Part 1: Paper jam
Part 2: Toner emergency
Part 3: Maintainance call
Day 4: System error
‘Let me get this straight, Kent...’ Perry leaned back in his chair, frowning. He tapped a pen against the edge of his expansive oak desk. ‘You’re asking me to sack the photocopy boy. And your reason for proposing this is that within a week of him starting here, we have a brandnew kickass photocopier.’
‘A very expensive new photocopier!’ The conversation with the editor-in-chief wasn’t going exactly as Clark had planned. ‘And I don’t think we needed it. I think he’s... well I think he doesn’t care how much of the Planet’s money he spends.’
Perry pursed his lips and nodded slowly. ‘Uh-huh. I see. Well, I have to tell you Kent that you’d be wrong in that assumption because the new copier didn’t cost us a cent.’
‘What?’ Clark was taken aback for a moment and then it dawned on him. ‘Wait a moment. Sir, the money for the copier… it didn’t come from LexCorp did it?’
Perry swung forward suddenly and leaned across the desk at Clark. ‘What are you on, Kent? Do you seriously think this paper would accept that kind of sweetener? In any case, this is an entirely internal matter. Speaking of which...’
Perry pressed the intercom on his phone and spoke into the speaker. ‘Kate, get Alex from the copy room up here would you.’
He turned back to face Clark who was feeling decidedly unsettled. This was definitely not how the meeting with Perry was supposed to go.
‘Look, sir, I know it sounds crazy, but the old copier was working pefectly well on Monday. And suddenly this guy turns up here and tells us we have to get a new copier. Well, don’t you think it sounds a little suspicious?’
‘Yes. I’m, well, look the truth is I think this guy… I, I just don’t think we can trust him.’
‘Right.’ Perry nodded. ‘Well, you’ve obviously thought a lot about this, Kent. But I must say the logic of your argument escapes me at the moment, a problem I’ve seen in more than one of your articles, if you don’t mind me saying.’
Clark opened his mouth to reply but was stopped by the knock at the door.
‘You asked for me, sir?’
‘Alex! Yes, come in. Join us.’ Perry indicated the seat beside Clark.
Lex sat down without looking at Clark, his face wearing a practised neutral expression.
‘Alex, you’ve met Kent, I take it? One of our junior reporters.’
Clark winced at the slight emphasis on junior.
‘Well, Kent’s just been telling me about a theory of his, Alex.’
‘Yes. And I thought you would be the best person to put him straight.’
‘Well, I’d be glad to, sir, but I don’t really know what it’s all about.’ Lex turned wide blue eyes from Perry to Clark.
‘That’s ok, Alex. Just run over what you told me yesterday afternoon.’
‘About the copying contract?’
‘Yes, yes. Just the clip notes version.’
Lex feigned surprise. ‘Well, ok. Basically I put forward a report on the performance of our main copier based on data from the copier’s inbuilt monitoring system and on the employee anecdotes I’ve been recording.’
‘Employee anecdotes?!’ Clark didn’t see how Perry could take this seriously. ‘What type of evidence is that?’
‘Well, actually they’re an excellent complement to the rather basic data that the copier’s computer system generates. Take yourself, for example. On Tuesday morning you experienced a jam in area 7, I believe. A real trouble spot,’
Perry raised an eyebrow. ‘Working perfectly, huh Kent?’
Lex continued. ‘When questioned, many employees reported issues in the same area. And yesterday moment, the entire unit froze. I decided it was time to take action. I undertook some research into that particular model. It turns out it’s been recalled from several companies. After that, it was just a matter of contacting the supplier and renegotiating our contract, a task which Mr White kindly entrusted to me.’ Lex smiled humbly in Perry’s direction.
Perry, by this time, was chewing on the end of a pen and grinning.
‘The matter was resolved satisfactorily.’
Perry pulled the pen out of his mouth. ‘Oh don’t undersell yourself, Alex. You did a stunning job of persuading them to upgrade us free of charge.’
Lex bowed his head, smiling slightly. ‘My pleasure, sir.’
‘You see, Kent?’ Perry turned his gaze on Clark. ‘A little initiative, some lateral thinking, solid research and you get results. Pity you didn’t apply the same skills before you came in here this morning WASTING MY TIME!’ He slammed the pen down on the desk.
‘Has there been some kind of cock up in HR or something?’ Perry rose from his chair and started pacing up and down before the window. Rhetorical questions and pacing: not good. ‘Because I seem to have ended up with a copy boy who has more flair than one of my reporters. No offence, Alex.’
‘None taken, sir. If I may, though, I’d just like to say that I don’t think you should judge Clark’s performance quite so hastily.’
‘Oh? Really?’ Perry rounded on Lex.
‘Yes. I understand he’s been having some personal difficulties recently, which may have impaired his performance. But I’m sure he’ll do his best to make it up.’
‘Don’t get above yourself, Alex. Supplier contracts are one thing. Opinions about my journalists are another. You can go now.’
Lex rose silently and made for the door. Clark began to breathe a tentative sigh of relief. The worst part of the ordeal was over.
‘Oh and get Lois for me would you?’
He’d breathed too soon.
Perry turned his back on Clark and stared out of the full-length windows that faced out on Metropolis while he waited for Lois. The silence was wreaking havoc with Clark’s nerves. But he wasn’t sure that breaking it was a good idea either.
‘Whassup boss?’ Lois, when she arrived, practically bounced into the room. ‘Oh, hi Clark!’
Clark forced a smile for Lois, who swung herself into the seat that Lex had vacated.
Perry turned from the window. ‘Lois, I’ve already commended you on this week’s article. It is truly some of the best work I’ve seen you do.’
Clark’s heart sank. The Met U article. Oh god, he’d completely forgotten. Lois must have submitted it already. Without him. Anger fought with guilt in Clark’s stomach. Guilt won. It usually did.
Lois was glowing. ‘Thank you, sir!’ she said, chin up like a soldier about to salute.
‘But you gave me to understand that the article was a team effort.’
Lois swallowed. ‘Well, I, uh. Clark did help. A bit.’
Oh wonderful, Lois, thought Clark. Lex was a bigger help than this!
‘But it appears he’s spent an inordinate amount of his time this week obsessing about the motivations of our photocopy boy, instead of furthering his reporting career.’
Lois turned to Clark with her face very unattractively screwed up in puzzlement. He frowned back at her with a little shake of his head that he hoped indicated that she really shouldn’t ask.
‘You know, I’m going to speak to you honestly now.’ Perry leaned against his desk on the knuckles of his right hand. ‘When I took you two on I wasn’t sure how this would work out. But frankly Lois was one of the most promising young journalists I’ve seen in my entire career. I couldn’t let that go.’
Clark glanced at Lois. Surprisingly she wasn’t grinning any more. She was just staring at Perry, but her dimples were showing.
‘I wasn’t so sure about you, Kent. Your portfolio was … eclectic. There was some good material, I’ll admit. But not enough to get you in on your own merit.’
Why was Perry telling him this?
‘But I was faced with a problem. I didn’t want to hire two separate young reporters with overblown egos. I’ve seen the type crash and burn within a year all too often.’
Involuntrily, Clark thought of Chloe.
‘I wanted a team, a team that could support each other and undertake indepth investigations together, a team that could build up talent collectively and could balance each other out under pressure. A team I could rely on if I allocated them to specific projects. So, I had Lois, but I needed a partner for her. And that’s where you came in, Kent. Sorry, Lois, but the truth is I wasn’t sure any of the other applicants would last with you.’
Lois broke before Clark did. ‘What are you saying?’
Perry turned to her. ‘I’m saying you’re a shithot reporter, Lois, but you don’t play well with others.’
‘So why not let me play alone?’
It was as if Clark wasn’t even in the room any more.
Perry sighed. ‘No, see, you need someone to ground you, to help keep you on track. Look, you may not understand this now but one day you will.’
Lois folded her arms across her chest. ‘So you lumped me with Smallville here?’
‘Well, you already knew each other. Hell, you acted practically like brother and sister. It seemed perfect. So tell me now. Was I wrong? Should I just sack your asses?’
In the silence that followed, Clark and Lois glanced at one another. Lois’s eyes were fiery and her jaw set firm. Clark returned her gaze. They turned back to Perry in unison.
Perry nodded very slowly.
‘Ok then. You know where you stand now. Now get out of office and get back to work.’
Clark scraped his chair back swiftly and nearly fell over Lois in his rush for the door.
‘Oh and Kent? The next time you want to file a complaint against an employee? Run it past Lois first. And take it to HR. They’re both there for a reason.’