TAC Table of Contents
All of you will recognize the main action of the Prolog; it is, of course, an expansion of events narrated but not seen in “Superman on Earth.”
From the beginning the idea was to place Superman in an ultimate dilemma, having to make an impossible choice. Trouble is, once the climax came, I couldn’t find a way out of it.
Thanks then to fellow scribes in the “Lost Adventures” virtual bullpen, Kirk Hastings and Bruce Kanin, and to Matt Foley, a friend from work, for their suggestions. Each of you should find traces of them in the resolution of the story.
It wasn’t the kind of field where you might see a big league team play, but it was theirs. At least, they called it theirs. It was just someplace to spend a little time after school, and growing up in the early years of the Great Depression they had to find their joy wherever they could.
There was Tommy Russell, Timmy Kelly, Mike Murray, Pete Ross, Danny Keegan, Jack Morris, Larry Parker, Joe Hanson, the Baker brothers, and several others. Clark, of course, was also one of them. Like all the others at his school he enjoyed baseball. And these impromptu games in the afternoon and on Saturdays were one of his favorite things.
Of course, there was another reason he enjoyed the games. There was one more player: the only girl allowed in their group, because she was the only one who could play as good as any boy.
As he and the others tossed the ball around, warming up, some using mitts that probably dated back to Abner Doubleday and others having to catch bare-handed, he saw her come. As usual, she had changed from her skirt to denim coveralls, tied her long red hair into a pony-tail, and was as ready as the rest of them.
Lana Lang caught the ball that was thrown to her and threw it to Clark. He threw it to Pete who sent it to Joe. Lana leaned down with her freckled hands on her knees, watching. Clark, as usual, was watching her. She glanced his way and gave him a wink. He blushed almost the shade of her hair and she grinned. Joe was watching them and called a good-natured taunt to Clark who somehow blushed even redder. They were all about twelve, and Clark and Joe weren’t the only ones who were starting to look at Lana as more than just the tomboy who enjoyed a good ball game as much as the guys. There were other girls too, and it was rumored that Mike Murray and Alice Kirby had been seen kissing behind the school one morning.
They soon had enough to choose up sides for a game, and Jack and Timmy, elected captains for the day, tossed a coin to decide which team batted first. In a few moments all had taken their places and the game began. Clark was on Jack’s team and Lana was on Timmy’s. Clark batted fourth, the clean-up spot, because he was one of their best hitters.
Of course Clark could have hit a lot better than he actually did, but controlled himself when playing with his friends. It had taken some effort to learn that control, and somehow now that he was older suddenly it had become a little harder, but he managed. When his turn came, they had two men on.
Lana was catcher, and like all good catchers she teased and taunted him when he came to bat. He just grinned and took it, knowing it was all part of the game. Maybe she might even let him hold her hand while he walked her home.
The ball sizzled past him. It was a strike, and he hadn’t been paying attention. There were two men on, and he wanted to bring them in. That’s why he was in this position. The next ball came and he tagged it, sending it high and wide. He started running, hitting the spots they had designated as first and second base. His ball was still sailing. He saw the guys ahead of him reach home. He rounded third himself and started in. It was a standup homerun, and with the two men he brought in his team was in the lead.
But where was the ball? It had gone a lot further and faster than any of the boys could run. There were several mounds of rocks bordering the field, and trees beyond.
“Man, Clark, did you lose the ball again?” Joe complained. “That’s the third one you’ve hit out to nowhere.”
“I’m sorry Joe,” said Clark. “But remember I paid for the other two.”
“Yeah, but we can’t keep stopping games because we lose the ball,” Jack said.
All started a search for it. A number of large rocks had been rolled to the edge of the bordering woods probably a couple of generations ago, when their fathers or their fathers’ fathers first cleared the field for play. Tim muttered under his breath, and Clark heard a word or two he didn’t like as Tim started into the woods to look. Clark’s hearing had recently become more acute; and sometimes, like now, he heard things he wished he didn’t.
Clark decided since he hit the ball he must be the one to find it. He looked around, concentrating. It was his fault, and he just had to make it up to the guys --- and Lana.
As he focused his vision, looking as closely as possible, he felt a slight ache in the eyeballs themselves. It wasn’t like a headache, though he knew those only from Ma’s description of them. He closed his eyes and rubbed them a moment before trying again. There, that was better. He resumed the search, looking around the rocks, concentrating.
Suddenly something happened: a rock he was focused on seemed to split open, a burst that opened its secrets to him. What was it? What was happening to the rock? Or, what was happening to him? Startled, he realized his vision was penetrating the rock; that he was seeing beyond it; even through it. The ball had fallen deep between two large rocks, and wasn’t easily seen from either side. He bent down, reached in, and pulled the ball out.
“You found it!” Lana cried.
“Yeah. Guess I did.”
“But I just looked there,” Jack said.
Clark shrugged. “Guess you missed it.” He tossed the ball up and caught it, and then to Joe, who was pitching. “Ready to play some more?”
“Yeah. Guess we’ll call that a home run, eh Jack?”
Jack grinned. “Sure. Suits me.” As they started back to their improvised diamond, “Remember, it’s only one out.”
Joe’s grimace segued into a grin in spite of himself. “Yeah, I remember.”
Joe’s team won, edging out Jack’s by one run. Clark seemed distracted his next couple of at-bats, even striking out once; which is something he rarely did. When the game was over Jack started to blame it on Clark, who just stood and nodded while Jack told him off. Then a freckled hand poked his arm.
“Aw, leave him alone, Jack. Every guy’s entitled to an off day; even Clark.”
Jack turned, loaded for bear, and faced the fiery green eyes of the one girl member. Lana stood her ground, hands on hips, feet spread a little. Jack tried futilely to stare her down; a contest no one had yet won against her, and he was no exception. Half his anger escaped with a sigh and he decided to save the other half for another time. “All right. All right.” He turned back to Clark. “Guess your girl friend saved you this time.”
“And he did find the ball,” Lana reminded him.
“Yeah. OK, Clark. Better luck next time.” He gave him a departing poke in the ribs, which hurt Jack more than Clark, and started home.
As Lana came over to him Clark said, “You didn’t have to come to my rescue, Lana.”
“Why not? Jack’s all right, I guess, but sometimes he can be a sore loser.” She got her skirt from the bench where she’d left it.
“You... you weren’t going to fight him, were you?” Clark asked as they started off the field.
“No; I’m a lover, not a fighter, Clark.”
He looked down at her and the grin she gave him, the glow of perspiration on her fair, freckled face, and the jauntiness of that long auburn ponytail seemed an invitation. The way home led along a path through the woods and when they were halfway through it he stopped and glanced around them.
She looked around a moment too and said, “We’re alone, Clark. No one’s watching; except maybe the squirrels and birds,” she added mischievously. “Is there something you wanted to say, or do?”
She’d barely gotten the last word out before his lips closed on hers. It was a brief kiss, as most childhood first kisses are. But Clark was surprised and thrilled when she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, this time a bit longer.
They broke apart, knowing that even first kisses can’t last forever. “Guess we’d better get home, huh?” she asked, wiping her palms down the legs of her jeans and picking up the skirt where she had dropped it. She brushed it off, draped it over her arm again, and started down the path. She’d gone about a dozen steps when she turned around and said, “Well, aren’t you coming?”
Clark grinned, hoping his blush wasn’t as red as her hair, and trotted to catch up. The Lane farm bordered theirs, and when they reached the gate she ran up the path a ways before she stopped, turned, gave him one last smile, and hurried to her house.
Clark had a lot to think about as he walked home, and something he wanted to ask Ma about when he got there. He knew he was strong, and could make leaps which were quickly becoming more like flight. He’d never been injured, not so much as a minor cut or bruise. But recently his hearing was becoming so sensitive he was training himself to sort of turn it off; and now it seemed his vision was developing enhanced abilities of its own.
He wasn’t going to tell her about Lana and their kiss. Maybe he’d tell Pa later, and see what he said. But he was going to ask Ma about this vision thing; maybe she had an answer.
She did; and that answer was his first clue to his true origins.
Clark actually liked typing at a normal pace; indeed, he preferred it. Even the occasional typo didn’t bother him. Sure, he could type every story at Super-Speed, without error, and when a deadline hung like the Sword of Damocles over him, he sometimes did. But typing forty or so words per minute, with a typo or two, having lunch with Lois and Jimmy, riding about Metropolis in his Nash; these were things which appealed to him. He enjoyed them because they made him feel more human.
He remembered the day when he had come home from school after a ball game. It was the day he discovered he had X-Ray Vision. He’d told Ma Kent about it and for the first time she revealed to him that he had come to earth in a rocket, a rocket from the stars. What did that make him, a Martian? A native of Jupiter? “No,” Ma had told him, “no matter what strange world you come from, you’re our son. Just as if I gave birth to you myself, you’re our son: you’re Clark Kent, a small town farm boy. You’re just as human as any of the other boys at school.”
Clark smiled at the recollection. And she and Pa had done their best to see that he was just as human as anyone else. They treated him no different, and so he grew up feeling no different. As an adult, especially after coming to Metropolis three or four years before, he had used that upbringing to mold Clark Kent the Man into someone who blended in with everyone else in this great city.
His smile grew more wistful when he recalled something else that happened that day: his first kiss. He had occasionally thought about Lana over the years, and asked about her when he called or visited home. But he had never seen her on those visits, and though he and Ma got the annual birthday and Christmas cards from her, they knew little about what that once spunky redhead was doing now. Clark had this image of her having moved from the country into modern suburbia, married to an accountant or insurance salesman, and living in a shingled bungalow with her 2.5 children and their dog. He could have tracked her down, he supposed, from the return address on those envelopes; but he had chosen to respect her privacy. The return addresses were handwritten, and bore no name; no clue whether she had indeed married or not. Other than receiving and replying to the same types of cards, Clark had no contact with her either over the years.
His door was ajar and Lois gave a courtesy knock before entering, followed by Jimmy. “Working hard, Clark?”
Clark glanced up. “Just about finished, Lois.” He concluded the story, gave it a quick glance, and arranged the typed sheets on his desk. “What’s up?” he asked. “Hi, Jimmy. Are you two up to something?”
“Gee, Mr. Kent,” Jimmy said, “why would you think that?”
“Because you usually are, especially when the two of you get together. And I’ll bet I know what it is: the identity of the new crime boss in Metropolis.”
“You sure you’re not related to Sherlock Holmes?” Lois said.
Clark adjusted his glasses. “No Lois, I don’t think there’s any chance of that.”
“Well anyway, we’ve come upon a lead,” Lois said. “You know it’s just been the last three months that these robberies have started.”
“Yes, and all of them have been well planned,” Clark added. “Inspector Henderson has been baffled, and I’ve... that is, Superman has always been far from the scene.”
“It’s obvious that they’re planned by someone keenly intelligent, who probably just came to Metropolis fairly recently,” Lois continued.
“And it almost seems he knows where Superman’s going to be,” Jimmy concluded.
“Yes, that’s the part that’s really puzzled me,” Clark said.
“And Superman too, I’m sure,” Lois said, eying Clark suspiciously.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Clark agreed.
“As though maybe he even knows who Superman is,” Jimmy said.
Clark frowned in alarm at his young friend. Could that be the answer? he thought. Could someone have figured out my identity?
“I’ve wondered sometimes if you know who he is, Mr. Kent,” Jimmy asked.
Clark had heard this sort of thing before from these two but this time it was more unnerving. “Why do you ask that, Jim?”
“Oh, I don’t know; it’s mainly because you’re the only one who seems to know how to contact him.”
“Yes, I do have a way of doing that; but it’s private between Superman and me.”
Lois and Jimmy exchanged glances.
Clark’s intercom buzzed. “Yes?”
“Clark, it’s Joe down in the City Room. There’s a young lady here who is asking to see you.” In a lower voice, with his hand obviously over the mouthpiece, Joe confided, “She’s a terrific looking redhead; where did you find her?”
Curiosity and an odd hopeful question painted Clark’s face. “Did she give her name?”
“No; but she says you two are old friends. I wish I had a few old friends like her.”
Clark had to chuckle. “Send her to my office. Thanks, Joe.” He switched off the intercom.
Lois and Jimmy, of course, had heard. “A ‘terrific looking redhead,’ eh?” Lois said. “An old flame perhaps who I didn’t know about?”
“Well actually, Lois, I’m not sure. Since she didn’t give her name I really can’t say who she is until I see her...”
He saw her. She stood just inside the door. Lois and Jimmy followed his gaze and turned.
Lana Lang had grown up. Her hair was still a bright red, her eyes were still green, and freckles still shone on her face and hands. But she was now tall, slender, and the light blue blouse and navy jacket and skirt were that of a confident, sophisticated businesswoman. “Hello, Clark.”
Clark rose and his two reporter friends stepped aside as he came over to her. There was a momentary awkwardness between them before Lana reached toward him. The embrace was friendly, not romantic; but Jimmy couldn’t stifle the grin that he turned to Lois, who just calmly looked on. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” she finally said.
With a sheepish grin he said, “Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, this is Lana Lang. She’s an old friend from Smallville.”
Lois gave a knowing nod as she shook Lana’s hand. “An old friend, you say?” She winked at Jimmy. “You mean an old girl friend, don’t you?”
“Yes, Clark and I dated for a while in high school,” Lana said, her smile treasuring fond memories. “Our last date was to the senior prom.”
“Oh? And what happened after that?” Lois asked.
Lana became solemn. “Clark went off to college; worked his way through, as I heard.”
“That’s where I studied journalism,” Clark explained. “And a few other things too; I wasn’t quite sure in those days what I wanted to do as a profession.”
“But farming wasn’t one of them?” Lois taunted.
Clark shrugged apologetically.
“I think we all knew Clark was meant for bigger things,” Lana said in his defense. “I certainly knew it.”
Clark adjusted his glasses, a bit uncomfortable with both Lana and Lois in the same room. “What brings you to Metropolis, Lana?”
“Oh, I wanted to see you; maybe talk about old times.”
“Well, we could go to dinner. Where are you staying?”
“I’d rather meet at your place, if you don’t mind.” She turned to Lois. “I’m not causing any problems here, am I?”
“Oh no,” Lois said, “Clark and I are just friends.”
“Good. Is that all right with you, Clark?”
“Sure. It’s the Standish Arms on Clinton Street.”
“I’ll find it.” She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll see you about seven?”
“That’s fine. I’ll walk you to the elevator.”
When they were in the hall and he had pressed the elevator button Lana said quietly, “I have some things to discuss with you, Clark; and thought it would be best at your apartment instead of my hotel.”
Clark frowned, curious and concerned. “This sounds sort of cloak and dagger.”
“You may be right on both counts,” she answered mysteriously. With a quick peck on his cheek she stepped onto the elevator. The doors closed before he was able to ask more.
As he watched her go he was again entertaining notions that he hadn’t thought of since he was a teenager. Back then, with Lana, he had thought he had found a girl he could someday marry. After all, she was a farm kid, just like him. They had both grown up around chores and barn smells, and had done their time shoveling and toting manure. They knew the value of hard work, and its rewards.
But his powers, though latent and only suggesting themselves at times when he was a boy, began to grow and mature as he hit his teen years. He remembered talks with Ma and Pa Kent concerning his powers, and that there was a great purpose for them beyond routine farm chores. The death of Eben Kent had led to his leaving Smallville and moving to Metropolis.
Of course he had thought of Lana many times over the last few years. Now she was in Metropolis; was she in trouble? He wondered and almost feared what message she might have for him; a message to be told in private.
Clark checked his watch; he had an appointment with Inspector Henderson.
Bill Henderson studied the report again. He was beginning to see a pattern; but he wasn’t sure quite what to make of it.
A familiar rush of air, the thump of boots, and Superman made his patented feet-first landing beside Henderson’s desk. “Good afternoon, Inspector,” he said, shaking his friend’s hand. “I see you’re reviewing the notes on the cases.”
Henderson’s face gave a reflex quick tick, but recovered an instant later. Anyone whose eyes could see through solid objects could certainly magnify the papers on his desk to readable size. “Yes, and there seems to be a pattern here; but I’m not sure what it is.”
Superman nodded. “Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane said the same thing. They even think they know what it is.”
Henderson frowned with the question, “How do you know that?”
“Kent told me. Have they spoken to you about it?”
“I just got off the phone with Miss Lane not half an hour ago. They seem to think the robberies coincide somehow with your comings and goings; as though the crooks seem to know when you’re not going to be near enough to catch them.”
“Yes, that’s what they told me; told Kent, I mean. The question is, if that’s true who is tipping them off? And how does he know?”
Henderson sat back down at his desk and Superman looked over his shoulder. There were two sheets of paper, side by side. One listed the crimes, including where and when they took place, and the other listed various emergencies at the opposite sides of town.
“The Siegel Savings and Loan was robbed on Swan Street, east side, at the same time that a fire broke out on Bessolo Boulevard, west side. The fire was reported just minutes before the robbery occurred. You helped put out the fire.”
“That’s right. And a couple of weeks later, the Anderson Bridge collapsed in the middle of rush hour, and I repaired it. Meanwhile, somebody stole a priceless statuette from the Shayne Collection, across town.”
“Now here’s one that’s curious,” Henderson said, pointing to the next item. “The Holloway Silver was stolen, yet there was no corresponding disaster; at least not in Metropolis.”
“No; but there was an important press conference at the state capital.”
Henderson looked up at the Man of Tomorrow. “Yes, I know. Kent covered it for his paper. And where were you at the time?”
Superman seemed to hesitate before answering; meeting Henderson’s gaze just as steadily as he said, “I had important business at the time; also in the vicinity of the capital.”
Henderson weighed the information on his mental scales; there was only one way they might balance. “That press conference was about the governor signing an important but controversial bill into law. There were rumors of possible protests outside the state house.”
“And I was there to help in case there was trouble.”
“Kent’s primarily a crime reporter. Why didn’t what’s his name, Burke cover it?”
“I think Kent told me that Burke called in sick; Mr. White told Kent to fill in.”
Henderson pondered a moment. “All right, I’ll accept that. But how did the crooks know you would be there?”
Superman’s lips were a grim line. “That’s what we still don’t know.”
* * *
Clark paced his apartment. After his meeting with Bill, the last few hours at the office had made a snail seem a racehorse. He glanced at his watch for the fifteenth time in three minutes. She was late; Lana had never been late when they were in school. He prayed nothing had happened to her.
His doorbell rang and he turned, looking at the door for a moment before a second ring stirred him to movement. He opened it and Lana stood outside. “Hi.” She seemed anxious and out of breath but not frightened. “Well, may I come in?”
“Of course.” He gestured her in and shut the door. “I made a reservation at a restaurant I think you’ll like. They’re expecting us at seven-thirty.”
He barely got the words out when she had wrapped her arms around his neck, bent his head down within her reach, and kissed him. Clark, startled at first, embraced her and returned the kiss.
They finally came up for air.
Lana smiled. “I’ve wanted to do that again for a long time.” She looked around his place a bit. “Ma Kent would have kittens if she saw us alone here, necking in your apartment.”
Clark was caught off balance. “Lana, I... I don’t know what to say.”
She laid a finger across his lips to quiet him. “It’s all right, Clark. Guess I’m still the same impulsive Lana you remember.” Her mood became serious. “Actually, I need to talk to you first,” she said, “alone, here. It’s important.”
“All right. Sit down.”
She sat on his couch and he sat beside her. She studied him for a moment as she seemed to mentally rehearse a long-ago written speech. Finally she spoke. “Clark, we’ve known each other all our lives. I think you know you can trust me.”
Clark frowned slightly; this was about trusting her? “Go on.”
“When we were growing up on our farms and in Smallville, we were probably closer than we were with anyone else. We shared a lot of secrets, didn’t we?”
“Yes we did. And you can trust me too; whatever secret you want to share with me, I’ll never tell.” He kissed his little finger and held it up, trying to lighten the mood. “Pinky swear.”
Lana flashed a grin. “This isn’t about a secret I want to tell you. It’s about a secret I’ve known for about four years. No, I guess it goes back further; back to when we were kids. But it really just started to mean something about four years ago.” When she paused she saw that he understood the significance of the time. “I remember seeing your first by-line story. It was about an airfield worker who was rescued by someone who came to be called Superman.”
Clark touched his glasses. “Yes, that was my first story. It got me my job on the Planet.” He saw her meaning, and really wasn’t too surprised as he considered it; but he wanted her to say it.
“Clark, I’ve known for nearly twenty years now the things you can do. You never told me, but I put some things together; things I saw, things you probably thought no one noticed. And when Superman rescued that man, and you wrote the exclusive story, well there was only one possible answer.” She leaned a little closer, alone with him but still cautious of being overheard. “Clark, I know that you’re Superman.”
Clark was silent; silent for a long moment. His shoulders fell in resigned surrender. Then with a steadfast gaze into Lana’s eyes, he slowly removed his glasses; the shoulders grew wide and firm. He stood, and she rose to face him. His posture changed, as did his voice; from casual and low-key to firm and authoritative. Though Clark Kent’s drab gray still covered the bright blue and red beneath, he had discarded the manner that accompanied them. In all but costume, he had become Superman.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise,” he said. “I’ve sometimes wondered whether anyone from Smallville might make the connection.” He smiled. “I’m glad it was you who did.”
Lana was impressed by the transformation; but other more important matters concerned her more. She turned from him, unable to say it to his face. “I may not be the only one.”
“What do you mean?”
“There may be another; or even more.”
Clark considered this a moment. “If so, they haven’t revealed it.”
Lana faced him again. “No, perhaps not; but I think someone is using his knowledge of you even so.”
“That series of robberies; neither your police nor even you have been able to stop them.”
“I haven’t found any clues, nor have the police.”
“And when they strike, you haven’t been around; have you?”
Clark nodded. “That’s right. Sometimes I have to go on assignments that take me out of Metropolis, even if only for a few hours.”
“Has it occurred to you that whoever is planning these robberies has some idea of when you’re away?”
“Yes; but I haven’t been able to put my finger on how they can know that.” They sat back down. “The only solution is that someone at the Planet is informing for them; but there’s no one working there from Smallville. In fact, there haven’t been any new hires in any departments that are privy to my assignments and whereabouts.”
“But if someone knows or suspects you’re Superman,” Lana said, “someone from Smallville who remembers odd things young Clark Kent did years ago, he might be the head of this.”
“And somehow learn of any out-of-town assignments of mine and use it to plan the robberies.”
Lana nodded. “That’s how it seems to me.”
In spite of the seriousness of the implications, Clark smiled. “You’d make quite the detective.”
“No; but I’ve turned out to be quite the investigative reporter.”
“You too, Lana? You’re a reporter?”
She smiled. “Why so surprised? We both worked on the Smallville Torch in high school. If you can be a reporter, so can I.” She gave him a playful nudge. “Even if I don’t have the unique talents you do.”
Clark frowned. “If what you say is true, someone on The Planet must be working with whoever this crime boss is.”
“You think that person may know or suspect your identity as well?”
“I certainly hope not.” They returned to the couch. “You believe you’ve traced one of our old classmates here to Metropolis?”
“I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure. Of course he’s changed his name, but given the chance I believe I can prove it.”
“Tell me what you’ve found out so far.”
Lana explained she had been working with the police investigating a series of crimes in Ohio, where she did freelance work for both a radio and its affiliated television station there. The police had identified the boss, and when Lana saw his picture she thought he looked familiar.
“He resembled one of our old classmates?”
Lana nodded. “Just as the police were ready to close in, he fled the state. Somehow he got through the roadblocks and left their jurisdiction. That was three months ago. But some clues surfaced that suggested he headed this way.”
“And settled in Metropolis?”
“With two or three of his gang, who escaped with him.”
“Is there anything else? Is there any clue where he is?”
“His hideout?” Lana hesitated. “Maybe.”
“Lana, do you know where he might be or not?”
She studied her nails for a moment. Clark had immediately noticed earlier that the young girl with the untamed mane, work-roughened hands and chipped nails who preferred jeans to dresses was now a professionally quaffed, smooth-skinned, manicured young woman who seemed quite at home in skirt and blouse. But he also knew that underneath was the same impulsive, impetuous Lana; she had even admitted it.
“It’s just a guess, that’s all. I have no proof, whether he’s the crime boss or even if he’s someone we knew.”
“Lana, Inspector Henderson is a friend of mine. If you have suspicions about someone, let’s talk to him.”
Lana shook her head. “No; your inspector is going to want evidence. All policemen need that; I learned it a long time ago. And I don’t have anything he can use.”
Clark regarded her steadily. “Lana, you’re not going to do anything foolish, are you?”
Lana’s smile betrayed the same mischief-in-the-works it had when they were children. “Why, Clark! Whatever would make you think that?”
Clark was about to reply when Lana abruptly rose.
“Hmmm, I’m starving. And if we don’t get going we might miss our reservation.” When Clark rose as well she toyed which his coat lapels. “And I want tonight to be special.”
Clark couldn’t resist. He smiled and helped her on with her coat. “All right. And yes, I want it to be special too.”
“Then let’s go!”
As Clark accompanied her to his car he was still worried. Lana was a lot like Lois; or was it the other way around? When they were growing up, Clark had often had to help Lana out of one predicament or another. And it made him wonder a bit about himself. Was it coincidence, or was he drawn to women who always seemed to get themselves in jams and needed rescuing?
He hoped he wouldn’t need to rescue Lana anytime soon.
* * *
The table was still waiting for them and a waiter took their drink orders. Neither Clark nor Lana wanted cocktails, but both ordered iced tea.
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” Clark said. “Ma and I have gotten your cards. What made you move to Cleveland, anyway?”
“The chance to be on my own, to see what I could do myself. In a way, the same thing that brought you to Metropolis.”
“I guess so.” Clark leaned forward and whispered, “Though I don’t think the costume would have been enough to disguise me in Smallville anyway, if I’d stayed around.”
Lana chuckled. “Probably not. Does anyone suspect your identity here?”
“There have been some near misses. So far I’ve avoided any plots to expose me.”
“Where did the costume come from, anyway?”
Clark grinned. “My mom made it for me.”
Lana tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh as she sipped her tea and nearly choked. “Good one. I like that. You know, that gives me a good excuse to visit Smallville, just so I can talk to your mom about it.”
Their conversation returned to Smallville and growing up in that rural community. This continued through dinner and desert, before returning to the matter at hand.
“I have an idea how we can set a trap for this crime boss,” Lana said.
“If we’re right, and he not only plans to keep Superman out of the way but keep tabs on your movements as well, we can let him think you’re out of town and give him a chance to strike.”
Clark nodded, musing over the possibilities. “And as Superman I can tune my Super-Hearing to sense any alarms or disturbances.”
Lana was somewhat taken aback. “You can do that?”
Clark smiled. “Sometimes it’s harder to tune the sounds out.”
Lana chuckled. “Guess there’s no secrets around you, are there?”
“That’s the trick of it; turning it off to protect people’s privacy.”
“And that solves the other part of my plan: some way for Superman to know where the gang strikes.”
“It sounds good to me. We can take it up with Perry White, my editor. I’d like you to meet him anyway, see what you think of him.”
“I’d like that too. All right; how about nine o’clock?”
“Fine. Stop by my office like you did this morning.”
* * *
They soon left the restaurant and Clark drove her back to her hotel. The streets were fully dark now, and the globe-enclosed outside light and the fan of light from the lobby inside did little to discourage the darkness. Clark walked her up to the front door. He wanted to see her safely to her room, but always independent Lana refused. They stood just outside a moment, then, and talked.
“This investigative work you’re doing; isn’t that dangerous?”
“It can be. But so far, I haven’t had any problems.”
“Well, be careful.”
Lana’s smile brightened the dark doorway. “Oh Clark, does that mean you still care?”
“Of course I care.”
“What about that other woman, Lois?”
Clark had to chuckle. “Here’s an irony for you; she doesn’t think much of me. But she’s head over heals for Superman.”
“Not knowing that...”
Clark nodded. “See what I mean?”
They laughed, he kissed her good night, and she entered the hotel.
Clark returned to his car and drove home. Lana had figured it out; did someone they knew in Smallville reach the same conclusion?
* * *
Promptly at nine Lana arrived at Clark’s office and he led her around the corner to Perry’s office at the end of the hall. He knocked on the double doors and when Perry answered “Come in,” he opened the door for Lana to enter first.
Perry White looked up from his desk and promptly removed the cigar from his mouth, stomping it out in his astray and rising. His usual gruff scowl softened to a smile. “Kent! Is this the young lady Olsen has been telling everyone about?”
Clark and Lana exchanged bemused glances. “I don’t know what Jimmy has been saying, chief, but: Lana Lang, I’d like you to meet Perry White, our editor.”
Lana extended her hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. White.”
“The pleasure is mine.” Perry took her hand and held it a polite moment. “You’ve already become the talk of our City Room, thanks to young Olsen.”
“Oh?” Lana said. “May I ask just what Jimmy has been saying?”
Perry chuckled. “Apparently he has you and Kent almost to the altar. Hope that doesn’t embarrass you; Olsen’s main talent seems to be running off at the mouth.”
Lana glanced at Clark with a winsome smile. “I’m not embarrassed; not at all. I have to admit I’ve thought about it myself over the years.”
Perry’s raised eyebrows quizzed Clark, who cleared his throat and tugged at his collar.
“Actually, Mr. White, we came with a plan to perhaps trap this new crime boss.” His best defense was to maneuver the conversation to their original purpose. “You see, Lana is also a reporter. She does stories for radio and TV in Cleveland.”
“Oh? And what brings you to Metropolis, other than looking up your old boy friend?”
Clark was a bit uncomfortable with Perry’s unusual joking mood, but Lana smiled and took it in stride.
“I think the man who is behind these crimes was one I investigated in Cleveland. And there may be a way to trap him.”
Perry was interested now. “What’s your plan?”
Clark took over. “Lois and Jimmy saw that they strike when I’m either out of town or on the other side of it. We think they’re counting on my ability to contact Superman.”
“Hmmm.” Perry started to pick up his cigar and relight it; instead he used it as a prop while thinking it over. “That suggests someone here is tipping them off.”
“Yes,” Clark agreed, “and I hate to think that; but it’s the only explanation that works.”
“So you want this crook to think you’re out of town?”
“That’s right. Maybe even that I’m going back to Smallville, my home town, for a visit with Lana.”
“And then we’ll see if they strike,” Perry concluded.
“Exactly,” Lana said. “What do you think, Mr. White?”
“It might work. But the main thing these crooks should be worried about isn’t you, Kent, but Superman.”
Six of one, half a dozen of the other, Lana thought.
“I think they’re counting on my ability to contact Superman. They apparently think with me out of the way, Superman won’t show up to stop them. I know, it doesn’t entirely make sense to me either, but it seems to be the case.”
Perry frowned over it and shrugged. “Guess it can’t hurt to try. And the best way to get this started is with our own private news service.”
Lana wasn’t sure what Perry meant, but Clark did. He grinned and flashed her a wink as Perry clicked on his intercom.
“Get me Olsen!”
A few minutes later Jimmy entered the office. “You wanted to see me, Chief?”
“Don’t barge in here without knocking and don’t call me Chief!”
“Yes chief... Mr. White... sir...” Jimmy backed out of the office shutting the door behind him.
“What in blue blazes?” Perry muttered.
There was a knock and Jimmy re-entered. “You wanted to see me, ch... Mr. White?”
Clark and Lana stifled chuckles as Jimmy respectfully approached the desk.
Perry shook his head, saying for perhaps the hundredth time: “Olsen, what did I do to deserve you?” He sighed and addressed the cub reporter. “Olsen, Kent will be returning with Miss Lang to Smallville for a two week visit. I want you to cover his beat; and don’t make me regret it!”
“Me? Cover the city beat? Golly, Chief, thanks! I didn’t know you had that much faith in me!”
“I DON’T! But try not to mess things up too much while he’s gone. That’s all.”
“Jeepers!” He turned to Clark. “Don’t worry Mr. Kent, I’ll make you proud!”
“I’m sure you will, Jimmy.”
* * *
Later Clark and Lana were alone in his office. The door was shut and locked, and Lana had drawn up the visitor’s chair closer to Clark.
“I thought I knew all about Clark Kent, especially when I figured out you are Superman.”
“What do you mean?”
“That little meeting in Mr. White’s office has made me realize a few things about your life here in Metropolis. Jimmy, for example. He’s like a kid brother to you, isn’t he?”
Clark nodded at Lana’s insight. “Yes, I guess so.”
“And Mr. White; well, he may not exactly be Eben Kent, but he’s like another father to you, isn’t he?”
This was a bit harder to accept. Clark had certainly known this on perhaps a subconscious level; but to hear it expressed aloud was somewhat unnerving. “Yes; you may be right,” he said quietly.
Lana took his hand. “It’s all right; if anyone is going to understand it would be me. Clark, we’ve known each other nearly all our lives. Maybe I even know you better than you do yourself. Almost as well as your mom.”
Clark smiled. “I think you probably do.” He checked his watch. “If we’re supposed to be going to Smallville, we’d better get to the bus depot. Someone might be keeping watch on my movements besides whoever might be working for them here.”
Lana stood and picked up her purse. “Right. I’ll go back to my hotel and check out while you go home and get a bag. I’ll meet you at the bus depot.” She leaned over and gave him a quick peck, and cupped his chin in her hand a moment. “Too bad this is just a trick.”
Clark smiled. “Yes; too bad.”
* * *
The man on the bench seemed to be reading a magazine, but he kept an eye on everything and everyone at the bus depot. He had spotted Kent and the Lang girl going to the ticket counter, but that didn’t prove anything. Both were carrying luggage; that didn’t mean anything either. He had to see if they actually got on the bus, and if they stayed on until it had disappeared. There was no direct bus to Smallville at this time of day; but the one they would take for the first leg traveled fifty miles before the next station. That trip took well over an hour. And the next bus back from that station to Metropolis wasn’t until an hour after that.
And the boss’s next job was going to go off within the next two hours, so Kent and the dame would be at the next station with no way back when the boys hit the bank.
Jackson, the man on the bench, didn’t know why it was so important to the boss to strike when Kent and the girl were out of town. He didn’t ask, either. It wasn’t for him to know. All he knew was that their inside guy had called the boss and the boss had sent him to make sure it was kosher.
There was Kent and the girl on a bench across from them. Wowee, she was a looker! He didn’t get Kent; neither did most of the crooks whose paths he had crossed at one time or other. Kent was good at rooting out info about the underworld, and writing exposes that had put away several dozen men. Yet he had a rep for avoiding a fight, and stories were told too about how incompetent he was the few times he’d tried. All Logan figured, like many others had, was that Kent was brave as a Sir Galahad when sitting behind his typewriter, but a real milquetoast when it came to getting into a real scrap. So how come a real hottie like this Lang chick went for him?
Jackson glanced at the board as the loudspeaker announced the bus’ arrival. Kent and the redhead got up; the reporter even helped her with her bags. A real gent, he was. Logan followed at a distance, strolling casually to the newsstand and taking his time buying another pack of smokes. From there he saw them board the bus. Then he strolled out and watched it roll down the highway until it vanished.
He came back inside and went to a phone booth, dropping in a dime and dialing the boss.
The job was on.
The canvas-topped truck had been parked for half an hour. The boss always wanted his men in place well ahead of time. He had chosen his men wisely; men who were impatient or too ready to fly off the handle weren’t right for his organization, and soon learned that the hard way.
Crandall was in the lead this time. He and the three men with him sat on benches running on either side of the truck bed, hidden from view by the canvas. He checked his watch; two minutes to go. He gave a whispered order for everyone to take a last weapons check. Once that was done it was only seconds to go. He held up a hand, counted down silently, and whispered “Go!”
They exited the truck in order and entered the bank. Gas masks served both as disguise and defense for the gas grenades the first two men took from pockets and tossed into the bank. It was only moments before they were the only ones left conscious.
The four men hadn’t wasted time; before the last person fell they were already at the vault. The massive door was open; that’s something else the boss had counted on.
But he hadn’t counted on the muscular, red and blue clad figure who waited inside, hands on hips, an ironic smile on his lips.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m afraid the management of this bank is going to refuse the withdrawal you intended.”
One of the crooks aimed his .38 at Superman, but Crandall grabbed his wrist. “You fool! That’ll set off the gas and blow us all to bits!”
“Thanks,” Superman said. “I get so tired of petty thugs like you trying to shoot me.”
The men tried to back away but there was a sudden whoosh of air above them, and Superman was suddenly behind them, blocking their escape.
“You may as well give up,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Come on,” Crandall said, “he can’t take on all four of us at once!”
Superman sighed and shook his head. When are they going to learn?
Three of them charged at once, Crandall strategically staying behind. Superman grabbed one in each hand, lifting them from the ground. They kicked and flailed helplessly, while the third, the biggest, tried using Superman’s chest as a heavy bag. Superman let him wear himself out, which didn’t take more than a moment. He looked at the man quizzically.
“Had enough exercise for now? So have I.”
The Man of Tomorrow tossed first one then the other against the walls of the corridor, and they sagged heavily to the floor. He advanced on the pugilist whose fists were soon to be quite swollen, and though the punch he sent looked like it would take the man’s head off, it was but a tap by the time fist struck chin. The man suddenly stiffened and fell straight back.
Crandall had tried in the meantime to grab what cash he could and sidle past. Superman leaped the short distance and grabbed him by the coat. “Don’t worry; I didn’t forget you.” Superman swung him in an underarm toss and Crandall slid to rest beside the would-be boxer.
The gas had dissipated for the most part by now. Superman had inhaled much of it just before entering the vault, moving quickly enough to be unseen. It had a most unpleasant odor; but then so did the four men lying unconscious behind him. And he had encountered much more unpleasant flavors and smells before. He started to carry the victims, three and four at a time, out of the building and sat them up against the outside wall. By the time most of them were out, with his help or on their own power, a police siren signaled the arrival of Inspector Henderson and two squad cars.
“Good afternoon, Inspector. These people will be all right in a moment, but there are four men in there who will still be unconscious for a while. You’re welcome to them.”
“One of the bank tellers must have tripped a silent alarm just as the robbers got here,” Henderson said. “We came as quick as we could. But how did you know this is where they were going to strike?”
“Come now, Inspector,” Superman chided, arms folded on his chest. “We’ve known each other for years. I have a little gift called Super Hearing, remember? Let’s just say I kept my ear tuned for certain conversations.”
His men were bringing out Crandall and his cronies.
“Well, however you did it we’ve got the gang.”
“I’m not so sure, Inspector,” Superman said. “To pull off as many robberies as this gang has done, there must be more.”
“You’re probably right.” Bill Henderson admitted to himself silently that Superman was always right. “But maybe one of these boys will talk and we can round up the rest.”
“Let’s hope so,” Superman said. “If you’ll excuse me?” He took a running leap into the air and was soon gone.
* * *
Part of the plan had been that they would stay out of town for a while, so Superman headed for his mountain retreat. It appeared to be a hunting lodge, high in the mountains outside of Metropolis, but it was more than that. It had come in particularly handy a few years before, when a nuclear incident which Superman averted from a complete catastrophe had nevertheless left him radioactive. Since then he had added improvements which he kept secret.
Henderson was one of the few who knew the unlisted number for the cabin, and he had let his inspector friend believe that Clark Kent was also one of those few. He trusted Bill to keep that secret; though if somehow it got out, it might seem to answer some of those questions about just how Kent could contact Superman when apparently no one else could.
He had books here, a radio, and a small kitchenette. He planned to stay here a while to continue the illusion that Kent was out of town.
The Man of Steel browsed through the contents of his shelves. There was some heavy reading here: Herodotus, Livy, Tacitus, and other early historians; Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Emerson and Thoreau; and the fine, leather-bound Bible Sarah and Eben had given him upon graduation from Parkville High.
But there was lighter reading here too: a set of Sherlock Holmes, adventure novels by Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy, some Robert Louis Stevenson, Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Saga, Hawthorne, Twain, London, Zane Grey, and several other authors.
Perhaps it was his knowledge of his extra-terrestrial origins that also lured him to science fiction: the works of Verne and Wells sat in their own section. Some more modern works were here too, the few that had made it to hardcover, such as Philip Wylie’s Gladiator.
And there was also his pulp collection, some of which had been Eben Kent’s and others Clark had added with each dime he could save from his allowance. He smiled as he pulled out an old dime novel of Doc Savage, and recalled Doc’s Fortress of Solitude in the Artic. His own retreat wasn’t quite in the Artic, but it was remote and these mountains were covered with snow most of the year, so it was close. He guessed Doc wouldn’t mind if he borrowed the name for his own secret hideaway.
As he slid the magazine back in place he wondered what Lana’s plans had been to make it appear she was gone as well. She hadn’t shared them with him.
Superman grinned as he chose a book from the shelf.
Same old Lana.
* * *
Henderson sat in his office waiting to hear from the booking sergeant. He had left orders that Crandall, who he had recognized once the crook’s gas mask was removed, be brought up for questioning once he was booked. He’d start with him and hope that he’d crack. If not, there were three other nuts to try.
His intercom buzzed. “Henderson.”
“There’s a woman here to see you, Inspector. She says she’s a reporter.”
Since when does Lois Lane ask permission to enter? he thought. “Show her in,” he said. He smoothed back his hair a bit with his hands; he’d always had a crush on Lois, even before Superman came to town.
The door opened and his assistant, a policewoman, announced, “Miss Lana Lang.”
Startled, Henderson cleared his throat and straightened his tie a little more. He stood as his visitor entered. Lois was certainly attractive, with her auburn hair and year-around tan. The woman who entered, with long, bright red hair and a hint of freckles on her fair skin was stunning.
“Miss Lang? I’m Bill Henderson.” He extended his hand and realized he’d said his given name instead of his title. He’d ponder the psychology of that later. “Please, be seated.”
Lana sat in the chair in front of his desk. Henderson, not trusting himself further, sat behind it.
“My secretary said you’re a reporter?”
“That’s right, for radio and TV in Cleveland.”
Henderson was now even more confused. “What brings you here?”
“Partly because I believe a criminal I was investigating in Cleveland may have moved here.”
Hmm. A woman crime reporter. She ought to meet Kent. “And the other reason?”
Lana smiled. “It was also to visit an old schoolmate. I understand we have a mutual friend: Clark Kent.”
Kent already knows this woman? Why didn’t he tell me? “I see.” He cleared his throat again. “Does Clark know you’re here?”
“Not exactly. And Inspector, I’d appreciate it if that were our secret for now.”
“Of course.” This was beginning to sound even better. “But what if Clark comes in while you’re here?”
“He’s out of town right now. For some reason, this gang seems to strike when Clark is not around.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed that. Now, what can I do for you? You want our department’s help in finding this criminal you’re after?”
“Actually, I think I can help you,” Lana said. “Today you arrested four men who attempted to rob a bank, isn’t that correct?”
“Uh... yes. How did you know? That hasn’t been released to the news yet.”
Lana smiled that smile again. “Now, Inspector...”
“Bill.” Though Bill was getting a little uncomfortable and was tempted to tug loose the tie he had just tightened.
“Bill. I told you I’m a reporter. And I understand Clark is one of your best friends, so I’m sure you’re used to him finding things out on his own, aren’t you?”
Henderson’s smile was nervous and surrendering. “You’ve got me there, Miss Lang.”
“Please; call me Lana.”
“Thank you, Lana.” He tried to resume a businesslike tone. “You think those men we arrested are working with the man you traced here from Cleveland?”
“Yes. In fact, I think the man I’m looking for is the boss in back of the crime wave you’ve had recently.”
“I see. What is it you’d like me to do?”
“Let me sit in when you interrogate them. I may pick up some clue that you don’t, since I know how their boss operates.”
“That’s assuming he’s the same one from Cleveland.” Lana nodded. “Well, things being what they are, I think I’d like to call in someone else too, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh? Who is that?”
“I’d rather let that be a surprise,” Henderson said. He stood. “Please excuse me; I have a private phone call to make.”
Lana rose. “Of course Inspector... Bill. I’ll just wait outside.”
Henderson showed her to the door, closed it, and returned to his desk. He dialed a certain unlisted number.
* * *
Lana was welcomed back into the office after Henderson had finished his phone call. It was only a minute or two before there was a whooshing sound which Henderson knew well and which gave Lana a visible thrill.
Superman made his landing in the office. Henderson thought he caught a strange exchange of glances between them, especially from his super-powered friend, but chalked it up to Superman’s surprise at his guest.
“Miss Lana Lang, I’d like you to meet Superman,” Henderson said, making the introductions. He noticed the wide-open look of appreciation in Lana’s eyes as she appraised the Man of Steel. Henderson should have been used to this; it was the look every woman had the first time she saw Superman. But there seemed to be something a little more here. Am I missing something here?
“My pleasure, Miss Lang,” Superman said, taking her hand.
“Please, call me Lana. My friends do.”
“Lana... uh... Well, she was just telling me she is an old friend of Clark Kent’s.”
“I see,” Superman said, exercising control over himself. Lana, is it? Looks like she and Bill have become friends pretty quickly!
Henderson filled Superman in on what Lana had told him, not knowing of course that he already knew. “I’m going to start interrogating them, one at a time, starting with Crandall, once they’re through booking.”
Henderson’s intercom buzzed again, and a voice gave him the news he’d been waiting for. He led them to an interrogation room where Crandall was waiting.
Both Superman and Henderson noted that Crandall’s face gave what seemed a flash of recognition when Lana entered the room. Henderson didn’t like that; it might mean trouble.
Superman liked it even less.
* * *
Like any newly arrested criminal, Crandall was allowed a phone call. And within a half hour a lawyer came visiting. The lawyer was a well-known weasel in a European suit paid for by his clients’ ill-gotten gains. They were allowed a private room to maintain privilege, though Henderson wished sometimes he could legally bug the place.
He waited outside, watching through the one-way glass, fuming that he lacked the talent of reading lips. If Superman was still here he could hear every word, if he chose. As for Miss Lang – Lana – she had also left, but Henderson worried again about that look he had seen between her and Crandall. He and his lawyer might be cooking up something regarding her right under Henderson’s very nose.
The interview didn’t take long and the lawyer soon came out. Henderson wondered what grade of motor oil he apparently bathed in and how that affected the life-expectancy of his expensive suits.
“Have a nice visit with your client?” Henderson asked.
“Now Inspector,” the lawyer said, “you know I can’t tell you that. Attorney...”
“Attorney/client privilege, I know,” Henderson finished for him. “Just making conversation. So, I guess his boss posted bail for him and his buddies?”
The lawyer grinned. He could afford expensive suits but apparently a toothbrush was beyond his means. He wiggled a finger at Henderson. “I know what you’re trying to do. You want me to tell you who his boss is, right?”
Henderson smiled good-naturedly and shrugged. “Can’t beat a guy for trying. It’s the cop in me.”
“And I’ll have to give you credit for that.” The lawyer pulled a cigar from his coat pocket and waved it under Henderson’s nose. Definitely a Havana, and high end stuff too. “Have a cigar.”
Henderson, who used to smoke cigarettes but gave it up several years before, said, “No thanks. Just give it your boss and tell him that he can’t stay hidden from us forever.”
The lawyer almost spoke, but instead gave another view of his decaying dentals. “Good day, Inspector.” He inhaled deeply of the cigar, replaced it in his pocket, and went on his way.
Henderson didn’t see him stop in the nearest phone booth and make a call.
Clark emerged from the Store Room, adjusted his glasses and straightened his tie as he had done so many times before it seemed like a repeating loop of film. When he reached his office he saw someone sitting on the edge of his desk waiting for him.
“Hello, Lana.” He smiled at seeing her. “Sounds like you’re making quite an impression with several of my friends.”
Lana smiled and her eyes were mischief. “Bill Henderson’s a real nice guy. I take it he’s a bachelor too?”
“A widower with a teenage son. Why?”
Lana slid off the desk. “Oh, I don’t know. Just thought I’d ask. You’re not jealous, are you?”
Clark cleared his throat. “No, Lana; not at all. Bill’s my best friend, though and...”
“Oh, and I met Superman today too,” she added.
Clark wondered if he looked as bewildered as he felt. He imagined his expression resembling somewhat that of Stan Laurel in similar situations.
Lana glanced in the hallway, shut and locked the office door, standing with her back against it. “We have some things to talk about, and you don’t want anyone to overhear.”
Clark took the seat Lana had left vacant, though his usual casualness in this pose was far in the distance. “All right.”
Lana still smiled, but there was something else in her eyes. She spoke quietly. “So that’s what Superman looks like. The costume looks good on you, Clark; and you look good in it.” She frowned as she asked, “But no one has caught on? I mean, I knew it was you right away...”
“You said you had guessed it years ago.”
“Yes; but I thought when you were Superman there might be something extra, maybe one of your powers that changes your appearance.”
“No; not that I’m aware of. But there does seem to be something. Every once in a while someone makes a comment, but I’ve managed to deflect most people’s suspicions.”
Lana moved closer. “But not those who have known you for years, like I have. And like the crime boss, if my suspicions are correct.”
“You suggested something before that you have some idea who he might be. If he’s recognized me, he’s recognized you. Lana, you’re probably in grave danger.”
She gave a theatrical laugh of bravado, as much for her own benefit as his. “Danger? Ha! I laugh at danger!”
Clark took her gently but firmly her by the shoulders. “I’m serious, Lana. I saw how Crandall looked at you. Was he one of the men from Cleveland?”
“Yes; I recognized him.”
“And he recognized you. Be careful, Lana.”
“Oh, Clark, you’re trying to be my protector?” She wrapped her arms around his neck.
She wanted to be kissed again. He was tempted but chose to restrain himself; this time. “So did you get your old hotel room?”
“No; I rather like the rooms at the Standish Arms. Did you know you can rent by the week? Of course you do; you live there.”
“So we’re neighbors?” He wasn’t sure how to react to that: joy or discomfort?
“Except that I’m on a different floor.”
“Are you headed there now? My car’s around the corner and I can give you a lift.”
She fingered his shirt collar. “Dear, sweet Clark; still looking out for me. Thanks, but I have an errand to run first.” She gave him a quick peck that nevertheless left its mark.
A knock interrupted them. They separated as the knock repeated, with more insistence. Clark unlocked and opened it.
Lois noticed immediately the smudge of lipstick on Clark’s lips, and Lana giving a tug or two at her suit as she shook her long hair into place. She raised a quizzical brow to Clark, who picked up the clue and dabbed at his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Uh, hello, Lois. I’m sorry, Lana and I were having a private conference.”
“I see. Guess the Smallville High reunion wasn’t so hot, so you decided to celebrate here instead?”
Lana took her purse. “I’ll see you tonight, Clark. Good to see you again, Miss Lane.”
“Oh please, call me Lois.”
“Thank you, Lois.” A brief silent good-bye passed between her and Clark, and Lana went to the elevator.
Lois folded her arms and barred the way through the door. “All right now, Mr. Kent; explain.”
Clark considered excusing himself, dashing down the corridor to the Store Room and changing to Superman but decided against it. He briefed Lois on Crandall’s arrest instead.
He should have gone by his first instincts.
* * *
Jimmy enjoyed talking baseball with Judd Logan, the sports columnist. It was the basis of a friendship between him and the older man that Jimmy valued. Judd thought of Jimmy as a kid brother, and often gave him passes for Cubs games. Sometimes the two of them went, other times Jimmy took a date, or Jimmy invited Clark.
Their conversation was interrupted when Logan received a phone call. He excused himself and Jimmy returned to his desk.
“You shouldn’t have called me here,” Logan whispered; but Jimmy heard the anger in his voice, and concentrated on hearing more. “How should I know?” Logan retorted to his caller, in what to Jimmy seemed futile defense. Logan looked up and saw Jimmy; the cub reporter lowered his head and pretended to study the photos on his desk. “Wait; tell him I’ve got an idea.”
* * *
A few minutes later Jimmy came to Lois’ office. “Miss Lane, have you seen Mr. Kent?”
Lois frowned, annoyed. “No; I’m not keeping tabs on Mr. Kent these days.” She added, as to herself, “Someone else is instead.” To Jimmy she said, “He told me about a bank robbery that Superman stopped and that one of the crooks is one Lana Lang knew in Cleveland. He’s gone off after her now.”
Jimmy noticed something in Lois’ voice, but let it go. His message was far more important. “I just overheard a conversation Judd Logan had with someone, and it sounds suspicious.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, first he told whoever it was he shouldn’t be calling him here. I didn’t make out the rest of it, but Judd seemed kinda put out, like he’d gotten himself in a jam. And get this: he wants to meet me at quitting time; says he’s going to take me to a game.”
Lois shrugged. “There’s nothing new about that; Judd’s taken you to ball games plenty of times.”
“Only one thing wrong, Miss Lane: there’s no home game tonight. They’re playing out of town.”
“So? Maybe he’s going to treat you to a train ride too.”
Jimmy shook his head. “All the way to the west coast?”
Lois thought a moment and nodded. Before they could say more, Bill Henderson knocked at her door.
“May I come in?” he asked.
“Of course, Inspector.”
“Have you seen Kent?”
“He’s out following after his old high school girl friend,” Lois said.
“You mean Lana Lang?” Henderson asked.
“Yes,” Lois was surprised. “You’ve met her?”
“She was down at the station when we brought those bank robbers in. She recognized one of them, and I think he recognized her. She may be in trouble.”
“And you wanted to tell Clark?”
“That’s part of it. We may have also found the leak in your staff.”
Jimmy glanced at Lois. “Inspector, what if I were to tell you the same thing?”
Henderson stared hard at him. “What is it, Jimmy? What do you know?”
“Why don’t you tell us first,” Jimmy said.
“And that’ll give us the scoop over Clark,” Lois said. To Jimmy she added, “While Clark is playing high school reunion with his old girl friend, we’ll get the story.”
Henderson hesitated. “All right. Well it started out as part of a separate investigation; in fact. It was one of my buddies in the Vice Squad who told me.”
“They picked up Bull Flanagan, who’s muscle for a bookie my friend is after. Bull was caught in the act of threatening someone over a gambling debt the victim owed Bull’s boss. It was an employee for your paper: Judd Logan.”
Jimmy again glanced at Lois and played innocent; one of his best talents. “Judd? Gee, I always thought he was a nice guy.”
“Maybe he is, Jimmy,” Henderson said, “but it seems he’s also addicted to gambling. And he’s gotten himself in mighty deep to the bookie the Vice Squad is investigating.”
“I don’t understand, inspector,” Lois said. “What has this to do with the mysterious crime boss? Is he the same as this bookie?”
“No; though that would sure make it easy if he was. No, it’s just this: Flanagan was supposed to put the squeeze on Logan the other day, over the money he owes. Turned out, Logan had the money; even all the interest. And you know how the kind of interest scale these guys charge.”
“Where did Judd suddenly come up with so much money?”
“That’s what we’re hoping to find out. Flanagan hinted that Logan might be tied into these robberies somehow. If he is, he’s probably being paid by the boss or someone working for him. And if he is, we want to know why.”
“I don’t get it,” Jimmy said. “What could Judd be doing that this boss would pay him for?”
“That’s one of the things we want to find out. We’ve got a couple of uniforms out to pick him up.” Henderson checked his watch. “They should be arriving about now.
“All right, I told my part; what’s yours?”
“Oh, nothing Inspector; except that Miss Lane and I were about to go to a game.” He offered his arm to Lois who took the hint and the two were in the elevator before Henderson caught on.
His men were to nab Logan in the City Room; Henderson ran for the stairs. We’ll describe his descent as “barely controlled falling,” and he dashed down the corridor to the City Room. His men were there.
“Sorry, Inspector,” one officer said, “they just told me Logan stepped out of here five minutes ago.”
“Then don’t just stand here! He’s probably in the garage. Come on!” He led the way to the elevator. The two younger cops barely kept up with him.
* * *
Lois and Jimmy rode down to the underground parking space within the building. Jimmy studied his friend and co-worker a moment. “Miss Lane, is something upsetting you?”
“No, Jimmy; why would you think that?”
“Well, you seem to be upset.”
“Oh, it’s Clark. Here we are in the middle of a crime wave, trying to track down who’s behind it, and in comes this stunning redhead...”
“’Stunning’?” Jimmy echoed, grinning.
Lois regretted the word too late. “In comes this redhead, this old flame, and off goes our Mr. Kent to reminisce about old times.” She waited for a response from Jimmy. When none came she concluded, “So it’s up to us to help Inspector Henderson crack this case.”
Jimmy didn’t speak for a while, but continued looking at Lois with an impish grin. Lois finally asked him, rather testily, what was so funny.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jimmy said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were jealous.”
“Jealous? Me? Of whom?”
“Of Miss Lang.”
Lois shook her head, as though to free herself of the notion as much as Jimmy. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why, Clark is just a friend. Besides, you know who I really... No time for that now, Jimmy; we’re here.” The elevator bumped to a stop. They were getting out when they both heard a voice behind them. And they knew the voice.
“Not so fast. I need a ride.” The man stepped from the shadows into view. “And you’re here just in time, Lois.”
Judd Logan’s hand was thrust into his coat pocket, quite obviously clutched around a gun.
“Judd!” Lois exclaimed. “Please, just give yourself up.”
“Not a chance,” he said. “You think this is about gambling debts?” His laugh was harsh. “Come on, get in your car. I’m riding in the back. And don’t forget I’ve got you covered.”
If this hadn’t been the Einsteenth time this had happened to them, Lois and Jimmy would have thought they’d stepped into a B movie. Logan ducked low as they pulled out into the street again, putting distance between them and the Planet building.
“Judd, why don’t you give yourself up?” Lois asked.
“Nothing doing. I know a little too much. And sometimes even in jail, bad things happen to guys who know too much.” He let them get a little further ahead. “Turn right here.” As Lois completed the turn he said, “Good thing I saw those two cops they sent to nab me. I got out of the City Room and practically tumbled down those steps to get away from ‘em. And who should I see when I reach the basement? My favorite cub reporter and Superman’s girl friend.”
“Judd, we just came from Inspector Henderson. He just wanted to talk to you. I’ll bet he can offer you a deal, if you cooperate.”
“No way. The boss has treated me good, and he’s gonna treat me better when he sees you two.”
“The boss? You mean the man who is behind all those robberies? You know who he is?”
“Yep; and we’re gonna meet him real soon. Make a left at the next light.”
Their destination was a sprawling mansion of stone and marble. Judd held his gun on Lois and Jimmy as he ordered the latter to knock. The door was opened by someone who looked to be second cousin to Frankenstein and they entered.
“Well, I have to say,” Lois said, “this is a lot better than the deserted cabin or little apartment most of the crooks have taken us to.”
“That’s small consolation,” Jimmy said, “I guess.”
A man was sitting as if on a throne, smoking a cigar. When he recognized the three of them, he didn’t look happy.
“What’s this about, Logan?”
“My cover’s blown, boss. They figured out I’m the snitch.”
The man nodded, taking in the situation. After a moment’s reflection he said, “Superman’s girl friend, Lois Lane; and Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. And you, Logan.” He paused a moment more. “Three people: two of whom will be of great use to me, and one who is of no use any more.”
Logan figured that one out quickly enough. “Wait, boss; I can still be useful to ya. Sure, I can’t be your contact at the Planet anymore but there’s gotta be something I can do.”
“What? Give me inside scoops on who’s going win the Series, so I can make a big score from some bookie? I see how well that worked for you.”
“C’mon, boss; there’s gotta be something.”
The boss shook his head slowly. “No, I’m afraid you’ve become more a liability than an asset.” He signaled to the goon who had opened the door for them. “Take care of our Mr. Logan for us. As they say in the gangster pictures, ‘make it look like an accident.’”
Logan continued to protest as Goon #1 was joined by Goon #2 and they ushered Logan out.
Lois and Jimmy exchanged worried glances. It wasn’t the first time they’d been in this situation, but they never knew when it might be the last.
“What do you plan to do with us?” Lois asked. “Are we going to have an accident too?”
“No; I’m not quite sure what to do with you yet, but don’t worry; it’ll come to me. Meanwhile, you’ll be my guests.” He called for another henchman to show them out.
Lois Lane was not the guest he had hoped to have, not since the phone call from his lawyer. He chuckled a moment, however, over the coincidence of initials: LL.
But had Crandall been right? He was one of the two or three men he had brought with him from Cleveland, and should know. And based on the phone call, he had already taken some steps. Still, there was one sure way to find out. He called for his driver. After all, he did have some business in his downtown office anyway; maybe he’d get lucky.
* * *
Lana had tracked down an address and had to make certain. Once in her cab, she gave the driver that address, sat in the back and waited as the streets went by. It wasn’t far; just another office building among many in the great Metropolis. And she could tell the driver was taking her the long way around, to increase the cab fare. It’s as though she had OUT-OF-TOWNER stamped on her forehead; but that was all right. Her employer would probably foot the bill. It was part of her assignment anyway.
It was late fall, and already it had grown dark.
“Here we are, lady,” the driver said. Lana thanked him, shoved some bills at him and got out. The cabby, honest man that he was, tried calling to Lana that she’d overpaid by more than twice the fare, but she had already walked nearly half a block away and crossed the street. Whistling at his new wealth, he stuffed the money into his cashbox and drove off. He was taking his wife out to dinner tonight; and not some greasy spoon clip joint. They were going somewhere classy.
Lana had purposely stopped the cabby a little away from her real destination. It was a bit of precaution right out of a spy novel, but such tactics worked in her line as well. When she had reached a good vantage point for the building entrance she had come to watch, she next looked for a darkened niche or doorway where the streetlight didn’t reach. She slipped into one and nodded to herself that it still provided a clear view of the doorway.
She checked her watch, with its radium dial. It was nearly five; if the man she was looking for kept normal business hours he would be leaving his office soon. Lana settled herself in. Waiting was a necessity she had learned in this business as well.
At about five after five the building started to release its inmates. A streetlight shed its glow on the sidewalk just outside the door. The faces of those who emerged were clearly seen. Lana studied them; she wasn’t certain if the man she sought was even in the city, much less working in this building. Yet all her clues pointed to...
She faded back, hoping to conceal herself fully in the shadows. He had come from the building, as she thought. According to her notes, he called himself Felson now; but that wasn’t his real name. She could tell; Lana recognized that face. Fifteen years had aged it, changed it certainly; but not enough that she didn’t know him.
She waited for him to walk to his car or hail a cab; but he did the unexpected. After two quick glances left and right he jaywalked right toward her.
Lana froze, hoping by remaining perfectly still she might gain a kind of invisibility. It worked with some creatures of the wild, escaping certain predators’ notice by playing statue. He was on the curb now, a few mere yards from her. Lana choked back a gasp; he was walking, and his way took him past her. She counted on the darkness to conceal her, at least her face and the torch of her hair. And he had almost gone by without noticing her when a car passed.
It was like a spotlight singled her out, if just for an instant; but that instant drew Felson’s attention. He stopped, startled, but Lana took action. She tried the door behind her; it opened. She hadn’t noted what kind of business she’d entered, but it couldn’t have been better. It was a department store, and the hours stated they’d still be open for an hour. There were displays, clothing racks, shelves and dividers; plenty of places of concealment. And there were people; safety in numbers was another one of those phrases that became cliché merely for the truth it told.
Whether he had followed her in or not Lana didn’t know; nor did she glance over her shoulder to find out. She hurried through the store as though threading a labyrinth, leaving a jagged trail she hoped would not be followed. There it was: the opposite entrance. She hit the revolving door full tilt, scandalizing a grandma who believed ladies must move only with graceful decorum. Lana selected a cab from among those hopefuls waiting for fares, got in, and said, “Just drive. I’ll give you directions in a minute.”
As the cab pulled away Lana got out her compact and as she touched up her lipstick she also checked to be certain they weren’t followed.
Once she felt it was safe she said, “Standish Arms, on Clinton Street.”
* * *
Lana turned her key in the lock. The lights were off; she always left a light on in a hotel when she was away. Who turned them off, the maid? She found and flicked the switch.
Then she saw the man with the gun.
He was short, stocky, and his hat was a poor disguise for his balding head. “You have a nice reunion with your boy friend?” he said.
“Who are you?”
“I’m your escort for your second date tonight,” he said. “I’m taking you to see another old boy friend.”
The rope that bound her wrists behind her was tight; the goon had seen to that. Her arms had been bent behind her to tie them, and cramps were setting into the muscles to join the fun of her already aching shoulders and elbows. She had been tossed without ceremony into the back seat, but had managed to wrestle herself into a sitting position in time to see they were well outside of Downtown Metropolis. It was a ritzy section, judging from the size of the homes and their distance from each other. If “Felson” lived out here, then maybe crime does pay; at least in the short term.
Her “chauffeur” turned into a nearly hidden gravel and pebble drive that sneaked its way upwards, through some bordering woods of brown and red and gold, wearing their new fall fashions. Lana arched her neck as best she could, and started to see what must be their destination.
“Last night I dreamed of Manderley again.”
The opening line of Rebecca, which she’d first read in seventh grade, came back to her. But this dark stone pile made all of the foreboding mansions and castles in all the gothic romances ever written look like overgrown doll houses.
Parking the car in front of the house her driver got out, opened her door, and held his .38 on her. “Come on; your boy friend’s waiting.”
Being no gentleman, he offered no help but smiled crookedly and with definite sadistic satisfaction as Lana struggled herself out of the car, somehow without banging her head on the doorframe. She started up the walk, her shadow with his gun encouraging her along. When they reached the door he slid beside her and rang the bell.
The butler might have gotten a job as the monster in a horror picture; without any assistance from the make-up department. Dull eyes, sunk beneath an overhanging brow, peered at them until some dim recognition of the man with the gun glimmered like a guttering candle somewhere behind the high but obviously unintelligent forehead. What he said as he stepped aside to allow their passage may have been quite intelligible to his boss, but was only a cavernous groan to Lana.
The living room --- no, excuse me, parlor --- could have contained an average sized middle class bungalow. Lana wondered how many of the paintings and other objets d’art were stolen, or at least purchased with stolen funds. The furnishings might have once resided in Louis XIV’s Versailles; “Felson” certainly fancied himself. Whatever his source or sources of income, he was doing quite well.
And there, on a chair that resembled a throne, sat “Felson” himself. He was wearing a rich dark velvet smoking jacket, monogrammed with such an elaborate “F” the letter was virtually unrecognizable. A dark cigarette of an obvious foreign make extended from an ivory and gold holder.
“Felson” smiled as Lana entered and rose, extending his hand. “Dear Lana; it’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
“Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand,” Lana said, “but I’m tied up at the moment.” An old joke, but it was the best she could do.
“Oh, of course. Harry, where are your manners?”
This was her driver, it appeared, that “Felson” addressed. In an ordinary situation Lana would have laughed at a bald man whose name was Harry; but as he flicked open a pocketknife and cut loose her bonds, Lana was only relieved that renewed circulation might help alleviate some of the stiffness.
“It hasn’t been that long,” Lana said. “Why I saw you just this afternoon --- Jack.”
Jack “Felson” Morris started a moment, and smiled. It was not a smile of pleasure; at least, not innocent pleasure.
“Same old Lana; sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. I have to hand it to you, recognizing me and following me here. Of course, Metropolis is where I’ve been planning to set up for some time. Cleveland just seemed a place to start, to learn the ropes of being a leader of men.”
“A crime boss, you mean,” Lana retorted.
“I don’t really like that term, but I’ll let it pass. You remember that I don’t like to lose? Well, I’ve known for a long time how to run this business in a way that I can’t lose. And that meant moving here as soon as I was ready.”
“Are you claire voyent as well? How did Harry find my hotel?”
“I have several cabbies on my payroll. They have all been on the lookout for you since Crandall recognized you. One of them drove you home from our little impromptu rendezvous earlier. Remember when he used the cab’s radiophone to call in? He really dialed my number and said a code word along with his destination. That meant he had picked up Lana Lang and was taking her to the Standish Arms. All I had to do was send Harry to get there ahead of you.”
Felson/Morris nodded for everyone to leave the room except Lana. When they were alone he said, “You know, the two or three men who came with me wondered why I wanted to move here.” He gave an imitation of a B movie gangster. “Hey, watcha wanna come t’ Metropolis for? Dey got Superman!” Felson/Morris grinned. “They didn’t know what we know about Superman, do they Lana?”
“And what is it you think we know, Jack?”
“Oh come, Lana. You and me and Clark; we all grew up in Smallville. I know you saw the same things I did, were around when certain odd or even unbelievable events occurred. Like when Jonesey’s old jalopy broke down when he was giving us all a ride home from school. We all started pushing; four or five of us, I think. But I know we couldn’t have gotten that thing moving as fast as we did without Clark pushing more than the rest of us combined. And he didn’t even break a sweat! And when we were hiking and there was that rockslide. One was headed right for you, Lana, and Clark stepped in to save you. That was some kinda big rock, and Clark seemed to just brush it aside at the last second. Funny that Clark was always able to come to the rescue like that, wasn’t it?”
“Clark’s always been a good guy.” She stared hard at him. “We used to think you were, too, somewhere inside. I always thought your bullying was just a front, a cover up, so you’d look tough.”
“I am tough, Lana; these boys know I am. They’ve seen how I can plan jobs so that there’s no interference from Superman. And they just think it’s because I also plan some other emergency on the other side of town that gets Superman’s attention first, so my boys can go to work.” That grin returned. “But we know it’s more than that, don’t we Lana? We know it’s not just getting Superman out of the way; we know it works with Clark Kent too, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But she most certainly did.
“Don’t you? Lana, you disappoint me. I was able to put two and two together; and I was never that great shakes at math. You often got straight A’s; I figured you had to know.”
“Know what?” Lana, like Clark before her, had to hear it herself.
“Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.”
Lana’s attempt at laughter sounded false, even to her. “Clark? Clark Kent? The same Clark we both grew up with? Jack, you’re crazy.”
“Felson”/Morris didn’t take that too well. He slowly rose from his chair and loomed over Lana. She faced him, defiance in her eyes and trepidation in her heart.
“Crazy? No. And I’ve figured it out; I even tested it out before pulling any jobs here. Clark and Superman have never been seen in the same place at the same time; though Clark is often around either just before or just after Superman has appeared. And everybody in this town seems to know Clark can call Superman.
“So what does he do? Call him on some secret, unlisted number? Or when ‘trouble looms’ does he just become Superman?” He leaned closer. “I don’t think he has to call him; because he is Superman.”
“Jack, you tried bullying me when we were kids,” Lana said in bravado. “It didn’t work then and it’s not going to work now.”
“Felson”/Morris smiled. “I have no intention of bullying you, Lana. Why would I do that? You know I always had a crush on you. But the only guy for you, from grade school on, was Clark.” He chuckled. “And I think I know why.”
“Have you told this wild notion of yours to your men?”
“No, of course not. You see, that’s my ace in the hole. I figure if I’m the only one knows it, it’s more to my advantage.
“Remember I spoke of testing my theory first? I found that pulling robberies when Clark was out of town or at least at the opposite side of it was just as effective as when we’d decoy Superman miles away from our target. And I varied the pattern, partly so my men wouldn’t catch on. If they think anything of it... oh, but they’ve learned to let me think for them.”
“So what are you going to do with me?”
“Oh, we’re going to have a little reunion; just you and I. So far things have worked out fine; but I think they might work out even better now.”
He pressed a buzzer on his desk and two more thugs brought Lois and Jimmy, hands bound behind them, into the room.
“These are two friends of Clark’s, Lana,” “Felson”/Morris explained.
“Yes,” Lana said, “we’ve met.” To Lois she added, “I’m sorry if I’ve gotten you into this mess.”
“Oh, this certainly isn’t the first time Jimmy and I have fallen into a trap,” Lois said.
“Let’s just hope it’s not the last,” Jimmy added.
“Felson”/Morris rubbed his hands. “I’ve got Superman’s girl friend and Clark Kent’s girl friend, both in the same room.” He grinned. “But not for long.” He gave an order to Harry. “Take our two Daily Planet friends where they’ll be more comfortable.”
As Lois and Jimmy were taken out the front door, Lana asked, “Where are you taking them?”
“Somewhere a few miles from here. You see, there’s a little test I want to make. Once you and Miss Lane are far enough apart to be out of reach of even Superman’s super speed, I’m going to prove which one of you he loves best.”
He called for his men to return and had them “escort” Lana to another room. Then he picked up the phone. “Operator? Daily Planet please. I’d like to speak to Clark Kent.”
Bill Henderson valued Clark’s friendship, even though the reporter sometimes played amateur criminologist and cracked cases ahead of him. When he found Clark in his office at the Planet he was relieved that at least it was he who delivered the bad news. It was obvious Clark was already agonizing over something, but the reporter told the inspector to go first. Henderson told it quickly, like ripping off a Band Aid.
“Yes, Judd Logan was the informant all right; and it looks like he must have kidnapped Lois and Jimmy during his escape. That means the boss has them as hostages.”
Clark rammed his fist on his desk. Henderson noted the crack that appeared in the wood, but dismissed it. “And it looks like he has Lana Lang too,” Clark said. “I just came back from her place and she wasn’t there.”
“If only we knew where they were,” Henderson said, “you could call Superman.”
“Even Superman would have to know where to look,” Clark said.
The phone rang. “Yes? Yes, this is Kent. Who? If you’ve harmed either of them I’ll...” Henderson edged closer to listen in and Clark purposely moved so only he could hear. “All right. Go on.” He listened for a long moment, maneuvering more than once to avoid Henderson overhearing. “I understand. Yes, I understand completely.” There was a click on the other end and Clark slowly hung up his phone.
Henderson waited before asking, “Well? Was it the boss?”
Clark didn’t answer right away either. “Yes. And we’re right; he has Lois, Jimmy, and Lana.”
“Well, come on; what else did he say? You were listening long enough for him to tell you more than that.”
“He did.” Then Clark mused, “And I can’t do anything to save either one, much less both.”
“You save them?” Henderson said. “Look, Kent, I know you want to play hero in front of your old girl friend, and I also happen to know you’ve got more guts than you sometimes put on.” He placed a hand on Clark’s shoulder. “But in cases like this, an act of bravado can lead to carelessness. They might kill all the hostages; and I could lose my best friend. Let me in on it and I’ll guarantee both Lois and Lana will be rescued.”
“No, Bill, I can’t do that. There’s nothing you, nor I, nor even Superman can do this time.” The desk wasn’t enough; what he really wanted was to put his fist through the wall. Trouble was, unlike most he could actually do it; and he had to explain to Henderson afterwards. “Excuse me, Bill, but I’m going to have to think this out.”
Clark started around the corner toward the Store Room but stopped and went to the elevator instead. He noticed Bill’s befuddled look at his friend’s erratic route but fortunately the elevator came immediately and the doors closed before the Inspector’s questions reached him.
Clark gathered himself in a crouch and leaped upward, through the escape hatch at the top of the elevator car, which fell back in place as he soared to the roof level. Landing lightly on the narrow ledge of the access door, he forced the door open and stepped out.
The tower of the Daily Planet building ascended like a modern Tower of Babel to the skies; though unlike that ancient ziggurat, to the citizens of Metropolis it was a monument to understanding, not confusion. The elevator didn’t dare reach the very top of the tower, and Clark made one additional leap to reach its true pinnacle. Here, hundreds of feet above the great city, higher than any flagpole sitter ever aspired, Clark sat down to think.
Square mile after square mile it was spread before him, like some city map in sharp relief, but real and teeming with life. Peering northeast with his Telescopic Vision he found the baronic mansion where Jack Morris, once minor bully in a small town school and now crime boss in Metropolis, held the girl they both knew; a girl both had competed for, and whom Clark had won only to give up. Turning southeast he saw again outside of town the cabin that Morris had described, where Lois and Jimmy were being held. And roughly centered between them, midtown, was the museum with its show of rare and ancient artifacts from a recent Mayan expedition.
Clark had not exactly lied to Bill; it was true, Superman needed to know where to look to rescue either or all of them; and to foil the robbery. But he, Superman, knew where to look. Morris had told him where, taunted him with the three locations. He knew; but still he could do nothing: not as Clark Kent, and not as Superman.
If he rescued Lois and Jimmy, Lana would be killed; and the opposite was also threatened. And if he tried to stop the robbery, or tipped Henderson on it so he foiled it, Lois and Lana would be killed simultaneously.
As great as his powers were, even Superman knew he couldn’t be in two places at once; certainly not two places that far apart. And if not in two, three at once was a total impossibility.
Another dilemma was implicit in this, as well; and though Morris hadn’t directly said it, the question was there. The robbery was the minor factor in this trio of choices. He could choose to ignore the robbery and rescue the hostages, counting on capturing the criminals and recovering the loot once Morris himself was arrested. But even with super speed, he was only able to save one: Lois or Lana. Though Morris had not boasted of knowing his secret identity, the very design of this dilemma proved that he knew. Lois Lane was known to everyone as Superman’s girl friend, and Clark knew he felt more than friendship for his fellow reporter. But Lana had been his first love; and first loves are impossible to forget. And he cared for both deeply; and Lana had shown that she still carried a torch for him.
It was a diabolical trap, with a choice he could not make. Yet it was a choice he must make.
Which one would he choose?
Clark took one last look at each of the three locations. His eyes, already sharply focused to cover the distance, widened as he saw something that decided him.
There was a flurry of motion as the office clothing of Clark Kent was stripped off and stowed away, revealing the bright red and deep blue of Superman. The Man of Tomorrow stood on the tower one more moment, feet spread and arms stretched slightly out to his sides.
Then, with a leap, he launched himself toward his goal.
Henderson hadn’t let on, but he had caught just a word or two of Clark’s phone call. The robbery was to be at the museum. That was only one piece of information, but an unimportant one. The lives of the hostages were paramount; not some ancient relics.
After the elevator doors had closed on Clark, Henderson pressed the button hoping to stop it. No luck at first; but as the door opened Beanie the copy boy came running from the stairway at the other corner. “Inspector!” he called. Henderson stopped. The boy had a scrap of paper in his hand. “A call came in for you.” He handed Henderson the note.
Henderson read it and smiled. Kent wasn’t the only one who could make plans and keep them secret. He’d had his own ace in the hole, and this message signaled that all was in place. He rubbed the boy’s head, dislodging the eponymous beanie. “Thanks, kid. This means a lot.”
Beanie stooped and retrieved the fallen cap as Henderson stepped on the elevator and gave him a wink. Beanie was glad to have helped; but he wished he knew what was going on.
* * *
Six men sat in a car parked across from the Metropolis Museum. The man behind the wheel, Garvin, looked at his watch for the sixth time in four minutes. The boss had set the time for this job to go off; and he knew better than to jump the gun on one of the boss’ plans.
“I hate this waitin’,” Harry grouched from the back seat.
“Shut up,” Garvin retorted. “The boss knows what he’s doin’.”
* * *
Jack Morris had suggested they be comfortable while waiting. Two overstuffed leather armchairs flanked the fireplace, and they sat facing each other. Morris had placed a revolver conspicuously on the end table beside his chair. A phone on the same table awaited the “all’s well” call from his men at the museum.
Lana, like Harry, didn’t like waiting. And in spite of their history, in spite of whatever feelings their reunion had stirred in them, she was unsure whether she could count on Clark to save her. A risky plan came to her; but all it might give her was time. Seeing a home movie camera in one corner, she started with small talk.
“So you like to make movies?” she asked.
Morris flicked a glance at the camera, wondering what she was up to. “Yeah; it’s become a hobby of mine.”
“What, do you and your men pose with your guns and your loot?”
He chuckled. “No, I’m too smart for that. But as you can see crime has paid me well, and so I like to enjoy it. The camera comes in handy on little pleasure trips and such.”
“You mean when casing a possible place for a holdup?”
His mood darkened. “Sometimes.”
She tried to return to casual. “It looks like a nice one.”
“It’s not one of those little 8mm jobs; it’s a full 16mm, with sound too. Almost, but not quite, Hollywood grade.”
“Nice. Something like the ones I use for my TV reporting.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“We’ve known each other nearly all our lives, Jack,” Lana said.
Morris grinned and shook his head. “Don’t go trying to go down Memory Lane with me, Lana. I’ve got no nostalgia about my childhood.”
“That’s not what I was thinking about,” Lana answered. “We’ve got a past; we might have a future.”
Morris’ laugh was a wolf’s bark. “That’s rich! I know you were always in love with Kent. Still are, I’ll bet. Or should I say Superman?”
Lana inhaled deeply to calm herself. “Suppose you’re right; suppose Clark is Superman. We’re the only ones who know.”
Morris nodded at the obvious. “Yeah; unless somebody else from Smallville figured it out too. That Ross kid for instance; he was pretty smart.”
“But he’s not here and we are,” Lana said. “And I remember Pete was a straight arrow, like Clark.”
“Yeah; well so were you.”
“True; but I’m a reporter, and reporters give the public the truth. In fact, we’re obligated to reveal secrets like this.”
Morris leaned forward, his forearms resting on his lap. “What’re you drivin’ at?”
Lana stretched out to each side, using the armrests for the purpose of their namesake. “Just this: maybe we can make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“Together we can be quite a team. We both know a certain secret; and either of us could use it for our own purposes; or to help each other.”
“You want to go in partners with me? You spent the last year tryin’ to get me behind bars, first in Cleveland now here.”
“Are you sure? Maybe I just wanted to track you down to join up with you. Ever think of that?”
“Hold on, you’re not really thinking that, are you?”
Lana gave a non-committal shrug, but her smile and her green eyes promised otherwise. She got up and started toward him. “I’m your prisoner; or I can be your partner.”
Morris laid his hand on his gun. Lana froze an instant and started forward again. She came behind him, angling herself in the niche between the wing of the chair and the table where the gun rested. She fingered the lapel of his coat.
“That’s a nice suit. A lot better than the off the rack gray flannel Clark wears. I like nice clothes, too; the kind you can’t buy on a reporter’s salary.”
Morris turned half-way to see her out of the corner of his eye. “You’re serious about this?”
“I’d say the situation is deadly serious,” Lana said without lying.
* * *
As per his plan, Henderson had his driver park his car several blocks from the house and they made the rest of the way on foot. Trees surrounded the grounds, and his men were hidden in place. He and his driver crouched along with them. Henderson glanced at his watch. The only other thing he had caught in the call to Clark was the time of the robbery; he still had five minutes.
“What do we do, Inspector?” the sergeant in charge asked. “Everybody’s armed, and we got snipers trained on each window.”
Henderson had been thinking this through on the way here. He shook his head. “No snipers. Keep ‘em in place, but give no order to fire except as a last resort. We want no loss of life, especially hostages.”
“Then what’s your plan, sir?”
Henderson frowned grimly. It wasn’t pleasant but it was the only choice. He briefed the sergeant. “When I give the signal; and not before.”
* * *
Garvin studied his watch, his lips moving with the silent countdown.
“All right; let’s move in.”
All wore long coats, which wasn’t unusual; the air was turning cool. It was what they carried under those coats, in special long pockets made for the purpose.
They had cased the joint weeks before and knew just where to go. The vaulted ceilings, valuable art, and ancient skeletal reconstructions had no interest for them. These men were here for a single purpose. They scattered at first to avoid suspicion, but soon converged on the room where the artifacts were displayed. Pottery, inscribed clay tablets, the crown jewels of some ancient dynasty lost to the depth of time displayed themselves in glass cabinets. It was a touring show, and this month had been Metropolis’ turn. This was to be the last week; in more ways than one.
The six men placed themselves about the room until they formed a circle, two or three of them placing themselves to block exits. Garvin stood near the lone guard. He carried another weapon, besides the sawed-off shotgun concealed by his long coat.
One final man appeared; his job had been special. He gave Garvin a surreptitious high sign.
All were in place. Garvin nodded.
Five sawed-off shotguns suddenly appeared from under the long coats. And the cold barrel of an automatic pressed just under the ear of the guard.
“Nobody move unless we tell you,” Garvin said. “Everybody up against this wall.”
There was one wall bare of showcases; the museum guests were herded along it.
Several of the men pulled heavy canvas bags from their coats. Garvin chose three of the hostages at random and ordered them to fill the bags with the artifacts; and be careful about it.
“You’ll never get away with it. All of these displays are hooked up to alarms,” the guard said.
“You mean they were,” Garvin said. He jerked his head toward the latecomer who grinned and winked at the guard. “Now shut up. This .45 has a hair trigger. Sometimes when I’m nervous my finger twitches.” Garvin grinned in the guard’s face. “You don’t want my finger to twitch, do you?”
The sacks contained swatches of cloth, and the hostages were instructed to protect each item with a swatch before placing another on top. Garvin knew at least that the boss had some buyers in mind for this stuff and those buyers were kinda particular about damaged goods. To Garvin it was just a lot of junk some brainy types dug up in some desert, except the jewels. He got it as far as the jewels were concerned, but why somebody would pay big bucks for old jars and hunks of clay with some kind of chicken scratch that nobody could read was beyond him.
The job was done inside of twenty minutes, just as the boss had figured. The sacks were turned over to the men and the hostages were told to lie down with their heads to the wall. Garvin took the guard with him. The main entrances to the room were locked from the inside. They went down the same back stair their man had used to come up and out through a service entrance. Garvin clubbed the guard on the head with his automatic and shoved him inside the door.
In moments they were gone.
* * *
There was a crash at the window as something flew in.
Answering crashes came from the other windows, as projectiles arced their way in and exploded on contact with the floor.
Tear gas quickly filled the main floor of the house. The coughs and groans of those inside could be heard by the surrounding police.
When Henderson could see the excess gas escaping from the windows he took the bullhorn from the sergeant.
“You’re surrounded. Toss your weapons out of the windows and come out the front door, one at a time, with your hands up. And if any harm comes to any hostage you have there, it’s the chair for all of you.”
One by one they came out, coughing, sputtering, sobbing. There were five of them. Officers, keeping their guns trained, took each in custody. All of them were men; save for one woman.
She came choking and tearing like the rest and one of the officers guided her to where Henderson stood.
“Oh, Inspector,” she sobbed. “Am I ever happy to see you!”
Henderson couldn’t help but grin. “So happy you’re crying about it?”
“I haven’t cried since I was a kid,” her companion said. “But I’m glad to do it now!”
“Listen, Inspector,” Lois said between sobs. “When that first gas grenade hit one of the men made a phone call. The gas got him before he could finish, but he probably called the boss.”
Henderson knew exactly what that meant. He directed two officers to take care of his reporter friends and told the sergeant to gather back whatever men he could spare. “This thing isn’t over yet,” he said.
* * *
Morris put the phone down; it was the second call he had gotten in the last few minutes. He rose from his chair, careful to keep the gun within easy reach. Lana backed away just slightly as he came around the table, placing himself between her and the weapon.
“So you and me against Clark (Superman) Kent? Is that your deal?”
“Like I said before: I might have been tracking you down so we can team up. Hadn’t you thought about that?”
“No I hadn’t. And I’m not thinking about it now.” The gun was in his hand. “I’m not buying it, Lana. You were stalling, that’s all.” He paused; she made no reply. “You’re probably wondering about those two phone calls. The first one was from my boys who went to the museum. They’re on their way here. The second was a bit different; the caller started coughing and choking before he could speak. But I can figure out who it was and what it meant. Looks like the cops raided the place where Kent’s other two friends are.” He waited for the sign of relief that came to Lana’s face and banished it by adding, “But I’m sure they took care of the two of them before the gas got them.
“And that leaves you and me. Looks like Superman, or Kent, abandoned his friends. And I guess he’s abandoned you too.” Morris thumbed back the hammer on the gun.
The windows smashed as Superman made his entrance. He was about twenty or twenty five feet away from them.
Morris grabbed Lana, an arm around her neck and the gun at her head. “Don’t move, Kent, or your old girl friend is dead.”
Superman’s and Lana’s eyes met. A silent exchange flowed between them, almost telepathic. Lana gave the slightest nod.
“You seem confused,” Superman said. “Inspector Henderson introduced me to this woman in his office, just yesterday. And you think I’m Kent?” He put his fists on his hips. “And you’re the crime boss who we thought was so brilliant.”
Morris grinned. “You don’t fool me, Kent. We all grew up together in Smallville. I’m Jack Morris. I know you remember me.”
Superman nodded judiciously. “I remember Kent talking about you. That doesn’t mean we ever met. As for Miss Lang, you know enough about me that I wouldn’t want to see any harm come to her even if I’d never met her before.”
“You’re bluffing, stalling for time,” Morris said, “trying to figure some way to prove you’re not Kent.”
The sound of a car pulling up came from outside.
“That would be my men, coming back from the museum. I’ve never told them what I know about you. If you let me go, I’ll just ride off with them and keep your secret.” He grinned. “That is, if you let me take Lana with me. After all, you say you don’t know her; she can’t mean much to you.”
“I can’t tell you that I remember anything about her,” Superman said truthfully.
“That’s right,” Lana said, picking up his lead. “For instance, if you’d known me when we were kids you’d remember when I told you I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
“Yes, I think I’d remember that,” Superman said.
“Well,” Lana said, “things change.”
She suddenly drove her elbow into Morris’s stomach and broke free. She dove to one side.
That gave Superman the instant he needed to get between her and Morris’ gun. Six bullets bounced off Superman’s chest before Morris reflexively clicked on empty shells. Desperate, he threw the gun right at Superman’s head and it bounced from his brow.
Morris made a run for the door.
There was a screech of tires as two cars pulled up.
“I believe that’s Inspector Henderson,” Superman said. He helped Lana up from the floor. Softly he said, “Lana, are you all right?”
“I’m fine. Go get Jack.”
As Superman turned to the door there was a burst of gunfire. Morris’ men, crouched behind their car, were in a gun battle against Henderson’s men. He decided he’d better put an end to it before lives were lost; good or bad. Already he noted one of Henderson’s men clutching a wounded arm, and the body of one of the hoods lying face down outside the door.
Superman plunged into the midst of them, ignoring the bullets that pinged against his body as though every bully in school were firing spitballs at him. He grabbed one crook and threw him into two others and they went down in a pile. He seized a gun from another, crushing it in his fist before a light jab put him out.
Two tried to tangle with him at once, and he let them break their knuckles on him before knocking some sense into their heads by clunking their empty skulls together.
And of course there were the inevitable gunmen who insisted on emptying every weapon they had at him. Two of them fired shotguns at him at once, and it was simply an annoyance. When some of the scattershot caromed back at them, they ducked. Superman picked them up, gave each a good shaking, and tossed them back down.
The three he had first fought staggered to their feet, thinking they were ready to try again. Superman shook his head, wondering if cheap crooks like these would ever learn. They reminded him of the Three Stooges, marching toward him shoulder to shoulder; so he just swung a backhanded slap at all three at once and they once again fell together, side by side, with blissful looks on their faces. Superman was sure they heard birds tweeting in their heads.
It was over. Or was it? Morris hadn’t taken part in the melee; had he escaped?
He saw Lana standing at the door as Henderson approached from the other angle. She was carrying something bulky in her hands; it was a movie camera. There was a flash of a look of relief from her; not for Superman but for Clark Kent. The flash was gone as Henderson came to Superman’s side.
“Looks like we’ve got the whole gang,” Henderson said. “Thanks for pitching in; Murray’s got a flesh wound in his arm, but he’ll live. This might have been much worse if you hadn’t taken a hand.”
Another car was pulling into the drive.
“That would be my other men with Miss Lane and young Olsen,” Henderson said. “Just wanted you to know they were safe.”
“Thanks, Inspector, I owe you a lot.”
Henderson waved it off. “No, I’m just repaying you for all the times you’ve helped me.” Lana had joined them and Henderson turned his attention to her. “As for you, Miss Lang, you took quite a chance standing in that doorway with that camera. What were you trying to do, anyway?”
“That’s the business of the press, Inspector,” Lana said. “If you want an explanation, ask our mutual friend Clark.” She turned to Superman. “I hear he’s a friend of yours too, Superman.”
Superman grinned. “You might say we’re pretty close.”
Lois and Jimmy, still a bit groggy but somewhat recovered, came over. They surveyed the aftermath of the fight as the officers cuffed the former combatants and dragged them to their feet.
“Which one is the big crime boss?” Lois asked.
“I don’t know, Miss Lane,” Superman said. “I hope he didn’t escape.”
“Inspector!” one of the officers called. “Looks like this one didn’t make it.”
Henderson was grim. “Well, I guess one fatality out of this isn’t too bad a score.” He started over to where the officer knelt by the body as the others followed. “Which one is it?”
The officer turned over the body to reveal the face.
Superman forced back the reaction that screamed to be released.
It was Jack Morris, alias Felson.
Lana collapsed in tears against Superman’s shoulder; and though both Bill and Lois were jealous for opposite reasons, neither thought anything odd about it.
* * *
Later, on the way to the police car that would take them back into town, Lana pulled Jimmy aside.
“Are you all right, Miss Lang?”
“I’ll be all right, Jimmy. Remember, I’ve been tracking Jack Morris for a year; I guess I’ve been ready for it to end like this all along. But that’s not why I want to talk to you. You’re a photographer, right?”
“Sometimes I have trouble convincing the chief... I mean Mr. White... of that. But yes, I am.”
“Do you develop your own film?”
“Sometimes. I take a lot of pictures on my own too, for practice. Even have a darkroom set up in the basement at home.” Jimmy grinned sheepishly. “Sometimes the chemical smell gives my mom a headache, but she still lets me do it.”
“Ever develop movie film?”
“Sure. Sometimes Jerry, the guy in the lab for the Planet’s TV station, lets me help prepare the film for the news broadcasts.”
Lana gave her most charming smile and put a hand on his arm. “Good. Jimmy, I’ve got a special rush job for you. Can you do it?”
Jimmy’s grin threatened to split his face in two, and his cheeks were nearly as red as Superman’s cape. “Jeepers, sure! What is it?”
“You can’t tell anyone; it’s our secret.” She winked. “All right?”
Jimmy was floating somewhere way above Cloud Nine. “Anything, Miss Lang!”
“Oh, call me Lana.”
“OK --- Lana.”
Wow, Jimmy thought. Even Miss Lane doesn’t let me do that!
It seems Jimmy wasn’t the only one to receive some of Lana’s old time farm girl charm. While Jimmy worked on the film Lana had gotten past Perry White’s outer crust (for the second time, as you’ll remember) and the result was on the evening news, broadcast on WMET, the Daily Planet’s TV affiliate. He had even convinced the news anchor to allow Lana an on-screen appearance to introduce her footage.
Lana had had just enough time to record a short intro on the film before taking her ringside seat for Superman’s brawl against the gang. The camera had picked up everything, sight and sound, and she gave Metropolis a rare treat: a news film with their hero in action.
The response from the home audiences was tremendous. Other stations around the country wanted to buy copies of the footage, sometimes at premium prices. The Cleveland station where Lana had freelanced offered the most, though they also threatened legal action against Lana and the Metropolis station for having “their” reporter broadcast an exclusive on a different station.
Perry had anticipated that, and before Lana had gone on the air had taken steps to prevent lawyers on either side from rattling their sabers at each other. He had put Lana on the payroll five minutes after she finished pitching her story.
He held a meeting in his office the next morning to brief his staff. Henderson was also invited. He, Clark, Lois and Jimmy assembled in Perry’s office promptly at nine.
“That broadcast last night was the greatest thing to happen for our TV station in a long time,” he began. “And what’s good for the TV station is good for the paper, too.
“I’ve called you all here to introduce the newest member of our staff. You’ve all met her already, and Kent you’ve known her longer than any of us. So this is just a formality.”
He clicked a switch on his intercom. “Miss Bacharach, you can show her in now.” He went to the door to open it as she knocked. “Our new roving TV reporter, and sometime columnist for the paper...” He opened the door. “Miss Lana Lang!”
Lana entered. They gathered around her and she greeted each in turn.
Clark and Bill, after they received a hug, grinned and exchanged glances; each suddenly aware they might be rivals to the other.
She hugged Jimmy as well, who smiled so wide his face threatened to freeze that way.
Lois received a warm handshake with a half-hug, put on a pleasant front and forced smile. She and Clark were already rivals; and now here’s another one?
And when Lana came back over to Clark and gave him a quick peck Lois suddenly felt another form of jealousy.
And for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why.
"Like The Only Real Magic -- The Magic Of Knowledge"