Lois took each step down to the newsroom floor almost mechanically, as Richard’s words rang in her ears. How much pain could one man take? The easy-going man she had once fallen for had slowly undergone a transformation in the last few weeks.
“I need to process this on my own.”
Lois cringed mentally at the memory of the pain in Richard's voice. From the moment Superman had reappeared in all of their lives, Richard’s life had been turned upside down. Ironically, her fiancé had once been an admirer of Superman, but the moment he saw the tension in Lois over the superhero’s return, he had known something was wrong. She sighed. Why did I ever think I could gloss over my feelings for Superman?
“It’s too much…”
Lois had watched him move slowly through curiosity, suspicion, jealousy, hurt and anger. He had changed from the man with a ready smile and even temper to the broken man alone on the roof. Bitter self-recriminations arose from deep within and took hold of her mind. And it’s all my fault! Why couldn’t I be honest with him? With myself?
Only a few steps left to the access door. She stopped and took a deep breath, trying to calm her shaky nerves, to steady her trembling hands. Richard is a man of his word. He won’t tell anyone, I’m sure of it. Despite her surety, for an instant, she worried that in his emotional state, he might let something slip… Deliberately, Lois put the thought out of her mind. The only thing she and Clark could do now was to trust that they had made the right decision.
“It’s too much…”
Lois shook her head. How much of Richard’s pain will wash over onto Jason? The last thing she would want is for the tension between the three of them to get so bad that Richard might feel the need to leave town. It’s going to be hard enough on Jason as it is…
A rain of photographs whizzed through the air, one striking her forehead. “Oh! Miss Lane! I’m so sorry!” Jimmy immediately bent down to gather up the prints that had fluttered everywhere like snow.
“No, I’m sorry, Jimmy… let me help with those.”
Jimmy gave her a grateful look as she handed him a few photos. “Thanks.” His eyes moved away as he asked, “Have you seen Richard?”
Her hands paused. Briefly, but just enough that Jimmy stopped what he was doing to look back up at her. “He’s… on the roof…” Lois told him, giving him the last of the photographs as they stood, “…but I wouldn’t bother him right now.” Lois searched for a reason to give Jimmy, one that would make sense…
Jimmy’s gaze drifted to the access door, sad comprehension dawning on his face. “Oh… He’s not taking it well, is he?”
Lois’ eyes widened in surprise and terror. “What are you—”
Jimmy suddenly blushed crimson. “Oh! No. I’m sorry, Miss Lane… it’s none of my business…” He began to walk away quickly, but Lois caught him by the arm in a firm grasp.
“No, Jimmy, go on – I want to hear this.” She let go slowly, when she was sure he wouldn’t flee like a rabbit. She kept a no-nonsense expression on her face, even though even though her heart was filling with a strong sense of foreboding…
“Um… well. It just seemed like the last couple weeks have been… really tough on you guys.” Jimmy shifted nervously, unable to meet her eyes. “But it really seemed to get worse… right after Mr. White put you and Clark together on the construction story… as a team again.” He stopped, swallowed, and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but under the terrible Miss Lane’s thumb.
Lois tried to soften her voice – not an easy task. “I’m not going to bite your head off…” Jimmy gave her a disbelieving look. “Really. Go on.”
Whether he actually believed her, or whether the fear of evisceration drove him forward, she couldn’t tell. But he did go on, lowering his voice. “Everyone around the office has been talking about how things have… cooled… between you and Mr. White.”
Lois felt a flash of embarrassed anger. They have? Busybodies! Aren’t there more important stories to cover than my personal life? But she bit back that bit of vitriol. Maybe Clark was rubbing off on her.
Instead, she just nodded, unable to dim her flashing eyes.
“They, um, think you guys might be breaking up… because of Superman. A—And then this morning, when you two walked in, it was really obvious that something was really wrong.”
She let out a sigh of exasperation. What the hell am I going to do now? It’s bad enough that I was worried that Richard would figure out the whole thing, but now Jimmy…? And apparently the whole office…?
But before she could defend herself, Jimmy jumped in. “But I don’t think that, Miss Lane! Th—That it’s Superman, I mean…” he told her with pleading eyes. Then he faltered as he added, “Well, I might have right after he first returned…”
A sharp look caused him to stumble further into his explanation. “But they’ve got it all wrong, don’t they?” He looked again at the access door, where Richard had still not exited, “I saw the three of you go upstairs… and I knew I was right.”
“Right about what?” She tried not to swallow nervously.
“It’s… Clark, isn’t it? He’s… come between you.” Jimmy began to study his shoes, bowtie riding up into his chin.
She could feel her pulse begin to race. Oh, my God… he has! He’s made the connection…
At these words, Lois couldn't avoid swallowing any longer. “So you’ve figured out…” It was hard to continue. Two of these revelations in an hour? How could she face Clark later?
A sly grin, barely controlled, stole over Jimmy’s face. “Yeah… I don’t think anyone else has, though. But I’m like… Clark’s best friend. I notice things. I think I was the only one who really missed him when he was gone…” He tried to give Lois a chiding glance, but retreated immediately, possibly out of fear for her reaction. But she let him continue, passive on the outside, churning on the inside. “He’s seemed really different the last few days. Happier, more confident. And then there were those little touches you were giving each other when you thought no one else was looking…” He stopped, embarrassed.
Lois had the grace to look embarrassed as well.
“And as much as I like Mr. White…” Jimmy’s voice lowered conspiratorially, “…I’m really glad to see Clark get the girl he’s always wanted. If a regular guy like him can find love with someone like you, then there’s hope for the rest of us.”
Astonished and relieved, all Lois could do was smile. “It was about time, wasn’t it?”
Jimmy’s smile spread even wider, pleased that he had been right about her relationship with Clark. “Past time, if you ask me. I think he’s probably been in love with you since the moment he first laid eyes on you. ” Then his face clouded. “But Jason…”
“He doesn’t know yet. We’re all hoping to break it to him gently… when everyone is thinking more clearly.” Lois gave Jimmy a searching look, entreaty shining in her eyes.
Jimmy returned her gaze, suddenly more serious than she had ever seen him. “Don’t worry, Miss Lane. I won’t say anything – not to anyone. It’s not really my business, anyway.” He started to go, but added quietly before heading away, “I’m really happy for the both of you.”
Lois watched his retreating back, a disbelieving smile on her face. Clark Kent had been all but invisible to most people, including herself for a very long time. In fact, she knew that he had very consciously cultivated his image. But Jimmy Olsen was totally immune, it seemed. I’ll have to warn Clark to be careful around Jimmy in the future… although there’s probably no truer, more loyal soul than Jimmy in the whole world…
It was time to get back to work – it had always been the best cure for her overactive mind. She had about an hour before she needed to leave to pick up Jason, and hopefully that would be enough time to do some research into Robinson and Sons. Walking quickly to her desk to sit in front of her computer, she brought up the Planet’s search engine.
Nothing much caught her eye in the first few pages of results. There was a small mention here or there in publicity items regarding building projects in the last few years. Again, almost always related to something handled by L & V Construction. She went back farther… and struck pay dirt.
Grinning triumphantly, she began to read a cluster of articles featuring Robinson and Sons from nine years ago. The first article detailed a lawsuit filed against them by an architectural firm. What might have been a small story heated up quickly as allegations leaked out about poor business practices.
The final article ended the trail. The two companies settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. The records were sealed, and there was no other mention of the details. I bet the key players were paid off for their silence… she mused.
Switching away from the Planet’s in-house database, she moved to a more general internet search. Her eyes caught on the headline, “Robinson & Sons Declares Bankruptcy: Business Hopes To Be Forgiven But Not Forgotten.”
Lois sat in her chair and stared at her computer monitor in disbelief for just a moment. What would L & V want anything to do with a company that was so clearly on the rocks, so near to going under due in great part to its serious inability to function by the book? This made no sense to her. On a whim, she typed in the words ‘Robinson Mitchener’ and struck the ‘enter’ key. She knew this would be fruitless – she’d be better off playing a few rounds of Minesweeper, yet… Huh, Lois thought, intrigued at what had appeared on-screen. Now that’s interesting…
Her first click led her to a web photo gallery of a chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha. The names were listed below a fifteen-year-old group photo of the Class of 1991. At the center, Philip Mitchener smiled charmingly for the camera, arms around the frat brothers to either side of him. On the right side of the back row stood Chase Robinson. He appeared to be trying to pull off the cocky, son-of-a-gun attitude of a frat boy, but Lois thought she could see overconfidence masking insecurity in the young man. So the two of them had more of a connection than just business… how close had they really been?
She glanced again at the clock. She really needed to be leaving to pick up Jason in a few minutes. If she had to bear the teacher’s long-suffering look one more time… She saved a screen capture of the page to her hard drive, logged off, grabbed her purse from the drawer and began to pack it.
Suddenly her cell phone blared the general ringtone, and she lifted it with a puzzled frown. Who could be calling that she didn’t know? She didn’t recognize the number, either…
“Lois Lane?” a male voice asked politely.
“Who is this?” she asked impatiently, looking again at the clock.
“Uh… you left a voice mail for me yesterday. This is Jeff Leyden. You were writing an article or something…?”
Leyden… Leyden… Lois searched her very scattered thoughts for his name. She took a breath to BS her way into more information…
“About the deputy mayor, right?”
Ah… Lois had completely forgotten about those calls she had made Thursday afternoon in the wake of all the drama with Richard, Jason and Clark. Leyden was one of the names connected to Mitchener during his time in college. If he’d only called three minutes ago, before I logged off… She retyped her password as she grabbed her notebook and pencil. “Oh, yes, thanks for returning my call. I’m writing a feature article on Mr. Mitchener for the Business Section, and I wanted to get some background information,” she answered smoothly. “Do you have a few minutes?” She began to scribble at the top of the notepad: ‘Mich. Frend Laidan’
“Sure… anything for old Vic.”
“Excuse me?” Her pencil stopped in mid-scribble.
“Oh…” Leyden cleared his throat, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. Philip’s nickname in college was ‘Vic.’ He probably doesn’t use that anymore, huh?”
“It’s not public knowledge anyway… so… Vic. Is that short for Victor?” She wrote ‘Vic’ on the notepad, thinking, Maybe this is where the ‘V’ of L & V comes from?
“Ah… it might be… I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. The other guys used to joke that it stood for ‘Victory’… The guy never seemed to fail at anything he tried. Nicest guy you’d ever meet though. You have met him, right?”
Feeling a twinge of guilt, Lois pressed her lips together before answering. “Yes. My partner and I interviewed him a few days ago.” At that moment, the computer finally finished its boot-up process and, firmly quelling her guilty conscience, she rapidly began clicking through the folders for the fraternity photo of Mitchener. “Tell me, Mr. Leyden. Was Mr. Mitchener interested in politics when you knew him back in college?”
“I don’t remember him talking about it… We all just assumed he’d go into one of the family businesses. But I’m not surprised. Vi—I mean Philip… could make anyone come around to his point of view. Whatever the subject was.”
Lois now had the photo in front of her. She spotted Leyden standing a few slots away from Mitchener, a broad, fair-haired jock with an amiable face. His jovial smile didn’t seem forced… but he also didn’t seem to be part of the ‘inner circle’ – if she was reading the body language of the group correctly. “Were the two of you close?”
“Close? Oh, yeah! Well… I mean, as close as you could ever get to Philip. Everyone liked him, spent time with him. He was kind of the leader of the frat house our senior year. I don’t know if anyone was really his best friend or anything…”
Lois peered at the photo again, to the two young men Mitchener had his arms around. Reading from the caption, she asked, “Not even Michael Patton or Charles Haak?”
“Mike and Chip? Not that I remember…”
Lois tried another tactic. “Do you still keep in touch these days?”
“I hear from him every once in a while. We're all planning to go to the 15-year reunion next month. I know that he’s helped some of the other guys out. He was always doing stuff like that. He co-signed for a car for Greg, put in a good word for jobs with his family, helped Robbie out of the mess he made with his business, went in with Morgan on that land deal…”
As Leyden spoke, Lois’ eyes jumped around the photo, picking out the names and faces of the people he was mentioning, writing each down as a possible contact. ‘Greg, Robby, Morgan – help.’ Then she noticed. There was no Robert listed, no Rob, no Robin… only Chase Robinson… “Robbie?” she asked nonchalantly.
“Oh, sorry, I keep doing that… Chase Robinson went by ‘Robbie’ back then.”
“Now I understand, thank you.” She circled ‘Robby’ on the notepad, adding ‘Bankrupsy’ to the left with an arrow to connect them. So Mitchener had gone out of his way to help Robinson and Sons get back on their feet? A noble act – but one that could tarnish his own reputation in the process. A real stand-up guy… so why couldn’t she shake her feelings of unease about him?
“Oh, and I almost forgot. He went and visited Davis at least once a month when he was in prison.” Lois’ eyes jumped to Davis Tandy, a young man with a decidedly feral look on his Ivy League face. “Vic never let you down. You should put that into your article…”
“I certainly will…” She quickly clicked over to her internet search engine, carefully typing in ‘Davis Tandy’ and ‘prison’ - just hoping her spelling skills were better today… An article came up right away: ‘Tandy sentenced to 6 ½ years for bank robbery.’ She added Davis Tandy’s name to the list, with a note about prison, as Leyden continued to talk.
Lois looked up at the clock again. Oh, crap! I’m going to be late again! She was about to thank Leyden and end the call, when he added: “He never believed Davis was really guilty. But you couldn’t have gotten me within 10 miles of that prison.”
A tingling sensation came over her. “Why is that?” she asked as casually as she dared.
“Are you kidding? I heard that place is full of wackos. Davis was lucky to get out in one piece. I think even Lex Luthor was being kept there at the same time…”
Her eyes went wide as her fingers tightened around her pencil to scratch out ‘L.L.’ in bold letters. Had she just found both the L and the V of L & V?
Special thanks to bistyboo1974 for helping me get over my writer's block in the middle of the chapter! And I am always indebted to betty brant, mark_clark and jenna_knight Next: Chapter 30: Follow-Up