And now... Part Seven (7?!) of PCB!Lex.
‘I don’t believe this!’
It was Monday morning, the office was bustling, and Clark was reading his emails. Lois was standing a couple of meters away at a central storage unit that the junior reporters shared. It housed stationery, envelopes, mailing satchels, a large hole punch and a printer, as well as a water cooler. Lois was pouring herself a glass.
‘Believe what?’ she called back to him.
‘This printer thing.’ Clark read from his screen: ‘In the interests of efficiency, colour printing has been restricted. High-priority users have been issued passwords. If you have not received a password but need to make a colour printout, please contact Alex, who will monitor the print priorities and log your job at an appropriate time.’
Clark turned as Lois straightened from the drink cooler. She stared back at him blankly.
‘This doesn’t bother you?’ Clark was incredulous.
Lois cocked her head. ‘Uh, no. Seems kind of sensible. I mean I hate having to stand around waiting for two pages while someone’s printing four-hundred promotional brochures or whatever.
‘But don’t you see--this could be just the start. He’s trying to control our access. It’s a clear grab for power.’
Lois raised an eyebrow. ‘Grab for power? Today the colour copier, tomorrow the world?’
Clark glared at her. ‘I’m serious, Lois.’
‘Oh no.’ Jimmy, late and bleary eyed, stumbled past to his desk. ‘Are you two squabbling already?’
‘We’re not squabbling!’ Clark and Lois answered in unison and then glowered at one another.
Jimmy grinned and dropped the heavy camera bag off his shoulder.
‘Yeah, right. What’s going on?’
‘Clark’s accusing Alex of taking over the Planet one colour printout at a time.’
‘She’s exaggerating.’ Clark turned to Jimmy to explain. ‘Apparently we don’t have access to the colour printer any more. Not without going through Alex.’
Jimmy frowned. ‘Ok. Sure. And?’
‘And doesn’t that bother you? At all?’
‘No, not really. I hardly use it.’ Jimmy thought a moment. ‘Oh, I did want to run off those fliers … but I’ll just ask Alex for them. No problem.’
‘But they’re for your band, right?’
‘Personal use: he won’t let you do that.’ Clark raised an eyebrow. ‘You see what I’m saying?’
With frustratingly disconcerting timing, Lex appeared at Clark’s shoulder. ‘Good morning, everyone! What’s going on?’
Clark wondered just how loud they’d been talking.
Jimmy strode forward. ‘Alex, can I print some fliers later? They’re for my band: I told you about them on Friday night, yeah?’
Alex smiled. ‘The band you play bass in? Sure. When’s the gig again?’
‘The 19th. You wanna come?’
There was one road to Jimmy’s heart. Show an interest in his band and he was yours for life. On reflection, Clark wasn’t surprised Lex had figured this one out. But what he really didn’t understand was why Lex would want Jimmy’s heart.
Lois leafed through the papers sitting on the printer. ‘So did you guys have a good time on Friday after I left? Anyone get messy?’
Jimmy, always happy to gossip rather than work, grinned. ‘Nah. No one got messy. I think someone might have got lucky though.’ He winked at Lex.
Lex waved a hand dismissively. ‘He’s exaggerating.’
Clark shouldn’t have been surprised. Really, he shouldn’t have been. Lex was, after all, a shameless and obsessive womaniser. But somehow the shock of this never wore off.
‘Ah … who …?’ Clark began, awkwardly, avoiding Lex’s gaze by looking at Jimmy.
Jimmy was more than happy to oblige. ‘Amelia. You know - the snooty chick in payroll.’
Clark’s heart sank. Of course. Amelia was tall and brunette and immaculately groomed. She flirted. She had a vicious temper. Lex had a type: Amelia matched.
‘I think I better get back to work and let you guys analyse my social life out of earshot.’ Lex smiled easily.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll keep them in line,’ said Lois. ‘I’ll thump them if they get too slanderous.’
‘Actually, she will,’ said Jimmy wryly.
‘I don’t doubt it!’ said Lex, and turned to leave. He brushed shoulders with Perry on his way past. ‘Good morning, sir!’
Perry ignored him. ‘Kent! Lane! Meeting room 5. Now.’
Several heads bobbed up from behind partitions. Perry’s appearances on the floor were infrequent and could signal anything from firings to bonus cheques. Heads turned as Lois and Clark followed Perry through the office. Clark could hear the whispers around them (‘… first long article …’ ‘did you read it?’ ‘… thinks she’s going somewhere.’ ‘yeah, but where is he going?’) and was grateful that Lois could not.
Perry pushed open the door to the meeting room and strode in without looking round. The door banged close as Lois, who’d been tight on Perry’s heals, whirled around to straighten Clark’s tie and whisper in his ear, ‘Just leave the talking to me, Smallville, ok?’
‘Lois, what is this about?’
She pressed a finger to his lips. ‘You? Good at the smiling and nodding. Me? Good at the talking. Let’s just stick to our classic roles, shall we?’
Clark would have replied but the door was already swinging closed again, in his face.
By the end of the meeting with Perry, Clark’s anger at Lois had lessened considerably.
Perry had a special assignment for them. The official findings of an independent investigation into corruption within the police forces was about to be published. Rumour had it that parts of the report were going to be suppressed because it hinted at links between senior police officers and certain politicians. Perry had a source, and he was turning that source over to Lois and Clark. It was a test. Perry showed no concern about making that clear.
Lois glowed. Her eyes blazed and she tapped her fingernails on the desk excitedly. She interrupted Perry frequently to speculate about the best way to approach things with the source, who was, Perry explained, understandably edgy and nervous about making contact. Clark found he was happy to let Lois handle things her way. He maintained an interested expression, behind which his thoughts drifted.
Was Lex one of the politicians implicated in the report? It wouldn’t surprise him if Lex tried to pay off members of the police force. Who knew what he was covering up? Had Lex slept with Amelia? Probably. But why? Why did he have to drag his sordid life into Clark’s workplace and rub it in Clark’s face?
Lois had kicked Clark under the desk at appropriate moments, ensuring that Clark caught the essential points of the assignment. Thus they survived Perry’s briefing.
Lois was a whirlwind of activity for the rest of the day. She raided her filing cabinets, pulled up a stack of old articles from the archives, pumped other reporters for background and typed notes into their shared file.
Around 2 pm a wad of papers six inches deep hit Clark’s desk. He looked up to find Lois towering over him. ‘Write me a précis of these?’ She looked at her watch. ‘One hour.’
‘Lois, this is supposed to be a partnership.’
‘Exactly! I’m going to go outside and call the source from my cell phone – no way will he pick up a line from the Planet - and I’ll line up a meeting for us, ok?’
‘You want me to come with you?’
Lois rolled her eyes. ‘Just précis, ok?’
Once Lois had left, Clark threw the files aside and headed to the kitchen. He needed food to get him through this amount of research.
The copy room was not on the way to the kitchen, but Clark found himself turning towards it anyway. It was a mistake. Lex wasn’t in the copy room. He was standing at his desk, and Amelia was leaning against his cubicle wall. She had long legs and slim hips and an annoying way of inserting a brief giggle at the end of every sentence when she was flirting.
Clark pretended to be looking for stationery in one of the cupboards. He focussed in on their conversation briefly.
‘… wondered if you’d like to come round on the weekend.’
‘Weekend? I was hoping we could … get together sooner than that.’ The pause before ‘get together’ was pointed and classically Lex.
Clark had heard enough. He ripped a pile of old accounts papers out of the ring-bound folder he was fiddling with and strode to Lex’s desk.
He bumped Amelia’s shoulder slightly as he passed her without looking round. ‘Alex, I need some copying. Urgently.’
‘Sure, Clark.’ Lex failed to register surprise at his sudden appearance. ‘Put it in the tray.’
‘Uh, this is really urgent. And complicated.’ Clark didn’t care how stupid he sounded.
Lex raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh, I see: complicated.’
Amelia, glaring suspiciously, said, ‘I’ll see you later, Alex.’
‘Yes.’ Lex gave her a lingering smile and then snapped his head back to Clark. ‘What are those?’
‘Those!’ Lex pointed at the papers in Clark’s hand.
‘Um. These are just …’ Clark flung them down on Lex’s desk. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
He stepped forward and whispered. ‘What matters is you and your behaviour!’
Lex covered his mouth with the palm of his hand. When his features had stopped twitching he slid it away again. ‘What do you mean, Clark?’
‘You know exactly what I mean. This thing with Amelia. Everyone is talking about it!’
‘Meaning you and Jimmy are talking about it?’
‘Not just us!’ Clark hissed. ‘The guys in layout, the design department. And the accounts staff, of course! I’ve been hearing about it everywhere.’
‘Well, thank you for your concern, Clark, but I really don’t see that there’s any harm done. If people have nothing better to do than to speculate about the nature of our relationship, that’s no concern of mine.’
‘You have a relationship?!’
Lex remained frustratingly calm. ‘I was using the term in the broad sense.’ His eyelashes fluttered. ‘Why? Would you rather I just slept around?’
‘Lex, this is my workplace. You are not going to turn it into your brothel!’
To Clark’s frustration, Lex burst into laughter.
‘It’s not funny! I have to work with these people. It’s inappropriate.’
Lex gained mastery over himself again. ‘You know, you’re right, Clark. Actually this is completely serious. Do you know the statistics on how many people meet their future spouse in the workplace? They’re surprisingly high. And I, for one, am not going to overlook that path out of some spurious loyalty to your moral indignation. Now, if you will excuse me, I have actual urgent work to do.’
Lois never returned to her desk that afternoon, leaving Clark vaguely curious but not curious enough to disturb the peace by calling her. He finished summarising the materials she’d left and got through some extra research as well. He was quietly pleased with himself.
Clark waited until after five to ring Chloe’s cell phone. He needed to vent and he knew she would understand, but he didn’t want the whole office to overhear.
Chloe listened to only so much before she jumped in with, ‘Oh, Clark, you didn’t talk to him about it, did you?’
Clark paused. ‘Um … I might have said I didn’t like the way he was acting.’
‘Cla-ark!’ Chloe seemed to be channelling Lois. ‘What did I tell you? What were my specific instructions?’
‘Uh, not to let him … ah … get to me?’ Clark winced. Chloe was right. He should have thought that one through. Not for the first time, Clark wished that Chloe still worked at the Planet.
‘I couldn’t help it,’ he mumbled.
Thankfully Chloe changed the subject. ‘Look, it doesn’t matter. I was about to ring you anyway to tell you I trailed him when he left work, like we discussed. Clark – he took the underground! And he didn’t go back to LuthorCorp. He’s got an apartment on the west side of the city. This little poky place. Well, bigger than my place, but definitely not palatial. Clark, are you listening?’
‘Uh, yeah. I’m just …’
‘Surprised? Yeah, so am I. Looks like he’s really put a lot of thought into his cover story. I asked around. The building manager says he moved in a week ago, says he’s polite, quiet, keeps regular hours.’
The call-waiting signal sounded over the top of Chloe’s final words.
‘Uh, Chloe, can I get that?’
Chloe laughed. ‘Sure, Clark. You take a moment to process, ok?’
Clark changed lines. ‘Clark Kent.’
‘Clark, where the hell are you?’ It was Lois.
‘At work. Unlike some people. Where are you?’
‘Oh, Clark, you never know what’s going on in this town, do you? Just once, you might act like a reporter. Did you not even notice everyone else leave?’
Come to think of it, it had been surprisingly quiet that afternoon. Clark had been grateful, but he hadn’t thought any further about it, assuming the other junior reporters were out on assignments.
‘Lex just gave an exclusive! We only got a heads-up on it at four.’
‘What?!’ Lex’s press interviews were infrequent, but when they did occur, it always sent the media into a flurry of activity.
‘Yeah, and it gets worse. He spoke in the LuthorCorp foyer – there were, I don’t know, about fifty reporters. But he barely said anything before he selected five out of the crowd who got to interview him in private. I didn’t get in, but it’s going to be on the news tonight. He’s got some new campaign platform. He claims it could change the lives of lower-income families forever. Yeah, right! He’s probably going to privatise the air they breathe! As soon as we get off this new case, we are going to find the angle on this one, ok?’
Clark clenched his jaw in determination ‘Absolutely, Lois. Uh, so you saw Lex? Just now?’
‘Yeah.’ Lois sighed. ‘I hung around until the interview was over. I was hoping for a quote, or anything really. He came out briefly five minutes ago, but I didn’t get near enough.’
Clark tried to formulate the next question carefully. ‘How … uh, how did he look?’
‘He looked tired. Tired but determined.’ She paused. ‘Kind of like I must look, really.’
Clark switched back to Chloe.
‘Chloe, are you there?’
‘Are you still at this place? This apartment Lex is renting?’
‘Yeah, you bet. I checked out his trash. Lots of takeaway dinners.’
‘Is there any way to tell if he’s there right now?’
‘I can see the lights are on. I can see someone moving around.’
‘No, I need to know it’s really him’
Chloe rang back fifteen minutes later. ‘I got pizza delivered to him and watched from the stairwell. I managed to get a shot of him with my phone. It’s definitely him, Clark. Why?’