When Richard walked into the supply room, the tableau he saw wasn’t absolutely damning, but it was implicating enough to give him pause. Clark stood several feet away from Lois, looking down unable to meet anyone’s eyes, while Lois herself was holding out a hand as if to touch him, her expression fraught. Richard glanced from one to the other, taking in their suddenly guilty expressions, and said with a touch of sarcasm, “Am I interrupting something here?”
Lois caught her shuddering breath and let it out in an annoyed sigh, controlling her reaction. “Of course not,” she told her fiancé, rolling her eyes briefly. It was much harder to summon up any of her usual venom when she added, “Kent, we’ll discuss this later.”
Clark glanced at her, his mind in turmoil. He’d never meant to kiss Lois, just came in to talk to her, full of sympathy and wanting to tell her … anything to make her feel better. What had just happened? And what was happening now? Oh, God, what did Richard think just happened? As Lois stalked out of the supply room, Richard following her with a thoughtful look backward, Clark remembered what his mother had said. Of course she’s furious. That’s proof that she still loves you. Evidently it was true – that kiss had been full of longing.
He picked up a handful of steno pads as an excuse for going into the supply room in the first place, still thinking it over. What if Lois does still love me? What if she’s been so angry with me because she knew something like this would happen if she let me get close to her? Above all else, what should I do now? I don’t want to betray Richard – I shouldn’t have kissed Lois just then – but oh, my God…
Lois headed back to her own department, iron self-control keeping her appearance casual. The flush to her cheeks might have been anger or the exertion of yelling at the coffee crowd and Perry. True, her hair was disheveled, but she always ran her fingers through it when she was nervous or angry, and everyone had seen her practically raking it while she argued with the editor-in-chief. Thank God for smear-proof lipstick, she thought. As long as I can keep the shivers under control and breathe normally, I might just pass for a woman who hasn’t been making out with her ex in the last five minutes.
While she dropped the pens off in Perry’s office, acting rushed, Richard wandered into her office, dropping himself into the chair across from hers. Lois met his eyes as soon as she walked in the door, and steeled herself against the evitable. “Yes?” she said, making her way over to her desk with a clearly nonchalant air. God, please let this be an Academy Award-winning performance. Don’t let him suspect.
“What was that?”
“What was what?” What was what? Wow, Lane, that didn’t sound defensive at all. And, really what do you have to be defensive about? Flatly ignoring those thoughts, Lois slid down into her own chair, not even looking up at him, and yanked the blackout notes from her drawer. Call Evie @ Telnet Directery Assistence re: Vanderworth calls to & frm, the note on top read.
Richard picked up the soft foam stress-reliever globe on her desk and squeezed it. Lois’ manicured nails had permanently pockmarked most of the continents. “You’re really rough on these things, you know it?” And in the same mildly inquisitive tone, “What was that in the supply room with Clark?”
Again her conscience burned at just hearing the words. Question was, was she really sure of the answer anymore? It had just happened, without a clear thought in her mind. She had never expected to do that. But with all of her idle wandering thoughts of late, the reminder of her feelings and revelations the night of the Pulitzer, coupled with the very ‘what’ they were discussing, it seemed impossible to deny. I’m still in love with him. I don’t think I ever stopped loving him .
But that doesn’t make it right, either, and you know that. The General’s Daughter’s voice was almost kind in her thoughts. Maybe you should just tell him the truth, even if it’s a half-truth. You did promise to keep the secret. And it might help if you were honest with Richard about something.
And to that excellent advice, Lois finally looked up at her fiancé with that trademarked sarcastic expression, rolled her hazel eyes, and replied in an utterly deadpan voice, “Yes, Richard, you were on the verge of catching me in an act of mad, passionate love with the biggest dork in your department. We’ll have to remember to lock the door next time. By the way, it’s nice to see you, too. Enjoy your two-week trip?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she mentally winced. Je-sus! Nice, very nice. You and your bloody defense mechanisms. Why did that have to be so close to the truth?
Richard blinked, surprised by her sharpness. It seemed he’d hit wide of the mark, very wide, but still… For the moment, he chose to act as if nothing was going on. That assumption might even have been true. After all, this was Clark they were talking about: mild-mannered to a fault, extremely moral, and a friend of Richard’s. If the nagging voice in the back of his mind was wrong, then no harm done. And if it was right, well, it was best to have some proof when he confronted Lois.
“No, I didn’t really enjoy it,” Richard said. “We were shot at by drug smugglers who thought we were ATF agents; Clark caught a mild case of Montezuma’s Revenge and had to run off on me a couple times; we had to see a Texas rancher hold a gun to the head of an eight-year-old boy; and one of the people we were supposed to contact was executed by the ‘coyotes’ before we ever got there.”
I’d rather be shot at than have the kids get sick, Lois thought as she ‘woke’ her computer, kicking herself as soon as the words formed. “At least you weren’t alone,” she replied.
“Yeah, but I didn’t have the three people I love most in the world with me,” Richard retorted. “Not that I would’ve wanted you or the twins in the line of fire, but I missed you. And if Clark’s to be believed, you were the perfect person to be there – did you really talk a terrorist into letting all the hostages go but you?”
Lois sighed. Ah yes, the boys have been talking. Just what I don’t need. “That was the guy who wanted to bomb the Ford building, eight or nine years ago. I just told him one hostage was easier to control than seven, and one hostage who’s a famous journalist is more prestigious.”
“You said that?” Richard couldn’t help grinning at her. “Damn, woman. And then what?”
“Then I got him to let me look at the gunshot wound he had from shooting at the police, and convinced him he’d better go to a doctor or he could die horribly.” Lois looked up at him and shrugged. “Plan B was to dig my fingers in the wound and steal his gun while he was screaming in agony.”
Richard just shook his head. “Your picture should be in the dictionary next to ‘spitfire,’ Lois. I’m so glad you’re on my side. So what did Kent want?”
Again there was that hunted, sick feeling in her guts. Of having to betray one or the other with a lie. Knowing that the expression on her face might betray her even if she kept her tone blasé, the dark-haired woman was immediately immersed in her notes again. “The usual. He wanted to apologize again. I wish he’d stop. It’s over and done with.”
Richard looked at her speculatively. “He obviously feels really guilty over it. Maybe if you weren’t so sharp with him he’d get over it.” And let’s see what you say to that, Ms. Lane.
At first she didn’t say anything, just froze that those words. Giving a gusty sigh as well as an annoyed roll of her eyes, Lois looked up at him again over the monitor. Alright, Richard, you’re starting to push it now. “And maybe I’m just not ready to get over it. Richard, stop trying to help him fight his battles. He’s more than capable of doing it himself, despite appearances. And you weren’t here then, Richard. You don’t understand the way things were with the four of us.” The reminder of this made her frown again, although it had a bit less sting now. “Besides, like I told him at the Pulitzers, you don’t just up and leave your best friends like that. He has a lot to make up for and I’ll forgive him if and when I’m ready. Alright?” The aggravated look on her face was even more pronounced with the last word.
Richard knew better than to push her. Besides, the office was no place for a personal confrontation. But before he could say more than, “All right, hon,” they were interrupted.
Perry threw Lois’ office door open, stuck his head in, and glared at them both. “Richard, did I hire you for the city beat?”
“Duty barks,” Richard said to Lois, and got up.
“Lane,” Perry began, but she held up one hand and pointed to the telephone, where she was dialing Evie direct.
“Calling a source, I’ll get back to you,” Lois said sweetly, and Perry let her be, satisfied for the moment.
Clark stayed at his desk, trying to avoid Richard’s notice. It appeared that he didn’t suspect anything, which simply couldn’t be true. Could it? The moment Richard walked in on them, Clark felt as if he had a giant neon sign hanging over his head, flashing the word GUILTY! But so far Richard hadn’t said anything to him, had only given him a speculative look. Was it possible that he didn’t have more than the slightest suspicion?
I don’t know whether to be relieved or more upset. I do not want a confrontation with Richard, but if he’s truly unsuspecting, then I feel obligated to confess. He’s a good man, and a friend. Not telling him what happened feels as bad as a lie.
I didn’t walk in there intending to kiss his fiancée, but darn it, she’s the love of my life! I don’t think either of us could resist that moment. And a moment is all it was, no matter how much my entire world feels knocked off-kilter by it. She’s still engaged to Richard, and I’m still just her ex.
But we have to talk soon. Somehow I need to talk to her about everything that’s happened, everything she knows, if just to let her know how grateful I am for her keeping my secret… And if I can get a few answers, too, that would be quite helpful.
The information from Evie had been very helpful, a long list of numbers regularly dialed from the Vanderworth estate. Having that research to work on helped Lois’ mood considerably. What she wouldn’t have admitted on pain of death was that the kiss she’d shared with Clark had done much more for her attitude and her self-image. Oh, she was still angry with herself for giving in to her tempestuous emotions, still frightened by how swiftly passion had overtaken her, but at least she no longer felt old and frowsy.
Lois had come in late, so she took lunch late, too, and headed over to Berg’s Bistro for one of her more socially-acceptable vices: a quarter-pound blackened sirloin burger smothered in sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese. So bad but oh so good, and she could only have them when the kids weren’t around. She could practically taste the waffle fries, almost smell the smoky grill…
Wait, that really is smoke. What the hell? Lois opened her car window all the way and stuck her head out, looking all around for the source of the odor. Other drivers barely paid attention; this was Metropolis, where a red light didn’t really mean ‘stop’ unless a cop was nearby.
Only after craning her head around for several minutes did Lois see the sinister gray cloud rising into the sky. It was coming from downtown … it had to be the arsonist. Lois dropped back into her seat, snatched up her partly-charged cell phone, and dialed Perry even as she cut out of traffic and roared down a side street.
“The firebug’s at it again!” she told the editor as soon as he picked up. “Looks like Lennox or higher, somewhere between 35th and 40th. Send a couple reporters and a photographer, Perry. I’m on my way, but traffic’s bad.”
“You get back to this office, Lane!” Perry barked. “You’re not a beat reporter anymore, and those fires are damn dangerous!”
“Sorry, Chief, bad signal,” Lois replied, raising her voice and scraping a fingernail over the microphone to simulate static. “Gotta go.” Grinning with the joy of the chase, she flipped the phone shut and ‘accidentally’ turned it off in the process. God, I forget how much I miss this. Pedal to the floorboards, the Audi roared up the backstreets.
There was a nifty little way of bypassing the traffic here; up eight blocks, over three, up another four blocks, and a quick run through an alley brought Lois back to the main streets again, farther ahead than she would’ve been. Now the source of the smoke was clearer, and Lois’ heart sank. Aetna was one of the largest employers downtown. The skyscraper ahead of her belched smoke into the sky, its top stories already engulfed in flame.
Traffic was completely halted as emergency personnel rushed to the scene. Lois spotted a conveniently empty sidewalk. The Audi thumped up over the curb and Lois parked it between two ornamental dogwoods, snatched up her purse and press pass, and ran toward the scene.
Running in heels is an art, she thought, dodging onlookers while pawing through her purse for the tape recorder. The crowd got thicker as she got closer, and she had to employ the famous Lane elbow to make way as she struggled to the front.
“Keep back!” a man yelled up ahead, and his voice had the harmonics of authority. Lois sidestepped, finally coming up behind a police cruiser. Edging out alongside it, she wasn’t in the cops’ direct line of sight, but she was out of the thick of the crowd at last. At last she could see what was going on.
This time, the arsonist had set the top three stories of an eighty-six story building afire. People were rushing out of every possible exit, looking more like a stampeding herd of cattle than the competent professionals they had been moments ago. The fire department had already arrived, some heading inside to help people out, the rest getting trucks and hoses ready to fight the blaze.
One first responder was missing, however. I understand him being late that one time when he had to get here from Mexico – not to mention had to make excuses to Richard so he could leave – but where the hell is he now? The kiss was damn good, but he can’t still be reeling two hours later. Lois gnawed her lower lip, sharp eyes darting around the scene as more sirens howled in the distance. I’m gonna hate myself for this, but I’ll hate myself more if I don’t. Pulling the cell phone from her purse, she turned away from the crowd at her back as she switched it on and went to the Contacts list. Under Group: DP Staff, she scrolled past Chief, Jimmy, and Richard to the listing That D*mn Man and pressed Send.
It rang through to voice mail. “Hi, this is Clark Kent. I’m not, uh, answering my phone now, but if you leave your name and number I’ll get back to you, um, as soon as possible. If this is you, Ma, I love you [BT3] and thanks for buying me the phone.”
Lois winced and rolled her eyes, trying to ignore the wave of affectionate she felt just listening to the message. No wonder he doesn’t date. How did I get myself involved with someone so … so… Then the message beeped, and she started speaking, so worried that the anger was gone from her voice. “Listen, I shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t even know if you can carry this thing in your cape or whatever. But the firebug’s struck again, at the Aetna building between…”
Silence, but for the whistle of the wind and the rustle of leaves. Lois’ already mussed hair blew forward into her eyes, but she still saw the red and blue blur darting into the building, the kind of speed she always expected to be accompanied by a roar like a jet engine, nevertheless so nearly silent. “Nevermind,” she said, pushing End and trying to ignore the feeling of awe that rose in her.
Just behind her, Lois heard an ironic voice. “What’s a high-powered assistant editor like Lois Lane doing mingling with us lowly beat reporters?”
Lois closed her eyes. Please don’t let her have heard the call… “Hello, Toby. How’d you get here so quick? Chase the ambulance?”
“You almost sideswiped me on Twenty-fifth and I followed you,” the pretty brunette replied, smiling. “I figured it was either a disaster story, Superman was around, or Starbucks was giving out free espresso. Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Lois glared, but she couldn’t quite keep herself from smiling back. “Trust a Star reporter to follow me in. Can’t you catch a story on your own?”
“I was on my way first! I had the inside track, Lois, I have a police scanner in my car.”
“Maggie’s a Lieutenant, for the love of God! Getting the scoop that way is cheating. I just evened the odds for the Planet.”
“Oh, bull,” Toby said, rolling her eyes. “You’re not even a reporter anymore, Lane, you’ve gone to the dark side and joined administration! Now get out of my way and let me do my job. I’m sure the Planet will send a real journalist, eventually.”
“Kiss my Pulitzer, Raines,” Lois shot back, ready to trip Toby if necessary to make sure she was the first one to interview a firefighter or a cop. The fact that the Star’s reporter had struck a nerve there had nothing to do with it, nothing at all.
Before they could snap at each other further, a sudden greedy roar erupted above them. Lois and Toby both whirled around in time to see the fifth, twentieth, and sixtieth floors of the building seemingly explode, glass flying everywhere.
The cell phone chirped from somewhere in the office behind him as Superman soared out of the airshaft. He heard the sirens, not just the rising and falling wail of police units but the bawling blare of fire department trucks. The arsonist again! It wasn’t bad enough he had to strike while I was on assignment with Richard – thank God for the water in Mexico, it’s a convenient excuse – now this creep is burning buildings on the one day I just want to go home and sleep for a week to get my mind together. Oh, when I catch him, I’m going to drop him reeking of accelerant right in the D.A’s office…
The thought wasn’t even completed when he reached the scene, flying at a little less than the speed of sound. Top floors fully involved, people heading for the exits with their panic barely under control, fire and police on the ground already. Stop the blaze first, then help with the rescue. He uses methanol – colorless, odorless, and it burns clear, so more may be on fire than people can actually see. That’s been the problem in the last few fires, everyone thinking it was over when it was just starting. Fortunately methanol isn’t as explosive as gasoline…
And just moments after he entered, the building shook around him. What the…? I see blue smoke, what combusts extremely fast and has blue smoke? Nitromethane! Good Lord, he really is into the model airplane fuels. Got to put these flames out. Superman started on the fifth floor, from which most people had already escaped. The accelerant had been painted on the walls and ceilings of corridors, so that flame rippled along them. It was almost beautiful, in a frightening way.
Superman blew a freezing breath at the dancing fire, knocking it back. The nitro that had been used here made it difficult, but the fire department already had several hoses aimed at the shattered windows. The one good thing about the arsonist’s choice of fuel was that it could easily be put out with plain water.
One last check with his superbly acute vision revealed no more of the faint blue flames on this floor. A woman had fainted in an office, and he quickly took her to the stairs where the other workers helped her escape. Up to twentieth, just a brief red and blue vision as he spiraled up the stairwell, his glimpsed presence inspiring hope among those hurrying down the seemingly endless stairs.
The stairwell door was hot, and he went up to twenty-one and back down through the floor, blowing out the flames. A man, panicked, trapped in the elevator; four secretaries barricading the corner office door and screaming for help from the balcony. One man carrying a badly-burned woman; another man passed out from smoke inhalation only yards from the stairwell. Superman saved them all, working as fast as he could, wrapping his cape around people as he flew them through the fire and down to the waiting ambulances.
The work numbed him, narrowed his focus; put out the fire, save the ones who were trapped or hurt, always heading upward. Hurry, get to the next floor, keep the blaze from spreading. Catch the fire, fight it like a savage, vicious beast, pin it down and drive it out of existence, and try not to listen to its hungry roar, try not to think that it bellows defiance when it swallows people whole and their screams rise above every other sound. Rescuing people whose skin crackled under his hands, whose hair and clothes were gone to the flames, the smoke and the heat even robbing them of their screams, only their white staring eyes to prove they were alive. The further up he got, the worse it was, and anger began to beat in his temples beneath the shock and grief at what he was seeing. How dare anyone do this…
Lois felt her heart seize up as she heard and saw the explosion. Those people inside … and Kal-El … my God. In the next instant, she realized that the glass and debris were falling right toward them. The crowds the police had kept back would probably be safe, but she and Toby were now well inside the lines and too close for comfort.
The two reporters dived in unison for the shelter of an overhang across the street, barely escaping a shower of glass fragments that fell onto the pavement with obscenely cheerful tinkling sounds. Half of someone’s desk didn’t land so gracefully, coming down from an upper story to smash into a police car. Lois and Toby watched, silently, fulfilling their duty as the eyes and ears of their readers. No interviews now, just the need to witness, and then to report. This is what happened, this is how it was. I was there, I risked my life so all of you didn’t have to. This is the story.
A telephone handset with someone’s hand still clutching it landed just in front of them. Bits of steel lanced through the air, warped by the explosion into deadly projectiles. Concrete dust danced in the air, frosting everyone’s faces and clothing. The roar of the fire, the smoke and the confusion, and through it all the reporters who raced into danger made themselves into living recorders.
In spite of journalist objectivity, in spite of her almost sacred calling to witness events of this magnitude, Lois was thinking in the back of her mind, That could’ve been me, or the twins, or Perry or Jimmy or my mother. And for someone else, it is. God, please, no more … let the cops catch this bastard, let him burn himself up, anything, just please never again.
The fire on the top floors had been burning longest, and it was much more reluctant to surrender. Thankfully, no one was left up here, and Superman could concentrate on battling the flames. He was focused on the smoldering carpets when he became aware of a faint beeping noise somewhere below.
That’s somewhere about the fortieth floor – no reason for a smoke alarm to be going off down there. Sounds like four different alarm clocks going off, really. I’d better check it. Much as he hated to leave what he was doing, the top floors of the building were already pretty much gutted, and with the other blazes extinguished the fire department was working on this one now. Superman flew down the stairwell, noticing that most people were now in the lower half of the building and proceeding more calmly.
The fortieth floor was mostly given over to maintenance and janitorial. He traced one set of beeps over to a far corner of the building. Just paint cans stacked over here. What could be beeping? Another ignition device? I know this guy uses delays, but why would it make a sound… And then he moved the paint cans aside, and saw what was behind them.
Just an old, battered suitcase, with a travel alarm clock sitting on top of it, beeping in time with three other alarm clocks somewhere else on this floor. Only why was it here, and why was the clock counting backwards…
Lois had managed to snag one of the executives coming out of the building for a few questions. “Did you have any warning?” she was asking.
The man’s eyes were a little too wide, but he mostly had it together. “The fire alarms went off upstairs. Everybody reads the paper, we know about the arsons. Never thought it would happen here. Security’s been beefed up for weeks. Soon as we heard the alarms, we knew it hadn’t been enough.”
“Any ideas on how the arsonist got in?”
The man shook his head. “Not a clue. Used to be security would let you in if they knew you. Last month or so, you’d better have your badge or you’d be stuck outside waiting for a manager to approve you.”
And badges can be stolen, Lois thought, but her train of thought was interrupted by a crash above. Everyone on the street looked up, fearing the worst, and their expressions turned to puzzlement as they saw Superman flying straight up at his top speed, the glass wall he’d flown out of fragmented. The downdraft of his ascent hit them, blowing Lois’ hair into her eyes again. What the hell is he doing? she wondered, trying to focus her eyes on the rapidly-dwindling dot that was Superman.
So she was looking right at him seconds later when the four suitcase bombs went off. The fireball was visible for miles, but Superman had flown high enough that no buildings were damaged.
Everyone on the ground who had seen him fly up cried out at this latest explosion. Lois was no exception, in spite of the fact that she knew an ordinary bomb couldn’t hurt him. What if that wasn’t ordinary? Luthor was behind all of the arsons, she knew it. What if there was kryptonite in those bombs? What if all of this had just been a trap for Superman?
Lois watched the sky, ignoring the tears that burned in the corners of her eyes. Please, let him be alright…
The force of the blast knocked him reeling, spinning through the air for a moment. He caught himself quickly, scanning the city below. No damage. I was high enough, thank God. Superman rushed back into the building, waving to the crowds to let them know he was all right. All the while he tried not to think about what would’ve happened if those bombs had gone off while everyone was still evacuating. Placed near critical support structures. Whoever did this meant to bring the whole building down, and timed it to kill the most fire and rescue workers possible. Who would be sick enough to do something like that? He was all too sure he knew the answer to that question.
The top floors were still burning, and he hurried to blow them out. The fire department’s highest ladders and longest hoses helped, and Superman concentrated on the innermost sections of the building, halting the blaze before it could spread along air ducts and electrical conduits.
He had no idea how long he’d been fighting, tasting smoke in the back of his throat, feeling ash on his skin and in his hair. At last, though, the conflagration was out. This had been the worst of the fires so far, and the most intricately planned. Superman didn’t know how many people had been harmed or killed, but the thought made his stomach churn painfully.
One last scan of the building revealed a child hiding under a desk on the sixty-first floor. The smoke hadn’t reached her; she had simply panicked at all the alarms and people rushing for the exits, and she had hidden. He worked his way down through the building to her, checking the structural integrity as he did. The fire had damaged it, but not as badly as the arsonist had clearly hoped.
Here she was. “It’s safe now,” he said gently. A little dark-haired girl who reminded him of Kala peered fearfully out at him, then brightened when she recognized her rescuer.
“Superman!” she cried, and leaped into his arms. “It was so noisy, I was scared.”
“It’s okay now, sweetheart,” he told her as he carried her to a window broken by falling debris. “You just hold on, and I’ll get you out of here. Who are your parents?”
The child murmured the names as he flew gently out of the window and drifted to the ground. Her eyes went wide with fascination, staring fearlessly around her as they flew.
Lois barely had time to register that Superman was okay before he headed back into the building. The police, seeing the explosion, were suddenly a lot more concerned with members of the press sneaking inside their lines, and Lois had to dodge several officers’ eyes. Murmuring notes into her recorder, she quickly described the events as she’d seen them; the initial fire high up, the sudden burst of flames from several points in the building, and then the bombs Superman had removed just in time.
She paused then, collecting her thoughts. Everything still pointed to Luthor; he had the resources and the sheer ruthlessness to plan something like this. And it would be just like him to time the final blast so it would kill the first responders. But Luthor never did anything just for the heck of it. He had to have another purpose behind this, and Lois let her gaze roam as she wondered what that could be.
The sudden sense of something wrong made her stop and suddenly pay attention. A man had gotten inside the police lines and was filming the building with a video camera mounted on a tripod. He seemed to be paying close attention to the fire itself, now confined to mere flickers from the roof, and only occasionally switching to pan his lens over the ambulances and the survivors able to flee on foot. Something about him was just…
I don’t recognize him, Lois thought, looking more closely. True, I don’t know all the photojournalists in Metropolis, but I’ve never even seen this guy before. Tall, sandy-haired, clean-shaven, but there’s something about the eyes I don’t like. And the way he’s watching people doesn’t seem right. He just looks out of place.
The man seemed to notice Lois looking, and leaned away from his camera to catch her eyes. When he had her full attention, he gave her a cruel, knowing smile and an ironic little wave.
Lois felt the hairs at the nape of her neck prickle. Intuition told her this man was either the arsonist or someone connected with him, and that meant he was Luthor’s crony. She whirled, looking for Superman, ready to yell for him to catch this crook. They could find out exactly where he fit into this macabre puzzle later.
A clatter of metal behind her, and Lois turned back to see the man melt into the crowds. Dammit, she swore at herself, moving forward quickly then, sure that he hadn’t had adequate time to disappear completely with a crowd this size. I knew it! I knew that creep was up to something. Bracing herself for the resistance, Lois pushed herself into the throng in pursuit of the tall man, momentarily forgetting any of the events that had just occurred as she maneuvered her way after him. For an instant, she thought she could see his crew cut hair, her quarry possibly no further than fifteen feet in front of her…
Then the crowd around her surged forward, beginning to cheer. Lois had to move with them or be crushed, and she struggled against the tide, cursing her delicate build. The police were trying to hold them back, the building wasn’t entirely stable, but everyone had seen what Lois now saw as she turned around: Superman landing gently, a little girl cradled in his arms. A perfectly unharmed little girl who could’ve been Kala…
In spite of knowing both twins were in the suburbs with her mother, in spite of having seen the disturbing man only seconds ago, for one instant Lois believed that was her daughter, just rescued from Luthor’s henchmen. She lunged out of the mob, flashing her press pass at the closest cop, and wound up being one of the first media representatives around Superman despite having been the furthest away. By then, of course, she had seen the little girl’s face and knew she wasn’t Kala, but there were still plenty of questions to answer.
A pack of journalists surrounded him as he handed the little girl over to the police. He hadn’t given the press much of his time since he’d returned, and there was no escaping them now without being completely boorish.
Some of the faces were familiar, some were new, and Superman barely had time to catch his breath before a pretty blonde he knew well elbowed her way to the front. “This is Cat Grant, WGBS News, live at the scene of downtown Metropolis’ latest fire,” she said hastily into her microphone, then held it out to him. “Superman, do you believe this blaze is the work of the serial arsonist?”
Cat’s cameraman was behind her, focusing in on Superman’s face. “The police will be able to determine that when they complete their investigation,” he replied cautiously. I do not want to do this now, but I can’t really escape it, either.
The questions came thick and fast, cameras pointed his way, microphones and tape recorder pushed toward him. “Superman, were you able to rescue all of the trapped workers?”
“How many bombs were inside the building?”
“Do the police have any leads or any suspects?”
“What’s being done to prevent future fires?”
“Any indication of the arsonist’s next target?”
“Has anyone discovered a link between the targeted buildings?”
“These fires began after your return to Earth. Is there a connection?”
That last question, its tone almost rude, silenced everyone for a moment. Superman couldn’t see the man who had asked it, probably some tabloid ‘reporter’ with no real journalistic credentials, but suddenly became aware of jostling in the crowd to his right.
The last person he expected to see elbowed her way out in front and thrust a tape recorder in his face. “Lois Lane, Daily Planet,” she stated coldly. “Do you believe that your return has caused an increase in high-profile crimes such as this?”
And twenty cameras caught his poleaxed expression.
She’d been furious as she walked up. I could’ve gotten that bastard! I could’ve caught him and gotten us a real lead! But nooooo, somebody had to fly down for their photo op!
But as soon as the harsh words left her mouth, Lois started to feel sick. He was clearly shocked by her tone, and everyone around them knew perfectly well she didn’t need to introduce herself. Did I really say that? Geez, Lane, why not be a complete bitch on camera!
Before he could even reply, Lois felt a sharp jab in the middle of her back and heard Toby Raines hiss, “Thanks a lot, Lane! Now I have to print something about you acting catty to your ex. I try to be nice to you in spite of the fact that you’re the competition, but then you go do something like that.”
Superman cleared his throat and looked right into Lois’ eyes. “No, Ms. Lane, I don’t,” he said quietly, but his voice was sterner than it had ever been speaking to her. “Crime has existed since Cain slew Abel. These fires have gotten so much press because of the numbers of lives saved. It’s the work of our police, our fire department, and our emergency medical teams that’s remarkable here. I was able to render them some aid – and it’s my honor to do so – but they are always the real heroes.” With a nod to the rest of the press, he continued, “By the way, congratulations on your engagement, Ms. Lane. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me…”
The moment they stepped back, still muttering over the frosty exchange that had ended the impromptu press conference, he flew up and away. Other reporters sought out police and firemen to interview, but Lois could only thumb the STOP button on her recorder angrily and sigh with frustration.
“That was lovely,” Toby said, glaring at her. “Not like I can ignore that in favor of a real story. Well, since you’ve gone and forced me to become a gossip columnist, would you like to give me a little background on why you two are squabbling?”
“Shut up,” Lois growled at her Daily Star counterpart, and stalked off.
I can’t believe I just did that. I can’t believe he just did that! ‘Congratulations on your engagement’ … Clark, you nasty jealous bugger, I’ll get you for that one.
The Romantic chose that moment to murmur, And you were worried he didn’t still care about you.
Who said I was worried? the General’s Daughter snarled. Besides, being jealous doesn’t prove he cares. Based on the supply room this morning, he’s just being possessive of something he no longer owns!
I do not have time for a mental breakdown! Lois shook her head sharply, silencing both voices. There was one sure way to distract herself from that man and lay one nagging fear to rest. She pulled out her cell phone and speed-dialed 3.
“Lane residence,” Ella answered in formal tones.
“Mom, it’s me,” Lois said, closing her eyes gratefully for this anchor of calm and sanity in her life. “Are the kids okay?”
“Sure, dear, they’re playing Connect-Four. And beating me, I should add. Do you want to talk to them?”
Just then, Lois heard Kala yell, “That’s cheating!”
Jason immediately hollered back, “Is not!”
Lois chuckled in spite of herself. “No, they’re fine. I’ll let you go before they start World War Three. Love you, Momma.”
“Love you too, Lois,” Ella said fondly. As she replaced the receiver, Lois heard her say sternly, “What ever happened to good sportsmanship? Let me look up the rules and I’ll tell you if it’s cheating or not, but there’s no reason to yell…”
Dropping the phone back into her purse, Lois sighed with relief and cut down an alley toward her car. For the first time that morning, her thoughts were far from Kal-El.So she was too surprised to scream when she found herself off the ground and accelerating upward somewhat in excess of two hundred miles an hour.