The investors had arrived unannounced and unexpectedly, claiming an urgent need to speak with the editor in chief and the heads of the various departments. Perry escorted them to the conference room, with Ron standing in for Clark. Perry himself had covered City the past few days, but he brought Laurel along to take notes for Lois.
Half a dozen men filed in and took seats opposite the group from the paper. Perry knew most of them, and he stolidly met their gazes: Cooper, Newman, Hollis, Neal, and finally Eastlake. With them was a man he didn’t know, but something of the cut of his suit and the briefcase he carried said ‘lawyer’ to Perry’s journalistic eye. He could feel his own people’s restlessness, like static electricity crackling behind him, but he took his own seat with icy calm. “Well?”
The lawyer spoke up. “Mr. White, I am Juan Dominguez of the law firm of Yates, Peckin, and Friedkin. I represent these gentlemen of the firms Eagle Capital Investments and Vanderworth Holdings LLC. We are here today to discuss the disposition of your newspaper.”
“The Planet’s disposition is hard-boiled bordering on surly, like it’s always been,” Perry retorted.
“Have a care, Mr. White,” Douglas cautioned. Perry merely harrumphed.
Mr. Dominguez continued after a brief pause, “As I’m certain you are aware, shares of your paper’s stock have been heavily traded in the past few weeks. As of this moment, these gentlemen and their firms have amassed a controlling interest of 42.8% of the Daily Planet.”
He had to stop again as gasps sounded from Perry’s side of the table, but the chief just looked bored. Perry gave a negligent wave of his hand for the man to continue.
“Mr. White, these gentlemen and their corporations have express serious concerns about the management and policies of the newspaper. As you are aware, the terms of the stock offering require that the manager of the newspaper be accountable to the stockholders. Under those terms, these gentlemen have expressed a profound lack of confidence in the current management, and we are here today to request, for the good of the paper, your immediate resignation….” Perry’s side of the desk buzzed with outraged murmurs, and Dominguez had to raise his voice to continue, “…and that of certain heads of departments, as follows: Clark Kent of International, Lois Lane-Kent of City, James Olsen of Photography…”
Pandemonium broke out as Laurel sent an urgent text from her cell phone hidden under the table. There was no reason to attack those specific people other than spite; Jimmy in particular was management in name only, and his photos had only brought increasing circulation to the paper. The department heads shouted Dominguez down, and Susannah Thaxter from Accounting leaped to her feet. “If Lois was here you wouldn’t dare say that to her face!”
“And doesn’t that speak volumes, that your chosen successor can’t even be bothered to be present for such an important meeting,” Mr. Newman retorted in such a stentorian voice that he momentarily silenced the paper’s staff. “Neither her nor her husband, and that’s hardly good business practice, is it, letting husband and wife work in competing departments?”
Perry felt his blood begin to boil, rising from his chair. These bastards knew perfectly well why Lois wasn’t here; these were Luthor’s lapdogs, running his errands. But before the first furious word could form on his tongue, the conference room door burst open.
Lois strolled in, head held high, as cool and calm as if she were walking into a family barbecue. True, she was very pale, and moved a little more stiffly than usual, but she was there in suit and heels. Laurel beamed at the unexpected sight of her, while everyone else stared with jaws dropping. They all knew by now that she’d been shot, but here she was – and in a fine temper by the frosty gleam in her eyes.
Resting her left hand on Perry’s shoulder to quell him, Lois propped her right on her hip and met the eyes of each of the startled investors. She was deeply grateful for the pain pill she’d taken on the way over, especially since it was the first time she tried to angle her wounded shoulder, and for the support and encouragement of Tobie and Cat, who were leaning against the doorjambs with wicked grins on their faces. “Well, boys?” Lois drawled. “Surprised to see me?”
“Mrs. Lane-Kent,” the lawyer began, but Lois cut him off.
“My husband would be here as well, but he’s escorting the twins home from Las Vegas. Kala’s been through enough without being stuck there any longer.” The room seemed to grow several degrees colder just from her expression, which grew catlike. “You all thought you were so smart, didn’t you? Letting a coward like Luthor tell you what to do. You knew damn well where I was, and you waited ‘til Clark and I were out of the picture to spring your trap. I do hate to disappoint you, but you’ve wasted a trip.” She glared at them like a snake glaring at mice that didn’t have the common sense to flee.
“Mrs. Lane-Kent, you may be unaware that these gentlemen currently possess a controlling interest in the Daily Planet,” Dominguez informed her.
Impatient with that, Newman cut in. “We own your paper, Lane. So I suggest you start behaving with the proper respect. We’ve asked for your resignation, and we’ve the power to enforce that if you won’t comply.”
Lois looked at Dominguez and her smile was almost cruel. “Gentlemen? I don’t see any gentlemen at the table, with one exception. All I see are a bunch of errand boys and moneychangers, so deep in Luthor’s pockets they can’t get out again.” She rounded on Newman and leaned across the desk, seeming to brace herself on her hands while actually taking her weight with the left. She didn’t notice the hospital bracelet slide down her arm, but everyone else did, staring fixedly at the proof that she had literally gotten up out of a hospital bed just to give the investors a righteous chewing-out. “As for you, I’ll happily show you the respect you deserve, and tell you what a belly-crawling chickenshit bootlicker you are.”
“How dare you!” Newman roared, slamming his hands down on the table.
“I dare because I’m better informed that you are, you fat old toad,” Lois spat back with eyes blazing. The ice had burned away now, leaving only wrath. “I am a reporter, after all! And I know a few things you don’t – such as the fact that your precious ‘Mr. Roth’ still hasn’t been found, which means he’s probably lost in the middle of the Nevada desert, with some very upset police and federal agents searching for him. Not to mention one very angry superhero.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, young woman,” he said haughtily.
“Yeah, any more than you had any idea of someone attempting to seduce me into cooperation. Good luck there, by the way. Next time pick someone who hasn’t walked through fire for the relationship she’s got.”
Newman’s gaze didn’t waver, but Hollis couldn’t resist turning toward Eastlake. The younger man was sitting calmly, his hands folded, watching all this as if it were a poker tournament on television. Only Eastlake saw the tiniest glance and nod that Lois directed his way, mute forgiveness and understanding. Somehow she had gotten the rest of the story.
Newman retreated behind stuffy language after this exchange, a vein in his temple throbbing with rage. “It seems your recent family difficulties have unhinged your mind, to make such baseless accusations.”
Lois scoffed. “About what I expected you to say. I can tell you one thing you can confirm, however. None of you did research within the last twenty-four hours. If you had, you’d know that you don’t own this paper. You are minority share holders. There are three entities which together comprise a clear majority of 51% of the stock: Perry White, Lana Lang, and the employees. We own this paper.”
Expressions of shock from all the investors except Eastlake. “You lie,” Hollis thundered.
The bluster just increased Lois’ amusement. She couldn’t face down Luthor at this moment, and she knew that trying to take the Planet had been a back-up plan, but she’d content herself with striking back at Luthor this way. Although not nearly as satisfying as going for the man himself, these bureaucratic blowhards made a reasonable substitute. Even the pain was worth it. “Why bother when the truth is a click away. Get your lawyer to look it up on his laptop, there,” Lois challenged.
Mr. Dominguez promptly did so. All gathered saw the disbelief in his eyes before he even opened his mouth. He looked a little paler under that rich tan, as well. “Ah, gentlemen, it appears the lady is correct. Additionally, we are short by 10% of the projected number of shares.”
All heads turned toward Eastlake, who simply smiled. “I promised to amass a share of Daily Planet stock, and to turn that stock over to Prometheus Corporation on this date. I keep my promises, gentlemen. You have received the stock certificate for exactly one share.”
“You … you…” Hollis glowered, unable to voice his rage, before Eastlake turned calm eyes on his mentor.
“Mr. Hollis, I believe you will find it advantageous to seek other employment. My father’s company no longer requires your services. And that is a decision that I, as CEO, retain the right to make. Furthermore, gentlemen, while our business partnership has been a long and fruitful one, I have no wish to further involve ECI in the dealings of L-Tech, Vanderworth Limited, or Prometheus Corp.”
Lois crossed her arms with a triumphant grin. No one present saw what it was costing her to force the movements and that was just the way Lois wanted it. She couldn’t appear weak. Not for an instant. This just had to go on a little longer now. “Well, in that case, ‘gentlemen’ – and I use the term loosely – it is with great pleasure that I invite you all to pack your shit and get the hell out of my building. Except for Eastlake, of course. We’ll be retaining him for obvious reasons.” She glanced at Perry, who was beaming at her. “Sound good to you, Chief?”
“Sounds fantastic,” the older man said gruffly. “Now get lost, you pack of jackals, before I call security and turn you out.”
Lois’ smile grew even more predatory. “Oh, not to worry. They’re already on their way up – I took the liberty of making a call on my way in. Good day, boys. If you ever try this again, we’ll be waiting for you. And this will look like child’s play.”
“Atta girl,” Perry said, and would have clapped a hand to her shoulder if not for the sudden warning look in her eyes. He settled for a very gentle pat on her back as the investors filed out with stunned expressions.
There were laughter and high-fives all around. The Planet employees lingered, all of them congratulating Lois, none noticing that she was leaning quite heavily on the edge of the table rather than showing her usual high spirits after a battle well-won. Perry saw that her complexion had gone even paler, and shooed the rest away. All alive with such a triumphant win, they hurried back to their own departments to share the news. Jimmy, Ron, and Laurel all hung back as Perry walked beside his heir apparent, and Cat and Tobie applauded as they left the room.
Only once all of the other employees were out of sight did Lois stumble, and even then Perry was ready with an arm around her waist. Ron quickly got her good arm over his shoulder while Jimmy grabbed a chair for her. “I’m fine, I just need another pill,” she protested.
Jimmy was the first to speak up, helping her into the chair. “Lois, you’re crazy. I can’t believe you just did that. You just got out of the hospital…”
That brought up a good point. “Lane, what the hell are you doing out of the hospital?” Perry snapped.
“Making a point – ow! Dammit, that hurts!” She had tried to shrug, forgetting her shoulder, and now swore under her breath. God, it had worked, but this hadn’t been one of her brightest moments. Holy shit, this sucks.
“I don’t remember Lucy texting me that you were stopping by before you checked in at Met Gen. Why do I get this feeling like Clark doesn’t know you’re here?” Ron asked sternly. Lois’ refusal to meet his gaze was all the answer he needed. “For God’s sake, Lois.”
She frowned at all of them, then. Maybe a reality-check was needed here. “Well, it worked, didn’t it? It showed a united front, even if one of us is jacked-up, and makes it clear that I’m not just a trophy . Luthor was going to take Perry’s paper, my paper, our paper, just because he thought he could. And to get back at my family. And I needed to let them know it’ll be, literally, over my dead body.”
Silence reigned for a time after that. Lois had a point. Then Perry uttered a long-suffering sigh and looked heavenward. “Great Caesar’s ghost, Lane, what’re you trying to do, get your picture in the dictionary next to ‘stubborn’?”
She gave him a affectionate smile, small as it was. Sheer will was keeping her from demanding another painkiller. “I would, Chief, but I wouldn’t want to bump you out of that spot.”
“Very funny,” he groused. “Well, since I can’t trust the competition here with my reporter’s health, I’m going to send you on to Met Gen in the care of your secretary. Laurel, if she doesn’t go straight there and check herself in, you thump her upside the head and drag her by the heels, you hear me?”
“Yes, Chief,” Laurel said with a grin. “Come on, Lois. We might just get you in before the rest of the family arrives. And just maybe we can work it out so Clark doesn’t know what you’ve been up to. At least for a while.” Helping her out of the chair, she winked at the others over Lois’ shoulder and received solemn nods in return. She’d at least earned herself a head-start in that department. Tobie and Cat followed as they made their way up the hallway.
Tobie couldn’t resist a laugh. “Not bad, Lane. And you managed not to land on your face. Chalk that up to one more unbelievable tale about you being bullet-proof.”
“Yeah, well. Next thing you know, the Star will start getting me mixed up with You-Know-Who rather than linking me with him,” Lois snarked back.
For once, Tobie just smiled.
But Cat couldn’t resist teasing her friend one more time when the four of them entered the elevator. “Sounds like you’ve earned yourself a hot date with another sponge bath, Mrs. Lane-Kent.”
“Kiss my ass, Grant.”
Sebast knew he was getting crazy looks as he ran up the hall, dodging people who swarmed past him. Even at this smaller airfield, the corridors were full of pilots, passengers, and cargo handlers. It had already been after three-fifteen when he had gotten out of the car, so he had to run. He couldn’t miss them.
Sebast had fought to be here, called upon every bit of credit for good behavior he had stored with his parents, cajoled and threatened and harangued, and finally pleaded to the ultimate authority in the house: Abuelita. She adored Kala, even called her nieta, and the feeling was quite mutual. When Sebast explained the situation to her, she patted his hand and went to speak to his father. The next day Sebast found himself in the car on the way to the airport at which Kala – along with the rest of the Lane-Kents, Troupes, and Whites – was expected to arrive.
He slowed when he reached the concourse, sighing with relief when he spotted familiar faces. As he’d expected, he wasn’t the only one there. The Metropolis contingent had turned out in force, Ron Troupe and Perry White eager to see their wives and children, and keeping well back of the rest Sebast noticed a certain blond head he would just as soon not have seen. Just because Nick had helped him and Elise didn’t mean the college boy was forgiven. Making his way over to the others, Sebast was greeted with warm surprise, even if they gave him hell over the grounding. All was well. He was still considered family after this fiasco. He’d never been more relieved.
Then the passengers were disembarking, Bryan running up to his dad, Lucy flying into Ron’s arms. The others made their way up with smiles and laughter, Kristin riding on Richard’s shoulders. Sebast realized after a moment that neither Lois nor Clark was amongst them. He started to turn and ask, but overheard Perry’s wife comment that Lois had arrived a few hours earlier in care of the twins’ Aunt Cat and Aunt Tobie and that Clark was taking a later flight. He’d just heard this before Sebast saw Jason emerge from the hallway, with Elise to one side of him and another girl on the other…
He hadn’t known until that moment just how frightened he’d been. Everyone had told him that Kala was coming home, but some tiny part of his soul hadn’t believed it until he actually saw that incredibly black hair. And then she looked up.
Kala’s eyes caught his at the same moment, and a look of sheer disbelief crossed her face. She looked stricken when her eyes met his. Hadn’t she known he would be here? But in the next instant she smiled and shared a glance with her brother, letting go of his hand, and before either of them really knew what was happening Sebast and Kala were running toward each other.
Kala flung her arms around his neck, crying and laughing at the same time, he grabbed her around the waist, and they hugged so tightly his ribs hurt. Neither said a word for a time, just holding on to each other. Half smothered by the hood of his jacket, she still managed to whisper, “I missed you so much…”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should never have believed her,” Sebast told her, squeezing her extra tight. The relief just kept on coming. She was here, she was alive. She was home. No one could take her away again. A lock of hair had fallen into her face and he smoothed it back for her. “Mi Kala, how I missed you.”
“I’m sorry I acted like an idiot and I did something that stupid. I should have told you what was going on,” she replied, and leaned back a little to smile at him. Her mascara was smearing from the tears in her eyes, but this was his Kala, his best friend in the whole wide world, and seeing something so ordinary as smeared makeup brought it home to Sebast that he could’ve lost her for good.
He wanted to tell her how much he adored her, how much he had missed her, and how glad he was that she’d made it home safely, but there were no words in English or Spanish sufficient to do so. Instead, Sebast caught the nape of Kala’s neck and kissed her.
And not just kissed her, but dipped her back like she was Scarlett to his Rhett Butler. Sebast didn’t see the shocked look on her face, but he felt the moment when she decided to just go with it and kissed him back.
He heard the startled laughter from the family after a moment and remembered that they weren’t the only two people on the face of the earth. And he’d just kissed – was still kissing – his best friend. Sebast broke the kiss and hauled Kala upright, noticing the surprised and quite pleased expression on her face. Oh, now that was gonna be awkward later on…
At least until he swatted her upside the head. “What the hell did you think you were doing anyway, running off without telling anyone where you were? If you ever pull some bullshit like that again, pendeja, you damn well better tell me so I can come with you!”
Meanwhile Kristin tugged on her father’s hair. Richard glanced up to meet her blue eyes. “Daddy, is Sebast mad at Kala for being stupid and running away?”
“Yeah, a little bit.” Richard replied, “She scared him pretty bad, too.”
“Good, maybe she won’t do it again,” Kristin said petulantly, and her father chuckled.
Kala threw her head back and laughed with relieved disbelief, and Sebast grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “I’m not kidding, blanquita! You pull this shit on me again, I’ll beat you so hard your children’ll be born bruised!” Kala wheezed and flung her arms around his neck, knowing that from Sebast, who loved her almost as much as Jason did, the overblown threat simply proved how much he’d worried about her.