Sorry, we're a day late, but a nice part of real life kept me busy.
"Iím sorry. Weíve been filled up for the past hour," responded a young man who couldnít have been more than nineteen.
"Weíll take anything," Clark tried again.
"Iím sorry mister. I really donít have anything I can give you."
Clark looked back at Lois. His eyes seemed to burn into her for a moment as if he was lost in thought. Then he began walking back to her.
"Weíll find some place close by and..."
She listened to only the first part of his statement before pushing past him and walking over to the man behind the counter.
"Hi..." She paused, looking at him for an answer to an unspoken question.
"Bruce," the man responded.
She smiled. "Bruce," she repeated. She met his eyes before shyly looking away. "Are you sure you donít have any more spots?" she asked, reaching out to run her fingers over his tie, straightening it. "Isnít it possible that you missed something or that someone who reserved a spot hasnít shown up?" she asked.
* * * * * * * * *
"Whatís your problem?" asked Lois as she and Clark made their way back to the RV. "I got us a spot didnít I?"
"By throwing yourself at that kid," Clark responded.
"By flirting a little," she responded. "Whatís your problem, farmboy? You too pure to flirt with a source to get information?"
Clark ignored her to climb into the driverís seat of the RV. The truth was he was suddenly feeling depressed. He just had no idea why.
"You wouldnít be jealous, would you?" she asked as she climbed into the passengerís seat.
"Donít be ridiculous," scoffed Clark. Still, for some unknown reason, her words irked him. He wasnít jealous. He wasnít. After all, why would he be jealous? He just didnít like watching his partner throw herself at some stranger.
"I think youíre jealous," said Lois, leaning back in her seat.
"Iím not jealous," responded Clark in a voice that sounded a lot like a pout.
She looked over at him in the half light of the RV, trying to see his expression. Deciding it was impossible, she shrugged and glanced out the window of the vehicle. They drove past a number of well-lit spots. She paid attention, trying to decide where the best places might be to begin the search. After a time, the lights got further and further between, and the darkness grew. Still, Clark drove on.
"Where are you going?" she finally asked.
"To our campsite," Clark said.
"You missed it," she said.
Clark shook his head and pointed to a stake by the side of the road with a number on it. Ď247'. She reached over and grabbed the paper Clark had laid on the dashboard. She flicked on the overhead light and read it. "Two seventy three," she said, glancing out the window to see another stake by the side of the road. This one read Ď249.í "Weíre going to be out in the middle of nowhere," gasped Lois.
Clark just shrugged in response, although he suddenly felt somewhat better.
"He gave us a spot in the middle of nowhere," she said again.
"Seems so," Clark responded, feeling quite a bit better now.
"There must be some mistake," said Lois, looking back at the paper she was holding. She turned it over in her hands.
"Here it is," said Clark, pulling into a deserted spot.
"This canít be it," she muttered.
"This is it," Clark confirmed, thoroughly looking forward to this assignment again. He pulled the RV into the spot and turned off the ignition. Lois continued to sit there as Clark climbed out. A minute or so later, he came back.
"There donít appear to be any utilities here," he said.
"What!" she exclaimed.
Clark shrugged. "I guess you didnít charm that young man as well as you thought you did," he said on a chuckle.
"Knock it off, Kent," Lois responded. "What are we going to do without power?"
"Relax, June. When we were at the Piggly-Wiggly... I always thought that was an odd name for a grocery store, by the way. When did it come to Metropolis? I thought they only had them down south."
"Kent!" Lois interrupted.
"Right," said Clark with a grin. It was just so much fun making her sweat. "When we were at the Piggly-Wiggly, I checked the propane level. So we have propane to cook. And the water tank is full. It isnít very big, but it should last us until morning and there seems to be a hand pump out here. And I even saw some candles when I was looking through cupboards earlier. And, just so you donít think Iím just another pretty face, I brought along a couple of flashlights. What else do we need?"
"Great," muttered Lois. "First, I get stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. Then I have to put up with Billy Ray thinking this is the greatest thing thatís happened to him since Ma and Pa took him to the fair."
"Well, Bruce did say this spot was a little rough. What did you expect?"
"I thought he meant I might not like the neighbors," said Lois. "Not that Iíd have to fight the bears to get to civilization."
"Whereís your sense of adventure, June?" Then, before she could answer, he continued, "Look, Iím going to get some firewood in case we want to have a fire tonight."
"Fine," mumbled Lois, finally getting out of her seat and heading to the back of the RV. She began rustling through drawers until she found candles. A bit more digging revealed the location of the flashlights. She laid the various items on the table at the back of the RV. She then returned to rustle through the drawers again. "No matches," she muttered. "Great! Well, maybe my big strong protector can make fire," she concluded sarcastically. She let out a breath and made her way to the door of the RV.
"Billy Ray?" she asked, stepping outside. There was no answer. "Billy Ray?" she asked again, this time a little bit louder. Still, there was no response.
"Where..." Her voice trailed off when she realized what must have happened. Heíd snuck off to get the story himself. "That rat!" she exclaimed. "I should have known better than to trust those puppy dog eyes." Grabbing her jacket and a flashlight, she stormed from the RV.
* * * * * * * * *
Lot number 273 was indeed in the middle of nowhere. It was located on a small peninsula just north of the main campsite, separated by two hundred yards of brush and trees that encircled the whole area. Using the lights as a beacon, Lois marched toward the road leading to the majority of the RVs. She wasnít sure what she was looking for or what she would find, but she knew that she had to find it before Kent did. She couldnít believe his audacity, just taking off like that.
She slowed down as she approached the outer ring of RVs, keeping the small wood on one side of her. The sun was setting. The orderly formation of RVs reminded her of little boxes on a hillside. Motorized suburbia! People were sitting on lawn chairs outside their RVs having drinks; some were preparing dinners on outdoor barbeques while others were inside their travelling homes. Children and dogs were running around, getting underfoot. Pretty domestic, Lois thought. Yuck!
Lois stuck to the outer path looking for some clue that she was on the right track. She had almost made a complete circle around the campsite when she finally spotted a growing number of people wearing black leather jackets with the insignia of the Metropolis Devils on them. Well, sheíd found them, but which of the various groups contained the people she was looking for?
Deciding she didnít have a better plan, she focused in on one group of men sitting in front of one RV near the edge of the crowd. Two of the men were wearing black leather, Metropolis Devilsí jackets, the third wore a black t-shirt and jeans. She stayed close to the woods, moving a little to get a better view of what was going on. She heard ribald laughter, but she couldnít make out any words. She left the shadow of the woods and moved closer to the RV, crouching down, hoping that no one would see her. Just as she got comfortable, black t-shirt and jeans and a petite woman moved away.
"Weíll speak to you in the morning. Jessie gonna go into town to pick up some groceries. Iím gonna tag along and get a case of beer. You guys want anything?"
"Naw, Iím okay, Frankie," said the big guy with the scruffy hair and unkempt beard.
Lois flattened herself against the RV, hoping that they wouldnít see her. After Frankie and Jessie left, a tall, blonde woman approached the men. She had a deep tan and long, French manicured fingernails. Lois wondered how she could keep them looking so great. She probably didnít work for a living. Her jeans hugged her svelte figure and the low-cut t-shirt accentuated her ample bosom. Lois looked down at her own chest and shrugged her shoulders.
"Vinnie, babe, come over here," said the bearded man, "Can you take Cookie out for a walk? Sheís been cooped up here all day. I gotta talk to Stinky."
Lois pulled in a breath. Stinky was the name of the biker her source had mentioned. Was it possible that sheíd stumbled on the right group of scumbags? The next name she heard confirmed her suspicions.
"Sure, Eagle, hon. Thatís what I been meaniní to do. I need a walk." Vinnie ambled over to the RV and, to Loisíss surprise, she unleashed a dog. "Come on Cookie, honey," she said massaging the dogís head and neck, "Whoís my best pooch?" she asked putting her face close to the dog. "Come on, Cookie, baby. Weíre going for a walk. Yes, we are, you good doggie, you."
When Vinnie stood up and began walking the dog, Lois was surprised to see the ugliest pit bull she had ever seen in her life. "Cookie?" she whispered, incredulously. Lois, whose thoughts were interrupted by a manís voice, didnít let herself dwell on the dog.
"Stinky, quit cleaning up here. Weíve got business to deal with."
"Eagle," said the clean-shaven, neatly groomed man, "Iíll sit down in a minute. Iím just going to shine my boots and then put these beer bottles away..."
"Sit down, Stinky."
Lois watched Stinky look over to Eagle and then at the beer bottles scattered on the ground.
"Pull up a seat, Stinky."
"I wish you wouldnít call me that. Iím not twelve anymore. I couldnít help it if the skunk sprayed me."
"Yeah, that was pretty funny, wasnít it?" Eagle guffawed.
"Maybe for you. It took days until the smell went away. It took weeks before I could inhale without smelling it."
"That was twenty-five years ago. Get over it." He waited for Stinky to sit down. "Listen, buddy," Eagle leaned closer, "I just got a message from the Boss today. He wants to know if weíre ready for the demonstration, if the kids are ready."
"Not yet, Eagle. Hold off a bit. The last batch of jelly beans didnít work as well as the others. We need to check them out. We need some more kids, too. I think I know whatís wrong, but I want to test it on someone who doesnít already have a build up of the drug in his system."
Lois held her breath. This is what she wanted to hear. Staying close to the RV, she moved closer to the two men.
"Heís getting impatient," Eagle continued.
"So, do we want to show him an imperfect product or one that works? Tell him we need more time, but itíll pay off." Stinky started folding up the extra lawn chairs as the two men spoke.
"Iíll hold him off for a while, but whoís going to get the kids."
"Vinnie and Jessie can do that."
"Do you think Superman saw Vinnie in Metropolis?" Eagle asked as he reached for another beer from the case. He placed the bottle on the edge of the table beside him and knocked off the cap. Stinky watched the cap fall to the ground and seemed to need to restrain himself from moving to pick it up.
"Nah. We wouldíve heard something in the news. Vinnie said that he was too busy with the kid, and she moved out of there real fast."
"And we better move out of here, too. Weíre still too close to Metropolis."
"I called the campsite at Siegel," Stinky said. "Theyíve got room for us there."
"Good. We need to get outta this area. How many spots did you get?"
"Then we better tell Frankie and Jessie weíre going."
"We need more muscle, too."
"Weíll worry about it later," Eagle said taking a chug of beer. He got up and started walking over to the next RV.
In the distance, Lois heard Vinnie talking to Cookie. The dog had started barking wildly. She hoped that she wasnít the cause of the dogís discomfort, but just in case, she headed into the wood and began walking in the direction of Lot 273. She heard the barking get closer. She flicked the flashlight on, feeling that she was far enough from Eagleís RV, and walked at a much brisker pace than earlier. As the dogís barking got louder, she broke into a run letting the darkness ahead direct her. As she moved away from the populated area, she lost her sense of direction, but she kept on moving forward. Cookieís bark got louder and, she feared, more ferocious. The darkness enveloped her.
All of a sudden, her foot got caught on a fallen branch, putting her off balance, and she reached out to break the fall with her hands. She landed face first in a puddle of water. Her palms hurt. She was wet. She scraped her elbows. But worse, she had dropped the flashlight and it had gone out. She felt around for it, but only found what she hoped was leaves, twigs and mud. It was soft and gooey. She didnít want to think what else could be so soft and gooey. Cookie was still barking. She had no way to measure where the dog was in relation to her.
She got up and continued to run. She couldnít be far from the RV. She looked for a light, but she hadnít lit the candles when she left, and Clark probably wasnít back. She wanted to think about where Clark was, but right now she just wanted to get away from Cookie. She felt her t-shirt tear as she brushed against a branch.
Finally, the path cleared. She slowed a little to get her bearings and to catch her breath. All she could see in front of her was the night blackness. There were so many stars above her, but all she wanted was for someone to turn on the light. She felt some fur graze her leg and saw two eyes staring up at her. Then she heard Cookie. Lois started to run again, hoping that she was heading either in the right direction, or at least to civilization.
She placed one foot in front of her, and the ground slipped from under her feet. The world slowed down as she realized that she was falling and there was nothing to stop her or anything for her to grab. Her arms flailed out trying to reach for branches or trees, but she only found air. And so, she did the only thing she knew how to do.
"Help! Help!" she screamed, but she kept tumbling down.
And then she wasnít falling anymore. She was floating...up.
"Glad to be in the area, Lois," he said as he lifted her. "What are you doing here?"
But Lois couldnít answer. Her heart was pounding as if it would burst her chest. If it wasnít for Superman she would probably be lying at the bottom of the cliff if not like bug splat, then definitely badly hurt. She tried to catch her breath, but all it did was make her hyperventilate.
"Youíre all right now. Breathe slowly. You donít have to talk," Superman said. He placed her down on firm ground and looked around.
"Looks like this cliff is eroding and the ground at the edge isnít very solid. What were you doing?"
"Running away," she gasped, "from a pit bull...It was out to get me... Barking..."
"You mean the one that was after the squirrel?"
"Yes, I managed to save the squirrel before I saved you."
"Thanks," she said, not quite having regained her breath. "Iím glad... to know... I come in second... to a squirrel."
"Itís not that. I knew how much time I needed to save you." He shrugged his shoulders." If I had saved you first, the squirrel would have been puppy chow."
Clark finally calmed Lois down enough to get her to tell him where she was staying. He lifted her and flew them straight to the dark RV. He went inside and turned on the cabin lights. With the light, he was able to see Lois. She was shivering. He glanced over her to make sure that she was all right. Her t-shirt was wet and see-through. The damp material was clinging to her breasts. He was feeling warm again, and the ache that he had felt earlier was coming back. He moved his cape to the front. He didnít understand why, after all these years on Earth, he was getting sick. He wasnít even sure that any earthly medications would work on him. But, he had to make sure she was okay before he took care of himself.
"Your arm. Here."
Lois leaned back and tried to see what Superman was looking at, but she couldnít see.
"Do I need x-ray vision to see it?" she asked.
"No, itís here." Gently, his finger traced the gash on the back of her arm. He took his cape, which he had swung in front of him earlier, and patted the back of her arm. "It was bleeding pretty hard before, but now it looks as if itís slowing down," he said as he let his cape absorb the blood.
"What are you doing now?" Lois asked when she felt a warmth cover her arm.
"Cauterizing the cut with my heat vision. The cutís not too deep. Itíll heal without a scar."
"I didnít realize that you knew first aid."
"I had to learn," he answered, looking for another reason to touch the soft silky flesh on her arm. He remembered when he scraped his knee, before he became invulnerable, his mother would kiss his "boo-boo" better. He wanted to kiss Loisíss arm better, but somehow the kisses he pictured giving Lois werenít the same as the ones his mother gave him.
"That makes sense." She paused wondering why the superhero was so quiet. "What are you doing here?"
Caught up in thoughts of placing kisses on her arm, Clark barely heard her question. "Sorry, what did you ask?"
"I havenít seen you in a while and I was wondering what you were doing here?"
"Saving you...Oh, you mean what am I doing in the park...I...uh...um...was trying to find the woman who might be kidnapping those kids." In point of fact, heíd decided that getting the firewood was the perfect opportunity for Superman to put in a brief appearance in Metropolis. Heíd only been using the disguise for a short time and didnít want anyone connecting Clarkís trip out of town with Supermanís absence. "I mentioned the attempted kidnapping to Clark and I guess you two are following it up."
"Why did you mention it to Clark and not to me? I thought we were friends...and now heís been getting interviews with you...and you told him your suspicions about this case...Arenít we friends anymore?"
"Lois, itís not that. Itís just that...that...heís new. Iíd like to give him a break."
"He doesnít need a break. Heís a great reporter."
"Heís what?" Clark wasnít sure that he heard her right. She didnít act as if he was a great reporter. As a matter of fact, she acted as if he were some hack from Nowheresville, trying to teach him the ropes, trying to be top banana.
"A great reporter. He doesnít need your help."
"I thought all you two ever do is fight."
"Well, of course we fight. How else would he know I was alive?"
"Iím not following this, Lois."
"Iím crazy about him, and he doesnít even know Iím alive." She pouted.
Clark gaped at Lois, not certain of what he heard, not certain of what to say. "Iím sure he knows youíre alive, Lois."
"I wish I were so sure," Lois said softly. "I think heís incredible, but heÖ" Her voice trailed off. She looked into the superheroís eyes before continuing. "I really need some advice, Superman. Do you think I should tell him how I feel?"
"No. Absolutely not," he said without missing a beat.
She narrowed her eyes. That response had been awfully quick. Superman obviously knew something. "Why? Is there something wrong with him? Does he have a wife and family somewhere? Is that why heís not interested in women?"
"No. Absolutely not."
"He even brushed Cat Grant off. No one brushes Cat off. Sheís so easy, itís like offering a dog a bone and having it refused. Does he have some horrible disease or something?"
"No. No. Absolutely not." Clark needed to get away quickly. Lois was getting too curious and he wasnít sure how long he could put her off. Gathering all his control so that he sounded calm and normal, he said, "Look Lois. Donít worry about this. Clark is fine, Iím sure. Donít let this get to you. Now, Iíve got to go and finish up my patrol. Youíre all right, arenít you?"
"Then Iíll see you. Just stay out of dangerís way." He flew off.
Lois liked him, he thought. No, she was crazy about him. How was he going to deal with that? He almost wished he was like other men. After all, Lois was a beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, exciting woman. Any man would have to be a fool to refuse her advances. If only he were capable of those types of feelings, it would be awfully tempting to consider her as more than a colleague. As it was, he could only hope sheíd take Supermanís advice and keep her feelings for him to herself.
He shook his head, directing his attention away from Lois and onto his own problem. Right now he needed to find some way to deal with this fever. He even felt a little lightheaded. He was certain that heíd not handled Loisís declaration of her feelings for Clark as well as he could have were he able to think clearly.
Considering that Earth medications were unlikely to work, he had to find an alternate solution. Suddenly, he had an idea. He had heard something about bathing fever patients to lower their temperature. However, it was unlikely that a bath in cool water would even affect him. But maybeÖ He smiled. A dip in the Arctic Ocean seemed like just what the doctor ordered.