Standing alone in the Daily Planet elevator, making his way to the newsroom on time - the first time in several weeks - Clark let his head thump back against the wall behind him, releasing a deep sigh and willing the emotions from the previous evening to fade. He couldn’t remember how long he had sat there with Lois, doing his best to quiet her and shelter her from her fears, though he clearly remembered the guilt when asking Lois for any information she could have had on where Richard was going before he left. He couldn’t start a valid investigation on what little information he had; a few scribbled notes from a destroyed building and a wrecked seaplane said nothing, even if he had discovered that Lois had been set up.
“He said he was visiting an old friend,” she had said when she had finally calmed down enough to tell him something. “Someone a little further up coast. He’s got a friend up in Maine who used to be a working partner when he worked for the Planet’s British affiliate. He visits him every now and then. I don’t know where his address, but I can give you a name.”
The name was Bill Guth, a man who Richard had met during school in Chicago and who had been an intern with Richard while he had been in London. The two had worked well together in their five years of service to the paper, but apparently Bill didn’t take to the world of news like his friend did. He worked in Maine as a repairman to any kind of sea craft.
He raised his head at the ‘ding’ of the elevator. Adjusting his collar and running a hand through his bangs, Clark lifted his briefcase under one arm and grabbed the morning copy of the Planet, lifting the headline high above his head, blocking the way before him. When the doors opened, he used his X-ray vision to see ahead of him, thankful that no one was in the lobby that he could run into. He reached the glass doors of the bullpen.
Whack! The newsroom momentarily stopped at the loud sound. Clark had run into the doors, his briefcase and newspaper on the floor while he bounced back, pretending to rub his head and collect himself. The Planet employees, once realizing that it was Clark, continued with their jobs. This wasn’t anything unusual, and certainly not unusual for Clark Kent. A few snickers greeted him as he walked inside while he nodded and grinned in return.
“Mr. Kent! Are you alright?”
Clark dropped his briefcase again. Rounding a corner, Jimmy Olsen rushed to his side, picking up the briefcase and putting a hand on Clark’s shoulder. “You look like you hit that door pretty well.”
I’m lucky the door didn’t break… “No, I-I’m fine, Jimmy. You know me – any inanimate object is subject to destruction when Clark Kent comes around.” Clark reached down and picked up the paper he had been reading, shaking his head and putting on a classic grin for the young photographer. “That should teach me to pay more attention to where I’m going.”
Jimmy followed Clark to his desk. “Oh… are you sure it had nothing to do with the paper?”
“The paper?” Clark set down his briefcase and turned to Jimmy. “What’s wrong with the paper?”
“You didn’t see the update?”
“Update? What update?”
With a grim face, Jimmy took the paper from Clark’s hands and turned to the front page, pointing to a small headline in the top right-hand corner. Clark blinked and squinted at it, his face slowly matching Jimmy’s. It was an update on Richard’s disappearance, something that Perry decided to add when readers started asking about his whereabouts. The police report had been recently televised, but up until then, nothing had come from the Planet itself.
“Kinda brings it home, doesn’t it?” Jimmy said solemnly. “It makes you wonder what kind of people are out there. Who could do something like this to an innocent guy?”
“People do crazy things for crazy reasons, Jimmy.” Clark said quietly. Lois’ tear-stained face momentarily flooded his vision, one again fueling his resolve to find Richard. Clearing his throat, he released the paper and patted Jimmy’s shoulder. “That’s another reason why I don’t watch television. Too much violence promotes violence itself.”
“I doubt whoever did this watched too much TV, Mr. Kent.” Jimmy folded the paper and tucked it under one arm. “He just sounds flat-out crazy to me. For Lois’ sake, I hope we find him soon.”
Clark took a glance at Lois’ empty desk, the contents on its face still scattered like it was when she left to check out the repair shop. “I do too, Jimmy. Oh!” He snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. I need to ask Mr. White something. He doesn’t have a meeting soon, does he?”
“You’d have to ask him that. He’s been pacing his office all morning. I doubt he has anywhere extremely important...”
Clark didn’t let Jimmy finish his sentence. Grabbing a pen and a pad of paper, he made his way through the sea of bodies to Perry’s office. The editor-in-chief turned, wide-eyed, when Clark slammed into the closed door.
“Clark? Are you okay?”
Clark put a hand to the frames of his glasses, staring at the doors in shock. That time had been no accident. He must have had shatterproof glass installed…
“Uh, yeah, Mr. White. Yeah…” Clark shook his head, taking in the sight of the doors before walking into Perry’s office. His hand gingerly held the handle, closing the door carefully. “Um, I wanted to ask your permission to take a few days off.”
Perry, standing behind his desk and gathering some papers, stopped. “A few days off? What for?”
“I think I’ve found a contact that might have an idea on where Richard is. A, uh…” Clark pulled a piece of paper out of his coat pocket, looking at Lois’ scrawled handwriting. “A Bill Guth?”
Perry nodded his head. “Yes, Bill. He and Richard were good friends overseas. They still keep in contact. I think that’s where Richard was headed when his plane went down. You think Bill might have an idea where Richard is?”
“We have to start somewhere, Mr. White.”
“Agreed.” Perry sat heavily in his chair and sighed, pointing at the headline Clark had been staring at earlier. His voice became thoughtful. “You know why I decided to do this, Clark? To print the news about Richard?”
Clark’s mouth opened and closed for a moment. “Um…” He thought long and hard. Doing his best to not sound insensitive – the story did involve Perry’s nephew, after all – he quietly said, “It’s a human interest story?”
Perry chuckled quietly. “You’re finally learning after all these years. It’s more than just that, Clark. After forty years in this business, I still have problems believing anything unless it’s solidified in ink. Printing Richard’s story… it’s more than just reporting to the public. It’s… therapy, if you will.”
“Yeah… confirmation.” For a moment Perry seemed lost in thought. Clark shifted nervously from foot to foot before adjusting his glasses. He put the cap back in his pen and stuck it in his breast pocket. Flipping his notebook closed, he fingered the metal rings. “Um… Mr. White?”
“Bill’s a sailor now. You’ll find him at a popular boating dock in Maine. He repairs ‘em now. Obviously the call of the great outdoors was stronger than anything he could find in the paper.”
Hours later, collecting information from Perry and using his ability of flight to his advantage, Clark flipped through his notebook and compared the address to the location he was at. The bright sunlight, completely unfiltered due to the clear blue cloudless sky, reflected off of rich waters that would have looked completely foreign to any other city-dweller from Metropolis. To Clark, having seen clear oceans and rivers from his worldly rescues, the sight was nothing short of wonderful, a bit of a reminder of home. Even if Kansas doesn’t have any oceans to look at. The puff of air coming from his mouth suggested crisp cool air. The trees were flooded in autumn colors. Sailboats dotted the horizon and floated lazily in the afternoon breeze…
“Can I help you, sir?”
Clark jumped, nearly losing his notepad. He turned to an older man dressed in overalls and a fishing vest, staring at him curiously.
“Um…” Clark took a second to collect himself, putting the notepad in the breast pocket of his overcoat. “Yes, actually. Do you work here? This is the Wayfarer Marine Corporation, isn’t it?”
The man smiled back. “You’ve come to the right place. Just a ways ahead is the main office building. You should be able to get some help there.”
Just a ways was a little extreme. Clark had to walk only several feet before he came face-to-wood with the numerous docks the Corporation had to offer. The building was a little further down, but Clark really didn’t need to head there; a gentleman in a blue cap, asking him if he could be helped, was already pursuing him. Clark opened his press pass and asked for Bill Guth.
“I’m Bill,” a voice from behind a boat emerged seconds later. Easily in his thirties, Bill was short, perhaps slightly shorter than Lois, with a bald spot easily visible when he took off his White Sox ball cap and rubbed a hand over his brow. He walked over to Clark and offered his hand, revealing a smile that had only one tooth in the front. “Can I help you, Mr…” Bill looked at the press pass Clark still hadn’t concealed. “Mr. Kent? From the Daily Planet?”
“Yeah, um…” Clark took out the notepad and uncapped a pen. “I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about Richard White.”
Bill scoffed, inclining his head for Clark to follow him down the docks. “The feeling’s mutual, Mr. Kent. I heard about his disappearance in the news, but nothing else beyond that. Imagine my surprise when I learned why he never showed up for our get-together was because of a plane crash.” Bill stopped and turned to Clark, who nearly bumped into him. “What did the police reports say? Did they ever find him in that plane?”
“Uh, unfortunately no, Mr. Guth. The only thing they found were—“
“Fingerprints. I heard.” Bill looked grim for a moment, staring down at the wooden planks of the docks before turning to continue his work. “Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Kent?”
“I was wondering if you could tell me why you were meeting with Richard. I spoke with his fiancée, Lois Lane, and she told me—“
Bill laughed suddenly, making Clark jump. “Oh, please, Kent. Don’t try to be so formal. The famous duo, Team Lane and Kent? The whole world knows about you two, including me.”
Clark froze. “You do?”
“Of course! Richard always went on about how amazed he was when he first started at the Planet. I’m working with Lois Lane! The Lois Lane! I Spent The Night With Superman Lois Lane! ‘Course, that only last about three days. When he learned how moody she was, all excitement just shot out the window.”
“Um, okay, then… When I talked to Lois, she said that Richard was visiting you right before he disappeared.”
“Sure was. He and I get together every year or so just to catch up. He and I were interns with the British affiliate, you know.”
Clark stood in place, watching Bill move through different boats and carefully monitoring his breathing and heartbeat. “How did that go? Was there ever a rivalry between you two?”
“Nothing beyond the friendly, working type. Richard was always one of those guys who made me work harder. If nothing else, anytime he scored big on an article, I just pushed myself a little further to make mine better. I’d always buy him a drink whenever he beat me, though.”
“So how did you part ways? What made you so interested in boating while Richard stayed in reporting?”
Bill paused, carefully staring at three cables before picking up the heaviest and walking to a boat further down the docks. Clark followed closely.
“We were working on a story together that involved… some kind of boat sinking, I think. We were able to follow some hot shots when they were looking at the evidence, and something in me clicked while looking at the intricacy of the wreckage. I had to think about it for several weeks before really making a decision, but the idea of fixing all of that while being able to be in the great outdoors was just too strong a pull. Richard liked all the sightseeing. It took a while for me to discover that I would be just fine in one place. I graduated with a degree in communications, moved up here to Camden, started working here doing filing and just… worked my way up.”
Clark’s concentration was as intense as it was when he was with Doug. He was staring intently at Bill’s heart, trying to be sure that the calm rhythm was result of truths mixed with hard work and not well-trained concealment. Bill caught his stare and froze. His heart slightly sped, but Clark had already made up his mind by the time he hustled off the boat and walk right up to the senior reporter. “Whoa. Hold on a second.” He lowered his voice. “You don’t think I had anything to do with… him goin’ missing, you do?”
Clark sighed. The man had been speaking complete and utter truths from the moment he introduced himself. Flipping the notepad closed, he gave Bill a weak smile. “No. I don’t think so. I just realized I hit a dead end.” He stuffed the notepad into his coat, trying not to rip the fabric apart in frustration. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Guth.”
He had turned and taken three steps before Bill ran in front of him, pointing a grubby finger in his face. “This is the best thing I can offer you, Kent. My advice would be to go to London, to the British paper. We always thought we were a bunch of hot shots ourselves. Who knows? Maybe… maybe there’s some story we covered that rattled a few cages. I know that feels like a cheap Hollywood movie or somethin’, but… it would be worth a shot, right?”
Clark slightly recoiled at the finger, but met Bill’s blue eyed gaze. “I… I suppose.”
“I’m just trying to help you. Going to London is the best advice I can offer.”
Clark thought about it for a moment, then offered a smile. “It’s something to consider. Again, thank you for your time, Mr. Guth.”
Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets and marched down the docks, sighing deeply and fighting the disappointed frustration that threatened to mount. Flying would be the easiest way to get to London, but the first step was to get back to the Planet and report what little he could to Lois. She’d wheel herself through Metropolis and hunt him down herself if he forgot to report anything to her…
His cell phone rang. Taking it off the clip on his waist, his flipped it open and hunted for the green button, only to remember that he had changed it to automatically take the call when he flipped open the receiver. He lifted it to his ear and hesitantly said, “H-hello?”
“Mr. Kent? This is Officer Petty.”
“Officer Petty! Good to hear from you. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I have good news for you.”
Clark slowed his brisk pace until he was completely still.
“It looks like we might have identified the fingerprints from Richard’s seaplane.”