Chapter 3: Double Image
Lois tossed a twenty dollar bill at the cabbie, not waiting for a response. She pelted down the street in her running shoes, simultaneously tucking her high heels into her shoulder bag.
“Lois!” Jimmy called in a high-pitched voice behind her. But she was focusing solely on getting to the site of the building collapse before Superman flew away. Jimmy would catch up; he should be used to that by now.
She reached the edges of the crowd of onlookers and began to thread her way through the mass. “Excuse me. Lois Lane. Daily Planet,” she repeated like a bad recording, until she broke out of the front of the crowd.
A uniformed officer held out a hand to stop her. Her gaze traveled from the man’s unyielding palm, to his strong arm, bulbous nose and stern gray eyes. “Stay back, miss. Let the rescue workers do their job.” Behind him, firefighters struggled to put out several fires that had started when a gas main had broken.
She held up the press pass clipped to her bag expectantly. “Lois Lane, Daily Planet.”
He gave her a blank, unimpressed look. “And?”
Her eyebrows rose. “And?” Just her luck to run into the one schmo on the force who didn’t know her. “And…” At that moment, Jimmy pushed out of the crowd, puffing, freckled face red. “My photographer and I know Superman. He’ll want us to cover the story.”
At the mention of Superman, his eyebrows rose in competition with hers.
“It’s true, officer. Miss Lane is practically his…” Jimmy gulped, swallowing whatever he had been about to say. She shot him an annoyed glare, and he continued, “…his press liaison. And one of his best friends.”
She was about to turn on the Lane charm, when another, older officer came to back up his partner. “Joe? What’s the problem here?” He then noticed who was in the middle of the ruckus, and a look of recognition came over his weathered brown face. “Oh, Miss Lane. I should have realized that if Superman were around, you wouldn’t be far behind.”
“She was claiming to know Superman, Bishop,” Officer Joe explained unsympathetically.
“Oh, she knows him, all right…” the older cop began.
What was the man implying? Jimmy suddenly looked everywhere but at her.
Officer Bishop’s eyes turned kinder at her offended face. “Don’t mind him, Miss Lane,” he apologized, indicating the younger policeman. “He transferred here from Gotham P.D. a few months ago. I’m sure he doesn’t know how famous you are when it comes to the big guy.”
During the entire conversation, Lois had been trying to keep track of Superman’s movements out of the corner of her eye. This misunderstanding was costing her precious time. But she managed a polite, “May I go through?”
They conferred with a look, and then waved Lois and Jimmy past the barricade.
She scanned the windows and the sky for signs of Superman, having lost track of him. The sound of Jimmy’s shutter filled her ears. Should I call out for him? No, she decided. She could hardly expect him to drop everything… but that didn‘t stop her from wanting him to. “Superman,” she whispered, so low that she could barely hear it herself. “We need to talk.”
As if by magic, he appeared at an opening in the damaged wall. His powerful form was backlit by red flame. Impervious to the heat, he regarded her a long moment. She could clearly sense the regret he felt, but he knew as well as she did that his place was continuing to assist the rescue efforts.
For a suspended instant, although it must have only been seconds, the image of him, tall and proud in his blue and red uniform, surrounded by a red glow, was evoking that strangely familiar feeling again. Where had she seen this picture before? A double image superimposed upon her field of vision, and he seemed to split in half… she blinked rapidly, trying to clear her eyes.
Time sped back up to normal. The superhero nodded imperceptibly to the both of them, and then he was gone again. Turning to Jimmy, she saw he was completely engrossed in snapping photos. “The Chief is going to love these!” he declared in a delighted squeak.
She was still waiting an hour later, when the last of the survivors were pulled from the rubble. Superman had long since put out all of the fires, and had mainly been involved in flying survivors to hospitals for the last fifteen minutes. The devastation was extensive. A busy office building in the middle of the morning?... she guessed that hundreds of people were involved.
At last, Superman rose above the destruction, hovering in mid-air as if he were sending his senses out all around him, and preparing to fly away. But before he did, he caught her eyes again, as if to say, I will come find you later. Then he zoomed away in a blur.
Frustrated, she turned to Jimmy, voice even more clipped than usual. “Did you try him again?”
“I’ve left five voice mail messages, Lois. Clark must have forgotten to turn it on this morning.”
“Well, he’s just going to have to catch up to us later.” Lois started off down the street toward the fire inspector. “I mean, what kind of reporter leaves his cell phone off––” she grumbled, but all at once Clark’s voice cut in behind her.
“I got here as quickly as I could,” he explained sheepishly. “The traffic was terrible… and my cell phone battery seems to be dead.”
“You missed it again, Clark!” Jimmy told him excitedly. It’s like he never left. Superman, I mean.”
“Well, I caught him on TV before I headed over here. They told me at the Planet where you guys had run off to. It was pretty busy around here, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, you know it. He got it done in a fraction of the time…”
Their conversation faded behind her as she walked directly up to the fire inspector. “Excuse me. Lois Lane, Daily Planet,” she introduced herself. “What do you think caused this building to collapse?” She held her notepad ready.
He glanced at her just long enough to see that she was indeed who she said she was, and replied, still making notes on a clipboard, “It was probably weakened by the earthquake a few days ago.” Well, that wasn‘t anything that anyone could have figured out for themselves… she pinned him with an incredulous stare. His lips turned up in a small grin. He took off his yellow hard hat and ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair. “But off the record?”
“Yes?” She put her notepad by her side.
“A building this new should have been able to withstand a quake of even that magnitude. We’ll be checking it out over the next few days.”
Jimmy and Clark came to hover over her shoulder as she talked to the inspector, hearing only that last bit. She noticed Clark turn and gaze fixedly at the building, scanning from bottom to top. “I wonder if the building materials were substandard…” he posited.
“As far as I can tell, it was built to code… but you know contractors, anything to save a few bucks,” the inspector snorted in derision.
“Do you mind if I contact you for the results of your report?” she asked the man. As he handed her a business card, she tilted her head sideways at Clark. Something about the way he had examined the building… she shook her head. He had posed a valid question. Yes, Clark Kent was a bit flighty and unreliable, but he had always had good insights.
The three of them walked toward the main thoroughfare, to try to catch a cab. It was nearly lunchtime – it was going to be difficult to find an available taxi. But just the thought of lunch made her stomach rumble.
“Hey, guys, what do you say we grab some lunch before heading back to the Planet? I could sure go for a–”
“A hotdog?” Clark finished for her.
She looked at him in surprise. “Yes. How’d you know?”
Clark was embarrassed. “I seem to remember you liked them…”
“That sounds great!” Jimmy interjected. “I know a terrific diner not far from here. Come on!”
“Sounds good to me,” she agreed. But Clark was just standing there, with a strange expression on his face. “You coming?” she coaxed.
He shook himself from his trance. “Uh, yeah, sure.”
For a moment she had that sensation again. What is wrong with me? she thought, and hurried to catch her two co-workers.
Next: Chapter 4: Lunch