I made my way blindly down the back stairs of the Daily Planet. There was something wrong with my eyes and I held on to the railing while I stumbled down to the basement. Finding the boiler room door, I pushed it open and shut it behind me. Leaning against it, I struggled to find my breath.
"Damn, damn, damn." I could hear myself muttering but it didn't stop the pain, the all encompassing agony that filled my chest until I was afraid I'd hyperventilate. I slid down the door and hugged my knees, resting my head between them to get a little blood to my brain. I needed to think through to what I was going to do. My breaking heart could wait for later, right now I needed a plan of operations. My life was still on the line.
But right now that didn't seem very important. I rocked back and forth, replaying the scene that had greeted me when I slipped from the back stairs into the news room. Hustle and bustle just like always with Perry even bellowing from his office. I'd been so eager to see Clark that my gaze swept the room quickly while I stayed half-hidden by the heavy oak door.
Oh, I'd seen him all right. He was bent over something and I was admiring his ass when I realized something wasn't right. Too many hands. Why does ...? And that's when I realized that he was bent over Her and it was Her hands clasped around his neck. She's just got something in her eye. And he's getting it out.
"Get a room, Kent." One of the other reporters cat-called over the ribald clapping from the rest of the crew.
And Perry emerged from his office with a smile. "Come on, you lovebirds. We've got a story to write."
That's when the weight landed on my chest and I started having difficulty breathing. And why I was currently on the cold concrete floor of the boiler room wandering how a good day had gone so wrong. "Okay, Jimmy. You've got a lead to the killer and you thought you'd share it with the significant other ... who isn't."
My eyes were burning but I held back the tears. There wasn't time to mourn a lost love. Keith was depending on me. I'd always known that Clark and I weren't forever but I'd thought I'd have a little more time. "Come on, Jimmy. You were always second best. He was unsure and you took advantage of him. You know what they say. Paybacks are hell."
I fished out the cell phone that Mrs. Kenyon had insisted I carry. Waiting for my eyes to stop watering, I firmly pressed in the number that Keith had given me earlier. He answered immediately.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Yes and no. Change in plans. I didn't get the help I thought I would. But we can still make it work." My brain had never worked so quickly. Grief seemed to motivate me better than happiness. How sick did that make me? "I've got a plan."
"Meet me at the club. Use the back entrance and come upstairs to room five."
"Right." I hung up and unsteadily got to my feet. Heading for the security door, I carefully checked to be sure I was alone. Picking the navy blue Taurus staff car, I hot wired it. Some lessons you just never forget, I thought wryly. But then I had to deal with that burning pressure near my heart again while I remembered the other lesson that I'd tried to forget.
Nothing is forever.
Pulling out of the garage, I drove quickly away from my career and my heart's desire. I concentrated on the traffic to the exclusion of everything else. I've always found driving a soothing occupation, maybe if I lived through this, I'd become a truck driver. It would be fun to drive thousands of miles delivering needed goods from one side of the country to the other.
Jimmy Olson, eighteen wheeler. Had a nice ring to it. Those cabs were pretty luxurious and right now, I'd be able to fit all my possessions into one, with room to spare. Some books on tape and I'd be able to enrich my mind while I drove the lonely miles away. Mrs. Kenyon would probably enjoy helping me get my license. Even if I had to leave, I was pretty sure that we'd stay friends. She said I reminded her of her brother when he was a boy.
That's me, all right. The boy next door. The one who always reminded strangers of their brother or cousin or somebody they used to know. The wholesome young man you'd trust your sister with. And they'd be right, wouldn't they? It's their brother they couldn't trust me with. I found myself chuckling at that thought while I pulled in behind the laundry on the next block beyond the club.
Ducking through the alley, I knocked on the back door and turned the handle. To my surprise, it opened right up. I slipped inside, set the lock behind me and made my way through the shrouded pool tables, dashing up the stairs as quietly as I could. The thick carpet muffled my steps and I knocked gently on door five.
Keith flung the door open and pulled me inside with one motion. "I was so worried about you." He hugged me tightly and I felt all my control swept away by his heart felt words. The tears I'd managed to keep back, broke through the dam I'd erected and I soaked his shirt.
He held me and let me cry, rocking me silently. I clung to him while I emptied myself of the pain. When my sobs were mostly dry hiccups, he led me to the plush sofa and handed me a box of Kleenex. I blew my nose hard and gazed at him for the first time. The angry red marks on his left cheek looked painful.
"Are you okay? That graze looks bad."
"I'm fine. After you called, I went down to my car. When I dropped my keys and bent over, the sniper missed. Barely." He shrugged and touched it gingerly, grimacing. "Probably ruined my good looks forever."
"Right." I sniffed and tried to smile.
"I'm more worried about you. What happened between our phone call and your trip to the Daily Planet?" He settled back against the sofa arm and looked expectantly at me.
Taking a deep breath, I cast my mind back over the last 24 hours. "When I called your cell phone, I didn't expect an answer. Su-someone told me they'd found your car near the quarry with bullet holes in it. But I kept hoping that you were just being devious. So, I took a chance and was totally surprised to hear your voice ..."
"Keith? Are you all right? Where are you?" I was standing and almost shouting into the phone in my temporary suite.
"I'm fine. Bloodied but unbowed. Who the hell has us targeted?"
"Somebody leaked our names as the two witnesses who could identify the shooters."
Keith groaned into the phone. "Just our luck. What are our options?"
"Find who hired the killers? Shouldn't be too difficult. I've got a list of all the bills that the Senator was involved in. All 1,363 of them."
"Shit. That will take forever."
"Nope. Mrs. Kenyon and I have it winnowed down to just over thirty. There's a reoccurring theme. He fought very hard against a group we've taken to calling the Gang of Four. They have their hands in all kinds of legislation with one common purpose. Power."
"Great. How the hell are we going to fight them? Even if there was proof, I can see myself growing old trying to prosecute."
"I think we might be able to lure them out of hiding." I had the glimmer of an idea.
Shaking my head, I thought to gloss over the next part but he forestalled me with a gentle question. "Jimmy. I'm your friend and right now your partner in crime. Is there something I should know about what happened at the Daily Planet?"
Looking at his kind eyes, I nodded. "You know, when I told you that I didn't have a love life and you tried to set me up with your friend?" I waited for his nod before continuing. "I lied. One of the guys I work with, kind of got drunk one night and we ended up at my place and we made love until he passed out and I thought he was okay with it but he was just really naive and he thought he was in love with Lois but he really enjoyed our lovemaking so we did it again after the shooting and he liked that too so I started falling in love with him but I thought we should go slow because he still wasn't sure and when I got to the Daily Planet ... he was kissing her."
I was crying again and he took me in his arms and rocked me like Tim used to do when I was little. "I ... I broke the first rule again. I knew better. But he's everything I ever wanted and I thought maybe we'd have a few months or so."
"What's the first rule, Jimmy?" His voice came from above where my head was buried in his shoulder.
"Nothing lasts forever. Followed very closely by rule number two. Never fall in love with a straight guy. Because he'll break your heart, every time." I managed a weak laugh.
"Oh, love. I wish I could say those are silly rules." He chuckled himself and rubbed his cheek over my hair. "But so far in my life, I have to say they're right on the money. I've got a rule three for you. Your friends will always see you through rules one and two when you ignore them and suffer the consequences."
"Thanks, Keith. I appreciate it." I got hold of my emotions and locked them away behind that burning wall that had taken up residence in my chest. Pulling away, I rubbed my eyes. "Have you got computer access here? I may have a clue we can follow up."
"Sure. It's not the fastest connection but it will get you onto the Net." He gestured over to the desk, tucked in the corner of the suite. "Are you going to tell me who the straight guy is?"
I headed to the desk and sat down to boot up. "You'll think I'm an idiot."
"No, I won't. I never told you about Damon, did I? My first real love in college. I lusted after him for two years before he broke my heart by falling in love with a cheer leader. A perky ... blonde cheer leader." He sighed heavily and headed for the small bar coffee maker. "I felt like such a fool. Wasting two years on somebody with no taste. You want some coffee?"
I logged on to my private account and put in the address that was on the top of all the printouts that SARA had made for us. Hoping against hope that it would recognize me and let me in. "Coffee would be great. I can't really fault his taste. Lois is beautiful, brilliant and extremely sexy to all good heterosexuals everywhere."
"She's also ambitious, hard nosed and emotionally impaired. I spotted that within an hour of meeting her." Keith snorted and half turned to me. "Oh, Jimmy. Don't tell me it's tall, dark and handsome?"
Blushing, I met his sympathetic gaze. "Yeah. Pretty stupid, huh? Clark's about as het' as they come."
"Honey, he must have been drunk as a lord for you to trip him into bed. I've always wondered if he knew what the equipment was for." Keith brought me a mug of steaming coffee.
I was concentrating on the words forming on the screen. "Oh, he knows what to do with it, all right." At his laugh, I realized what I'd said and lost my focus, for a moment, I could feel Clark inside of me and had to grit my teeth to keep in the groan at the memory. "But that was then. Now, he knows some interesting variations on a theme. I hope she realizes how lucky she is. There, I'm in."
The words appeared on a light blue screen. //Working. James, what can I do for you?//
I typed in my reply. //SARA, I need you to concentrate on four men. Are any of them in this area right now?//
Taking out the sheet of the bills and people that Mrs. Kenyon and I had narrowed our search to, I entered the names of the two senators, one businessman and the rancher. Keith whistled over my shoulder when he read their names.
"Jesus, Jimmy! These guys are heavy hitters. You think they're the ones who are behind the assassination?" Keith seemed to be praying quietly while the computer hummed. I just nodded and sipped my coffee, wishing it could melt the frozen lump in my throat.
How soon would he be telling SARA to change my priority? This might be my last chance to touch base with the wonderful intelligence that lived in the ethers of cyberland. //Working. Senator Yonkers and Mr. Basinger are both in Metropolis for the funeral of Senator Gibbs. Further inquiry?//
I hesitated a moment before writing down my next query. What I was contemplating could get me killed and while I didn't really give a damn at the moment, I would care eventually. //SARA, I think one of them hired the assassins who killed Senator Gibbs. I need to get in touch with them to set up a meet. If I'm right, they'll send the killers after me.//
//Working. That would be extremely dangerous, James. Are you sure this is the best plan?//
I could almost hear the voice from the night before with that faint hint of femininity in it. //Yes. I'm sure. Can you help?//
"Jimmy, no shit this is dangerous. Are you nuts?" Keith's grip on my shoulder was painful. But he was helping me stay grounded.
"I'm not into suicide here, Keith. We'll take precautions and you'll be my back up. You can call in the cops or the FBI or somebody like that as soon as it's set up." My stomach was roiling and I had a strong urge to throw up. "I don't want to sit around in hiding for the rest of my life, looking over my shoulder waiting for a bullet."
//Working. Phone numbers for both men to follow. Odds favor Senator Yonkers as the culprit. Senator Gibbs had filed a letter with the Justice Department requesting an inquiry into the Lazerby hearings.//
I remembered those. About a year ago, the Senate had held hearings on the arms industry and the importation of automatic weapons. Ironic that it was an automatic weapon that had ended the Senator's life. Or maybe it had been a warning to anyone who got in their way? I automatically jotted down the phone numbers she scrolled across the screen.
//Working. This is information that Superman needs to know as well.//
I gulped once and tried to still suddenly shaky fingers. //Good idea, SARA. Let him know what you found out. He can talk to Mrs. Kenyon about how we figured out those four names.//
"Hell, he'd be the perfect back up. You could let him take the bullets. Now, there's a man with a great set of buns." Every word out of Keith's mouth was like a blow to my over sensitive psyche. I closed my eyes and got a firm grip on my suddenly shaky courage.
It would be so easy to take that out. Hide behind my ex-lover. Hey, I'm only human and bullets bounce off of him. But my pride wouldn't let me. Damned inconvenient time for me to grow a backbone but there it was. I was going to prove to myself that I didn't need him. Not in my heart or in my life. I could stand on my own, do my own thinking and planning.
And dying, a treacherous little voice insisted quietly.
//Working. James, where will you meet these men? Will you be safe?//
//We'll have to wait until after we call them. But I was thinking of here at the Solitary Cyclist. It's still closed until after tomorrow. It's also the last place anybody would look for me.//
//Working. Agreed. I will contact Superman and let him know the plan.//
//Thanks, SARA. It was great working with you. Logging off.//
I backed out of the site before she could answer me. I was going to miss her. And Superman. And all the might-have-beens. Turning, I found Keith pacing behind me.
"It will work. I'll call them and tell them that they can buy my silence for a large sum of money. They'll believe that especially if I sound as scared as I feel."
"I know it can work but ... and there's a very large 'but' here, Jimmy. It's too dangerous and I'm not completely sure of your motives." He stopped and trained a hard look at me. "I'm unaware of any suicidal tendencies on your part but this afternoon hit you hard and I need some major reassurance here that you're not being reckless with your life."
"I hurt." I stopped to swallow that damn lump again. "But it's bearable. It's not like I didn't know it was coming. Just not so soon. But I really, really want my life back. Even if it's not in Metropolis. I hate what these guys did and I want to be the one who brings them down. Maybe, give me back a little of the control of my own life that they took away when they destroyed my apartment and everything I owned."
My voice echoed in the still room and I was shocked at my own vehemence. Maybe I would survive this intact. The open road and that eighteen wheeler were looking better and better as my next career option.
"Okay, Jimmy. You convinced me. How do you want to play this?"
We drank coffee while we planned our attack. Half an hour later, I took a deep breath and made the first call. My shaking voice was pretty convincing, if I do say so myself. I was scared out of my mind. The little voice inside my head that liked me living and breathing was screaming at me to run and run fast, away from all this violence. Keith washed my face after I hung up and threw up.
The second call was a little easier. I'd given them both an hour to gather the million dollars I demanded before I called again with our meeting place. I gave Keith a hug when he left me to go set up our back up. As far as the bad guys were concerned, he was dead and not part of the equation. I'd been pretty adamant on that point. Now, all I had to do was wait for the killers to come and try to kill me.
There was milk in the fridge and I drank all of it to try and settle my stomach. It reminded me of Clark but I pushed all those thoughts out of my head and found myself pacing again. Mrs. Kenyon would be worried at my continued absence. I should call her, I decided. I needed to talk to someone normal right now.
"Hi, Cransom. Is Mrs. Kenyon there? Is she all right?"
"Mr. Jimmy. It is good to hear your voice. She is quite worried about you."
"Jimmy, is that you? Where are you? Are you all right?" Her voice was breathless as if she'd run to the phone and ripped it from the butler's hand.
"I'm fine, Mrs. Kenyon. Just following a lead. I'm sorry I'd didn't call sooner."
"Perry is worried sick about you. We both thought you were going to the Daily Planet with our list. When you didn't show, we feared the worst."
"I'm sorry. I ... got way laid. I discovered someone who could lead me right to the source. Now I'm just waiting for a phone call."
"Where are you? Your voice sounds odd, Jimmy. Are you sure you're all right? Perry told me he'd send you some help if you called in. Lois and Clark are following up some of the leads we spoke of earlier."
"Good. I'm glad we've got more that one limb to this tree we're climbing." I enjoyed her chuckle and wondered if I'd ever see her again.
"Oh, Jimmy, wait a minute. There's someone here who needs to speak with you."
Oh god, that voice. Those deep tones like melting chocolate that flowed over the phone lines and straight into my aching heart. Damn him anyway. I was doing okay until I heard him.
"Su-superman. You should check with SARA. She's got some of the information that I got this afternoon. You'd be a great back up for this plan of mine and Keith's."
"You met up with your friend. That's wonderful. I know how worried you were. Are you both all right? What plan are we talking about?" His voice sounded relieved and concerned at the same time.
I couldn't take this. I wanted to pour out the whole thing to him and beg him to protect me. But I was stronger than that, at least that's what I told myself.
"Sorry, Superman. Got to go. Ask SARA. See you." And I hung up.
While I was still shaking and before I could change my mind, I dialed the first number. "Senator Yonkers. I hope you have the money. I'd really hate to see you go down for killing a colleague ..."
End chapter five