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Normal Topic Rivals 3/? (Read 1539 times)
Miss Lois
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Rivals 3/?
Aug 11th, 2008 at 3:35pm
 
“Oh f**k,” Lois murmured.

Richard raised an eyebrow at her. Lois had been trying hard not to use bad language around Jason. For the most part she was successful, but occasionally one would slip out, especially if she was upset. He waited for her to continue.

“I drove him to her,” she said finally. “It’s my fault he’s over at the Star.”

“Lois, Clark’s a big boy,” Richard said. “He’s perfectly capable of making his own decisions.”

“Richard, you didn’t see him at the Press Club drooling over her. It was like he was a teenager and she was the prom queen who finally deigned to notice the class nerd.”

“That’s not exactly a flattering description of Clark, you know,” Richard managed to say. He wanted to laugh but didn’t dare. Clark was quiet, even shy, and his size contributed to the impression he was clumsy – an Irish Wolfhound looked clumsy inside a small house but when out in a field running through its paces, it was anything but. Plus Richard suspected that Clark carefully cultivated the clumsy image to make himself seem less threatening. That and the excessively polite Midwest boy demeanor added up to everyone underestimating him – especially Lois.

“Linda was there crooking her finger at him and it was like I was back in school again,” Lois told him. “Then he came over here to talk about it and I… I lost it, especially after he actually started arguing with me about… things.”

Richard’s eyes widened in surprise. “Clark actually argued with you?” he said in mock astonishment. “And you let him live?”

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Lois warned. “Clark is perfectly capable of defending himself. It’s just that most of the time he doesn’t bother.” She gave a little chuckle. “I’m a little surprised Perry never filled you in on the ‘Great Godzilla Chase’.”

Richard shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to tell her he had heard bits and pieces of the story over the years he’d been working as assistant editor. Enough that he probably did know most of the story, although he knew it wasn’t something anyone talked about where Lois could hear them.

“About a week after Superman appeared in the city,” Lois began, “everybody was looking for clues, hints, anything, about him. Where he lived, where he came from. We both know you’re only as good as your next story and Clark got the second exclusive interview with him. Clark also had a couple other things going and I had nothin’ for Perry. Everything I’d been working on had fallen through. I panicked and ‘borrowed’ one of Clark’s stories. Not one of my prouder moments.”

Richard listened, waiting for her to continue.

“He didn’t say anything to me or Perry,” she went on. “It was like he didn’t even notice. Then I caught wind that he knew where Superman’s spaceship was. I followed the clues and ended up at the main Metropolis Water Reclamation Facility. Have you any idea how easy it is to get lost in there, or how many mosquitoes and flying bugs there are in there?”

Richard had the sense to shake his head.

“What I found at ‘X marks the spot’ was a Godzilla doll with a Superman symbol painted on it and a note from Clark saying ‘next time, ask.’ I know Jimmy got at least one shot of me walking into the bullpen with that damned doll, looking like I’d spent a week in a swamp.”

“Clark Kent sent you on the…? That’s a part of the story I hadn’t heard. I never took him for a practical joker.”

Lois shook her head. “That’s just it. He isn’t. As far as I know, he’s never done anything like that to anybody else and if I hadn’t been so intent getting there first, using information I took from him… He also never told anybody what happened. Perry figured it out himself. He recognized the story I handed in as one Clark had been working on.”

“Needless to say, you never did anything like that to him again?” Richard said. What she had related showed a different side of Kent. One few people suspected.

She shrugged. “He got his point across.”

“So, why do you think he won’t be able to handle anything Linda King can throw at him?” Richard asked.

Lois folded her arms across her chest as if she was cold. It was a few moments before she spoke. “Richard, you don’t understand Clark. I know he’s covered wars, assassinations, the City beat. But he really is a Boy Scout at heart. That’s how he sees the world. He doesn’t understand evil. She’ll eat him alive.”

“That’s pretty harsh,” Richard commented.

“You don’t know Linda. The only reason she latched onto Clark is she saw us together, and she thinks…” Her voice trailed off.

“She thinks what, Lois?” he prompted.

“She thinks Jason is Clark’s son.”

“And why would she think that?” Richard asked. He suspected the answer. He knew Lois had been pregnant when they met. She hadn’t tried to hide the fact from him, although she never said a word to him, or anyone else, about who Jason’s natural father was.

“Because the entire bullpen thinks he is,” Lois answered. “Because the timing is right and Jason looks just like him. What more does there need to be?”

“Is he Jason’s father?”

She shook her head. “It might be easier for everybody if he was.”

Richard had nothing to say to that.

-o-o-o-


The next day was worse. It was becoming apparent that the ‘flu’ that had stricken the bullpen over that past week was spreading. The remaining staff was doing the best they could, but the Daily Planet was hemorrhaging its life away.

Even Jimmy knew it. The Star was killing them by inches.

Lois walked into Perry’s office. More aggravation for an already dismal morning.

“More people have bailed?” she asked.

He shrugged but didn’t look up from what he was reading. “I can’t blame them,” he said after a moment.

“What about loyalty? What about going down with the ship?” she asked.

“That's for captains. That's why I'm still here.”

“How can you be so calm?”

“What's my choice?” he asked, finally looking up at her standing across from him.

“Well, since I've worked here, I've seen you scream, throw things, you even put your fist through the conference room wall once,” she reminded him.

He suppressed the urge to rub the knuckles of his right hand. The bones he’d cracked that day still ached when the weather got cold and damp – like it was today.

“All we can do is keep doing what we're supposed to be doing,” he told her. He picked up the assignment sheet and glanced at it. “Now according to this, what you're supposed to be doing is covering the Orani Jewels that the Ambassador of Omir's presenting to Secretary Wallace as a lovely parting gift.”

“That's the best we've got?” Lois asked.

He had to agree with her. It wasn’t much.

“No. The best we've got is the editor of the Daily Planet hanging from the top of the Global Trade building in a gorilla suit. But my costume hasn't arrived yet.  I'll page you when it does,” he told her. He was only half joking. “Now, go on. It'll be okay. Trust me.”

“That's what Clark said,” she replied. Perry watched after her as she walked out of his office. Richard came out of his own office to talk to her. Her shoulders were hunched and whatever Richard was saying wasn’t helping. After a brief conversation, Lois grabbed her coat, notepad, and purse and left the bullpen.

-o-o-o-


The Omir Consulate was in an ugly stone building in Midtown. Clark dutifully trailed Linda King into the building. A guard directed them to a large open room. Along the far wall was a dais with a microphone, rows of folding chairs and a table or case covered with a heavy cloth.

“Um, you’re sure you don't mind me suggesting to Carpenter that he team us up?” Clark asked his companion.

Linda gave him a sensuous smile. “I'm just mad I didn't suggest it first.”

They walked along the back wall of the room. A large bronze statue of an armored horseman dominated that part of the room.

Linda eyed it skeptically. “I'm glad that's not in my living room.”

Clark peered at it. “Actually, it's a 14th century Dibai. Very…”

He was interrupted by Linda’s cell phone ringing. She flipped it open. “King... Right, we're here. Main room... Bye.”

“Carpenter,” she explained as she closed her phone and dropped it back into her pocket.

“He really keeps close tabs on you, doesn't he?” Clark asked.

An odd look crossed her face. She looked around as if to make sure no one was listening. “Clark, if I tell you something, you have to keep this to yourself.”

“Oh, sure. Absolutely,” he agreed. He’d been hoping she would feel comfortable enough with him to open up. He hadn’t expected it to be so soon.

“He's been hitting on me,” she told him.

“Oh.” He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice. It hadn’t been the revelation he’d been hoping to hear.

“Don't worry. I only have eyes for you,” she assured him. He wasn’t reassured.

On the opposite side of the room the double doors opened and Secretary Wallace, one of his aides and the Omiri ambassador walked in, followed by guards and other members of the press. Lois was there. Clark tried to catch her eye but she looked the other way.

Linda seemed to detect his attempt to get Lois’s attention. “Forget it, Clark. Lois has never been a good loser. Just move on.”

Secretary Wallace stepped up to the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Ambassador and myself will be happy to answer a few questions before the unveiling.”

Clark raised his hand. “Mister Secretary, Clark Kent, Metropolis Star. What do you think…?”

Lois cut him off. “Mister Secretary, Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Is it true…?”

Linda glared at the dark-haired woman. “Excuse me! But I believe Mister Kent was asking a question.”

“Mister Kent can speak for himself,” Lois retorted.

“Maybe. Except he's gotten so used to you doing it for him,” Linda spat.

On the dais, Wallace simply looked bewildered. Clark closed his eyes in frustration. Lois had turned to address Linda directly.

“Hypocrite,” Lois shouted.

“Me? You sure can dish it out but you can't take it,” Linda shot back.

“Oh, get off your high horse!”

“And get down in the gutter with you?”

Under the yelling, Clark heard another sound – one that certainly didn’t belong at a news conference – the mechanical clicks of ammunition being loaded into guns. He opened his eyes and examined the adjacent rooms, backing away from Linda as if to distance himself from the two women’s argument.

Up front, Wallace was shouting for order. Lois and Linda didn’t seem to hear him.

“Ladies, please! Please! No questions. That's it…” Wallace finally yelled. That got Lois and Linda’s attention. They both stopped yelling but they still glared at one another.

Clark ignored them as he spotted three masked and armed men in a storage room that opened onto the room they were in.

“Let's get to the real reason we're here, the ceremonial exchange from the Kingdom of Omir to the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, the gift from the Ambassador of Omir –
the Orani Jewels,” Wallace was saying.

A quick blast of super-breath tipped over the statue so that it blocked the storage room door. The crowd turned at the crash. Clark took advantage of the confusion to approach one of the uniformed guards.

“There are three armed men behind that door,” Clark told him. “You might want to, um, call the police,” he suggested quietly.

“And how…?” the guard asked. There was the sound of pounding from inside the storage room. The guard pulled out his cell phone.

Satisfied, Clark looked around to locate Linda. She was glowering Lois. Lois, on the other hand, was watching him, one eyebrow arched in suspicion.

-o-o-o-


“Richard, something is going on and I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” Lois insisted as she steered her car to Clark Kent’s apartment that evening. She hadn’t been able to catch up with Clark after the debacle at the news conference and writing up the story on the mysteriously foiled attack at the consulate had taken up her afternoon.

“Lois, Clark doesn’t work for the Planet any more,” Richard reminded her. She wasn’t buying it. She had seen Clark talking to the guard only minutes before the police showed up to take custody of the three armed men who had been hiding in the storage room. And then there was the matter of the bronze statue that had mysteriously fallen to block the door. Something had knocked it over and it wasn’t an earthquake or the building settling – a quick call to Met U’s geology department had confirmed that for her.

That left only one possibility. Superman had knocked over the statue and hadn’t wanted his presence known. But he had let Clark know what was going on.

She found a parking space near Clark’s building and pulled in.

“Jason and I can wait here,” Richard offered, indicating the coffee shop next to the natural food grocery that filled the ground floor of Clark’s building.

Lois nodded. “This shouldn’t take too long,” she promised.

Clark’s apartment was on the top floor of the converted warehouse in a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. Trendy coffee shops and ethnic restaurants rubbed shoulders with pawn shops and triple-X theaters. Hookers stood on the corner, heckling preppie shoppers looking for a deal, or simply going home to their lofts.

Lois knocked hard on Clark’s door. After a moment, the door opened. Clark was standing there in worn jeans, Reeboks, and a flannel shirt, blinking owl-like at her.

She breezed past him. “All right, Clark. You can run, but you can't hide. What's going on?”

Clark regarded her warily. “What do you mean, 'What's going on?'”

“Don't give me the innocent act,” she warned.

“Me?” He gave her another wide-eyed, innocent look. She didn’t buy it, anymore than she bought the same look when Jason tried it.

“So, that's how you're going to play this, huh?” she asked, looking around the main room of his apartment. It was sparsely furnished – a low table on an oriental rug, an Ekornes chair and ottoman in burgundy, and a low cabinet with a small stereo system. The walls were covered with tall bookshelves and native art. On one end was a loft with a sleep area, accessed by a steep flight of steps. She didn’t see a television.

“Oh, I get it. She's here, isn't she? You can't talk because she's here.” She raised her voice. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

There was no place to hide in the main area. Lois threw open the louvered door to the kitchen – nothing. She ran up the steps to the loft, Clark on her heels.

“Lois, what are you doing?” Clark was asking.

“Where is she?” Lois demanded.

“Where is who?”

She didn’t answer his question, opening the wardrobe and shoving aside the neatly hung suits, then slamming open the door to the bathroom. She was startled to find a familiar figure hiding in Clark’s bathroom.

“Perry?”

The older man stepped out of the bathroom, watching her beneath brindled eyebrows. She looked between the two men, trying to make sense of what she’d found.

“Either this is a lot sicker than I thought, or it's not what I thought. Which is it?” she demanded.

She caught the guilty look that passed between them. “Well?” she prompted.

“Clark's been working undercover at the Star,” Perry said quietly.

It was like a weight had been lifted. “Of course!” She looked to Clark. “You couldn't possibly be ready to throw away everything you’ve worked for… for Linda King.”

“You're right about that,” Clark admitted. He nodded to the stairs. “It’s more comfortable downstairs.”

Lois followed Clark and Perry back to the main floor.

“So talk,” she demanded once Perry was settled into the one chair. Clark was sitting on the corner of the table.

“Those accidents aren't accidents,” Clark said. “The arson fire that Linda happened to be at. The elevator that failed catastrophically during lunch. There was even supposed to be a heist of the Orani jewels.”

Lois nodded. She knew all that. She’d been pestering the fire marshal’s office all week for details on the Metropolitan arson fire. And she was the one who called the Orani consulate story into the Planet.

“We thought they might be staging crimes just to scoop us,” Perry explained. “So we staged Kent's defection.”

“You could have told me!” Lois protested.

“My idea,” Perry explained. “You seem to be personally involved here. I didn't want to risk it.”

“You mean I've been going through all this hell for nothing?” Lois demanded.

“What do you mean?” Clark asked.  He seemed bewildered. Perry was just watching her, eyes narrowed.

“Forget it,” Lois said. The last thing she wanted was for Perry to suspect her reaction to Clark’s ‘defection’ was anything but professional concern, especially since she couldn’t explain her reaction to herself. “So, Linda is in this up to her surgically sculpted chin?”

“I don't think so,” Clark said. “I mean, I thought that was it, that's why I wanted to get partnered with her. But I think she's out of the loop, at least on this.”

“What do you mean?” Perry asked. He leaned forward in the chair, elbows on knees.

“She was as surprised as anyone when the elevator failed. And she certainly wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary at the consulate. But… Linda King worked as a writer and researcher for ‘Top Copy’ before being wooed by Carpenter to come to the Star,” Clark said. “My FBI contacts tell me she’s a ‘person of interest’ in a series of unsolved murders all over the country.”

“A serial killer?” Perry asked.

“A hired assassin,” Clark told them. “Key witnesses against Intergang and other organized crime syndicates have been killed or have vanished in cities where she was doing work for the show. And one of the few surviving witnesses said the assassin was a tall woman. Linda fits that description, but so do a few other people there, including Diana Stride.”

Lois was familiar with ‘Top Copy’ and Diana Stride. Stride was the stunning star of the television version of ‘The Whisper’ tabloid, hunting down celebrities from all walks and exposing their secrets on air. Lois occasionally watched the show for laughs, but the lack of journalistic integrity annoyed her. It didn’t surprise her to find out that Linda had worked for Stride.

“What do we do now?” Lois asked.

“Well, now that you know, the two of you might as well start working this together,” Perry told them. “That is, if you think you still can.”

“Chief, I'm fine,” Lois assured him. “It's Clark who turns to mush whenever he's around her.”

“Me?” Clark protested. “You're the one who fell into the black hole the minute you heard she was in town.”

“Don't exaggerate,” Lois warned. She pitched her voice high, mimicking Linda. “'Clark, can you walk me to the subway?'”

“I was just being polite,” Clark reminded her. “Besides, why are you mad at me? We were just partners. I could understand it if it was Richard who…”

“Richard has better taste than to fall for a bleached blonde floozy,” Lois retorted. “You'd fly her to the moon if you could.”

“Are you two sure you’re going to be okay together?” Perry asked. His eyebrows were pulled together in concern.

“I promise not to hurt him, okay?” Lois said. Perry seemed to relax and she caught his amused grin as he headed for the door. “Uh, Perry, Richard and Jason are down in the coffee shop,” Lois added. “Would you tell them I’ll take a cab home.”

Perry nodded, but his grin seemed to slip just a little and the worry was back.

“This shouldn’t take too long,” she assured him.

Perry nodded again and left her alone with Clark, but she knew he had some reservations about the situation. The gossips would have a field day if they knew she was alone with Clark and had sent Richard and Jason home.

“Want some coffee?” Clark asked.

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble,” he assured her, disappearing into the kitchen.

She took the opportunity to check out his private library. Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Stewart, Clancy, Greeley, Aristotle, Dante, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, both in their original languages and translations. History, literature, science, politics, religion. There was even a copy of Perry White’s Reports from the Ground.

Interspersed with the books was small artwork from various places, no doubt picked up during his travels, and a few family photographs. She picked up one in a silver frame – a weather beaten couple with a young dark-haired boy. The boy bore an uncanny resemblance to Jason.

“I was about Jason’s age when that was taken,” Clark said from just behind her. She hadn’t heard him come back into the room.

“They look like they were nice people,” she said, setting the photo back in its place.

“They were,” Clark said. He handed her a cup and she accepted it. She took a sip of the hot brew and was pleased to find that Clark had prepared it exactly the way she liked it. Even Richard didn’t have that knack, despite living with her for four years. She suspected the coffee was fully caffeinated as well. Richard had tried to wean her from the stimulant – he felt it made her too jumpy and unable to sleep. She suspected Clark actually preferred her a little on edge.

She spotted another framed photo. One of her and Clark together. She was in a pale pink suit with a wide-brimmed hat. He was in a tan suit with a pink boutonniere. They were both grinning sheepishly at the camera. She stared at it a long moment, trying to remember when it had been taken. The background indicated they were in the newsroom.

Lois had a vague memory of it. She’d been arguing with Clark over something inconsequential  - at least she thought it was inconsequential - and Perry had called them into his office.

“Listen. If you two want to bicker, that's great, because I got just the assignment for you,” Perry had interrupted them. “You're going to pose as a honeymoon couple in Niagara Falls to get an expose of the newlywed racket. Some of the hotels up there are bilking these kids for every cent they can get. Real human interest stuff. Your Aunt Edna'll cry her eyes out.”

Clark had been horrified. “Newlyweds? Us?”

“That's a great idea, Chief,” Lois had told him. She had been ecstatic over the prospect but now she couldn’t remember why.

Jimmy had taken a photo just before they left for the Honeymoon Haven wearing the wedding rings that Perry had provided them.

“What happened that weekend, Clark?” Lois asked. She looked up at him, half expecting to see a mystified expression indicating nothing had happened, that he had no idea what she was asking about. Instead, he refused to meet her eyes.

“I think we need to get working if you’re going to get home at a reasonable time,” Clark said, not answering her question.

She wasn’t going to be put off. “You kept a copy of this picture,” she pointed out. “We went to Niagara Falls together on assignment. Only I don’t actually remember going to Niagara Falls with you or anyone else. And you took off on your trip to wherever only a few weeks later. What happened?”

“Lois, I don’t think that now is the time to be discussing this,” Clark told her. There was an oddly familiar, un-Clark-like, sternness in his tone.

“Clark, what happened?” she demanded.

He sighed, looking off into the distance. “Superman happened.”
« Last Edit: Sep 2nd, 2020 at 2:05pm by Head Librarian »  

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