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Interim: Cycle One (The 'Boys')
Interim: Perry White
Things have finally settled down around here. The last big blow-up was when Lois found out I’d transferred Kent to International. I let her yell for a while, then told her very calmly that I had no intention of letting one of my best reporters quit, and I figured sending him to work for her fiancé might remind him that she was taken. I didn’t know people could actually turn green.
Somebody once said, “Love is the best way I know to jump-start a vomit.” It sure applies to Lois; every time you mention Kent or Superman, she looks distinctly nauseous. I’ve given up meddling in it. With Kent in another department and Polly covering the Superman stories, Lois doesn’t have to be around either one unless she wants to. But she can’t forget about them, either. Every week or so Superman’s on the front page, and of course Kent’s byline is in the paper every day. Wish I knew how he learned how to type that fast.
Speaking of which, I was a little nervous about sending him to Richard’s department. Kent looked a bit anxious, too, but it was the only senior reporter’s job available at the time he tried to resign. It worked out pretty well, though. Better than I thought. Kent makes a hell of a globetrotting reporter; he speaks several languages and gets along well in foreign cultures. Either he’s very adaptable or very centered, or both.
What’s really creepy is how well he and Richard get along. Traveling the world knocked some of the nerdiness off Kent, and it’s easier than ever to see how much alike the two men are. Richard practically raves over him – the guy never misses a deadline, he’s got great style, and he’s got connections like you wouldn’t believe. And Kent seems to like working for him. They’ve both been in Mexico the last two weeks, covering the new illegal immigration laws. The coyotes down there – that’s what they call the smugglers who bring in the illegal immigrants – are already finding ways around them, and people in Texas are starting to patrol their ranches at night, armed to the teeth. Recipe for disaster. And headlines. If I know those two boys, they’ll bring me back a whole series of articles.
Near as I know, Richard doesn’t suspect a thing. Kent hasn’t said anything to him about his past with Lois, and I know damn well Lois won’t. The others who’ve been here long enough to remember them before probably thought he just had a puppy crush on her, like half of them have. No one knows Lois well enough to realize she felt something for him – still feels it. No one but me, and I’m keeping my mouth shut. I love Lois, but I know her well enough to know she’s got to figure this out herself. And much as I love my nephew, too, Richard will have to lose or keep her on his own.
Richard’s worried about Lois, says she’s been aloof and tense. Luthor really got to her, and the stress is making her snappish. Doesn’t help that he’s pitching a fit over every new thing he learns about her, saying she kept secrets from him. Poor kid. Lois went along to get along the last six years, following the current, making decisions mostly based on convenience. Now she’s charting her own course again, and my nephew’s just realizing he was never the captain of that ship.
I told him to calm down, that you can’t know someone completely in three years, or thirty. If you could, they’d be damn boring, and whatever else you say about her, Lois has never been boring. I also reminded Richard that the two things about her that interested him the most when they first met were her independence and her mysteriousness. She didn’t suddenly tame down and get all domestic when she started wearing his ring.
Still, it didn’t make me happy to learn Lois is wearing that damn gun around the office all the time. I keep waiting for Olsen to walk up behind her at the wrong moment and get shot. She did train with the Special Crimes Unit for a while, so I guess she’s got better sense than to blow away the photographer. It’s just that, even though she’s been on a much more even keel the last two months, I feel like Lois is subtly off balance and waiting for something to make her tip over. And I’m not exactly looking forward to a return of the sharp-tongued short-tempered hellion she was for those few weeks that Kent worked in City.
Let’s see, what else is new? We had a couple of really big stories. Some firebug is working the city. The arsonist has money and time and intelligence; he hasn’t been caught yet, and Sawyer told me off the record that unless the guy makes a mistake or burns himself to a crisp, he never will be. He’s too good. Just last week the bastard lit up four floors of the Bank of America building downtown. The four floors in the exact middle of the building. Every fireman in the city was down there, and Superman helped rescue the trapped workers and put out the flames, but there were still seventeen casualties. Over three thousand got out alive, though, so I’ll count it a win for the good guys.
There’s tension in the Middle East, but when isn’t there? I’ve got two embedded reporters with our troops, and a two-bottle-a-week Mylanta habit because of it. Still, this is the job. Nobody ever said it was easy or safe. Lois would be over there, too, except for the twins, and I can’t help breathing a sigh of relief that she has them. She’s one of the best, but those fanatics like to kill journalists.
And that’s another thing. Polly’s a good writer, but she’s no Lois. I can’t help but feel that our Superman coverage is below par. Lois knows him like no one else; they have history together. She ought to be writing the stories, and it feels damn weird to see anyone else’s byline under a Superman headline. I won’t suggest it to Lois, though. I’ve heard enough jokes around the office about Nuclear Warhead Lane to last me a lifetime.
The usual bedlam around the office – when I said things settled down, I meant they’ve settled down to a dull roar. Gossip, rivalries, feuding, the whole nine yards. The girls in Fashion have asked me again to put one of those fancy cappuccino-dispensing machines in the break room. I asked them what was wrong with my coffee, and they dropped the issue again. Newsman’s coffee – thick, black, and strong enough to make your eyes water – is one of the best parts of the job. Nowhere else can you get coffee that bad. Just don’t tell anyone my cardiologist is making me drink decaf these days.
Halloween was two weeks ago, and the twins finally talked Lois into dressing up when she took them trick or treating. Would’ve been fine if they hadn’t had to run back to the office and show off as soon as she picked them up from school. Kala was a scurvy pirate, complete with sword and eyepatch, and Jason was Godzilla, of course. The killer was Lois, dressed as a gypsy. There should be a law against walking into your office wearing an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse when your coworkers are used to seeing you in suits.
Oh, and I hired Grizzly Lombard back. He just moved back from Star City, and we’ve got a new CEO, one without attractive daughters. Sports section loves him, though, and his column sells papers. At least if he’s here, he has Lane to remind him why he shouldn’t harass women. I’ll have to play absent-minded boss and ask him if his hand still hurts when it rains.
We’ve got a new artist in the graphics department who’s causing a stir. It isn’t enough that Sophie Noux is pretty and French, she’s also damn talented and fast. One of the old stuffed shirts over there quit when she drew up a layout in fifteen minutes that would’ve taken him two hours. I suppose the time she’s saving me taking over his work makes up for the time lost when all the single and single-at-heart guys find excuses to drift through her department.
Sophie’s charmed the hell out of Lois, too, which no other female on this job ever did their first day. The twins were up here when she was hired, and while we were waiting on her W-4 to go through the fax, she drew Jason and Kala. Lois has that little sketch framed, and Sophie’s got a fan for life.
Speaking of the twins, I’m officially the Best Uncle on Earth, In Perpetuity. I admit, it wasn’t very nice to Lois and Richard to give the kids live birthday presents, but children should have pets. Kids and critters go together like politics and corruption. And even though it was funny at the time, it was kinda sad to hear Kala telling Jimmy that Mom would get her a goldfish, “an’ if we can manage not to kill it, maybe we can have a puppy!”
A goldfish? Please. Lois wants to strangle me, but the kids love their gifts. At least I didn’t get them puppies that she and Richard would wind up having to walk, or kittens that shred the furniture.
Although I wish I’d known how damn big iguanas get before I bought that one for Jason…
Interim: Richard White
When I was in flight school, I thought I was the absolute hottest flyboy on earth. Untouchable, immortal, the next great flying ace, a born jet jockey whose natural aptitude would completely blow away my classmates and even my instructors. I was talented, true, but also arrogant, impatient, insufferable, and reckless, probably the guy voted “Most Likely to Kill Somebody in a Stupid and Completely Preventable Way – We Can Only Hope It’s Himself.”
Then this one morning, I’d rushed through the preflight because it was just beautiful out, and I wanted to be up there. I liked to do things fast to show off, and as we were getting ready for takeoff, I flipped all the switches and goosed the throttle. Only, I didn’t switch them all, or I switched something off that should’ve been on, or I missed something in the preflight. Maybe I somehow caused a short in the electrical system. My instructor and I never quite figured out how the hell I did it, but I got the jet into the air and then lost power completely.
There is nothing more unnerving than sitting in several million dollars’ worth of Uncle Sam’s property, and realizing you are now operating this finely-tuned fighter jet as a glider. With only about a hundred feet of air beneath you. In the Armed Forces, there’s something called the Pucker Factor. That experience showed me how apt the term is.
I got the jet landed somehow, without wrecking it. I was too shaken to try putting it up again, so I just parked it and stared at my flight instructor. I’m not sure if any cadet has ever scared an Air Force sergeant right out of his repertoire of profanity before, but the man just sat there staring at me for a good five minutes.
It knocked all the cockiness out of me, though. And I’m grateful that it did. What bothers me is that feeling of floating along almost peacefully, the roar of engines abruptly and unnaturally silenced, knowing that unless you do something quick, there’s gonna be one hell of a wreck soon. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and I’m having it again with Lois. This relationship has stalled like that jet’s turbines, and now we’re coasting along, gradually but surely heading for a very rough landing.
We haven’t really been fighting that much – we argue a little now and then, but both of us are avoiding the big one. There are so many things we don’t say to each other now, so much we don’t talk about.
Thing is, we aren’t doing anything else, either. We hardly even see each other – Lois is always working on a story or staying late at the office. And sex is pretty much out of the question. Lois can’t sleep lately, so she says coming to bed is pointless and stays on the computer. Damned if I know how she can work on just two or three hours of sleep. When the insomnia gets bad enough, she takes one of the sleeping pills Dr. Saavikam prescribed for her, and fifteen minutes later she’s out like a light. Either way, our love life is basically nonexistent.
Those are just two symptoms, though. Lois is so distant, often lost in thought and staring at nothing. She worries incessantly about the twins, in spite of the gun she carries everywhere and the off-duty cops who cruise around our neighborhood as a favor. Sometimes she gets so distracted, so wrapped up in trying to run down the Vanderworth yacht and find Luthor before he finds her, she even forgets to eat. Between that and not sleeping and working all hours, I swear she’s dropped five or six pounds in the last two months. I like my women on the lean side, but not model-skinny; that just looks unhealthy. Lois was petite to start with, and the weight she’s lost has made her seem almost frail.
All of that taken together makes me wonder if we shouldn’t start seeing a couples’ therapist. Fat chance of getting Lois to go, though. Dr. Saavikam told her that insomnia as a symptom of stress is best treated by counseling and lifestyle change, but Lois talked her into getting the pills instead.
To top everything off, my insane uncle decided to buy a ferret and an iguana for Kala and Jason. He didn’t even warn us; showed up the day before the party and snuck the animals in before Lois and I knew what was happening. Of course, once the kids saw them, there went our chance to stop Perry’s plan. I’m just glad the twins aren’t allergic to either of their pets.
There is one good thing going on, though. Clark Kent transferred over to International. We all knew Lois had a problem with him, but nobody knew what it was. I still can’t see why any department in their right mind would let him leave – he’s fast, his style is distinct and very readable, and he seems to know a source for everything. He’s been practically indispensable in Mexico – his Spanish is better than mine, and he blends in with people in spite of himself.
In fact, I quite like the guy on a personal basis. Lois hates that – she’s quite nasty any time I say something nice about Clark. But hell, he’s polite, intelligent, well-spoken, and he’s got that old-fashioned integrity that so few people still have. This is a man who would drive forty miles back to a store that gave him three cents too much in his change. You have to admire anyone who can maintain those kind of values in this society.
Since it can’t be professional reasons, there must be something personal between Lois and Clark (doesn’t that sound like a daytime drama). Eventually I’d like to know what it is, but I know better than to outright ask either of them. Lois will explode if I mention his name, and Clark gets visibly ill if I mention hers. It’s crossed my mind that they might’ve been involved somehow, but if they were, no one here knows about it. Her opinion of office romance – before I came along anyway – was very well known and often quoted to me. I guess there are a lot of frustrated suitors around here.
Speaking of which, I knew Lois was going to dress up for Halloween with the kids, but hot damn! The hair down and curly, the eyeliner, the blouse, the boots … for a second I almost didn’t recognize her, and then I was speechless with awe. The woman is a knockout.
Yeah, she may be difficult to live with, and she might be having a nervous breakdown as we speak, but I do love Lois so much. Now if only I could figure her out…
Interim: Clark Kent
I needed this two-week break, although trying to dodge drug smugglers and coyotes and Texas militia isn’t much of a break, especially when I have to hide my alter ego from Richard, too. Thankfully, this is Mexico, so all I had to do was ‘accidentally’ drink the water and I gave myself plenty of excuses to rush off without explanation. In spite of the stress, it beats the office. I don’t know how much more of that I can take.
I see Lois every day, but she doesn’t see me – if she happens to glance my way, she averts her eyes, always with that angry, wounded look. And after two months, I still haven’t been able to talk to her. She avoids me like I’m a leper or something, cuts me off mid-word if I say so much as ‘Good morning’ to her.
Doesn’t help that I’m tormented by memories. Not just the physical, although those flashbacks are haunting me. I remember when Lois was happy, when she’d flash that thousand-watt grin at everyone, particularly me. I remember hearing her laugh without that sardonic edge to it. She’s always had a hint of darkness in her soul, remembered pain that turned to anger, but the sheer joy of hunting down a story used to overshadow the past. Now there’s a fraught quality to her, Luthor’s threat gnawing in her mind, and I’m sure knowing that I’m over here in International isn’t helping. Sooner or later, something’s got to give. We can’t go on like this.
In the meantime, at least I can see her kids. Richard likes to bring the twins over to our department, and they really seem to like me. They are all of Lois that I can have right now, and I adore them both, even when they bring their new weird pets to school and thus to work afterward. Put this on you resume, Kent – you can make conversation with a black ferret named Captain Jack and an iguana known as Ignatius. Oh, yeah, and if they ever need an experienced mediator in the Middle East, let them send their trainees here to deal with Jason when Kala calls the lizard ‘Gazeera’ instead.
The twins just turned six. I thought they were younger – if I’m doing the math right, Lois didn’t even wait a whole month after I left, and that’s something I’d really like an explanation for. Turns out the kids just look younger than they are, being a little fragile. Just like their mother, they might small, but they make up for it in willpower. That’s not the only way they take after their Mom – Kala even has her occasionally smart mouth, which Richard laments, even if he’s also amused by the comparison.
Richard. God, what am I going to do? I don’t want to like the guy – he’s engaged to Lois, whom I keep thinking of at random moments as my Lois, and he has the life I wish I could lead. But I can’t help becoming friends with him. It just isn’t in me to stay jealous and angry in the face of someone who genuinely likes me and is happy to see me every day. I’ve even heard him tell Lois she’s crazy to have let me leave City. Why couldn’t he be a jerk? Why couldn’t he just be wrong for her? I feel so guilty for being friends with him and at the same time wishing his fiancée was with me. This is hell on earth.
Nevermind. Thinking on that does nothing but ruin my day. What I’d rather think about is the potential lead in the Vanderworth case. I do have to turn it over to Lois when I get back – it’s her story again now that I transferred, but the message from Karla Smith-Bennett went to my voicemail. She’s an attorney formerly with the firm that represents Lex Luthor and used to represent Gertrude Vanderworth. Ms. Smith-Bennett left the firm while they were working to get Luthor released from prison, for ethical reasons I believe. Perhaps she’ll talk off the record about his plans, if she knows them.
I can’t help thinking Luthor’s somehow connected to this arsonist in Metropolis. He ruins my day, too, but I’d rather think of him than Lois. I will catch this man, whoever he is. One day he’s going to make a mistake, and I’ll have him. What makes a person want to do these things? There is so much in this world to love, to rejoice in, why must some people find their happiness in destruction? I will never understand such a desire – everything I want so much seems so simple compared to these twisted people and their dark hearts.
Give me one thing with no darkness in it, one pure example of innocence and joy … or better yet, give me two: Jason and Kala. The two of them never fail to make me smile, even when they bicker. Especially when they bicker, because I know them well enough now to know that, much as they fight, if an outsider tried to start anything with either one, they’d back each other up unhesitatingly. They’re so protective of each other. I suppose they need to be.
I only wish they were mine. I suppose I wouldn’t be so bitter about that if Richard was their father. Oh, yes, that was a shock. Someone finally enlightened me as the fact that Richard and Lois only got together three years ago. It was Ron, as a matter of fact. He and I have gotten quite close again – it’s amazing how much I missed simply having friends. Anyway, Ron happened to mention in passing that he admires Richard for treating the twins as if they were his. That’s when I found out that Lois had an affair – more of a one-weekend stand – while she was in Paris.
While she was looking for me.
Ron called it revenge sex; I can imagine the terminology Lois would use, and it makes me cringe. God, I have no words for how that makes me feel. The twins ought to be a slap in my face, a constant reminder of how angry Lois was with me, but every time I look at them I simply see her. Lois’ eyes in Kala’s, Lois’ smile in Jason’s, her laugh, her mannerisms, her stubbornness, and her character in both them.
One major difference between the twins and their mom: the kids like me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m a misfit, just like them, or if I’m just one of about five grownups in the place who talk to them like they’re adults. Every time Richard brings them to the office, they wind up at my desk. And I don’t even have candy! Ron thinks that’s hysterical.
At least I finally have a place to stay. The new apartment’s on the corner of Siegel Street and Shuster Avenue. It has a nice view and reasonable price. Not too far from the office, either. Best of all, I can come and go pretty much undetected thanks to super-speed and a balcony. I got it through Vgerland Real Estate, so everything’s aboveboard. My realtor was a wonderful lady from California, probably one of the ones whose life I saved back when Luthor and I first crossed paths.
I haven’t bothered to hook up the phone service; I’ve got the cell phone, and it’s not as if I’m going to be getting many calls that aren’t Ma or business-related. Speaking of Mom, she’s my main source of support these days, encouraging me to take things one day at a time. She says to think of all of those people out there, the ones wearing t-shirts with my symbol on them, and let their love and belief keep me focused.
I still can’t help but worry for the future. Will I ever be able to make things right with Lois? And will I be able to stop this latest plot of Luthor’s, his newest level of depravity?