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A/N: A bit of trivia for you all. Way back when I was outlining Chapter 10, as I was discussing some point with one of my betas, I told her I thought this story would be about 15-20 chapters long. She said she hoped it would reach AT LEAST 30 chapters… And I responded (a direct quote from the email):
“OMG.... 30.... I will barely make it to 15 without imploding.... lol. I can promise you, 30 is nigh impossible for me. Let's say 15-20 for now. *tries not to hyperventilate* Where’s that damn inhaler?!?”
So I have reached this unbelievable number of chapters (at least unbelievable back then) – and no implosion! And it’s thanks to your support. I see about 5-7 chapters left to the story by my general outline – but just how reliable that is…?
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Chapter 30: Follow-Up
Lois hurried down the sidewalk toward the deputy mayor’s office, pushing upstream through the pedestrian traffic. She had been trying all the way over to get through to the deputy mayor’s office, but could only get the voice mail. It had taken her taxi much too long to get here. On a Friday afternoon, rush hour started early, ended late… and she was going the wrong way. Please, let me just make it before they close…
She had left The Daily Planet within minutes of ending the phone call with Leyden. Every fiber of her being had been urging her to race out of the newsroom to follow the lead that had so miraculously dropped into her lap – but there was Jason to consider:
Lois cleared her throat, trying to seem braver than she was feeling right now. “Um… excuse me…?”
Richard stood beside his desk, looking through the photos that Jimmy had brought him. Was it just blind luck that he had come down from the roof just when she needed him? He looked up at her with haggard eyes. “Yes?” he asked in an almost too polite voice.
“I just got off the phone with a contact in the story that C–” Lois stopped, and tried again. “I – I want to chase a lead.” She really hated to do this to Richard after everything that he’d gone through today, but there was really no choice…She quashed a painful twinge of guilt, so she could get out her request. “Do you mind picking up Jason today…?” she asked with a note of pleading in her voice.
Jimmy stood off to Richard’s right, looking for all the world as if he wanted to blend into the bookcases beside him. He couldn’t meet either of their eyes, trying to avoid being drawn into their personal drama.
Richard glanced at the clock with barely concealed irritation. Then he closed eyes tightly, and took a heavy breath. “Sure,” he said tonelessly.
“Thank you, Richard,” she breathed gratefully. “And I would have asked C— but he’s still… on his errand…”
Richard’s eyes blazed then, full of I-told-you-so’s. “Go chase that lead.”
She was still grateful that she would not have to drag her little boy along this time, especially after what had happened with Luthor on the yacht….
Only a short distance from the wide marble steps in front of City Hall, Lois suddenly caught a flash of a red and blue in the corner of her eye. Clark…? She searched the sky above the buildings, but there was nothing there – only the whipping of Old Glory from a nearby flagpole. Her heart sank unexpectedly.
Shaking her head at her silliness – he would be done when he was done – Lois pushed through the doors into the large, open lobby. For 4:30 in the afternoon, the place seemed surprisingly deserted. She hoped she wasn’t too late. Damn government offices and their strange hours… The elevator ride suddenly felt interminable.
Her high heels clicked on the tile floors as she made her way to the deputy mayor’s office. Every office on the floor appeared to be shut and locked up tight. You’d think this was a Friday, she thought snidely. Turning the corner, she tried to look down the hall…
… And stopped short as a pretty, young blonde screeched to a halt to avoid running into her. “Excuse me,” Lois muttered, and tried to move past the woman.
Lois did a double take, looking more closely at the young woman’s face. Mitchener’s secretary… and it looked like she was on her way out… Dammit!
The bottle blonde smiled, and continued speaking before Lois could even respond. “The deputy mayor really liked the article you and your partner wrote the other day,” she enthused. “I think he might even get it framed.”
“Oh, really?” Lois affected a pleasant smile and a cordial tone. “Mr. Mitchener was quite…” she searched for the proper word, “… impressive during our interview.” Lois continued in the same manner, trying to draw the secretary in, “You know, I tried to call earlier to see if I could snag an appointment, but I couldn’t get through…”
The secretary blushed. “I'm sorry... I must have tied up the phone…” She continued in a coy voice, eyelids lowered, a ploy which Lois was sure was very effective on most people, “You see... there’s this guy…”
Looking at the girl's flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, Lois couldn't resist the sudden sense of fellow feeling that swept over her. Despite her impatience, Lois couldn’t help but sympathize, still feeling the sense of newness and rediscovery that falling in love could bring. She chuckled dryly. “Oh?”
The girl clutched her fashionable handbag closer to her, and let out a small chuckle herself. “That's where I'm heading now,” she confided.
“Oh, well, I hope you have fun,” Lois told her almost fondly. The young woman’s smile got even brighter, and she made as if to head back down toward the elevators. “But... if you don't mind... is he still in?” Lois nodded toward the office door. “I have some information I would like to double check with him, for a follow-up feature I’m writing.”
The small talk must have worked. “Sure,” the secretary said warmly, “He's still in. Do you want me to ask if he can see you?”
“If it’s not too much trouble…”
The blonde girl shook her head slightly. Spinning on her heel, she fished her office keys out of her handbag and unlocked the door. Lois followed her quietly, somehow sensing this was the best approach to use.
The secretary used a polished fingernail to press the intercom button. “Mr. Mitchener?”
“Yes, Ms. Peterson?” Mitchener’s voice buzzed out of the speaker.
“Lois Lane is here to see you, sir… do you have a few moments?”
There was a perceptible pause. “Sure… send her in.”
“Thanks," Lois whispered to her accomplice. The woman nodded and quickly slipped away and out into the hallway. Taking a deep breath, Lois turned the doorknob and went into Mitchener’s office.
The gleam of the afternoon sun’s rays shining through the partially shuttered windows caught on Mitchener’s fair hair as he looked up. There was no other light in the room except natural light. “Good afternoon, Ms. Lane. Or should I say, almost ‘Good evening.’” He gave her a cordial smile and gestured to the window. “I hope you don’t mind – I find that I think better without artificial light shining in my eyes.”
“It’s no bother.” The dim light actually seemed to soften the austere decor. “I'm sorry to bother you with so little notice.”
“I was quite pleased with the lovely article that you published the other day. I don’t mind a bit.” He gestured to the stacks of papers scattered around his desk. “I was just trying to finish a few things before I went home for the day. What did you need?”
Lois pulled her miniature recorder from her suit pocket and lifted it. At his assenting nod, she switched it on. “I was doing some research into a feature article – for the business section,” she began smoothly, using the same excuse she had used earlier on Leyden. “It’s common knowledge that your family has a long history here in Metropolis. Especially in business endeavors. But just how did you develop political aspirations?” As she talked, she walked slowly around the perimeter of the room, noting the various pictures and memorabilia he had placed on the walls and bookcases.
“I suppose you could say that it began in college,” he began in a polished baritone, eyes fixed on her slow circuit of the room. “Although to be perfectly honest, I really felt the desire to go into politics just a few years ago.”
“What exactly prompted the change?” Her fingers traced lightly along the edge of his college diploma.
“Well, as you can see, my original degree was in business administration. But after a few years I began to see that all of my family’s wealth and influence could be put to better use.” She half-turned to study his face. He seemed to be speaking from his heart, but Lois’ trained ear could detect just the hint of a rehearsed speech in the ready-made and glib phrases. “After all, the city needs good men to help bring it to its fullest potential.”
“You mentioned the idea began in college? Tell me more about that,” she prompted, her eyes now resting on his framed membership certificate for Pi Kappa Alpha.
“I suppose it was there that I realized that I had a way with people. Whether I meant to or not, I always seemed to be the center of any activity. And I really enjoyed the attention, in my own callow way.” He moved, and joined her by the wall, pointing out a photo almost identical to the one she had seen on the chapter website. “These guys really trusted me, were interested in my ideas… And even after we got out of college – helping them out, in whatever way I could, really gave me a sense of purpose.”
“It’s always nice to help a friend in need, isn’t it?” She looked directly into his eyes as she went in for the kill. “I'm sure that Chase Robinson really appreciated it.”
If she had been Clark, she might have detected a change in his heartbeat, a tensing of his muscles… With her ordinary human senses, she still managed to notice a slight dilation of his pupils. “And I was happy to help him.”
“Even at a cost to your own business?” she inquired lightly.
His eyes narrowed at the direction this conversation was taking. He continued, his smooth voice revealing a hint of strain, “I wouldn't be much of a friend if I hadn’t.”
“But surely you must have worried about the allegations of scandal that Robinson and Sons had faced before you helped him out with all those contracts,” she pressed. “Going into business with a company that had a history of cutting corners couldn’t have been good for your fledgling company’s reputation.”
He moved away from her rather abruptly then, putting some distance between them as he perched on the edge of the big old-fashioned desk, behaving as if her accusation had absolutely no basis. “Maybe I was a little naïve, Ms. Lane,” he said, his voice cooling slightly in temperature.
Lois filled with determination, deciding it was time for the kid gloves to come off. “Naïve is an awfully mild term for what I suspect has happened here, Mr. Mitchener,” she accused boldly, thinking of the mangled bodies at Thorne Tower, and the anguish in Clark's face. “I have it on very high authority that the substandard building materials used by Robinson and Sons may be responsible for much of the widespread destruction during and after the earthquake.”
“Responsible? Surely you're not suggesting that—”
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting,” Lois interrupted, a bitter edge creeping into her voice. The time for games was over. “L & V Construction, by working exclusively with Robinson and Sons, is at least partially responsible for what has happened to a number of prominent buildings in Metropolis. Are you going to step up and admit your part in it?”
In disgust, Lois turned away from the deputy mayor, who remained strangely silent behind her. She suddenly noticed the pilot’s license hanging on the wall – the one that Clark had seen tucked away in a desk drawer – and leaned in for a closer look. The name listed on the license: Philip V. Mitchener. There was the ‘V’ again…
Getting a hold of herself, she tried a different tactic. “Would you go to any length to help a friend?” she asked with forced nonchalance. There was still no response from the deputy mayor, but she sensed he was watching her closely, his body growing more tense. Casually, she ran her finger along the edge of the license. “Even the ones who are in prison…?”
The air was now so still that she was sure even Clark wouldn’t have heard a thing in the silent office. So it was a complete and utter shock when she felt the cold steel of a gun’s muzzle poke into her shoulder blades from behind, and Mitchener’s hand clamp over her mouth. His voice dropped to a smooth drawl in her ear. “I think that’s enough questions, Ms. Lane.”
Next: Chapter 31: Voice