I swore under my breath as my computer screen froze and banged the monitor with the palm of my hand.
“Damn it, don’t do this to me! I’ve got a deadline!”
“You and me both.”
I glanced over at the desk opposite mine. Clark was busy typing his own story, a pencil stuck in his teeth. His hair was slightly mussed and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. His tie was loosened and a cup of coffee was carefully set far away from the keyboard. A half-eaten lemon doughnut rested on a napkin by Clark’s elbow. He was the picture of a harried reporter and I knew exactly how he felt.
“If I don’t get this in by ten o’clock, Perry will have my head,” Clark said.
“He already has enough heads mounted on his wall.”
“Every good editor does.”
I snorted. I had to agree with that. “Too bad you can’t type as fast as Superman.”
“Yeah.” He flashed me a quick smile.
I could detect some nervousness. Amusement curved my lips as I started my own typing.
I had certainly had my suspicions over the years about Clark as Superman. I was just about convinced that my suspicions were correct but had no definitive proof. Instead of trying to find that proof (if I stumbled upon it, fine) I now covered his lame excuses, and watched his back.
And if he wasn’t Superman, he still needed watching because he had to have the most delicate digestive system on Earth, always having to run to the bathroom. Perry says he’ll gold-plate the men’s room someday because a star reporter needs some perks. I think Clark would have preferred a bonus in his paycheck. So would I, but I wouldn’t mind some fresh flowers in the ladies’ room, maybe some scented toilet paper.
I stared at my computer screen. Fuck. I had all the facts but today it was like pulling teeth to write ‘em. Damn, I wanted a smoke.
Unfortunately, I had no time for one. Perry was really on my ass and I had to deliver. Deadlines could be a bitch, but they also added fuel to the fire.
I loved everything about the newspaper business, even the damned deadlines. I love chasing down a story, getting at the truth, and getting that front page byline. Sure, I’ve got an ego. You’ve got to have one to be a star reporter in this business.
I guess that’s why Clark always intrigued me. On the surface, he’s not the typical aggressive reporter at all. He’s too quiet, too passive, yet he somehow manages to get the story. Considering my suspicions, I could say he cheats on Superman stories, but he manages to get the non-super stories, too. He’s got a natural instinct for this work. The way he crafts a story shows real writing chops.
I looked at my scribbled notes, muttering as I tried to decipher them. I really need to learn shorthand or something.
I propped my chin on my hand as I stared down at my notes. I could hear people clacking away on their computer keyboards (sometimes I missed the old typewriters), the phones ringing, the yells for copy boys and girls, the chatter of reporters on deadline. This was in my blood, the newsroom and the cutthroats who worked in it. Any one of them would be happy to get you a doughnut form the break room on their way out or send flowers to you in the hospital, but they would also shove you aside as they ran to grab an interview with someone or send you to the wrong room for a press conference.
Clark’s cell phone rang and he answered, typing with one hand. “Kent here. Oh, hi, Ma. Yes, we…I’ll be coming for a visit this weekend” He listened for a minute, then responded, “I’d like that, Ma. Can I speak to Pa? Okay, don’t let him try and lift that engine at all. I’ll do it when I get there. How’s the weather?” Clark took a sip of coffee. “That’s great! The corn will be safe. Okay, Ma. Love you. See you soon.”
As Clark set his phone down, I laughed. “Boy, you can sure tell you’re a farmer.”
“Huh?” Clark asked absently as he resumed typing two-handed.
“Asking about the weather.”
“Don’t people always talk about the weather?”
“Darling, you’re asking about the weather for the corn!”
“Corn is a major crop for my family.” Clark took a bite of his doughnut.
“Corn is part of your make-up,” I said wryly.
Instead of taking my offense, Clark smiled. “Gee, thanks, Lois.”
I looked at him with narrowed eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was genuine with the ‘gee’ routine (and where was the ‘golly’?) or being jokingly sarcastic? Did Clark even do sarcastic?
Yeah, he could.
“Damn you, Smallville.”
His grin gave me my answer. Rolling my eyes, I went back to studying my notes.
Clark’s phone rang again. “Kent here.” His voice dropped its business-like tone. “Oh, hi.” He kept typing while he listened. “Yeah, I enjoyed last night. Are you available tonight? Aw, okay. Look, Ma called. She’s getting ready for us this weekend. Yes, pack your jeans and workboots!” Clark took a sip of coffee. “Where are you? Huh?”
I had finally deciphered my chicken scratches. Naturally I was listening to Clark, his conversation background noise. Sounds like he’s got a girlfriend.
Well, that’s not surprising. Clark’s no Superman, but he’s cute in those glasses, and sweet besides. Polite and attentive, he’s also broad-shouldered (though he has a tendency to slump), and has a nice smile. A girl could do a lot worse.
Clark was no longer talking. Had he hung up without saying goodbye? Definitely not like him.
I typed up a paragraph and snuck a look over at Clark. Maybe I’d missed his goodbye to his main squeeze. He seemed intent on his article and his phone cover was closed.
And that’s when I saw our erstwhile owner. He had just come off the elevator and was looking around. He started toward our desks.
Grrreat, that’s all we needed! Our playboy owner coming to stick his nose in when we’re all on deadlines. I determinedly kept my focus on my notes and computer screen.
“Ah, my star reporters.”
Bruce Wayne’s voice was silky. I wouldn’t call it oily. That was for people who had a brain in their heads.
“Hello, Mr. Wayne.”
Ever-polite Clark acknowledged Wayne while I ignored him. The guy had won the sperm lottery and followed in his parents’ footsteps with charitable works, but that didn’t mean I had to like him.
“Working on a hot story?”
“Um, yes, sir.”
I typed as I translated my notes. Maybe I could get this thing in before the dreaded Deadline.
“Good to see you hard at work.” I could hear a thump and pictured Wayne pounding Clark’s shoulder. I had to refrain from rolling my eyes. False heartiness was another black mark for Brucie in my book.
“Well, Mr. Wayne, we find the hot stories and get right on ‘em!”
I gritted my teeth. Damnit, Clark, don’t kiss his ass!
“Good man.” Another thump. “What’s the story about?”
“Corrupt businessmen,” I shot over my monitor.
“Oh?” Wayne sounded amused. “Anyone I know?”
“Didn’t you go to school with Lex Luthor?”
“Is ol’ Lex in trouble again? You’d think he’d know better by now.”
“Well, Lex is an ambitious type,” Clark said.
I typed faster as Wayne laughed. What a phony! I guess it’s a required class in Silver Spoon school to laugh mockingly. What a jerk! I looked up and saw him smiling at Clark, whose back was to him.
Was it a smug smile? Mocking? Superior?
I fumed while I typed. I didn’t like Clark being so vulnerable, especially with a shark like Bruce Wayne. Empty-headed he might be, but sometimes those guys were the most dangerous.
I was making progress with my story. I wasn’t going to allow any distractions to keep me from meeting this deadline.
“Should I alert my attorneys as to when this story is published?”
“No libel in this story, Mr. Wayne.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Wayne walked over to my desk. “What’s up with you, Ms. Lane?”
“Deadline, Mr. Wayne.”
“Hmm.” I could smell his expensive cologne as he leaned over my shoulder. “A housing scandal, eh?”
“That’s right.” My fingers were flying over the keys. “Some crooks don’t mind throwing people out of their homes.”
“Guess that’s why they’re crooks.”
I somehow refrained from rolling my eyes. Har de har har!
“I’m going to have a little tete a tete with Perry. Keep up the good work, people.”
I didn’t get a thump on the shoulder. Brucie must be paying attention to the sexual harassment training videos.
Once Wayne was out of earshot I said, “Well, now that the empty-headed Prince is gone, those of us who really work for a living can get back to it.”
“Aw, he’s not so bad, Lois.”
“Hmph.” My fingers were starting to cramp up.
Clark stopped typing. He was either finished and re-reading the whole thing or eating the last of his doughnut.
“Honestly, Clark, you’re just too damned nice.”
“To Wayne! The guy’s a jerk!”
“He’s also our boss.”
I grumbled, not wanting to admit that Clark was right.
I worked for the next half hour, glad of only the usual chaos of the newsroom surrounding me. It was music to my ears.
Finally I was finished! A quick read-through and I was done. Editing would take care of my spelling errors. If this was a typewriter, I’d rip the last page out of the machine and yell, “Copy boy!” Instead I hit the ‘Send’ key and leaned back in my chair, lacing my fingers behind my head and putting my feet up on the desk.
I frowned as I noticed Clark was gone. Looking around, I saw no signs of him.
Perry’s bellow cut through the newsroom noise. I put my feet down and stood up, weaving through desks and reporters. I reached Perry’s office.
“Come in and shut the door.”
“Sure, Chief.” I stifled a laugh at Perry’s glare. “Did you read my story already? That’s some fast reading.”
“No, Miss Smartypants. Sit down.”
I took a seat, crossing my arms. “What’s up, Perry?”
The editor chewed his unlit cigar. “I want you to cover the Mangione trial.”
My eyes lit up as I leaned forward. “The Mangione trial! I thought Charlie Byrnes was covering that.”
“He’s in the hospital with pneumonia.”
“Sorry to hear that.” It was true. As much as I relished this assignment, I genuinely regretted Charlie’s illness. He was our best crime reporter. “I’ll start reading the background.” I stood up. “Did Bruce Wayne leave the building?”
“Just newswoman curiosity.”
Perry’s expression obviously showed his scepticism. “Start studying, Lois.”
I grinned and left the office.
& & & & & &
The Mangione trial took place in Metropolis’ Federal courthouse. Since Federal trials allowed no cameras, a sketch artist was employed to draw the principals. I just hoped that she was a better artist than the one who had been assigned to the Tom Brady vs. NFL trial. How can anyone make Tom Brady of all people look ugly? Takes a certain lack of talent, I guess.
Reporters were allowed in but were only allowed to make notes. No tweeting or any other social media. I used a yellow legal pad and a trusty ballpoint pen to write my scintillating thoughts.
This was prime stuff. Clark hadn’t even asked about what I was up to. In fact, he hadn’t even been around this morning.
The trial was interesting with murder and mayhem as the featured points, but I had a nagging feeling about Clark. What was he up to? Despite his country manners it wasn’t like him not to snoop into my business. Like all good reporters, he had to know what was going on. It was in the blood!
When court adjourned, I called Clark but his cell phone was off. I declined to leave a voicemail message. Instead, I called Lucy.
“Yeah, Sis, I’m springing for dinner. Meet me at Luciano’s. It’s on Dexell Street. Yeah, very posh neighborhood. See you at six.”
I went back to the Daily Planet but still no Clark. Was he deep undercover or something? Perry was busy yelling at Jimmy so I decided to ask him tomorrow about my missing partner’s whereabouts.
By the time I finished up, it was time to meet Lucy at Luciano’s. I left the building, grabbed a cab, and mentally reviewed my plan.
Luciano’s was not only a popular Italian restaurant, but it was rumoured to be a favorite watering hole for the Mangione Mob. I hoped to pick up some scrap of information that might lead to something, or put the trial in a better or different perspective.
The hostess led me to a table in a corner. Luciano's was dim, lit mainly by candlelight. No wonder mobsters favored this place. You could barely make out the other diners.
I sat in my booth and ordered a drink while waiting for Lucy. The tablecloth was a rich red and the candle in the center was placed in a red jar, not a Chianti bottle. I couldn’t tell if there were pictures of Italy on the walls. Mostly there seemed to be black swathes of fabric covering the walls. They only served dinner so it was always dark in here.
I wanted to get the lay of the land. Once my eyes adjusted, I might be able to see if any Mangione mobsters were around. If they were here tonight, chances were good that they’d be here tomorrow night, too, and I could put my plan into action.
I looked around but saw no mobsters, but the darkness could be tricky. As the waiter brought my drink, Lucy arrived. She was looking gorgeous, her blond hair perfectly coiffed and her blue eyes mischievous.
“Hey, Sis, thanks for the invite,” she said as she slid into the booth. Her green dress was very flattering, accentuating her trim waist.
“You’re welcome. Doesn’t Jimmy take you to posh places like this?”
Lucy snorted. “Let me tell you, Mr. Action is all talk and no action.”
I had to laugh. Poor Jimmy. “Live it up, kid. I got a bonus last month.”
“Hmm, does that include the wine list?”
“Nope, I’ve got dough, but I’m not Bruce Wayne.”
Lucy snickered as she perused the menu. It was one of those big ones with tassels. It’s the kind of menu that fancy French restaurants used and kept the prices off.
We started off with crisp green salads filled with ripe cherry tomatoes and red onions. I chose Thousand Island dressing and Lucy liked the house dressing, Italian, of course. We enjoyed warm, crusty garlic bread and baked ziti with meatballs (mine) and haddock with saffron rice and penne with garden vegetable sauce (Lucy). We chatted about Lucy’s latest layover in London.
“Yeah, it was good weather, believe it or not.” Lucy ate a piece of fish. “Hey, isn’t that Clark?”
“That corner booth over there.”
I squinted. Damn this darkness! “Hey, you’re right. And he’s with Bruce Wayne!”
“Clever boy. Go for the rich ones, I say.” Lucy sipped her wine.
“I don’t trust Billionaire Brucie.”
“He seems harmless enough.”
I glared at Lucy. “Are you kidding? He’s an airhead who uses people and discards them like yesterday’s trash.”
Lucy’s smile was affectionate. “Don’t worry, Big Sis, Clark’ll be all right.”
I sighed. “Don’t call me ‘Big’.”
Lucy laughed. “Our Kansas farmboy is smarter than his bumbling exterior. He won’t let Silver Spoon bamboozle him.”
“He wears his heart on his sleeve,” I mumbled.
Somehow I’d chase off that shallow pie plate from Gotham.