Chapter 2: Odd
Lois blew out a breath in frustration. In an hour, she had to leave for work, and she still needed to put on her makeup, fix her hair… but… Hang it all! Nothing seemed to be working…
She’d tried leaning over the railing. She tried to use the flashlight – why was it up in the cabinet and not in the tool drawer, anyway? – but she couldn’t shine it far enough under the deck to see anything but murky water. She squatted down, and tried to squeeze between the railings. She could only imagine what she looked like right now…
“Lois?” Richard’s voice held a hint of amusement. “What are you up to?”
Lois withdrew her groping hand and straightened up with a grimace. “I thought I heard something bumping against the posts of the deck last night… but I can’t see anything down there.”
“Maybe it was just a piece of driftwood,” he suggested, holding a mug of fresh coffee out for her.
She took it with a grateful smile. “Maybe,” she demurred, taking a sip.
“I can put on my waders, and check under there for you after work tonight,” he offered. “If it’ll ease your mind.”
She suddenly felt very silly. “No, don’t worry about it.”
The smell of warming cinnamon rolls tempted her back into the kitchen. Jason was sitting in his usual chair, already halfway into a bowl of cereal. Richard followed her in, and flipped on the morning news.
“Morning, sunshine,” she greeted her son. He didn’t look very tired, even after being awakened in the middle of the night. “You look cheerful this morning.”
Richard noticed Jason’s mood as well. “Yeah, sport. After all the excitement the last few days, I would think you’d have a hard time keeping your eyes open.”
“N–” the little boy began to explain, but stopped to swallow a huge mouthful of cereal. “No, it’s been great! It was scary, but… we got to help Superman. I’m so glad that he’s all better now.”
Lois froze, a roll halfway to her lips.
“How…?” Richard began, and then turned toward the television. At the bottom of the screen, the news crawl ran the headline: Superman makes full recovery… Man of Steel said to be suffering no ill effects from heroic save… Above the text, they were running footage of Superman thanking the hospital staff.
Lois turned her eyes on her son and tilted her head to the side. His mouth formed a little ‘o,’ and they shared a silent mother-son moment, as they had dozens of times. Was I not supposed to say that? Jason communicated, eyes wide. She shook her head slightly, and gestured. Later.
Richard turned back to the both of them, looking at their faces in turn. His eyebrows drew down, but he seemed to decide there was nothing odd going on. He finally said, “Good for him.”
She deflated inwardly. Richard didn’t know that Superman had visited last night, and that was fine by her – for now.
She had a laundry list of issues to deal with now that she knew Superman was Jason’s father. She had to decide how she felt about Superman’s place in her son’s life. And she had to decide how she felt about Superman. Once she had done that, she could tell Richard, because he deserved to know, directly from her. Somehow, the adults would work out a way to tell little Jason. He was a smart little boy, wise beyond his years, but was he really ready to carry such a weight on his small shoulders?
But at the top of that list, in bold mental type, was – figure out how the hell it had happened.
- - - - -
“But, Perry,” Lois protested. “You know I was there. I went right into his hospital room, practically the only non-official person they let in to see him!” She paced the floor of Perry White’s Daily Planet office, gesturing to make her point. “You were practically forcing me to get the exclusive interview when he returned, and now you’re telling me no?”
“Lane,” he captured her with an unrelenting gaze, “the television media was camped outside the gates the moment he emerged. It’s already old news. A story about his recovery, when the whole world was already waiting with baited breath?”
She needed a reason to speak to Superman. The damsel-in-distress routine would only work so many times, and truthfully, had become a little clichéd. So she tried to press her point. “What about the story about how he saved the three of us from drowning, and how we saved him in return?”
Perry nodded over at Richard, who was leaning against the bookcase. “Already gave that one to him.”
She opened her mouth to object, but he silenced her with a wave. “You were unconscious for a lot of it, right?”
She quirked her lips in surrender. Damn concussions.
“Besides, I need your instincts out on the street.” Perry indicated Clark Kent, who had been sitting uncomfortably in the other chair during her tirade, with another wave of his arm. “I remember that the two of you used to make a pretty good team. Complemented each other…” Lois regarded Clark, who squirmed a little more in his seat. Perry finished, “…in your investigative techniques.”
“Sure, Mr. White,” Clark began nervously. She noticed afresh that Clark always seemed uneasy in his own skin – it still baffled her how he had managed to bring in big stories time after time during his earlier tenure at the Planet. “What did you have in mind?”
“Yeah, okay, I give up. What do you want us to do?” She may have lost this battle, but she trusted Perry’s intuition when it came to finding a good story.
“I want the two of you to take Olsen with you, and cover the reconstruction after the big earthquake. Get the perspective of the man on the street.”
Her jaw dropped. “What?”
“I ... I think it has potential, Mr. White,” Clark piped up, the brownnoser.
She turned on him. “Of course you would, Smallville. You probably think a story on the latest corn harvest has potential.” She stalked over to Perry’s desk, placed her palms flat on the table, and leaned in. “There are bigger stories out there than that, Perry. Clark could handle this one on his own, no matter how long he’s been out of the game.”
“I… Well, I…” Clark stuttered, but Perry cut them both off.
“Listen.” He got right into her face. “Don’t you go pulling that ‘Lone Wolf Lane’ stuff on me again.” He let up, and walked over to the window. “I’ve been getting reports from sources that there are a lot of problems popping up, all over town. The damage was extensive. I need someone with a talent for uncovering the truth down there. To find out if there’s any kind of larger issue we’re dealing with here.” He turned back to Lois and Clark. “And I would rather that the two of you work together, to compare notes.”
Lois looked toward Richard, hoping for a little back up. He shrugged, clearly agreeing with his uncle. Clark was going to be no help either. He always went along with everything Perry requested.
Perry’s voice softened. “I know that I was wrong last week, Lois. I should have let you run with the blackout story. It might have prevented what happened with Luthor and that crystal monstrosity. But trust me on this one. Or do I have to pull rank?”
She submitted. “No, I’ll do it. You can count on Lane and Kent” – why did that sound odd to her? – “to get the story.” And she would just have to burn the midnight oil to work on her extra-curricular project. Who knows? she thought. Maybe I’ll run into the Man of Steel while we’re on the story.
“Great,” Perry said, dismissing them. He waved his nephew over to his desk. “Richard, let’s talk some more about your piece…”
Clark nearly blocked the doorway, as they both left the editor-in-chief’s office. “It’ll be good to work together again, Lois.” He pushed his glasses up his nose in a nervous gesture.
“Sure,” she said distractedly. “Let me get some stuff together and we’ll head on out.”
She only half-noticed him nod, and go to look for Jimmy Olsen. A few minutes later, she was ready, and glanced around the office for the two men. Jimmy was chatting with Clark by the elevator. Clark’s focus was out of the windows, though he seemed to nod at whatever Jimmy was saying. He began to straighten up, looking far taller than he usually did, and a serious look came over his face. He stiffened. Clark then seemed to make his apologies to Jimmy, and walked quickly to the stairwell.
She grabbed her purse, and met Jimmy herself. “What happened to Clark?”
“He said he just remembered he had an errand to run, and he’d meet us at the waterfront.”
Jimmy looked abashed. “He never said…”
Lois walked over to the stairwell door and stuck her head in. “Clark!” she called down. “Which Pier should we meet at?”
Her voice rang in the empty space. Maybe he couldn’t hear her. But he must have only entered the door a minute ago at most, and she couldn’t even hear a single footfall on the steps.
A sense of déjà vu hit her. That’s right. Clark was always disappearing at odd times, wasn’t he? But as undependable as he had often seemed, he always got the story. She shook her head as she came back over to Jimmy. “He was already gone. You have his cell phone number?”
Jimmy nodded, but his attention was on the bank of television screens above. On the monitor was a live report of Superman rescuing people from a collapsed office building, made weak by the recent quake. Yet another casualty of Lex Luthor’s nefarious scheme. On the edges of her consciousness, a twinkle of an idea filtered through. Maybe there was a story here…
Next: Chapter 3: Double Image