The Big Story

by Chicago

Chapter Two

Morning found me at the Print Room, washing down the breakfast special with a Bloody Mary and sitting in a booth by the window where I could see the entrance to the Daily Planet building. The sun had been up for less than a half-hour, and its light reflected painfully off the upper reaches of the downtown buildings. At street level, though, it was producing a golden glow that gave the grime of the city a surreal quality. It was still too early for bankers and brokers, but the Print Room was packed with its usual clientele: reporters heading to work and gamblers heading home.

And a few dedicated drunks.

Carol brought me a fresh Bloody Mary before I could ask for one, and I smiled at her back as she took the spent glass away.

I was still watching her go when a man's bulk blocked my view and a palm slammed down on my table. "I was wondering how long it would take you to crawl out from under your rock. Get tired of hiding, Jonesie?"

I finished chewing my mouthful of toast and sipped at my drink.

"Hey!" A broad finger poked at my shoulder. "I'm talking to you, Jones!"

I followed the arm with my eyes until I met the sallow face of its owner. "Well, hi there, Rockwell. Join me for a drink?"

Harry Rockwell pulled back his hand with a scowl. "The only drink I'd like seeing you take is a long one in the East River."

"Come now, Rockwell, that's not very neighborly."

"You're not my damned neighbor, Jones."

I smiled as if to myself. "Oh, that's right. I'm not." I took another sip of my drink.

Rockwell grabbed roughly hold of my shoulder. "That means I don't want to have to look at your mug."

"So don't look," I replied mildly, ignoring the tightening of Rockwell's fingers against my flesh.

"Harry!" Artie's voice rang out from the bar. "Leave him be or I'll put you both out."

Rockwell seemed to think about it for a second, then released my shoulder. I didn't bother to smooth my shirt back down as he turned his back to me, but I heard him mutter something under his breath, and it included the word "Wayne."

I should have let him go, but some injuries demand reaction. I slipped one foot out from my booth and into Rockwell's path as he began to stalk away. He went down like a ton of bricks.

"Son of a bitch!" he roared, scrambling back to his feet. I was out of my booth and ready for him when he lunged for me. I sidestepped, letting him fly past.

"Hey!" a young voice protested, and I winced to see a red-haired boy jostled by Rockwell's stumbling effort to wheel on me and try again. The kid at least had the sense to move out of the way as Rockwell spun.

Rockwell spewed a few words that no one's mother should hear, and I readied myself for his next charge. It didn't come. Instead, a new hand clapped his shoulder from behind.

"Take it easy, Harry."

Rockwell turned to face my quarry, Clark Kent. "Take it easy!?" Rockwell bellowed. "You know who this sumbitch is? Ask him where the bodies are buried, Kent! Ask him!"

"Harry, you want Artie to ban you? Just calm down."

Rockwell glared at his fellow reporter, but Kent was as mild-mannered as ever, a calming presence for his volatile colleague. Rockwell shot a look back at me over his shoulder that in another crowd would have signed my death warrant. Luckily for me, reporters made cats look loyal, and they rarely carried anything more deadly than their pens.

Not that those weren't deadly enough.

Then Rockwell's shoulders slumped a little. "Join Jimmy and me for breakfast," Kent suggested, his eyes moving past Rockwell's angry face to look at me. "I'll be over in a minute."

I reached for my Bloody Mary on the table, took a final swallow, then fished into my pants pocket for a two dollar bill. It made for a generous tip, but I figured Artie didn't need any extra reasons to ban me. By the time Kent walked up to me, I was shrugging my way back into my jacket.

"Jones, is it?" Kent asked, as if he didn't already know, as if he had no inkling about what happened two years ago. And of course, there was no reason he should have. It wasn't his story, and he only met me once. But I knew he remembered. The whole damned city remembered.

"Depends who's asking," I replied, joining him in pretending our paths had not crossed any time before a case and a career and three lives had gone up in flames.

He smiled warmly and held out his hand. "Clark Kent. I'm guessing I don't have to say anything about Harry."

I set my hat on my head and inspected his broad Midwestern features. "Yeah, he and I have met." I grasped the proffered hand and shook it. "John Jones."

His handshake was firmer than his demeanor might suggest. "So I don't need to tell you its probably good to avoid him." He paused significantly. "He eats here a lot."

I smiled sharply. "Funny that. So do I."

Kent's eyes narrowed briefly behind his glasses as he dropped my hand, but it was a fleeting reaction. "I'm just saying it's no good looking for trouble."

I reached into my pocket for another quarter for the table and let Kent watch me add to the tip. "I appreciate the advice," I said, "but last I looked, it was still a free country. See ya around, Kent." I touched the brim of my hat and headed for the door.

I could feel his eyes on me as I left.