't left the table during the window of time when she must have been killed. They wanted to; I could see that, but they couldn't find anyone who had seen me leave, and there was a time stamp on the bill." He shuddered convulsively. "I think they had me under surveillance for a while after that. I wish they hadn't given up."
"Why?" Lori asked.
"Ginnie Talbot," Connor said. "My Uncle Connor died suddenly five months ago. He didn't have any kids, and it turned out that he left me some money in his will. I was able to start my health club a lot sooner than I'd expected to -- we've just been in business a couple of months. When I set up the gym, I hired people I knew at college or had met while I was working at the gym. Ginnie was one of my best aerobics instructors. She left work last night as usual, but never made it home. She'd been stunned and stabbed. Naturally, the police immediately suspected me." He set his teacup with a clink in its saucer. "If they'd been watching me, maybe they would have been able to prevent it. Maybe they would have discovered whoever is doing this. Somebody is killing women who know me -- and I don't even know why. It has to be someone I know, someone who knows about my life. If the police had been watching me, maybe they would have discovered something. Maybe Ginnie wouldn't have had to die."
"You know," Lori said, "this is a really weird case."
She reached for the toothpaste, dabbed some of the substance on her toothbrush and began to scrub her teeth thoroughly. Clark finished drying his face, leaned forward and proceeded to remove the five o'clock shadow that coated his chin. "I agree, it's weird," he said. "Whoever is behind it must have known Connor for a long time -- at least since he was at New Troy State. I suppose it could even be someone he knew there. An instructor, or maybe another student."
"Maybe," Lori said doubtfully. "Still, there weren't any murders while he was there. It started after he left."
"Yeah. Well, I guess we could hunt up school records and check out who his classmates were. Maybe we could interview some of them. It seems like a long shot, though." Clark slapped aftershave onto his cheeks and chin. "It could easily have been someone he knew that wasn't even in his class."
"Maybe. He and I were pretty good friends, but nobody tried to kill me. There was the mugging that night we met, of course, but that was eight months after Connor graduated, so I don't think there was any connection."
"Probably not," Clark said. "It didn't fit the pattern, anyway. The murdered women were all stunned and then stabbed."
"Yeah." Lori shivered slightly. "Whoever is doing this must be a real nutcase. Why do you suppose Metropolis has so many insane killers, anyway?"
"Well," Clark said, "in any population there are a certain percentage of people that are unbalanced. Metropolis is the biggest city in North America, and the second-largest in the entire world. If you take that into account, the same percentage of people are criminally insane as everywhere else, but in sheer numbers there are a lot more of them."
"I guess," Lori said. "It sure looks to me like one of them has targeted Connor, though."
"I think you're probably right," Clark said. "After this evening, I don't really think he's a killer."
"Oh? What made up your mind?"
"I was listening to his pulse while he was talking to us. He smelled scared, too, and -- well, a number of bodily reactions that normal people aren't aware of unless they use pretty sophisticated technology to detect it. Plus, I trust your judgement, and you don't think he's guilty."
"Oh," Lori said.
Clark put an arm around her and pulled her against his bare chest. "One thing, though, that I hadn't thought of before. Since we don't know why the killer targeted these particular friends of Connor's, did it occur to you that now you might be a target?"
Lori stared at his face, reflected in the mirror. "No, I hadn't. Do you really think someone would go after me just because I'm a friend of his?"
"A pretty good friend of his," Clark said. "Someone sure doesn't seem to like Connor's female friends."
"Yeah." Lori bit her lip. "I'm married, though."
"We don't know that being married matters," Clark said. "Promise me you'll be careful, honey."
"I will," Lori told him. "Believe me, I will."
"Ms. Lyons!" Lori and Clark stepped out of the elevator and Lori turned her head at the instant hail. Carla, the new intern, was waving several sheets of hardcopy at her.
"Wow," Lori remarked to her husband, "things sure seem to be starting off fast this morning."
"It's the police reports you asked for," he said quietly. "Looks like Velma pushed it through for you in a hurry."
"That was nice of her," Lori said.
"Practical," Clark said with a grin. "She knows you pretty well by now."
Carla hurried across the room and presented the papers to Lori. She was a petite, very pretty girl with blue eyes and dark brown hair, who had been employed by the Planet for exactly a week, and been gratifyingly in awe of Lori for the entire time. Lori was somewhat embarrassed to be the object of such intense hero-worship, but Clark found the situation amusing, to her disgust. She observed that today the intern had a new hairdo suspiciously similar to hers.
"It's a bunch of police reports," she informed her idol breathlessly. "All about women murdered the same way as the one night before last."
"Thanks," Lori said, trying to be nonchalant. "I was waiting for this."
Carla glanced at Clark. "Is it some kind of serial killer?" she asked.
Lori shrugged. "We don't know, yet. We're just getting started."
Carla shivered. "It must be exciting being an investigative journalist," she said, a little enviously.
"Sometimes it is," Clark said. "Most of the time it's dull research. Speaking of which, I need you to find out the names of all employees of the Metropolis Fitness Center for the last three years."
Carla looked slightly crestfallen, but rallied at once. "I'll get on it as soon as I can, Mr. Kent."
"Thanks," Clark said, smiling at her. "Lori and I will be out of the office most of the morning. If anything else comes through for us, give us a call, okay?"
"Will do, Mr. Kent," Carla said.
Lori's wrist talker beeped softly at that moment. She excused herself and stepped away to take the call.
"Lori Lyons," she said.
"Lori?" her mother's voice said, "your father's in a business meeting this morning. I wondered if you'd like to have a cup of coffee with me before you start your day."
Lori sighed. Knowing Mariann, it was going to be more than coffee. From a couple of the things her mother had said the day before, Mariann had focused on Lori's appetite, and had undoubtedly decided that Lori needed some motherly advice. She couldn't refuse without hurt feelings, but she couldn't restrain the slight sinking feeling in her middle. "Sure, Mom. Clark and I have a couple of interviews this morning, but I guess I can spare fifteen minutes for coffee. Where would you like to meet?"
"How about that little coffee shop right across from your office," Mariann's voice said. "I just happen to be there right now. Clark can pick you up right afterwards and you can go on to whatever you have to do from there."
"All right," Lori said. "I'll be there in five minutes."
She ended the call. Clark, she noticed, had gotten rid of Carla in the meantime, and was waiting for her to finish her conversation.
"I guess that was your mom?" Clark said, unnecessarily.
"Yeah," Lori said. "I have the feeling I'm in for a mother-to-daughter lecture."
"Yeah, I noticed your mom seemed a little worried about what you were eating yesterday," Clark said. "Shall I come with you?"
She shook her head. "She more or less told me she didn't want you there -- that remark about picking me up afterwards."
"I caught that," Clark said. "If you like, I can play the dense spouse who can't take a hint."
"No, I might as well get it over with. If you'd listen in and interrupt if things get too tense, I'd appreciate it, though. Besides, I need to get something to eat before we head for that interview. I'm starving."
"Say no more," Clark said. "My ears will be peeled. And if I pick you up a little early, well, that wouldn't hurt, either, would it?"
"Just what I was thinking," Lori said. "I'd better go." She stood on tiptoe to peck him on the cheek and turned toward the elevator.
Mariann Lyons was sitting in a booth at the rear of the coffee shop, a cup of coffee in front of her. The seat opposite her was vacant, of course, but a cup of steaming coffee sat waiting for Lori, a couple of containers of low fat coffee creamer and two packets of sugar substitute lying beside it. She slid into the seat, observing the preparations for her arrival. Her mother wasn't even trying to be subtle.
"Hello, Mother," she said.
Mariann bit her lip. "You have that tone in your voice again," she said.
"What tone?" Lori asked.
"The one you used to get when I lectured you as a teenager, and you didn't want to listen." Mariann sighed. "Lori, I hope you know I only want the best for you."
"I know that, Mother."
"I just -- " She hesitated. "I never wanted you to marry. I was so afraid it would somehow have a detrimental effect on your career -- but you chose to marry Clark. Don't get me wrong; Clark is a charming man, but he's still a man."
"Yes, he is. But --"
"Lori, men place a great deal of emphasis on physical appearance. I know how much you care for him, and since he seems so important to you, I don't want you to lose him. I realize your pregnancy is causing your appetite to spiral out of control, but if you put on a tremendous amount of weight, is he going to want to stay married to you? He's a very attractive male specimen. I'm certain he wouldn't find it difficult to replace --"
"Mother," Lori said, reminding herself sharply that Mariann didn't have all the facts, "Clark isn't going to leave me."
"How can you know that, though? He married a slim, attractive girl. If you let your weight get out of control --"
"My weight isn't out of control, and neither is my appetite," Lori said firmly.
"I have trouble believing that," Mariann said. "I saw how you were eating yesterday."
"Mother, please trust me on this," Lori said. "Clark and I know what we're doing, really." She reached for the sugar canister and took four packets. "And you know I can't use that substitute sugar stuff. It makes me break out."
"I thought that was Marcy," her mother said.
"She breaks out too," Lori said, dumping the sugar into her cup. "Neither of us can use it." She poured the non-fat creamer into her coffee. "Mother, I appreciate your concern, but you don't need to worry, really. Clark isn't going to leave me. He was the one that said first that he wanted a lifetime contract. He's not going to change his mind now that I'm pregnant. And I'm not going to get fat."
"Am I interrupting?" Clark's voice said from behind her.
"No," Mariann said, biting her lip. "Please sit down, Clark."
He slid into the booth beside Lori, glancing at the containers that had held the creamer. "Nonfat? You know what your doctor said, honey. You need to gain weight."
"Sorry," Lori said. "It was all that was here. I'll try to pick up something else after we interview the Congressman."
"All right," Clark said, managing to sound skeptical. "You know, Mariann, you really need to talk to Lori about taking care of her health. She's had low blood sugar for most of her pregnancy so far, and her doctor specifically said no dieting right now. She doesn't want the baby to be underweight." He added, "She's lost three pounds this month alone. Her doctor told her to eat more."
Lori barely restrained the impulse to turn and stare at him. She covered her reaction by taking a sip of coffee. "I promise," she said. "I'll eat."
"If that's the case," Mariann said, "perhaps you should have a sandwich before you go to this 'interview'."
"I had breakfast," Lori protested feebly, wondering how this whole thing had turned around so quickly. "I'll get a snack right after the interview. I promise."
The waitress appeared with a tray, on which resided a thick chicken sandwich, a scoop of potato salad and a bowl of applesauce, accompanied by a tall glass of milk. She glanced questioningly at Clark.
"Right here," he said, indicating the spot in front of Lori. "Thanks." He waited until the food had been deposited before his wife and the waitress had gone. "I noticed you didn't have time for more than a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast this morning," he said blandly. "I figured you had to be starving, and since you were already here -- "
Mariann was nodding. "Clark is right," she pronounced. "Take a few minutes to eat, Lori. You have to take care of yourself while your baby is on the way."
"I knew I could count on you to back me up," Clark said to Lori's mother. Lori jabbed him with one finger under the table and then rubbed the offended digit against her side.
"I'm going to have to box some of it up to take along," she said. "Otherwise we're going to be late. I've got an interview with Congressman Bradford this morning," she told Mariann. "He was the one who's been trying to avoid an interview with me, so I don't want to give him an excuse to dodge me again."
"Why doesn't he want you to interview him?" Mariann asked.
"He knows I'm going to ask him questions he'd rather not answer," Lori said. "He's going to have to take a position for once. Which," she added, "is just too bad. If he wants to be Senator Bradford, then people have a right to know where he stands on certain issues. If he doesn't want people to know, then they have every reason to vote for his opponent." She bit into the sandwich.
Clark glanced back at Mariann. "Lori has the reputation for being a tough interviewer," he explained. "She doesn't let these guys dance around her question and get away without answering. Naturally, politicians don't like that."
"Naturally," Mariann said. "If you need to be going, let's get this boxed up for you. Clark, you'll be sure she eats it, won't you?"
"Count on it," Clark said.
"It's times like that," Lori said, munching on the second half of the sandwich between mouthfuls of potato salad, "that I remember the advantage you have over us ordinary mortals. You could teach an applied psychology course, and I'll bet you never took any, did you?"
"Well, I took a semester of basic psychology way back when," Clark said as he maneuvered their vehicle through the morning traffic. "I needed it for some requirement or other. Your mom doesn't know I can hear what she's saying from across the street, and I've lived long enough to know how people will react most of the time -- except you, for some reason. And I didn't lie."
"No, but you sure as heck implied a lot," Lori said, around a mouthful of applesauce.
"Do you mind?" he asked.
"Not a bit," she said. "Now I can eat all I want -- except now she's going to be bugging me to eat more!" She laughed. "Poor Mom. At least Dad got her to go into counseling over her control thing. She finally seems to be coming around to accepting you and Ryan, anyway."
"Which," Clark said, "will make everyone happier, especially her. Do you know who she reminds me of?"
"Ellen Lane, Lois's mother. She does things a little differently, but the more I see of her, the more I see the similarities. Ellen was a recovered alcoholic, though. At least that's one thing your mom didn't have to cope with."
"Thank heavens for small favors," Lori said. She finished the last bite of the chicken sandwich and took a final forkful of potato salad. "There. That should hold me until I finish the interview, anyway. Maybe by then Carla will have that stuff on the Metro Fitness Center for us. If Connor got some of his employees from the Metro gym, it's possible we're looking for someone from there. After all, a couple of the murdered women were killed after going to the gym."
"Naturally, the school turned down my request for records," Clark said. "Do you by any chance, still have your way of getting into their computers?"
"Sure," Lori said. "I set it up while we were hunting for 'The Professor', if you remember. I'll do it after we get back from talking to Bradford."
"We need to match them up against Connor's employees," Clark said, "and the current employees of the Metro gym, too."
"Yeah," Lori agreed. "Maybe it will give us some kind of starting point. Maybe we can talk to the employees of the restaurant where Lily worked, too. Somebody may have seen something and not realized it. Maybe we could get pictures of the employees at the Hobs Fitness Center and show them to some of them. Someone is bound to have seen the actual killer, without realizing why he was there, but didn't know it."
"It's possible," Clark said. "The question is, would they remember after all this time. Not everybody has the kind of memory you do, sweetheart."
Lori glanced at him with a little smile. "I never thought of myself as a sweetheart."
"You're my sweetheart," Clark said firmly.
"And you're mine," she said. "That's a good combination, especially during Valentine's Week."
"Sure is," he agreed. "I was talking to your dad yesterday just before we left Kerry's, by the way. He wondered if we could get together tomorrow evening for dinner and maybe a play at the Metro Performing Arts Center. I said I'd have to check with you, but I didn't see why not."
"Sure," Lori said. "It sounds like fun." She glanced back at the sound of a horn but was only in time to see the driver behind them give the driver of another car who had apparently tried to cut him off the one-finger salute. Surprisingly the driver of the green groundcar didn't reply in kind. Lori turned back.
"What was it?" Clark asked.
Lori shrugged. "Bad manners."
"Plenty of that to go around," Clark said. "I'd like to go over to the gym later this afternoon. We could interview the instructors and look around. Maybe try to get some idea of who was there night before last, when Ginnie Talbot left work."
"I agree," Lori said. "Maybe Superman could do a little snooping, too. Like if anybody there keeps a knife in their locker or something."
"Not likely," Clark said. "The police would be bound to find it."
"Oh, I know. But you know what I mean. Who knows what he might find?"
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "You never know. This whole thing seems like a long shot, though. There isn't likely to be another attempted murder this soon after the last one -- at least, I hope not. The police are watching Connor again, too."
"That's probably not a bad thing," Lori pointed out. "If somebody does try to kill anybody else, Connor will have an alibi. And maybe, if there is, you or I -- or the police -- will find something to uncover who this killer really is."
"I think we're all hoping that," Clark said. "Just make sure that whoever it is doesn't go after you, honey. Remember what I said last night."
"I'm not likely to forget," she said. "I don't think it's too likely, though. I'm obviously very much married to you."
"Don't forget, just because you're pregnant doesn't make you off limits," Clark pointed out. "Some guys prefer a pregnant woman. It means she can bear children. The rate of female sterility is still higher than it should be, even if it's getting better. That was why the Mayflower Project only allowed couples with children."
"Well, yeah, but how likely --" Lori broke off. "You're right. I'll be careful."
"That's all I want to be sure of," Clark said. "I'm going to talk to Arnie about giving you something a little less obvious than a wrist talker to signal for help, just in case anything happens."
Lori frowned. "Do you really think it's that dangerous?"
"I don't know," Clark said, "and I don't want to have to find out."
It was early afternoon. Lori had finished a convoluted interview with the aspiring Senator Bradford, in which the politician had utilized every trick in the politician's playbook to avoid answering the difficult questions Lori asked. At last, she had clicked off her recorder and looked the man squarely in the eye.
"Mr. Bradford," she said, "let me say something off the record. I've asked you the same question three times, and so far I've gotten a tangent about the current Federal safety regulations, one about the instability of the monetary system, and third, a dissertation about the political wrangling over the jobs bill working its way through the House. I didn't ask about any of those. If you can't give me a straight answer, I'm going to print this interview in its entirety, and point out to the readers exactly how you've dodged my main question each time I asked it. Then they can make up their own minds about whether you can be trusted with a seat in the Senate. Personally, I wouldn't give a politician who can't give a straight answer to a simple question the time of day."
The man had stared at her for a second, then raised a respectful eyebrow. "You don't mince words, do you Ms. Lyons?"
"No," she said. "Not when it involves my job -- which, among other things, is that of watchdog for the citizens. It's my job to keep the governing class honest. Now, do you think you can give me a straight answer, or am I wasting my time?"
The man laughed dryly. "You win."
"All right, let's try again." Lori clicked her recorder back on. "Congressman Bradford, I realize this is a very controversial topic, but what is your stand on the illegal trade in bootlegged organs grown in unsanctioned laboratories, and how would Senator Bradford deal with the high cost of replacement organs that would result if these labs are closed down?"
Clark hadn't said a word. He'd watched and listened to the interview and she'd seen his lips twitch once or twice, but he didn't interrupt. When they walked out the door, headed for their groundcar, Lori glanced at him with her eyebrows raised. "What was so funny?"
"Nothing," he said. "When I see you in attack mode, I get deja vu, that's all."
"Oh, facing down the Congressman. Lois didn't like people who thought they could fool her, and she didn't trust lawyers. She didn't even cut President Garner much slack -- even when we saved his Presidency from John Doe. She thought most politicians were basically con men."
"Well, so do I," Lori said, reasonably. "I guess that kind of makes sense. You know, you made a remark the other night that you promised to explain, though, and you never did."
"Oh?" her husband said innocently. "Which remark was that?"
"When you were saying that Mom reminds you of Lois's mother, and I wondered if I could come back, could other people. You said you'd explain, but you haven't yet."
"We haven't had much time," Clark pointed out. "Still, it's not complicated -- at least I don't think it is. I told you Lois and I met a time traveler. His name was HG Wells."
"Yep." Clark nodded. "His book 'The Time Machine' may have been fiction, but the concept wasn't. Anyway, he traveled in time, back and forth from the past to the future, and he also met a time traveler from the far future who had a device that allowed him to track people's souls, for want of a better word, through time. He tracked mine, and discovered that wherever mine was, yours was also there, always together. Lois and I went back through time twice with his soul-transfer machine, and wound up in the bodies of former versions of us. I told you a little about that. The thing we also discovered while we were doing that was that a lot of our friends were also tied to us somehow. Jim Olsen was there, Perry White, my mom and dad -- and probably plenty of others that we didn't have time to discover. There was also one man who was an antagonist of ours, an enemy time traveler from the future named Tempus, who apparently was destined to be our opponent in at least some of the time periods. I haven't met him in a long time, but that doesn't mean anything. Anyhow, the gist of it is, other souls also return. It's actually possible that your mom was Ellen Lane, but if your dad was Sam Lane, then he's learned a lot since then."
"What do you mean?"
"Sam was a philanderer. He cheated on Ellen and left his family to go it alone. Of course there's no rule that I know of that says she had to meet Sam in her future lives."
"Oh." Lori was silent for several minutes, thinking that over. "Well, isn't it possible that some of the things you learn in one life carry over to the next? Otherwise, what would be the point?"
"That's a thought," Clark said. "Ronnie said herself that there's a lot that science can't explain -- like why you remembered certain specific things from your life as Lois. There must be some carryover." He shrugged. "Anyway, that's the story."
"So do you think some of the others have come back?"
Clark shrugged again. "It's possible. There's no way to know for sure, though. There tends to be some physical resemblance, although it's not exact. You look a lot like Lois, but you're a little shorter than she was."
"My dad says his Great-grandmother Lucy was named Lane," Lori said. "Do you think there's any connection?"
"I heard that," Clark said. "It's possible. Lois's sister was named Lucy. She married and had three children, all of them daughters."
"Wow," Lori said. "I learn something surprising from you every day. Now I'm going to be wondering which of my friends I knew in a previous lifetime. I don't suppose I'll ever know."
"Probably not. Aaron might be Jimmy Olsen, for instance. He looks a lot like him, which isn't surprising since he's Jimmy's great grandson as well as mine. But he also runs a computer firm, and made a fortune from it. Jimmy was the office computer guru, so it's an interesting coincidence. I always went to my mom and dad for advice when I ran into a knotty problem, and I sort of instinctively go to Rhonda and Mason now. It wouldn't be impossible, I guess. I'd kind of like to think they are. And of course John reminds me a lot of Perry White, even if they don't look much alike. John has hair, for one thing, but he also kind of treats you like his protegee, which was how Perry thought of Lois. Or Perry could be a copy boy who will turn up in the office five years down the road. I don't know of any way to tell."
"Still, it would be nice to know," Lori said. "I don't suppose you have any way of contacting your friend, Mr. Wells. Would he know?"
Her husband made a face. "You don't want to," he said. "Take it from me. Whenever Herb showed up, trouble followed. It wasn't his fault, but it happened all the same."
"Still, meeting a time traveler would be incredible," Lori said. "Traveling in time? You could go back and see the great historical events. It would be a journalist's dream."
"Well," Clark said, "I haven't seen Herb in nearly a hundred years. He wouldn't have any way of knowing that I'm still alive in this time period. I made certain that there was no record of that anywhere, so unless someone spills the information somewhere down the line, he'll never know."
"I suppose," Lori said. "Everyone I know always assumed new superheroes take the place of the old ones, but they don't. It's not something you want to advertise." She smiled at him. "Maybe someday I'll get to meet your Mr. Wells, but right now we've got other things to keep us occupied."
"Like tracking down a killer," Clark agreed. He opened the door of the Jeep for her. "I guess we should go over to the gym and talk to people."
"That seems like the best next step," Lori said.
"Well, I can't think of anything else right now," Clark said. "I'd like to know who left work at about the same time she did."
"It might not be someone who was working at the same time," Lori pointed out. "Maybe it was someone who works a different shift, or who had the day off."
"Let's just find out what we can," Clark said. "We'll figure out the different possibilities later."
"Yeah," Lori said. "I just get angry at how this person has killed five perfectly innocent women whose only crime that we know of was that they were acquainted with the same guy."
"That might be all there is behind it," Clark said. "Jealousy is a pretty powerful motive for murder."
"I get the feeling," Lori said, "that you've already formed a few ideas about why someone might be targeting Connor's female friends."
"Sort of," he said as he started the motor. "It's pretty obvious that the women who were targeted were potential girlfriends, or there was a rumor that they were. Or at the very least," he amended, "there was reason for an outside observer, especially someone who was already jealous and suspicious, to think they were potential girlfriends. Don't tell me you didn't see that."
"Well -- yes," Lori admitted. "I was trying to keep my options open, though. So, you think we're looking for a woman with a crush on Connor?"
"Maybe. It wouldn't be the first time a guy had a crush on another guy, though. It happens all the time."
"True," Lori said. "Connor doesn't swing that way, but I guess that doesn't really mean anything. I'd think, though, that a man wouldn't need to stun his victims first."
"He might," Clark pointed out. "He might want to make sure that they don't yell for help. Remember David Merrick?"
"How could I forget?" Lori shuddered slightly. "You're right. We can't rule out anyone yet. I'm going to want to do a background on everybody who works at the gym -- but does it occur to you that whoever it is might not be working there. He -- or she -- might just be keeping track of Connor without actually working around him."
"I'd thought of that, but it's a place to start. If it isn't somebody working near him, it's somebody who knows a lot about his life, and he said last night that there's nobody who has been constantly around him since he left school except the people he's worked with. He's changed apartments twice, his parents live in Argentina, and his only sister is actually in Timbuktu."
"You're kidding. "
"Nope, I asked him. She lives there with her husband and three kids. Whoever we're looking for probably has fairly close contact with him -- enough to know what women he's currently associating with, but not close enough to realize that the rumors about Connor and the woman in his last apartment house were just that -- rumors. That's why I think it may be a co-worker."
Lori nodded thoughtfully. "It makes sense. I guess that's where we start, anyway. Don't you think Velma might be thinking along the same lines, too? Since Connor has an alibi for two of the murders, she's got to realize there's probably someone else involved."
"I'd think so. She's not likely to tell us what they're doing, though. The most we're going to get out of her is what she's already told us -- he's a person of interest, and they haven't arrested him yet because there's no direct evidence linking him to the case."
"Yeah." Lori frowned. "I've always been told that a killer always leaves something behind -- blood, hair -- something. They evidently haven't found anything."
"We don't know that they haven't," Clark said, "but whatever it is, they must not have any way to tie it to the real killer. If this person has never been arrested for anything else there wouldn't be any records, you know."
"True. So whoever it is has probably never been arrested for any other crime. That covers a lot of people."
"Yeah," Clark said. "But that's never stopped us before."
"We'll just have to narrow it down," Lori said.
Clark nodded, then lifted his head. "Uh oh." He glanced around and pulled to the side of the street. "I have to go."
"All right." Lori reflected that it seemed as if the emergencies always came at the most inconvenient times -- but then there really weren't any convenient times for an emergency. "Be careful."
"I'll be fine. Why don't you go on to the gym -- but please be careful."
"I will," Lori said. "Go."
He opened the door and stepped out. An instant later he had vanished, and Lori heard a sonic boom split the air. Superman was on his way.
The Hobs Fitness Center was moderately busy when Lori walked in the door. Connor wasn't in evidence, but Deirdre Monitor was behind the receptionist's counter wearing sweats and a pair of tennis shoes. She smiled when she saw Lori. "Ms. Lyons! What can I do for you?"
"Hi," Lori said, smiling at her in a friendly way. "Clark and I are going to do a series of articles on the gym and our maternal fitness class, you know. I wondered if it would be all right if I talked to you and some of the instructors about it, and got a better idea of what running a fitness center entails." She glanced around at the sweating patrons of the establishment. "I hope I didn't come at a bad time."
"Oh no, of course not," Deirdre said. "Connor left standing orders that you or Mr. Kent were to be allowed free access at any time the gym was open. He's really working to get this place off the ground."
"I gathered that," Lori said. "Clark had a meeting at City Hall, so I'm here to do the job for both of us."
"Your husband looks like the kind of guy who knows his way around a gym," Deirdre remarked. "Nice build."
"I think so," Lori agreed. "Clark's an athletic guy. He used to play football before I met him."
"He kind of looks like a football player," Deirdre said. "Did he ever think of turning pro?"
"Clark's a journalist through and through," Lori said. "There was never a question of what he wanted to do with his life, and he's very good at what he does."
"I've seen his articles," Deirdre said. "I hope you won't be offended, but how long is your current contract?"
Lori patted her rounded middle. "It's lifetime," she said.
Deirdre's eyes widened slightly, then she smiled a little wryly. "It figures. All the good-looking, successful guys are either taken or gay. You're lucky."
"Barry isn't exactly repulsive," Lori pointed out. "He seems to like you a lot."
"Yeah, I know," Deirdre said. "I like him too. He's pushing for a six-month contract to see how we get along as a married couple. I don't know; I'm thinking about it."
"My sister went through seven of those before she found the right guy," Lori said. "Clark kind of introduced them, but she married Ryan for life and they have a baby boy. She's never been happier."
"That's what I'd like," Deirdre said, a little wistfully. "Oh well. Can I show you anything, or would you just like to wander around and observe?"
"I'd like to look around if you don't mind. Is it all right if I come back and ask questions later?"
"Sure." Deirdre glanced around as a pot-bellied older man and a thin older woman pushed open the doors. "May I help you?"
"We're thinking about signing up," the woman said. "Both of us need to get in better shape."
One glance at the man's face gave Lori the urge to giggle. It was obvious from his expression that the motivation was all on the woman's side, and that she'd dragged her reluctant spouse along against his wishes. Quickly, she turned away and walked toward the weight room. Paul Brown, wearing shorts and a T-shirt that showed off his muscular build to advantage was strolling around the room observing while several men and two women sweated and strained as they hoisted the heavy weights. Lori stood watching for several minutes and then crossed the room to him. "Hi," she said.
He glanced at her. "Ms. Lyons, right?"
She nodded. "I wanted to ask a few questions about the job you do," she began.
Primed by Clark, and her own research, she led into the interview with innocuous questions, graduating into more complicated ones. She was careful to keep the conversation casual, and let him digress a number of times into more technical language before bringing the subject back to the gym. When he finished describing his job, she nodded. "Interesting stuff," she said. "How did Connor manage to get you to join this venture?"
"I worked at the Metro Fitness Center," he explained. "Connor and I talked a lot about starting our own gym. He's the senior partner, but I own a few shares of this place. I loaned him some of my savings to sink into it, so I want it to succeed almost as much as he does."
Lori nodded. "I understand that. Well, I'm going to try to help with this series I'm doing. I imagine losing one of your instructors the other day was quite a shock."
"Yeah," he said. "Ginnie wasn't just an instructor, though, she was a good friend. I hope they find who did it, but I don't suppose there's much chance of that."
"You never know," Lori said. "Did she say anything about being worried about her safety or anything?"
Paul shook his head. "No. One of Ginnie's jobs was as an instructor in self-defense here at the gym. We have a self-defense class every Monday and Wednesday night. The other nights she worked as an aerobics instructor. If it was a robbery attempt, it was a stupid one, because she didn't carry money or anything."
Lori shook her head. "It's a shame," she said. "This isn't the best of areas. I hope everyone else is taking precautions now when they leave at night."
Paul nodded. "Connor told everyone to go in pairs, and today he hired a security guard to walk people to their cars if they leave after dark. It really shook him up."
"I'd think it would shake everyone up," Lori said. "Why did she leave alone, anyway? Wasn't there anyone here who could go with her?"
"She always did," Paul said. "We were closing up and everybody was leaving. She'd parked her car down the street, and it was only a little way. I told her to be careful, just because of the area, but she said she could take care of herself."
"You were here? Didn't anybody hear her scream or anything?"
Paul shook his head. "Apparently not. If somebody stunned her from behind, she might not have had the chance to scream."
"You could be right," Lori agreed. "Do you know who else was here? Since I'm following up on that story too, I'd like to interview them. I'm really not going for the ghoul-factor here," she added quickly at his instant frown. "I'd like to see the killer caught. Anyone willing to stun and knife a woman in a robbery attempt is somebody that we definitely want off the streets."
"That's for sure," Paul said. "I'd like to do a lot more than just get him off the streets, but it's not likely I'll have the chance. Deirdre was here at the time, and Connor, and Jim Peebles. He's a junior instructor and general clean-up guy. There were a couple of other people too, but I'm not really sure because I was in here most of the time. You'd probably have to have Deirdre check the schedule to find out for sure."
"Thanks, I'll do that," Lori said. "Thanks for taking the time to talk to me."
"No sweat," Paul said. He glanced across the room at a teenager heaving at one of the barbells. "Excuse me." He went quickly toward the aspiring bodybuilder. "You're going to hurt your back that way. Keep your back straight and lift with your legs -- "
Lori watched Paul Brown demonstrate the correct way to lift a heavy weight, then turned and went toward the main body of the gym. Here were the resistance machines where beginners built up muscular strength before they graduated to the free weights. As she watched, Marcella Evans entered, leading the couple who had been talking to Deirdre at the front desk. She began a tour of the room, demonstrating the various machines and giving a short description of the muscle groups that they were designed to affect. The thin woman listened closely, while the resigned expression on her middle-aged husband's face severely tried Lori's self control. Marcella proceeded to demonstrate the programming of one of the treadmills lining the south wall and Lori had to turn away to hide the grin that kept fighting its way to the surface. The poor guy was obviously being dragged kicking and screaming into a fitness program by his determined wife, who clearly thought she was doing it for his own good. It probably was a good idea, but the look of abject misery on his face was almost too much.
When the two had left, Lori crossed the room to where Marcella was checking the functioning of a machine designed to build strength in the deltoid group. The instructor glanced up as Lori approached. "May I help you?"
"I hope so," Lori said. "We met last night."
"Oh yes, Ms. Lyons. Connor isn't here at the moment -- "
"That's okay. I actually came to look around the gym and talk to some of the staff," Lori told her. "Connor told you I'm doing a series of articles on the gym and on the maternal fitness program. Hopefully it will give you some publicity and at the same time encourage other expectant mothers to keep their physical fitness level up during their pregnancy."
Marcella nodded. "It's nice of you to want to help us," she said. "Connor's put everything he has into this place. It's his dream."
"I know. If we're lucky this will raise interest in it," Lori said.
"I remember you said you were Connor's editor when you worked on the school paper," Marcella said. "He and I were phys ed majors at the same time. I graduated the same year he did."
"It must be kind of hard to get a job in a specialty like that," Lori remarked.
"Sometimes," Marcella said. "Lots of phys ed majors go into work at elementary schools to teach the rug rats something about physical fitness. Fortunately, one of my professors knew somebody who needed someone to help out at his gym. I also had credentials in teaching maternity fitness, so I was able to bring something useful to the interview that helped me get the job."
"Where did you work?" Lori asked.
"The Metro gym," Marcella said. "I was hired there at almost the same time as Connor. It was nice to have someone I knew there. Trying to go it alone in the city when you're just starting out is kind of a lonely business."
"Yeah, I know," Lori said.
"Where's your husband today?" Marcella asked.
"Oh, he had some interviews at City Hall, so I said I'd come over and do some of the background for the first article," Lori said. "Connor fixed it so I could wander around and watch even when I'm not in the class."
"I see," Marcella said. "Well, I sure hope your series boosts our membership. We're operating on a shoestring until we get enough people to make it a success. We all appreciate the effort you're making for us." She glanced at her watch. "I'm leaving in a few minutes. Look around all you like. Feel free to try some of the equipment if you want. Just be careful if you do."
"I think I'll wait until Clark is with me," Lori said. "He knows how to work this stuff."
Marcella smiled. "He looks like he works out pretty regularly. Maybe he should get a membership here."
"Maybe he should," Lori said. "I'll mention it to him."
Marcella departed, and Lori stood by the wall, watching the patrons of the gym working out on the machines. They varied from kids in their late teens to people in their sixties and seventies. Some were enthusiastic, some acted as if they were there because they'd been dragged in by other family members. After a time, she wandered back out to the reception area. Deirdre was nowhere to be seen, so Lori left quietly and headed for the Jeep.
By this time of the day, rush hour had been in progress for a couple of hours, and she figured she could expect to take at least an hour to make it to the Planet. She maneuvered her way through the stop and go traffic, wondering why, with all the advances in human civilization and human technology, that Metropolis still had to endure the annoyance of rush hour every day. At last she concluded that Metropolis was simply a very large city, with a very high population density. Whenever a lot of people wanted to get somewhere at the same time, there were going to be traffic jams.
It was somewhere about halfway between the gym and the Daily Planet that she realized that she was being followed.
At first she wasn't sure. Traffic was heavy and cars were crowded closely around her. She gritted her teeth as one of the little one-person Slipstream Scooters, which were actually barely more than hoverboards with a seat and a steering wheel, cut sharply in front of her, nearly wiping out on her front right fender. The things were a hazard to navigation in her opinion because the occupants seemed to lose any sense of caution once they were behind the controls. Clark had once described it as the "We're little but we're mighty" syndrome. The scooters might have a containment field that protected the driver, but that didn't make them invulnerable. Lori hated it when she got one of them in front of her because the drivers were inevitably completely unpredictable and she fully expected that one day one of them would cut it too close and wind up crushed between her and the car ahead.
This particular driver was a teenager barely old enough to have a license, who obviously had no sense of his own mortality. Lori glanced at the rear scanner to see if there was the slightest possibility of changing lanes and getting away from this maniac but cars were packed around her like sardines. Four cars back, a green Chevrolet Meteor that seemed vaguely familiar caught her attention for a second, but she was forced to switch her attention to the traffic in front of her as the line of cars began to creep slowly forward again. The driver of the scooter seemed to take the slight movement of the traffic as his cue to split-lane between the rows of bumper-to-bumper vehicles and zipped four spaces forward, diving between a Ford Cruiser and a big ground truck with the name of a local supermarket on its side. Lori cringed, expecting to hear the crunch of impact, but again the driver seemed to defy the laws of physics and screeched to a stop inches from the truck's rear doors. The driver of the Ford leaned on his horn, but the scooter driver ignored him, squeezed around the truck and vanished among the crush of traffic ahead. From somewhere, she heard the wail of a siren and the blast of a horn, and a moment later a cop on a shiny black vehicle that looked like a heavier, meaner version of the scooter tore past her right window, its blue lights flashing.
It would be too much to hope, she told herself, that the cop was after the guy with the scooter. There was probably an emergency up ahead or something. She glanced at the scanner again to see if there were any more flashing lights coming up behind her.
The green car was still there. She squinted at it, trying to recall where she had seen it before.
The distance between her car and the green one had lengthened a little in the short distance that they had moved when she had first noticed it. She couldn't really see the driver's face -- just a pale blurry patch on the other side of the glass -- but the odd feeling that she had seen this car before wouldn't quite go away.
Traffic had begun to move while she studied the green car, wracking her brain to recall the occasion that she had seen it. The driver of the red VW Ferret behind her blew his horn, startling her out of her abstraction. She eased forward, wishing fervently that she could yell for Clark to come and carry the Jeep out of this mess.
She saw a space open in the lane to her right and gritted her teeth. With a sharp move, she shoved the nose of the Jeep into the tiny space, causing the man in the silver Tornado to step hard on his brakes. He blew his horn as Lori pulled triumphantly into the space that opened for her.
From somewhere behind her there was another chorus of honking. She glanced back in time to see the green Meteor pull into the right lane as well, nearly causing a chain reaction accident. It was only the fact that the cars were moving so slowly that prevented it. Trying to keep an eye on the crowded traffic around her, Lori nevertheless was aware of a faint sensation of uneasiness. It wasn't anything, she told herself. Imagination. Why should anyone be following her right now? It was broad daylight, and there were literally millions of potential witnesses around.
Still, she couldn't help the feeling. The story of the murdered women was too fresh in her mind. She needed to get back to the Planet pronto! Once she got there she would no doubt feel a little silly, but she'd promised to be careful, and Clark was the last person who would laugh at her if her imagination were to run away with her right now.
She still couldn't see the driver's face. The car was too far back, and the tinted windows made it nearly impossible to get a clear look at the person behind the wheel. She could see a human shape, but she couldn't even tell the sex of the driver.
Making up her mind, she turned right at the next cross street, out of the bumper-to-bumper traffic. This one was crowded, but nothing like the one she had just turned off of. Traffic was actually moving at a reasonable pace. She glanced at her rear scanner again, and saw the Meteor hugging the tail of the car in front of it. Tailgating wasn't exactly unusual, but whoever this guy was, he was practically climbing into the other car's trunk. If the car ahead stopped suddenly there was bound to be a collision.
She lost sight of the green car within seconds as the tall buildings intruded into her line of sight and gave a faint sigh of relief. It was almost certainly her imagination, she knew, but the behavior of the other driver made her nervous.
She had reached the cross street ahead when, glancing at the rear scanner prior to changing lanes, she saw the green Meteor turn the corner.
Her heart leaped and began to pound a little harder. It had to be coincidence, she told herself firmly. It wouldn't be a bit surprising if the driver of the car wanted to get out of the heavy traffic, just as she had. The car was certainly making no effort to try to catch up to her now.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to try a little test. Instead of shifting into the middle lane, she signaled and turned right. She could make a left turn at the next cross street and get back to the Planet that way. It would take a few minutes longer, but at least she would know if her imagination was working overtime.
She was nearly to the cross street, and had changed lanes preparatory to making a left turn, when she saw the green car round the corner. It's left turn signal came on immediately, and it cut instantly left in front of a silver Mustang that had to slam on its brakes to avoid the other car.
Lori's heart climbed into her throat. This was looking more and more as if it wasn't a coincidence after all. The red light ahead of her stared at her like a malevolent eye, and she gulped, keeping one eye on it and one on the green car which had managed to come within five cars of the Predator. She glanced at her door indicator, which told her that all the locks were engaged.
The light turned green and Lori stepped on the accelerator. The Predator leaped forward, taking the corner on two wheels. Her tires howled in agony, but she dived into the nearest open space and cut into the right hand lane inches ahead of a compact economy car. The driver behind her blew his horn at her, but she ignored it as she concentrated on her driving. The green car followed her around the corner, but it was now well back as another car cut in front of it. Lori turned right and then immediately left down a short alley. She bounced and bumped her way down it and emerged onto another street. The Planet was only a few blocks away now. She headed single-mindedly toward it, glancing frequently at her rear scanner, but there was no sign of her stalker. It took her another fifteen minutes to make her way through the thick, rush-hour traffic to her place of work, but at last she drew up to the barrier that regulated access to the lot. She flashed her pass at the entryway scanner, glancing back the way she had come, but there was no sign of the green car. As she pulled into the parking place assigned to her, she heaved a sigh of relief. That had been a little scary. Of course, this wasn't the first time she had been followed. It was one of the hazards of her job when she annoyed certain elements of the population of Metropolis, which was one reason that Clark had insisted on a large, heavy car with a secure containment field for the protection of the driver. He had also extracted a promise from her even before they were married that if she ever felt herself to be in real danger that she would yell for his help. She hadn't done so this time because she had been reasonably sure of her ability to avoid the tail. Still, being followed wasn't a pleasant experience, and she would be certain to tell Clark about it when he got back. It might or might not have anything to do with Connor. There was still a slight though somewhat unlikely possibility that it had all been her imagination, but there was no point in taking chances.
By the time she stepped out of the elevator into the newsroom, the adrenaline rush had subsided and when she reached her desk, she found that her hands were beginning to shake. She grabbed the mug that Clark had given her for her office coffee and made her way to the coffee machine. Deliberately, she forced herself to take her time preparing a cup of coffee, heavy on the chocolate. There was even half a doughnut left -- probably the result of Andrea's inevitable habit of taking half a doughnut in order to protect her enviable figure, and she appropriated it. Making her way back to her desk, she encountered Greg, who glanced at the doughnut and grinned. "You and doughnuts have a real relationship, Lyons," he announced. Andrea glanced at him with one eyebrow raised.
"You could say that," Lori said absently, and continued on to her destination. Greg followed her, a slight frown on his features.
"You okay, Lyons?" he inquired.
She set the mug carefully on the desk, trying to conceal the shaking of her hands and settled into her chair. "Why shouldn't I be?"
The man regarded her for a moment. "Where's Kent?"
"He went to meet a source," she said. "Why?"
"Nothing," Greg said. "You sure you're okay?"
She nodded, taking a bite of the doughnut. "I'm all right," she said, glancing sideways at him. "Low blood sugar, that's all. I've had a lot of it recently."
"Huh. Okay." Greg nodded and walked away. Lori looked after him for a moment, slightly puzzled.
Her wrist talker beeped at that moment, and she raised the little device to her lips. "Lori Lyons."
"Hi honey," her husband's voice said. "Where are you?"
"Back at the office," she said.
"That's convenient. I'm just coming up the stairs." As he spoke, she heard a distant sonic boom, and an instant later the door to the stairs opened and Clark stepped out.
The rush of relief was somewhat disproportionate to the circumstances. Clark glanced instantly at her, and she knew that he must have detected her increased heartbeat. He hurried down the steps to the Pit and was at her side in record time. "What's the matter, honey?"
Lori drew a deep, relieved breath and leaned her head against his side. "You know, you may not read minds, but you might as well." She smiled at him a little shakily. "I'm probably overreacting, but I'm glad you're here."
He frowned slightly. "Are you all right?"
"Now I am." She looked up into his worried face. "Someone was following me."
Clark's face changed. "Following you! Are you sure?"
"Someone in a green Meteor followed me," Lori said. "At least, I think he did. I first noticed the car because it seemed familiar. I'm still trying to remember where I saw it before." She frowned in an effort of memory. "I know I've seen it before, and recently, but -- " She snapped her fingers. "I think I've got it. This morning, after we left the coffee shop, some guy tried to cut off somebody else behind us. I heard him honk and looked back, and saw the somebody-else flip him the bird, but he didn't do it back. That was kind of weird all by itself. The one that tried to do the cutting-off was in a green Meteor. It might have been the same one -- or maybe not. I don't know for sure, but it made me think I'd seen the one that followed me before. Anyway, it made me notice him, and then it looked like he was trying to follow me. I'm still not really sure he was, but if he wasn't it was a heck of a coincidence. I mean, what are the chances that two green Meteors are going to attract my attention the same day? I don't even like the things. They're ugly cars, and then they paint a lot of them that weird shade of green. It reminds me of moss or something. Anyway, I went around some corners and it sure looked like he followed me, but I finally managed to shake him and came here. I'm still not sure he was actually following me, but if he wasn't it was quite a coincidence."
The look on Clark's face was classic. It broke into the verbal stream and made her giggle. "Sorry. You know how I babble when I'm nervous."
Clark shook his head sharply. "And you talk about having deja vu. Okay, let's take this a little at a time. What happened first?"
"Well -- " Lori took a deep breath, telling herself to calm down. There was no point in falling apart just because Clark was here. She'd managed all right on her own. "I just happened -- " She broke off as Carla approached. "Did you need something, Carla?"
The intern laid several sheets of hardcopy on the corner of her desk. "I got that information Mr. Kent asked for," she said. "The employees of the Metropolis Fitness Center for the last three years."
"Oh, thanks," Lori said. "That should help a lot."
The intern smiled a little nervously. "If you need any more research, I'll be glad to do it, Ms. Lyons."
Lori took a deep breath and forced the jitters to subside. "Well, there's not anything right now, but I may have something for you tomorrow after Clark and I have a chance to look this over."
"Is something wrong?" Carla asked.
Was everyone in the newsroom a mindreader? "No, not really. Something happened a little while ago -- " She broke off. "Never mind. It was just one of those hazards of the job. It's all right now." She glanced at her wrist talker, surprised at the time. "I guess we'll see you in the morning."
Carla nodded, still looking at her a little oddly. "Okay. See you tomorrow."
After the intern had left, Clark rested a hip on the corner of her desk. "Care to tell me what happened?"
"Yeah." Lori gathered up the papers that Carla had given her and thrust them into her briefcase. "Let me close down here and I'll tell you on the way to the car."
"Good idea. I'll do the same." He stepped over to his desk and began to clear the surface. Lori picked up her mail, swept the remaining contents of her desk into a bottom drawer and told her computer to shut down. She wasn't in the mood to do her usual thorough job of clearing up. The earlier events of the afternoon were still jangling her nerves somewhat. If the driver of the green car had really been following her, what could he have been up to? He couldn't really have believed he could get her to open the doors so he could stun and stab her.
On the other hand, if he didn't realize she was looking for the mysterious killer who had apparently been dogging Connor for three years and killing his female friends, -- which he probably didn't -- he might figure that he could catch her unawares, which was a scary thought.
"Ready to go?" Clark asked.
She slipped her feet back into her shoes, grimacing at the tight toes. That was it. She was wearing flat shoes from now on. These things just plain hurt her feet. Besides, if she had to do any running in the future, the last thing she wanted to have to do was run in heels or do it barefoot. Resolutely, she refused to let herself consider why she might have to run. Nothing, of course, to do with someone following her this afternoon.
Besides, as Clark had remarked yesterday, if she looked short maybe people would underestimate her. She had continued taking self-defense classes after the attempted mugging at New Troy State when she had first met Clark, and was in excellent shape. Her instructor had barred her only from taking falls, for obvious reasons, and she had recently passed her test for brown belt. It didn't make her feel invulnerable by a long way, but it reassured Clark that she was at least better able to defend herself in many situations than she might otherwise be. Still, martial arts were no defense against a stunner.
Resolutely, she dismissed the thought. This had nothing whatsoever to do with this afternoon. Nothing at all.
She got to her feet and smiled at her husband. "Let's go."
They made their way toward the bank of elevators. Lori handed the briefcase to him. "Do you mind if we stop at a shoe store on the way home? I want to pick up a pair of flat shoes. I've had it with these."
Clark glanced at the fashionable footwear and grinned slightly. "I don't blame you. I don't see how women wear those things without turning an ankle, anyhow."
"Lots of practice," Lori said. "Personally, I'm tired of sore feet. Besides, Ronnie told me I'd need to get flat shoes pretty soon anyway. Something about my balance being thrown off because of Junior."
Clark nodded. "Sounds good to me," he said. "We'll stop by Broadhurst's on the way by and get you some." He took her elbow and steered her up the steps. "So what happened?"
"Well, I spotted the green car about halfway here -- " she began. As they waited for the elevator, she gave a quick description of what had happened. "Sorry about the babblefest," she concluded, looking down in embarrassment. "I was still a little shaken up."
He put an arm around her shoulders. "I don't blame you a bit," he said. "You handled it pretty well. If someone was following you, you were safe as long as you were in the car."
"Whoever it was -- if it was anyone -- doesn't know we're after him," Lori said. "He won't expect me to be on guard."
The elevator door opened and they boarded. Clark nodded. "That's true. Still, I wish you didn't have such an affinity for trouble."
"I really don't go looking for it," she said. "Parking," she added to the elevator.
"I know. It doesn't seem to matter, though," Clark said. "It just seems to find you."
The car dropped toward the first floor and then changed direction toward the big parking tier. As it braked to a stop and the doors popped open, Clark's head jerked up. "Stay here," he said. He stepped from the car and vanished.
Lori hesitated at the elevator doors and then stepped back into the lighted interior. She was relatively safe there, she knew, in the unlikely event that there was some danger lurking around. The car had a camera that observed everything inside it and in the event of trouble, Security could be there in seconds.
Some distance away she could hear the sound of running feet, magnified by the echoes that were characteristic of this place, then her wrist talker beeped. She lifted the device to her lips. "Lori Lyons."
"Come to Section B," her husband's voice said. "Hurry. Don't stop for anything."
Clark didn't want to leave her alone while he dealt with whatever had happened, she thought. Quickly she exited the elevator and turned right toward the part of the lot where she had left the Jeep. The parking structure was dimly lit, and she couldn't help glancing nervously around as she hurried toward Section B but within a few seconds she saw the shadowy forms of two figures, one lying on the synthastone floor and the other the caped figure of Superman, kneeling beside it.
Her heart in her mouth, she ran toward him. "Who is it?"
"It's Carla." Clark glanced up as she arrived. He was doing something that Lori couldn't see. "She's been stunned and stabbed."
"Oh my god. Is she --"
"She's alive," he said. "I saw someone run. I think he must have been scared off when he heard the elevator arrive, but she'd have bled to death if I'd tried to catch him."
"Or her." Clark was doing something to the girl huddled on the ground. "I'm putting pressure on the artery. Whoever it was didn't have time to do a thorough job but I need to get her to the emergency room. The police will be here in a minute. I called them. Velma's on her way."
The sound of an approaching siren could be heard, and an instant later a police air scooter skidded to a stop beside them. Clark stood up, Carla in his arms. "I need to take the victim to the emergency room, Officer. Ms. Lyons will give you the details. I'm afraid there aren't many. I'll be back as soon as I can." He was gone in a swirl of air.
Another approaching siren could be heard. Several, in fact. Lori turned to the police officer, who was now stepping from his vehicle. The man had glanced briefly after the departing superhero, and now turned to Lori. "What happened here?"
"Somebody tried to kill our office intern." Lori found her voice shaking.
The air-cop took one look at her and Lori saw him glance at her waistline. His voice became more solicitous. "Do you need to sit down, Miss?"
She leaned back against the nearest vehicle: a small Ford Hawk. "I'm all right. Just a little shaken. The victim's name is Carla Rhoads. She's the newest employee in our office."
"Do you know what happened?"
"Superman said she was stabbed," Lori said. "Stunned and then stabbed," she corrected. "He said he saw someone run, but he couldn't pursue or Carla would have bled to death."
The man nodded and spoke into his wrist talker. Lori looked at the ground where Carla had lain, at the small puddle of blood and the spatters of red here and there. In minutes, the police would be setting up a perimeter around the parking structure and initiating an immediate search of the entire area. They weren't going to find anyone, she thought. There were too many ways out of this place, but the reason for the assault on Carla was becoming clear to her as she listened to the voices and the orders flying back and forth. Velma Chow's police aircar arrived seconds later and the Lieutenant stepped out to take charge of the situation. She took one look at Lori and pushed her into the driver's seat of the car.
"Sit down, Lyons," she ordered. "Put your face in your lap. I don't want you passing out on me."
"I'm all right," she protested.
"You're white as a sheet. Do what I say." Velma turned to the cop who had first arrived. "What happened?"
The man repeated what Lori had told him, and Velma turned to Lori. "You were here?"
"I'd just arrived in the elevator," Lori said, bringing the tremor in her voice under control with an effort. "Superman must have realized it. He called me. He said he thought the sound of the elevator must have scared the guy away."
"Probably," Velma said. "Did he say anything else?"
Lori nodded. "Just what I told Officer McRae. Superman said she'd been stunned and stabbed."
Velma's eyelids flickered at the description. "I see. Anything else?"
Lori shook her head. "No."
The lieutenant looked sharply at her. "What else, Lyons?"
Lori gulped. "I'd like to tell you the rest in private, if you don't mind."
There was a swirl of air announcing Superman's arrival. Velma Chow turned to him. "How's the victim, Superman?"
"I left her at Metro General Emergency," he said. "She's expected to make it." He turned to Lori. "Are you all right, Ms. Lyons?"
"Everybody keeps asking me that," Lori said. "I'm fine. I didn't turn to glass just because I'm pregnant."
She caught the faint twitch of his lips. "That's good to hear. I was passing by and heard a noise," he explained to the lieutenant. "I can't really describe it, but it alarmed me. Then I heard the elevator, and someone running, and came to investigate the sounds. I found Ms. Rhoads here. She'd been stunned and then stabbed. Someone was running away, but it was a case of going after him or saving the victim's life."
"Him?" Velma asked immediately.
"I'm not sure of the gender," Superman said apologetically. "I was trying to give first aid to Ms. Rhoads."
"Of course," Velma said, sounding resigned. "Anything else?"
"I'd heard the elevator arrive and realized it was Ms. Lyons," he explained. "I didn't think it would be wise to leave her here alone after what had happened -- especially when there was some chance that the assailant was still around. So I called her, told her what had happened, and left her to speak to Officer McRae while I took Ms. Rhoads to the hospital."
"I see. All right, we'll need you to come to the station later to sign a statement," Velma said.
Superman nodded. He glanced back at Lori. "Is there anything I can do for you before I leave, Ms. Lyons?"
Lori hesitated. "Could you tell Clark where I am?" she asked.
"Certainly." He looked at Velma. "Is it all right with you if I bring her husband here, Lieutenant?"
Velma shrugged. "Fine with me."
Superman departed in a gust of air. Velma turned to Lori. "What else, Lori?" Her voice sounded a little gentler than it had. "I realize you're a bit shaken up, but if you can give us any information -- "
"I don't know if it will help," Lori said. "This is all just guesses."
There was a whoosh of air, and an instant later Clark was hurrying down the aisle between the rows of cars. Velma glanced in his direction and waved. "Over here, Kent."
Clark obeyed. He glanced measuringly at Lori and seemed to relax. "Superman said someone tried to kill Carla," he said. "Are you all right, honey?"
"I'm fine," Lori repeated patiently. "I have a bad feeling I know why it happened, though."
Velma opened the door to the rear seat for Clark and gestured for him to scoot over. "If you want privacy, close the door," she told Lori, getting into the seat beside Clark. "Let's have it."
Lori obeyed and turned in the seat to face the lieutenant, biting her lip. "Carla looks superficially like me," she said. "She's about my size and has dark hair and the same hairstyle. I think that might be why this happened. I think it was a case of mistaken identity."
Velma Chow regarded her in silence for several seconds. "Do you have any idea why someone might want you dead this time, Lyons?" she inquired a little dryly.
Lori glanced at Clark. He nodded slightly. "You better tell her what happened today," he said. "I think you may be right."
"What happened today?" Velma asked.
"Well -- it goes back to what you told us yesterday," Lori explained. "Connor Cooper. He was on the NTSU Clarion -- that's the New Troy State University online newspaper -- when I was the editor there. He's a friend of mine. Clark and I are going to a fitness class at his gym, and I guess everybody there knows that we were pretty good friends -- "
Velma listened in silence as Lori talked, describing what had happened this afternoon. When she finished, the lieutenant sighed. "I guess I should have expected it," she said. "So, this green Meteor may have followed you from the gym -- and now someone has assaulted a woman who looks a lot like you. You say Cooper wasn't at the gym today while you were there?"
"No," Lori said. "He was supposed to be participating in the Valentine Marathon." She glanced at her wrist. "I guess it's getting over just about now."
Velma blew out air, puffing out her cheeks. "We'll check to see if he was actually there, and completed the race," she said. "Not that that's conclusive, of course. Still, it's a partial alibi. Did I mention that you're making me old before my time?"
"Lieutenant, someone's killing Connor's female friends," Lori said. "I don't think it's Connor. I know him pretty well. He'd no more do this than I would."
Velma regarded her for a moment in silence. "And you think this person in the green car followed you and then laid in wait for you here in the parking tier. You might be right. I don't suppose you got the license number of the car?"
Lori shook her head. "Things were happening too fast. If it's any help, I think the first letter on the license may have been either a Q or an O."
"I guess it's better than nothing." Chow sounded resigned. "You realize, I suppose, that I'd already thought of the possibility of a stalker."
Lori nodded. "I figured you had. "
"It's one reason Cooper hasn't been arrested yet. But if you mention that to anyone --"
"You know us better than that, Lieutenant," Clark said.
"Yes, I do or I'd never have said it," Chow said with a sardonic smile. "But don't tell my bosses. I'd never live it down." She regarded Lori for a moment. "I know your propensity for attracting trouble probably makes what I'm going to say useless, Lori, but please try to be careful. I'd hate to lose one of the best friends the Department has."
Lori glanced at her husband. "I'd promised Clark that already, before this afternoon," she said. "I'm being careful, really." She glanced at her wrist talker. "Is it all right with you if we send this story to the news desk? We won't tell them anything we shouldn't. We don't actually know anything other than the bare facts."
Chow nodded. "Go ahead. You can leave any time you like but I'll need you to sign a statement later."
"I'd like some kind of quote from you about this," Lori said.
"I'll give it to you when you come in for the statement," Velma said. "Go on, get out of here. I've got work to do."
John Olsen waited until Clark had finished speaking. Both Lori and Clark looked shaken. He should probably make an effort to get used to situations like this, he reflected. If Lois Lane's soul had returned as Lori Lyons, this kind of thing could be expected to happen repeatedly if the stories he had heard about his intrepid great grandmother were anywhere near true, and since Clark verified them he had to accept them as fact. "So you think this stalker has targeted Lori and got Carla by mistake?" he concluded.
"That's about it," Clark said. "We're going after him. There's no way I'm going to let some nut hurt innocent people out of some weird obsession with Connor Cooper."
"Oh, I agree," John said. "You're certain Carla is going to be all right?"
"They thought she would. I stopped the bleeding pretty fast, and got her to the emergency room within minutes," Clark said. "They were rushing her in for emergency surgery when I left."
"I'd better give the hospital a call," John said, "and then her parents. Her mother is in Australia and her father is working on the Antarctic Reclamation Project, but they'll want to know as soon as possible."
"I think Superman will drop by the hospital and ask how she's doing," Clark said.
"That would probably be a good idea," John said. "You'll tell me if she needs anything, won't you?"
Clark nodded. "Come on, honey," he added to Lori. "I don't want to leave you alone. As soon as our killer realizes he got the wrong person, he's going to be after you again."
Lori nodded silently. John examined her face and hid a smile at the expression he saw there. As a newsman he had long ago learned to read expressions pretty accurately, and if he wasn't mistaken, Lori was more than just upset. His top female reporter was angry. He supposed that it might simply be a reaction to everything that had happened, but he doubted it. If he knew Lori, she was furious at the killer for what he had done, and that meant fireworks a little way down the line. Theoretically, he knew, reporters were supposed to stay detached from their stories, but he had often found that theory to be untrue. Lori did her best work when she was passionately involved in a story. Their murderer didn't stand a chance of concealing his identity for long, John thought. Lori Lyons was out to get him.
"Watch your back," he said mildly. "I don't want you getting killed trying to track this guy down."
"I will," Lori said. "Come on, Clark."
Metropolis General Hospital was the same as any big hospital anywhere in the world, Clark thought as Superman strode into the Emergency Department where he had delivered Carla Rhoads two hours earlier. It looked, smelled and sounded the same and the dozen or so people waiting in the little room for their names to be called could have been a similar group anywhere in the world. Lori entered quietly behind him, virtually unnoticed since every eye in the place was glued to his colorful outfit. He made his way to the desk and waited patiently while a middle-aged woman holding a cloth over one eye spoke to the receptionist behind the glass panel.
At last the woman turned to him. "May I help you, Superman?"
"I hope so," he said. "I brought a young woman in a couple of hours ago. She'd been stunned and stabbed. I just wanted to know what happened to her."
The nurse nodded. "Just a moment." She turned to the computer in front of her and did something he couldn't see. "That would be Ms. Rhoads?"
"She's resting comfortably," the woman said. "You'll have to speak to her doctor if you want to know more."
"And her doctor would be?" he asked.
"Doctor Bacon," she informed him. She turned to the patient waiting behind him. "May I help you?"
Clark got out of the man's way and a moment later he and Lori had exited into the main body of the hospital. "I doubt we'll get much information from the doctor," he said, "but at least we know she made it. She may still be in Recovery."
"Can you look to see?" Lori inquired.
"Maybe. I don't like violating her privacy, though."
"You're not violating her privacy," Lori said. "We just want to see how she's doing. It would be different if we planned on talking about it or something."
Clark raised an eyebrow at her, but didn't protest. In truth, he wanted to reassure himself that Carla was going to be all right. "Okay. Surgery is on fourth. Let's go."
Lori followed him, trailing a little behind so it wouldn't be obvious that she was with Superman. Clark led the way to the stairs and once inside the stairwell, whisked himself and Lori to the fourth floor in seconds. He exited out into the main hallway and turned toward Recovery.
They stopped some distance from the actual room, and Clark trained his X-ray vision and super-hearing on the room. Carla was there, he saw, bandaged and hooked to various pieces of equipment, but she was breathing on her own, and as he watched a green-clad nurse bent over her, shaking her shoulder gently. He released a sigh of relief.
"She's in Recovery, coming out of the anesthetic," he reported. "They're trying to wake her up."
"Superman! Can I help you?" The speaker was a man in green scrubs with a nametag that identified him as a surgical nurse.
Clark nodded. "I brought a young woman in a while ago -- the victim of a stabbing. I just wanted to be sure she --"
"I understand," the man said. "What was her name?"
"Carla Rhoads," Lori said. She glanced at Superman and then turned deliberately to the nurse. "She's an employee of the Daily Planet and a friend of mine. I just wanted to know if she's all right."
"And you are?"
"I'm Lori Lyons. I work with Carla. I know you can't say much, but if you could just tell us if she's going to be all right?"
The man regarded her for a moment. "I can tell you that she's doing as well as can be expected, but that's all I'm allowed to say," he said. Lori bit her lip and he seemed to relent. "She's in Recovery now, and is expected to be transferred to a semi-private room in an hour or two," he said. "Does that help?"
Lori nodded. "Thanks."
"Yes," Clark said. "Thanks."
"Do you know when she'll be allowed visitors?" Lori asked.
"I don't know for sure. You should call the hospital in the morning to find out," the man said.
Lori nodded. "Thanks," she said again.
Flying through the evening air a few minutes later, Lori was silent. Clark knew his soulmate was thinking hard and waited with some trepidation for her to speak, but when she did, to his surprise it had nothing to do with Carla or the person who had attacked her. "I never did get a pair of flat shoes," she said.
"Do you still want to?" he asked. "Broadhurst's is still open."
Lori nodded. "If you don't mind," she said. "After that, we should stop at the flower section and order Carla a bouquet to be delivered in the morning. We should drop by the Precinct and sign those statements for Velma, and then I want to get some dinner. I'm starving."
That, at least, was no surprise. "Do you want to eat out, or cook at home?"
"Cook at home," Lori said. "If we eat in a restaurant, I'm going to be looking over my shoulder every other minute. Besides, I want to read over the stuff Carla found for us. We're going to nail this character before he hurts anybody else."
Yep, Lori was in fighting mode, he thought. Nothing made her more angry than an innocent person being hurt or killed by one of society's predators. He wondered for a moment how Utopia could possibly come about when such persons existed, but then common sense took over. Utopia still had predators. Any human society would have them, no matter how advanced the society was. Some people would always try to take what others had, some would always try to live at the expense of others, and some people would never accept the limitations put on them by the necessity of society to impose rules for the benefit of everyone. Tempus was one, and he certainly wasn't alone. It was simply that there were fewer of them, and in that future time society must have learned how to cope with them more effectively so that the decent, law-abiding people of Earth could live their lives in greater comfort and safety. After all, human society had predators, but they also had people like Lori, who would never accept that some people were free to harm others without retribution. It was people like her, and Lois before her, who would help bring about Wells's so-called Utopia. HG Wells had come from the Nineteenth Century, and his idea of Utopia might be somewhat different than Clark's, after all. If he and his descendents could reduce crime, poverty and war to a minimum, that might be Utopia from the time traveler's point of view. In any event, it was a noble goal to try for. And one tiny step on the way involved stopping a psychopathic killer from killing again.
"I'm with you," he told her. "If anybody needs to be caught, it's this guy. Assuming, of course, that Velma doesn't get him first."
"The police have dozens of cases," Lori said. "Besides, you and I have better resources."
"Well, different ones," Clark amended. "All right. What would you like for dinner?"
"I don't know," Lori said. "A lot of whatever it is."
"That part doesn't surprise me a bit," he said. "Okay. Let's go get you some shoes."
As they were leaving Broadhurst's, Lori's wrist talker beeped softly. She glanced at Clark and lifted the device to her lips. "Lori Lyons."
"Lori!" Connor's voice emerged from the speaker. "What happened? The police just left!"
"Hold on," Lori said. "I guess they were checking your alibi, huh?"
"Yeah." Connor's voice sounded marginally less upset. "I was at the Marathon. I placed fifth, so there were plenty of people who could vouch for where I was. What happened? I heard somebody else got attacked. Who was it?"
"Take it easy," Lori said. "Fortunately, nobody got killed. Superman saved her life."
She could hear the sigh of relief over the speaker. "Thank god. What happened?"
"Tell you what," Lori said. "I have to go over to the police station to sign a statement. Why don't you meet us at the apartment in an hour? We can tell you then."
There was a slight pause. "All right," Connor said. "I have to go get showered and changed, anyway. You're all right, aren't you? They said you were there."
"I'm fine," Lori said. "We can tell you about it when we see you."
"All right. I'll be there at nine," Connor's voice said.
After he had signed off, Lori glanced at Clark. "Care to give me a lift to the Precinct? We still need to pick up the Jeep at the Planet."
"Why don't we go make our statements and then we can get the car and go home," Clark said. "Let's find an alley."
A few minutes later, they were touching down at the Precinct. Clark, in full Superman regalia, opened the door for her and they entered the lobby of the station. The desk sergeant looked up and raised his eyebrows. "Superman? What brings you and Lyons here?"
"We have to sign statements for Lieutenant Chow," Clark said. "Is she in?"
"Yeah. Just a minute."
Lori waited, surreptitiously admiring her husband's six-foot frame in the tights. She never ceased to appreciate the way the spandex outfit hugged his body and showed every muscle and contour. Clark might be over a hundred and thirty but the sight of him in the Suit never failed to trigger her hormonal instincts, and no one seeing him would believe him to be a day over thirty, if as much.
"Watch it honey," he murmured softly to her. "You're drooling."
"You're very drool-worthy," she replied almost inaudibly, but wrenched her eyes away, aware that he was smiling slightly.
"You and Ms. Lyons can go in now, Superman," the sergeant announced.
"Thank you, Sergeant. After you, Ms. Lyons," Clark said, opening the door for her.
Velma Chow looked up a moment later when Clark knocked on the open door of her office. "Come on in," she said. "Sit down."
Clark let Lori pick her seat and then took the straight-backed chair opposite her. He looked expectantly at the lieutenant. "I believe you had statements for the two of us to sign," he said.
"Right here." Velma took two sheets of hardcopy and passed them to him across the desk. He glanced at them and handed one to Lori. "Look them over and make sure they're accurate," Velma said. "Make any corrections and initial them, then go ahead and sign."
Lori read over the short statement, picked up a pen lying on the desk and affixed her name to the document. "As I recall, you had a statement for me?"
"Right. 'The attack on Ms. Rhoads is quite similar to the attack on another young woman in Metropolis two nights ago, and a spokesperson for the police department -- that would be me -- stated that investigators believe that there may be a connection between them.' Will that do?"
"Sure," Lori said. "I take it there's a reason you want this in the piece?"
Chow nodded. "This is off the record, you understand. We've had a profiler working on this for some time. He doesn't have a lot to go on, but he's come to some conclusions about our killer. He believes that we've got a psychopath who has a fixation on a certain person -- in this case, Connor Cooper -- and is eliminating any possible rivals that come along. Probably female, or a gay male, with romantic fantasies involving Cooper; probably an isolated individual; possibly alienated from his family or with no close family; possibly living alone, but who is good at the superficial behavior that allows him or her to blend in and appear normal. He or she has had long-term contact with Cooper, but probably not a close relationship with him."
Lori nodded. "Clark and I kind of thought it might be something like that," she said.
"Figured that," Velma said. "Here's a little more information to go on. A couple of things have become evident in the last few killings. He's getting more paranoid about female contact with Cooper and is going to greater lengths to eliminate the competition -- as in trailing you, apparently following Cooper to see who his friends are, killing that woman at his apartment house with nothing to go on but gossip, and so forth. Now we have a description of the car he drives -- I'm using 'he' for convenience's sake -- thanks to you, Lori. Unfortunately it's an extremely common type of car. We're pretty sure he follows the news on the murders, so we want him to think that we know less than we do. We'd like him to get cocky."
"All right," Lori said. "I'll be sure your statement is prominent, but I won't give any hint there's anything more."
"Perfect," Chow said. "And be careful. Our killer thinks you're a threat. I don't want you dead, too."
"Neither do I," Lori said. "I'm being careful."
"I know," Chow said with a dour smile, "but what you think of as careful doesn't always coincide with my definition."
Lori patted her rounded middle lightly. "Even if I wasn't trying to be careful on my own behalf -- which I am -- I have another reason to try to be careful. I won't take unnecessary chances; I promise."
Chow raised an eyebrow and glanced at Clark. "It's the way she hedges those promises that worries me. Do me a favor and keep an eye on her, Superman. She and Kent are the only reporters I've ever been able to stand. I'd hate to lose her."
Clark smiled. "I'll do my best, Lieutenant."
Lori got to her feet. "Give me some credit. I'm not an idiot. I want to stay alive at least as much as you want me to."
Velma grinned sardonically and raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you used to be taller, Lyons?"
"How would you like a pair of new earrings to go with your new shoes, honey?" Clark asked as they flew through the air toward the Daily Planet to reclaim their car.
Lori fingered the tiny pearls she wore in her earlobes. "What's wrong with these?"
"Nothing -- except that they don't have an emergency tracking device in them. Arnie gave me a pair that do -- and they look stylish, too."
"All right," Lori said. "As long as they look like something I'd wear to work, or out to dinner."
"I'll show them to you when we get to the car. I think you'll like them."
The parking tier was echoing and dimly lighted when they arrived. Security had been doubled since Carla's stabbing, and they were stopped twice before they made their way to the Jeep. Briefly, Lori wondered how the killer had gotten in and out so quickly, but decided that he had probably come in through an exit from the Daily Planet and probably gone out the same way. On the other hand, with the police setting up a security perimeter, it was doubtful that he had been willing to risk taking his knife out with him so he had probably discarded it somewhere on the premises, even if the police hadn't managed to find it. At least she hadn't heard about it if they had. On the other hand, Clark would probably know.
"Did the police ever manage to find the knife?" she asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Clark said. "I can't see our killer trying to take it out of here. Too much chance of being stopped and checked for weapons."
"That's what I thought. That means it's either in the parking tier or in the Daily Planet somewhere," Lori said thoughtfully.
"Probably. Maybe I should do my hover-around-the-building-and-x-ray thing," Clark said.
"After you get in the Jeep and lock the doors," Clark said. "I should have done it sooner, but we've been a bit busy. I'm probably being paranoid, but the thought of a killer after you scares me."
"It scares me, too," Lori said. She triggered the door lock and opened the passenger door. "Didn't you say the police were watching Connor?"
"They are. I saw the report on Velma's desk just before we left. He was at the Marathon all day. Of course, his tail had no way of knowing about the assault on Carla."
"At least he's got an alibi," Lori said. "Maybe the tail will notice somebody following him -- or snooping around where he lives or something."
"Maybe. I don't want to count on it, though. Lock the door, and I'll be right back."
Lori obeyed, and then spent an endless time wondering what her husband was doing. When it seemed as if he had been gone for at least half an hour, she glanced at her wrist, only to discover that barely five minutes had passed. Still, five minutes was a long time for Superman to take searching a space as limited as the Daily Planet.
Almost on the thought, he appeared beside the car, spun in place, and Clark Kent opened the driver's door. "Nothing," he said.
"I guess you looked everywhere," Lori said.
He nodded. "I scanned the whole place. If it's here, it's invisible."
"Maybe the police found it," Lori said.
"I guess it's possible." He glanced at the area some thirty feet away, roped off by yellow tape, where Carla had been attacked. "Last I heard, they hadn't, though."
"How could the killer have got it out of here?" Lori asked. "They were using metal scanners on everyone leaving the place."
"That's a good question," Clark said. "I'll ask Velma about it when I see her next. In the meantime, let's go home. Connor will be there in about fifteen minutes."
"If we're going to make it, I think we're going to need a super-assist."
"Let's get out of the lot first," Clark said. "Then I'll give us a lift." He paused and slipped a hand into his pocket. "I almost forgot. See what you think of these."
Lori took the small box he handed her and opened it. The contents were a pair of delicate, gold earrings made of what looked like Black Hills Gold. "Arnie made these?"
"Yeah. One of them is designed to transmit an ultrasonic signal if anyone hits you with a stunner. Arnie had to be pretty specific, because you might not have a chance to scream. The other one will transmit sound. It's activated by my name -- spoken loudly. So if you get in trouble and can't yell -- like someone's holding you hostage -- say something like 'I wish Clark was here' or something. Got it? It will send me a homing signal."
"Okay." Lori examined the earrings for another moment, then removed her pearls and replaced them with the gold transmitters. "Let's hope I don't need them."
"You and me both," Clark said. He started the engine and backed out of the parking space. "I have the feeling that I'm missing something obvious," he said as he put the Jeep in forward, "but I haven't a clue what it is. I checked the whole area."
"Maybe it'll occur to you when you're not thinking about it," Lori suggested.
"Maybe, it will," he said doubtfully. "I hope so."
Clark set the Jeep down in an alley two blocks from their apartment, and they drove sedately into the apartment house's security garage. A few moments later, they stepped through the door of their apartment in time to hear Connor's signal. Clark checked the closed circuit viewer and signaled the security doors to let him through. Moments later, he knocked on their door.
Lori opened it. "Hi, Connor. Come in. Clark's just putting on the steaks. Would you like to stay for dinner?"
Connor entered and removed his jacket. "That depends," he said. "Is he a better cook than I remember you being? I nearly got indigestion at the Clarion's Christmas party when you brought the -- what was it again? The stuff with the powdered sugar."
Lori grinned. "Okay, so I was never an artist in the kitchen. I got by. Anyway, you don't have to worry about Clark's cooking. He could have been a chef if he hadn't wanted to be a journalist."
"In that case, sure," Connor said. "If you're sure it isn't an imposition."
"Not a bit. Medium rare, right?"
"That's right." Connor's smile faded. "Who got attacked, Lori?"
"I was going to explain that," Lori said. She raised her voice. "Clark! Did you hear?"
"Medium rare," Clark's voice said. "I hope you don't mind microwaved potatoes, Cooper. I'm not being fancy tonight."
"That'll be fine," Connor said.
"Come on in and sit down," Lori said. "The victim was our office intern; a girl named Carla Rhoads. Her parking space in the Daily Planet's parking tier is one row down from ours."
"I said I was going to explain," Lori said. "I went to the gym this afternoon to talk to the staff and to look around, and when I left, someone followed me. Do you know anyone who works at the gym who drives a green Meteor?"
Connor shrugged. "I think Jake does," he said. "It's in the shop half the time. There's at least one or two in the parking lot most days. Of course most of the cars there belong to customers. Why?"
"The car that followed me was a green Meteor," Lori said. "I should explain that our intern is eighteen. She resembles me, and has a hairstyle like mine, and the attack was in the parking tier where the lights are a bit dim. Fortunately, I arrived in the elevator about the time it happened, and scared the attacker away. Superman was also passing by. He got Carla to the hospital, and we think she's going to be all right, but I think whoever it was actually was after me -- unless you know Carla."
Connor shook his head. "No, I don't."
"I didn't actually think you did." Lori flopped down on the sofa and put her feet on the sofa cushions. "Connor, I'm sure you've figured this out, but the killer is somebody you know. Probably somebody who works in the gym, or at least who sees you often. I suppose it might be someone who works out at the gym a lot, and who came to the Metro gym when you worked there."
"Yeah, I may not be real bright about this kind of thing, but I'd be an idiot not to put the clues together," Connor said. "I've tried to think who it could be, but none of the people I know would do this -- or at least, I can't imagine them doing something like this. I don't know who to trust anymore."
Clark entered the room bearing a tray of cut vegetables and dip. "Here. This should keep you going until dinner is ready," he said. He set the tray on the coffee table within Lori's reach.
Connor checked the tray and nodded. "I see Clark sees to it that you eat right."
Lori took a piece of broccoli and dunked it in the tub of dip. "Clark wants me to stay healthy. It's a good thing he's the main cook around here. My specialty is frozen dinners or take-out."
Connor winced. "I guess I'm not surprised. Anyway, what do you think I should do?"
"Well -- " Lori hesitated. "Try not to show any interest in any women for the moment. Don't even help an old lady across the street. Whoever this is seems to be getting pretty paranoid about you and women."
"I got that," Connor said.
"Besides," Clark said quietly, "I've come across people like this before. There's a chance that our killer will decide that you're being unfaithful to her -- or even him -- and that you're better off dead. There have been murder-suicides over obsessions like this before, so watch out. No matter how strong you are, or how excellent your physical condition, you're no match for a stunner."
Connor bit his lip. "I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense," he said. "I've read about it happening. I just hadn't applied it to me. Thanks for the warning."
"Try to stay with people you know," Lori said. "At least two of them together. Even if one is the killer, it's safer. And don't go off into isolated places. Basically, try to take sensible precautions. After today, you can bet I'm going to."
Connor nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I don't know how you handle stuff like this as a daily thing. I think I need a drink."
Since Connor had never, within Lori's memory, ever touched alcohol in any form, that was quite an admission. She sat up. "We're going to get this person, Connor. I have another personal stake in this now -- besides just trying to help you. Carla nearly got killed today, and she's in the hospital right now. She was only an innocent bystander, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't like it when my friends get hurt. The other, of course, is that the killer is after me, too. I'm your friend and female. That's all that seems to matter."
"Yeah. I'm sorry I got you into this," he said baldly. "It never occurred to me that you'd be put in danger."
Lori shook her head. "Well, I can't say I'm thrilled about being the target of a psychopath, but whoever it is has to be stopped. We might as well take her -- or him -- on now before anybody else gets hurt or killed."
"Dinner," Clark remarked from the kitchen door, "is served. I hope you don't mind eating in the kitchen, Cooper."
"Nope." Connor gave Lori a hand up from the sofa. "So," he said, obviously trying to change the subject, "is it going to be a boy or a girl?"
"We don't know," Lori said. "We want it to be a surprise."
Connor grinned slightly. "Don't blame you. When I get married someday, I'd like one like yours."
"Like ours?" Lori asked.
"Lifetime. My mom and dad had a five-year contract. You can imagine what it was like when my dad wasn't around any more. He sent her support payments for me, naturally, but try explaining that to a four-year-old kid."
"Didn't you get to see your dad?" Lori asked. The thought had never occurred to her, having been raised in a Traditional family, but now that Connor mentioned it, such a situation would tend to be rough on the kids.
"Yeah, on vacations, when he wasn't off on some big project in the asteroid belt or something. When I was seven, Mom got married again. Another five-year contract. She had my sister a year or so later, and after Jonnie was old enough to decide where she wanted to live, she went to Timbuktu to live with her dad. Mom was married again by that time -- no more kids, fortunately, but it made me decide not to get married at all if it wasn't going to be for life." He let Lori through the kitchen door ahead of him and followed her through.
"Can't blame you," Clark said. "Both of our families subscribe to that attitude, actually."
"Maybe you should introduce me to some of them," Connor said. "After all this other stuff is over, of course."
"Well, I've got a niece about your age," Clark said. "She's in Pre-Med over at New Troy State. Very nice girl."
Lori grinned. "Pretty, too," she added. "Brown eyes, dark brown hair, nice figure, a little taller than me -- and very smart. Her name's Meriel Olsen." She gestured to the table. "Have a seat. You can decide if Clark cooks a decent steak."
"It smells great," Connor said, taking his chair. Clark deposited a plate bearing a steak, potato and steamed broccoli in front of him. Lori had already taken her place and discovered, as she had expected, that Clark had cooked her steak exactly as she liked it. Her mouth began to water.
Clark grinned at her. "I just happen to have chocolate mousse for dessert," he said as he took his seat across from her. "If you think you can handle it."
"I'll make a stab at it," Lori said. "If you really want that drink, we can get you wine, Connor. If not, we've got tea, coffee, milk and soda. Take your choice."
"I'll stick with milk," Connor said. "Sorry about the attack of nerves."
"Don't blame you a bit," Clark said. "I've been having nervous attacks about Lori ever since I realized she was in danger."
"I can relate to that." Connor sliced his steak and raised his brows as the knife glided through the meat like butter. He took a fork full and chewed. "Lori's right," he said. "I've tasted a lot worse in good restaurants."
"Thanks," Clark said. "Go ahead and eat. You'll feel better after you've had some food."
"Probably." Connor was silent while he inhaled Clark's cooking. At last he sat back and loosened his belt.
"That's the best meal I've had in weeks," he said. "Do you give lessons?"
"Once in a while." Clark glanced at Lori. "I've even managed to teach Lori how to boil water."
Connor laughed. "Well, that's an achievement, I suppose."
"Hey," Lori protested. "I can scramble an egg; I can even fry one. I can toast bread. And I can make fudge."
"That's true," Clark agreed. "Lori is a survival cook. She cooks to survive."
Lori kicked him lightly under the table, but she had to admit privately that what he said was true. She could handle the basics, but cooking to her would never be anything better than an onerous chore. Clark, on the other hand, was an artist in the kitchen, which was just as well or they would have had to order out a lot more than they did.
Connor grinned. "Well, just as long as you have a system that works, I guess it doesn't matter who cooks." He glanced at his wrist. "I hate to eat and run, but I have to be at the gym at six in the morning."
"Sure," Lori said. "Just try to be careful, okay?"
He nodded. "I will. And I'll avoid dark alleyways." He stood up. "You said your intern's name is Carla Rhoads? Do you think it would be safe for me to send her some flowers? I feel pretty bad that she got caught in the fallout of this thing."
"Probably," Clark said. "As long as you make sure no one overhears you placing the order -- and you don't visit her until we catch the killer."
"That's what I'll do then," Connor said. He hesitated. "I guess I should thank you again for trying to help me, but that seems pretty inadequate. Just be careful, Lori. I'd never forgive myself if something should happen to you because of me."
"I will," Lori said.
After Connor left, Lori unceremoniously kicked off her shoes and flopped down on the couch again. Clark retreated to the kitchen, and she heard the familiar sounds of her husband making tea, and then the hum of the warmer set on defrost. The deliciously spicy smell of one of his coffeecakes that he prepared on a regular basis and froze for special occasions began to permeate the apartment.
The vidphone chirped, and she turned her head. "Yes?"
The blank screen dissolved into the features of her father and mother. "Hi," she said.
"Hi honey." Rob Lyons smiled at her out of the screen. "We wondered if it would be intruding if we were to drop by for a little while."
"Of course not," Lori said. "We finished dinner a little while ago. Clark was about to serve some coffeecake."
"All right," her father said. "We'll be there in a few minutes."
The screen went off. Clark re-entered the living room. "Your mom and dad are coming by?"
Lori nodded. "I guess so. I suspect Mom has had enough of playing tourist for a little while."
"Probably," Clark said, comfortably. "Maybe they'd like some coffeecake. Your mom likes coffee rather than tea, doesn't she?"
"She likes flavored coffee for after dinner. Chocolate mocha," Lori specified.
"Now I see where you get it. It'll just take a minute." Clark vanished into the kitchen again, only to reappear two seconds later. "Done. It'll be ready by the time they get here."
"I think I'll have tea," Lori said, surprising herself.
"You're in luck," Clark said. "It's in the teapot, steeping right now." He sank onto the sofa beside her. "Where are your new earrings?"
"In my purse," Lori said. "I'll put them on in the morning."
"I wondered why the signal didn't go off when you called for me earlier," he said. "Be careful about that, by the way. All the others will hear it too, and you could end up bringing in every superman -- or woman -- in the city if it goes off."
"Oh really? I'm glad you warned me, but I was being careful anyway," she said. "I wouldn't want to pull you in on a false alarm."
"I'd rather have a false alarm or two than have something happen to you," Clark said.
The downstairs door chime sounded at that moment, and Clark glanced at the vidphone. "View door," he ordered. The closed circuit viewer popped on immediately, revealing Lori's parents. "They're here. Open security door," Clark said.
Lori sat up, swinging her feet to the floor. "Hopefully, you settled the eating issue this morning," she said. "Mom's actually okay to be with when she's not on one of her crusades."
Clark grinned. "I'm glad of that. Maybe she'll relax about the two of us before long. Actually," he added, "she must be a pretty good person, or you wouldn't have turned out as well as you did."
"I'm glad you think so," Lori said.
"I know so," Clark said.
"Am I a good wife, Clark?" Lori looked doubtfully up at him. "I get in so much trouble that I sometimes wonder."
"You're the best wife I could wish for," Clark said. "I thought you knew that."
"I know you say that, but sometimes -- " She bit her lip. "You're always worried that I'm going to get in over my head, and I seem to attract trouble even without looking for it. And today, poor Carla got attacked by someone who was probably after me." She sniffled and wiped at her eyes, all the doubt that frequently nagged at her of late coming to the surface. She was married to Superman, for heaven's sake -- or the man who was also Superman. Was she really qualified to be his wife and the mother of the child growing within her? This baby would one day have the powers of its father, for good or ill. Could Lori Lyons, who couldn't seem to keep her nose out of others' business and seemed to get herself into tight spots on a fairly regular basis, actually be competent to raise someone like that?
Clark sat down next to her on the sofa and put an arm around her. "Lori, do you know what Ronnie said after she met you?"
Lori shook her head.
"She said you were just what I needed -- a wife that would keep me on my toes. She was right, too. You're a beautiful, intelligent woman, who also happens to be the perfect wife for me. And you'd realize it if you weren't tired, and upset about Carla -- not to mention, your hormones probably aren't helping."
Lori sniffled again. "That's for sure. The nine month nutsies strikes again, huh?"
"It wouldn't be a bit surprising." He dabbed at her cheeks with his handkerchief. "But Mariann and Rob will be here any second, so unless you want your mom asking questions -- "
"Yeah." Lori stood up quickly. "Tell them I'm in the bathroom if they get here while I'm fixing my face," she said. She scrubbed quickly at a stray tear. "I don't need Mother giving me the third degree tonight."
"Smart girl," Clark said. "We'll talk about this later if you're still worried about it, but believe me, you don't need to be."
In the bathroom, Lori splashed cold water on her face and repaired the damage to her makeup. As she emerged into the bedroom, she heard the door chime, and hurried to rejoin Clark in the living room as he let in her parents.
"Come in," he said, opening the door wide for them.
Rob let his wife enter ahead of him. "I hope we're not intruding," he said. "Mariann and I have had enough tourism for the day."
"It can be a bit much," Clark agreed. "Come in and sit down. Just hang your coats on the rack behind the door. I was just about to bring in coffeecake and tea. There's even some chocolate mocha coffee, if you'd like some, Mariann."
"Why, thank you." Mariann looked surprised. "I'd like that very much."
Clark closed the door and retreated to the kitchen to get the cake.
"How are you doing, Princess?" Rob asked, smiling at his daughter. "Any more adventures?"
"Oh, the usual," Lori said, trying to sound light. Her father cast a sharp look at her, and she suspected he wasn't fooled, but he said nothing. Instead, he took a seat in Clark's favorite recliner and smiled at her.
"I can smell the coffeecake. Did you make it?"
Lori grinned and shook her head. "Nope. I'm still a basics cook. Clark's the artist. If this baby's a girl, I hope he can teach her how to cook. Except for Mother, none of the women in this family seem to be able to handle food -- except to eat it. Marcy's no better than I am."
Rob chuckled. "It must be hereditary. Your Grandma Lyons couldn't cook, either, if you remember. It was a good thing my father was a chef or we'd all have starved."
"Grandma always said that there was no law that the woman had to be the cook," Lori said. "Of course," she added, "Grandma's job didn't leave her much time to cook."
"What did your grandmother do?" Clark asked. He set the cake on the coffee table and followed it with the tea and coffeepots.
"Mom was a cop," Rob said. "She wound up the Police Commissioner in Pasadena where I grew up. She always used to say she'd married my dad so she could have a decent meal at the end of the day."
Clark's eyebrows flew up. "Commissioner Catherine Lyons?" he said. "She was your mother?"
"Did you know her?" Rob asked, looking surprised. "Mom died six years ago in a skiing accident."
"Not exactly," Clark said, making a quick recovery. "My father knew her slightly. He was a reporter. He had some interesting things to say about her."
Rob laughed. "I'll bet he did. She used to make a game of scaring reporters to death, just on principle. It's interesting you should remember her name."
"She made quite an impression on my father," Clark said. He glanced at Lori and his left eyelid flickered in a quick wink. "Would you like some coffeecake, Lori?"
She nodded, and accepted the enormous chunk of cake that her husband cut for her. Clark distributed the other pieces, poured tea for Lori and himself and coffee for Mariann. Rob held out his cup. "I'll have tea, if you don't mind," he said.
Clark poured it and sank down beside Lori. "So, Mariann, what did you think of Old Town's Valentine Festival?"
"Very colorful," Mariann said. "Rob and I had dinner at one of the cafes there. There was a very amusing magician doing tricks for the diners."
"That sounds like Rosie's," Lori said. "It's one of our landmarks here in the city."
"I believe it was," Mariann said. "We had an excellent view of the -- I believe it's called the Valentine Marathon? The runners went right past the cafe." She took her first bite of the coffeecake and raised her brows. "This is delicious, Clark. You made this?"
"The recipe belonged to my mother," Clark said.
"Do you give the recipe to family members? I remember Lara telling me that she and a number of other members of the family had been trying to pry the recipe for those delicious brownies out of you for years."
Clark laughed. "I finally gave in. If you'd like the recipe for the cake, I can write it down for you."
"That would be perfect," Mariann said. "The other members of my bridge club will be green with envy."
"Remind me before you leave," Clark said.
"I will. It's a relief to know that someone looks after Lori's diet," she said. "I never could convince her to eat a healthy diet, and she was one of those children who never gained an ounce, no matter how much junk food she ate."
"Mother, I didn't eat much junk food -- "
Clark's hand closed around Lori's and squeezed gently. "Right now that isn't a problem," he said. "Lori's blood sugar has been the real problem from the beginning of this pregnancy. She has her doctor's orders to eat healthy, filling meals and to snack whenever she starts to feel hungry."
Rob bent forward to pour himself more tea. "What kind of tea is this?"
"Oolong," Clark said. "I buy it from a little family-owned Asian market."
"I like it," Rob said. "I've noticed that you seem to be very well-traveled. I suppose that must have been when you were a free-lance journalist?"
"Mostly, yes," Clark said.
Rob nodded. "I've done some traveling -- not as much as you by a long ways, I suspect, but in my line of business I travel now and then." He nodded toward the fertility statue. "That must be a very valuable piece. I can tell it's old. A fertility statue, if I'm not mistaken, meant to ensure that a marriage is happy and fruitful."
"That's right," Clark said. "It was given to me by a Borneo medicine man."
Had her father deliberately changed the subject? Lori wondered, listening as Clark and Rob discussed several of Clark's more exotic antiques placed here and there about the apartment. The conversation rambled on, including Clark's extensive library of books in foreign languages. Mariann began to fidget, and Lori suspected that her mother was getting bored.
"Do you mind if we turn on the news?" Mariann asked finally. "I don't like to fall so out of touch with the world just because I'm on vacation."
"Vidscreen on," Clark said, obediently. "PNN."
PNN was the Daily Planet's news channel. Lori leaned against her husband as Charlene Lewis, the principal anchor for the evening news, smiled into the camera. The vidcast covered world news, including the early morning quake in the Philippines, with pictures of downtown Manila immediately after the 6.5 tremor that had knocked down the new City Hall and damaged the Manila Medical Center, not to mention causing a good deal of minor damage. The vid camera showed Jetstream, the daughter of the Blue Djinn, who made Manila her home, as she assisted the emergency services in dealing with the disaster. The Djinn, himself, and his son, Typhoon, showed up to assist, which led the anchor to make several remarks about the family unity of the supermen, considering their willingness to assist each other -- and to wonder why more of them hadn't come.
"Well, of course they help each other," Mariann said. "Family always helps family -- or at least they should. I wish journalists understood that. They always act as if the supermen don't have feelings like the rest of us. I've always thought that much of the media doesn't give them nearly the credit they deserve."
Lori stared at her mother in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"I'm sorry if I've insulted your profession, Lori," Mariann said, "but it always seemed to me that the media act as if the supermen have some sort of official duty to help the rest of us. These people have volunteered to do an amazingly thankless job. People expect them to show up when there's a disaster, as if it's in a written contract, and constantly criticize them if they aren't perfect. What they don't seem to understand is that these incredible men and women have volunteered for this work on their own. No one makes them do it. They somehow decided -- from the first Superman on -- that their tremendous abilities obligated them to help."
Clark gave Lori a startled look. "You seem to have pretty strong feelings on the subject."
Mariann took a sip of coffee. "I do. I detest sanctimonious news commentators who feel they have the right to pass judgement on someone who gives so much of himself -- or herself -- to help strangers. I believe I recall a quote of the original Superman's in some history book I read, where he said that the reason he was here was to help. Sometimes the media act as if they aren't human, and have no human feelings of their own. It always makes me angry when they criticize one of the supermen for not being perfect. I even wrote a very sharp letter to the Herald over their attack on Shooting Star a few months back. Several people lost their lives in a crash of one of the transpacific bullet trains and some officious reporter thought that she should have arrived sooner. I didn't see the media getting its hands dirty helping out. All this fellow could do was find fault. It annoyed me, and I said so."
"I'm glad you did," Lori said. "Not enough people stand up for them, in my opinion. They seem to think that Superman and the others should be everywhere and prevent every disaster. There are only a limited number of them and they can't be everywhere."
"Exactly," Mariann said. "What they can do is enough. We're lucky to have them. I wonder if some of the critics have ever thought what it was like before the arrival of Superman. Disasters happened, and there was no extraordinary man or woman there to help. People had to cope on their own."
Rob was nodding. "I agree. My mother used to say something similar. She was acquainted with Superman -- the original Superman -- when she was a young police officer. She used to tell us -- my brother and me -- stories about him. He apparently helped her on a number of occasions and saved her life once. She used to say that if not for him, none of us would be here, today. He disappeared a few years after she joined the SWAT team and she always wondered what had happened to him."
"Did you ever meet him?" Clark asked.
"No, it was before I was born," Rob said. "I wish I had, but he must have been in his seventies when Mom knew him, although he didn't show it. I guess Kryptonians don't show their age like us ordinary mortals, but he might simply have died."
"It's possible," Lori said, when Clark didn't answer. "Grandma never talked about it to me. I wish she had."
"She didn't talk about her work much after she retired," Rob said. "At least not to you children. I think she was afraid one of you would get romantic ideas about it and want to be a cop. Not that you don't seem to get into as many dangerous situations as she did, or more." He smiled at her. "Maybe if you'd been a cop, you'd have been safer."
Mariann nodded. "I know you don't like me to worry about you, Lori, but you're still my daughter. You'll find out that mothers always worry about their children, even when they're grown and have children of their own."
She glanced at the screen, where Charlene was reporting on the assault of the Daily Planet's office intern in the parking tier of the Daily Planet. Carla's picture flashed on the screen, and there was a comment from John Olsen on the event, including the fact that the Planet was increasing the number of Security personnel in response to this unfortunate incident.
"It's things like that," Rob said, "that concern me. If Superman hadn't arrived in time, that girl might have died. What were you doing there, anyway -- not that I'm particularly surprised."
"Carla's going to be all right," Clark said. "Lori was in the elevator that we think frightened the assailant off."
"She resembles you," Mariann said. "Is that a coincidence, or wasn't it?"
How did Mariann know these things, Lori wondered. "We don't know," she said. "I don't see why it shouldn't be."
"Because you seem to attract trouble," her mother said. "I've noticed it since you were a child. Are you involved in any investigation at the moment that might make you a target?"
"We're investigating the murder of a fitness instructor a few nights ago," Clark said. "I suppose there could be a connection, but if there is, it's not obvious. Don't worry, Mariann. Lori isn't taking any chances."
"I suppose it's your job," Mariann said reluctantly, "but it's driving me into an early grave."
"Mom, don't," Lori said. "You're barely sixty. If you live even the average life span, you'll make it to the century mark easily. And so will I."
Rob smiled slightly. "We're not telling you how to do your job, honey, but parents worry. It's part of the job description."
Mariann nodded. "I worry about you and Marcy, Lori. Both of you are in positions where you're likely to attract deranged people. Did Marcy tell you about that obsessed fan that stalked her for two months last year before they caught him? If it hadn't been for Ryan, who knows what might have happened."
"I heard about it," Lori said. "Ryan tracked him down, though. It's a good thing that he's a private detective."
Mariann nodded distractedly. "He had photos of her that dated back to that first year when she modeled for Shaw and Rickman's. When she married for life, it apparently sent him over the edge. He was actually preparing a cell to keep her in for the rest of her life. It's frightening."
"I know," Lori said, "but both of us have husbands who are determined to protect us. Clark and Ryan aren't exactly pushovers, you know."
"And," Clark said mildly, "Marcy and Lori aren't exactly pushovers, themselves."
"Well, enough of that," Rob said. "There's no point in stewing over what can't be changed, and I don't think it's likely that Lori is going to give up her career just because she occasionally runs into risky situations. What time did you want to get together for dinner tomorrow?"
"I thought maybe six," Clark said. "The play at the MetroPAC starts at seven, so that should give us plenty of time to get there before the curtain goes up."
"That's probably a safe enough margin," Rob agreed. "Did you have a recommendation for a good restaurant, afterwards? I'd suggest the Lexor, but Mariann and I are staying there and we wanted to see more of Metropolis's night life than just our hotel."
"Don't blame you," Clark said. "If you want my suggestion, I'd recommend the Sky Lounge at the Metropolis Star Tower."
"I've heard of it," Mariann said. "Is it as picturesque as they say?"
"You have a bird's eye view of the harbor and the downtown business district," Clark said. "The floor is crystal clear glass, and it's as if you're suspended in the air, both in the dining area and the dance floor."
"That sounds fine," Rob said. "Dining and dancing after the play, my dear." He smiled at Mariann, and Lori saw the affection in his smile. Yes, her father was still in love with her mother, even after all these years, three children, and a number of fights. Was it possible, as her father had said to her, not long after her marriage to Clark, that her mother wasn't in love with him? He'd said she was his best friend, but that she wasn't in love with him. How could her mother not be in love with the man she'd been married to for thirty-eight years? Lori couldn't imagine it.
Mariann smiled back at him, and all at once Lori knew that her father had been wrong. Once Mariann might not have loved him, but somewhere along the line that had changed, perhaps without either realizing it.
Rob glanced at his wrist talker. "It's getting late," he said. "We'd better get back to the hotel and let Clark and Lori get some sleep, dear. They have to work in the morning."
"My goodness, yes." Mariann set down her empty coffee cup. "Lori needs her rest. Do you suppose you could give me that recipe tomorrow, when you've had a chance to write it down, Clark?"
"Actually, I can give you my file card," Clark said. "I know it by heart, and never need to check the recipe anymore. I'll get it." He turned and went into the kitchen where, Lori knew, he would write the recipe at super speed and return within seconds.
The kitchen door swung open, and Clark returned with a file card that bore the recipe in his neat handwriting. "Here you go."
Mariann accepted the card and tucked it into her handbag. "Thank you," she said. "This is very nice of you, Clark."
"Don't mention it." Clark gave Lori a hand up from the sofa and they followed her parents to the door, where they retrieved their coats from the antique coat tree.
As he opened the door, Rob glanced down at Lori's waistline. "I'm looking forward to being a grandfather again. Be careful in the meantime, Princess."
"I will," she said.
After Lori's parents had gone, Clark looked at his beautiful wife. She looked tired, he thought, and it wasn't a bit surprising. It had been a trying day, and as usual, Lori had been in the middle of it. "Would you like more coffeecake?" he asked.
Not unexpectedly, she nodded. "A glass of milk would be nice, too. Do we still have some?"
"Of course." Clark grinned companionably at her. "I never let us run out of your favorite beverage. I'll be right back with some."
He returned a moment later with a tall glass of milk. The coffeecake still sat on the table in front of the sofa, and Lori had helped herself to a large square of it.
"Here you go," he said, setting the milk down on the table.
"Just a minute." Lori lifted the glass, swiped at the milk ring with the napkin that Clark had provided earlier for the coffeecake, and then at the bottom of the glass. "You'll get another ring in the varnish, and I just had the other one sanded out and the surface redone. This thing is an antique, did you know? The guy who did the job works for a place that buys and sells antique furniture. He said this table was worth about ten thousand dollars. He wanted to buy it, but I said no."
"This table?" Clark eyed his mother's coffee table with new interest. "This was the coffee table Mom had in her living room from as far back as I can remember."
"I figured that, but you have to remember, stuff that was around when you were a kid is historical now. Speaking of which, I didn't know you knew my grandmother. It looks like you saved my life before my father was even born."
"Yeah, I guess so. It's not really a coincidence, though," Clark said. "She was my great-niece by marriage, even though she didn't know it. Lucy Lane was her grandmother, and she was worried when Katy decided to be a cop, so I kind of kept an eye on her until she got to be the Police Commissioner and wasn't likely to get shot at anymore. After Superman retired, I made a point of showing up as Clark Kent often enough that she didn't think anything of it. She didn't know who I was, of course, but Lois and I both felt better about it."
"So I really am descended from Lois's sister," Lori said. "It's kind of nice that I'm related to the Lanes, even if I never knew it before"
"Yeah, it is." Clark settled down on the sofa and put his arm around her, resting his hand on the tiny bulge that was their baby. "Your parents sure seem to be supporters of the family, too. I was pleasantly surprised." Under the hand that rested on her side, something fluttered very gently. Lori apparently didn't feel anything, but Clark sat up abruptly. "Did you feel that?"
Lori lowered the glass of milk. "Feel what?"
"I think I just felt the baby move." Again the faintest of flutters. "There it is again."
"That? I thought it was just -- well -- gas bubbles or something," Lori said. She ducked her head, and Clark grinned at her obvious embarrassment.
"I don't think so," he said. "That's definitely Junior." He spoke to her middle. "Hey there, kiddo. It's nice to know you're awake."
Lori giggled. "Did you do that with CJ and the others?"
"You bet I did." Clark stroked the spot where he had felt the tiny movement. "In case you hadn't figured it out, I like kids a lot."
"Yeah, it hadn't totally escaped my attention," Lori said. "It's really nice seeing you so excited about this."
Clark tightened his arm. "I am. I haven't been a new dad for a long time."
"Well, you're going to be one in just a few more months," Lori said.
"And you still don't want to know the sex?" Clark asked.
She shook her head determinedly. "If I have to go through labor, I want a nice surprise at the end."
"Well," Clark pointed out, "it's got to be one or the other."
"Oh, I know. But it's not knowing which that makes it a surprise." She looked at him with a slight frown. "Do you really want to know, Clark? I guess I could let you peek if you want, but --"
He shook his head at once, putting his other arm around her and pulling her close to his chest. "Nope. If you don't want to, then I don't either. We'll wait and find out together." Holding her tight against him, he again felt the slight flutter in her abdomen that was the movement of his unborn child. Lori sighed and put her head against his shoulder.
Clark dropped a kiss on top of her head, which was the only spot he could reach. "Time for bed, honey. I think you've had enough for one day."
The morning weather was a complete change from the night before, as they had discovered when Lori looked out the window shortly after rising. Snow was twinkling down so heavily when they pulled out of the apartment's parking garage that she could barely see the street in front of them. Clark switched on the virtual navigation system and they proceeded slowly along avenues made slippery with snow and slush.
Rush hour was a nightmare this morning. Cars slipped and slid on the slick surfaces, and traffic was unusually heavy. The lordly air vehicles had been grounded because of the storm and commuters who normally flew in to work were traversing the streets with their earthbound brethren. After two blocks of creeping forward by inches, and a near miss by the pilot of a Slipstream Scooter, who couldn't be bothered by such irrelevancies as physics, snow or traffic laws, Clark pulled into a side street and cut the engine.
"What are you doing?" Lori asked.
Her husband's form blurred for a second in the seat, and resolved into the colorful figure of Superman. "I'm going to fly us in. No one will notice in this, and if I don't we're still going to be sitting in traffic when lunch hour rolls around."
He had a point. Lori watched as he got out and disappeared into the falling snow. An instant later, she felt the vehicle lifted as if it were a toy, and then the ground was falling away. Under her feet, she knew that Clark was holding the Jeep with the care that she had seen when he landed passenger shuttles, but it was still a source of amazement to her that the man who held her in his arms with such gentleness could hoist their groundcar, which must weigh well over a ton, like a feather pillow.
Suddenly, the clouds of show vanished, and Lori realized that they had entered the Planet's parking tier on the level of their reserved space. Clark set the Jeep on the pavement, blurred into Clark Kent, and calmly opened the driver's door. A moment later, they were pulling into their spot.
"I guess there's nobody around to see, huh?" Lori asked.
He shook his head and waved to the largely deserted parking area. "I'd say the office isn't going to be very full this morning," he observed. "There's Andrea's car, so I guess she's here, and there's Ned's scooter."
"Maybe the snow will let up in a bit," Lori said. "And people can always telecommute if necessary." She opened her door. "Shall we go?"
The office was uncharacteristically quiet when they stepped out of the elevator. Andrea Waltham was at her desk with a cup of coffee perched precariously on one corner if it, leaning forward to read something on her screen. She looked up briefly, waved a hand vaguely at them in greeting and returned to her task. John Olsen was sitting on the edge of the snack table working on a cup of coffee and a doughnut while watching the row of vidscreens on one wall. News commentators could be seen standing in the heavy snow, clutching their coats around them while reporting on the inclement weather. He glanced around as Lori and Clark arrived at the table, and Lori snagged a doughnut.
"Big news flash," he remarked. "It's snowing. Of course, people might be able to tell that if they looked out the window."
"You think?" Lori asked brightly.
"I think the clues are fairly obvious if you look hard," John said. "And it's so unusual at this time of year."
Behind them, one of the doors in the bank of elevators opened and Barry Marston stepped in. He looked quickly around and crossed to the coffee machine, but it was obvious that the coffee wasn't his objective. "Clark, could I talk to you and Lori a minute?" He glanced at his boss. "Sorry, John, I just need to ask them a question."
"Sure; don't mind me," John said dryly.
Barry hesitated. "Could we go into the conference room?"
John cocked a sardonic eyebrow at Clark, but said nothing as they trailed Barry toward the conference room.
The door of the room closed behind them and Barry locked it with unnecessary force. He turned to face them, and Lori could see that his hands were shaking. "You're following the investigation of that fitness instructor who was killed the other day," he said. "Aren't you?"
"Ginnie Talbot?" Clark asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Deirdre said you're taking a class at the gym. I figured you were probably investigating the murder."
"Actually," Lori said, "it started out to be an ordinary maternity fitness class. Then Ginnie Talbot was killed and we decided to use our enrollment in the class as a way to do some snooping. Why?"
"Deirdre is missing," Barry said.
"Deirdre?" Lori said. There was a sinking sensation about the level of her stomach. "What do you mean?"
"We were out last night," Barry said. "She said she was -- " He broke off and swallowed convulsively. "She said she was scared. Ginnie Talbot had talked to her. She thought someone was spying on her -- then she was killed. And yesterday, after Dee got home, she said she thought someone had been in her place. Things were -- not quite where she'd left them. I took her home after our date and went through her apartment, just to be sure no one was there. Dee locked the whole place up when I left. She was supposed to call me this morning, but she didn't. I went over there -- it took forever in all the snow. Her apartment was unlocked and Dee is gone."
Lori looked at Clark, dismayed. "Do you suppose it could be?"
"It's possible," Clark said. "Where does Ms. Monitor live?"
"She has an apartment not far from the gym. I've been trying to convince her to move. The area isn't too good for a single woman, but Deirdre hadn't decided yet. What's going on? Do you guys have any idea?"
"Maybe," Clark said. "Let's not jump to any conclusions. Lori and I will go over there and look around, to see what we can find. Did you lock the place up when you left?"
"Yeah, I did." Barry produced a key. "I have a spare key, though." He glanced at the window where the snowfall, if anything, had grown heavier since they had arrived at work. "How are you going to make it in this?"
"We'll take the slidewalk," Clark said. "It'll be faster than the car. We have to go that way anyhow. We were going over to see Carla at Metro General at lunchtime."
Barry nodded distractedly. "Do you think you can do anything? The cops already told me they won't do anything for 48 hours, and that most of the time these people turn up on their own. They didn't listen to a thing I said!"
"I don't know," Clark said. "We do have some friends in the police department who might be able to help. Velma Chow will listen for certain if we tell her it may be connected to the other case."
Barry bit his lip. "I've been trying to talk Dee into a six-month contract," he said, "just to see if we're as compatible as I think we are. If anything's happened to her --"
"Look," Clark said, "let's not panic until we see what the situation is. We'll go over right now, all right?"
John Olsen watched as Lori and Clark followed his business editor into the conference room and shut the door. Being the boss wasn't always a good thing, he mused, since the employees often wouldn't talk freely when you were anywhere around. Oh well, he'd come to terms with that when he'd taken this job eight years ago. He'd been an investigative reporter in his own right until then, and a pretty darned good one, if he did say so himself, but the Suits had tapped him for the job and it meant more money. Since Meriel had just entered her teens, the thoughts of paying for her college education had definitely influenced him, and Marilyn had concurred. It gave him set hours, unlike before, and though he sometimes worked late, it was still a good deal more to be desired than his hours as an investigative journalist.
There were times, though, that he missed the thrill of the chase. He gave a faint sigh and got to his feet. Duty called. Just because most of his staff wasn't here didn't mean he could slack off. There were bound to be things the absent newsroom staff would send to him to edit. It was just another day at the office as far as he was concerned.
Clark and Lori left the conference room with obvious haste and headed for the elevator. Barry Marsden followed at a half-run. "I'll be back later, Chief!" he flung over his shoulder, grabbing his coat from the rack as he passed.
John glanced after them, bemused, and then made an exception to his usual rule. 'Clark', he telepathed, 'what's going on?'
'We're not sure yet,' Clark's mental voice said. 'I hope our killer hasn't struck again. I'll let you know.'
John stared after his three reporters as they disappeared into the elevator. Whatever Barry's involvement in this thing was didn't bode well. Whoever this killer was, he -- or she, he amended -- seemed to be getting more determined to get rid of all possible competitors. If he kept this up, any woman Cooper looked at could be in danger. He wondered a little apprehensively who the victim was this time; but then, maybe it would turn out to be a false alarm. John made his way across the newsroom to his office. His computer was showing an icon that told him he had mail, as expected. He settled into his chair and pulled up the mail program. He checked through it quickly, deleting the occasional piece of spam that had sifted through his filters, and returned to the first piece of mail on the list, a short note from Barney Farrel informing him that he was going to meet a source this morning instead of coming in. The investigation into the city's finances was progressing, and an anonymous source had tipped him off that the pensions of the city employees might be involved. He was checking it out, and would report on his progress later.
John nodded to himself. Exposing corruption in high places was always good for circulation, and this looked as if it could turn into something a lot bigger than the sewer system story that had started it.
The second piece was addressed to him, but the return address looked unfamiliar. Still, it didn't appear to be spam, and his virus monitor said the message was clean, so he opened it.
Deirdre Monitor lived on the second floor of a creaky apartment building barely a block from the one that Lori had occupied in the months between her graduation from NTSU and their marriage, Clark saw. It couldn't by any standards be considered a security apartment, and when they stepped into the three-room "suite" he glanced at the lock, examining it for signs that someone had broken it or otherwise entered the place by force.
There were no such signs, but that didn't make him feel much better. All it meant was that if anyone had entered it had probably been with Deirdre's cooperation. Considering that the person they hunted could very well be someone frequently at the gym, and probably familiar to the receptionist, the circumstance was no comfort at all.
The apartment was scrupulously neat. The bed had not been made, he saw when he looked into the tiny bedroom, but that wasn't surprising if she had been awakened in the middle of the night, or if someone had come by this morning. There was no sign of food preparation, and a frilly dressing gown lay on the foot of the unmade bed.
Lori was prowling around the bedroom and paused by the window. Barry stood in the doorway, obviously uncertain of what he should do, but watching them as they conducted their search.
"Clark," Lori said suddenly, "the window is unlocked."
Clark crossed the room to where she stood by the window, carefully not touching the frame or the glass. In this ancient structure, as in the one Lori had inhabited, none of the windows were powered, nor did they contain the self-darkening glass of more modern buildings. As she had said, the window's mechanical lock was not engaged, and there was the slightest, hair-thin gap between the window and its frame.
"Do you suppose she went out the window?" Lori asked.
"Maybe." Clark x-rayed the wall and at once saw the six-inch ledge that encircled the building perhaps a foot below the level of the window. If a person made herself very small and flat to the wall, it was barely possible that she could stand on such a ledge. Its surface was covered with snow, effectively eradicating any evidence if there ever had been any, but --
Clark frowned at the window glass. Were those the faintest, infinitesimal smudges on the glass? Smudges that could have been made by human hands, by someone attempting to close the window from the outside --
Neither Lori nor Barry could see such marks, of course. They were only visible to his enhanced vision, but they told him that there was a good chance that Deirdre Monitor might still be alive. If someone had entered her apartment, perhaps with a key, and she had heard that person enter, she might have realized that her only way out was the window. It was a little far-fetched, but if she had realized that the intruder meant her harm, she might have taken the chance.
But in that case, who might the intruder have been? How could such a person have acquired her key?
"Barry," he asked suddenly, "has Deirdre, by any chance, lost her keys recently?"
Barry looked surprised. "Yes, she did," he said. "Two days ago she was saying that her keys had disappeared. She searched her whole place and the gym, but she didn't find them. Luckily, she had a spare."
Clark looked at Lori. "Looks like they may not have been lost."
"Yeah." Lori craned her neck, trying to see out the window. "What do you suppose she did? You think she got away?"
"Maybe," Clark said. "I think she went out the window and closed it behind her. The question is how did she get down? Lori, can you and Barry go down and see what you can see from below? I want to check out a few more things up here."
"Right away," Lori said. She crossed to the door and took their co-worker by the elbow. "Come on, Barry, let's take a look."
As soon as Clark heard the door close, he turned back to the window and began to x-ray the space beyond.
Deirdre's so-called "suite" was in the rear of the apartment house, and below, a narrow, littered alley ran parallel. A dumpster sat close to the side of the building perhaps twenty feet to the right. Clark x-rayed the dumpster and his heart jumped into his throat.
A woman's body lay amid the trash and debris, a woman clad in a nightgown and a coat, but no shoes. One ankle was black and blue, and swollen to the size of a watermelon. Deirdre Monitor was curled up in a corner of the metal container, and one of the big garbage bots was crunching mechanically toward it as he watched.
In an instant, he had thrust open the window and Superman hurled himself through.
Deirdre was covered in a layer of trash and snow, but she was breathing, and he could hear her heart beating -- slowly, much too slowly, but still beating. He scooped her out of the dumpster bare seconds ahead of the robot. She was unconscious, and her breathing was hoarse and ragged. Lori and Barry Marston rounded the corner as he carried the woman away from the bot and stretched her on the ground.
"Dee!" He heard Barry's shout, but paid no attention as he fanned her from head to toe with low-level heat vision, listening to her body's response as he did so. The snow around her melted at once and the water began to steam. He could hear her heartbeat begin to speed up as her body warmed, and her breathing grew infinitesimally stronger.
"Dee!" Barry flung himself to the ground next to her. "Ohmigod! Is she --"
Clark glanced quickly at Lori and then returned instantly to his task of sweeping Deirdre repeatedly from head to toe with heat vision. "She's alive," he said. "She's hypothermic, and has frostbite, assorted bumps and bruises, and a broken ankle. I'm going to take her to the emergency room." As he spoke he stooped, lifted her gently in his arms and rose smoothly into the air with all the care at his command. Behind him, he heard Lori speaking.
"Barry, why don't you head for the hospital. I'll go get Clark and we'll catch up with you."
Lori wrapped her coat more tightly around her and started in the direction of the apartment entrance. Barry had already disappeared at a run toward the slidewalk. She would wait five minutes, she decided, and follow. Clark would undoubtedly be back within a few minutes, and could follow the slidewalk in order to catch up with her. The heavy snow would be no barrier to Superman's eyesight.
She hadn't really wanted to wait by herself, but she had needed to avoid the circumstance of Barry discovering that Clark was no longer in Deirdre's apartment.
Speaking of which, she'd better lock the place up again, or at least see to it that no one realized that it was unlocked. Lori entered the apartment house and made her way toward the creaky elevator in the small, shabby lobby.
This particular establishment was very similar to the one where she had lived in the months following her graduation, during the period of Clark's and her courtship. She smiled at the old-fashioned term, but that was what it had been. Clark had cautiously and gently courted her, winning her heart over a period of a few weeks, although, Lori acknowledged, he'd had a good start on it within a few days of their first meeting. He'd come to her rescue over the article she had written in the school paper that blasted NTSU's security measures and embarrassed the school administration. Regardless of how true it had been, the people in charge hadn't liked it one bit, and if it hadn't been for Clark she would, she acknowledged now, have been in the proverbial soup. Clark's intervention had saved her a good deal of embarrassment and possibly her career. She couldn't have been more grateful.
Of course, she knew now that he'd had an agenda of his own. On their first meeting, when Superman had saved her from an assailant on the university grounds, he had recognized her as his soulmate, returned again. He'd been determined from that minute on to find some way for Clark Kent to get to know her, but it didn't really matter what his reasons had been. He would, he told her later, have stepped into the situation anyway, because the university's administrators had been unforgivably careless with the safety of their students for far too long. Still, it had led to a great deal more than Lori had ever imagined in those early days.
The elevator doors opened jerkily, and Lori entered, then waited while they closed again, and the conveyance jolted into motion. By the time the doors opened on the second floor, she had begun to wonder if the thing had stalled, and was contemplating calling for her husband to rescue her.
Glancing at her wrist talker, she was surprised to see that in actuality barely three minutes had passed. Still, that was a long time for a stupid elevator to take in getting from the first to the second floor. Deirdre Monitor's unit was at the end of the hall and to the right as she exited the elevator. Lori half-ran down the corridor, turned down the short, intersecting hallway and found the room. The door was ajar, and she reached out to grasp the knob.
And at that instant, she became aware of footsteps coming down the main hallway toward her, light, quick footsteps that somehow had a stealthy quality to them.
She froze. The footsteps stopped as well, as if the owner had paused, perhaps also listening.
It was probably nothing, she told herself. Someone had come home and was undoubtedly unlocking the door of his unit to go inside. Why would anyone have followed her here? There were far too many people around to try to kill anyone in the hallway of an apartment building. The killer was sure to be caught.
But there was no clink of keys, no sound of anyone turning a lock. The locks on these ancient apartments were the mechanical sort. The managers, as with her place, had not seen fit to go to extra expense for the benefit of the tenants. The silence had a listening quality to it that made her skin crawl. Lori strained her ears, listening, and the unwelcome thought occurred to her that if anyone was home in this place, that they were extremely unlikely to open their doors to the sound of a stunner, or even a scream. People in apartments like this tended to mind their own business.
On the thought, she pushed the door wider, praying that Deirdre had recently oiled the hinges, and stepped inside.
If it was the killer, he had the key to this place, she knew. Instead of trying to lock the door, Lori stepped behind it and left it ajar, flattening herself to the wall.
The footsteps resumed, coming closer. Again they paused, just outside the room, only feet away. Lori held her breath, her heart hammering so hard in her chest that she was afraid that the person who stalked her might hear it.
This was silly, she told herself again, even as she couldn't force herself to move. If it was the apartment manager and he found her hiding behind the door, he would have every reason to call the police and have her arrested as a trespasser and possible burglar. The smart thing to do would be to step out there and explain her presence.
The thought of doing any such thing nearly froze her in place. Some instinct that she wasn't even aware of seemed to have paralyzed her muscles. All she could do was to press herself even tighter to the wall, breathing as silently as she could, and hope that whoever it was didn't decide to search the premises.
A board creaked outside the room, and something brushed the door. It swung lightly toward Lori, and she stopped breathing. Another creak, and the tip of something became visible past the edge of the door. The nose of a stunner. Lori had seen enough of them in the past couple of years that there could be no possibility of a mistake.
Of course, some area of her mind assured her wildly, the manager could have armed himself if he was afraid of facing a burglar.
Her more rational side told her to stop making excuses. This wasn't the manager. This was their killer, who might have been watching the entrance of the apartment for Deirdre to come home, or who might have been following her and Clark from the Daily Planet. They had taken the slidewalk; following them in the dense snow would have been absurdly easy, especially since they hadn't even thought of the possibility that someone might be following.
The nose of the stunner advanced another inch. She could see the knuckle of a finger wrapped around the trigger. Lori gathered herself. If the killer came any farther into the room, she intended to slam the door into him -- or her, that pedantic part of her mind reminded her -- with everything she had.
Somewhere, through the pounding of blood in her ears, she heard the sound of more footsteps; several pairs of footsteps, she thought, approaching the intersection of the main hallway with the one that led to Deirdre's apartment. There was a rustle of motion and the stunner withdrew abruptly. The intruder's footsteps retreated. Lori waited for the count of ten and followed.
An older woman and two children somewhere in their early teens rounded the corner as she approached. Lori pushed quickly past them to peer down the hallway that led to the elevator, but all she could see was the door to the narrow stairwell that led to the other floors closing the last few inches. She turned quickly. "Did you see the person that just passed you?"
The older woman turned curiously. "Are you talking to me?"
"Yes, please! Did you see the person who just went past you?"
She nodded cautiously. "Are you a cop?"
"No, I'm a reporter. The person -- can you describe him?"
The woman shrugged. "Not really."
"Was it a man or woman?"
"I didn't really notice. He was wearing a coat and a hat. And a muffler."
Great, Lori thought. Whoever it was had taken precautions against witnesses. Of course, if he -- or she -- had just come in out of the snowstorm, it made it easy to be anonymous. "Did you notice the height?" she asked, without much hope.
"Nope. I think he was taller than I am," she said. "Sorry I can't help much. Come on, kids. Get your teeth brushed. The appointment's in barely an hour!"
"Aw, Grandma! I don't wanna --"
Dental appointment, Lori surmised. That was probably why the kids weren't in school. She turned toward the elevator again, feeling a not-unreasonable reluctance. Still, she told herself, the killer wouldn't dare try anything out in the open, and maybe she would catch a glimpse of a familiar face.
But standing in front of the apartment house, two minutes later, all she could see were the clouds of falling snow, and here and there the occasional indistinct figure making its way through the storm. Any of them could be the killer -- and probably was, she thought morosely. But there was no way she was going to identify him from here.
A whoosh of air alerted her, and she turned to see Lara touching down on the stationary sidewalk beside her. She let out her breath in a half-gasp of relief.
The tiny superwoman didn't miss a thing. She glanced around quickly. "What's the matter, Lori?"
"I'm all right," Lori said.
Lara lifted an eyebrow in a gesture very like her father. "Right," she said, "that's why your pulse-rate is over a hundred and fifty. What happened? Clark asked me to come by and check on you because of the neighborhood. I'm sorry I took so long. I wasted time looking for you on the slidewalk route to the hospital."
Lori glanced at her wrist. "It's only been about twelve minutes since he left."
"Uh huh. I've noticed before that a lot can happen to you in twelve minutes. So what did happen?"
"I think the killer was here," Lori said, reluctantly.
"Killer?" Lara said. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I'll teach Clark to leave out details! Come on. If there's somebody around that's trying to kill you, I'm not leaving you alone. I'll give you a lift to Metro General. You can tell me about it on the way."
The email was from an address that John had never heard of, and was labeled "URGENT" in capital letters. That, in itself, wouldn't have convinced him of anything, but he leaned forward to read it. Within a sentence, he devoted his full attention to it. He'd received uncomplimentary emails about some of his reporters before, but this one was something out of the ordinary, even for someone unhappy with the behavior of one of them. Lori had definitely gotten under someone's skin, he thought, as he continued to read, his eyebrows rising higher and higher as he progressed. By the time he had finished, he was as sure as he could be that the person Clark and Lori were hunting had made the mistake of trying to undermine his best female investigative journalist. He glanced at the miniature vidscreen on his desk. "Police Department," he said. "Velma Chow's office."
Lara touched down on the stationary sidewalk in front of Metropolis's largest hospital, a short distance from the emergency department, and set Lori carefully on her feet. "I think you should be safe here," she said. "Nobody could have made it here as fast as we did unless he flew. Tell Clark I've got a few words for him when I see him again."
"Lara, it wasn't his fault," Lori said. "Deirdre needed to get here as fast as possible. He expected me to follow him. Besides, he couldn't have known the killer would show up at her apartment. I didn't think of it, either."
"I don't know why not," Lara said. "He showed up in the parking garage." The diminutive superwoman surveyed her with a tiny smile. "Trust your sense of responsibility to get you in trouble. Look, Lori, until this guy is caught, do my blood pressure a favor and stay where a lot of people can see you. If something happened to you, Dad wouldn't be the only person devastated. And not just because of my newest sibling." She smiled more widely. "I like you, too, and so do CJ, Annie, Jon and Ronnie. And a lot of other people as well."
"I know, even if I'm not sure why," Lori said. "I'm pretty high maintenance."
Lara didn't try to deny it. "True. You're also brave, honest, idealistic, and determined to do the right thing, and you protect my dad like a tigress. Most important, he loves you and you make him happy. You're good for him, Lori. You're so much like Lois that sometimes it's scary."
Lara nodded emphatically. "After my mom died, Dad changed. He was still my dad, but he wasn't happy. Something vital went out of him, and none of us could replace it. Without her, he was desperately lonely -- until the day he walked in and announced that he was taking a job in Metropolis. Whatever had been gone had come back and we could all feel it. It was the morning after he met you." Lara was smiling at her. "Dad didn't know it, but we had a phone conference that day -- all four of us, and the other relatives who live in Metropolis. We decided that whoever you were, we had to help Dad win you any way that we possibly could." She was grinning now. "You never stood a chance."
Lori giggled. "I'm glad I didn't," she said. "Clark is everything I ever wanted, and then some."
"Good," Lara said. "I'm calling him now -- and I'm not leaving until he's with you again." She paused. "He says he went to get Barry -- is that Ms. Monitor's boyfriend? -- and he'll be here in a minute."
"Yes, it is," Lori said. She fell silent, thinking about what Lara had said. She had felt a little like an intruder into the super-family in the beginning. After all, how could she, a mere mortal, possibly compete with Lois Lane? The feeling had passed fairly quickly after meeting Clark's children but now she knew that she needn't have worried. All of them had been rooting for her and Clark from the start. Did Lara know about the past lives thing? Probably not, she thought. It wasn't something that you would tend to talk about, unless you wanted people to think you were a complete wacko.
She found herself staring at Lara's profile as Clark's daughter glanced away for a second, squinting at something that Lori couldn't see through the snow. The diminutive superwoman stood two inches shorter than she, but you didn't think about her height. Her personality was electric and tended to sweep all before it. Lara had inherited Lois's personality, Clark had told her, and for just an instant, Lori saw a small, determined girl with Clark's eyes and the same firm chin, then the vision vanished and she was Superwoman again.
Lara was watching her curiously, her eyebrows raised, Lori realized suddenly, and felt herself flushing.
"What's the matter? Do I have a smudge on my nose?" Lara asked.
"No. I was just thinking how much you look like Clark."
"Dad tells me I act like my mom, though," Lara said. "It's a good thing I inherited Dad's powers or I'd have gotten myself in more trouble than you can imagine."
"You didn't have them when you were little, though, did you?"
Lara shook her head. "No. I never got sick, though, and I tended to be a daredevil. It used to give Dad heart failure on a regular basis."
Lori giggled. "I guess we'll need to keep a close eye on this one," she remarked, patting her middle.
"Probably," Lara said. "If you're lucky, maybe it will be a boy. All the women in our family tend to be handfuls. They all take after Mom. I doubt any daughter of yours will be any different."
Lori giggled. "Well, at least I'll have some super-powered baby sitters. Maybe that will help." She laughed suddenly. "I guess it is hereditary, now that I think of it. I just found out last night that I'm Lucy Lane's great-great grand daughter."
Lara stared at her and then began to chuckle. "It figures," was all she said.
"What figures?" Clark, wearing his heavy coat and muffler, appeared out of the whirling snow.
"I just told Lara what Dad told us last night," Lori said. "How's Deirdre?"
"They've got her under heat lamps right now, and IVs and a bunch of other hideous things," Clark said. "They think she'll be okay. I left Barry with her."
"That's a relief. I guess while we're here we'd better go see Carla," Lori said.
"Probably," Clark said. "Thanks for picking up Lori," he told his daughter.
"No problem," Lara said. "Next time it might be helpful if you tell me she's being stalked by a killer, though -- although I should have realized something dangerous was going on. It usually is where Lori's concerned."
"Sorry," Clark said. "Why?"
"Lori will tell you about it," Lara said with a slight grin. "I have to run -- or fly. You're coming to dinner with us next week, aren't you?"
"Sure," Clark said.
"We'll be sure to have lots of Lori's favorite foods," Lara said with a wink. "Bye."
She lifted off, and a moment later was gone into the whirling snowflakes.
Clark slipped an arm around his wife's shoulders. "Why did Lara say that?" he asked.
"Say what?" Lori asked. "We'd better go on up to see Carla," she added. "Last I heard, her parents hadn't managed to make it into town to see her yet. Her mom's involved with some kind of scientific group studying the Australian Aborigine's ethnic herbal medicine or something, and she told me her dad's an environmental engineer in Antarctica. I guess they haven't been able to get away yet. She's probably pretty lonely here by herself, especially after what happened."
Clark raised an eyebrow. He might be wrong, but it looked as if his wife was trying to avoid answering the question. "Why did Lara mention that I didn't tell her about the killer?" he asked. "I telepathed her when I took Deirdre to the hospital, because I didn't want to leave you alone at the apartment."
"Oh -- that." Lori sounded uncomfortable. "I went back to be sure Deirdre's door was closed. Her place could have been robbed if people around there realized the place was empty and unlocked."
"What happened?" he asked.
"Clark, it didn't occur to me that the killer could have followed us from the Planet!" Lori said. "Even if it had, why on Earth should I have thought he -- she -- Heck! Whoever it is, to have come after me? I mean, it was an awful risk!"
"I'm not blaming you, honey," Clark said. "If anything, it was my fault. What happened?"
"It wasn't your fault!" she insisted emphatically. "I told Lara that, too!"
Clark resisted the temptation to tighten his arm, and thereby let Lori know how much the information that she was inadvertently giving him upset him. She was the center of his world. If something happened to her and their baby it would come as close to killing him as anything ever had. "Never mind whose fault it was," he said. "Just tell me what happened."
Lori shrugged. "I went to shut Deirdre's door and while I was there -- " She went on to describe the events that had happened while he was transporting Deirdre to the hospital. Clark felt his face draining of blood as she talked. The event underlined his belief that whoever their killer was, he must be getting desperate -- or his mental problems were getting more severe as time went on. The kind of compulsion that appeared to drive their quarry never, in his experience, got better by itself, but tended to progress and become more intense until it was the only thing in the life of its victim. Victim was a misnomer, too, he thought. The person they hunted was a killer several times over. It sounded to him as if the obsession with Connor Cooper had come close to all-consuming, and as such, Connor was as likely to be a target now as much as any woman he chose to speak to. As much as Lori already was. Their already-dangerous killer was steadily becoming more so.
However, his obsession was also driving him to be more careless, to take more chances. It might give them the chance to capture him before he killed somebody else.
Lori was watching him, a worried expression on her face. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to get into a dangerous spot."
"You couldn't have known," he said. "I should have realized it, though."
"No one in his right mind would have thought anyone would take a chance like that!" Lori said. "It wasn't your fault either. Lara expected me to be on the way to the hospital. If I had been, I'd never have been in danger."
"Don't be too sure of that," Clark said. "I think our killer has crossed a critical line. I think he'd have gone after you no matter what."
"What do you mean?"
"I think he -- or she -- is getting worse -- as in losing control of himself," Clark said. "I've seen this before in serial killers. Time goes by, they don't get caught, and eventually they get careless."
"You think that's what's happening?"
"Maybe." He squeezed her hand. "Here's a few facts for you that most people don't realize, Lori. A sociopath isn't normal, but the law doesn't define the condition as a mental illness because sociopaths are in touch with reality. They know right from wrong -- they just don't care. If you go by statistics, out of a hundred people approximately four are sociopaths -- people with no conscience. You probably know a few, personally. That's kind of a scary total, but sociopaths are almost invariably very smart." He smiled without humor. "Most of them have enough sense to blend in, mimic the normal people around them and stay out of trouble, but they're frequently loners who don't quite get along with others. They don't become killers or corporate criminals or anything, but the potential is still there, given the right circumstances."
Lori glanced up at him with a little smile. "I said you could teach a psychology class."
"Well, you can't live for over a century and not learn anything," Clark said. "I've met a lot of non-criminal sociopaths in my time. Most people have. The manipulative co-worker; the nasty neighbor who goes out of his way to cause trouble just for the fun of it; the husband or wife who blackmails spouse and children emotionally; the bullying boss. A significant number of them are sociopaths." He took a deep breath and squeezed her hand. "I've also met more than my share of criminal sociopaths in the course of my job," he continued. "The ones that bring themselves to the attention of law enforcement frequently have other problems besides just the lack of conscience; that's often why they get in trouble with the law. One of the most notorious serial killers of the Twentieth Century was a guy named Ted Bundy. You may have read about him, along with people like Jack the Ripper and so forth. Bundy was handsome, charming, intelligent -- and he killed dozens of women; maybe hundreds. They never knew the real total. He seemed to have a compulsion to kill. He was finally arrested and put in prison, but managed to escape. He had every reason to want to lie low, considering the fact that every police force in the country was looking for him, but he apparently reached a point where he couldn't control the need to kill. He broke into a college dorm and murdered a couple of the co-eds. It was his obsession that led to his recapture, and eventually to his conviction for first degree murder. In the end, he was his own worst enemy. And then, of course, there was the king of them all," he added somberly. "Lex Luthor."
Lori shuddered. "I've never understood why they didn't rename the Lexor," she said. "After what you told me about him -- "
"I know," Clark said. "Luthor had a number of problems, although I didn't realize it at the time, and I'm sure he didn't think they were problems. He was a megalomaniac for one thing. He saw the world only in the way it related to him. He had to be larger than life, and everything else took second place. He was calculating, and a compulsive manipulator. He gloried in breaking the law, often just for the fun of getting away with it. He hated Superman because he was as powerful in his own way as Luthor, but Luthor's overriding obsession was with Lois. He wanted to possess her above all other things and was willing to go to any lengths to succeed. That was what brought him down in the end." He glanced to his left where the tall Lexor Hotel towered above the lesser buildings of Metropolis. Lori couldn't see it, of course, but he could, regardless of the blinding snow. "I suppose the name is a mark of distinction in some ways. Tombstone had the OK Corral, Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp and the Clanton gang. Billy the Kid still fascinates people. So does Bat Masterson, and historians disagree on whether he was a good guy or a bad one. It's the same with Lex Luthor. He was legendary, and some historians still argue over whether he was really the criminal that he was painted to be, so the hotel kept his name. It's good for business -- but I've never stayed in it even one night since Luthor's death."
Lori squeezed his hand. He looked down at her, shaking off the unpleasant memories. "Anyway, the point of this long dissertation is that our criminal may be a sociopath, but I think his other problems are getting worse. He -- or more probably she," he added with a grimace, "-- is taking more chances and making more effort to get rid of her perceived rivals for Connor, but that's only going to make her more dangerous, not less, until she's taken into custody. I already reported the attempt on Deirdre to Velma, by the way. That was one of the things that delayed me. She assigned a guard to Deirdre immediately. I think she thinks our killer is teetering on the brink of a meltdown, just like I do."
"You think she's going to come after me, again?" Lori asked. There was no alarm in her voice, but her fingers had tightened on his.
"I think the chances are pretty good she will." Clark fought to keep his voice level. "And along the way, I think she's going to try to take out any and all other people she sees as rivals. Deirdre's only crime was that she works with Connor. There are also other women who work at the gym."
"There are three," Lori said, "I got the schedule from the gym's bulletin board yesterday."
"I called Connor," Clark said. "I told him about Deirdre, and warned him not to go off alone with anyone. He assured me that he wouldn't. I think we managed to impress him yesterday when we pointed out that his strength is no match for a stunner."
"Connor was never stupid," Lori said. "A little naïve, maybe, but not stupid."
Clark disengaged his hand from hers so he could wrap an arm around her as they approached the main doors of Metro General. Logically, he knew that it was unlikely that their killer would be waiting for them at the hospital, but logic wasn't foremost in his mind right now. If he had his way, he would take Lori to France or some other foreign country and install her safely in a hotel there until their quarry was caught, but he knew very well that she wouldn't consent to any such thing. Lieutenant Chow had emphasized to Superman a short time earlier that their profiler had described an individual who was approaching the brink of a crisis, and once that crisis was reached, their killer, with all restraints gone, could do literally anything. He was going to stick to his wife like glue today, he promised himself silently, and had already passed the word to the other supermen and women in Metropolis. If anyone made another attempt on Lori, Clark was perfectly willing to betray his own secret, if necessary, to protect her. That wasn't even a consideration.
Carla's bed was tilted into sitting position when Lori knocked on the doorframe of her semi-private room some five minutes later. The Daily Planet's intern switched off the vidscreen and her face lit up in a smile when she saw who her visitors were. "Ms. Lyons! Mr. Kent! Come in!"
"Hi, Carla," Lori said. "How are you feeling?"
The intern grimaced. "A little sore," she admitted, "but the doctors did a good job on me. They said there won't even be a scar by the time I'm finished healing, and they're going to release me tomorrow morning."
"That's a relief," Lori said. "We were worried."
"I'll be fine," Carla reassured her. "If you can stand up to muggers and guys who try to kill you, I sure can. I'm going to be an investigative reporter someday, too."
"Standing up to muggers and murderers isn't usually considered part of my job description," Lori said. "I'm awfully sorry this happened to you."
"Why?" Carla asked. "Just because I ran into a mugger in the parking lot? It could happen to anybody."
"We don't think it was a mugger," Clark said. "We think it was a case of mistaken identity."
"Oh?" Carla's eyes widened. "Who?"
"Well -- you look a bit like me," Lori said. "Your coloring and your hairstyle are the same as mine, and we're about the same size."
"You mean it was someone who was after you?" Carla asked. The hero-worship in her face, contrary to what might have been expected, intensified. "They told me you scared the guy away."
"Well, kind of. I was in the elevator that arrived and probably scared him off," Lori said. "Superman actually saved your life."
"Wow," Carla said. "I knew the Daily Planet was going to be a great place to work!"
"Carla, you were nearly killed!" Clark said. "We don't want that to happen!"
"Neither do I," Carla said. "Don't worry, Mr. Kent. I'll change my hairstyle before I come back to work, and after this when I go into the parking lot, I'll be sure I'm with someone. I'll just be more careful from now on, that's all. I don't want to get stabbed again, that's for sure." She waved at the bouquet that sat on her nightstand. "Thanks for the flowers," she added. "They're really nice. Mr. Olsen sent the ones on the window sill," she added, "and the yellow roses over there are from somebody else; the card's signed by somebody named Connor Cooper. I don't know him, but he sent a very nice note. I guess he's somebody at the Planet, but I sure don't recognize his name."
"Connor's a friend of ours," Lori said. "He's an instructor at the Hobs Fitness Center. We got into our current investigation because of some information he gave us. He felt really bad when he heard you'd been hurt because of it."
"Oh," Carla said. "Well, that was really nice of him. Tell him I said thanks, would you?"
"Sure," Clark said. Lori could tell from the way the corners of his mouth twitched that he found Carla's intense enthusiasm amusing.
"I just wish I had something to do besides watching the vids," Carla continued blithely. "It's boring just watching the morning soaps. It's all the same. Everybody's cheating on everybody else or plotting to murder their husbands or wives. There's this one husband and wife that are cheating on each other with each other." She shook her head. "You don't want to know. Anyway, I've got a computer here. I feel like I'm goofing off, not doing my work, you know?"
"You're on sick leave until you've recovered," Lori began. "You're not goofing off."
"Oh, I know," Carla said, airily. "I still wish I had something more to do. Do you have anything you'd like me to research for you, maybe? I could do that for a while."
Lori glanced at her husband. It was obvious that Carla was made of resilient stuff. "Well, I guess -- if your doctor doesn't mind --"
"He said I could do just about anything I like," Carla informed her. "I'm just supposed to take it easy one more day until the places that he repaired are mostly regenerated. That's why they want me to stay here until tomorrow -- just for observation."
"Oookay," Lori said. Carla's enthusiasm was contagious. She couldn't help but be amused, even through her concern. Maybe she could come up with a compromise that would keep Carla in bed and relatively quiet, and at the same time let her feel that she was helping with the investigation. "Well, if you really want to help us, do you think you could research the employees and current members of the Fitness Center -- specifically the ones that used to either work at or belong to the Metropolis Fitness Center? We're looking for in-depth backgrounds, and particularly any run-ins with the law. No time frame on that, by the way. Is that enough research for you?"
Carla nodded. "Is this about the creep who's after you?"
"As a matter of fact," Clark said, "it is."
"Great," Carla said. "I'll do my best. I'd like to help catch him. "
"Well, this should help," Clark said.
"You got it, Mr. Kent!" Carla's smile widened. "I'll pull up the list of the people at the Metropolis Fitness Center and compare the names with the employees of Hobs Fitness, and then start digging. I'll get it for you."
"Just don't tire yourself out," Lori cautioned.
"Oh, I won't," Carla said. She turned to swivel the arm that held the personal bedside computer over her lap. "I've got a personal stake in this, now! I'll email you if I find out anything, okay?"
"Okay," Lori said.
A short time later, Lori and Clark took off into the swirling snowflakes, bound for the Daily Planet. The flashing light of the giant globe atop the building came into view through the dancing flakes and Clark dropped to a landing in its shelter. Lori pulled the hood of her coat further forward, squinting her eyes against the tiny stinging grains of ice that accompanied the softer snowflakes. "It's getting worse," she said.
Clark took her hand and guided her to the stairwell. They stepped inside and Lori pushed back the hood, brushing at the snow that had collected on her shoulders. "This is just great," she said. "Mom and Dad's last day in Metropolis and we're snowed in."
"It shouldn't make any difference for the theater tonight," Clark said, "and we're going to dinner and dancing afterwards. There's going to be a lot of people out tonight anyway. Tomorrow's a holiday for most people, since it's Valentine's Day." He lifted her in his arms and the stairwell blurred around them until they reached the level of the newsroom.
As they stepped into their place of business, Clark lifted his head. "John wants us," he said. "There's been a new development."
"Yeah. Let's go see what it is."
John, as usual, was propping his heels on his desk when they entered the editor's office. He had swiveled the screen of his computer around so that they could see it when they walked in, and Lori noted that an email was prominently displayed for their benefit.
"Look what I found in my email this morning," John said.
Clark picked up one of the armchairs in an unusual display of strength and set it down in front of John's desk. "Take this chair," he said to Lori, reaching over to appropriate a smaller, harder wooden one for himself. Lori saw John's eyebrows fly up in a gesture identical to her husband's when he was surprised at something. She didn't comment, but took the seat and leaned forward to read the email. John was silent while she absorbed its contents.
"Inventive rant," Clark said after a moment.
"Wow," Lori said finally. "I've done everything but murder this guy's mother."
"Yes, I sort of got the idea that he doesn't like you," John said.
"Shh. I'm just getting to the best part," Lori said. "This is interesting." She ignored John's mumble about there not being any part of it that wasn't interesting. "Let's see -- apparently Connor sneaked into our apartment last night to be with me, and this person expects the Planet to fire me for conduct unbecoming a journalist -- I wonder what that is? -- and if you don't he's going to assume you're part of the plot and take steps. That doesn't sound good. This guy has completely lost it."
"I don't think that's even in question," John said. "Did Cooper come to your place last night?"
"Yeah," Clark said. "He stayed for dinner. Whoever sent this must have seen him enter the apartment house. He's either watching Connor or you, Lori."
"I figured out that part." She glanced at his worried face. "Do you want to see if I can trace the email, John?"
John shook his head. "I've already contacted Lieutenant Chow. She's got her people on it. She told me to tell you to watch your step."
"Yeah," Lori said. "I'd already decided that." She looked at Clark again. "I guess we'd better tell him what happened a little while ago."
"Go ahead," Clark said. "You were there."
For the third time in two hours, Lori sketched the events at Deirdre Monitor's apartment house. John listened without comment until she had finished.
"So," he said, "this is getting better and better. What are you going to do?"
Lori shrugged. "Try to figure out who he or she is. What else can we do?"
"I'm tempted to send you on assignment to Fiji until this guy is in custody," John said darkly. "I'd do it too, if I didn't think you'd ignore me."
"She'd probably find out somehow and follow me," Lori said. "We have to deal with it now, before it gets any worse. Does Connor know about the email?"
"I think Lieutenant Chow warned him," John said.
"I'm going to call him," Lori said. "I want to be sure he's kept in the loop."
"It can't hurt," John said.
Lori lifted her talker to her lips. "Call Connor," she said. "I put Connor on speed dial after I realized what we were up against," she added. "It seemed like a good idea"
"Cooper," Connor's voice said. "I'm unable to answer right now. Leave your name and a message and I'll get back to you as soon as possible."
"Great, an answering machine. Connor, this is Lori. We've had another development. Call me back when you get this message." She shut off the device. "He's probably teaching a class at the gym." She looked back at the computer screen. "John, I don't want to be an alarmist, but I think you should be careful, too. You could be a target. He's sort of making threatening noises about you."
"I noticed that," John said. "How are we supposed to know exactly who he's after, though? We can't get everybody in one place and surround ourselves with guards until he's caught. We might miss someone."
"Yeah," Lori said. "This is scary."
John nodded. "I'm not particularly worried about myself," he said. "I've been threatened before. I think the threat for me was just an attempt to frighten me into action."
"Maybe," Clark said. "I don't want to count on anything. John, I want you to take Marilyn and go visit Rhonda in Texas, or something, at least until we have her in custody. Marilyn would never forgive me if something happened to you. I'd never forgive myself."
"Uh huh," John said, unimpressed. "I've never turned tail before, and I don't intend to now."
"Well, at least take the same advice I gave Connor earlier today," Clark said. "Stay with a lot of other people until we've got the killer under wraps. Is that too much to ask?"
John grinned slightly. "I'm not completely stupid, Grampa. I'll be careful. I don't know how much of my nervous system is Kryptonian, and I don't want to take chances with a stunner, but we know for sure that Lori isn't immune to stunner fire. I hope you're not planning on leaving her alone."
"Not a chance," Clark said. "I don't think it's going to take too long, to tell you the truth. Whoever this is seems to be reaching a point of crisis."
"Yeah, I sort of got that idea," John said.
Lori's wrist talker beeped softly. She lifted it to her lips. "Lori Lyons."
"Lori!" Connor Cooper's voice emerged, and it was shaking. "We've got a problem at the gym. I don't know -- I mean, since all this stuff has been happening, I don't know if it's connected, but something's happened, and --"
"Calm down," Lori said. "What's happened?"
"Jake Prince just took a high dive out the upper window," Connor said. "He's on his way to the hospital. They don't know if he'll make it."
Lori stared at Clark. Jacob Prince, the assistant instructor for their maternity fitness class? "Is there any reason you can think of that he might be connected with this business?" Lori asked.
"Well -- you said that the killer could be a woman or a gay male. Jake is gay," Connor said. "I admit it's a stretch, but --"
"Call Lieutenant Chow," Lori said. "No, scratch that. I'll call her. And stay with a lot of other people. Clark and I will be there as soon as we can."
"Prince is in surgery right now," Velma Chow told them sometime later. "We're treating it as a suspicious accident, considering the circumstances." She turned to Connor, who was clearly restraining an urge to pace. "Who was in the gym at the time, Cooper?
"I can give you the schedule," Connor said. "We've also got a computer register for the members to check in at."
"That should help," Velma said. "Was there anyone on your staff present that wasn't scheduled?"
Connor shrugged. "I don't know, Lieutenant. People come by at all hours and just kind of drift in and out. They only clock in when it's their shift. Any of them could have been here."
"Were you here?"
He nodded. "I'd just clocked in when I heard somebody outside scream. After everything that's been happening, I ran outside to see what was going on. Jake was --" He stopped and swallowed convulsively. "Somebody said they saw him fall."
"Who?" Velma asked immediately.
"I don't know. The officer who first took the report would have the name. One of our members, I think."
"All right." Velma nodded at one of the two men who had accompanied her. "Go with him and get a copy of the record." She glanced at her other subordinate. "Find out who took the initial report and get me a copy."
"Yes ma'am." The second man, a very young member of the force, looked oddly at Lori and Clark and then moved several steps away.
Lori glanced up the steps. "Would it be all right if Clark and I looked around, Lieutenant?"
Velma shrugged. "Go ahead. I don't have to tell you not to touch anything. When we're finished here, I also want a report on your little adventure this morning."
"Who told you about that?" Lori asked, slightly surprised.
"I happened to run into Superwoman about an hour ago and she gave me a synopsis of it," Velma said.
"Oh. I was going to report it to you, but things kind of got away from me," Lori said. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry, just be careful, Lyons," Velma said. "Somehow you've managed to tick somebody off in a big way, without even trying. I'd like to know how you manage that."
"It wasn't intentional," Lori said. "I don't need to be a killer's target right now, believe me."
"I imagine not," Velma said. She glanced at Lori's midriff and her expression softened slightly. "Is it a boy or a girl?"
"We don't know," Lori said. "I want to be surprised."
Velma nodded and gave a one-sided smile. "Don't blame you," she said, unexpectedly. "All right, go ahead, but if you see anything even slightly suspicious, call me, you got it? Even a bodyguard the size of Kent here isn't much match for a stunner."
"You think Jake Prince might have been -- "
Velma shrugged. "I don't know anything yet. The doctor I spoke to said Prince has a fighting chance, but he wouldn't make any promises. If he lives and wakes up in time, maybe he can tell us."
"Velma," Clark said suddenly, "did your people ever manage to find the weapon used to attack Carla in the parking tier last night?"
Velma shook her head. "No, and that's bothering me. We searched every crevice of the place, and so did Superman. Nobody leaving the building had anything on him that could have been a knife; that's sure. We had metal scanners in place in minutes."
"Could she have gotten out before the police arrived?"
"I suppose it's possible," Velma said. "There was that short interval of time between the actual stabbing and the time Superman called us, but she would have had to move pretty fast. By the way, there are three green Meteors in the parking lot now. None of their licenses start with a Q or an O, so that's a flame-out, at least for the present."
"Yeah. We'll be back in a few minutes," Clark said. "Come on, Lori."
The small upstairs room of the warehouse from which Jake Prince had taken his fall had apparently been adapted to act as a changing room for the instructors. A bank of lockers sat against one wall, and two wooden benches in the middle of the room held an assortment of towels, athletic shoes and one pair of gym shorts. The area around the window had been cordoned off with yellow plastic tape, and the window was closed. A police vid technician was moving around the room, apparently making a record of the crime scene.
"That must be where he fell from," Lori said, nodding at the window.
Clark was standing with his hands shoved into his pockets, but she saw him looking slowly around the room and knew that he was meticulously scanning the premises with his enhanced vision.
"Anything?" Lori asked softly.
"Those shorts have the initials JP on the inner side of their waistband," he said, keeping his voice equally low.
"JP -- as in Jacob Prince?" Lori asked.
He nodded. "Unless they have another instructor here with those initials. I'm sure Velma's people wouldn't have missed that."
"I'm sure they didn't. They're probably there for the record." She inclined her head at the technician. "So if Jake's shorts were over here, what was he doing standing by the window without them?"
"Good question. Another one is why a window would have been open far enough for him to fall out on a day with this much snowfall. I think the possibility of a suicide attempt is a little bit coincidental, considering the circumstances, don't you?"
"Just a bit. Somehow I can't see a guy taking all the trouble to come here, start to change, and then suddenly be seized with the impulse to dash over to the window, throw it open and jump out in his skivvies," Lori said. "How about the lockers? Are his clothes in any of them?"
"The one on the bottom right," Clark said, nodding toward one of the metal doors, firmly secured with a combination lock. "His wallet's in the pocket of his jeans."
"Suicide's looking more and more unlikely to me," Lori said. "I think our killer has struck again."
"I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I suspect you're right," Clark said. "Maybe she was trying to throw off suspicion by doing it this way. Besides, carting a bloody knife out of here might just possibly draw attention, and hiding it on the premises wouldn't be very smart, since the cops would be here going over the place with a fine tooth comb." He paused, and Lori saw him staring at the bank of lockers again. "Paul Brown's stuff is in the next one up, and there's some gym clothes with CC on the waistband of the gym shorts, so I'd say those are Connor's. Hmm --"
Lori waited impatiently. "Anything else?" she asked finally.
Clark shook his head. "The one at the top left has a roll of black electrical tape in it," he said. "There's a bottle of hypoallergenic shampoo in the next one. That's it."
"I think we've seen enough here," Lori said. "Velma's not done, is she?"
"I don't think so. I overheard her calling the Precinct a minute ago. She's getting a full Forensics team here. Let's go downstairs. I want to look at the Meteors in the parking lot"
The technician glanced at them from the spot where he was readying his vid recorder for another shot. "Could the two of you hold your secretive conversation somewhere else?" he asked ironically. "I need to shoot the section you're standing in."
"Sorry about that," Lori said. "We'll get out of your way."
Velma was examining a sheet of hardcopy when they returned. She glanced up as they paused in the office door. "Done?"
"Could we get a quote for the Planet?" Lori asked hopefully. "We still have a job to do, you know."
The police detective made a face. "Only that we're investigating the apparent accident," she said. "Will that do?"
"I guess so," Lori said. "I guess you're not done yet, are you?"
"Not a chance. I'm waiting for a search warrant to go through the lockers, and I don't want anyone removing things in the meantime. Before you go, do you think you could give me a synopsis of what happened to you this morning?"
"Sure." Lori gave Velma a quick description of her morning's adventure.
Velma looked more sour than ever. "I don't suppose you could tell by the hand whether it was a man or a woman."
Lori shook her head regretfully. "All I could see was the stunner and the knuckle of a finger wrapped around it. It could have been either one."
"It's amazing to me how this nutball manages to move around practically in plain sight, and yet nobody sees him," Velma said. "All right, you can go, but try to keep out of trouble."
"We'll do our best," Clark said.
They passed through the exercise rooms where various persons were working out, and Lori saw a woman, who must be one of the instructors she had not yet met, supervising a teenager in the correct technique for lifting a weight. Connor was at the receptionist's desk, and Lori could see that he still looked shaken. She stopped.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I guess I am. I just called the hospital, but no one will give me any information about Jake, or Dee. Whoever this person is, is a monster, Lori. Jake never hurt anyone in his life, and Dee's just a nice girl trying to get a start in her life. I don't have any romantic interest in either of them."
"You don't have any in me, either," Lori pointed out, "but that hasn't stopped me from being a target. Connor, none of this is your fault. It's the fault of the person who's stalking you. Speaking of which, stay within sight of as many people as possible today. She obviously hasn't stopped, and you could easily be a target. Apparently she thinks you and I are having an affair. She sent my boss an email, and among other things says you sneaked into my place last night. She must have been watching either you or the apartment house. She may decide you're cheating on her and take steps."
Connor nodded wordlessly.
"One last thing," Clark said. "Do you have some kind of record of who uses which locker in the changing room?"
Connor shrugged. "Not really. Everybody just uses whichever locker happens to be available."
Lori gave her husband an odd glance, but he returned her look expressionlessly. She turned back to Connor. "Hang in there," she said. "I'm pretty sure it won't be much longer."
"I hope he absorbed that," Lori said to Clark after the door closed behind them.
"So do I," he said. He took her elbow. "Let's take a stroll through the parking lot before we head back for the Planet, shall we? Velma said there were three green Meteors here right now."
"She said none of them have licenses that start with a Q or an O, though," Lori said.
"I know. I'm working a theory. Something occurred to me while I was looking over the lockers."
"Okay," Lori said. "Anything you say."
They proceeded through the blowing snow to the parking lot. The clouds of flakes had lessened somewhat, Clark noted. Hopefully the storm was beginning to die down. It would be a distinct improvement for tonight if it did. Although he and his super-powered descendents could see through the stuff with their special vision, ordinary people couldn't, and it made it all too easy for someone with deadly intentions to sneak up on one of her victims, unseen until it was too late.
The parking lot was sparsely populated. Only a few of the hardiest and most dedicated souls had ventured out to the gym today. Clark kept one arm around his wife, acutely aware of their exposed position in the lot. True, the killer had so far only dealt with stunners, knives, and if he was right, a shove out the window, but that didn't mean she wasn't capable of getting hold of something more long-range to use on a victim as difficult to attack as Lori had so far proven herself to be. No one knew better than Superman how easy it was to lay hands on lethal weapons in the city if you just knew how.
"Do you see the Meteors?" Lori asked. "I can't see anything much."
"This way," Clark said, leading the way through the lot. The first car was only feet away.
It loomed suddenly out of the snow. Clark walked around to its rear to check the license.
It was a New Troy plate, and the orange and black license read KLB114TZ. Well, this one certainly didn't back up his theory. The next-closest Meteor was three spaces away, diagonally in the opposing row. Clark squeezed between the cars and as before checked the plate.
TGT568BH, it read.
"Nope," he said. "If it's not the third one, then my theory's all wet."
"Where is it?" Lori asked.
"Across the lot in the corner."
"Can't you just read the plate from here?" Lori asked.
"Angle's wrong," Clark said. "This will just take a minute. Are you cold?"
"A little. I'll be fine."
Clark pulled her tight against him and lifted a few inches off the ground to glide quickly in the direction of the third Meteor. As soon as he came within view of the license plate, he knew that his theory was right.
CMP138WP it read. He lifted his wrist talker to his lips. "Daily Planet," he said. "Editor's office."
John's voice answered within seconds. "Olsen."
"John, it's Clark," he said quickly. "Can you have a license number traced quickly? It's important."
"Give me the number," John's voice said.
"It's a New Troy plate," Clark said. "One of the old ones." He read off the number to his boss. "I need the name and address of the owner. Lori and I will be there in a few minutes."
"I should have it for you by then," John said.
"Thanks," Clark said. He signed off, scooped Lori up in his arms and rocketed straight up into the clouds of snow, not even bothering to change into his Suit. If anyone could see him in this, it would be a member of his family anyway and it wouldn't matter.
"I hope," Lori said, "you're planning on clueing me in on this."
"Sure. It was the electrical tape that started me thinking. Take a little black electrical tape and you can make some pretty effective temporary alterations to a license number. CMP138WP could easily become OMR188WR, or any of several other combinations, without much effort, if you wanted to be reasonably certain that no one would be able to give your license number to the police."
"You're right," Lori said. "I hadn't thought of that, and I probably should have."
"It's an old trick," Clark said. "Car thieves used to use it before the advent of built-in homing devices. The practice has kind of died out what with police detectors, but for a temporary, effective measure, when you're tailing someone, it's pretty good."
"Do you suppose it's as simple as that?"
"Maybe," Clark said cautiously. "We'll see soon enough."
They dropped to the surface of the slidewalk half a block from the Planet. There were few occupants of the moving walk today, and in the blinding snow, Lori was certain that no one could have seen them, much less noticed them. The walk carried them past the dark bulk of the tall parking tier, and they disembarked directly in front of the main doors.
The snow wasn't quite as dense, as it had been earlier, she thought, as they entered the building. With any luck, the snowstorm would have passed by tonight. She glanced at her wrist talker, a little surprised to see that it was already past three. My, how time flew when you were having fun. So to speak.
The floor was slick with tracked-in mud and snow that was rapidly melting in little puddles on the marble tiles. One of the cleaning bots was sliding madly about, dodging obstacles in its path as it competed desperately with the traffic that came in from the street, tracking more snow and ice on its clean floor. They crossed the lobby to the bank of elevators, and Lori could have sworn the little robot looked reproachfully at her with its sensor, which was ridiculous, since it didn't even have eyes.
The doors of one opened at their approach, revealing an empty, lighted interior. Clark let her enter first and followed, interposing his body between her and anyone outside until the door slid shut again.
"Do you really think there's that much danger?" she asked quietly.
"Probably not," he said, "but one miscalculation and I could be without you. I'm taking no risks."
Lori reached out to take his hand. "I'm not taking any more risks either, Clark. Not now. There's too much at stake."
"Humor me," he said, slipping an arm around her and pulling her to his chest. Lori wrapped her arms around him and felt both of his enfold her tightly.
The elevator slid to a noiseless stop and the doors opened. Slowly, Clark released her, but not in time to escape the eagle eye of Greg. He gave a piercing whistle. "Floor show!" he announced. There was a ripple of applause. Greg added, "I guess it figures, though, with that watermelon you're growing, Lyons."
Lori exited the elevator with pink cheeks and a faint smile. Clark followed her out with a smug grin on his features. "Hey, she's my wife, Barker. I plan on capitalizing on that as often as I can. You guys can eat your hearts out!"
The comeback produced more chuckles and a scattering of applause, and someone -- Lori thought it was Andrea -- called, "Right on, Clark!"
John stepped out of his office. "Clark, Lori, may I see you in my office, please?"
When the door of the editor's office closed behind them, John produced a sheet of hardcopy for them. "Here's the stuff on that license. I hope it's helpful."
"So do I." Clark read it over and handed it to Lori. "Honey, do you think you could find the addresses of any of the employees of Connor's gym and compare them with that?"
"You bet." Lori took the paper. "I don't recognize the name, but I suppose that doesn't mean anything. 1256 Willow Street. That's two streets over from Unger. This could be what we need." She exited back into the newsroom and headed straight for her desk.
She had email waiting for her, she saw, which wasn't surprising, since she had barely had time to look at her computer today. Quickly she glanced at it, trashed the spam and checked the remaining five. Anything that wasn't absolutely top priority was going to have to wait.
It was Carla's email that caught her eye, and she opened it at once.
"Dear Ms. Lyons," the email began with surprising formality, considering the girl's usual buoyant attitude. "Here are the preliminary results of my search. I checked the employees of the gym first. I'll email you back with any other information about the members later, if I find any. (See list below).
"The employees of the Hobs Fitness Center that were previously employed by the Metropolis Fitness Center are:
Connor C. Cooper -- no record of arrests.
Paul Harper Brown -- two speeding tickets in the past 2 years. One misdemeanor charge for underage drinking. Fines paid, no follow up action.
Jacob Warren Prince -- one ticket for littering last year. Fine paid. No follow up action taken.
Marcella Persephone Evans -- Arrested four times in her teens for shoplifting. Records sealed." Lori lifted her eyebrows at that. She definitely had to get together with Carla. The girl had unexpectedly good hacking skills. Maybe even better than her own. "Arrested at age 17 for setting fellow student's clothing on fire. Record sealed." She and Carla definitely needed to get better acquainted, Lori decided. "Arrested for assault on department store security guard during shoplifting incident. Charges dropped for unspecified reasons. Record sealed."
Lori pursed her lips in a low whistle. Below was Marcella's address. 1256 Willow Street. She jumped to her feet, half-ran to the door of John's office and yanked it open without bothering to knock. Both men turned in surprise as Lori burst in, waving the hardcopy. Clark took one look at her face and got to his feet. "What is it?"
"Carla came through." Lori had to consciously struggle to keep her voice level. "We have a match."
"A bunch of juvenile trouble but none since," John said, looking the report over. "I guess it could mean that she's cleaned up her act."
"Or," Lori said, "it could just mean that she's been a lot more careful since."
Clark was nodding. "It's not proof, but it's awfully coincidental -- especially since her address matches the address of the car's owner."
"True," John said. "Well, get going. Find out who the owner of this car is. Do you think it's a roommate, maybe?"
"Could be," Clark said. He turned to Lori. "Honey, you stay here this time, all right? See what you can find out from here. There's no point in going out in the cold again."
Lori nodded. "All right. Keep me in the loop though, would you?"
"Count on it. Give Connor a call and tell him what we suspect. He needs the information to protect himself."
"Superman's going to drop by and talk to her," he said grimly. "She'll be much more likely to listen to him than either of us."
"Good idea," John said. He turned sharply as Lori sat down suddenly in the nearest chair. "Lori?"
"Could I get a drink of water?" she asked shakily.
Clark was instantly at her side. "Are you all right, honey?"
She nodded. "I just realized. I didn't get lunch today."
John thrust a paper cup into her hands and lifted his wrist talker to his lips. "Ned!"
"Bring a couple of doughnuts and a cup of juice from the machine in here right now. Hurry!"
Clark pushed his wife's head into her lap. "Take a few deep breaths, honey. We'll have something in here for you in a second."
"I'm okay," she said, but he noticed that she didn't try to lift her head. He kicked himself figuratively. Lori tended to get involved in her stories and then would forget to eat, as had happened today. It was past three, and breakfast had been at six this morning.
Someone knocked on the door and John opened it to take the doughnuts and a container of apple juice from Ned. "Thanks." He shut it before the copy boy could get a look inside his office. "Here, Lori, take a drink of this."
Clark removed the water from her hands and took the apple juice, holding it for her. "Sip this, honey." They were silent as Lori sat slowly up and obeyed. She drained the container, and after a few seconds opened her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said.
Clark thrust a doughnut into her hands. "Eat," he said.
Lori took the doughnut and bit into it. "I won't forget again," she mumbled through the cake.
"Honey, you aren't the first and you won't be the last to forget," Clark said. "Lois passed out cold one day in the newsroom because a guy who worked there with us -- Ralph, his name was -- had been razzing her about her appetite and she was determined to prove that she wasn't overeating. I had a few private words with Ralph right after that and he didn't dare open his mouth to her for a week. She didn't find out about it for months, which is just as well, or she'd have killed me."
Lori swallowed convulsively and took the second doughnut. "Really?"
"You had to have known my great grandmother," John said. "She was Mad Dog Lane to the end. None of us but Clark dared to stand up to her." He grinned. "The whole family was proud of her. You know, though," he added, "we're all tremendously proud of you, too. I guess my grandfather has a tendency to fall in love with outstanding women."
"I have very high standards," Clark said. "Are you feeling better now?"
She nodded. "Yeah."
"Good. I'm going to order you something a little more substantial than doughnuts before I go. What would you like?"
Lori swallowed the last of the second doughnut. "You don't have to do that, Clark. I'm perfectly able to order myself some lunch."
"How about an extra-large pizza with all the trimmings and extra cheese?" John said. "Go on, Clark. Lori and I will do fine. I had some experience with this with my sister-in-law, remember."
Clark hesitated. "Well -- all right," he said, somewhat grudgingly. He bent to kiss Lori on the mouth, disregarding the few remaining doughnut crumbs. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Don't go anywhere without me, okay?"
"Don't rush on my account," Lori said. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise."
"All right." Clark glanced at John, who nodded at him. With a final smile at his wife, Clark left the editor's office and headed for the stairs.
Lori looked at her boss. "I blew it," she said. "I got so involved in the investigation that I forgot to think about my baby."
John shook his head. "Clark didn't blame you. You shouldn't blame yourself."
"Clark never blames me. He's too busy blaming himself. He thinks he should be perfect."
The corners of John's lips twitched. "That's always been a failing of his. Lois used to jump on him regularly about it. He's Superman. The first of all the supermen, and for a long time the only one. He has to make decisions every day that affect lives. That kind of thing can be overwhelming, and it can give you the feeling that you aren't allowed to make mistakes. That was part of the reason he nearly quit being Superman within a few weeks after he let people know he existed. It was Lois who showed him he didn't have to be perfect -- that whatever he could do was enough. It was one of the things that made Lois so essential to the existence of Superman. She kept him grounded."
"And now I suppose it's my job," Lori said.
"Pretty much, yeah." John regarded her with a little smile. "You're more than equal to it, you know."
"I hope so. If I can get my own act together."
"Don't sell yourself short," John said. "Clark is there to make up for your weaknesses, just as you have to be strong for him sometimes. Alone, each of you is a pretty remarkable person. Together you come as close to an unbeatable team as exists." He turned to the desk-size vidphone that sat next to his computer. "Call Antonio's pizza," he told the phone. "Order one triple-size pizza with all the trimmings except anchovies and hot peppers, with extra cheese. We'll take the special you're offering in today's Daily Planet for a second one of the same size -- this one vegetarian -- at half price. Three side orders of cheesy garlic breadsticks with marinara sauce and an order of lasagna. And three two-liter bottles of soda. This address."
He turned back. Lori found herself staring at him, slightly stunned. "I can't possibly eat all that."
"Nope, but this way you'll get as much as you want, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of volunteers to finish off the rest out there. Maybe I'll get a little more work out of them if they fill up on all those carbs."
The vidphone beeped softly. John swiveled back to it. "Olsen."
"Mr. Olsen," a boyish voice said. "You didn't tell us what kind of crust you want -- "
The pizza arrived twenty minutes later. In the meantime, Lori had settled down at her desk again and emailed Carla an acknowledgement for her work, then called Connor.
His recorded message cut off in the middle and Connor's voice said, "Cooper."
"Connor, it's Lori. We have some news. Are you where you can be overheard?"
A pause. "Nobody's around. I turned the speaker down. What's going on?"
"I had someone doing some background checks on employees at your gym who followed you from the Metro gym. It turned up some interesting information."
"Don't beat around the bush, Lyons," Connor said.
"Okay. You still need to be careful, just in case, but be especially careful around Marcella. Got it?"
"Mar --" He broke off. "Any reason you can give me?"
"You know what we're investigating. Let's say at this point, I wouldn't turn my back on her in a dark alley. I can't be more specific over the phone. Trust me, okay?"
"Is that why Superman is talking to Lieutenant Chow?"
"He's there? Actually, yes."
"All right. Have you been able to find out anything else about Jake?"
"The hospital says he's resting as comfortably as can be expected."
"Which tells us exactly nothing."
"Well, it tells you he's still alive."
"Yeah -- there's that." Connor paused. "Actually, I haven't seen Marcella at all today." Another pause. "Okay, thanks for the information. Call me back if you find out anything else."
"I'll do that," Lori said. "You might ask Lieutenant Chow, by the way. She seems to have more sources of information from the hospital than I do."
"I might," Connor said. "Thanks."
Lori signed off. She munched on the enormous slice of pizza that she had procured from the pizza delivery, in between bites of the breadsticks and marinara sauce, and stared blankly at her computer screen for a long moment. An idea was hovering in the back of her mind, perhaps because of Carla's research, but she couldn't quite pin it down.
Absently, she licked at the pizza sauce and grease on her fingers and then got to her feet. She'd been told that the trips to the bathroom were going to get more frequent now that she was in her second trimester, but she hadn't thought about it before. Drinking all that soda probably hadn't been too good an idea.
A short time later, she was washing pizza grease from her fingers, and watching in fascination as the water seemed to sink magically through the bottom of the basin and disappear. It wasn't magic, of course, but the application of new technology that had become more prevalent in the last five years. The very bottom of the basin was a semi-permeable membrane that felt like the enamel of the rest of the bowl but wasn't. It kept things like hair and other things that tended to clog drains from going down and causing plumbing problems. It could even be opened up, swinging up on invisible hinges in case of some unforeseen problem, although Lori had never seen such a problem occur --
A light seemed to flash in her brain. Barely pausing to dry her hands, she hurried out to her desk again and typed a command into her computer. There was a pause while the AI searched its database and then a diagram filled her screen.
She studied it. Nothing. Aware of a strong sense of disappointment, she sat back in her chair, scowling. There had to be something she was missing here.
"Thanks for the pizza," Barney Farrel's voice said behind her. "It was great of you and Clark to order it for everybody."
She turned around in surprise. "Who told you that?"
"Mr. Olsen," Barney said. "Would you like me to bring you another slice?"
"Uh -- sure. Vegetarian. If it's no trouble." Lori made a mental note to pay John back for his generosity, when there was no way he could duck out of it. Clark's great grandson hated to be thanked for anything.
Barney returned with a plate containing a huge slice of the giant pizza and set it carefully on her desk. She thanked him with a smile and turned back to her screen. The diagram said that part of Metropolis's sewer system ran directly beneath the parking structure, but there was no outlet into it. Well, that was another dead end. Darn! For a minute she'd thought she had something.
"What's that?" Barney asked, then hastily added, "not that it's any of my business, but it looks like a diagram of the sewer system."
"Yeah," Lori said. She blew out her breath in exasperation. "I'm trying to figure out something and I thought maybe this would explain it, but it's a bust."
"How so?" Barney leaned against her desk. He was a garrulous man, and she had occasionally spoken to him in the lunchroom of the Planet. She knew he was married for life, had two sons and a dog, and he and his wife planned on having a daughter next year. He had been painfully shy when he had come to work for the Planet two months ago, and Lori knew that he regarded his investigation at City Hall to be his chance to prove his worth to his editor.
"Carla was attacked by someone with a knife in the parking tier last night," she explained. "Whoever it was got away, and the police weren't able to find the weapon. They're all but positive that it didn't leave the premises, but no one can find it, not even Superman. I thought maybe if there was an opening to the sewer system here, that he could have dumped it down that, but I guess the police must have already checked the building's blueprints --"
"Oh." Barney frowned thoughtfully. "That's odd. I'm more familiar than I care to think about with the Metropolis sewer system right now." He grinned wryly and Lori grinned back.
"How's that investigation going, anyway?"
"Not bad. I was going to ask for some advice from you or Mr. Kent, actually. I've been doing some checking, and I've turned up some interesting financial irregularities in a bunch of places. It's starting to look like the pensions of the city employees are involved -- excess benefits promised and diversion of some of the fund's principal. This could go a lot deeper than anybody suspected. I could use some pointers from a pair of veterans."
Lori pursed her lips. "Clark should be back in a while," she said. "He's the guy to ask. I think he wouldn't mind giving you a few tips."
"I'd appreciate it," Barney said. He frowned at the diagram on her computer screen. "There's something about this," he said, frowning slightly. "Wait a minute. I remember seeing some of this. Check for updated diagrams. A couple of years ago, they tore down the Timoro Building next door and the parking tier was exposed to rain. It resulted in water pooling in the tier's lowest level. They made some changes. One of the things I was checking into was a bunch of recent city contracts with a company that does the sewer construction and repair for the city, as well as private work. They're relatively new -- and it's their stuff that's been failing recently. That's one of the things I've been looking into -- possible sub-standard material in their work and collusion at City Hall. They were the firm that put in a drainage pipe under the parking tier of the Daily Planet!"
"Really, Lyons," Velma said, a short time later, "are you sure you wouldn't rather come to work for the department? You really need to leave my people something to do."
Lori shrugged at the Lieutenant's face scowling out of the vidscreen at her and took a bite of her last breadstick. "You should thank Barney Farrel for the information," she said. "He was the one who pointed out to me that there were updates for the parking tier's drainage system."
"Great," Velma Chow said. "More reporters from the Daily Planet getting into police work. Maybe I'll retire sooner than I planned." The scowl melted into a reluctant grin. "Tell your friend that he hit the nail on the head. There was a drain -- one of those new 'invisible' ones with a permeable membrane cover to keep trash out of the pipes. The knife was there, all right, six feet down, and you don't want to know what we had to go through to get it. Without those diagrams we'd never have found it. It's in Forensics now."
"Is there likely to be anything to find after nearly a day?" Lori asked doubtfully.
"We'll find out," Velma said. "You're still watching your step, I hope."
"Well, you didn't see me in the parking tier, did you? I'm still at the office. I promised Clark I wouldn't leave until he got back."
"Good," Velma said. "I already talked to Superman. I'd ask where you got the background information, but I'm sure you wouldn't tell me. I can't use it officially, of course, but there's no law that says I can't question Ms. Evans about her whereabouts during the incident today. If we can find her."
"Call it an anonymous tip," Lori said.
"Uh huh. We'll let you know when you can relax. In the meantime, keep on being careful."
"I will." Lori signed off and stretched.
Barney Farrel raised an eyebrow at her. "The lieutenant seems to like you," he remarked.
"What makes you think that?" Lori asked.
"She usually doesn't have time for reporters. Barely gives most of us the time of day."
"Lieutenant Chow got to know me because of Clark," Lori explained. "We're always careful to be as accurate in quoting her as possible and to give her men a fair shake. She's just returning the favor."
"In other words, she trusts you," Barney said.
"Well, as much as she trusts any reporter. We've helped her out a few times, and she's been willing to pay us back occasionally."
"It seems to work out. But what was that business about you being careful?"
Lori gave him a condensed version of the situation and Barney's expression turned serious. "That's not good."
"No," Lori agreed. "That's why I'm here and Clark is the one doing the running around this afternoon." She turned her head at the sound of a distant sonic boom. "He should be back soon, though."
"Sounds like one of the supermen is headed someplace in a hurry," Barney said.
"They always are," Lori said. The door to the stairs opened and Clark stepped in. "There's Clark now."
"Sounds like Barney is really onto something," Clark said sometime later as they rode the elevator to the parking level where they had left the Jeep that morning.
Lori nodded vigorously. "I know he wasn't very enthusiastic about the sewer story when John first assigned it to him, but by the time he's done it may be a bigger story than ours," she remarked. "I hope he can get to the bottom of it. It might not be as exciting as ours, but if the city government is ripping off the taxpayers, it needs to be exposed."
"I agree," Clark said. "I've been wondering about some of the shenanigans for a little while, but things have been pretty hectic recently. If Barney's right, he could blow the lid off one of the biggest scandals to hit Metropolis in years."
"How do you suppose the killer knew about the drain?" Lori asked suddenly. "Even you didn't know about it."
"That's a good question," Clark said. "Maybe when they catch whoever it is, we'll find out."
"Is the weather out there any better?" Lori asked, as the elevator doors slid open. "I'd like it if Mother and Dad could actually see the view of the harbor from the Star Tower."
"Some. It's still snowing." Clark had an arm around her, holding her close to his side as they made the short trip from the elevator to their car. He stood directly behind her, reaching around her to unlock the door and pull it open for her. "Get in quick, honey."
Lori obeyed and Clark shut the door, ran around the back and got in beside her. She fastened her safety harness and glanced at the dashboard chronometer. "We've just got time to get home and change before we're supposed to meet them."
Clark nodded as he backed out of the parking space. The snow was still coming down, albeit more lightly than it had been earlier. Traffic was still heavy but they made good time and pulled into the security parking lot for their apartment building barely forty-five minutes later. Clark scanned the immediate area of the parking structure before he opened the door for his wife, and hustled her quickly into the elevator.
"I was going to ask," Lori said, making no comment about the haste in Clark's transfer of her from car to elevator, "did you find out about the car?"
Clark nodded. "It belongs to Marcella's roommate. Marcella borrows it regularly, according to her."
"I see. Doesn't the roommate need it?"
"Evidently not," Clark said. "She didn't seem too eager to talk about it."
"Oh." The elevator doors opened on the top floor, and Clark checked their apartment beyond before signaling the door to open. He heard his wife give the faintest of sighs as it closed behind them. She pushed back the hood of her jacket. "I'm going to get changed."
As usual the MetroPAC was well attended in spite of the light snow that still fell. Clark led the small party to the Kleins' box and saw to it that they were comfortably settled well before the performance began. Mariann looked around, suitably impressed. "I didn't know you had a private box," she said. "Isn't it terribly expensive?"
"It's not ours," Clark said with a smile. "Bill and Lara Klein loaned it to us for the evening. You remember. The Christmas party was at their place."
"I remember. They seemed to be very well-off."
"Bill is retired now, but he's both a scientist and engineer. He used to work for STAR Labs. You've probably heard of it."
"Who hasn't?" Rob said. "I didn't realize that its employees retired with such large pensions, though."
"They don't," Clark said. "Bill's an inventor. Since he retired, he's patented an unbelievable number of inventions that most of us use in daily life. It's made him very well off in his retirement years." He winked at Lori. "Lori and I were just talking about one of them today -- in connection with our current investigation."
"We were?" Lori said.
"We certainly were. Bill developed and patented the 'invisible drain'."
Lori raised her eyebrows at him in a perfect imitation of his own mannerism. "You're kidding. That's what the WBK Inc. stands for?"
Clark nodded. "He also has a sizeable share in the company that markets his inventions."
"Sounds like he's a pretty good businessman, too," Rob said.
"No, the business part is Lara's end of the enterprise," Clark said. "My -- cousin is a sharp businesswoman."
"It sounds like it," Rob said. "I remember her from the Christmas party. She's a very charming woman."
"I think so," Clark said.
"Considerably younger than her husband."
Clark didn't answer.
"Well," Mariann said, "since she's so generously given us the use of the box for this evening, we should certainly take advantage of such a perfect spot to watch the play." She smiled at Lori. "You're looking particularly well tonight, Lori. Are those new earrings? They're very attractive."
"Yes," Lori said. "Clark gave them to me."
Mariann nodded. "Very appropriate. Elegant but not overstated."
"Thank you," Lori said.
Clark turned his head to scan the people nearest them in the surrounding crowd of theater devotees, but there was no sign of Marcella Evans. In fact, no one was paying them much attention except for Elizabeth Samson, the society columnist from the Metropolis Star. She was looking at his guests and he could tell by the expression on her face that given half an excuse, or none, she would soon be over here asking questions about them.
Sure enough, at five minutes to curtain time, the society columnist arrived at the box. "Hi, Clark," she began.
"Hello," he said, noncommittally.
"I see you're in the Klein box tonight. Big occasion?"
"My cousin loaned it to us for the evening," Clark said.
"Business for the Daily Planet?" She eyed Rob and Mariann hungrily.
"Come on, Clark. You don't borrow your cousin's theater box for a minor event. What's going on?"
Lori leaned over. "Elizabeth, you're wasting your time. These are my parents."
The woman's face fell. "Parents?"
"That's right. They're visiting Metropolis for the Valentine Festival, and we're out for a family evening. Elizabeth Samson, Robert and Mariann Lyons. Mom and Dad, Elizabeth Samson."
The columnist smiled briefly at the older couple. "Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise," Rob said.
"The curtain's about to go up," Lori said. "Nice to see you again, Liz."
Elizabeth glanced at her, then took a second look. "I didn't know you were expecting."
"We didn't exactly take out a full-page ad," Lori said.
The lights dimmed, and Elizabeth moved away. Mariann leaned toward her daughter. "Who was that?"
"The Star's gossip columnist. Tomorrow the whole town's going to know Clark and I are going to be parents. I guess it was inevitable."
"It was," Clark said. "We have a certain amount of name recognition, and that's all it takes."
"I suppose so," Mariann said.
The first notes of the opening theme began, and the curtains twitched and then started to roll open. The murmur of conversation in the huge room died as the first scene of "Cats" began.
Clark had seen the production several times and knew it by heart. With a part of his mind, he listened to the dialogue and music, but most of his attention was occupied watching their surroundings. A dark theater would be a good place for a potential assassin to hide, and if Marcella had managed to get hold of one of the more deadly weapons circulating in the less-reputable parts of the city, Lori and everyone with her could be in danger. The world's crime rate had dropped measurably over the last century and no doubt would continue to do so for some time, but there was still plenty of crime around and probably always would be. He had always suspected that the "Utopia" of the future had been a bit over-hyped by HG Wells. Future technology and Superman's principles notwithstanding, the kind of perfect society that Wells had talked about was really possible only if everyone behaved. Given the normal cussedness of the human race, that wasn't very likely, barring a situation where everyone's actions were stringently controlled -- which was something that he would personally oppose. He had no doubt that the little man had been telling the truth about what he had seen, but Clark suspected that Wells might have been just a little over-awed by the wonders of the Twenty Second Century.
There was no sign of Marcella, however, or of anyone else paying undue attention to them. Intermission arrived, and Lori stood up. "I'm going to visit the Ladies' room, Clark."
He also stood up. "I'll walk you down."
Mariann also got to her feet. "That sounds like a good idea."
In the end, all four of them walked down to the main floor of the theater and Clark and Rob stood outside, waiting while Mariann and Lori disappeared into the Ladies' room.
He scanned the crowd unobtrusively. There was no sign of Marcella. Of course she could be in the Ladies' room, but it seemed unlikely that she would try to commit a murder with the number of witnesses that were undoubtedly in there right now. She -- or someone -- had followed them before, though, and could be following right now, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He had no intention of letting his guard down until their killer was in custody, and if that meant sticking by his wife's side for the next year, so be it.
Hopefully, however, it wouldn't take that long. Marcella, if she was indeed the murderer and not another victim, hadn't been seen all day, although her car had been parked in the health club's lot. Judging by the attempt on Lori this morning and the attacks on Deirdre and Jake, something had changed in their killer's behavior. He hoped that Connor was following Lori's instructions to stay with other people. He could as easily be a victim now as any of the women with whom he associated. Just before they had left work, Clark had contacted his telepathic relatives and asked them to warn the others, so hopefully all the supermen in the city were now on alert.
"Clark," Rob said quietly after a few moments, "what's going on?"
Lori's father was more observant than he'd hoped, Clark thought. He glanced at Rob. "What do you mean?"
"You've been watching the crowd like a hawk ever since we got here. Even during the performance, you weren't watching the stage. You were watching the audience. You're still watching everyone nearby. What's the matter?"
Clark glanced unobtrusively around again. "I didn't realize it was that obvious."
Rob also glanced around. "So I was right. It actually isn't obvious, but you've been doing it since we got out of the car, and you haven't stopped. What is it?"
"Now I know where Lori gets her talent for observation," he remarked. "We didn't want to spoil the evening for you and Mariann. We've had a stalker following Lori recently. I'm just being careful."
"A stalker?" Rob looked appalled.
"Yes. It's a story we're working on. This person has stalked a friend of hers for nearly three years. Apparently Lori has attracted the stalker's attention, too. The police are on it."
"Oh." Lori's father shook his head. "Does this happen a lot?"
Clark gave a faint grin. "More than I'd like."
"What has this person done?"
Clark glanced at the door of the Ladies' room as Lori and Mariann emerged. "I don't think now's the time to go into it. If you'd like to help, keep an eye out for anyone paying unusual attention to Lori. It's only a precaution. Let's not ruin the evening for Mariann. If you like, I can fill you in later."
Rob nodded. "You're right." He smiled as the two women arrived beside them. "Everyone ready to go back to the box? Intermission is almost over."
They returned to the box just as the lights dimmed and the music started up again. Clark leaned sideways and put his lips to Rob's ear.
"Go ahead and enjoy the play. I'll have plenty of warning if anyone tries to get into the box."
Rob nodded slightly, but Clark was aware that only half of Rob's attention was on the play for the second half. At last the lights came up again and the cast stepped out on stage to bow to their audience. Clark glanced at his wrist talker.
"If we wait for the crowd to clear a bit we'll still have plenty of time. Let's just stay here for a few minutes."
No one had any objection to the suggestion. Rob glanced questioningly at Clark, who smiled back and continued to watch the persons nearest to them with as casual a manner as he could.
When they eventually made it out to the Jeep, Clark scanned the vehicle quickly but thoroughly. No more of this missing stuff just because it hadn't been there before, he thought. He was still kicking himself for missing the drain where Carla's assailant had dumped the knife. It should have occurred to him to look for it, but he hadn't even thought of the possibility. Well, he'd better get his thinking up to date, he told himself. Just because the parking tier hadn't had a drain years ago didn't mean it couldn't have had one installed since and it would be reasonable to think that the contractors who did the job would use the newest technology. Okay, the installation had taken place the year before he and Lori had come to work at the Planet, and even Velma Chow hadn't thought of it. Or maybe she had, but if so, she apparently hadn't found the updated blueprints. So what? 'Get with it, Superman!' he told himself. 'This isn't the Twentieth Century any longer! If you don't want your descendents to think of you as an out-of-date fossil, you'll have to think like a modern man!'
The Jeep was clear. He unlocked the doors with his remote key and opened the front passenger door for Lori while Rob and Mariann took their places in the rear seat.
"I must say, I like this Jeep of yours," Rob said.
"Thanks," Clark said, pulling his safety harness across his chest. "I thought Lori needed a heavy car for protection when she's on her own. Jeep Predators have a good reputation for reliability."
"You're right," Rob said. "They're nearly top of the line groundcars."
"I kind of wanted an aircar," Lori admitted, "but none of them are as sturdy as this one. I always figured my first car would be a subcompact."
"Not if I have to ride in it," Clark said firmly. "Subcompacts give me claustrophobia."
"I can't argue there," Rob said. "I get a cramp in my back whenever I get into one. And," he added, "you can't say its old age. They did the same thing to me when I was twenty, and owned one."
"Dad, you're not old," Lori said. "You're only sixty-two."
"Never said I was," Rob said. "I still don't like subcompacts."
The snowfall, Clark noted, had continued to lighten, but snow still fell. The big street cleaner bots were still busy clearing the avenues of the newly collected stuff, but aircars had at least been allowed back in the air and the traffic had become considerably lighter. In the distance the lighted Metropolis Star Tower glowed against the skyline like the star it was named for, hazy through the mist of tiny flakes still twinkling down.
The soft bleep of his wrist talker startled him momentarily.
"Who would be calling now?" Mariann asked.
"You never know when you work for a news service," Lori said.
Clark unsnapped his harness and opened the door. "Just a moment," he said and stepped out into the snow. He closed the door and lifted the talker to his wrist. "Kent."
"I thought you'd like to know, Kent," Velma Chow's voice said without preliminary, "Forensics picked a partial print off the blade of that knife that Lori helped find."
"Have they identified it?" he asked, resisting the temptation to hold his breath.
"I wouldn't be calling you otherwise," Velma's voice said dryly. "I don't make a point of informing the Press of every step in an investigation. I hope I don't need to tell you, this isn't for publication."
"Naturally. So they have identified it?"
"They did," Velma said. "I take it you know Superman dropped by to tell me about a certain sealed record?"
"The print matches," Velma said. "I'm tempted to haul Lori in as a material witness, just to protect her, but I have the feeling she'd be kind of unhappy with me if I did."
"I'll protect her, Lieutenant," Clark said, surprising himself at how Supermanish his voice sounded, even to him. "You can count on it."
"Yes, I suspect you will," Velma's voice said. "That's all I had to tell you, except there's been no sign of the chief suspect all day. She may suspect that we're onto her. If what we think is true, that won't stop her from going after your wife, though. Don't leave her alone."
"Not a chance," Clark said. "Thanks, Velma."
"You're welcome," she said, and signed off.
Twenty minutes later, they surrendered the Jeep to the valet parking of the Tower and took the transparent elevator up the outside of the building to the very top of the tower.
The Metropolis Star Tower was a marvel of human engineering. It soared four hundred stories tall, a huge spire of space-age crystal, many times stronger than steel. The central core of the crystal column was an impossibly thin cylinder of metal, reinforced by an anti-gravity field, backed up, in case of power failure, by a second and a third that were powered by their own independent generators. The Sky Lounge occupied the upper floor of the huge five-pointed star that capped the fairy-like column and from it, diners had a magnificent view of the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The Bayview Skystream was a parade of brilliance in the air halfway across the harbor and the darkness concealed some of the less picturesque features of the area beneath them.
The hostess escorted them to their reserved table near the wall, and Clark made certain that Rob and Mariann were seated where they had a good view of the harbor. Rob took a seat where he could see the bay but by turning his head slightly he also had a good view of the room. Lori's father, it seemed, was taking the threat to his daughter seriously. Clark made sure Lori was comfortably placed and then took a chair with his back to the crystal wall. The restaurant's lighting was somewhat subdued but not so dim that it was at all difficult to see.
Soft music played in the background, and in the clear area in the center of the floor, couples danced.
"Your server will be here in a few minutes," the hostess told them, setting four white folders on the table. "Our wine list is quite extensive, and we have non-alcoholic beverages as well." She didn't by a word or a glance betray that she had noticed Lori's condition. "I hope you enjoy your experience at the Sky Lounge."
"Thank you," Clark said. The hostess departed and he picked up one of the folders, as did the others, and began to study the dishes offered.
There was a ripple of exclamations, and diners turned their heads, looking at something in the air beyond the tower. He turned to look in time to see Superwoman, resplendent in red, blue and yellow, swoop leisurely by ten feet away. She met his eyes for a fleeting second and he "heard" her mental voice. 'How's it going, Dad?'
'We've had some progress,' he told her. 'They found Marcella Evans' print on the knife.' He "showed" her an image of the woman as he had last seen her, and "heard" her mental acknowledgement.
'I'll pass the word,' his daughter said. 'We'll take care of any emergencies tonight. You just keep Lori safe.'
'I intend to.' Clark surveyed the room again. Still no Marcella. Maybe, he thought, she had realized that the police were after her and was hiding out. It was possible, but he doubted it. One of the qualities -- or more accurately, failings -- of every criminal sociopath that he had ever met, was arrogance, the inner assumption of superiority. Although almost invariably intelligent, they tended to overestimate their own cleverness and underestimate everyone else's. Unless Marcella was somehow very different, she wasn't likely to give up her intentions.
"I realize they aren't sensitive to the temperature," Mariann said, "but seeing her in that thin outfit makes me feel cold." She was still following Superwoman's path through the air until she vanished into the snowy night.
"I know," Lori said. "According to what I've been told, the supermen feel the temperature, but it doesn't affect them. It would be a nice talent to have."
"It certainly would," Mariann agreed. "Especially when the temperature in Los Angeles gets into the nineties." She folded her menu and laid it on the linen tablecloth. "Have you ever met Superwoman? I mean, living here in Metropolis, and being reporters, surely you've met the superheroes at some time. But then," she added, "Superman is a friend of yours, isn't he? I remember when he came to congratulate you on your graduation, and again when he came to help after the break-in at the Christmas party."
"Actually, yes," Lori said. "We've met them now and then in the course of our jobs, and of course we've gotten quotes from all of them at one time or another."
"There are six in Metropolis now, aren't there?" Mariann said. "I read the press release when Typhoon moved his base of operations from San Francisco to Metropolis. Was there ever any explanation for that?"
"Not that I know of," Clark said.
"It's odd," she pursued. "Metropolis is the only city that has more than one or two of them living there. Of course, it's the largest city in North America, so maybe that's part of the reason, and it's the city the first Superman settled in. I suppose it has some sort of tradition for them."
"Maybe," Lori agreed.
A tall, slender man in the uniform of a waiter approached their table. The Sky Lounge was one of those establishments that actually still hired men and women to serve its clients instead of relying on automated help. He smiled cordially at them, inclining his head in the direction Superwoman had gone. "We frequently see one or more of the super heroes during an evening," he said. "It's always an impressive sight. So," he added, "have you decided?"
"I have," Lori said.
Rob and Mariann nodded, and the man produced a hand-computer. "Very well, would you like to order drinks first?"
While they waited for the arrival of their appetizers, Clark rose to his feet and bowed slightly to Lori. "Would you like to dance, honey?"
"That would be nice," she said, getting to her feet. Clark led her out onto the dance floor and Mariann watched for a minute as her daughter and son-in-law began to dance. She sighed faintly.
"What is it?" Rob asked. He had been looking around the restaurant, and Mariann thought that for some reason he wasn't enjoying the evening as much as he should be.
"Lori and Clark," she said. "He really loves her, doesn't he?"
"Yes," Rob said. "And she loves him. I think they're as perfect together as any couple could be."
"I was wrong to try to stop her from marrying him," Mariann said. "I was so afraid that she and Marcy wouldn't be as fortunate as I was -- that they'd find themselves married to someone who wouldn't treat them well."
Her husband's face was a study in surprise, and she felt a stab of guilt. "I was fortunate, Robby. I couldn't have found a better man to marry. I guess I haven't always been as good a wife as I could be, but I've always known that you were a good man. I'm only sorry I never told you that before."
"I've never complained, Mariann," he said quietly. "I married the woman I loved, so I got the better of the bargain."
"What do you mean?"
He smiled sadly. "I wanted you to marry me, even though I knew you didn't love me," he said. "I settled for being your best friend, but I wish it had been better for you."
"Oh, Robby!" She blinked back tears. If she started to cry now, her makeup would be irreparably damaged, and Clark and Lori would want to know what was the matter. "I do love you! I might not have in the beginning, but that was a long time ago! I was young and stupid and didn't realize what I had," she continued, reaching out to lay her hand on top of his. "Somewhere along the line, I changed my mind. I was just too embarrassed to say so."
He curled his fingers around hers, and she was surprised to see him blinking rapidly. "I never thought I'd hear you say that," he said. He glanced around. "It's too bad we're in public."
She found herself giggling like a girl. "Robby! Behave yourself!"
He got to his feet. "Would you like to dance, honey?"
She nodded. "That would be wonderful."
Rob led her onto the floor and they began to dance. She had forgotten what a good dancer her husband was. They had wasted so much time, she thought, but not any more. Robby had given her so much and she hadn't treated him nearly as well as she should have -- not that he seemed to care. It was going to be different from now on, though. Never mind what her father had been. Robby had shown her over the years of their marriage that men were not all like that. She had been terribly slow to learn, and had tested him over and over. He had never once been anything but a good and loyal husband. He had never mistreated her, even when they fought, although he hadn't hesitated to tell her when he thought she was wrong, and seeing Clark and Lori together the way she had this week brought home to her that her daughter was in some ways wiser than she had been. Maybe it would be difficult to change, but she would make an effort from now on to show Robby what he meant to her. She owed him that, at the very least.
The music ended and Robby led her back to the table. Clark and Lori arrived a few seconds later, just as the server with the drinks and appetizers appeared.
Mariann glanced at Lori's coconut-crusted shrimp with coconut and pineapple dip and smiled at the way her daughter's eyes lit up at the sight. Clark glanced casually around the restaurant and then turned back to her. "Would you like to sample my shrimp cocktail, honey?"
"Oh Clark, I don't want to take your food."
He dipped an enormous shrimp in the cocktail sauce and held it out to her. "Open your mouth."
Lori hesitated and obeyed. Clark put the shrimp into her mouth and Lori bit down, closing her eyes as she savored it. "That's good," she mumbled around the food.
Clark smiled at her, then glanced around the room again. He'd been doing that all evening, Mariann thought.
Lori took the shrimp from Clark and finished it off. "Would you like a bite of mine?"
Clark winked. "I thought you'd never ask." He glanced casually around again before he took one of the coconut shrimp and dipped it into its sauce.
Mariann looked around the room, but everything seemed normal. Still, given their profession, there might very well be something going on that they didn't want to mention.
Motion beyond the clear wall of the lounge caught her gaze, and she watched in amazement as the scarlet-clad form of Typhoon swooped by. The young superhero couldn't be over nineteen, she thought. He glanced at the guests of the Sky Lounge and waved casually before disappearing into the darkness.
Lori was eating her appetizer and Clark had begun to work his way through his shrimp cocktail. Mariann glanced at Rob. "Two of them in one evening," she remarked.
"I guess this is our lucky day," Rob said.
Mariann had begun to eat her stuffed mushrooms, but she surreptitiously watched her son-in-law as he surveyed the room again. Clark was definitely looking for something, she thought.
They had barely finished the appetizers when their server arrived again, floating a cart bearing soup, salad and bread in front of him. Efficiently, he removed the plates that had held the appetizers and substituted the next course.
The next superhero to pass the window was Tan-El. The server had just cleared the soup and salad and served the main course when Mariann saw the motion beyond the wall and heard the chorus of ooh's and ahh's. Tan-El cruised by at eye-level, the tight black and gold suit outlining his impressive build, and he also waved casually to the diners of the restaurant as he passed. Mariann watched him as he zoomed away, but she was thinking hard. Was it only an interesting coincidence that each of the heroes' closest approach to the restaurant was directly opposite their table? Or did the supermen have some other reason for their quick observation of the Sky Lounge as they went past? Could it have anything to do with the reason that Clark was watching the room as closely as he seemed to be? It seemed a silly idea, but --
Between the music, the spectacular view and the dancing, as well as the puzzle presented by her son-in-law's behavior, the evening went by far more quickly than Mariann expected. Clark danced with Lori and then took a turn with her while Rob partnered his daughter as they waited for the dessert to arrive. He was an excellent dancer, Mariann thought. In fact, Clark seemed to be extra-ordinarily talented in many ways that she hadn't expected. He was intelligent, cultured, entertaining and amazingly well educated, and conversed with her on a variety of subjects until Rob and Lori cut in. At last the music stopped to a patter of applause from the spectators, and they returned to their table in time for their dessert.
A short time later, they had finished and Clark signed the computer pad held out to him. Lori glanced at her husband and rose to her feet. "I'm going to freshen up a little before we go," she said.
Clark nodded and stood up. "I'll walk over with you," he said. He paused. "Um -- Mariann, would you go with her? I'd rather she didn't go in there alone, and since I can't --"
"Certainly." Mariann picked up her handbag. "Is there any special reason?"
"Lori's had a couple of threats lately," Clark said. "We get them now and then, and nothing usually happens, but I don't like to take chances."
So that was the explanation for his unusual watchfulness. The four of them walked over toward the opaque central core of the Tower where the restrooms were located and Mariann followed her daughter in, aware that Clark and Rob had paused just outside the door. Well, he might not be able to go into the Ladies' room with her, but he was as close as he could get without violating that particular prohibition. The slight frown on his features gave Mariann the haunting feeling that she was missing something, but whatever it was escaped her.
There were two other women standing at the washbasins, one of them brushing her hair and the other applying lipstick. Mariann waited patiently for her daughter, at the same time checking her makeup in the mirror. The two women exited after a moment, and at last Lori emerged and went to the washbasin.
Behind her, she heard the door to one of the cubicles open, but paid no attention. A voice said, "Well, at last. Do you know how hard it is to get you alone? Nearly, anyway."
Mariann turned and stared in disbelief.
The woman was about her own height with dark hair and sapphire blue eyes. She wore the outfit of one of the employees of the Sky Lounge, but in her hand she clutched what must be a stunner, and it was pointed directly at Lori.
Lori had turned and was looking at the woman without a trace of fear in her expression.
"Hello, Marcella," she said. "I've been expecting you."
Marcella, or whoever she was, stared at her, a bright pink spot on each cheek. "You've given me a lot of trouble, Lyons."
"I imagine so." Lori looked straight back at her. "You know Lieutenant Chow is onto you, don't you? They know it was you in the parking tier last night. They found the knife -- with your fingerprint on it. *Clark* has been watching for you all evening. He's outside right now. You'll never get away."
"Shut up." Marcella raised the stunner. Mariann lunged for her.
Marcella spun, and Mariann heard the reverberating hum that she had always been told was the sound made by a stunner. It wasn't anything like she had imagined, but she could have sworn she felt only the faintest of tingles. It was hard to tell, however, because the blast of wind that filled the room nearly deafened her, and she could have sworn that phantom hands lifted her lightly and spun her around. Then she was leaning back against one of the sinks, and Superman in full regalia was restraining Marcella with one hand, and the stunner lay on the floor.
Rob was standing in the doorway, and behind him Mariann saw the colorful figures of all five of the remaining superheroes that made Metropolis their home. Superwoman gently pushed Rob forward and entered the room with the springy stride that Mariann had seen on the vidscreen, and the others followed. Rob came quickly to her and put his arms around her. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Mariann said. "This woman --"
Superman looked at Lori, and seemed to be satisfied that she was unhurt. He spoke to the other superheroes. "Would one of you bring Lieutenant Chow?"
"I will," Blue Lightning said, and literally vanished almost instantaneously. In the distance, Mariann heard a faint sonic boom. Several employees of the Sky Lounge were peering in the doorway when she looked up, but no one spoke. There was a slight commotion behind them, and Blue Lightning's voice said, "Let us through, please."
The crowd parted with haste, and Blue Lightning entered, clearing the way for the same thin, sour-looking detective that Mariann had seen at the Christmas party, as well as a uniformed officer. Lieutenant Chow glanced quickly at Lori. "Are you all right, Lyons?"
"I'm fine," Lori said. "Superman and my mother caught her for you, Lieutenant."
"So I see." She glanced at Superman and the corners of her lips twitched in the faintest of smiles. "Thank you, Superman; and you, Ms. Lyons." She glanced at the remaining superheroes as the police officer produced a pair of handcuffs and proceeded to handcuff Marcella. "Quite a family gathering, I see. Well, since you're all here, why don't you make yourselves useful? As soon as Officer Mendez reads Ms. Evans her rights, we could all stand some transportation to the station. We don't want to disrupt the Sky Lounge anymore than we need to tonight."
It was nearly two hours later that the small party left the 12th Precinct. It was still snowing lightly, but in places, Mariann could see breaks in the clouds. It looked as if the storm was finally beginning to clear. She glanced at Clark as they went down the steps. He had his arm around Lori and was holding her rather tightly.
"How are we going to get home?" Mariann asked.
"The Jeep is parked right around the corner," Clark said. "I was wondering if you'd like to come to our place for a little while first. I realize it's midnight, but we probably need to talk." He glanced at Rob. "I think Rob knows what it's about."
Rob cast a sideways look at him and the corners of his mouth twitched. "If it's about that disappearing act you pulled, Clark, I think I can guess."
"What I'd like to know," Mariann said, "is why all the superheroes showed up like that. It was a little surprising to see all six of them there. It was as if they knew what was happening."
"They did," Lori said. She reached up to finger her earrings. "Marcella has been stalking me for a couple of days. These earrings give out an ultrasonic signal if I say Clark's name loudly. That was why I did it." She smiled oddly. "Even Velma was impressed when I showed them to her," she added. "She said I'd better not use them too often if I didn't want the superheroes to get irritated at me -- calling them every time I get in trouble. I told her I wouldn't."
"I thought you said Clark gave you the earrings," Mariann said.
"He did. A friend of his at STAR Labs made them for me." Lori glanced up at her husband, and Mariann saw his arm tighten around her. Clark had shown up at the police station a short time after their arrival, but hadn't had much to say. He had simply sat next to Lori, holding her hand as she gave her statement, and then waited as the rest of the paperwork was completed.
They arrived, a short time later, at the apartment building where Clark and Lori lived. Clark parked the Jeep in the apartment's garage, and then led the way to the elevator that took them swiftly to the top floor. He opened the door to the apartment with his remote key, and stood back, allowing Mariann and Rob to enter first. After a pause, he and Lori followed.
"Have a seat," Clark said. "Can I get anyone coffee?"
Mariann shook her head. "Not at this hour, or I'll be awake half the night."
Clark smiled briefly. "You may, anyway. Rob saw what happened back there in the restaurant, but you really weren't in a position to see, Mariann. What I'm about to show you is something that not many people know. It's a secret of my family -- now your family, through Lori, and your grandchild -- and it's important that it stay that way. If the wrong people were to find out about this it could make you and Lori, and a great many other people, targets -- not only of criminals but nutcases, every news service on Earth, the tabloid shows, curiosity seekers -- just about anyone you can think of. Your life would be a shambles, and so would mine and the lives of my entire family."
Mariann opened her mouth and then closed it again as Robby squeezed her hand.
"Go on," her husband said.
"You trust and respect the supermen," Clark said, and Mariann thought she could see lines of strain on his face. "Many people do, but everyone seems to think that all they do is to fly around and rescue people, stop crime and try to prevent disasters. No one suspects that the supermen live like everyone else. They have jobs, they pay taxes, they find someone to love, they marry and have families. The fact that no one suspects that is why they and their families can live relatively normal lives."
The light was beginning to dawn. Mariann found herself examining Clark's face more closely, and it was suddenly hard to breathe. Clark glanced once at Lori, and all at once his form blurred and resolved itself into the colorful figure of Superman.
Standing by her husband's side, Lori watched her mother's face. Mariann was looking at Clark as if she had never seen him before, and her eyes had widened slightly. Rob was nodding.
"When we were standing outside the Ladies room," he said, "all of a sudden Clark literally disappeared, and then the other supermen appeared. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened, but once it dawned on me that the person that was stalking Lori was in there, I realized that Clark somehow knew -- and then it was obvious." He shook his head. "I'm not surprised very often these days, but you certainly managed it this time, Clark."
"Lori set off the signal," Clark said. "I heard her say my name, of course, but the others heard the alarm. I almost expected something like what actually did happen, so I wasn't really taken by surprise." He looked directly at Mariann. "You had a lot of courage, going for the stunner like that. Being stunned isn't pleasant."
"So I've always understood. I suppose it was you that --"
"I blocked the beam," Clark said.
"I appreciate that," Mariann said. She looked at Lori with a faint smile on her lips. "You married Superman," she said, and Lori could hear the trace of astonishment in her voice.
"Actually, I married Clark," Lori said. "He just happens to have a really unusual second job."
Rob laughed. "I suppose that's one way to describe it. Actually, it makes me feel a little better knowing that Clark is one of the supermen," he added thoughtfully. "At least I'll know from now on that when you get into trouble you'll have some very effective backup. I hope you keep those earrings."
"I intend to," Lori said.
Mariann was nodding emphatically. "I agree," she said. "I understand the need for secrecy as well. If the public knew who you were you'd never have a moment's peace."
Lori heard Clark give an almost inaudible sigh. "Thank you," he said.
"How about Ryan?" Mariann asked suddenly. "Is he --"
Clark nodded. "You have to understand, though, that not all the members of my family have super powers. Something like half the children born to a super powered parent inherit them. Those that don't are as vulnerable as any normal human being. The only thing that protects them is secrecy."
"I think I understand," Rob said. "How about this baby?" He nodded to Lori. "Is there any way to tell?"
"Yes," Clark said. "At least usually. Super-powered babies take a lot of energy while they're developing. The non-super mother of a superbaby usually has an appetite like there's no tomorrow. Some more, some less, of course. There have even been a few that surprised us all." He put an arm around Lori. "But I think it's safe to say that this child has inherited my super powers. Fortunately, the actual powers don't manifest until puberty, so until then he -- or she -- will be a normal child in just about every way -- except for things like catching colds, and I'm sure that Lori won't mind missing out on that aspect of parenting."
"Definitely not," Lori said.
"Anyway," Clark said, "that was really all I had to say. If you don't have any other questions -- " He gestured down at himself, resplendent in the primary colors of the Suit. "Superman can give you a lift back to the Lexor. Or if you prefer, we can drive back."
Mariann glanced at Rob. "I know it seems silly," she said, looking almost embarrassed, " -- but would you mind, Robby? Typhoon flew me to the police station. I haven't done anything that exciting in quite a while."
Rob grinned. "Actually, I was hoping you wouldn't object," he said.
"All right then." Clark held out an arm. "I'll take you first and then come back for Mariann."
"It's not that I don't have more questions," Mariann said. "It's just that I don't know which ones to ask. Yet, anyway."
"We never discuss it over the phone," Lori said. "At least not directly."
"I realize that," Mariann said. "But the next time we see each other, I'm sure I'll have thought of a few things to ask."
"That sounds fair," Clark said. He put an arm around Rob and began to rise toward the skylight. Within a few seconds, they had disappeared.
Lori and her mother were left alone. Lori sank down on the sofa and kicked off her shoes. "It's been kind of an exciting evening," she said.
"I'd call that an understatement," Mariann said. "Still, Rob and I enjoyed the time at the Sky Lounge. I wondered why so many of the superheroes came by while we were there. I think I understand, now."
Lori nodded. "They knew Marcella was stalking me," she said. "They were covering for Clark, handling the emergencies tonight, but I think they were all a little worried."
"Probably," Mariann said. "They seem to like you, too. I saw you talking to Superwoman before she left."
"I think they do," Lori said, a little uncomfortably, "and, of course, there's the baby."
Mariann was silent for a moment, regarding her with an expression Lori couldn't quite read. Then she smiled. "I would think that being Superman's wife would be worse than being the wife of a doctor," she said. "You never know when he's going to have to leave to save the world."
Lori found herself smiling. "That's true, but I wouldn't have it any other way," she said. "Clark is an amazing man. I feel incredibly lucky to have met him, and even more that he wanted me so much."
Her mother hesitated, almost as if she were embarrassed, Lori thought. "He treats you well? I know it seems as if he does, but does he?"
Lori nodded. "Sometimes I wish he was a little less attentive," she admitted. "He treats me like I'm made of glass. I guess it's natural, though. I mean, nothing can hurt him, so it must seem to him as if we ordinary people are as fragile as china. Still, there are worse things than a husband who is always considerate of your welfare."
"Much worse," Mariann said. "I never told you about my father, did I? -- your grandfather."
"Not really," Lori said.
"He was a terrible man," Mariann said baldly. "I hated him. He used to beat my mother and me whenever he was angry with us, or when things didn't go right. My mother gave in. She wouldn't fight. I did. I wanted more than a life in a reclusive community of zealots where my father was going to select a 'suitable' husband for me, and I had to obey his every whim. One night after he whipped me with his belt I sneaked out and ran away. I never went back." She sighed faintly. "I had so many dreams. Do you know I have a degree in business management? After all I went through, though, I found that what I really wanted was marriage and children. I married your father. He was everything my father wasn't, but I was terrified that you and Marcy would marry someone who would mistreat you. I never wanted you to take the risk. I was determined that you were going to be self-sufficient and never have to depend on a man." She shrugged. "I let it rule my life for so long. Your father told me that I was pushing the two of you away, but I couldn't seem to stop. I hope you can forgive me."
"Of course I can," Lori said. "You succeeded, you know. I don't depend on Clark that way. We depend on each other, the same as most happily married people do."
"I suppose so." They both looked up as the skylight opened and Clark landed lightly on the carpet beside them.
"Rob is waiting for you in the lobby of the Lexor. Are you ready?"
Mariann nodded. "I'm ready."
Clark scooped her up in his arms. "All right, here we go."
Mariann looked at Lori. "I guess we'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Our shuttle leaves at seven in the evening."
"Clark and I will be at the shuttleport to see you off," Lori said. "Good night, Mother."
After Clark and Mariann had vanished out the skylight, Lori padded slowly into the bedroom to get ready for bed. It had been a more tiring evening than she wanted to admit, but at least the tension of knowing that there was a stalker out there with murder on her mind had been removed. Suddenly, she was very tired.
"The arraignment is this afternoon," Clark said. "Lori and I want to be there for it. Apparently the police have collected a lot more evidence than we knew about. They've managed to link Marcella to all of the murders, as well as the attempts on Deirdre, Carla and Jake, and, of course, Lori. Jake is awake and talking, and has already stated that it was Marcella that shoved him out the window. According to Lieutenant Chow, the DA is going to go for a life sentence in the Lunar mines."
"Sounds good to me," John said. "I can't think of a better place for her." He swiveled his chair, dropping his feet to the floor. "So you told Lori's mom and dad about us?"
Clark nodded. "They know the basics. Naturally we left out the part about my particular place on the family tree."
"Naturally. We have to have some secrets," John said. "After while, if they look like they can handle the whole story, you can tell them, but I think that was enough for now."
"Yeah," Clark said. "The fewer who know about that part the better, as far as I'm concerned. Any word on Carla?"
"She phoned a while ago," John said. "She said she'd be in about ten o'clock. I told her that was fine."
"The girl's a workaholic," Lori said. She glanced at the screen of John's computer where the story they had turned in the night before was splashed across the front page of the Online Daily Planet. "I'm glad you let us give her credit for a 'special contribution', John. She deserved it."
"She certainly did," John said. "I believe in rewarding employees who go above and beyond the call of duty. I'm going to keep an eye on her. She'll go far if this is any example of her work." He glanced through the one-way glass of his office into the newsroom. "On the other hand, Barry is over at the hospital visiting Ms. Monitor. I figured I'd better give him the day off, since I wasn't getting any work out of him anyway. Apparently they're going to be taking out a six-month contract as soon as she gets out of the hospital this afternoon."
Lori smiled. "I thought that might happen."
"And after that," John said, a trifle sourly, "he's taking four days off so they can go to New Orleans for a mini-honeymoon. If he wasn't such a good business editor, I might be annoyed." He glanced at the headline again. "I see you tied up most of the loose ends. That business with the drain was a weird coincidence."
"Yes and no," Lori said. "According to Connor, working at the Metro Fitness Center didn't pay well enough to live on. The employees had to work a second job to make ends meet. Marcella was part of the crew that did the work three years ago."
"Yeah," John said. "I can understand that, I suppose. But how did she know you were going to be at the Sky Lounge? Considering that you were watching for her, I don't see how she found out."
"She followed us," Clark said. "At least we think so. There was an aircar stolen at the MetroPAC that they found parked two blocks from the Tower. They found a tissue in it, and the DNA on it matched hers. One of the employees of the Sky Lounge was found in his underwear, tied hand and foot, in a cleaning closet. He'd been stunned and never saw his assailant. She must have figured that we were out for a celebratory dinner, and that meant the restaurant. Marcella was pretty smart. If she hadn't been so determined to kill Lori, she'd still be running around loose."
"Scary thought," John said.
"Definitely," Clark said. He put a hand over Lori's in a protective gesture. She had the feeling that he was going to be more solicitous than normal for a few days. He always was after something like this. She didn't really mind, though, especially since it seemed to make him feel better.
"Anyway," Clark said, "after Lori's parents leave this evening, I'm taking Lori someplace where we can relax for a few days. I hope you can do without us until the middle of the week, John. We both have plenty of vacation time saved up. I'm thinking Tahiti, or maybe Hawaii. Lots of sun and sand and no murderers to worry about for a while."
John rolled his eyes. "Sure, why not? Everybody knows I run a vacation service here. Getting out the news is only incidental."
"Hey, from what I heard, Barney is on the verge of bringing in a story that'll crowd Marcella right off the front page," Clark said. "Political corruption with a capital P. You don't need us right now." He got to his feet. "Anyway, we'd better get on the ball and write up those background pieces. Come on, honey."
They left John muttering dire threats under his breath and returned to the newsroom. A short time later they were arguing amicably over how to lead off the background of the Connor/Marcella story so as to grab readers' attention without being melodramatic and at the same time not bore them with a dry recitation.
They had just finished roughing out the article when one of the elevators opened and two people stepped out. Carla looked tinier than usual compared to her muscular escort. Connor stood tall and proud, like a Viking warrior of old, his handlebar mustache newly combed and bristling magnificently. Something was different about him, Lori thought, and almost immediately identified it. He had lost the worried look. He was smiling as he escorted Carla down the steps to the newsroom floor. Carla's eyes held a dazzled expression, and Lori could see that it was focused on Connor.
"Lori!" Connor boomed. "I had to come up to thank you and Clark! You did it!"
Clark got to his feet as Connor approached and Lori also stood up, feeling like a midget next to the pair of them. Carla's smile looked like it might crack her face open any second. "I saw the headline!" she bubbled. "You didn't have to give me so much credit. That was awfully nice of you and Mr. Kent!"
"You deserved every bit of it," Lori said. "As a matter of fact, I'm hoping you'll help me perfect my -- um -- computer skills in the not too distant future. That was a slick job."
Carla's eyes widened. "I don't know if I can teach you anything. Everybody knows you're the best."
"'Everybody' is wrong," Lori said. "We'll talk about it a little later, though. I take it you and Connor have gotten acquainted."
Carla nodded vigorously. "He came to see me this morning and we got to talking. It's amazing how much we've got in common. We thought we'd go out to Frankie's Pizza tonight to celebrate."
"Celebrate?" Clark asked.
Connor nodded. "People are signing up for my fitness center like crazy," he said. "I know it wasn't exactly how you intended it to work, but all the publicity really did the trick. Jake and I are going to teach the rest of the maternity fitness classes for the next five weeks, after he heals up. You'll be coming, won't you?"
"I think we can manage that," Lori said. It would entail Clark flying them back one evening next week if they did go to Tahiti, but that wouldn't exactly tax Superman's abilities.
"Great," Connor said. He turned to Carla. "I'll pick you up right after work," he said.
Carla nodded. "See you later," she said.
Connor left with a jaunty stride. Andrea Waltham watched him go with raised eyebrows.
"Young," was her verdict, "but definitely tasty-looking."
Lori hid a smile.