The Big Story
Chapter FourteenIt took us an hour to work our way back up to the third floor, where the accountants and advertising editors for the Planet were housed. Kent gave me a lopsided smile as we crossed the floor. "They stick the newsroom up on four so we think we're the top of the food chain. Down here they call us the glamour boys."
I returned Kent's smile with a knowing one of my own. "Money talks its own language."
"First rule of serious reporting - if the spotlight is pointing one direction, better look to see what it's trying to distract you from."
I nodded in acknowledgment. "Not so much an issue in Pueblo," I confessed. "We have our scandals from time to time, but -" I shrugged.
Kent turned the knob on the stairway door. "This flight will take us up to the Metro desk where I actually work. There's maybe a dozen of us assigned to the city beat."
I let out an appreciative whistle that echoed in the concrete stairway.
"I had about the same reaction. Of course, Lois is the star," he remarked, and what fondness he kept out of his tone was still there in his mind. Except it was a little more than fondness. "She always gets the biggest scoops, and I follow along behind with the human interest angles." He had reached the top of the flight and opened the door to the fourth floor. Past his shoulder, I could see Lane standing as if she were waiting for us.
I wasn't far wrong. When we emerged, she said, "There you are. Clark, Perry wants to see you."
Kent furrowed his brow. "What's up?"
Lane shrugged. "I'm just the messenger here. Don't worry, though," she added, crossing to me and taking me by the elbow, "I'll look after your guest. Mr. - what was it again? Smith?"
"Gray," I supplied, made uneasy by the pattern of her thoughts.
"Right. Go on, Smallville."
Kent hesitated for a moment. "Sorry, Lonnie. I'm not sure what Perry wants, but -"
"You already warned me that news comes first," I reminded him. "I'll be fine."
Lane's fingers tightened on my elbow. "Yes, he will be. Has Clark shown you the interview rooms yet?"
I shook my head, and Kent nodded as if to himself. "I'll find you when I'm done," he promised, turning and walking in the direction of the office in the center of the open floor of the newsroom.
Lane watched him go for a second before urging me to turn. "The interview rooms are this way," she told me, raising her voice above the clamor of voices and phones and typewriters and leading us toward a row of doors. I followed through the smoke hazed maze of desks, trying to read the determined set of Lane's mind.
We reached one of the doors and she peered through the reinforced window cut into it before turning the knob. "These were executive offices before the Planet took over the floor," she explained, opening the door. "Perry figured the view would be too distracting to reporters."
I preceded her into the room, glancing around curiously. It was sparsely furnished, dominated by a conference table with a few chairs, but the large windows drew my attention. I crossed to them and peered down at the street below. It was only five stories up, but because the room faced the plaza, there was something of a view. "Nice," I remarked.
"Yeah," Lane agreed. An audible click sounded as she pulled the door shut behind her, and it was suddenly silent. "When Perry made them interview rooms, he also invested in state of the art soundproofing.
I inclined my head, not letting my unease show. "Impressive."
"It is. And useful. Not something you'd see in Pueblo, eh, 'Mr. Gray.'" Her back was still against the door, and her eyes were focused coolly on me.
"No," I said, ignoring the obvious quotation marks she put around my name. "They could probably use it for the new airport though." I crossed to the table and ran a hand over its surface.
"I called Michael Kelly, by the way."
I paused mid-motion, then sighed. "Say what you need to say."
"Alonzo Gray hasn't written a column for the Pueblo Nugget in 35 years. Unless you've aged very well, you aren't Gray. Which begs the question, who are you and what the hell do you want?"
I reached for one of the chairs at the table, and Lane visibly stiffened, her hand still on the knob of the door. "Relax," I suggested as I pulled out the chair and sat on it. "I'm not going to do anything."
"Answer my questions."
I met her gaze as I subtly reshaped my eyes and shifted my vocal cords. "You know, Lois."
Her eyes widened as she heard John Jones's voice and stared into his eyes. "Jones? What-"
I scowled at her, letting my features snap back to Lonnie Gray's blandness. "What you told me to do. Of course, you managed to get me away from Kent."
She took a second to regain her composure, but in that second, I caught a flash from her mind that was enough to send me reeling. I controlled my features, retained my scowl. Lane did not know about my telepathy - yet. "You could have given me some -"
"Some clue? Why? You just want answers about Kent. You as much as said you don't care how I get them."
She crossed her arms, and once more her mind flickered across her suspicion. I cursed the drink that had dampened my sensitivity before. "Well? Superman was here this morning. What's the verdict?"
I dropped my hands from the surface of the table so she wouldn't see me clench my fists. I was too tired, too angry for subtlety. I spoke directly into her mind. *You played me, Lane.*
She gaped, her hands falling to her sides. "What the hell?"
*It's called telepathy,* I thought at her. "You lied to me."
"No," she denied, stubbornness setting her jaw. I could feel fear curling in her at my revelation, and I felt no need to reassure her. She did not know I would never probe into her mind without invitation, that there were ethics guiding me that were as important to me as her journalistic integrity was to her. She would have no way of realizing how much I was picking just from the projecting surface of her thoughts. "I told you I wanted to know the link between Kent and Superman. That is not a lie."
"You didn't tell me you suspected that they are the same person." I paused. "You led me to believe that there was a story here, a link to some set of crimes."
Her expression remained defiant. "Is there?"
"I think you know the answer to that. Or you wouldn't have set me on this wild goose chase."
"Stop it, Lane." *Stop it,* I emphasized in her mind.
She pulled out the chair across from me and dropped into it with an angry expression. "Fine, Jones. What do you want?"
"Let's start with the truth for a change."
"What do you want me to tell you? Why I wanted to find out about Kent? You already read that from my mind."
I didn't bother to deny it. "Why me? Why did you bring me out of my hole to play matchmaking games?"
She glared at me and spat two words at me that should never come out of a woman's mouth.
"You wouldn't want that any more than I would," I stated levelly. "But I do not appreciate being threatened and hassled because you want a boyfriend."
"What the hell do you know, Jones?" she railed. "This isn't about wanting a boyfriend."
"The hell it's not."
"Fine, let's say it is. You have any idea what it means to be a woman like me in this city? Even a clue?"
"You know what I am, Lane," I reminded her. "There's a lot of things I don't begin to understand about this world."
"Yeah, and I bet everything you do know you got from that asshole, Riordan."
"Gus ran around on me, Jones. He treated me like a cheap tramp, and you know it because you were there."
I closed my mouth, remembering how Gus was with women. It wasn't a secret. He ran with Lois longer than anyone until Lorna, and even then, he was far from exclusive with his affections.
She read my recognition on my face. "And then there was Lex." She snorted, and I could feel how raw her anger still was. "You know what it feels like to be used?"
"It seems to me you've just been teaching me that," I remarked, and she had the decency to look abashed.
"Do you blame me? I hired you, Jones."
"So this is your revenge on me because I let you know your billionaire boyfriend was a thug? Next time I do you a favor, cut to the chase and shoot me."
She ignored my comments, continuing her train of thought. "I hired you, but you threw in with Wayne." She looked out the windows. "He found you through me."
There was a heavy throb of regret in her tone, echoed in her mind. I was surprised, unaware of the fleeting relationship between Wayne and Lois. Bruce had yielded his identity as Batman to me and kept secret the pillow talk that had caused our paths to cross. I started to wonder what else they had talked about, but I couldn't think it through. My head was beginning to ache, caught in the mess of painful memory and the long unpracticed habit of controlled telepathic scanning.
The bottle was easier.
I spoke softly. "Did Wayne say anything to you about Kent?"
Lois started. "No. You think - oh god. Do you think Wayne thought Clark was Superman, too?"
I shook my head, revealing what I had already decided about her theory. "I don't think he is."
Lois stared at me incredulously. "What do you mean, you don't think he is? He and Superman have never been in the same place. Ever."
"If you're so sure, why did you hire me?"
"Because I can't prove it! Dammit, Jones. Use your damned telepathy or something."
"It doesn't work that way," I told her, not caring to explain why. "But if you can't prove it-"
"It's true," she insisted stubbornly. "It has to be. Occam's razor." Her eyes narrowed at me suddenly. "You're being awfully bold in questioning me, Jones," she pointed out. "Do I need to remind you-"
"You won't," I cut her off. "You never would have told. I realize that now." And it was true. I could see clearly how little there was in it for her to ruin me. She had bluffed me into this case.
She tried to continue her defiance, but I could see in her eyes that she was defeated.
"You could have told me the truth, Lois."
She turned away from me. "After all the contempt I showed for him, you'd've believed I was interested in Kent?"
I resisted the urge to reach out to her and try to give comfort, opting for words. "Even where I'm from, love was always a mysterious force."
She looked at me sharply. "I didn't say I loved him."
I stood up and walked to the door. "You want to," I pointed out. "That's why you want him to be Superman."
"It's none of my business, Lane. But you should ask yourself where all your exciting men have gotten you before you go wishing Clark Kent to be something more than he is."
She didn't answer me, instead asking, "That's it, then?"
I shook my head. "I don't think Clark Kent is Superman, but there's something here I need to figure out. For me."
She didn't say anything else, and I turned the knob and opened the door of the interview room. With uncanny timing, I caught a glimpse of Clark Kent through the haze of cigarette smoke. He was ducking down a hallway, his thoughts loud and clear and making a liar of me. I would owe Lois an apology ... later.
No one was looking, so I let myself disappear as I followed the trail of the man who was quietly off to save the world - again. It seemed Clark Kent was Superman after all.