Boredom lay on Lois’ skin like a swarm of ants, making her irritable and frustrated. The investments representative had been going on for more than ten minutes about the side of the business that interested her the least, and she found herself wondering if there was any way to escape the meeting. If I see one more bar graph, I’m going to find out how far up that guy’s nose I can stick this pen. Maybe if I pretend to have a migraine … or the flu … or Ebola…
Her cell phone suddenly vibrated in her pocket, and Lois glanced at it under the table. “New text message,” the screen read. Intrigued – even a wrong number would capture her attention at that point – she read it.
MS LANE. FIRE, FRENCH CONSULATE. SUSPECT: YSTDY’S ARSONIST. And it was sent from Jimmy’s phone.
Lois leaned a little closer to Perry and hissed, “The French consulate is on fire! Jimmy just texted me. Looks like our firebug is at it again!”
“Damn,” he muttered. “And I’m stuck here. Well, they’ll send somebody.”
“What if they send someone like Polly?” Lois whispered. “Neither one of us are there to make sure it’s done right!”
“I could’ve been there if I’d trusted you to come to this thing without me,” Perry replied out of the side of his mouth. “Ask Jimmy who went.”
WHO COVERING? Lois tapped the little keys rapidly, and got a reply in seconds.
CLARK, GIL, ME.
“Clark? Clark?! He’s bloody International!” she muttered. Not quietly enough, apparently, for several of the large men in suits sitting around the table glared at her, and Perry’s elbow caught her ribs.
“Continue on, gentlemen, I’ve got Lane monitoring the pressroom for me,” he said aloud, then grumbled, “It’s an embassy, Lois, it’s International’s baby.”
“It’s in Metropolis though.”
“Technically, it’s on foreign soil…”
“Bullshit,” Lois growled. “It’s surrounded on all sides by Metropolis, so it’s City.”
Perry was looking over her shoulder at the tiny screen. “Hell, one reporter from each department and a photographer. What more do you want, Lane?”
Lois glared at him and thought of another question. WHO SENT?
It took Jimmy a minute to work out what she was asking, then he responded, RICHARD SENT US.
Hazel eyes narrowed, and Lois glared at Perry. “I could’ve been on this one if only…”
“Hell, no, you couldn’t,” the editor growled. “Last time you went after a story you forgot your car!”
“That was different!”
Just as Perry opened his mouth to reply, he noticed how the rest of the board was watching them instead of the Powerpoint presentation. “Well? Is this a meeting or a spectator sport?”
Richard found Lana very easy to talk to. Perhaps too easy to talk to. “I just think, if you really love someone, you shouldn’t keep secrets from them,” he said, and speared a piece of grilled chicken.
Lana leaned on her palm and looked at him wryly. “So you want a dating resume? A list of everyone she’s ever seen, all the way back to her first kiss? What would you do if she asked that of you? You went to college after the Air Force – don’t tell me your list wouldn’t be longer than hers, if you could remember all the names.”
Richard paused, thinking, and then said, “Okay, you got me there. I was a stupid kid in college. But I don’t want to know everyone she’s ever been with, just the important ones.”
“Oh. Just the famous ones.” Lana chuckled and had a bite of her salad. “Has it ever occurred to you that she might not be trying to keep secrets? She might just be trying to respect his privacy.”
“His privacy? He’s Superman, he shows up on radar, Lana!”
“I know, that’s precisely my point,” the redhead replied, gesturing at him with her fork. “Everyone knows Superman. They know everything about him, they think. Don’t you hate reading about celebrities in the tabloid papers? Don’t you pity the people who have to live like that, everyone taking pictures of them at six AM when they’re just trying to run to the corner store for some milk? And if they look awful doing it, the pictures get even more coverage. He has no private life, except with her. Can’t you see why Lois would never talk about anything that happened between them?”
Richard opened his mouth to reply, then slowly closed it. Lana soldiered on.
“Furthermore, how could they ever have a real relationship? It’s not as if he can take her to a movie or a restaurant. He’s a six-four hunk in a bright primary suit. Not exactly unobtrusive, Mr. White. It had to be a very strange relationship, one that probably doesn’t fit into any easily-labeled pigeonhole. If she really cares about him, she’ll never talk about what happened. Not even to you – not that it’s your business, either.”
“It’s none of my business?” Richard’s voice rose slightly.
“None. That was years before you met her. She’s not trying to leave you for him, is she? Seems like she’s pretty upset with him still, from TV yesterday.” Lana leaned forward to make her point more firmly. “He’s no threat to you, Richard. You’re smart, you’ve got a good sense of humor, you’re handsome, you have a good job and lots of other great stuff going for you. Just let it be! Stop being a reporter for five minutes and ask yourself how you’d feel if she started grilling you about all those awestruck college girls.”
Totally nonplussed by the question, Richard could only sit back in his chair and stare at Lana. The litany of his good points was very helpful to his ego, even if it was unexpected. “I … I guess you’re right…”
Lana rolled her eyes heavenward. “The man sees sense! Just don’t harass the poor woman into doing anything stupid, and you’ll be all right.”
His eyes narrowed. “There is one more thing, though.”
“Oh, dear God, what now?”
“The twins’ father.”
Lana peered at him over her glass of iced tea. “What about him? You knew they weren’t yours. And he’s clearly out of the picture, too. Unless… You don’t think…”
“Nah, they’re not his,” Richard said. “She told me she’d never … you know. And I kind of believe her. Anyway, he’s an alien. I mean, come on. Nobody ever thinks about that because he looks just like us, but who knows if he could successfully hybridize with a human? Even if he could, I doubt the kids would be so normal. Other than being precocious and having some health problems, they’re just regular kids. No picking up cars, no laser vision, none of that.”
Lana just looked at him interestedly. “Okay, so if he’s not the father, why are you so determined to figure out who is?”
Richard sighed. “Because I have a pretty good idea already who it is, and I think he deserves to know. It’s no one from the Quotidienne, I know that. She said the father was a guest columnist, and she hinted that Jason’s middle name is for him, but that paper has never had a Garen in its byline. The only Garen in Paris that even heard of her worked in the office across the street and happened to meet her for coffee a few times.”
“Just how do you know all this?”
“Because I called them all. That last one, his boyfriend of the past twelve years answered the phone, so I know it’s not him.”
Lana dropped her fork and put her head in her hands. “My God, Richard, if she ever finds out about that, she’ll kill you. You do know that, right? I only met her yesterday, and I know that.”
“I know Lois,” Richard said. “Like I said, I’m pretty sure I know who it is. But before I confront her, I have to prove to her that I know all her explanations are lies. Lois will never back down as long as there’s a shred of chance she can brazen something out. I have to have evidence.”
“Okay, fine, Sherlock. Who is it?”
Richard sipped his coffee, a beverage he believed complimented every meal including dessert. “Nope. I’m not telling anyone until I know for sure, and then I’m telling her.”
The redhead glared at him. “You mean after all that, you’re not even going to share your suspicions? It’s not like we know any of the same people!”
“I thought you said you hated gossips,” he replied.
Lana’s green eyes narrowed still further. “Oh, that’s low. That’s really low. Fine, Mr. Holmes. I was going to split the check, but since you made me eat my own words for dessert, you get to pay.”
“I already planned to,” Richard chuckled, “I’m putting it on the expense account.”
Richard made it back to the office first, dropping Lana off on the way. Gil and Jimmy were next, claiming not to have seen Clark at the fire at all, but about fifteen minutes after they left to work on the article and developing photos, Clark turned up at Richard’s desk with a typed rough of his own take on the events. He seemed puzzled that Gil and Jimmy hadn’t seen him; he’d certainly seen them, and told Richard that Jimmy’s photos would probably be front-page stuff.
Things had barely settled down in the office again when Lois and Perry got back from the meeting. Richard heard their raised voices before they ever got into the bullpen, and steeled himself for a confrontation with one or both of them. The world would be a better place if I spiked the coffeemaker in here with Xanax, he thought.
“Oh, bite me,” Lois snapped as she shoved open the door.
“I can’t, my cardiologist told me I had to give up cheesecake,” Perry retorted.
Lois came to a sudden halt, and whirled to look at him incredulously. Half the reporters in the room instinctively buried themselves in their work, hoping not to attract notice. Perry just walked on by Lois, adding, “I knew there was a reason I don’t take you out in public.”
After a few minutes, she laughed, surprising everyone who expected to hear another extensive recital of profanity. “Nice one, White,” Lois chuckled, a hand on her hip as she leaned against Jimmy’s desk. “You’re still a jerk, though.”
At his office door, Perry shot a glowering look over his shoulder at her. “You’re the one who brought the whole meeting to a screeching halt because you couldn’t go chase a firebug, Lane. After scaring everyone half to death and then leaving early yesterday, don’t be surprised if I start locking you in your own office!”
“Try it and die,” she muttered, but she still had half a smile on her face. Once the old man had entered his lair, Lois stood up with every intention of going straight to her own office and getting some work done with what was left of the day, when something caught her eye. On her way out earlier, she had heard Jimmy comment that he was going to try to get some of his older exposures in some semblance of order. Seems he’d been in the middle of that when the story broke. Unable to help her curiosity, she leaned closer for a better look.
Once she did, it was clear that it was old pictures of the Planet employees, from before the twins were even a thought. In a couple of the photos on the top of the pile she spotted a familiar dark-haired girl and smiled. Well, since there are pictures of me in here, not to mention him and Perry, I doubt he’d mind if I looked.
What she saw made a small thoughtful smile come to her lips. As she shuffled the photos around, recalling the events of the pictures, memories of the past rose around her. One snapshot half-buried under the others fell out, Clark’s face captured in a moment of absolute shock tinged with moral horror, and it provoked a particularly vivid flashback…
Right after Perry’s infamous “most important interview since God talked to Moses” meeting, Lois had been thinking about various ways to snag an interview with the mysterious flying man who had saved her life. Perhaps if she lay down on some train tracks…
Clark’s voice, hesitant: “Ah, Lois … about tonight…”
“Mm? What about tonight, Clark?”
She’d only been giving him half her attention, and he smiled shyly. “Our date. Well, our dinner. Don’t you remember?”
Damn. She needed to get that interview before anyone else did. “Sorry, Clark. I must’ve forgot.”
His face fell, and she felt like a heel. The poor guy, it had probably taken every ounce of nerve he possessed to ask her in the first place. “Gee, I planned on it all week…” he said resignedly.
She’d sighed, not having much resistance to the sad, hopeful puppy-eyes, and said, “All right, Clark. I'll go out with you. Might as well get it over with.”
Clark had brightened immediately. “You’re wonderful, Lois. Where would you like to go?”
Teasing a little, she’d grinned and said, “How about the Gold Room at the Park Towers?”
He’d gulped. “The Gold Room? But that’s the most expensive place in town.”
Seeing his expression, she’d been ready to say she was joking, to suggest someplace else, but Jimmy Olsen had just walked by, and heard enough to turn a very impressed look on Clark.
“Wow, Mr. Kent, are you really going to take Ms. Lane out to the Gold Room?” His voice had been full of admiration, with just a touch of envy.
Lois had watched with amusement as Clark realized he was trapped. Then he shrugged, and trying to sound suave (not precisely succeeding), he replied, “Oh, I don’t know, Jimmy. Maybe … if she’s a good girl…” He dropped a wink to emphasize the last two words, but the poor man had no idea who he was dealing with yet.
When playing poker, Lois always upped the ante, no matter what her hand. Mimicking his self-satisfied wink precisely, she shot back, “And if I’m not a good girl… Let’s let Jimmy take the pictures, okay?”
As she walked off, smirking with delight at Clark’s sudden blush, she heard Jimmy ask, “Boy. What do you suppose she meant by that, Mr. Kent?”
Ah, old times. Good times. Still chuckling to herself over the memories, Lois continued on her way to her desk, only glancing into International once.
Richard was bent over his desk, reading something intently, and didn’t even see her. But he was watching, and though mind-reading wasn’t one of his talents, thank God, he seemed to smile at the same thought.