Disclaimer:I do not own Superman.
A/N- I want to give a shout out to my wonderful friend and beta, Wahoogal, for taking time out of her busy, busy schedule to proof this story and make it all snazzy. Thank you, WG, for all that you do- for me and for our fans.
The Window Washer
From his perch hundreds of feet above the Metropolis pavement, Julian McDowell wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to fly under his own power—to be free from the confines of gravity and humanity. Maybe the feel of sunshine on his back and the clouds in his face would help him cope—cope with his pain and loss.
It was two weeks ago that Julian had received more devastating news on the heels of his brother's death. Lily, his beautiful 4 year old daughter with brown pigtails and an impish grin so like her mother's, had cancer. Leukemia, the doctor called it, a type of blood cancer. Since it had been caught early, the doctor felt she had a good chance of beating it if they started her on an aggressive chemotherapy treatment immediately. He didn't have to think twice—it didn't matter that he couldn't afford it on his small salary, he'd eat his shirt if that's what it took. While the thought of begging for money turned his stomach sour, there were government programs that would help. So he swallowed his pride and filled out the forms and called the 800 numbers from the pamphlets the doctors gave him.
Meanwhile, Julian worked any odd job he could to help pay for his daughter's treatments; only once did he think of stealing to help his little girl but he dismissed that idea just as quickly, wary of that which had caused him so much pain already. Standing on a 3' by 15' long platform suspended from the roof of the Kaname building—a modern steel and glass structure that dwarfed its surroundings—he methodically wiped windows clean with his partner, Steve.
Feeling helpless in the face of this seemingly insurmountable disease that was eating Lily from the inside, Julian felt like screaming in anguish. Instead, he funneled his despair and anger into his work, reminding himself that he was doing everything for her. A sharp rebuke from Steve jolted him from his thoughts and he forced himself to focus on the job at hand lest he fall and hurt himself.
From his vantage point at the southeast corner of the building, he felt as though the entire city were laid below him like a toy miniature. A flash from the corner of his eye drew his attention and he brought an arm up to shield his eyes. Ten floors below, the Daily Planet globe rotated on its axis and Julian watched the hypnotic motion for a moment until another, different flash caught his attention.
Superman came in for a landing on the Planet's rooftop and disappeared behind an outcropping housing some of the building's elevator mechanics. While he still harbored a grudge against the Man of Steel, he couldn't deny that he felt a sense of awe seeing him in action—newspapers, photos and the evening news were as close as he got.
At another nudge from his partner, Julian picked up his 2 foot wide squeegee and got back to work. Working quickly, he completed his section and his partner lowered the platform to the next set of windows by pressing the panel that controlled the winch on the roof. He was still fairly new at the job, having been hired by an independent contractor six months ago following a 2 year stint in the Metropolis Correctional Facility.
His right shoulder started aching so he deftly switched the squeegee to his left hand as his mind wandered off again. Four years ago he was just 20 years old, immature, impressionable, desperate and unable to hold a steady job due to his heavy drug use; he'd panicked when his girlfriend, Tanya, told him that she was pregnant with his second child and so he turned to his brother, Eli, and cousin, Georgie, for help.
They had been members of one of Metropolis' most notorious street gangs for years and promised him easy money if he joined, which was how he and another, younger man found themselves holding up four convenience stores in one night. Their luck held most of the night and they had managed to rack up a couple thousand dollars by the time they walked into their fourth store, ski masks pulled over their faces, and found several off-duty plainclothes detectives from the Metro PD inside. Too late, the boys realized their mistake as the older, more experienced men overpowered them and wrestled away the one .22 caliber handgun his brother had given them.
Sentenced to 4 years (one for each of the gang-affiliated robberies), Julian had been released in 2, due in part to good behavior but mostly due to prison overcrowding. Since the Man of Steel's reappearance several months earlier, the prison was slowly filling to capacity; while awaiting his parole, he found out that several of the older gang members (including Georgie) had been arrested and sent upstate to a maximum security prison. His brother had escaped being picked up that time, only to commit suicide shortly before Julian was released. He later learned that Eli had taken his life after another gang raid by the Metro PD. Superman had been there and seemingly didn't do anything to prevent his brother's death. At least, that's how he felt; he didn't know if his brother had been in the right or the wrong, and he didn't care, all he knew was that he was dead. Feeling lost and helpless without the guiding hand of his older brother, Julian's anger and resentment towards the superhero grew.
Upon his release he went straight, and he reconnected with his girlfriend, Tanya, and two daughters, aged 4 and 1. Having had time to grow up, get clean and reflect on his life, Julian decided that he was going to do everything in his power to keep Lily and Nicole from having the same life he and Eli did, growing up poor in the Slums. He contacted his godfather and, after convincing him that he was clean for good, landed the job as a unionized window washer. The pay was excellent for a parolee and Julian soon found that he had the aptitude for it.
He was startled from his thoughts when he felt the platform lower and realized that he'd cleaned an entire spate of windows on autopilot once again. He glanced up to check his work and sighed in relief when there were no undue streaks or water spots. Julian shook his head and forced himself to concentrate on the job at hand; he had to be 100 percent alert and sure-footed on the slick surface of the platform, especially since it was a long way down to the sidewalk.
An hour had passed and they were just about two floors up from the Daily Planet rooftop when he noticed movement once more. Glancing over, he saw Superman take to the skies again; without breaking his stride, Julian found his mind wandering to the habits of the superhero. He wondered briefly what Superman could possibly be doing at the Daily Planet at 11am on a Thursday, but answered his own question when he belatedly remembered that Lois Lane interviewed the Man of Steel on a regular basis and that she worked at the Planet.
Thirty minutes later, the superhero lit upon the neighboring building for the second time and disappeared behind the same outcropping. His curiosity was now well and truly piqued, and Julian found himself eating his lunch and keeping an eye on the Planet as he and Steve hung in mid-air. His partner was deep in conversation with his wife on his cell phone, so he could stare without fear of drawing any undue attention. He was munching thoughtfully on a ham and cheese sandwich when the Man of Steel made another hasty exit. This time, Julian could see that he had reappeared from that same outcropping which led him to believe that there was a door into the building somewhere on the other side.
The sight of the hero returning to the Planet once again made the wheels in his mind really turn. This was an awfully long interview even if it kept getting interrupted by crises every 30 minutes. Being a shrewd man and not wanting to jump to any hasty conclusions, he decided to count Superman's departures from the rooftop for the rest of the afternoon.
By quitting time that day Julian was not disappointed; Superman had made no less than six trips to and from the Daily Planet, and that was only since lunch. Curious, he strained to see if there was a door where he suspected there was, but dusk had fallen too quickly by the time they'd gotten the platform to the roof and stowed away all their supplies, so he made a mental note to check in the morning.
It frustrated him to learn upon returning to work the next morning that his partner had switched sides of the building with the other team; it meant that he would not be able to keep an eye on the superhero's comings and goings from the Daily Planet rooftop. While he knew it was common that the teams switch the sun side of the building, he still wished Steve had consulted him first. Julian's hopes of Superman-watching were dashed.
Before climbing onto his platform he detoured over to where he could clearly see the roof of the newspaper building beside them. Julian searched for the door he subconsciously knew to be there and, after several seconds, he located it from his new perch and smiled; there was always tomorrow—this building would take at least another week for the two teams to finish. He whistled a silly tune he'd heard Lily sing as Steve lowered them over the side of the building.
That day turned out to be more productive than the one before, due primarily to Julian's ability to focus on the job at hand since he was out of sight of the superhero. While he didn't quite grasp the importance of what he had stumbled upon, he knew without a doubt that it was something big. Feeling a bit like his daughters at Christmas, the following morning couldn't come fast enough as far as he was concerned.
As he lay awake that night, exhausted yet unable to sleep, Julian watched the ceiling fan make its lazy revolutions and mulled over his discovery. If his hunch were true, then Superman had business at the Planet other than interviewing with Lois Lane. He thought of his girls asleep in their beds, his job and his fiancée tossing and turning beside him while he drowsed in and out of sleep, thinking that there was something about the whole situation that he should understand but couldn't. Frustrated, he rolled over and just as he was about to drift off into a deep sleep, his subconscious wondered tiredly if Superman even knew what a normal life was like.
Like a bucket of cold water, that thought served to wake him up and Julian sat bolt upright in bed. "That's it!"
He looked beside him; Tanya groaned at the disruption, shushing him before falling swiftly back to sleep. Wide awake now, he padded down the hallway in his bare feet—shrugging a thick black robe over his broad shoulders as he went—and made a beeline for the stack of newspapers in the corner of the kitchen. Fishing through the paper, he separated out the headlines for the last week from among the rest of the pages; growing more excited by the minute, he read article after article, confirming Superman's whereabouts throughout the week and cementing his assumption in his mind.
It was a bit of a leap, given his meager evidence, but Julian knew he was right. He sat at the kitchen table, mulling over what to do with this new information while scraping a bit of stuck on food with his fingernail. He thought of Lily and the clumps of hair they'd found on her pillow that morning, the brave face she put on for her mom and dad day after day, and the surgical mask she had to wear to protect her weakened immune system from a bombardment of germs. What would happen to Superman if this news got out? Julian shook his head and thought of his dead brother and his sick little girl and found the courage to make the phone call he'd been dreading.
He dialed a number from memory and prayed it hadn't changed. The ringing of the handset in his ear seemed deafening in the silence of his two bedroom apartment.
"This had better be good." The gruff voice belied its owner's fatigue.
"Bobby, it's Jules." He whispered, trying not to wake his family. Silence on the line met his quiet declaration. "Bobby? You there?"
"Yeah, sorry. How ya been buddy? Haven't seen ya in two years." His observation was punctuated by a jaw cracking yawn and Julian was hard pressed not to follow suit.
"I got a job, Bobby. An honest-to-God, paying job with the Union washing windows; I've been clean for two years and I plan on staying that way. I gotta set a good example for my girls."
The rough sounding guy on the line hummed non-commitally before replying, "Listen, Jules, was there a reason you called? If you don't need to meet me, I'm going back to bed."
"Actually, yeah there was a reason," Julian sucked in a deep breath. "I need to know who will pay top dollar for information about Superman."
"Big Blue, huh? Hmmm...yeah I'll getcha a number if only to keep him away from my route. Can't sell nothin' with him breathin' down my neck. Listen Jules, I like ya and all, but this'll cost ya."
"I'll give you 5 percent." Julian did the quick math in his head and decided that, if the reward were substantial, he could part with that much and still have plenty left.
"15. I got a business to run." The older man fairly growled.
Silence met his last offer and he could hear the faint crinkle of a wrapper over the phone. "Fine. I'll call you in a few days."
"Okay, here's my…" Julian quickly found himself listening to a dial tone. "Phone number. How's he gonna call me back if he doesn't have my number?" Shaking his head at his crazy acquaintance, he trudged back to the bedroom for some much needed rest. For being a small-time dealer, Bobby had eyes and ears everywhere and Julian knew the man was his best bet for his daughter's sake.
It was an agonizingly slow two days for Julian. Armed with his new knowledge, he continued to surreptitiously observe the superhero. With each take-off and landing on the Daily Planet's roof, his theory became more firmly cemented in his mind and he couldn't fathom out why no one else had noticed it before.
In the middle of dinner that night, the phone rang off the hook and Julian broke his own rule of not answering the telephone during mealtimes. He cupped a broad hand around the mouthpiece and said, "Hello?"
"Hey Jules—I got that number you wanted."
"Great! Who's is it?"
"The hell if I know. Listen, you wanted to know who would pay top dollar—this is the guy. If you don't like it, then it'll cost you another 5 percent."
"N-no! This is fine."
The gruff man rattled off an 800 number before hissing "Don't forget—10 percent." into the phone.
Julian stared at the number he'd scrawled on the back of a medical bill for a moment before folding the paper neatly into his breast pocket and returning to the table, deflecting questions from his family all the while.
What's taking them so long? He could hear muffled voices coming from the girls' room as their mom read them a story before bed. Julian knew that once the kids were asleep, his fiancée was not far behind. His leg threatened to bounce right through the floor, he was so nervous. Finally the door to the master bedroom clicked shut and the light under the door turned off; he was on his feet in a heartbeat, heading for the front door with his shoes in one hand and jacket in the other. Once outside, Julian wound his way to the lone pay phone at a service station two streets over, touching his breast pocket all the while as if to make sure the number didn't disappear. He waited nervously for the guy ahead of him to finish his conversation, glancing left then right, and gazing up into the sky as if Superman could somehow read his mind and swoop in to stop him.
With shaking fingers, Julian keyed in the wrong number twice before he heard the click of the line being transferred. He was starting to get cold feet when a guy with a voice like rough gravel answered the phone, "Talk."
Julian prided himself on the fact that his voice only shook slightly as he replied, "I have information about Superman." The guy grunted once and Julian could hear the phone getting set down—straining his hearing, he could pick up soft voices and a strange clinking sound.
Another voice came on the line then, cultured and smooth like silk but with a hint of venom. "What can you tell me about Superman?"
"I-I can tell you w-where he works." He gulped, praying the man believed him.
"We already know where he works." The honeyed voice sounded bored as if he'd heard this a thousand times before.
"Y-you do?" Julian could feel the bitter disappointment rising in his chest.
"Yes—it's all over the news all day, every day, it's pinning him down in one locale on one continent that's the difficult part. Unless you have something new…"
"I do! Have something new, I mean." Bolstered by the man's admission that they were only aware of his heroic activities, a hint of hope crept into Julian's voice.
"I know where he works…"
"You've already said that—stop wasting my time."
"… when he's not being Superman."
A/N- You are coming back for more, right? 'Cause I'm not done yet…hehe. Reviews are always welcome: love it, hate it, etc.?