Disclaimer: Edition Edition, its characters and situations belong to CBS and Tristar Television. Lois & Clark, its characters and situations belong to DC Comics, ABC and Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement is intended.
My thanks to peregrin anna for beta reading this twice, and to inkling who looked at the first draft about 2 years ago. Finally thanks to Tracy for urging me not to kill this story despite coincidental similarities with her story, "Strange Visitor From Chicago."
The story takes place during the second season of Early Edition and during the Fourth and last season of Lois & Clark.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"A poetry slam! Here at McGinty's?" Marissa snorted, almost spilling her morning coffee. She just managed to avoid dousing the pile of Braille printouts she had placed on the desk in the office.
"What's wrong with a poetry slam?" Chuck challenged from his position near the office door. "The slam movement originated in Chicago, at the Green Mill, and slam is still big here." He approached and leaned toward her, both palms planted on the desk. "Why shouldn't we get in on some of the action? Not to mention the profits".
"It always comes back to that, doesn't it Chuck?" she commented.
"McGinty's is a business, Marissa." Chuck straightened, crossing his arms. "It's *supposed* to be profitable."
"That's true," Marissa admitted. "But, Chuck, McGinty's is a *sports* bar. People come in to have a beer or two and watch a Cubs game. Why don't we let the Green Mill keep the poetry slams?"
"I still don't see why we can't..."
Chuck's retort was cut short as Gary burst into the office, paper tucked under his arm.
"Gar, you settle this," Chuck appealed to him after explaining the issue at hand.
Gary didn't miss a beat. "No poetry slam," he pronounced the verdict.
Marissa pretended interest in her printouts. Her fingers were moving on the paper, but she was smirking.
"You always side with..." Chuck protested.
But Gary interrupted him. "Crumb coming in later?"
Chuck narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "Crumb's away in Metropolis this week. His granddaughter's ballet recital, remember?"
Gary vaguely remembered something about that. Chuck had teased Crumb about getting Superman's autograph during the visit. Crumb had grumbled back something about "enough supernatural mumbo-jumbo going on around this joint, without looking for some super-guy on my week off."
But with the paper occupying so much of Gary's attention, he had forgotten that it was this week that Crumb would be gone. He could tell that Chuck was miffed with him for not remembering, but he couldn't help that now.
Gary looked from one to the other of his friends. "I--I'm kind of busy today. You two think you can stop bickering long enough to handle running McGinty's?"
Marissa turned toward him, a look of puzzled concern spreading over her face. "Gary is something wrong, something you're not telling us?" she demanded.
"Other than the darn cat and *this* ..." He rustled the paper. "... controlling my life, there's nothing. Why?"
Marissa's face hardened. "I'm not a fool. You've been drinking."
"Drinking?" Gary was baffled.
"I can smell the whiskey on your breath. You never take a drink before we open, Gary, and you usually stick to beer."
Gary smiled in relief. So that's was all it was. "It's just a cavity. I stuck in a bit of cotton soaked in whiskey to stop the pain."
"Yeah, right, Gar. You expect us to swallow that old whiskey for a toothache line. I've used that one too many times to believe..." Chuck was silenced by Gary's glare.
Marissa ignored Chuck's comment, taking Gary's explanation at face value. Her expression softened, but only a little. "Gary, when was the last time you saw a dentist?"
Gary ran a hand through his hair, trying to remember. He had made a number of appointments for a check-up, but the paper never allowed him to keep them. After the third cancellation the dentist started charging him for lost time. He didn't bother making appointments anymore.
"You can't neglect your health this way."
Marissa was right, as usual. At this rate he would probably need dentures before he hit forty. In addition to everything else the paper was ruining his teeth. He tapped the paper with a finger, deliberately making a noise for Marissa to hear. "How am I supposed to get to the dentist when I gotta take care of this, huh?"
Marissa set her chin, pursing her lips.
When she got that stubborn look it was best to agree with her. "Yeah, Marissa, okay. I'll call for an appointment lat ..." Gary broke off as his eyes scanned a headline in the paper. "`Elderly Woman Killed by Bus,'" he read aloud. "That's in ten minutes at the corner of Franklin and ----. I gotta go." He grabbed up the paper and made a dash for the door.
Paper under his arm again, Gary sprinted through the morning haze to the corner of the accident. It was going to be a scorcher, unusually hot for May, but this early in the day it felt clammy rather than unbearably hot. He could still run without risking heat exhaustion.
There shouldn't be any trouble locating the victim. The paper had no photo, but it gave her name as Blanche Fetterman and her age as eighty-two. How many old ladies were likely to be at the intersection at 8:43 in the morning?
Gary glanced up, eyes peeled, only to discover eight elderly women milling about the street crossing. All were dressed in pastel gym suits of pinks, violets or yellows. What were they all doing here? How was he supposed to tell which one was Mrs. Fetterman?
Half an hour later, Gary hobbled back into the still-closed McGinty's. "Can I get a cup of coffee, please?" he called to Marissa and Chuck who were busy checking stock at the bar.
"I'm trying to understand here," Chuck said after Gary mumbled an explanation. "A little old lady punched you in the gut?"
"She was coming out of one of those self-defense classes for senior citizens," Gary groaned as he eased himself into a chair at one of the tables. "Guess she was eager to try out what she'd learned."
"You were saving her life, Gary, not mugging her," Marissa protested, bringing Gary the coffee he had requested.
"Next time, tell her that *before* she jabs me."
Gary took a sip of coffee and set the cup on the table next to the paper. At least he had time to enjoy his coffee unhurried. It was over two hours until the next paper job. Maybe the pain would subside and he'd be able to walk normally by the time he needed to go out again. His tooth was aching again, though. He'd better ask Chuck to bring him some more whiskey-soaked cotton for it.
As though from nowhere, the cat jumped onto the table, scattering pages of the paper on the floor. Gary had to make a grab for his coffee cup to keep it from being knocked over, too.
What was wrong with that animal? Couldn't he let Gary rest up a little between rescues? Hey!" he scolded the cat, clutching for the paper with a minimal shifting of position. "It's kinda hard for me to bend right now."
The cat only scampered away again.
Chuck scurried over from the bar to help Gary. Gathering up scattered pages, he placed the now very mussed Sun-Times back on the table.
"Thanks," Gary acknowledged the favor. His eye fell on the top page. "Oh
no! This wasn't here before."
"What now?" Marissa asked.
Chuck peered over Gary's shoulder at the headline. "`Superman Exposed as Daily Planet Reporter, Clark Kent,'" he read aloud. "Who would have guessed that Superman would turn out to be an ordinary guy like a reporter? I didn't even know he had a real life."
"Even Superman would have to live somewhere, to have a home." Marissa pointed out reasonably.
"I just never thought of Superman needing a place to hang his hat," Chuck answered.
"A place to hang his *cape* you mean," Marissa said with a giggle.
But she recovered quickly, growing serious again. "It makes sense that Superman wants some privacy," she said, her face turned toward Gary. "You have to stop his identity from being exposed. If you don't, he'll never have a private life again."
"A private life..." Gary mused.
Once in a while Gary sarcastically called himself Superman. He did this when the rescues in the paper seemed to require superhuman powers. It stressed his frustration that he had only his ordinary human abilities to use in dealing with them. Gary wasn't invulnerable like Superman either. He frequently ended up injured or in pain -- like today with when old Mrs. Fetterman misunderstood his intentions. Not to mention the toothache. He doubted that Superman ever got cavities.
Ironic thoughts like these had kept him from ever trying to see things from Superman's point of view. He had never considered that Superman might need another, secret, identity in order to have a private life. But now that it had come up, Gary instinctively understood the need.
"Marissa's right," he said to Chuck. "I gotta stop it."
Chuck came around the table to face Gary. "?How are you going to stop it, Gar? It's 800 miles away in Metropolis."
"C.K.!" Jimmy Olsen called across the Daily Planet newsroom, "there's a call for you on line six. It's someone from Chicago." Jimmy shrugged to indicate that he knew nothing more of the caller.
"Thanks, Jimmy," Clark answered from his desk and picked up the phone. "Clark Kent speaking."
Lois Lane, Clark's partner and for the past few months also his wife, shot him a questioning look from the desk perpendicular to his.
"Mr. Kent." It was a man's voice with a touch of a southern accent, not as pronounced as that of their boss, Perry White, but still there. "Mr. Kent, this is Gary Hobson. You don't know me, but I -- I think you need to hear this. Can anyone listen in on us?"
People often called the Planet with "story leads." Most of the tips were groundless; some were good. It was worth Clark's while to listen. "The people in the newsroom can hear my side. No one can hear yours," he assured the caller. "What can I do for you, Mr. Hobson?"
"Mr. Kent, you need -- look, someone's gonna expose your other identity. Today."
Clark's jaw dropped. How could this man in Chicago, who had never met him, know about Superman? He *couldn't* know. But what else could this Hobson guy mean?
"I wanted to warn you before it's too late," the voice was continuing. "You rescue people. You're trying to live your life and you have a secret that could be dangerous if the wrong people found out. I--I--I know what that's like, so ..."
"You *know* what that's like?" Clark repeated, dumbfounded. Who was this guy?
"Please, Mr. Kent, just watch out for ..." There were rustling sounds coming through the phone as though someone was leafing through a newspaper. "... watch out for the LNN news team in Metropolis. Don't let them see you change your clothes -- or whatever it is you do." The caller hung up.
"Clark, who was that?" Lois demanded.
"Lois, I have no idea," he answered. "But I plan to find out. Jimmy, could you come here a minute, please."
Obediently, Jimmy sauntered over to Clark's desk.
"Jimmy, I need you to trace all the information you can on a Gary Hobson in Chicago."
"Sure, C.K.," Jimmy agreed and returned to his own work station to begin his computer search.
Chuck and Marissa were gathered around Gary as he spoke on the phone at the bar. Both were leaning toward him, trying to hear.
"Did he listen?" Marissa asked on hearing Gary replace the receiver.
"I don't know." Gary said doubtfully. Maybe in order to convince Clark Kent, Gary would have to take the first plane to Metropolis. Only he couldn't do that. The paper this morning had reported too many tragedies that needed to be prevented in Chicago. It was going to be a heavy day for pedestrian fatalities. All the accidents were at intersections within ten blocks of McGinty's but they were all at different times throughout the day. He couldn't take a trip to Metropolis without missing at least two, no, at least three of them.
If only he could fly like Superman -- like Clark Kent.
It looked as though Mr. Kent must be doing a better job than Gary of living his life while rescuing people. Clark Kent was an award-winning journalist in his own right, and recently he had married his equally successful partner, Lois Lane. All the papers, even the Sun-Times, picked up stories of their engagement and their marriage.
For his part, Gary was divorced and not even dating anyone seriously. He hadn't had *any* dates for several weeks. As for a successful career, he didn't exactly have that either. Before he got the deed to McGinty's, he had been unemployed for a full year, living in a run-down hotel. And now --.
It wasn't that he aspired to something bigger than McGinty's. Chuck wanted that, not Gary. Gary was perfectly happy to own a small business. All he ever expected from McGinty's was a roof over his head and that he and his friends could support themselves -- that he could pay his employees a decent salary, too. But as Chuck frequently reminded him, the paper kept Gary too busy to be the kind of involved owner and boss that he would like to be.
Clark Kent didn't seem to have such problems. From where Gary sat, it looked as though Mr. Kent had it all. The daring Superman rescues didn't seem to interfere with his marriage to the woman he loved or with his brilliant career as a journalist.
But then, super powers probably *helped*.
"Uh, C. K.?"
Jimmy coughed to let the couple know he was there.
Still no response.
In the past two years, Jimmy had gotten used to seeing them embrace and kiss in the newsroom, too involved in each other to pay attention to anyone else. It didn't embarrass him as much as it once had.
Jimmy coughed louder. "Lois? C.K.?"
This time they took notice, stopped kissing and turned around.
"What is it, Jimmy?" Clark asked.
"I've got that information you asked for on Gary Hobson. Turns out he owns a bar in downtown Chicago. It's called McGinty's." He placed the printouts on Clark's desk. "Strange guy," he added with a shrug.
"Thanks Jimmy." Clark picked up the papers, starting to read them as Jimmy backed away.
"Jimmy's right," he said slowly to Lois." "There *is* something very strange about this Hobson guy."
"Strange in what way?" Lois wanted to know.
"Lois, how would you like to take a trip to Chicago?" Clark asked in lieu of an answer.
For Clark, distances were of no consequence. He could have simply flown to Chicago, with Lois in his arms, and returned before anyone noticed they were gone. But in this case that might not be such a good idea. It would be problematic to explain their absence, if it took them longer than half an hour or so to investigate this mystery. They had better request official leave.
Not so many months ago, Perry White, their boss, would have objected. They could almost hear his booming southern voice. "Shades of Elvis! I can't have my two top reporters both taking leave without warning. I have a paper to put out!"
But now Perry understood that Clark and Lois were undergoing fertility testing. It made him more inclined to grant personal leave without asking too many questions.
"Where's that story you were doing on police brutality?" was all he said when they came into his office to request the afternoon off.
"On your desk, chief," Clark answered. "All ready for the presses."
"All right then, you two." Perry waved them out of the office. "But I expect both of you to be here first thing tomorrow. I can't have my two top reporters away from the Planet too long. I have a paper to put out."
Clark and Lois exchanged knowing glances, struggling to contain their amusement. The real Perry had sounded so close to the Perry of their imaginations. They retrained their laughter until they were safely out of the building, standing under the big globe that was the Daily Planet's trademark. But they didn't linger outside the building for long. It was time to fly to Chicago.
A pretty African-American woman stood behind the bar when the reporter couple walked into McGinty's. It was mid afternoon, several hours before most bars became busy with their evening crowds. Here too, there were only a few scattered customers sitting at tables and one older man on a stool at the far end of the bar. A waitress was bringing a tray of beers to two grad student types at a table. None of the customers paid any attention to the powerfully built, dark haired man in the light gray business suit or to the slender brunette in the stylish tan and brown outfit.
Clark and Lois looked around them, taking in the dark wood furnishings, chrome fixtures and big latticed widows that gave the place a warm homey atmosphere. The woman at the bar welcomed them with a smile, asking if she could help them. It was only when they approached the bar and noticed the white cane propped against its side that they realized the woman was blind.
"I'm Clark Kent and this is my wife and partner, Lois Lane," Clark began in way of introduction. If their names meant anything to her, the woman didn't let the fact show on her face. She introduced herself as Marissa and asked again if she could do anything for the visitors.
"We'd like to talk to the owner, a Mr. Gary Hobson," Lois told her.
Marissa had heard the two unfamiliar sets of footsteps as soon as the visitors came through the door. Her first guess, that the people who had entered McGinty's were new customers, was proven false at their introduction. They were here to talk to Gary. It meant that Mr. Kent was heeding Gary's warning. That at least was good. But he and Ms. Lane naturally wanted to find out how Gary happened to *know* about Mr. Kent's other identity. It was going to be a bit tricky for Gary to explain.
Marissa told the visitors that the owner was in the office room, meeting with his partner. "He's pretty busy today, but I'll go see if he can talk to you." This would give her a chance to let Gary know they were here at McGinty's before they caught him by surprise.
Marissa soon returned to inform the visitors that Gary would try to talk with them later. In the meantime she had a waitress show them to a table and take their order for coffee. Once they were settled, Marissa returned to cover the bar. McGinty's was understaffed with Crumb away and Gary preferred to have Marissa rather than Chuck take bar duty during the slow afternoon hours.
At her table, Lois was beginning to wonder if they had come to Chicago for no purpose. If she could just question the elusive Mr. Hobson for a few minutes she felt sure she could get to the bottom of the mystery. Her investigative journalist skills would come in handy. Clark's reporter skills weren't bad either, although she was the senior in experience. But Clark would have to leave in a few minutes. Superman had accepted a request to speak at the dedication of a new children's hospital in Metropolis. There was nothing for Clark to do but go back there, at least for forty-five minutes or so.
"See if you can interview Mr. Hobson while I'm gone." Clark stood, bending to kiss Lois good-bye before headed out. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"*If* this Mr. Hobson ever appears, I'll find out how he knows about you," Lois promised.
In the office, Chuck was at the desk chair, waiting to meet with a condiments supplier. It was something to do with trying to get mustard at a cheaper price. Gary sat next to him, on a corner of the desk itself, the paper open in his hands.
"Which day did you say Crumb gets back?" Gary asked.
Chuck started to reply, but Gary was already checking the paper for the next traffic fatality. He read the headline to himself, then folded the paper, stood and tucked it under his arm, preparing to start out for the intersection. His tooth still ached, but it was a dull rather than a throbbing pain, thanks to the cotton home remedy. The pain from his encounter with Blanche Fetterman had lessened to the point where he was walking almost normally. At the following two accidents, he'd been able to grab hold of the victim just in time, without incident. A petite young woman with a twin stroller had even thanked him, throwing her arms around him in an unexpected hug.
The next accident would occur in twelve minutes at the corner of Kinzie and La Salle. The victims, this time, were two middle-aged businessmen who were going to try to make it across after the light changed.
"Mr. Hobson." Included in the information that Jimmy downloaded, Lois had seen a photo of the handsome, jeans-clad owner of McGinty's. As in the photograph, Mr. Hobson was carrying a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times. Lois called to him from her table near the windows, as he headed toward the door.
An orange cat appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The cat meowed and pawed at Mr. Hobson as soon as he stopped to look around for the person who had called him.
"Keep your fur on, will you? I'm going in a minute," he said to the cat.
Lois hid a smile behind her hand, amused at the way this grown man talked to his cat. But there was really nothing so odd about it; plenty of people talked to their pets. Besides, the cat clearly had free run of the place. Maybe it was some kind of mascot for McGinty's.
No way was Lois going to let a cat deter her from her purpose. "Mr. Hobson," she called to him again, "would you be willing to answer a few questions for me?"
Gary had no trouble identifying the slim brunette in the stylish suit. Before he approached her, he opened the paper for another quick check. "Ms. Lane -- you are Ms. Lane, aren't you?" he asked.
"That's right and I'd like to ask you...."
"Ms. Lane --excuse me, I-I have to go out." Gary interrupted. He made a detour to the bar, where Marissa was busy with her inventory work as she waited for customers to order drinks. Chuck was talking to the condiments supplier in the office, but Marissa would be better than Chuck at fielding questions.
"Marissa, I need a favor."
At Marissa's nod, Gary gently took her arm, brought her to Lois' table and pulled out a chair for her. He touched her lightly on the shoulder to thank her for agreeing to do this. "Now, I really gotta run."
"Gary, be careful," Marissa pleaded, hearing his footsteps head toward the door. Turning to Lois, she asked, "What can we do for you Ms. Lane?"
"Call me Lois," Lois insisted. "Are you and Gary.... ?
"We're just friends," Marissa said quickly. People who saw her with Gary sometimes asked that and Marissa preferred to set things straight. "Good friends," she added.
"It's just that you two seem to really love and care about each other. I thought..."
"We do love and care about each other," Marissa explained. "You see, Gary was married when I first met him, so I never started thinking about him in that way. We were working at the same brokerage firm."
"Strauss and Associates," Lois put in.
Marissa nodded, trying not to show her surprise at Lois' knowledge. "That's right. Chuck used to work there, too."
"You mean Mr. Fishman, Gary's partner." Lois responded.
Lois had evidently done her homework. There was no telling how much she already knew about Gary. Yet it seemed best to continue with the explanation. "Gary was getting divorced when I got to know him better. But even then he was still in love with his ex-wife for while. He seemed to need a friend at the time. I guess we both did."
"But now you know him pretty well?"
"Ye-es." Marissa spoke warily. She had heard Lois take out pen and paper as well as something that sounded like a recording device. An award winning journalist, Lois would know how to ask leading questions. Marissa had no intention of telling her anything that Gary might not want told.
"Where did Gary go?" Lois continued her questioning.
"Gary has errands, things he needs to do." Marissa replied.
"Would he happen to find out about these errands in that paper he's carries around?" Lois asked. "If you can call that rag a newspaper," she added under her breath.
Marissa seized the opportunity to shift the conversation away from Gary. "I gather you don't like the Sun-Times?" she inquired.
"Well, there *are* higher quality newspapers on the market," Lois responded.
"Like the Daily Planet?" Marissa smiled as she hazarded a guess.
"The Planet is one of the top newspapers in the country." Lois faced the other woman intently, even though she knew Marissa couldn't see her. "Why doesn't your friend choose a paper with more intellectual, in-depth news coverage? Why the Sun-Times?"
"Gary didn't exactly choose the Sun-Times," Marissa answered carefully. "It's more like the paper chose him."
"You mean somebody gave him a gift subscription?"
"That's one way of putting it," Marissa said with a cryptic smile, leaving the other woman at a loss to understand her meaning.
Lois ached to ask more questions. But at that moment Clark walked into McGinty's, adjusting his tie. Looking around, he noticed Lois, writing on a pad as she sat at her table with Marissa. Clark raised a hand to wave at Lois and came over to join them.
After a few pleasantries, Marissa excused herself, saying that she must get back to her inventory work. She hoped she had not already said too much about Gary. Whatever else he might be, Lois' husband was also a top-notch reporter. Marissa did not want Clark questioning her too.
"Funny thing is, Gary was right," Clark said once Marissa had left them alone. He had been paying close attention because of Gary's warning and had noticed four LNN video photographers lurking in the bushes near the new hospital. Had he been coming from the Daily Planet as originally planned, and had he not suspected anything, he might have changed to Superman where they could film him in the act. He would have been too fast for them to actually see the change, but what if it were caught on film and then played in slow motion?
It was a sobering thought and one that made him feel grateful to Gary. But it also made him feel a greater need to find out how Gary knew about him.
"So, did you interview Gary?" he asked Lois.
"I didn't have a chance to interview him. He just glanced at that paper -- that rag he carries around, excused himself and ran out the way you do when -- Clark, I half expected him to change into a tights and a cape." She looked down at her hands. "I know that sounds silly."
"Lois, the thought did cross my mind."
Lois looked up in surprise. "It did?"
"Yes, Lois, it did." Clark picked up Lois' pen from the table and toyed with it as he explained.
When he read though Jimmy's information on Gary, parallels with Clark's own life had seemed to leap out at him. He and Gary were about the same age; both were only children. Gary appeared to have a history of rescuing people, probably more rescues than had ever been recorded. But he kept a low profile, trying to draw attention away from himself.
In some ways Gary reminded Clark of the way *he* had behaved before he took on the Superman persona. Clark had always used his powers to help people. But back then it was essential to do so secretly, to stay out of the spotlight.
Gary's voice on the phone kept coming back to him. "You rescue people. You're trying to live your life and you have a secret... I know what that's like..." In those three simple sentences, Gary had summed up Clark's predicament.
It started Clark thinking.
If a spaceship from Krypton could land near Smallville, Kansas, why couldn't another land near Hickory, Indiana? Maybe some thirty-odd years ago, the then childless Hobsons had seen a light fall out of the sky. They could have followed the light to discover a spacecraft with a baby on board. Maybe the Hobsons adopted Gary the way Martha and Jonathan Kent adopted Clark.
"But you don't think that's the real story?" asked Lois.
"No. If he were a Kryptonian, I would be able to communicate with him telepathically or with subsonic messages. I tried both, but Gary was oblivious. No, Lois, it was wishful thinking. I was hoping to find another person like me, someone who could understand."
"I understand, Clark. I love you. Who could understand more than that?" Lois didn't want to whine, but the hurt she felt crept into her voice.
Clark cupped a hand under Lois chin, gently bringing her face toward his own to kiss her. He drew back, looked at her and spoke seriously. "Lois, I love you, too. You know how important you are to me. It's just -- all my life I've been different from everyone else. I never wanted to be different, but I am. That's why I hoped to discover that Gary was from Krypton too."
Lois considered this for a moment. Much as she loved Clark, she couldn't really understand what it was like for him. In some ways, Clark would always be alone. Lois didn't want it to be that way. He was her husband, she loved him, she wanted to be part of every aspect of his life. But the differences were there. Neither she nor Clark could do anything about them.
"Clark, I'm sorry," she said.
"It's okay, Lois," he assured her. Then he kissed her again.
This time Lois was the first to break the kiss. "But what *is* the story on Gary?" she asked, ever the investigative journalist.
"I don't know," Clark admitted. "I think Gary does have a secret, Lois, but it's not super powers. It's something else."
"Lois, I can't use my powers to read over Gary's shoulder," Clark protested.
Gary had returned to McGinty's, only nodding at the two reporters before he went behind the bar to talk with Marissa. When he emerged he came over to their table to sit with them. But his hand kept reaching to touch the paper in his back pocket and he drew the hand away with seeming effort. After a few minutes the urge to look at the paper apparently won. He pulled out the Sun -Times, glanced at it and checked his watch. Then he excused himself and ran out, just as he had done earlier.
No, Lois decided, Gary's behavior didn't really remind her of Clark. He was more like the White Rabbit in _Alice in Wonderland_. When he looked at his watch that way and hurried off, the action should have been accompanied by a British accent exclaiming, "Oh dear, oh dear. I shall be too late!"
On Lois' insistence, she and Clark were out in the streets of Chicago, following Gary. They were imitating his brisk trot, but staying half a block behind. Lois wanted Clark to use his telescopic vision in order to find out what Gary had read that caused him to run out again.
"It's not right to do that," Clark repeated. "I can't use my powers that way. What if Gary is reading something private?" Lois was panting a little, trying to keep up. The weather had been cooler in Metropolis and her tan suit was too warm. But this mystery was just too intriguing for her to stop now. "What Gary is doing must be connected to that rag he's always reading. Come on, Clark, nothing that's published in a *newspaper* is private."
Lois had a point. No one knew better than a journalist that "private" and "newspaper" were contradictory terms. Anything printed in a newspaper had to be considered public knowledge. Of course, that didn't explain why Gary always checked *his* paper before doing whatever it was he did. But it did mean that if Clark took a peek, he couldn't possibly be snooping into any private business of Gary's.
Clark pulled his glasses down his nose to take a look, catching a peek at the paper just as Gary was checking a headline again. The headline read, "Two Boys Hit by Car. 9-Year-Old Dead. 10 Year-Old in Critical Condition." Clark adjusted his vision to read the smaller print of the article. Gary was clearly headed for the same intersection where the two boys had been hit by a white Subaru sadan. He would get there just a minute or two short of twenty-four hours after the accident occurred. But why would Gary return to the scene of an accident one day later? Clark turned to give Lois a puzzled look.
When Clark looked toward Gary again, he was surprised to discover two boys of about nine or ten approaching the intersection. Both wore CD players with earphones and were jiggling along with their private music. Neither was paying any attention to the traffic lights or the cars. But now Clark saw that Gary had reached the intersection, too. The paper was tucked under his arm so that both his hands were free. This enabled him to simply grab the two boys by their T-shirt collars and to hold them back as a white sadan whizzed past, much too fast to have stopped in time to avoid hitting them. Gary waited until the light changed then released the children and let them join the other pedestrians crossing the street. For a moment it looked as though Gary was opening his mouth to lecture them, but he seemed to give up the idea when he saw that he wouldn't be heard through the earphones. The boys never looked back, just continued bouncing along with the music that only they could hear. Clark doubted they even knew they had just been saved from death or serious injury.
Clark continued to watch as Gary opened the Sun-Times for another look. He was astounded to see the headline about the two boys replaced by, "Traffic Safety to be Taught in Chicago Schools." Well, if those two kids were typical of Chicago school children, the safety lessons couldn't come too soon. But how could a headline that was already printed change? And how had Gary known that the same accident would occur again today at the same time and place as yesterday? It was then that Clark thought to peek at the *date* of Gary's paper. Clark dropped out of his brisk walking pace suddenly, letting the other pedestrians on the sidewalk push and jostle around him. He put a hand on Lois' shoulder to ask her to stop too.
"What did you see, Clark?" she asked turning around to face him.
"You're not going to believe this, Lois. I saw it myself and I'm not sure
that *I* believe it."
Gary encountered the journalist couple on his way back to McGinty's. He was walking at an easier pace, not wasting time, but not needing to rush as he had done on his way to save the boys. The uncomfortable exchange of glances between the two and the way the reporters were obviously trying not to stare at the paper told him what he needed to know.
There was no point in trying to hide the secret any longer. "You're not gonna write about this in the Daily Planet are you?" he asked, hoping that Clark and Lois would respect his secret as he had respected theirs.
Clark started to reassure Gary, but Lois interrupted him She had given up all attempt to stop herself from staring at Gary's Sun-Times. "Where does it come from?" she demanded.
"It just comes every morning -- with the cat you saw in the bar," was all Gary could tell her.
This was a bit much for Lois could accept. No, Clark would never lie to her about what he had seen. And Gary *had* known in advance about the LNN photographers who nearly exposed Clark's identity. But, as a journalist, Lois knew how much labor went into producing a newspaper. Newspapers didn't just appear out of thin air, accompanied by orange felines. It took the brains, determination and hard work of superior reporters like -- well, like Lois Lane, if she had to say so herself.
Oblivious to Lois' musing, Gary suggested that they return to McGinty's where it was air conditioned. "We can talk about this in my office. It'd be more comfortable," he offered. Clark agreed at once. The most extreme temperatures didn't bother him personally. But he had noticed a strange look on Lois' face and guessed that the heat might be too much for her. He took her arm and the three walked back to McGinty's together.
Back at McGinty's, Gary led his guests to the office. Once he and Clark had settled Lois in a chair, Gary excused himself to go bring her a glass of water.
Chuck and Marissa were both behind the bar, Marissa still filling in as bartender, and Chuck discussing the televised Cubs game with a group of customers. Once he had filled the water glass, Gary pulled his friends aside to tell them that the two reporters knew about his newspaper.
Chuck's eye's widened. "Jeeze, Gar, you let two famous journalists find out about the paper? By tomorrow your name's gonna be a household word all over the country."
Gary winced at the prospect. "I asked them not to publish it. I think Clark would agree, but Lois, I--I'm not sure she's accepted the idea that I get tomorrow's paper yet. When she does..."
"Maybe I could talk to her," Marissa offered.
"She's a reporter," Chuck shook his head. "It's her job to expose people's secrets. How do you think she won all those awards she's got?"
Gary took Marissa's arm. "I'd like you to come with me," he said starting to lead her around the bar.
"Hey, guys, wait up, I'm coming too," Chuck announced.
Dropping Marissa's arm for a moment, Gary returned to the bar and pulled Chuck's bartender's bible from a shelf. He thrust the book at Chuck. "You gotta tend bar while we're talking to them, buddy."
Chuck looked at Gary suspiciously. His friend never wanted to let him be the bartender. "You mean it?"
"Yeah." Gary thought it worth loosing a few customers to Chuck's unconventional drink mixing . A loyal friend, Chuck would *try* to protect Gary. He was just less likely to *succeed* at it than Marissa. Gary had more of a chance to prevent his story being published if Chuck kept out of it.
"It's just not possible, Clark, you know that." Lois sat slumped in her chair, head in her hands.
Clark bent next to her and lifted her face in his hands to kiss her. It was a brief kiss, but now he had Lois was looking up at him.
"Lois," he asked gently, "do you remember just after we were married, when H.G. Wells brought us a copy of tomorrow's Daily Planet?
"H.G. Wells is a time traveler who brought us the paper himself," Lois countered. "He didn't claim it had appeared out of nowhere, together with some silly cat."
But Clark had a point. She had once seen a copy of the next day's Daily Planet with her own eyes. Maybe Gary's claim was not quite as preposterous as she first thought.
Lois perked up immediately, recognizing a chance for the Planet to one-up the Sun-Times. "The reporters there don't even know this is happening." She sat up straight again, her usual pert self. "I'd just love to see their faces after we print it first."
"Lois, I don't know if we should...."
Lois was arguing "the people's right to know," when Gary and Marissa entered the office.
Marissa, hearing Lois' voice, turned to face her. "I understand what an opportunity it is for you to publish Gary's story," Marissa appealed to her. "But this morning, Gary went out of his way to guard your husband's secret. I'm asking you, please, do the same for Gary. In its own way, Gary's secret matters as much as Clark's does."
Marissa's words didn't so much convince Lois as they caused fragments of a puzzle to come together. During their earlier conversation, Marissa had seemed friendly and honest, openly discussing the nature of her friendship with Gary. Yet she carefully evaded all questions about Gary's activities. Lois knew Marissa was trying to hide something, but at the time, she had no idea what it was. Now she thought she understood.
That Marissa and Gary loved and cared about each other was obvious from the moment Lois met them. At first, she even guessed they were a couple, the way she and Clark were. But Marissa corrected her, explaining that theirs was a relationship based on strong friendship.
Lois felt an immediate bond with Marissa, something that until now she had felt with only one other woman: Clark's mother, Martha Kent. It was the bond of knowing and protecting the vital secret of a person they cared about. *That* was what Marissa had been doing when Lois tried to question her. No one could understand it better than Lois herself.
Marissa, sensing Lois' change of heart, instinctively stepped forward, reaching a hand toward her guest. Lois grasped it warmly in her own.
"I think your secret is safe, Gary," Marissa told him, while Lois nodded in agreement. Gary breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank-you," he said to Lois.
He turned to Marissa, about to say more. But the cat appeared and pawed at his back pocket, letting out a desperate yowl. Gary unrolled the paper for a quick glance, then sprang toward the door, muttering an "excuse me" as he rushed out.
The journalist couple watched Gary's hurried exit with new understanding. They looked at each other.
"Lois, it's our fault that Gary is late this time."
"You'd better go," Lois answered.
Gary ran, drops of perspiration trickling down his face in the late afternoon heat. This time the victim was a child, just fifteen months old. The toddler's mother would claim she had turned her head for only half a second. He had to get there in time to save the little girl.
Oh, no! No!
He was too late. A red-blond kid, dressed in a flowered sun suit, was already wandering into the street, straight into the path of a Mac truck. Gary dodged into the intersection after her, scooped her up and passed her into the outstretched arms of a rather dumpy, red haired woman standing on the curb.
He would have made it out of the truck's path, too, if not for the pothole. He stumbled and fell, a searing pain in his ankle preventing him from rising. On-lookers gasped as he hit the ground.
He could feel the heat of the pavement on his bare forearms and through his light shirt. His ankle burned with pain. Soon all pain would end. In seconds the truck would hit him. He was going to die.
The seconds seemed to stretch, the way time does in dreams, allowing more thoughts than he would have believed possible in so short a time.
He was going to die. He didn't want to die.
He had saved the baby. He could hear the mother's voice hazily through the crowd. "Oh, Shani, Shani. Thank Heaven!"
Shani would live to grow up. Soon she would learn to talk. She would go to school. Someday she might have children and grandchildren of her own.
He had saved the baby.
He didn't want to die.
Strong arms shoved him from the path of the truck. A microsecond before the truck rumbled passed, he was thrust clear. He was just getting used to the idea of still being alive, when a terrible realization struck him.
No! Whoever pushed him must have died in his stead.
People on the curb helped him into a sitting position. Gary shaded his eyes to peer at the intersection, dreading the sight he expected to see.
There was Clark, unperturbed, picking himself up off the ground and dusting his suit. The bystander crowd stared at Clark in amazement.
"I, uh, hit the ground and the truck went over me. The wheels never touched me," he said in way of explanation, using the same unpretentious tone that Gary used for his standard "right place, right time" speech.
A number of people were still shaking their heads and staring at him, but Clark ignored them. He stepped onto the curb and leaned over Gary. "Are you okay?"
"If you would just help me up, I will be."
One bystander had called an ambulance. She tried to persuade Gary to stay and let a rescue team check him over. But Clark removed his glasses for a quick look at the ankle and saw that nothing was broken. He didn't object when Gary insisted on leaving before the ambulance arrived.
Clark supported Gary's weight on the walk back to McGinty's. If not for the suspicion it would arouse, he would have simply picked up the other man and carried him.
"Thanks." Gary looked Clark in the eye as he spoke. He wasn't going to be like some of the people *he* rescued who got angry instead of offering a thank you.
"I'm glad I could help," Clark accepted.
Gary's tooth gave a sudden twinge of pain, reminding him of a question he'd been meaning to ask. "You ever get cavities?"
"No," Clark answered almost apologetically. "No, I don't."
"Figures," Gary couldn't help muttering under his breath.
Clark had no trouble hearing even the slightest whisper. But he pretended not to hear Gary's muttered complaint.
On reaching McGinty's, Clark helped Gary to a chair in the office and asked Chuck to bring an ace bandage from the emergency kit. Once the bandage was on, Gary could support his weight on the ankle. He was limping again, but he'd be able to handle the next accident in the paper.
Marissa, Chuck and Lois all crowded into the office demanding to know what had happened. After Clark and Gary told the story, Marissa and Chuck added their thanks-yous to the one Gary had already given.
Clark looked at his watch. "We'd better be getting back to Metropolis. People need me there".
Chuck's face screwed into a frown at this announcement. Clark Kent and Lois Lane were famous reporters, practically celebrities. In his other identity, Clark was a genuine celebrity. But Chuck had had little chance to talk with them. What a shame if they were to leave now, before they had a chance to discover that Chuck Fishman was such a terrific guy. Besides he and Marissa were planning...
"Aw, stick around for a while," Chuck urged Clark. "Take a break from all the rescuing." Chuck's half joking, half serious tone gave Clark the distinct impression that this was not the first time Chuck had spoken these words.
"We've ordered an Italian supper from Tony in the kitchen," Marissa confirmed Chuck's invitation. "We'd like you to be our guests tonight."
"We don't want to impose," Lois began.
"It's no imposition," Marissa insisted. "Tony feels his talents are being wasted since we turned McGinty's back into a bar and grill. We'd like you to stay for supper. That means you too, Gary," she added.
Gary agreed to join them, but there was still one more traffic accident that he needed to prevent. "I--I'm gonna have to run out again in about twenty minutes," he told all of them. For once he didn't have to invent an excuse; everyone knew about the paper.
"I, uh, may need to leave suddenly, too," said Clark when they were all seated.
Chuck had pushed two tables together in a back corner away from the customers, so all could sit together. The two guests from Metropolis chose seats on one side of the table, opposite Marissa. Chuck and Gary took the ends. Like Gary, Clark seemed to be enjoying the rare easy feeling that came from not needing to guard his secret.
"Oh, Clark is always running out on people." Lois patted Clark's arm affectionately. "When we started going out, I didn't yet know about -- *you know.* He always found an excuse to leave just when I wanted to talk about our relationship. I was convinced he had a commitment problem."
Clark smiled, slightly embarrassed, at the memory.
"You just didn't know what was flying, Lois." Chuck couldn't resist the joke. "Get it? Superman? Flying?"
They all groaned and then laughed, more at Chuck's flailing attempt at humor than at the joke itself.
"Gary has logistical problems when he goes out on dates, too." Marissa said to Lois. She turned to face Gary. "Remember the time you took Emma Shaw to that cheap falafel place Chuck found for you?" Her next remark was addressed to Lois again. "It was near all the streets, where according to the paper, Gary had to be that night." Marissa couldn't suppress a giggle.
Gary smiled. At the time, it hadn't seemed very funny, but now, in this company, he found he could even manage a chuckle. "Yeah. Chuck meant well, but it wasn't exactly the upscale restaurant that Emma and I were picturing."
"Hey, *I* chauffeured you around all evening, so you wouldn't have to cancel your date." Chuck countered the criticism.
"Mreow!" The cat jumped up on Gary, reaching to paw at the paper in his back pocket. At that point, Gary pulled out the paper, glanced at a headline and really did excuse himself. It set all of them, even Gary, chuckling again.
"Want me to come with you?" Clark offered.
But Gary refused. He wouldn't always have Clark along to rescue the rescuer. He'd better not get used to it. Folding the paper to the page he needed, he stood and headed out.
"Gar, you forgot your cape!" Chuck call after him, pantomiming flying with his hand.
Gary turned back to reward his friend with a glare before he tucked the paper under his arm and limped out the door.
About forty minutes later, he returned to find the group just starting on dessert. He gave a slight nod and lightly touched Marissa's arm to tell them that his last job of the day had gone without a hitch.
"You know, I don't think I could do what you do, Gary," Clark told him as Gary sat down to try to catch up to the others at the meal.
Gary stared at him dumbfounded, a forkful of pasta half way to his mouth. This guy was Superman. Gary had often wished he had a fraction of Clark's powers.
Chuck dropped his dessert fork to stare open-mouthed, too. Only Marissa did not seem to be taken by surprise. She simply tilted her head, interested in what Clark had to say.
"No, I mean it," Clark insisted. "I think you're a bigger hero than I am."
"You've gotta be kidding me, right?" Gary forced a laugh to show he got the joke. "All those incredible rescues you do."
But Clark appeared to be serious. "Gary, I saw you rush out in front of that truck today, knowing you could be killed or maimed. I'm, uh, different. I know I can't get hurt."
Lois reached an arm around her husband's shoulders. "That's not true, Clark," she objected. "Even those times when you were weakened by kryptonite or temporarily lost your powers you thought of saving others first."
"Most of the time it is tr..."
"You do so much more than I ca..." Clark and Gary spoke simultaneously.
"I think you're both looking at this the wrong way," Marissa interrupted them. "This isn't a competition for the biggest hero. Both of you use the gifts you were given to help others. That's the important thing."
There was silence for a moment as everyone absorbed what Marissa had said.
"Coffee, anyone?" she asked to break the silence.
Soon the after-dinner coffee had been served and finished. Nothing but crumpled napkins, wet spoons and empty coffee cups remained on the table.
"I'm afraid we really do have to go now," Clark announced reluctantly. He and Lois were so rarely in company where they could be as open and comfortable as they were here, with these new friends. But he felt the same kind of responsibility for Metropolis that Gary seemed to feel for Chicago. Clark couldn't put off leaving much longer.
Thanks to Gary's warning, Clark could be the same person when he returned to Metropolis as he was when he left it. He wouldn't need to be Superman all the time. As he had once said to Lois, "Superman is what I can do. Clark Kent is who I am." Gary had allowed him to go on being who he was.
"Thanks for letting me..." He put an arm around Lois who looked up at him, smiling. "...letting *us* live our lives." Clark left Lois to clasp Gary's hand in a grip that he carefully kept just strong enough to show the respect and friendship he felt.
"Thank-you for *saving* my life," Gary responded.
Marissa extended her hand to Lois. "You've got my e-mail address, right? Mclark@ .... That's the best way to reach me if you want to be in touch."
"I'll send you a message tomorrow," Lois promised, taking Marissa's hand, "and I've always liked the name Clark."
All three hosts walked their guests to the door. "Hey, aren't you gonna let us watch you change before you go?" Chuck demanded.
Clark shook his head. "I'm sorry, Chuck, maybe some other time. You see, no one knows that Superman is in Chicago today. We'll find a dark secluded spot and leave from there."
"I'd just like to see you do that with my own eyes," Chuck complained.
"You don't always need to see something with your eyes in order to know it, Chuck," Marissa told him. She could sense that both Clark and Lois appreciated her comment.
They exchanged good-byes.
"Call me if you ever need my help, Gary," Clark offered as he and Lois walked out into the street.
"Thanks, and you can call me, too." Gary answered from the doorway.
"Hey, don't be strangers, now. Come back and visit any time," Chuck shouted at their backs as they began walking away. "Tell your friends in Metropolis to stop by McGinty's when they're in Chicago!" He managed to get in the last word and a plug for McGinty's at the same time.
"Now that wasn't so bad was it?" Marissa asked one morning, a week later. She was standing behind the bar, polishing glasses.
"No," Gary had to admit. It took more effort than usual to talk with his mouth still numb from Novocain, but at least his voice sounded normal. He sat on one of the stools and opened the paper on the bar in front of him.
Marissa had called Gary's dentist herself and made an appointment for him. She then arranged for Chuck to drive Gary to the dentist and wait there to bring him back to McGinty's. For once, she even encouraged Chuck to peek at the paper just to make sure there was nothing life threatening during the time Gary would be in the dentist's chair. She didn't quite trust Gary not to cancel the appointment for something less drastic
But the paper had given Gary a slow morning, Marissa had all but bodily shoved Gary into Chuck's car and now the cavity was filled.
On their return, Chuck mumbled something about needing to make a private call and had gone into the office, closing the door behind him.
"You know what he's up to?" Gary asked Marissa.
Marissa continued polishing glasses. Crumb was due back at the bar that night and would expect to find the place clean and in order.
"I took Chuck to a poetry slam at the Green Mill last night," Marissa explained. "I wanted him to see for himself that a slam can turn into a free-for-all and to hear how explicit those amateur poets can get. I hoped it would convince him once and for all that a slam isn't an appropriate event for McGinty's."
Gary looked up from the paper. "Uh, did it work?"
"I'm not sure." Marissa still held a glass in her hand, but forgot to polish it for the moment. "There was one poet in her late twenties who became *very* explicit about her past love life. I think Chuck was so impressed he asked for her phone number."
"Hmmm." Gary had no comment to add to that. The Novocain was beginning to wear off and his mouth was starting to tingle a bit. Experimentally, he poked his tongue at the new filling to see how it felt.
Marissa seemed to sense what he was doing. "Try not to let a cavity get that bad before you take care of it next time," she offered her advice.
"Yeah," he answered absentmindedly. His attention had returned to the paper that lay opened before him on the bar. Automatically, he turned the pages back to check the front page headline again.
"Oh, no!" Gary sighed. This article had not been there before. Why had the paper given him only six minutes warning? He scrambled off the stool and burst into the office, grabbing the phone out of Chuck's hand.
"Gar, what's wrong with you? I'm trying to get a date for Saturday night."
"No time," Gary muttered, dialing fast.
"Daily Planet. Clark Kent speaking," the voice picked up at the other end.
"Good, I got you. This is Gary Hobson."
"Gary, how are you?" Clark sounded pleased to hear from him again.
"I--I need your help. A plane that took off from O'Hare is gonna crash in Hawaii in four minutes. Killing 106 people."
"No, Gary," Clark answered, "you must be mistaken. There's not going to be any plane crash in Hawaii in four minutes. Excuse me." The line went dead abruptly.
Gary let himself sink into a chair near the desk. He unfolded the newspaper to check the headline one more time.
Sure enough, he found that Clark was right.
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