Kitty was not ignoring them. Ever since wrecking the Vanderworth basement hours ago, Lex had kept his nose stuck in a book, leaving her to entertain herself. At the moment, she was watching several different shows on sixteen different screens.
The clock ticked over to five PM, and the nightly news came on most of the channels. Kitty was immediately captivated. “Wow, he’s cute,” she said appreciatively.
That made Lex look up, already forming a scathing comment about ‘cute’ guys who didn’t have his intelligence, his ambition, or his wealth. What he saw on five screens made the words die on his lips.
Superman. The damned alien was back.
The Encyclopedia of Gems and Crystals was about eight inches by eleven inches, and four inches thick. It was so massive that Lex had been using a bookstand to read it. But at the sight of that deviously charming smile, that silly little spit-curl, he snatched the book up one-handed and flung it, which shattered several screens and made Kitty screech. “Lex! I was watching that!”
“That,” he spat at her, “is the sonofabitch who put me in jail. That is the damned alien invader everyone’s welcoming back. He was supposed to die, damn him! Why can’t he just die! People do it every day, it can’t be that hard!”
He was being irrational. He knew he was being irrational. Kitty was looking at him with that wide-eyed frightened look she liked to fake on occasion, and it made him want to throttle her. Prison had taught him to appreciate the thrill of killing someone up close, seeing the tiny hemorrhages in the whites of their eyes, and for an instant he could feel Kitty’s smooth throat being crushed in his hands.
Don’t kill the silly bitch, his father’s voice growled in his ear, as it sometimes did in moments of emotional upheaval. She’s good for bait, if nothing else. That caped fool has a thing about damsels in distress. You do need to distract him, don’t you?
Yes, Lex thought, the rage in his eyes dying. It was only a matter of time before the big blue boy scout realized he’d been robbed. Lex stalked past Kitty into the other room, studying the remaining televisions while his mind churned.
He couldn’t strangle Kitty while he still had a use for her. He’d made that mistake with Eve, abandoning her in the Arctic. Miss Teschmacher had deserved it – she had betrayed Lex, but she had also sprung him out of prison, so he had simply left her, giving her a chance to survive. Whether or not she had somehow lived in that frozen waste, Lex regretted it when he found himself in prison yet again. He’d had to court that decrepit old widow Vanderworth to free himself. Though he did have a spark of admiration for her – the crone had signed her estate to him as much to spite her vulturous relatives as to benefit her sweetheart. That kind of ruthlessness was…
“Among those rescued was Pulitzer Prize winner Lois Lane, assistant editor-in-chief of the Metropolis newspaper The Daily Planet. Miss Lane is a familiar figure to Superman fans worldwide; his first public rescue saved her from a falling helicopter, and at his return we find Lois Lane and another doomed aircraft…”
Lex’s eyes widened suddenly. Lois Lane. Witness to his most inglorious defeats, snide post-incarceration interviewer, one of those people who managed to come out on top by a mixture of animal cunning and carefully exploited good looks instead of sheer intellect … and Superman’s beloved.
Kitty had hung back for a moment. Lex had his mood swings; mostly he was all right, if you let him think he was the most brilliant thing on earth. But once in a while she saw the man who had callously condemned millions to death to advance his own fortune, the man whose cellmates seemed to commit suicide with frightening regularity. At those times it was wise to handle him cautiously, and now was certainly one of them.
She sidled up to him, wanting a look at his expression before she said anything. What she saw sent chills dancing down her spine. The news story he was looking at was focusing in on a pretty dark-haired woman trying to shrug off a medic. The look on Lex’s face was equal parts hatred, lust, and revenge, all blended into a savage predatory hunger.
Kitty tiptoed back. Whoever you are, sister, God help you. You’re gonna need it.
But when Lex turned to her a moment later, he almost looked sane – except for the manic light in his eyes. “Tell me, Katherine,” he said, “do you know what Superman’s weakness is?”
She withheld sarcasm partly because she valued her skin, partly because he’d used her proper name. He only did that when he was feeling a certain sadistic glee. “Kryptonite,” she said crisply, like a good student.
Lex grinned. “Yes, very good. And do you know what his other weakness is?”
Kitty glanced at the screens again. “Those clunky boots?” she guessed.
Lex actually chuckled at that. “No, no, Katherine my dear. His real weakness is that reporter right there, my good friend Lois Lane. Why, he’d move heaven and earth for her. I wonder what she’s doing these days.”
Kitty cast a sympathetic glance at the new report, now showing footage of Lois questioning the Virgin Airlines rep. Compassion was not a large part of Kitty’s nature, but she knew that tone in Lex’s voice and what it portended. Of all the bad men she’d fallen for, he was the most dangerous. Not because of sheer violence, though he could get into the wetwork, but because of his mind. She sometimes envisioned his head as being full of wheels and gears, constantly spinning. Whatever he was planning for this Lane woman would wring tears from a stone.
“Have you ever been to a Pulitzer Prize award ceremony, Katherine?”
Other than gruffly asking if she was all right, Perry had left Lois alone after the Genesis incident. For her part, she tried to stay out of the office as much as possible, tracking down the blackout. Most people weren’t aware that it had been really an electromagnetic pulse, a massive one at that. Metropolis and its suburbs had been affected; everything electronic had simply gone dark as the invisible wave passed by.
Questions, bribery, and harassment had gotten her the information she wanted. The first address to lose power was the Vanderworth place, and she had gone to check it out that morning (successfully avoiding the office again). No one was home, and nothing was docked at the expensively and tastelessly decorated marina.
Lois circled the estate, peering in windows. Someone had spent a lot of money on furnishings; it was a pity that whoever it had been was more pack rat than connoisseur. She saw a beautiful Louis XVI desk that had been painted – sacrilege – and placed against a wall beneath a hideous painting of two vapid-looking toy dogs; imitation Greco-Roman marble statues that weren’t even properly proportioned; and horror of horrors, a signed painting of a matador done on black velvet.
Please God, don’t ever let me get this rich if I’m going to be this tacky, Lois thought with a shudder, longing for her home’s clean contemporary lines and understated colors.
Behind the house, she noticed some structural damage to the walls. It looked like the basement was sunken or something, which perhaps explained why the owners were gone. And that was another question – who exactly owned this place? According to her initial inquiries, the title was being held up in the courts, another thing Lois meant to track down.
Something had certainly happened here, and it was damned suspicious. Lois contemplated the windows, thoroughly intrigued and burning to get inside the place.
If they can afford that kind of pricey dreck, they can afford an alarm system, her cautious side whispered. A good alarm system. Probably campaign contributors for the police commissioner, too. Don’t chance it, Lane.
But oh, the story … letting a lead slip through her fingers brought the acid taste of defeat up into Lois’ throat. While she pondered, indecisive, her cell phone rang.
Incoming Call: Richard White, its little screen informed her.
She was of two minds as always where the little machine was concerned, both grateful to have such an easy and quick means of communication in case of emergencies and feeling as if she had a collar and leash at all times. And that was not a sensation she dealt well with.
At least if it was Richard, there was likely a good reason to answer. He was all too aware of how she felt about being interrupted in the midst of fact-finding. With a sigh, she smoothed a lock of dark hair behind her ear before pressing the ‘talk’ button. “Hello, love. I’m kinda in the middle of something, but what’s…”
“And it better not be that blackout story you’ve been chasing the last few days,” Perry barked. “It’s a sorry sight when the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper has to borrow his nephew’s cell phone just to get a hold of his assistant! Get back here right now, Lois.”
“Perry,” she began, her tone warning him of another explosive confrontation about her priorities and prerogatives.
“Lois, if you’re not in your office in forty-five minutes, you won’t have an office to come back to,” he snapped, and hung up the phone.
She stared at the cell phone in open-mouthed shock. Perry, who had all but begged her to come back to the Planet as his assistant, was threatening to fire her? How dare he! For an instant she considered flinging the phone off the dock, and cocked her arm back before remembering why she kept the damn thing. Instant access to her kids, or for them to reach her.
Lois pocketed the phone, still seething. I swear, the only reason Perry made me his assistant was so he could yank my chain more personally… He’d better have a damn good reason for this.
When Lois walked back into the bullpen, all of the senior reporters unobtrusively got out of her way. Clark watched her stalk to Perry’s office, fling the door open, and storm in, letting it bang shut behind her. The noise was curiously muffled; evidently the editor-in-chief had gotten his office soundproofed recently.
Not soundproofed against Clark, though. At first he simply watched through the glass walls, but when he saw Lois lean forward, smack her palms against Perry’s desk, and apparently yell at him from a foot away, he focused his hearing on the room. What on earth could have gotten her so angry?
“Superman’s the story,” Perry was telling her forcefully. “Didn’t we just have a staff meeting about that? Every newspaper in this town – this country – is dying to get the first interview with him! Hell, every one of them has a good-looking female reporter stashed on the roof.”
Clark winced. Too true – and he’d been careful not to overfly the National News building after one of their reporters decided to sunbathe topless.
Perry hadn’t let Lois get a word in yet. “And he hasn’t given any of them more than a wave as he flies off somewhere else. Does that tell you something, Lois?”
“He’s trying to make himself look good to make up for having abandoned us?” she said coldly, and Clark winced again.
Perry glared at her. “He wants to give that interview to the paper and the reporter that have always represented him best!”
“Tough,” Lois spat. “Perry, you’re missing the point. I’m busy with another story. Let Polly have his press release.”
“You have the history with him,” Perry said, “and you’re gonna interview him. I’m still your boss, Lois.”
For a moment, Clark just saw Lois’ jaw lock up and her eyes glitter with outrage. He hadn’t seen that livid expression for almost seven years, but he knew it better than most.
“Don’t even start,” Perry warned. “Lois, you’re on Superman as of now. That’s final. Give Kent your notes on the blackout story and let him run it down. He’s never had any luck finding Superman anyway.”
Absolutely the wrong thing to say to a strong-willed reporter who had the bit in her teeth about a completely different story. Clark tuned out the ensuing argument as Lois’ voice rose; soon it was even audible in the bullpen, although fortunately no one could hear her exact words.
Richard came in with both kids, who ran to Jimmy’s desk to raid his candy jar. They knew that whatever was in the glass jar would be safe for them to eat. Richard smiled indulgently at them, then realized what was going on in Perry’s office. He flinched, taking his gaze away from the spectacle of his fiancée bellowing at his uncle, and his eyes happened to meet Clark’s.
“They tell me she was always like this,” he said weakly, coming over to Clark’s desk.
“Well, Lois has always been, uh, intense,” Clark said.
The twins appeared at Clark’s side, watching their mother’s tirade in the other office with interest. “Wow, Mommy’s really mad,” Kala observed nonchalantly.
“Yeah, kids, your Mom can be a real fire-breather on occasion,” Richard said, ruffling Jason’s hair.
“See, Kala?” the boy said excitedly. “Mommy can act like Godzilla, so can I!”
The two men let the kids argue and looked at each other with a moment of perfect understanding. Lois is pretty much Reporter-zilla when she gets her teeth into a story, but we both love her for it. “I bet my uncle would rather deal with Godzilla than Lois on a rampage,” Richard joked.
“Godzilla doesn’t sell as many papers,” Clark replied.
Richard chuckled. “True. You know, as much as I love her, I don’t think I’ll ever completely understand her.”
Join the club. “Lois is, um, pretty complex,” Clark offered.
“You know what Perry told me?” Richard said, seeming not to have heard him. “He told me to quit thinking of her as a woman. Can you believe it? I mean, look at her. But he had a point. When Lois wants something, she doesn’t wait around for somebody to give it to her—”
“—she goes out and gets it herself,” Clark said, nodding.
“Exactly,” Richard agreed. “She’s darned tenacious. You have to respect that, you know? And not just because she’s a woman, you have to respect that willpower in anyone.” He paused, reflecting, and added, “Of course, then Perry told me no man will ever really understand a woman, so I’d better just live with appreciating her.”
That momentarily stunned Clark, hearing his father’s advice coming from Richard’s lips. He realized abruptly that he could have really come to like the man; they would’ve been good friends, if Richard hadn’t been Lois’ fiancé.
Evidently Richard thought they were friends. He clapped a hand on Clark’s shoulder and said, “Looks like she’s winding down. I’d better get into the bomb shelter; he borrowed my phone to call her.”
He underestimated the speed of wrath, though. Lois was zeroing in on him before he could flee, Perry’s office door swinging shut violently behind her, and for once she didn’t even notice Clark or the kids. “You, sir, are never going to let Perry borrow your phone again, are we clear?” she said, poking her finger into his chest.
Clark felt his heart leap into his throat. She was so splendid in her rage, so vibrantly completely alive, that he couldn’t help falling in love with her again. How had he ever thought he could live without this woman?
“Mommy, Kala’s calling me a lizard again!” Jason whined.
And Clark saw an amazing thing then. Having known Lois for years, he would’ve expected her to turn that razor tongue on Jason, too, in spite of his age and the fact that he was her son. But instead, she looked blankly at him for a second, then sighed heavily and brushed his bangs out of his eyes. “Honey, Godzilla is a lizard.”
“See, Lizard-boy?” Kala crowed.
“Kala, don’t tease your brother,” Lois said automatically. “Richard, go talk to your uncle. If I yell at him any more he might have another heart attack, and I don’t want to be editor.”
“I love you, honey,” he said.
“Love you,” she replied, “but I’m still pi… peeved.” At that moment, she noticed Clark, and her eyes narrowed for a second. Just an instant. “Kent, if Richard can’t pull a miracle, you get the blackout, and I get to join the legions of attractive female journalists loitering on rooftops. Joy.”
“Um, Lois, I think that…” his voice faltered in the face of her steely glare. I really have to get to the bottom of this with her.
“Here’s an idea,” Richard said. “How about you, me, Jimmy, and Clark stay late. We’ll get the blackout put to bed first – we can get more done with the four of us working the phones. Then we can all devote our time to tracking down Superman. If both stories get down, how’s Perry gonna argue about who did which one?”
“But the twins,” Lois began.
“It’s your night to make dinner, so we’re having takeout anyway,” Richard said. “Besides, they like hanging around here.”
Jimmy had walked up halfway through the conversation, meaning to ask Clark if he could borrow a pen, and he was perfectly willing to be included. The first good-quality photos of Superman could save his career. “Sure, I’d love to stay and help, Miss Lane. I mean, Perry’s kinda hung up on Superman, but that blackout was really weird and probably really important.”
All eyes turned to Clark then. “Of course I’ll stay,” he said with a shrug. “Perry would make me work on the blackout anyway, and Lois and I always made a great team in the past.”
“So that’s settled,” Richard said, beaming. “We’re in covert rebellion against my uncle, and we’re going to have Mexican tonight.”
“Yay! Burritos!” Kala and Jason yelled in unison.
Neither they, nor the men, saw the narrow-eyed look Lois was giving Clark. In the past, she thought angrily. The past you took from me. This is the present, and it’s not exactly a gift.