Lois climbed into the Planet’s elevator, turned around and watched the numbers slowly climb, not truly paying attention. She chewed on her bottom lip, a nervous tick that Clark would surely have picked up on had he been around. That was the source of her anxiety, though—Clark wasn’t around. The last time she had seen him was yesterday morning when they had split up to follow different leads. She had received a message on her work phone that he would be much longer with the interview than he anticipated, but he had never returned to work, and after scanning all of the news channels for signs of disasters worthy of Superman, nothing had given her the notion her husband’s alter ego was hard at work.
She’d slept very poorly, jumping awake at every imagined noise, casting her eyes around for signs of her husband’s late night return. He never came.
Morning had now bloomed, and still her husband’s absence felt like an empty chasm in her heart. Normally when Clark was gone this long, she had some idea of why, and it usually always entailed a job for Superman.
Not this time.
Again, that tingling feeling started to prickle the lining of her stomach. She squirmed at the sensation and cast a loathsome glare at the elevator buttons as if they had been the ones to cause it. She hated this feeling; it meant her intuition was telling her she was about to stumble upon bad news, and she had no problems guessing the bad news involved Clark.
The elevator door dinged open. Lois stepped cautiously off the lift, eyes darting around for signs of Perry or Jimmy. She didn’t want to run into any of their questions just yet on where her other half was. Normally his absence was due to his alter ego and she would make up some kind of excuse, but if her partner—and husband—was in some kind of trouble, the Planet would need to know. She fervently hoped his desk would provide some kind of clue as to what she needed to do. Thankfully she crossed no one in her path toward his desk and began scanning the various papers strewn about.
She stumbled upon a hastily scribbled address written on a sticky note. It was to some café downtown she’d never been to, but her hunch told her this was where Clark was supposed to meet with the woman who claimed to also have dreams about the ghost-girl Rose. Absentmindedly, she wondered if something else had deterred him along the way, but instantly she knew that thought was wrong. Her gut told her that whoever Clark had met up with was the reason he wasn’t here now. What if this ghost had somehow possessed her husband, and the woman he met had something to do with it? It could possibly explain his lengthy absence, but if she really wanted to know . . .
Lois snatched up the paper and headed back toward the elevator, determined to go to Renaldo’s Café and start her clue searching there when Jimmy’s voice halted her steps. He appeared around the corner, feet away from the elevator.
“Hey Lois!” he called out, smiling wide in greeting. Lois’ stomach did a twisting dive as she returned what she hoped was a friendly smile in return.
“Morning Jimmy,” she mumbled, thanking the heavens that the elevator doors had chosen that moment to open.
“Hey, where’s CK—?” Jimmy began, but was cut off.
“Gotta go!” Lois hollered, practically shoving fellow coworkers aside as she leapt into the lift and began jamming her finger on the button that closed the doors. Jimmy’s confused wave of goodbye vanished as steel doors shut him from her view. Lois gave an inward sigh. She rode the lift down to the lobby where she stepped out and exited the Planet. She made a left-hand turn outside the doors and made it a few yards before she heard her name called out.
Lois stopped and turned, searching for the unfamiliar voice and saw a man dressed in a black suit and tie with black sunglasses approach her. He had a stiff, professional demeanor with an unsmiling expression.
“Yes?” she answered questioningly.
“When was the last time you saw your husband?” he asked without any introduction.
Lois stiffened. “Pardon me?”
“When was the last time you saw your husband?” he repeated, stopping in front of her.
Lois took a backwards step instinctively. “Who are you?”
“I am Mister Keplin,” he answered straightaway. “My employer met with your husband yesterday afternoon. Again, I ask when the last time was that you saw your husband?”
Lois narrowed her eyes, hating the way her heart rate sped up. “Who’s your employer?”
“I answered one question of yours, Miss Lane,” he said briskly. “Now, if you please, answer mine.”
Lois stared into those black sunglasses for a long moment, deliberating the very question she was trying to avoid answering with Jimmy or Perry. Her hairs were standing on end; this was a complete stranger asking a very forward and leading question. A snide comment was on the tip of her tongue, but Lois held back. Clark was missing, and if this stranger was asking when the last time was she had seen her husband. . .
“I haven’t seen him since yesterday morning,” she said in a guarded, clipped tone. “He was going to meet someone, whom I gather is your employer. Who is she? Why are you asking about my husband?”
“Because my employer has also gone missing,” he answered quietly. “She was last seen with your husband in an escorted ride back to the Planet yesterday, but the vehicle did not make it that far before crashing. The driver was the only occupant in the vehicle found. He was dead.”
Lois’ heart gave a wild thump in her chest. “Did he die from the crash, or do you suspect foul play?”
Mister Keplin stared at her, pausing. “The situation is under investigation. Do you have an idea why your husband was meeting with my employer?”
Lois nodded silently. “I have an idea,” she murmured.
“In that case,” he paused and gestured toward a black Mercedes-Benz parked along the side of the street. “Would you come along to answer some questions? The sooner they are found, the better.”
Lois stared skeptically at the vehicle. “You can come up to my office,” she offered, pointing at the Planet. “We can talk up there—”
“We work discreetly, Miss Lane,” Mister Keplin interrupted. “Your diplomacy in this matter is therefore of the utmost importance. A newsroom would be a highly inappropriate atmosphere to discuss a very serious and delicate situation.”
Lois raised an eyebrow. Serious? Delicate? Clark was the man of steel for God’s sake! What could have happened that Superman couldn’t handle? Not that Mister Keplin knew this, of course (and he didn’t, right?), but if the man’s employer was missing while with Clark, the words serious and delicate were the perfect phrase to describe the situation.
Lois’ suspicions soared. “What agency do you work for? FBI? CIA?” she demanded.
“More discreet channels than that,” he replied, and again gestured toward the car. “Please.” It wasn’t a question.
His answer did nothing to improve the uneasiness, but before Lois could formulate a reply, the door to the Mercedes opened and out stepped a woman with soft brown hair.
“Good Lord, Mister Keplin,” she said tartly in an English accent. The man started and turned promptly on his heel, walking quickly toward her as she continued to talk. It looked like he was trying to usher her back in the vehicle. “The look on her face suggests you’ve made a ploy on her life. No, I will not get back in the car until I have spoken with Miss Lane,” she argued as he spoke quietly into her ear, and she strode on past him until she was face to face with Lois. “Do forgive him, Miss Lane,” she apologized. “Mister Keplin is employed by my grandmother, who has gone missing along with your husband. He was not hired for tact so much as he was hired for his protective services.” She threw him a disdainful glare and turned back toward Lois, her expression softening. Her pale blue eyes turned beseeching. “We need to gather all the evidence we can to find them.”
Lois was somewhat mollified by the woman’s presence, but still, given the fact that her missing husband was involved, she couldn’t excuse her suspicions. Evidence was something law enforcement handled, not family members per se. “Are the police involved?”
The woman frowned slightly. “If we wanted to draw every red flag to their disappearance, then yes, we would have contacted them. As it stands, there are more discreet methods to tracking down criminals Miss Lane, and we do need to be discreet, at least for the time being. I must stress here that you are not to report this to the Daily Planet. Your husband’s safety depends on it.”
“What’s going on here? Who are you?” Lois demanded.
“That’s why we need to talk. Privately,” she answered, enunciating the last word.
Everything about this situation screamed a loud warning. Who the hell has Clark gotten himself tangled up with?! Lois thought, a flare of concern spiking in her heart. If she wanted answers, however, they seemed to be staring her in the face. Giving a sigh of resignation, Lois nodded her head.
“Where are we going?” Lois asked, the edge in her voice not softening.
“To my Grandmother’s estate out in the country.”
Lois gave another nod. “I’m not getting in the car, but I’ll get in mine and follow from behind.” The woman opened her mouth as if to object, but Lois spoke again, overriding her. “You’ll have to do a little bit of trusting if you want me to help you find your grandmother and my husband. Because believe me, I am highly vested in getting my husband back. I’m parked around the corner, so Barnabus there can wait for a silver Subaru to pull around.”
Without waiting for an answering reply, Lois turned around and headed for her vehicle.