Best Laid Plans Part 2

The newsroom of the Daily Planet was its usual chaos when they arrived
just before noon. Perry, Clark noted, was on the phone in his office,
arguing vigorously with someone in Accounting. He looked up as they
crossed the Pit toward Jimmy's desk, spoke a final pithy phrase to the
hapless individual on the other end and hung up.

"Where's Carlin?" Lois whispered. Clark had to sympathize. He wouldn't
care to have the psychiatrist zero in on him, either. He scanned the
office with his x-ray vision. Arianna was also in her office, the
telephone receiver wedged between her shoulder and left ear, and was
making rapid notes on a sheet of paper.

"In her office. Hi, Chief."

"Clark, what in the name of the King happened to you two last night?"
Perry demanded. "You said something about a bomb in your apartment?"

"Superman got rid of it," Lois said, as if that explained everything.
Perry rolled his eyes.

"There was a bomb, Chief," Clark said. "Like Lois says, Superman
grabbed it, and the damage was pretty minor. The police are

"You got any ideas?"

"Some. Jimmy's been checking on some things for us." They stopped
beside Jimmy's desk and the young computer expert looked up at them with
a pleased grin.

"Hi, CK! I finished that research you asked for."

"Did you find out about ACL Corporation?"

Jimmy nodded. "And the other stuff you asked for this morning. ACL
Corporation is a part of LexCorp that administers the annuity for
Luthor's ex-wife, Mrs. A.C. Luthor. It's based in Jamaica, which is why
there wasn't any record of it here in the U.S."

"Bingo," Lois said, softly. "Sometimes I think you're psychic, Clark.
But why would Lex Luthor's ex-wife create a double of me?""

"Good question," Jimmy said. "It gets better, though. I didn't have a
name, but I started looking around and found out some other stuff that
might have something to do with everything that's happening. There was
no record of the marriage at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, but
eventually I dug up a wedding announcement that ran in the Planet ten
years ago. They were married on a ship in the Caribbean. I'm still
trying to track down the ship's captain who performed the ceremony.
Maybe we can find out more from him."

"Good idea," Clark said.

"Thanks. I did find out a little more, though. Luthor was just
starting to build LexCorp back then. He came into some money at the
same time he married, possibly from his wife. About seven months later,
ACL Corp was incorporated to handle her annuity--as his divorce

"Not exactly a long term relationship," Perry said.

"Apparently not." Clark felt a little sorry for the former Mrs. Luthor,
though that was tempered by the knowledge that the woman could well be
behind some of the threats to Lois that had surfaced over the last few

"Do you have the name of the ship they were married on?" he asked.

"Yeah--uh--I wrote it down." Jimmy picked up a book that lay on his
desk and removed a slip of paper from between the pages. "Yeah. She
was the Sun Princess."

"I've got a few contacts I can ask," Clark said, "and you keep trying
from your end." He glanced at the book. "What's this? 'Subliminal
Advertising' by Arianna Carlin?"

"Yeah," Jimmy said. "I'm going to get Dr. Carlin to autograph it for me
so I can give it to my mom for her birthday."

"Whatever happened to candy and flowers?" Perry asked.

"My mom's overweight and she has allergies," Jimmy said.

"Oh. Better give her the book."

"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Anyway, after I found out about Luthor's ex-wife,
I started checking the archives for other announcements. Luthor's been
engaged to two different women in the last eight years."

"What happened to them?" Lois's voice sounded almost strangled.

"One of them died in a car accident. Her car skidded on an icy road and
rolled. She was killed instantly. The other one was killed when her
apartment caught fire."

"That's not a very good record," Perry said.

"I'd say not." Clark felt Lois's hand grasp his and he squeezed it

The elevator doors slid open at that moment and two men exited. They
descended the ramp deliberately and approached the four persons at
Jimmy's desk. The man in the lead spoke.

"Lois Lane?"

"Yes?" Lois said.

"I'm Detective Ryder, Metropolis P.D." The man produced his
identification. "Do you want to tell me where you were last night
around three A.M.?"

Lois looked at Clark, then back at the detective. "I was in bed,

"Can anyone verify that?"

"What's this all about, Detective?" Clark asked.

Ryder didn't shift his gaze from Lois. "At three A.M. last night, a
guard was assaulted outside Lex Luthor's penthouse by a woman he's
identified as Ms. Lane."

"That's ridiculous," Lois said.

Ryder produced a photograph. "This picture was taken by a security
camera outside the penthouse."

Lois and Clark looked at the photograph of Lois's double and then at
each other.

"As far as we can tell," Ryder continued, "the only item taken was an
engagement ring valued at half a million dollars that Mr. Luthor had
purchased three months ago. His butler, Mr. St. John, reported the
theft. Ms. Lane, you're under arrest for aggravated assault, breaking
and entering, and grand theft."

He snapped a pair of handcuffs onto Lois's wrists. Clark caught Lois's
eye, made the flying gesture, and headed for the steps, hand on his
tie. He hadn't expected this to happen quite so soon, but once again,
the double had struck. He had to see Inspector Henderson at once.


"Henderson sure took his time," Lois said, as she joined Clark and Perry
at the front desk of the station. "Another minute and I'd have been
judging a best tattoo contest."

"Sorry about that," Clark said. "Henderson was out when I called, and
his assistant was in a meeting. Superman had to track him down for me.
Anyway, I brought your Jeep. It's parked outside."

"Are you sure you're okay, Lois?" Perry asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Chief--just really irritated," Lois said. She moved
quickly aside to avoid a police officer who was wrestling a tattooed and
bearded Superman protester towards a chair. "Oh, brother! This is
really getting ridiculous! These people need to get lives!"

"What in the name of Elvis has gotten into Metropolis?" Perry asked.
"Half the city seems to have lost its marbles!"

"No, only twenty percent," Clark said. "Lois and I have a theory about
it, Chief. We think it's connected to Luthor, somehow."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" their boss asked rhetorically. "Anyway,
Dr. Carlin is sure you're headed for a nervous breakdown, Lois. If you
come back to the Planet today she's gonna be after you to schedule an
appointment. I just wanted to warn you."

"Great," Lois said. "When I get my hands on this woman, whoever she is,
I'm going to break her neck. No, better, I'm going to stick her on
Arianna Carlin's couch for some serious psychoanalysis."

Perry snorted. "I don't blame you. Look, kids, I'm gonna head back to
the office. I'll drop the word that we bailed you out and Clark took
you home for some rest."

"Thanks, Perry," Lois said. "You know, this is getting old, really

"Tell me about it," Clark said. "Don't worry, Lois. We'll get to the
bottom of it sooner or later."

They made their way across the room, dodging several more shouting
protesters being escorted by officers of the law, and Clark held the
door for Lois and Perry then followed them out. The crowd of
demonstrators on the sidewalk had thickened considerably since this
morning, Lois saw. Most of them were behaving themselves, more or less,
but a number were pushing and shoving at each other, and at unlucky
passersby. One particularly obstreperous individual was struggling with
two officers while one of them was cuffing him.

Perry, Clark and Lois descended the steps, and gave the crowd a wide
berth. Lois read the signs; nothing original there that she could see.
"Free Luthor", one read, and another carried the "S" shield with a "no"
symbol covering it. She shook her head as a voice bellowed louder than
that of the other chanting protesters, "Free Luthor! Exile the alien!"
and she saw Clark wince.

She put a hand on his arm. "Ignore it, Clark. They're just puppets."

"Hey! That's his girlfriend!" someone else, a woman's voice, screamed,
and all at once bodies converged around them, pushing and shoving.
Someone grabbed for her and got a handful of cloth. Lois knocked the
hand away, but other hands grabbed, yanked and pushed, and the cries of
the demonstrators became menacing. A violent shove made her lurch
against Perry, who caught her.

"Back off!" Her boss's voice sounded uncharacteristically ferocious as
he faced down the offender, a tall, muscular youth wearing a leather
jacket and heavy work pants. The two of them glared at each other for a
long moment before the assailant stepped back. Clark moved in front of
them, again beginning to gently, but firmly force his way through the
mass of human bodies. Perry and Lois followed in his wake.

When they reached open space, Perry removed his arm from around her
shoulders. Lois turned to smile gratefully at him. "Thanks, Perry."

"No sweat, honey. Some of these young studs need a swift kick in the
rear if you ask me."

"I'll go along with that. I guess they didn't see my so-called
'virtuoso performance' the other day."

"I guess not. Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah. Clark and I will see if we can dig anything up away from the
office. I don't really feel like facing Dr. Carlin right now."

"Can't say I blame you. All right, then. Try to stay away from
trouble, okay?"

"Okay, Chief." Lois glanced back at the protesters once more.

"Don't worry about 'em," Perry told her. "They're a bunch of--" He bit
off the words. "I'm not going to say what they are, but they're not
worth gettin' upset about."

"Thanks, Chief," she said.

Clark's cell phone chose that second to ring, and Clark, who had
remained uncharacteristically silent, answered. "Hello?" He listened
for a minute. "Hi, Jim...You did? Where...? Right. Thanks. That was
great work." He shut off the phone. "Jimmy located the ship's captain
who married the Luthors. He's retired and living in a retirement home
right here in Metropolis."

"Then I'll leave you to get on with your work," Perry said. "Try not to
get in too much trouble."

"We won't--ah, will," Lois assured him. "See you later, Perry, and
thanks for the help."

"Don't mention it, sweetie." They stopped next to the editor's car,
parked in front of the Jeep. Perry got behind the wheel, waved to them
and a moment later had pulled out into traffic.

Lois turned to Clark, who was looking sober. "Clark, what's the
matter? You're not letting that bunch of idiots get to you, are you?"

He shook himself. "A little. I guess I shouldn't, huh?"

"Absolutely not!" She put her arms around him. "Alien or not, you're
one of the most human men I know, and the man I happen to love. Those
protesters are Luthor's puppets. He's doing something to their minds.
We just have to figure out what, and how he's doing it."

He laughed softly. "How come you're always able to make me put things
in perspective when they seem so overwhelming to me? I guess it just
proves my instincts were right on target when I decided you were the
woman of my dreams."


"You better believe it."


The retirement home where Edward Keene, formerly Captain of the Sun
Princess, resided had been decorated for Christmas. In the corner of
the lounge a Christmas tree that stood a good twelve feet tall glittered
with silver garlands and frosted ornaments. Dozens of tiny,
multi-colored lights twinkled merrily, and Christmas music played softly
in the background.

Captain Keene was seated in an armchair by the picture window when they
entered the room and in his lap lay what appeared to be a photograph
album. The old man looked up with a smile on his round face. His hair
was white, his eyes blue and twinkling. If he'd had a beard he would
have looked exactly like one of the department store and street corner
Santas that abounded in Metropolis at this season of the year, Lois
thought. As they approached, he rose to his feet.

"Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent?"

"Yes," Clark said. "Captain Keene?"

That's me," the old man said, cheerfully. "The kid I spoke to said you
wanted to talk to me about Lex Luthor."

Clark shook hands with him. "Yes, we wanted to ask you about his
wedding. You performed the ceremony?"

"Yes." Captain Keene waved them to chairs. "I sure did. Of course--"
He leaned back in his chair. "--Luthor wasn't anybody, then, but I
could tell he was a comer. And that bride of his, she was something
special. Beautiful woman, and really built."

Lois smiled a little at the man's enthusiasm. "Do you remember her

"Sure! Mrs. Luthor!" He laughed at their expressions. "Hey, it's a
joke! I'm retired, I ain't senile!"

They all laughed. Captain Keene held up the album. "The kid I talked
to said you might want to see a picture." At their nods he opened the
book and began to flip through the pages. "I've got pictures of every
couple I ever married. Here we are."

He turned the album around to display the picture on the open page.
Lois looked at the photograph and did a classic double take.

"Lex Luthor and Ari Carlin," Captain Keene said. "Married October 8th

Lois looked up at Clark almost in shock. "Arianna Carlin is Mrs.

"That guy in the alley," Clark said. "He thought he heard 'Harry'. It
was actually 'Ari'!"

"I guess this explains a few things," Lois said. She handed the album
back to the Captain. "Thank you. You've just given us the answers to a
lot of questions."


"The question is," Clark said, as they made their way back toward the
Jeep, "is Arianna Carlin working with Luthor or on her own?"

"I think the next move is to confront Dr. Carlin," Lois said. "I don't
know what she thinks she's doing, but I have some serious issues to
discuss with her."

"Inspector Henderson needs to know, too," Clark said. "She may be a
lead to wherever Luthor's holed up."

"You call him, I'll drive." Lois was almost surprised at how calm she
felt on the surface, but underneath anger was boiling. Arianna Carlin
had acted so concerned for her, so sympathetic--and all the time she'd
been scheming against her. No more, though. The tables were about to

They were still almost a block from the Daily Planet when both of them
realized that all was not as it should be. A crowd of people was
gathered in front of the Daily Planet Building, and persons were
emerging from every visible door, as fast as they could. Lois pulled
the Jeep into an empty spot by the curb, and they jumped out.

"Come on!" Clark began to run toward the Planet, Lois on his heels.

When they got closer, Lois could see the people fleeing the building had
tears streaming down their faces, many were coughing and gasping for
breath, all of them obviously in distress. Clark stopped and sniffed.

"I smell tear gas on their clothes. You stay here, Lois. I'll take
care of it and be right back."

"Go," she said.

He nodded to her and ran toward the Daily Planet, one hand on his tie.
As he vanished through the revolving door, Lois saw her--the woman who
looked exactly like her ran past, apparently unaware of Lois's presence.

Lois hesitated for a moment, but the temptation was too much. She had
her cellular phone tucked into her shoulder bag. If she could find out
where her double was headed, she could call Clark and perhaps they could
unravel at least part of this tangle.

She turned and followed.

Ahead a blue car, driven by someone who looked very much like Dr. Carlin
from her perspective, pulled up to the curb. The double opened the rear
door and climbed in. The car pulled out immediately into traffic again,
cutting off a pickup truck in the process, and joined the slowly moving
stream of cars that were the precursors of rush hour.

Lois reached her Jeep, scrambled into the driver's seat and started the
engine. Traffic was heavy, but she wasn't about to let the blue car get
away. Gritting her teeth, she nudged the nose of the Jeep into the
small space left between the rear bumper of a compact car and the nose
of a bright red sports model. Predictably, the driver slammed on his
brakes when she cut him off, and delivered a clearly audible series of
imprecations to her back, but Lois didn't even glance around. All her
attention was centered on her quarry. She was almost certain that the
driver of the blue car was Arianna Carlin. This time she was going to
get some answers.


Following the blue car in her silver Jeep Cherokee without being noticed
was more difficult than she thought it would be in the heavy traffic,
Lois discovered after a few moments. One blue car in the sea of
automobiles would be easy to lose, but Lois's single-minded
determination was more of a help than she realized. She barely noticed
it when she cut under the nose of a gasoline truck to beat the light at
an intersection, or the dump truck bearing a load of gravel that
screeched to a stop to avoid her, when she made a questionable left turn
in front of a traffic light that was in the process of turning from
yellow to red. She had to stay back far enough that the occupants of
the other car wouldn't notice her, but not so far back that she was
likely to lose them. It was harder than it might seem, until she
realized where they were going.

There was a short cut to Lex Tower that she knew would shave nearly five
minutes off the trip. Mentally, she crossed her fingers. Her guess had
better be right, she told herself, and swung to the right at the next
intersection. Ten minutes later she pulled into the parking lot of the
Moritomi Building and cut the engine, and a short time later she was
seated on a bus stop bench across the street from the entrance to Lex
Tower's underground parking lot, watching the street from behind an open

In less than three minutes by her watch, she was rewarded. The blue
Ford turned the corner and eased into the underground lot of Lex Tower.

Lois debated. Apparently the car and its occupants were free to come
and go; the security guard hadn't stopped them for more than a cursory
glance. They would probably, she thought, go up the elevator that
reached the basement lot. How was she going to get in to follow them?

Well, if her double was familiar with Lex Tower, then they knew her.
Her face was her passport. Lois stood up and headed briskly toward Lex

There was a side entrance not too far away, she knew from her many
previous trips to this place, normally watched by a single guard. Lois
headed toward it as nonchalantly as she could.

The guard, she saw, was Ron; she'd spoken to him a few times. That was
a touch of bad luck because he knew Lois Lane, but she summoned the
bravado that had helped her bluff her way through many worse situations
and walked briskly up to the entrance, barely glancing at the man.

He nodded to her and opened the door without a word. Lois entered the
building casually, only releasing her breath once more when the door
closed behind her.

Her next goal was the elevator. She needed to see where Dr. Carlin and
the double were going.

The ground floor entrance to the elevator that came up from the
underground lot was located in one of the side hallways. Lois made her
way toward it as quickly as she could without appearing hurried or doing
anything to attract attention. It was warm inside Lex Tower. She
unbuttoned her coat as she walked, with a businesslike stride, toward
her goal. Much to her relief, no one looked at her, or paid her the
slightest attention. As she reached the hallway in question, she
checked before entering it.

It was a good thing she did, she thought. Two persons were waiting by
the doors; one was an athletic-appearing young woman with short, blond
hair. The other was Nigel St. John. They stood side by side without
speaking, facing the elevator doors, and as she watched, the doors
opened. The two entered without a word.

As soon as they closed, Lois moved quickly toward the elevator. Two men
in business suits passed her, never glancing in her direction. She
halted before her goal and watched the indicator as it crept steadily
upward, marking the ascent of the elevator to the floor just beneath
Lex's penthouse itself, and stopped.

That must be it, she thought, and tried to quell the pounding of her
heart. She had to be calm and collected about this, she knew. No one
must guess that she was not the double. Briefly, the irony of the
situation occurred to her; up until now the double had been pretending
to be her. Now the situation was reversed.

Well, now what? It wasn't safe to use this elevator. She could very
well run into someone who would know the difference, or something else
could give her presence away. But this wasn't the only elevator in the
building; far from it. In fact, there was one toward the back of the
building, if she recalled correctly, that had been used by the
penthouse's housekeeping staff. That looked like the best bet for her.

The elevator was where she remembered. Lois boarded it and punched the
button for the floor directly beneath the one where the other elevator
had stopped. No use taking foolish chances, she thought. Now, if only
no one decided to call this one for the length of time it took to get up

Unfortunately, someone apparently did. The car slid to a stop on the
thirtieth floor and Lois stood aside as a man pushing a janitor's cart
boarded, and punched the button for the thirty-first floor with a
stained index finger. They went into motion again. The man didn't look
at her and didn't speak, which she thought was odd, until she noticed
the earphones and the fact that he was tapping out a rhythm on the push
bar of his cart.

He exited on the thirty-first floor and the car resumed its journey.
Lois held her breath, praying for no more interruptions.

The Fates or the gods or somebody must have been with her, for at last
the elevator slid to a stop at her destination. Lois stepped out,
trying to look casual, but the floor appeared deserted. As a matter of
fact, she realized, the lower floor hadn't been heavily populated,
either. Perhaps the fact that Lex had been arrested and many of
LexCorp's less reputable ventures had been exposed was contributing to
the situation; she didn't know, but she wasn't about to argue with her
good luck. Looking up and down the hall, she hesitated, trying to
decide what to do next.

Well, now was probably a good time to call Clark and let him know where
she was before he became frantic, and before she got in any deeper.

A few minutes later, she gave up. Clark wasn't answering his phone; he
must be busy, somewhere. Fortunately, there was another option. She
dialed her boss's phone.

Perry wasn't answering, either. Well, the best she could do was to
leave a message on his answering machine. That done, she headed for the

When Clark charged into the Daily Planet Building, he could smell the
teargas strongly. The stairs were crowded with people half-blinded by
the effects of the stuff, trying to escape the irritating fumes. He
flew up the stairwell over their heads, tracing the smell, but already
sure where he would find it.

The newsroom was full of gas. The few employees who still remained
there blundered about blindly, tears streaming down their faces.
Someone had thrown open the windows and Perry crouched in the corner of
the room closest to them with Jimmy, Jack and Cat, his jacket covering
their heads.

"Everybody get down!" Clark called. "I'm going to clear the gas!" He
inhaled deeply and released a blast of super-breath, blowing the
irritating vapor out the windows.

It looked as if a hurricane had hit the place when he had finished, but
at least the air was clear. He sped across the room to Perry and the
others, picked them up bodily and rushed them to the restrooms.

"Splash your faces and eyes with cold water," he directed. "Your hands,
too. Whatever you do, don't rub your eyes!"

"Right, Superman," Perry choked out between coughs. Cat, her mascara
smeared beyond repair, stumbled into the ladies' room, with an
incoherent stammer of thanks.

Clark rushed around the room, assisting the remaining five employees,
then turned his attention to the tear gas container. It had stopped
spewing gas before he got here, but the container undoubtedly held the
fingerprints of the person who had thrown it. With the toe of his red
boot, he nudged it into a trash container and set the container on a
desk, then picked up the phone and called William Henderson.

By the time he had finished his call, Perry White, his eyes still red
and watering, had emerged from the men's room.

"Mr. White, what happened?" he asked, quickly.

Perry mopped at his face with a paper towel. "There was a woman. I
could have sworn it was Lois. She threw the canister in here, then just
took off."

"The double," Superman said. "Look Mr. White, I've called Henderson.
The canister is in here. It may have this woman's fingerprints on it.
Make sure he gets it, will you?"

"Sure thing, Superman. Thanks."

"You're welcome." Clark was gone on the word. He needed to get back to
Lois. He didn't feel safe leaving her alone; the campaign against her,
whatever it was, seemed to be accelerating.

The Jeep was gone when he reached the sidewalk, and so was Lois. Clark
resisted the urge to tug at his hair. Where *was* she? He snatched out
his cellular phone. She had hers with her, he knew. At least he could
contact her.

No tone greeted him when he flipped it open, and then he noted the
little blinking red light. Low battery. In all the confusion of last
night, he must have forgotten to charge it. It figured.

Well, he could call from the newsroom. He hurried back up the stairs.

Perry turned when he heard the door to the stairs open. "Clark!
Where's Lois?"

"I don't know." Some of his frustration must have shown in his voice,
for Perry grinned marginally.

"She took off again, huh?"

"Yeah," Clark said. "The battery on my phone is dead. I'm going to
call her from..." Suddenly aware of something that had been nagging at
the back of his mind, he broke off. "Where's Dr. Carlin?"

"She left about half an hour ago," Jack volunteered. "Why?"

"Arianna Carlin was married to Lex Luthor," Clark said. "She's been the
office spy all along, and who knows what else." He reached for the

"Great shades of Elvis," Perry said. "I knew she was off track with
Lois, but I can't believe she fooled us all like that."

"Don't blame yourself, Chief," Jimmy said. He picked up his copy of Dr.
Carlin's book. "She wrote the book on it."

Clark stared at the title of the book, the phone receiver in his hand.
With his new knowledge, inspiration struck suddenly. "That's it!"

"What is?" Perry asked.

Clark set the phone down and hurried to Arianna Carlin's office, Perry
on his heels. A quick riffle through her files yielded what he was
looking for.

"Look, Chief. These are all Dr. Carlin's latest columns." He scanned
the first one, quickly. Now that he knew what to look for, the answer
leaped out at him. "Aha! There it is!"

"What?" Perry asked.

"The reason for all the pro-Luthor, anti-Superman demonstrations. She's
used subliminal messages in her columns--look here. If you look at the
first letter of every paragraph, it spells out 'Superman is Evil'."

Perry took the paper. "Well, I'll be..."

"Look at this one. 'Luthor Unjustly Accused'." He picked up several
more. "'Man of Steel Wicked', 'Luthor Good', and 'Free Luthor'."

"I seem to recall seeing that one around," Perry said, drily.

"Yeah. No wonder twenty percent of Metropolis is suddenly

"Yeah, well, the good doctor's got a loyal following," Perry said. "But
what good will it do them? The courts aren't influenced by public

"I don't know," Clark said. "That might not have anything to do with
it. He could be planning something where he needs to distract the
police force and Superman, or something. It wouldn't be hard to create
chaos in the city with demonstrations everywhere."

"Yeah, it could be," Perry agreed.

"Chief!" Jimmy rushed into the office. "We just got a call! There's a
bomb in the building! It's going off in five minutes!"

"Judas Priest!" Perry muttered. "What next? Okay, Jimmy, sound the
alarm. Get everybody out of here."

"I'll try to get hold of Superman," Clark said. "Get out of here,
Chief." He headed for the stairs at a run. In the background, the
phone in Perry's office shrilled, but no one bothered to answer it.


Superman found the bomb in the copy room with two minutes to spare.
Most likely, he figured, Arianna had planted it before she left, though
for what reason he didn't know. He flew it to a position well above the
city and ripped the timer loose, half expecting it to detonate anyhow,
but it didn't. By the time he returned, William Henderson and two of
his men had arrived in answer to their first call. The Inspector
examined the tear gas container and the disarmed bomb with his usual
deadpan expression.

"You know," he said, "Mr. Luthor and his friends are starting to get
under my skin." He regarded the bomb sourly. "This is the third of
these little tokens of affection we've been called about in the last two
hours. I have the feeling it's going to be a long night. I should have
listened to my mom when she wanted me to take up bee keeping." He
beckoned to one of his companions. "I want this dusted for prints.
Let's at least see if we can give this 'double' a real name."

Employees were beginning to drift back into the building, now that
Superman had certified it to be safe. Superman made a spectacular
departure and returned a minute later as Clark. He headed for the

"I'm going to call Lois," he told Perry. "I don't like this.
Something's happening, all of a sudden...I have the feeling it's

"Yeah, me too," Perry said.

"Chief!" Jimmy burst out of Perry's office. "Lois left a message on
your machine! She was calling from Lex Tower, of all places. She says
she saw the double and Dr. Carlin leaving the Planet and followed them.
She needs CK to find Superman as quick as he can!"

Clark was already on his way toward the stairs.

Jack looked after him.

"Maybe we oughtta tag along," he said, quietly to Jimmy.

"After CK?" Jimmy asked.

"No, I was thinking, what if Luthor's been hiding out in Lex Tower all
this time and bossing the whole deal? Lois could be in trouble.
Besides, we've been in on this since it started. I'd like to see the
end of it. We might even be able to help."

"We could get some really good pictures," Jimmy rationalized. "And we
*do* know where to go." He added, "My motorcycle's parked in the

Together, the two young men ducked through the door to the stairs.


Lois hurried, up the flight of stairs to the landing of the floor where
the elevator had stopped. Of course, she cautioned herself, she
couldn't know for sure that this was where Arianna and the double had
gone, but Nigel St. John and a woman who closely fitted the description
of the other tail had come here. It seemed like a reasonable guess to

She waited a few minutes, getting her breath back and gathering her
courage. In a way, she had walked into the lion's den. If Lex was
really here, as she suspected he might be, and he got his hands on her,
it could be very bad.

Carefully, she pushed the door open a crack and listened.

There was no sound of anyone nearby. From some distance away, she could
hear the murmur of a man's voice, but it was too muffled to discern the
words. Still that very sound sent a chill over her. She would
recognize that voice anywhere, the light baritone, and the rhythm of the
words that she couldn't quite make out.

Lex. She had done what the police couldn't. Lex had been hiding in his
own home all the time.

She strained her ears, listening for any other sound, but there was

Slowly and quietly, she pushed the stairwell door open.

The hall beyond was empty. After a moment, she removed her heeled
shoes. The polished floor beyond would echo loudly if she were to walk
on that in heels.

Very softly, she tiptoed down the hall, following the sound of the

It became clearer as she progressed. The transom of one of the doors
ahead of her was open a crack, emitting light, and it was from this that
she could hear the voice speaking. She forcibly quelled the prickle of
fear that ran over her scalp at the sound.

"...All set?"

"Yes, sir." That was Nigel St. John's voice.

"Very well. What about the Planet, Ms. Durant? I trust you followed my
instructions to the letter?"

"Yes, sir." The woman's voice was low and sultry. "I threw the
canister and got out right away. Dr. Carlin was waiting and picked me
up outside. I'm sure no one had any idea I wasn't...her."

"Excellent. Arianna, my dear, your report?"

"I left the package in the copy room, Lex." Arianna Carlin's cultured
voice couldn't be mistaken. "Carlo reports he phoned in the threat
shortly after Superman cleared the gas."

"And?" Lex's voice said.

"Carlo's report was necessarily sketchy, sir," Nigel St. John's voice
reported, "however, Superman appears to have found it and disposed of
it. The police are still there. Apparently, everything worked well.
Ms. Lane is believed to have been responsible for the gas. Henderson
arrived to take the bomb shortly thereafter. As predicted, the police
are now on the alert for more bombs about the city, as well."

Lois glanced uneasily around. She was in a horribly exposed position
here. If anyone came along, or if they opened the door, they would see
her. On the other hand, she didn't want to miss what they were saying.

The door next to the one where Lex was holding his meeting presented a
temptation. She might be able to hear them from there, too, and she
would have cover. Cautiously, she eased it open.

The room was empty--in fact, Lois suspected the whole floor was empty
except for Lex and his conspirators. She slipped inside and let the
outer door close.

There was a connecting door to the one where Lex was holding his
meeting. She tiptoed over to it and plastered her ear to its surface.

Nigel St. John's voice was still speaking. "...Summary, sir, everything
is going according to plan."

"Very good." Lex's voice was composed. "And Ms. Lane?"

Arianna Carlin's voice spoke. "According to Perry White, her partner
took her to her apartment for some rest. We should be able to pick her
up there when we're finished here."

"Excellent, my dear. You've been remarkably efficient. My

"You know I'd do anything for you, Lex."

"Now," Lex's voice continued, "we'll proceed according to plan. Ms.
Durant, you will take your position. Nigel, is everything ready for our

"Yes, sir." Nigel sounded inhumanly disinterested. "The wine cellar
has been prepared."

"That's perfect. As soon as we have him, Gretchen will retrieve Ms.
Lane's Jeep for the final stage."

"Yes, Lex." Another woman's voice--Gretchen's?--spoke. "My man is in
position. He's just waiting for my signal."

"Very well. Ms. Durant, the next part is yours."

Lois waited, frozen, as the footsteps of the five people exited into the
hallway without and faded into the distance. Her brain was racing. She
had no doubt at all about who the 'guest' was intended to be. If this
"Ms. Durant" was her double, Lex must be planning to use her to trap

As for the wine cellar, very few persons knew it existed. Lex had taken
her to see it, once, and the incredible collection of fine wines in his
possession. It was reached one of two ways--by a door from the first
floor, which was concealed behind a false wall, and from the penthouse
itself via a private, concealed elevator.

Lois checked the hall. No one was visible. Quickly and quietly, she
hurried back towards the stairwell. She needed to get to the penthouse.


"Help, Superman!"

The woman's voice was muffled, but it came from Lex Tower. Clark,
hurtling toward the huge building, x-rayed the penthouse from which the
cry seemed to come, searching frantically for Lois.

There she was, bound to a chair in Luthor's study.

He scanned the area around her; it didn't seem to be an ambush, but he
scanned the rooms surrounding the study for human occupants. Nothing
stirred. Satisfied that no one waited for him, he entered through the
French windows.

"Lois, are you all right?"

She squirmed against the ropes that held her, trying to spit out the
half-dislodged gag, and he moved behind her to undo the bonds that held
her wrists.

Free, she reached up to pull the gag from her mouth.

"Thank you, Superman," she said clearly, and in that instant, he
realized the truth.

It was a trap after all. This wasn't Lois.

Casually, she reached up to the locket that hung around her neck and
snapped it open.

Pain washed over him, and he felt his strength ebbing. He staggered
back, trying to put some distance between himself and the Lois
imposter. The windows were only ten feet away. If he could make it,
dive off the balcony, he would recover his strength on the way down.

She followed him. "Why, Superman," she said, "I'm hurt! I might even
think you don't like me!"

Clark felt his knees buckle. Looking blurrily up at the double, he
wondered how he could ever have mistaken this woman for his partner.
Her face was the same, but the expression on it was completely

It was at that instant that the wall seemed to open. Lex Luthor's voice
said, "So, Superman, we meet again for the last time, I'm afraid. It
took a lot for us to finally reach this point, but it was worth it." He
turned to the double. "You may go, Ms. Durant. Hold yourself ready for
the final stage. Your payment will be waiting for you as soon as you've
completed your part." He held out his hand and the double placed the
locket in it. She smiled coolly at Superman, turned casually and walked
away, hips swaying.

"All right, Nigel, let's take care of this." Luthor moved to grasp
Clark under the arms. St. John grasped his legs and together they
lifted him.

Clark struggled weakly, but it was useless. He was hauled into what he
realized belatedly was a concealed elevator, the doors closed and he
felt it begin to move downward.

The trip seemed to go on forever but, at last, the car stopped moving
and the doors opened. Clark couldn't restrain a gasp of pain when the
two men seized him again. He was dragged like a sack of potatoes across
the cold, cement floor toward--

He struggled, trying to resist, but it was like trying to swim in
molasses. His movements were weak and sluggish, and the two men had no
difficulty in forcing him into the cage that sat in the middle of the
dank, dimly lighted room, a cage where the bars glowed with a sickly
green light of their own.

Clark was pushed carelessly into the cage and rolled, gasping, to lie on
his face on the floor. The dreaded Kryptonite radiation was all around
him. There was no escape. He heard the clang of the cage door and
looked up to see Luthor locking the door, a pleased smile playing across
his mouth.

"Thank you, Nigel," he said, as if he were thanking his butler for the
most common of services. He dropped the key into his pocket with a
gesture of finality. "See to it that Ms. Durant's payment is ready for

"Of course, sir." Nigel St. John turned casually away toward the

"You see, Superman," Luthor said, pleasantly, "Ms. Durant's role will be
more crucial than she knows."

It was a nightmarish scene for Clark, lying helpless in the cage with
his greatest enemy standing at ease before him, speaking as if they were
having a perfectly ordinary conversation.

"Ms. Durant will be found wearing Lois's clothes and jewelry, with just
enough left identifiable that no one will be in doubt." Luthor smiled.
"Everyone will believe her dead, Superman, while Lois will be safe with
me in my European fortress."


"Oh, yes. I've won, Superman." Luthor's face kept its smile, but the
hatred came through in his voice. "I'll continue to run my empire, and
with you and Kent gone there'll be no serious threat to my return. Kent
will die before I leave Metropolis, make no mistake about that, and
eventually I'll be back. We won't see each other again, Superman. I
regret that. I wanted to watch you die, but one can't have everything.
I do, however, want you to know how thoroughly you've lost."

"You'll never make it out of the city," Clark rasped, hoarsely.
"Henderson's looking for you. The police are on alert."

Luthor chuckled. "Oh no, Superman. The Metropolis police force is
going to be far too busy. I've planned this down to the smallest
detail. As soon as Lois is in my hands, demonstrations will break out
all over the city. Coupled with the occasional bomb threat, which has
already begun, they'll be distracted. Tonight, there's a big
demonstration scheduled in Centennial Park. When the bomb explodes in
the middle of that, the city's emergency services and the police will
have their hands full--far too full to waste time watching for me."
With a final gesture, he hung the locket on a corner of the cage. "I
nearly forgot. You'll want this, I'm sure." He turned toward the
elevator. "Au revoir, Superman. Have a nice death."

The elevator doors opened and he stopped inside. They closed. Clark
was alone.


The stairwell door to the penthouse was locked. On reflection, Lois
realized she should have expected that. She debated for a moment the
wisdom of trying to pick the lock, but decided against it. Knowing Lex,
he'd probably have an alarm on it.

Quickly, she retraced her steps. She was going to have to risk the
staff's elevator again. With luck, Lex wouldn't have any of his
servants up there at this point. He *was* a wanted fugitive, after all.
They probably didn't even know he was here.

The soft "ding" of the arriving elevator, as the doors slid open,
sounded more like a gunshot to her strained nerves. Lois stepped out of
the car, praying that no one had noticed the sound.

There was no one here in the back rooms of the penthouse; a thin layer
of dust on the various surfaces told her that the cleaning staff hadn't
been in the areas frequented by the help for some weeks. She tiptoed
toward Lex's study, where she recalled the elevator to his private wine
cellar was located.

Voices ahead. Lois froze, listening.

Arianna Carlin's voice spoke, sounding less cultured than Lois had ever
heard it.

"I don't care if you don't see the reason! If you don't do exactly as
Lex orders, you'll regret it, Marie! You're to dress in the clothing
and wear the jewelry just as he said. Is that clear?"

The voice of Marie replied, a note of sarcasm in it. "All right, all
right!" Marie must be Ms. Durant, Lois thought. The voice sounded like
that of the woman downstairs. "I'll do it, but I think you're a fool!
There's no way on the face of the earth I'd work this hard to give the
man I loved to another woman!"

There was the sound of a slap. "I don't require your opinion," Arianna
Carlin said. "Just your obedience."

The footsteps retreated. Lois waited until they had died away, then
continued toward the study.

Lex's study was an elegant room, to say the very least. A thick, beige
carpet covered the floor; pieces of expensive furniture were set about,
objets d'art decorated shelves and tables. A huge fireplace with an oak
mantle dominated one whole wall, with an ornate set of fireplace
tools--which Lois doubted had ever been used--sitting in front of it. A
large, antique, rolltop desk and chair filled one corner next to the
French windows, and a fully equipped wet bar took up another wall.

Lois paused to get her bearings. A chair sat in the middle of the room,
with a tangle of ropes and a chewed and lipstick-smeared handkerchief on
the floor beside it. Across from it one wall stood bare except for an
ornately embroidered wall hanging and a pair of crossed Cavalry sabres.

The soft, swish of the arriving elevator alerted her, and she hurried
across the room to duck behind the sofa. The doors opened, revealing
Nigel St John. Lois crouched down behind the sofa back and tried not to

"Nigel..." Gretchen Kelly entered the room. "Is Lex about done?"

"He's...speaking to Superman," Nigel said. "He should be finished
shortly, Gretchen. Why?"

"I have Lane's Jeep. We're all set."

"Excellent, Gretchen. You're efficient." St John's voice sounded
faintly bored.

They had her Jeep? Lois bit her lip. If they had found her Jeep, they
must know she was nearby. Why hadn't this woman reported that to St.
John? She held her breath, listening, but neither of the two said
anything more.

A minute or two later, the sound of the arriving elevator again reached
her ears. St. John's voice spoke. "Ah, sir, and how is our guest?"

"Not particularly comfortable," Lex's voice said. "You know my favorite
quote, Nigel: 'Revenge is a dish best served cold'. Superman will die a
lonely death in the cellar, not to be found for a very long time.
Almost enough compensation for the humiliation I endured for those two
eternal weeks in custody. Almost, but not quite. Tonight, Metropolis
will burn, Nigel."

"Yes, sir."

Lois remained frozen behind the sofa, listening as the three slowly
departed, talking, her mind in a panic.

Clark was down there! Lex obviously had him trapped with Kryptonite,
and it was up to her to get him out.

At last, the footsteps died away and Lois peeked around the sofa. No
one was visible. She needed to call for help; she should have done so
before, but the fact that Clark would be coming had lulled her into a
false sense of security. But now, Clark was trapped, and she was one
person on her own in this place. The next step was to call the police.
With shaking fingers, she reached for the catch of her purse.

More voices were approaching. Lois held her breath, trying to be
absolutely silent behind the sofa while Arianna Carlin and Marie Durant
held another conversation outside the study door. Marie, it appeared,
was still unhappy with Lois's choice of wardrobe.

"That doesn't matter!" Arianna Carlin's voice snapped at the
recalcitrant young woman, "wear them! This is the last thing you have
to do, then you walk away with half a million dollars. Now, go on!"

"All right, all right," the other woman muttered in a sulky voice. Lois
listened to her retreating footsteps, wondering if Murphy's Law was
dictating the presence of so many persons near the study at just this
time. The click of Arianna's footsteps in the hall outside approached
the study and suddenly became muffled as she entered the room.

Arianna crossed the rug toward the sofa where Lois crouched. "You might
as well come out, Lois. I know you're there."

Lois froze. The woman stepped around the sofa and Lois saw the small
handgun aimed directly at her.

"Stand up," Arianna said.

Lois stood.

"Walk over to the elevator and call it."

"What elevator? I--"

"Don't lie, Lois," Arianna said. "You know where it is. Do it now."

Lois glanced at the hand holding the weapon, then at Arianna Carlin's
rigid face, and obeyed.

The elevator ride to the wine cellar was a long, slow one. Arianna
stayed carefully out of reach, mindful of Lois's martial arts training.
Lois glanced over at the psychiatrist wondering if she might have a
chance against the gun. Arianna smiled mirthlessly. "I wouldn't."

"Where are we going?" Lois asked, although she knew.

"You wanted to reach Superman, didn't you? I'm taking you to him."
Arianna's expression was hard. "You and he can spend your last hours
together." She laughed, bitterly. "Did you think I didn't see you
following? I knew you'd be here."

"I don't understand," Lois whispered. "Why?"

"Do you think I'd willingly give the love of my life to another woman?"
Arianna said. "He married me, and I'm his until the day I die. No
other woman will ever take my place while I live."

" two divorced."

"He divorced *me*--I didn't divorce *him*! You should have died that
day on the street, Lois, but Clark Kent saved you. It won't matter,
though. You've been acting irrationally for days. You'll be found the
victim of a tragic suicide on the Hobs River Road. No one will ever
guess that the real Lois Lane is locked in the wine cellar of Lex Tower,
left to die with Superman. Least of all, Lex."

The doors of the elevator slid aside, and Arianna waved her pistol.
"Step out."

Lois moved reluctantly out into the dimness of the wine cellar. There
was a bright green blotch ahead of her in the dimness, which resolved
itself into a cage with glowing, green bars. And inside it--

"Superman!" she gasped.

"Yes," Arianna said. "Superman. My husband's greatest enemy."

Behind them, the elevator doors closed quietly. Lois said, desperately,
"Arianna, you must know I don't want Lex! I'm in love with Clark Kent.
I'm no danger to you."

"It doesn't matter," Arianna Carlin said, and her voice was bleak and
bitter. "Lex wants *you*. Your wishes don't come into it, any more
than the wishes of the other women he would have put in my place."

"Ohmigod," Lois breathed, "it was *you*! You killed them."

Arianna didn't answer. She reached behind her and pressed the call

Lois took a step toward her. "Please, Arianna, you can't do this."

"Can't I? I already have." Arianna Carlin leveled her pistol and


Clark saw Arianna Carlin fire her pistol at Lois, and his cry of "No!"
echoed through the sound of the gunshot and Lois's scream of pain.

The woman ignored him. She thrust the pistol into her purse and nudged
Lois with the toe of her shoe. "Don't worry, Superman," she said. "I
wouldn't dream of letting Ms. Lane miss the sight of your last hours."

Lois moaned.

The elevator doors opened. Arianna took a step forward, and stopped.
Through a haze of pain from the Kryptonite radiation, Clark saw her step
slowly backward. Then, from the lighted interior of the elevator, a
snub-nosed pistol appeared, followed by a woman's hand and arm.

A woman with short, blond hair emerged, pistol pointed directly at
Arianna Carlin's chest.

"Gretchen!" Arianna's voice was both shaken and outraged. "I can

"I doubt it." The woman--Gretchen Kelly?--surveyed the scene with the
faintest of mocking smiles on her lips. "I didn't think you had it in
you," she said. She glanced sideways at Lois, who was trying to push
herself to her hands and knees. "I guess," she said, "this would
explain the deaths of Lex's other fianc

ées. I always wondered about

Arianna lunged for her, and Gretchen's weapon spoke once. The echoes
bounced deafeningly around the wine cellar. The blond woman looked down
at her work with an appraising expression. "But you see, Arianna, it's
*my* turn, now."

"Wait!" Clark gasped. "You can't leave us here!"

Gretchen smiled, gently. "I can," she said. "You know, Superman, if
you hadn't interfered, Lois and Kent would both be out of the way, now.
Then all I would have had to do would have been to report how Arianna
had killed Ms. Lane. This is so much less tidy, but in the end it will
all work out. Goodbye, Superman." Amazingly, she smiled and blew him a
kiss. Then she stepped into the elevator, and the doors closed.

Clark hurled himself uselessly against the cage bars, with no results
except a bruised shoulder.

"Lois!" he called, desperately. "Lois! Can you hear me?"


"There's her Jeep!" Jack shouted in Jimmy's ear.


"Over there!" Jack, perched behind Jimmy on the young photographer's
motorcycle, pointed toward the Moritomi parking lot. "She's here,

"Yeah, inside Lex Tower. How're we gonna get in there?"

"I dunno. Pull into the lot."

Jimmy was already doing so. They parked the motorcycle in an empty
space, a dozen places down from the Jeep, and Jimmy cut the motor.

The Jeep was locked up tight, as expected. Jimmy peered in the window,
then turned to his efficient companion. "Got any ideas?"

"Let's go over to Lex Tower. "Maybe we'll...Look, there she is!"

Jimmy followed Jack's pointing finger. Coming across the street toward
the lot, accompanied by two persons who looked unpleasantly familiar to
them, was Mad Dog Lane.

Jimmy was about to wave, when something made him pause. "Jack, is there
any reason you can think of that Lois would be with those two losers?"

"No," Jack said. He took a long look at the approaching trio.
"Besides, wasn't Lois wearing a skirt this morning?"

"Yeah," Jimmy said. "It was that short red one that shows a lot of
leg. I noticed, particularly. Wait a minute! What outfit did CK tell
the Chief got stolen from her place?"

"A beige pantsuit," Jack said. "Like the one she's wearing. I've never
seen her wear that jacket before, though."

The two looked at each other, then as one, turned and walked back toward
the motorcycle. Jimmy knelt, pretending to examine something on the
rear wheel as the three people wended their way through the massed cars
in the lot, approaching the Jeep.

"It'd be interesting to know if she's wearing a jade ring or
mother-of-pearl earrings, wouldn't it?" he said.

"Her earrings are white, from what I can see," Jack reported a moment
later. "I can't tell about the ring."

"I'm thinking that's the double," Jimmy said. He got slowly to his
feet. "Want to bet?"

"No takers." Jack was careful not to look in their direction again.
"What are they doing, now?"

Jimmy, half shielded by Jack's body, risked a look. "The old guy looks
like he may be picking the lock," he said. "He's got the door
open...he's fast, all right. The blond is getting into the passenger
side and the double's getting in back..."

As he watched, the blond woman--wasn't the name Gretchen?--popped the
hood, and the older man--St, John, Lex Luthor's butler, he
remembered--bent over the engine.

"What's going on?" Jack asked.

"I think St. John is hot-wiring the engine."

"They're going somewhere in Lois's Jeep, and they don't have the keys,"
Jack concluded. "I'd sure like to know how he's gonna beat the steering
wheel lock, but I guess he must know how. Maybe we should follow
them--and Henderson might like to know about them, don't you think?"

They clambered back onto the motorcycle, and Jimmy revved the engine.
"You handle the call, okay?"

"Okay." Jack dug the cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Perry
White's number. He figured the Chief could probably get a police
operator to listen to him a lot faster than a seventeen-year-old kid

Jimmy kicked the motorcycle into gear and they rolled forward toward the
exit of the lot. "We'll pick 'em up after they pull out on the street.
Get settled, quick. I have the feeling this isn't gonna take too long."


"Lois! Can you hear me?" Clark's panic-stricken voice echoed off the
walls of the wine cellar.

Lois rolled painfully over. Her leg was throbbing sickeningly with
every beat of her heart, and nausea made her want to retch, but she had
to move. She had to help Clark.

"Lois!" he gasped.

Through a swimming haze, she could see him on his knees inside the
deadly cage. Take your time, Lane, she cautioned herself. It isn't
going to do Clark any good if you pass out.

Arianna Carlin lay a short distance from her on the floor, breathing in
harsh gasps, both hands clasping her middle, and even in the dim light,
Lois could see the dark blood seeping between her fingers and pooling on
the cement.

There wasn't much she could do for the woman at the moment, injured as
she was. She had no idea whatsoever how to take care of such an
injury. Slowly, Lois pushed herself to a sitting position. Her head
swam unpleasantly, but she persisted, taking deep breaths until her
surroundings steadied.

The bullet had penetrated the big muscle of her thigh, she saw. In
spite of the pain, she experienced a moment of annoyance at the ruin of
her best, wool skirt, but quickly dismissed the thought. She was
bleeding, but not too heavily. Evidently, the bullet hadn't hit
anything immediately fatal. It sure hurt like the devil, though.

"Lois, are you all right?" Superman's voice was rough and breathless
with pain. Lois cleared her throat, trying to keep her voice from
trembling. She could feel the shock beginning to set in. She was
shaking all over, and she felt chilly with more than just the cold
present in the cellar.

"Yeah," she said. Darn. Her voice was shaking in spite of her
efforts. "She hit me in the leg."

"Oh, God..." Clark's voice was shaking, too. "Lois..."

"Superman," she said, trying to focus on the problem rather than the
throbbing in her leg. "What happened to the key?"

"Luthor put it in his pocket." Clark's voice had become a rasping
whisper, and as she watched, he collapsed slowly to the floor of the

The Kryptonite radiation was killing him, she thought, and the
realization of that fact shocked her out of the pain-induced lethargy
that was beginning to creep up on her brain. Clark's life depended on
her. She couldn't fail him now, of all times. She had to think of some
way to open that door.

It was Arianna Carlin's faint moan that brought Lois's attention back to
her. The psychiatrist's hands were slipping from her abdomen to fall
limply to the floor. Clearly, the woman was in a bad way, but Lois
couldn't help her. Maybe if Clark were free he would know what, if
anything, could be done.

Arianna's handbag lay on the floor where it had fallen. Lois's eyes
passed over it, then snapped back, suddenly alert.

Lex might have the key, but in Arianna's purse was another sort of key
in the form of a .32 calibre pistol. Gretchen Kelly must have been more
agitated than she let on to have overlooked that.

Lois squirmed across the floor, biting her lip at the pain that shot up
her leg. Come on, Lane, she chastised herself, it's no worse than the
broken ankle you got on the office ski trip! You didn't let that stop
you, and this won't, either!

The purse strap was suddenly within reach of her fingers, and she
dragged it over to her. Arianna didn't even stir as Lois pulled the bag
out of her hand. The woman was unconscious.

The pistol was there where she had seen Arianna thrust it. She closed
the purse, looped the strap over her head and looked over her shoulder
at the cage. The thing was at least fifteen feet away, probably the
most difficult fifteen feet of her life, but she gritted her teeth and
began to crawl.

She left blood on the cement, and she had to stop frequently to rest;
the distance seemed to diminish with agonizing slowness, but she kept
going. Gradually, the cage drew nearer. At times, Clark seemed aware
of her, and at others, he appeared to lapse into semi-consciousness.
Lois found herself mumbling under her breath, urging herself on.

She wasn't fatally hurt; she was pretty sure of that, although without
some kind of treatment she might eventually die of infection, or
something. Whether they could even get out of the cellar was an open
question, but first things first. Freeing Clark was the most important
thing right now.

The cage was four feet away, then three, then two. At last, she fell
against it, gasping with the exertion. "Superman!" His dark head was
only a few inches away from her. "Superman, can you hear me?"

At first, he didn't move, and for a horrible second she thought he might
be dead. Then his eyes opened, staring directly at her. "Lois?" he

"Yes." She reached through the bars to touch his face. "Superman,
listen to me. Move over to the side of the cage. I'm going to get you

For a second he stared at her, then he pushed himself weakly to a
sitting position and scooted slowly to one side. Lois looked up at the
lock and grimaced. This was going to hurt.

She pulled her good leg under her, then grasped the bars of the cage.
Getting to one's feet was such a simple action, and yet this was one of
the hardest things she had ever done. Her arms felt like jelly, and her
good leg was shaking violently as she pulled herself up inch by
agonizing inch. Her head swam, and for a moment she thought she might
pass out, but she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. When
her equilibrium steadied, she pulled and pushed again, and suddenly she
was standing on one foot, grasping the glowing green bars with her hands
for balance, and panting hard. Her injured leg throbbed sickeningly,
and she stood, leaning her forehead on the bars while the worst of it

She didn't dare remove the purse strap from around her neck; if she
dropped it she didn't think she'd be able to get back down and up
again. She opened the purse one handed, retrieved the pistol and drew
it out. If this didn't work, they were done for.

She placed the muzzle against the lock and pulled the trigger.

The explosion was deafening in the enclosed space, and the pistol kicked
back against her hand so hard that she almost dropped it, but when she
looked, she found that the lock's casing had a hole directly through it,
and the metal around the hole was twisted and distorted. Carefully, she
put the muzzle against it again and fired once more. Then, her leg gave
way and she landed hard on her knees.

Pain exploded through the injured leg, and she cried out. Blackness
rolled over her like a blanket.


Clark winced at the sound of the shot. Lois fired into the lock a
second time; then her leg gave way and she fell to her knees, slumped
forward onto the cement floor and didn't move.

"Lois!" Clark crawled to the cage door and reached out through the bars
to touch her face.

She was breathing; he could tell that much. He looked up at the lock on
the cage door. Had Lois managed to disable it? There was only one way
to find out.

He pushed on the door. It rattled, but held.

Clark closed his eyes, trying to summon his strength. He could feel the
deadly Kryptonite radiation of the cage eating away at every muscle
fibre and nerve of his body. But Lois had battled pain and weakness of
her own to try and free him. Her sheer raw courage had been

He inhaled a lung full of air and blew it out. It hurt to breathe, it
hurt to move, but Lois hadn't let that stop her. Could Superman do

He grasped the green-glowing bars and hauled himself to his feet. His
hands burned where they came into contact with the poisonous substance,
but it was a minor discomfort in comparison to all the rest. This
better work, he told himself, grimly, because he didn't think he could
manage this a second time. Every instant he spent in the cage robbed
him of a little more strength. He drew back and hurled himself at the
door with all the force he could muster.

The broken lock gave and the door burst outward. Clark staggered out,
caught his toe on Lois's ankle and fell forward onto the cement of the
cellar floor.


"Lois?" Lois stirred at the familiar voice and the feel of a very
familiar hand stroking her cheek. "Lois, open your eyes."

She obeyed and looked up, frowning at the sight of his face above her.

"Lois?" Clark's voice said, "do you hear me?"

"You're upside down," she said.

A smile lit his face. "How do you feel?"

She was lying with her head in his lap, she realized, somewhat
belatedly. "Okay," she said, slowly. "My leg hurts."

"Yeah." His face lost its smile. "You have a bullet in it."

Memory came rushing back and she tried to sit up. "You got out of the

He caught her shoulders. "Easy there. I don't want you fainting

"I never faint," she said, with dignity, but she sat up more slowly.
"Why are we still in here?"

"Because I can't open the door and the elevator doesn't work," he said.
"Gretchen Kelly must have deactivated it."

"Your powers..."

"I don't have any powers right now," he explained, quietly. "And I
probably won't get them back as long as we're in the cellar. I can
still feel the Kryptonite radiation, just not as strongly."

They were at the foot of the steps leading out of the cellar, Lois
realized. Across the room, she could see the glowing, green of the
Kryptonite cage. Beside them on the cement, Arianna Carlin lay wrapped
in Superman's cape.

Clark saw her glance at the woman. "I tried to stop the bleeding," he
said, "but I think she's bleeding inside, and there's nothing I can do
about it."

"Oh." Cautiously, Lois lifted the edge of her skirt to check her own
wound. "You bandaged it? What *is* this stuff?"

"Um...I had to use your slip," he said, apologetically. "It was all I

"Oh," she said, again. "Thanks. Did you try the gun on the door lock?"

He nodded. "The door's solid, heavy metal. It didn't work."

"Oh," she repeated, looking around for inspiration. "My purse is over
there. The cell phone--"

He shook his head, and Lois saw the cellular phone lying on the first

"The cellar walls are too thick," Clark said. "I tried."

"Great." She looked at his face in the greenish gloom of the cellar.
He looked pale and tired, although that might be the effect of the
sickly green light, generated by the cage, and there were lines of pain
there that she hadn't seen before. "You're not giving up, are you?"

Clark gave her a tired smile. "Of course not. I'm sure we'll think of
something. I'm just out of ideas for the moment." He rubbed his
temples. "Do you know anything about this place that might help? Did
Luthor ever show it to you?"

"Once," she said. "I'm trying to think." She shivered, pulling her
coat more tightly around her shoulders. "I'm cold." Suddenly aware of
something, she looked harder at Clark in the gloom. He was shivering
and trying not to let her see it. "Cl--Superman, you're cold! Of
course you are; your powers are gone." She pulled the coat off. "Here,
put this on!"

"Lois, I can't take your coat!"

"You don't have to," she said. "Here, let me sit next to you, put your
arms around me and we'll put the coat over both of us."

Clark obeyed, and for some minutes they sat in silence. "This is
better," Lois said, at last.

"Much better," Clark agreed. "Does your leg still hurt?"

"Some." To tell the truth, it hurt a lot, but she wasn't about to tell
him so.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Right, some. We need to get you to a

"I'm game," Lois said. She looked over at Arianna Carlin's still form.
"She needs one even more. She's not going to make it, otherwise."

"I know," Clark said. "None of us will if we can't find a way out of

"I can't think of anything about..." Lois stopped. "Wait a minute."


She grasped for the wisp of memory. "I remember...Lex and I were having
dinner in his study, one night. Asabi, that Hindu manservant of his was
there, serving dinner. Lex wanted a bottle of his private stock. I
remember, Nigel St. John went down to get it...and he sent it up to
Asabi in the dumbwaiter! Superman, there's a dumbwaiter here, too!"

The expression of despair on Clark's face had changed as she spoke to
one of cautious hope. "Where is it?"

"I'm not exactly sure. It opens up in the study behind that wall
hanging of his, about ten feet to the right of the elevator."

Clark looked over at the elevator. "There's a wine rack there." He
stood up. "Stay here."

"Superman, that's awfully close to the cage!"

"Not too close. If it's a way out..." He was on his feet as he spoke
and striding over to the wine rack. As he neared the cage, Lois saw him
falter and her heart jumped into her throat, but in spite of the
radiation he stood close to the rack, leaning on a wooden barrel,
examining the structure before him. Suddenly, he reached out and moved
something she couldn't see, then pulled. Lois gasped as the whole wine
rack swung outwards, revealing behind it the dumbwaiter.

Clark reached out and touched something beside it. "It's active!" He
did something else, and the doors slid aside. "It's too small," he
said, and the hope was suddenly gone from his voice.

Lois stared at the small conveyance. He was right. Someone his size
couldn't possibly fit in there. But...

"I think I could fit," she said.

Clark turned to look at her. "Lois, you have a bullet in your leg.
*And* it's too dangerous."

"No more dangerous than staying in here until we all die," she
retorted. "If I take off my coat, I can fit. I'll take the cell phone,
and when I get up there I'll call for help. Then all I have to do is
stay out of sight until Henderson arrives."

"That may be harder than it seems," Clark said.

"I know that," Lois said, "but if I don't do it, she's going to die,

They both looked at Arianna Carlin. Clark's shoulders slumped in
defeat. "All right, but for Pete's sake, be careful!"


The dumbwaiter, Lois thought, as Clark helped her scrunch her way into
the extremely tight quarters, hadn't been designed to carry a hundred
and ten pounds. She hoped the cable would hold.

The position which she was forced to assume--sitting on her heels, legs
folded under her, chin on her knees--made her glad for the stretching
exercises she performed in her tai kwan do class twice a week. Even so,
it made her wounded leg throb almost unbearably. She gritted her teeth
and concentrated on her goal.

"Are you all right?" Clark asked, anxiously for the fourth time as he
helped her fit as comfortably as humanly possible--which wasn't
very--into the tiny space, but she nodded.

"Yeah. Let's just get this over with, okay?"

"Right." He set the cellular phone on the surface next to her.

"Wish me luck," Lois gasped.

"Lois, are you sure you want to do this?" he asked again.

"Just hurry up, Clark. I can't stay like this long."

"Okay," Clark whispered. "I love you." He pressed the button.


Lois closed her eyes as the doors slid shut and the motor of the little
dumbwaiter whined, bearing her slowly upward. She tried not to think
about what would happen if the thing got stuck or the cable were to

The risk was acceptable, she kept telling herself. Clark had somehow
managed the herculean job of dragging her away from the cage, far enough
that the deadly radiation had affected him less, bandaged her and
Arianna up, then attempted to get them out of the cellar. He hadn't
fooled her, though. He'd tried to make it look easy, but she'd seen him
struggling to seem normal. The radiation was still present, still
harmful to him, and he was still in pain. She had no doubt that in time
the stuff would kill him. It was up to her to see that it didn't.

Once, she opened her eyes, but she might as well have not bothered. It
was pitch dark in the cramped little space, and the air was rapidly
getting stuffy. Her leg hurt sickeningly, but she found it conversely a
welcome distraction from the feeling of claustrophobia; of being
squeezed from all sides.

She couldn't move in any direction. Her nose began to itch and she
couldn't get a hand around to scratch it. Then a spot on her scalp
started, and the sensation traveled across the top of her head, down the
back of her neck to a spot between her shoulder blades, and spread
across her shoulders. Lois gritted her teeth, squeezed her eyes shut
and counted the seconds.

At last, the dumbwaiter slid gently to a stop with a soft "ding". Lois
waited, frozen. If anyone checked the dumbwaiter, she was caught.
Suddenly, she was no longer itching.

She listened, with every nerve and sense reaching out to try to discover
if someone waited beyond the doors and the elegant wall hanging that
covered the wall of Lex's study.

Not a sound greeted her. Gradually, she moved the hand closest to the
doors and pushed.

The doors came open with a slight squeal of protesting hinges, but
nothing happened. A single table lamp dimly lighted the room, and
nothing moved within her range of sight. She began to wiggle, the faint
touch of claustrophobia still possessing her to get out of the

It took her a good five minutes, but at last she tumbled to the rug.
The jar on her injured leg was almost too much, and she bit back a cry
of pain, reminding herself that Clark's life depended on her not getting
caught. Where was the best place to hide around here?

The sofa still seemed like the best candidate, in spite of the fact that
Arianna had found her there. Arianna had been watching for her, after
all. No one else had any reason to think she might be here. Besides,
she wasn't in any shape to do much traveling.

The whole area was quiet right now, which was both a good and bad
thing. If anyone was within earshot, she could be overheard. Lois bit
her lip, resolving to be as quiet as possible, and began to crawl.

The journey to the couch took her several, determined minutes, but at
last she reached the area of concealment behind it. Removing her cell
phone from the front of her blouse, she started to dial 911 and paused.
It was quite possible that, with the assault Lex had planned to launch
on the city, that she might end up on hold. It had happened before,
more than once. But if she could get hold of her boss, she knew he'd
see that help arrived as fast as humanly possible. With shaking
fingers, she punched the speed dial on her cellular phone for Perry
White's office. She only hoped he was still there. A glance at her
watch informed her that far more time had passed than she realized. It
was past eight in the evening.

The phone in Perry's office rang twice. Lois held her breath, praying
that Perry would answer. On the third ring, someone picked it up.

"Perry White's office. Terrence Wiederhold speaking."

The new intern, Lois thought. Terry was brand new at the office, and
hadn't really sorted out precedence of unofficial rank among the staff
yet. "Terry, this is Lois Lane. Get me Perry, fast!"

"Ms. Lane?" The intern's voice sounded doubtful. "Weren't you arrested
this morning?"

"It was all a big mistake," Lois said, impatiently. "Let me talk to
Perry. I'm in trouble."

"Well, I don't know, Ms. Lane. He's talking to a couple of police
officers right now. I don't think he wants to be disturbed."

"Terry!" Lois hissed at him, consciously aware that she must not raise
her voice, "Get me Perry, *now*! It's life or death!"

"Well..." Terry dithered. "I'm not sure...What?" The intern broke off
and apparently covered the receiver with his palm. She could hear the
murmur of voices, then, so suddenly that she started, Perry's voice was
booming at her from the receiver.

"Lois! Thank Elvis, honey! Where are you?"

"Perry!" Lois whispered, "I may not have much time! Just listen! I
need help! I'm in Lex Luthor's penthouse. He's been hiding out here
all along. You've got to tell Henderson!"

"Judas Priest!" Perry sounded stunned. "Are *you* all right?"

"I've got a bullet in my leg, but I'll live," Lois said. "Tell
Henderson to bring the paramedics, and tell them to hurry. Arianna
Carlin is in Lex's wine cellar; she's been shot. I don't know how long
she's got left."

"I'll take care of it," Perry said. "Stay put, honey. We'll be there
as fast as we can." He hung up.

Lois shut off the phone and closed her eyes momentarily. She had no
doubt that her boss would do just as he said. The police were on their
way. All she had to do now was stay out of sight.

She looked around the room, trying to see if there was a better place of
concealment. There really wasn't, she concluded, but then the fireplace
tools caught her eye. The shiny, certainly never-used poker could be a
crutch to lean on and--a small part of her mind whispered--a weapon if
she was cornered. If Lex got hold of her, he wouldn't wait any longer.

The poker felt solid and reassuring in her hands when she picked it up a
few minutes later. Lois braced the implement on the floor, got her good
leg under her and heaved. A few seconds later she was standing, leaning
on the poker like a cane.

She glanced at her watch. Come on, Henderson! If you take too long,
this could all fall apart! It had been at least ten minutes since she
had spoken to Perry. Surely, Henderson wouldn't delay once he knew
where Lex was hiding out! Slowly, Lois made her way back to the couch,
and then she saw what she had missed before.

A trail of blood marred the thick beige carpet where she had crawled.
Not much, just a few streaks, but the marks showed up clearly on the
pale surface. If Lex--or anyone--came in here, they would certainly
notice, and the trail would lead them directly to the couch.

Where else could she hide? Lois glanced frantically around the room.
There was only one place that she could see that might offer
concealment. The heavy curtains, now drawn open on either side of the
French windows near the rolltop desk, hung to the floor, and the view
through the glass showed blackness beyond. She limped toward the
windows, leaning heavily on the poker.

Cold radiated from the glass. The little balcony outside was unlighted,
but the pale illumination from the room shone across it, and Lois could
see that it was covered thickly with snow, so thickly that its surface
could not be seen. Even the three-foot high iron balustrade that rimmed
the balcony was coated with frost, and flakes drifted lazily by in the

It was the sound of angry voices approaching from the hall beyond that
spurred her into motion a minute later. She ducked as quickly as she
could behind the curtains and flattened herself against the wall,
leaning heavily on the poker. Her leg was throbbing, but the pain paled
into insignificance next to the danger of being caught.

"...Brainless fools! Where's Nigel?"

"Lex, I swear I don't know what happened!" Gretchen Kelly sounded very
shaken. "Nigel had it all set up in advance. We'd just turned onto the
Hobs River Road, and suddenly the police were all over us. I just
barely got away, and I don't know what happened to Nigel and Marie! It
took me hours to get back here. They were everywhere!"

"Henderson's brighter than I gave him credit for." Lex's voice sounded
calm on the surface now, but Lois could hear the fury simmering
beneath. "I want Lois picked up now, Gretchen. There's still time to
salvage something from this mess."

"Lex, she's not at her apartment. Carlo reported to me a few minutes
ago. We need to get out of here. The police could be here any minute."

"No." There was the sound of Lex's footsteps just beyond the door.
"Nigel knows not to talk, and Marie knows the penalty if she does. If
they had, the police would have been here by now. We have time. I want
Lois found!"

Lois held perfectly still, trying not to breathe heavily. The knowledge
of the extent of Lex's obsession with her was frightening. The lives of
others, to him, were unimportant, whether they were employees, or the
woman he claimed to love. All that mattered to him was what *he*
wanted, what *he* desired. And if not for that night at the Daily
Planet back in October, none of what had happened later would have taken
place, and she would very likely be his fianc

ée, and still blind to his
character flaws--assuming that Arianna hadn't killed her by now.
Silently, she thanked whatever chance had led to her discovery of
Clark's alter ego that night, and from that to the knowledge of what Lex
truly was. It had been humiliating to realize what a colossal fool she
had been, but in the end, she was glad it had happened. Please,
Henderson, she implored silently, please hurry up!

"I'm not leaving without her, do you understand, Gretchen?" Lex's voice
still quivered with anger under a forced calmness that only served to
underline the fragile hold he had on his temper. "She's the reason I
orchestrated all this. I'm not going to throw it all away."

"Lex..." Gretchen Kelly's voice became pleading. "We need to leave. We
can come back for her later when the search for you has died down."

"I said 'no' and I meant it, Gretchen." There was a note in Lex's voice
that made a chill run down Lois's spine. The apparent calm on the
surface of his words hid--not too effectively--a thin control over
sheer, frustrated rage. Suddenly the overhead light blazed on and Lex's
footsteps became muffled as he entered the study, followed by Gretchen
Kelly's lighter steps. He crossed the room, she thought, and a moment
later glassware clinked. Lex was pouring something into a glass.

"Lex," Gretchen said persuasively, "I understand, believe me. But if
you wind up in jail again, you'll never have the chance. Your first
priority is to stay free."



"I said 'quiet'! What *is* that on the rug?"

"I don't--"

"It's blood." Lex's voice shifted position as he moved. "And it wasn't
here before."

Silence. Lois tried to hold her breath.

"I see you," Lex's voice said softly. "Behind the curtain. Come out,
now, or I'll kill you."

The game was up. Lois pushed the curtain aside. "Hello, Lex."

"Lois!" Lex shoved the small handgun he was holding back into his
pocket. "How did *you* get here?"

Lois looked at Gretchen Kelly, who was staring at her, her face stark
white. All she had to do, she told herself firmly, was to stall a
little longer. She had to keep Lex's attention for however long it
took. "Surprised to see me, Gretchen?"

The woman didn't answer. Lex was staring at Lois, too. "You came
here? What happened to you, my love?"

"Arianna shot me," Lois said.


"Arianna shot me," she repeated. "Lex, she killed your two fiancées
before, and she tried to kill me to keep me from taking her place." She
looked at Gretchen. "Only, this time it backfired, because Gretchen
wanted you, too."

"Lex," Gretchen began.

"Quiet," Lex said. "Go on, Lois."

"Gretchen shot Arianna. She tried to get rid of both of us without you
finding out."

"Lex!" Gretchen cried. "She's lying, don't you see?"

"She loves you, Lex," Lois said.

"But I love *you*," Lex said, starting toward her. "We'll get out of
Metropolis and find you a doctor." The look he turned on Gretchen boded
no good for the woman. "Your services are no longer required."

"Lex, no!" Gretchen grasped his arm. "Don't you see? She doesn't want
you! She doesn't *love* you! *I* love you!"

Lex pushed her aside. "Come, my love. We must go, now."

"Lex," Lois began, "I can't--"

There was movement in the doorway behind and to Lex's left. Lois looked
up to see Inspector Henderson, followed by several uniformed officers
enter the room, weapons drawn. She gave a quiet sigh of relief.

Lex turned. "How dare you come in here!"

Henderson held up a piece of paper. "Standing warrant, Luthor. Put
your hands up and keep them in sight."


Lois jumped at the yell of sheer fury, lost her balance and fell with a
cry of pain.

"Don't move!" She thought the voice was Henderson's.

Lex lunged toward Lois. She covered her head, sure the officers would
shoot, but they didn't. He didn't stop for the glass of the French
windows, but crashed through them.

"Luthor, no!" Henderson shouted. Lois rolled over, her leg on fire.
Shards of glass fell from her clothing.

"Lex, don't" she gasped.

He turned, breathing hard. "Lex Luthor will not live in a cage!"

"Lex!" Gretchen screamed.

"Luthor, don't do it!" Henderson said, beginning to move forward.

Lex put one leg over the railing, then the other. He teetered
precariously on the brink. "Do you know this is the tallest building in
Metropolis?" he said, almost conversationally. He met Lois's eyes, his
own burning with something she couldn't interpret. "It's the top of the
world," he said, and pushed away from the railing. Henderson's hand
grabbed at the air, half a second too late.



Lois, lying on the sofa where one of the police officers had guided her
minutes ago, opened her eyes to see Superman slowly crossing the room
toward her, helped solicitously by a young officer. They had left her
alone while they dealt with the arrest of Gretchen Kelly and the
unpleasant details following Luthor's suicide. Lois could only be
grateful. She had been afraid of Lex, but watching him jump from the
balcony right in front of her had left her shaken. Perry White entered
the room behind Superman, his face unusually haggard.

"Perry...Superman," she whispered.

Clark crossed the room and seated himself on the edge of the sofa. He
said nothing, only reached out to grasp her hand. Perry followed him.
Her editor cleared his throat.

"The paramedics are on their way," he said. "How are you, honey?"

"I'll be okay," she said. She looked at her partner, at the lines of
fatigue on his face, and his torn and dirty costume. "How's Arianna?"

"They took her out a few minutes ago," Superman said. "They don't know
if she'll make it or not."

For the first time since this ordeal had started, Lois felt tears begin
to leak from her eyes. Superman reached out and put his arms around
her. "I'm sorry, Lois. I wish I could have stopped it."

She nodded, holding tightly to him. "Don't let me go," she whispered.

"I won't." His voice was muffled.

Lois was barely aware of the study doors closing as Perry and the young
officer quietly left the room.


Perry closed the door behind him. The young officer glanced at him, and
Perry read anger in his expression.

"Who would have thought someone could do that to Superman," he said.
"It makes me want to..." He bit off the words. "I'm sorry, Mr. White.
It's just that he's done so much for all of us, especially the police.
He saved my partner's life a couple of months ago."

Perry nodded. "I know," he said. "I feel the same way. But Luthor's
dead, and it all worked out in the end."

"Yeah." The man nodded soberly. "One thing's for sure. If anybody
asks me about this, I didn't see anything. It's the only thing I can do
to thank him, y'know?"

"I know," Perry said. "I think Superman would appreciate that."

"If he asks, tell him I said so."

"I will." Perry inclined his head in the direction of the elevators.
"Here comes your boss."

Henderson was coming down the hallway toward them. "Perry, can I have a
word with you?"


"Jim--" Henderson took the young officer aside and spoke quietly to him
for a minute. The young man nodded.

"Yes, sir. No problem."

"Good. Head on down and report to the sergeant, now."

"Yes, sir." Jim took off at a half trot. Henderson turned to Perry.

"Lois really came through for us," he said as a preliminary. "You can
even tell her I said that--this time."

"I will," Perry said, wondering where the conversation was headed.

"Those two kids of yours did a good job, too. You might pass that
along, when you get the chance."

"I intend to." Perry regarded Henderson thoughtfully. "Do you want to
tell me what's on your mind, Bill?"

Henderson thrust his hands into his pockets and regarded the toes of his
shoes. "What's the Planet going to report about Superman?"

"Why?" Perry asked, bluntly.

"I need to know. Only two other cops, you and I saw that situation in
the basement. My men have already agreed that they didn't see anything,
and we were careful to get Superman up here without witnesses, but if
the Planet reports it..."

"I haven't got the foggiest notion what you're talking about, Bill,"
Perry said. "I didn't see a thing."

The corners of Henderson's mouth twitched. "Right," he said. "Thanks,

"You're welcome." Perry glanced down the hallway. "Here come the
paramedics. I better let Lois and Superman know." He knocked lightly
on the study door. "Superman, the paramedics are here for Lois."

A short pause, then Superman opened the door.

"Thank you, Mr. White." He and Perry moved aside as the two medics
maneuvered their stretcher through the door.

Perry and Superman stood back while the paramedics checked Lois over and
then lifted her carefully onto the stretcher for transportation. As
they wheeled her out, Perry leaned over her.

"You gonna be okay, honey?"

"Yeah, I think so. Thanks for coming through, Perry. You really saved
the day."

"You're welcome," Perry said, for the second time in ten minutes. "I'm
going to have a talk with Terry first thing in the morning, and set him
straight on a few points."

Lois smiled faintly. "Just as well. You probably won't be as rough on
him as I would."

"Probably not," Perry said. "You get well, now."

As he moved back, Superman bent over her for a moment. "Thank you,
Lois. Take care of yourself."

"I will, Superman," she said.

The two paramedics wheeled her out.

Perry watched as they proceeded down the hall, then happened to glance
at Superman. The Kryptonian was watching Lois's progress as well, and
something in his expression caught Perry's attention. He'd thought at
first that Superman's treatment of Lois had been prompted by concern for
her, and by the friendship he'd never tried to hide for the Planet's
star reporter, but now he wasn't so sure. Perry was not unacquainted
with the ways of men and women, and he'd have been willing to bet his
last dollar at that moment that Superman's concern for Lois was prompted
by something far deeper than simple friendship. In fact, he'd seen
exactly that same expression very recently on someone else, in
connection with Lois.

He looked away quickly, before Superman noticed the fact that he was
staring, then back. It couldn't be, could it?

"Can I give you a lift anywhere, Superman?" he asked conversationally.

Superman hesitated, and Perry continued, "Henderson and I have already
talked about what we saw downstairs. We both agreed it didn't happen."

Superman smiled. "Thank you, Mr. White. I appreciate that."

He was listening more closely, now. Superman's voice was familiar--very
familiar--and not just because Perry had heard him speak on numerous
occasions. It was the voice of someone he knew well.

"I can drop you off at Kent's place if you like," he continued. "I know
he's a friend of yours."

"That would be nice of you, Mr. White," Superman said. "Thank you."

Polite to a fault, Perry thought. As always.

As they headed for the elevator together, Perry was thinking hard about
what he might have discovered. If it was true, Superman obviously
didn't want the rest of the world informed about what he did when he
wasn't in costume--which made a lot of sense from Perry's point of
view--but he would willingly wager a considerable sum of money on the
probability that Lois knew. Well in that case, as far as Perry White
was concerned, he hadn't learned a thing tonight. This could go in the
same "never happened" file as that mysterious, green-glowing cage in the
basement of Lex Tower. The paramedics who had carried Arianna Carlin
out might wonder about it, but he had no intention of enlightening them
or anyone else about its purpose. Metropolis and Perry, himself, owed
the Man of Steel far too much for him ever to wish the super-hero any
harm. Superman's secret was safe with him.

Clark would never need to know.


Christmas Eve at the Kent farmhouse was something new for Lois. The
living room was decorated with garlands and holly; a manger scene on a
side table sported old-fashioned china figures some of which, Lois saw,
had been broken at one time and carefully glued back together.

She was sitting in the big armchair in front of the brick fireplace, her
bandaged leg propped up on a footstool, and Clark had just brought in a
tray of eggnog.

The four of them had gone out earlier to secure the "perfect" Christmas
tree. Clark had assured her it was a Kent family tradition and even she
had to participate, and therefore Clark would undertake the "chore" of
transporting her in his arms, even though she assured him that she was
perfectly capable of walking on her own. Somehow, she thought he didn't
really regard it as a chore at all, judging by the wide smile on his
face the entire time.

When they'd gotten the tree home, the three Kents had proceeded to
decorate it, with Lois sitting back in the armchair offering advice, and
she was given the honor of placing the star at the top, courtesy of a
lift from Clark.

Dinner was sandwiches and salad, given that the big meal was for the
next day, and then Clark and Martha brought in crackers, cheeses and

Lois accepted the bright red mug with the pattern of green holly leaves
around it, and Clark passed the others around to his parents. He took
the last one himself and settled down in the chair next to Lois's. She
saw him glance at the fireplace, where the fire was beginning to die
down, and caught a flicker of red in his eyes. The flames blazed up
suddenly with a blast of warmth. He took a swallow from his mug. "The
dishes are done," he informed his mother.

"Thanks, Clark." Martha winked at Lois. "He's better than an automatic

"I can see that." She reached out and felt Clark clasp her hand.

"Is your leg comfortable, Lois?" Jonathan asked.

"It's fine," Lois said. "It's been five days now, and it's really
feeling much better."

"They repaired the muscle damage with surgery," Clark said. "She was in
the hospital for three days."

"Which," Lois said, "was the most boring three days of my life. At
least they tell me the scar will hardly show when it's all healed up."

"So," Martha said, "what's going to happen to those crazy women,

"Well," Clark said, "the double, Marie Durant, turned out to be wanted
for embezzlement, so she's going to be tried for that and for conspiracy
in Luthor's plan. Gretchen Kelly is charged with conspiracy and
attempted murder. Arianna..." He looked sober. "Arianna is still on
life support. She's not expected to recover. If she does, she'll be
tried for murder and attempted murder."

"And this St. John person?" Martha asked.

"I don't think there'll be any trouble there, either," Lois said. "It
turns out he was more than Lex's Mr. Belvedere. He was a member of Her
Majesty's Secret Service, gone bad. The British are very interested in
getting hold of him."

"I'll bet," Jonathan said. "I'm just glad it's over."

"What happened to the Kryptonite cage?" Martha asked. "I don't really
like the idea of it sitting around for anyone to take."

"It isn't," Clark said. "I understand Inspector Henderson got rid of
it. He didn't say exactly how, but I trust him. He's a good guy."

"It sounds like you have a friend there," Jonathan said.

"Superman has saved the lives of a lot of his men," Lois said. "He was
returning the favor." She added irrelevantly, "He even got my antique
jade ring back. He brought it to me while I was in the hospital. Marie
was wearing it when they caught her."

"Then I guess that settles that," Martha said, with an air of finality.

"I guess it does," Clark said. He smiled at Lois who returned the

In the days following Lex Luthor's suicide and the arrest of his
conspirators, Lois had found herself contemplating Clark whenever she
thought he wasn't looking. It had been he who saved her that horrible
evening. To save his life, it had been necessary to push herself to
lengths to which she might not have gone if the only life at stake had
been her own. She'd known he was willing to die for her; now she knew
the reverse was also true. But most of all, she knew beyond a doubt
that living without him wasn't something she would ever want to do.

Where had her apprehensions about marriage and commitment gone, she
wondered, and answered the question with the same thought. They had
vanished when she had discovered that the commitment had already been
made irrevocably, without her even realizing it. She would have to let
him know--soon--that he could ask her the question she knew very well he
wanted to ask, but had refrained from asking for her sake.

"Lois?" Clark asked. "Are you all right?"


"You kind of zoned out on me."

"Oh. I was thinking about something."

"If it was about some other guy, I think I'll be jealous," Clark said.

"You don't need to be," she said, and squeezed his hand firmly. "I was
just thinking that those things I told you, about commitment? I think
I've made up my mind."


She nodded. "Yeah."

Martha glanced quickly at her husband. "Jonathan, it's almost
nine-thirty and we have a big day tomorrow. I think it's about time we
turned in. Goodnight, kids."

Jonathan was already getting to his feet. "I didn't realize it was that
late. Goodnight, Lois. Goodnight, son."

The elder Kents retreated up the steps; Martha, Lois noticed, winked at
Clark as she went past, and had to smother a grin.

"Wow, that was fast," she said, when she heard the bedroom door close.

Clark smiled. "They know when something's important." He hesitated,
then seemed to gather his courage. "I know it hasn't been long,
Lois--but do you think you've gotten to know the real me well enough,

She nodded. "I think I did all along. I just didn't *know* that I

In a movement so fast she would have missed it if she had blinked at the
wrong time, he was out of the chair and on one knee before her. With
another blurringly fast motion, he produced a ring box and opened it,
revealing a gold ring with a glittering diamond. "In that case, do you
think you're ready to wear this, yet?"

"Clark! How long have you had that?"

He grinned. "I bought it back in October and I've been carrying it
around ever since--I figured if the chance came, I wanted to be ready."

She hesitated, searching his face. "Are you *sure* you want me, Clark?
I'm not the easiest person to get along with, you know. I'm prickly,
and pushy and obsessive, and..."

"And the only woman on the face of the earth I'd ever want to spend my
life with," he said. "I've been happier the last nine weeks than I've
ever been, and I want that to go on--if you think you can put up with me
and my weird double life. Do you think you can?"

For an instant the old doubts resurfaced, only to vanish in the light of
her new knowledge. She, too, had been happier over the past weeks than
she had ever been--not because Superman was in love with her, but
because Clark Kent was. Her country boy from Krypton was the man she
had never believed she would meet. If she told him she needed more
time, she knew he would give it to her. But she didn't.

"If you're sure, Clark, then I am, too," she said. "Your 'weird double
life' doesn't scare me because it's part of you, and you're who I love.
What scares me is the thought of being without you. I'd like to wear
your ring."

He slipped it onto her finger. Together they regarded it for a long
moment. At last Clark spoke.

"Merry Christmas, Lois."

"Merry Christmas, Clark," she replied.

The End.