Chapter 18: Questions
Lois’ foot rocked impatiently, and she checked her watch again… 10:08. She grimaced. Clark had left an odd voice-mail on her cell phone this morning, explaining why he would be late:
“Um, Lois? I know we have that interview with the deputy mayor this morning… but there’s…” He had paused – had someone been listening nearby? Or was he still uncomfortable with the fact that she really knew the secret now? “…something I need to take care of…I’m sorry, I’ll be there as close to te—” The message had cut off there. She chuckled slightly, thinking of it again. The ‘Man of Tomorrow’ – clueless about how to use a cell phone.
Mitchener’s secretary looked up from her computer screen at the small noise Lois had made. Lois flashed the bottle blonde a brief smile and gave her a little shake of her head, dismissing it. The woman went back to typing, manicured nails clicking on the keys.
Lois tried to suppress her annoyance. Sure, before he had been so good as to erase her memory, she had known briefly that Clark Kent had to live a dual life. But those idyllic few days had really not prepared her for the day-to-day irritations she was obviously going to experience as his working partner. Sure, it was great to add his ‘special skills’ to their investigations, but that also meant dealing with his absences. Making excuses… Working alone…
She supposed she should cut him a little slack – he had saved her life on more than one occasion, and she wouldn’t deny that whoever he was helping probably needed it – but it didn’t change the fact that she was here alone.
Did I just think that? she realized in shock. As much as she had resisted it, she and Clark had fallen back into their partnership so naturally, so easily. Recognizing this sent a warm sensation through her chest. She put a hand to her heart, and took a deep breath. The feeling was almost like…
No, not again. I thought the déjà vu was over now. I have my memories back – what gives?
She didn’t have time to complete that train of thought, as Clark slipped through the office door, and shut it gently behind him. He mouthed, “Hi, Lois,” and gave her his trademark goofy wave. “Sorry I’m late.”
Lois gestured for him to sit beside her. “Don’t worry about it,” she murmured. She supposed she would have to get used to this now. Besides, Lone Wolf Lane could tackle anything by herself, if need be. Even if she was beginning to prefer the team approach…
“Still waiting, huh?”
“Yes, I guess his previous appointment is running long,” she grumbled, giving her watch another glance. 10:13.
He gazed intensely at the door for a moment. “They’re probably deep in some sort of conversation,” he suggested, letting her know subtly what was going on behind the door.
She nodded. Lois started feeling impatient again, and her foot resumed its rocking. This was one of the worst parts of the job. The waiting. Lois was at her best in the thick of things.
The silence stretched, save for the incessant tapping of the secretary on her keyboard. Lois broke the silence. “So… last night we talked…” She left the sentence hanging.
“Uh huh…” Clark prompted.
“I told Richard about… what happened… he understands that Jason needs help.”
A look that somehow combined worry, relief and longing crossed his face. “That’s good.”
“And Jason… he’s scared, but excited that you’ll help him.” Suddenly, she turned a sardonic gaze on him, and dropped her voice. “But you probably ‘heard’ all this already.”
“You asked me not to listen in…” he rebuked her quietly, a little offended. “I didn’t.”
She felt ashamed of herself suddenly. But before she could apologize, he shrugged, and added, looking embarrassed, “I checked on him later though. From a distance, of course.”
Lois couldn’t suppress a grin. “Of course.” Clark looked away suddenly, but she continued, “I think maybe we can work out—” The door to the deputy mayor’s office suddenly opened. A gentleman in his fifties exited the doorway and then left through the main doors.
“It looks like it will be our turn soon.”
Lois checked that she had her notes in order, and sat a little straighter in anticipation. Thankfully, she didn’t wait long. The door opened again, and a youngish man with sandy brown hair, probably in his thirties, stepped into the waiting room.
He held out his hand for Lois to shake. “Lois Lane? Philip Mitchener. I’m a big fan of your work.” He turned to Clark. “And Mister…”
“Kent. Clark Kent,” her partner filled in for him, projecting the innocuous air he was so good at.
Mitchener smiled genuinely. “Good to meet you both. Please come into my office. Sorry about the wait,” he apologized good-naturedly, “but there are a million things to take care of in the wake of the catastrophe last week.”
As they entered his office, clean but not overly stylish, she gave the mementos placed around the room a once-over with a practiced eye. He had a few standard political photos, one with the mayor of Metropolis, and other photos with a few of the city’s outstanding citizens. A personal photo or two on his back wall… Nothing that just jumped out and screamed ‘dirty politician.’
Clark was chatting up Mitchener as they sat. “I bet it’s been really hectic, huh?”
“Yes,” he said modestly. “My office has been working around the clock to assist the disaster clean-up efforts.”
“What types of things?” Clark readied his notepad and pencil to indicate to Mitchener that this conversation was on the record. Which suddenly caused her to remember that Clark had never used any sort of recording device. It must be nice to have an eidetic memory, she thought, readying her list of questions.
“Oh, we’re coordinating the various emergency services: fire, police, medical. Securing access to FEMA services for the areas hardest hit. Requesting professional volunteer help for some of the larger messes.”
“Impressive,” Lois put in.
“Well, I’m not Superman,” he said with a glance out the window, “but I do my best.”
Lois grinned, suddenly liking this man despite her suspicions. She suppressed the urge to look at Clark’s reaction.
Clark cleared his throat. “So, you’ve been in this job for how long?”
“About a year. I saw it as a great opportunity to give something back to the city I love.”
“It must be difficult, dealing with a situation like this, so soon into your term of office,” Lois encouraged.
“I won’t lie to you… yes, it has been. When I got the news that Metropolis had been hit, I rushed back here. Thank God more people weren’t injured.”
Clark inquired, “You weren’t in town when it happened?”
“No, I was on a business trip out West. But rest assured, I flew back as soon as I could.”
“Tell us more about the city’s efforts, especially your office’s role.” As Clark pressed the deputy mayor for more information, she continued her perusal of their surroundings, focusing on the deputy mayor.
He seemed earnest, well-dressed but not ostentatious, and energetic. In reading about the man, she had gotten the impression that he was a go-getter, driven to succeed. But his affable personality took some of the edge off, making him seem very down to earth. Lois felt a sense of kinship with him – another young, successful person trying to make his mark on the city.
Clark was slowly bringing the conversation around to Mitchener’s business dealings. “When you say construction efforts are underway, is your company going to play a vital role?” Clark asked in a non-threatening way.
Mitchener’s eyebrows raised ever-so-slightly. “My company?”
Lois added, “Yes, L & V.”
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve played an active role as a partner. The offices were damaged in the quake, but I’ve been trying to lend my help as a private citizen as well.”
His words seemed sincere, the slip understandable. But Lois pressed on. “We’ve done some research on properties heavily damaged by the earthquake, and noticed a fair number were projects your company had originally built.”
Mitchener’s face fell suddenly. “Yes, I was horrified to find that out. But the current company president assures me that L & V will be lending a hand in whatever way possible. They’ve suspended work on some of their current projects while they assist our efforts.”
He hadn’t denied anything, or dissembled. Lois was almost disappointed. “How long do you expect it will be before the city is back on its feet again?”
“It’s hard to say. Crews have been working non-stop to take care of the worst of the problems. I hope that we will see some real progress before winter sets in. The people of Metropolis are proud and strong. We’re survivors, we always have been. We proved that during the five years Superman was away.”
Lois couldn’t resist a tiny dig at the man beside her as she said, “Yes, but most people are glad to have him back, aren’t they?”
“Oh, no doubt. The loss of life would have been much greater if he hadn’t helped.” Mitchener continued, a hint of a sardonic smile on his lips, “Metropolis was very lucky Superman got back from his 'journey to find himself' in time.”
She knew the deputy mayor was probably slyly referencing her Pulitzer-winning editorial. While she once would have agreed with him, even added her own snarky comment, her suspicious feelings returned full force.
“Indeed,” Clark responded, and she could just catch a trace of guilt.
“Well,” Lois said, standing up. “Thank you for your time. Will you be available for follow up questions?”
“Any time, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent. It’s been a pleasure,” he smiled warmly. He shook their hands in turn. “And if my office can be of any further assistance, don’t hesitate to call.” The phone suddenly rang. “If you’ll excuse me…”
They exited to the waiting room. There was one more errand they needed to take care of… “Clark. Before we go, would you please…”
“Don’t you have, you know, one last thing to do?”
His face remained puzzled. “Like…?”
“Never mind.” She noticed a water dispenser in the corner, and went to get a drink. As she pressed the spigot downward, she murmured in her quietest voice, “Clark. I want you to see if you can find any evidence we could use to prove there has been malfeasance.” She raised the paper cup to her lips. “I’ll talk to the secretary, you ‘do your thing.’” She finished the water and tossed the cup into the trashcan. They were going to have to develop a code!
She brushed past him, not acknowledging anything, and stood before the secretary’s desk. “Excuse me?”
The secretary took her earpiece out, and answered politely, “Yes?”
“I was wondering…” she searched for some reasonable excuse to talk to this woman, “…do you mind answering a few questions for our interview? I’d like to get a co-worker’s opinion of Mr. Mitchener.”
The secretary looked flattered. “Sure. What do you want to know?”
Lois kept Clark in her peripheral vision. He seemed to be studying a painting on the wall, slouching as if bored. “Well, what do you think of him?”
“I’ve only worked for him for about six months, but I think he’s wonderful.” A gleam came into her eyes as she described him. “He’s dedicated, hard-working, a really nice guy. And he really cares about this city.”
“Is that the company line? Or your real opinion?” Lois asked incisively.
The blonde grinned. “Believe me, I know better than to shoot my mouth off to reporters. But I can tell you the honest truth. Philip Mitchener is one of the good ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a run for the Senate some day.”
Clark materialized at her shoulder. “Um, are you ready, Lois? I think Mr. White wants an update by lunchtime.”
Lois took the hint. Glancing down at the woman’s desk plate, she confirmed, “Can we quote you, Ms. Peterson?”
“Sure.” She smiled, and returned to her work.
A few moments later, the two reporters were trying to put some distance between themselves and the deputy mayor’s office. “So?” Lois asked. “Find anything?”
“Not really, Lois. The guy seems on the up and up.” They reached the elevators, and he pressed the down button.
“He also seems too good to be true.”
The doors opened, and the elevator was actually empty. “If he’s hiding something, he’s doing it well.” They stepped in and the doors shut behind them. “Not once did I detect a quickening of his heartbeat. He was telling us the truth, or at least what he believed to be the truth.”
He could detect whether a person was lying as well? That was another useful skill! She filed it away for later. “Well, I feel like we are beating our heads against the wall on this one.” She leaned against the wall dejectedly.
“There was an interesting tidbit I found… maybe something, uh, Richard can help with.” She let him finish, remaining quiet. “In his desk drawer, he had a framed document that he obviously had taken down from the wall. There seemed to be a blank space where it must have been hanging.”
“And it was?”
The elevator slowed, and stopped. As the doors opened, he responded, “A pilot’s license.”
Next: Chapter 19: Almost