The characters and familiar settings in this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally lay claim to them, but the story is mine.
By Nan Smith
"I hope you don't have any plans this evening," Lois said, pushing the door to her apartment open with her elbow. "Sorting through all these folders is going to take a while."
Clark followed her through the opening and shut the door with one foot before he deposited the stack of folders and sundry other items that he carried in the middle of her highly uncomfortable couch. He would have used the coffee table, but the equally high stack that Lois had brought in now occupied that spot and was tilting dangerously. Lois had turned to re-lock her door's several locks and Clark moved quickly to catch and right the sliding pile.
"Now, if we can sort out the wheat from the chaff in all this stuff, it'll be worth it," he said.
"Not exactly Pulitzer material," Lois said, "but if we can prove the company is deliberately skirting the law where it comes to its employees' pensions ..."
"I'll make some coffee," Clark said. "I'd say we're going to need it."
"Yeah." Lois had settled at one end of the sofa and picked up the first folder.
Clark went on into the kitchen. In the year and a half that he had known her, he had never made coffee in her apartment before. Somehow, they always wound up at his place, probably because, he acknowledged, she found the sofas in her own as uncomfortable as he did. This time, however, his landlord was spraying for pests, and his apartment reeked of insecticide, so they had come to Lois's place after work. As usual, Lois's coffeemaker sat in the farthest corner of the drainboard, and the dust cover, he saw, now that he was paying attention to it, had earned its name.
Well, the slightly dusty towel that she used to cover the coffeepot wasn't really a problem. He gently removed the cloth and after an uncertain second, opened the small kitchen window and shook the item vigorously, raising his eyebrows at the cloud of dust that was dislodged. Lois and her coffeemaker, it seemed, weren't on the best of terms. His partner did tend to prefer instant coffee for a couple of reasons. The instant was faster and nearly Lois Lane-proof. Nearly. As close as you could get, anyway. That was why he always made the coffee when she was at his place.
Pulling the coffeemaker toward him, he glanced at the machine's basket, meant to hold the ground coffee, wondering briefly where Lois kept her filters, and if she had any; then he frowned. Carefully, he slid out the little drawer. The last filter still resided in it, along with the long-dried remains of coffee grounds and a coat of fuzz. Apparently his partner had forgotten to remove it the last time she had actually made real coffee in her kitchen, which must, judging by the evidence, have been some time ago.
He removed the substance, detached the fragments of filter that tried to stick to the coffee machine, located Lois's dishwashing detergent and washed the basket while scanning the cupboards for the filters and -- hopefully -- some genuine ground coffee.
Amazingly, the filters and the coffee canister sat neatly together on a top shelf. He retrieved them, wiped a quarter-inch of dust off the lid and measured out the ground coffee into the basket.
Relieved that the minor obstacle had been overcome, he picked up the glass coffeepot.
It sloshed. Kind of. And the bottom third of the pot contained a thick, off-color, brownish sludge that appeared to be the dregs of the last pot of coffee brewed in this thing, who-knew how long ago.
Well, that probably explained why she hadn't removed the filter. She'd apparently brewed the coffee and completely forgotten about it.
Floating on the top of the brownish sludge was a bluish-green mat of fur. Delicate, gossamer filaments extended upward from it, waving gently in the slightly disturbed air. Clark emptied it down the sink and began to scrub the coffeepot.
"What's taking so long?" Lois's voice called. "Couldn't you find the jar?"
"Uh ... when was the last time you made coffee in this coffeepot?" he couldn't resist asking.
"I've never used it," Lois said. "I think Lucy used it last year while she was staying here. Don't tell me you're making real coffee?"
"Uh ... yeah. Do you mind?"
"No, that's fine. I think there's a can of coffee on the top shelf, somewhere."
"I found it." Clark finished scrubbing the pot and rinsed it out, then set about making the coffee. He left it beginning its cycle a couple of minutes later, vowing silently to take care of cleaning it when they were finished. The last thing Lois needed in her kitchen was another science experiment growing in the coffeepot.
He removed his jacket and settled down on the other end of the sofa. This was going to take a while, as Lois had said. If, however, they could dig up the proof that was probably somewhere in this small mountain of documents, certain company officials might be getting an intimate acquaintance with the inside of Metropolis's Graner Minimum Security Facility, the prison reserved for white-collar criminals who were careless or unlucky enough to get caught.
He heard it when the coffee machine finished, and went into the kitchen to pour coffee for both of them. The artificial sweetener and non-fat creamer were on Lois's kitchen table, but belatedly he wondered if she actually had real sugar in this place anywhere. And she almost certainly didn't have cream, but maybe there was milk in the fridge.
The sugar was in a box shoved well to the back of her very sparsely supplied kitchen cupboard. He pulled it out, then turned to open the refrigerator.
As soon as the door came open, he was aware of the odor of decay. Something in here was definitely long past due to be thrown away.
There was a carton of Chinese food sitting well in the back, invisible to everyone but him due to the fact that several larger items had been shoved in front of it. Clark fished gingerly for it and brought it out. One sniff was enough to convince him that this stuff was nearly as old as Lucy's coffee. He threw it into the garbage and resumed his search for any milk that Lois might have absentmindedly left in here.
There was a carton of milk, all right, but the expiration date was three and a half weeks ago. Clark poured it down the drain in large, gloppy chunks and tossed the carton into the trash. A withered brown apple with a piece bitten out of it caught his attention and it followed the carton of milk.
He was almost afraid to check the bulging storage container sitting on the second shelf, and the instant he cracked the seal he knew his apprehensions had been justified. Apparently someone had put an experiment in the generation of artificial life in here and the results had been wildly successful. He was tempted to look for eyestalks, but resolutely dumped the contents of the container after the apple.
"Clark, what on Earth is that smell?" Lois's voice asked from the direction of the living room.
"Um -- sour milk, I think," he answered. "Or maybe it's the chicken sub gum. I'm not sure. Didn't Huong's Chinese Garden go out of business last year?"
"Yeah. They put a country Italian restaurant in its place. Why?"
"I just threw out their special. The coffee's ready. I'll be there in a minute." He scanned the second shelf behind the spot where the plastic container had sat. There was a small saucepan shoved nearly into the back and he pulled it out. Whatever the lumpy contents might once have been, it was covered with a fine, greyish fur. Small pink spots dotted the surface, and the smell was almost as bad as the Chinese food. He dumped the contents unceremoniously into the garbage and put the pan in the sink. By now, he was a man on a mission.
Quickly, he picked up Lois's coffee cup and several packets of creamer and sugar substitute and took it to the living room. "Here's your coffee. I'll be right back."
"I hope you're going to get rid of whatever smells in there," she said absently.
"Uh, yeah, that was the general idea," he said, rejecting the temptation to simply take the refrigerator out and give it a bath in the ocean. If there was anything in it fit to eat, he would be vastly surprised. However, from the looks of it, there were several small pans and sealed plastic containers that were probably worth salvaging.
Rapidly, he removed the containers and checked the contents. True to form, they were almost universally past their prime, but by now, his sense of smell had been completely paralyzed. Moving at super speed, he disposed of the spoiled food and placed the containers in the sink for washing. The drawer intended for cheese and other deli products yielded a chunk of moldy Cheddar so hard that it would have done well as a deadly weapon, and the remnants of a summer sausage that was growing its own brand of penicillin. The vegetable compartment held two limp stalks that had once been celery, a semi-liquid tomato and a slimy bunch of decaying parsley, though what his partner would have been doing with parsley he couldn't imagine. Lois, he thought, should stick with frozen, canned or dried food. Her refrigerator would have given any official from the Board of Health heart failure. He wondered absently if she'd even opened it recently.
Quickly, one ear cocked in the direction of the living room, he appropriated a sponge and some spray-on cleaner and attacked the walls and shelves of the refrigerator, leaving sparkling surfaces behind him. Sparkling empty surfaces. The appliance's only contents now were a tray of ice cubes, two eggs and half a cube of butter.
The dirty dishes could wait until he got back. He dumped the contents of her overflowing kitchen garbage can into a plastic bag, tied the top tightly shut and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Lois glanced up from the paper she was studying.
"Just getting rid of the trash," Clark said. "Back in a minute."
"I hope whatever smells is in it," she said.
"More or less," Clark said. "I'll be right back."
Five minutes later he strolled back in, a quart of whole milk purchased at the corner grocery mart in one hand. At least now there was room in the fridge, he thought, and none of the life forms that had inhabited it would be likely to drink his milk. He hurried into the kitchen, swiftly reheated his cup of coffee and added milk and sugar, at the same time running water into the sink. Ten seconds later, the containers that had recently shielded many forms of alien life from the cold of the refrigerator were clean, dried and put away. With a feeling of accomplishment, he walked back into the living room with his coffee to resume his task.
Lois got to her feet as he sat down. "I'm going to get more coffee. Want some?"
"No, I'm fine." He scanned a document that Jimmy had retrieved clandestinely from the computer of one of the company executives. In an instant he had read it and was re-reading it. "Lois, I think I may have part of what we're looking for."
"Good. I'll take a look at it in a minute." Lois's voice drifted back to him from the kitchen. "This is really good coffee, Clark. What's the brand, do you know?"
"Uh -- Metro Market store brand, I think."
"Huh! They must use some secret source. Do you suppose they could be smuggling in coffee? With the price of coffee these days ..."
"No, I think it's just decent coffee, prepared right."
"I don't know, Clark. Mine never turns out like this. Maybe we should investigate." There was a rustling and then the sound of the refrigerator door opening.
"Clark," Lois's voice said, a note of uncertainty coloring it, "why would anybody burglarize my refrigerator?"