TAC Table of Contents
MAN OF IRON
“Lost” Adventure of Superman
My fellow scribes in the Lost Adventures series and I grew up with what is called the Silver Age Superman. These are the comic book stories published roughly from 1950 through 1970, give or take a year or two on both ends.
While I believe the TAOS Superman was based more on the Golden Age version, all three of us have enjoyed injecting Silver Age material into our stories.
This is one such story; introducing into at least the Lost Adventures continuity one of Superman’s most deadly Silver Age foes. You’ll recognize him from his name, which are the first two spoken words in the story.
John Corben, you have been tried and found guilty of murder in the first degree.” The judge’s tone was dark and solemn, in keeping with his next words. “It is the sentence of this court that you will be taken from here to a place designated by the state where, in due time, you will be executed. And may God have mercy on your soul.”
John Corben received the sentence with an impassive face but anger burned within him. He was justified in killing Holbrook; the man had discovered Corben was embezzling from their firm. Corben had covered his tracks, or so he thought. He had shot Holbrook in the head while sleeping and wiped the fingerprints from the gun, holding it with a handkerchief as he placed it in the dead man’s hand.
It was that bloodhound Henderson who had talked the forensics team into checking the shells of the gun and had found enough of a fingerprint on one to match Corben’s. If it weren’t for that cop...
A guard took him roughly by the arm and ordered him to present his hands for the cuffs. As the manacles were locked in place Corben saw Henderson, and that nosey reporter Kent sitting with him. Kent was the one who had followed the investigation and trial in that rag of his, the Planet. Well, he’d get even with both of them; somehow. The guard tugged at his arm; Corben was led through a side door and out of the courtroom.
“Well Kent, that’s one murderer less on the streets of Metropolis,” Inspector Henderson said to Clark.
“You and your men did a fine job Bill,” Clark said, “and you didn’t even need any help from Superman!” He grinned as he said it.
Henderson grimaced a moment at his friend but managed a wry smile afterward. “We manage to do pretty well sometimes even without Superman’s help. But you can tell him for me we sure appreciate it when we need it.”
“I’ll tell him.” He already knows, Clark thought, wondering not for the first time whether his friend suspected his identity.
“C’mon,” Henderson said placing a friendly hand on Clark’s shoulder, “I’m treating you to lunch. Can’t promise much on a poor cop’s salary...”
“That’s all right,” Clark said. “I couldn’t promise much on a reporter’s salary.”
The two chuckled on the way out of the courtroom.
One other person had remained. He had been present for the whole trial. He was small, with wisps of white hair surrounding a smooth scalp. Rimless glasses sat low on his nose, over which sharp eyes peered under malevolent brows. His name was Professor Vale, though the name meant nothing to anyone in Metropolis at the time. He had use for one such as Corben.
Professor Vale stepped out of the courtroom and into the vast hall outside. The inlaid tile floor, marble figures, and high carved arches meant nothing to him. He strode quickly for a man of his apparent age down the long, winding marble stair, the walking stick in his hand with its silver knob a mere affectation. He reached the street level and turned right toward where his car waited.
A broad-chested man in a gray sweatshirt, patched jeans, and a moth-eaten jacket which matched his cloth cap sidled out from the side wall of the courthouse where he had been leaning. He quickened his pace until he caught up with Vale and walked beside him. A glance from Vale cowered him into falling back a pace or two.
“I’m sorry, perfessor,” the man said in what he imagined to be a stage whisper but was heard by a couple who passed by. He grimaced and swallowed, forcing his voice lower. “Ya don’t wanna be seen wit’ me; I git it.”
Vale was unruffled; he fiddled with his cane. “Have you taken care of that matter, Mr. Deagan?”
“Yeah. The brakes’ll last...”
“That’s fine,” Vale interrupted. No need to tell everyone in Metropolis how long the brakes were going to last. They had reached his car. “I will be waiting for that delivery.”
Professor Vale got in his car and the man Deagan went to his own.
It was night by the time Corben was transferred. A dark night: moonless and heavy with clouds curtaining off the stars. The route from the city jail to the state prison was along an old highway, one that was still stranger to modern concrete or macadam. Lampposts were only an occasional afterthought about every mile or so. It was a long stretch, and one of these days the state might get around to upgrading it.
There were two officers in the vehicle transporting John Corben to the state prison. Both sat in the front and Corben was confined in the back. A thick metal plate with a single 4” by 6” grilled window in its center separated the front compartment from the back.
Speeds can become deceiving on long lonely roads, and the officer who was driving dropped his eyes to his speedometer a second and whistled. “Hey, looks like I’m speeding. How would it look for a couple of cops to get pulled over for a ticket?”
His partner chuckled. “No cops on this old road but us. Unless you want I should write you up!”
Both laughed. “No one on this road,” the driver said, glancing in his rear-view mirror as though to validate his claim. “I’m a liar,” he said. “There’s a car; way back there, but there’s a car.”
“Guess you’d better slow down then; don’t wanna set a bad example for civilians.”
“Yeah; he might wanna do a ‘citizen’s arrest.’”
His partner laughed louder. “You mean like Gomer last night?” He imitated Jim Nabors’ broad southern accent from Andy Griffith: “Citizen’s ar-RAY-est! Citizen’s ar-RAY-est!”
The driver laughed so hard he nearly lost control, the car weaving a bit as he started to apply the brake.
Which didn’t respond.
And the road went mostly downhill for the next half mile.
He frantically pumped the brake; stomped on it; the car only accelerated its speed. And he was losing some control of the steering as well.
“Hey!” his partner warned, all joking gone. “Slow down!”
“I’m trying to! The brakes won’t work!”
The vehicle continued to careen down the slope. The ruts and occasional imbedded stones roughened the ride. It was like a runaway rollercoaster, as the momentum from the downhill slide only carried them up and over the next rise and down again at even greater speed. This stretch was particularly void of lighting, and his headlights gave only a dim suggestion of what was ahead.
The driver frantically tried to regain control but the car struck one more hidden obstruction and suddenly spun out of control, flipping over, and performing a tumbling act down the embankment. It finally came to rest fifty feet below the surface of the highway.
All three of the men inside were unconscious; or dead.
Deagan slowed his car to a stop just above where the police vehicle had fallen. He got a flashlight from his glovebox and shined it down to the spot where the car sat, upside down, the wheels still spinning as though clutching for a grip at the air to right itself.
He opened the trunk of his car and took out a long, heavy burden in a zippered sack. Closing the trunk he cautiously started down the hill dragging the bundle with him. More than once a foot slipped, but he managed to avoid falling. He reached the more level stretch where the police vehicle lay.
Deagan knew he had to work fast; he wasn’t the quickest dog in the pack but he was good at following orders. Fortunately the car hadn’t caught fire; that was the one fear his boss had. But he’d tend to that later. He shined his flashlight into the front compartment; the two officers looked funny, crammed upside-down against the roof of the car. But they weren’t his concern. Checking the back seat with the light he saw Corben lying face down on the roof. His position would make it easy for Deagan to pull him out.
He opened the back door, grasped an ankle in each hand, and pulled. The limbs felt like those of a rag doll; probably broken in the crash. And Corben’s head bumped against the doorframe a couple of times as Deagan pulled him through, cutting a new gash in his forehead. The blood flowed from it, which showed he was still alive. The face had already taken its beating from the metal divider in the violent jostling his body had taken as the car rolled. He was already almost unrecognizable; but the perfessor would take care of the that, Deagan knew.
Laying Corben aside he unzipped the bag. Inside was a man about Corben’s size and build, and of similar coloring. Corben was unconscious; this man was dead. Deagan had picked the man himself from one of the dives he frequented, and the perfessor had agreed with his choice. Deagan knelt beside the body and took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket. He clapped them on the corpse’s wrists the same way Corben’s were and lifted the body over the doorframe and into the back seat. The corpse already looked like he’d been in an accident; thanks in part to Deagan’s fists and a crowbar he’d used to finish the job.
Deagan stepped back to survey his handiwork. Didn’t matter if the door was open or shut; it’d matter even less in a few moments.
A low groan came from the front seat; one of the cops was still alive. That didn’t matter either; nor would it matter at all in the same few moments.
First he had to get Corben out of the way; if he didn’t get back to the perfessor’s place with Corben this whole thing was a bust. He dragged him halfway up the slope; Corben moaned a bit, but that was good: he wasn’t dead. A dead Corben would be worse than no Corben at all.
He went back to the cop car. Deagan got out his pocketknife and used the flashlight to find the fuel line. He only needed an inch or so of it; there it was. He cut a break in the line, returned the closed knife to his pocket, and got out a book of matches. He struck one and tossed it, jumping back as he did. Then he high-tailed it to where he’d left Corben.
The flames grew quickly, eating at whatever combustables were available in the underside of the car. Deagan managed to get Corben on his shoulder in such a way to half drag, half carry him up to the road.
They had gotten just under the level of the road when the fire found the fuel tank. It was a terrific fireball, and Deagan had to feel proud of his night’s work. The car wouldn’t be found until morning at the earliest; and no one, not even the brilliant Inspector Henderson, would figure out that the man in the rear seat wasn’t John Corben.
But he didn’t have time to enjoy the fire, even though it was a beaut. He laid Corben along the back seat of his car, got behind the wheel, started the engine, and started driving. He glanced at his watch; it had one of them loomis dials, a gift from the perfessor. He grinned and nodded; he was running right on time. He’d be at the perfessor’s in less than an hour.
It wasn’t found the next morning; but when the state prison notified the Metropolis Police Dept. that Corben hadn’t arrived Henderson ordered his car around to investigate. He called Clark before leaving the office and the reporter came from around the corner just as the inspector was about to get into his car.
“Kent! How did you get here so fast?” Henderson asked.
“Oh, I just know a shortcut.” Kent shrugged his coat into better shape and tightened his tie. Running at super speed from The Daily Planet to police headquarters kept him unseen but it had a way of disheveling his off-the-rack grays. His Superman costume, of course, never suffered from his super-exertions.
“Ever think of trying out for the Metropolis Marathon?” Henderson asked with a wry smile.
“C’mon Kent, get in.”
A car or two and about a half dozen officers from the state prison were already at the site when they arrived. The state highway patrol was also represented. Henderson’s driver parked behind them.
“You stay here, Kent,” Henderson advised his friend. “This is going to be pretty grim.”
“OK, Bill; I’m sure I’ll see enough from up here.”
As Henderson joined the highway patrol and their forensics team down at the crash site Clark watched from above. Focusing his Telescopic Vision on the wreckage he avoided the gruesome details of the hopelessly charred bodies and searched for other clues. He had a feeling this wasn’t just an accident.
He saw two things immediately that looked suspicious: both the brake fluid line and the fuel lines were severed. The ends of both hoses were fused shut by the flames, so there was no sure way of establishing any tampering. But Clark concentrated on the ends of the brake line, adding his Microsopic ability into the mix, and detected residue of some material on the hose. Long ago he had taught himself to recognize the molecular structure of a number of common chemicals; this resembled hydrochloric acid. A small amount; but perhaps it was set to eat at the hose slowly so the vehicle would be well out of town before enough leakage had occurred to destroy any effectiveness of the brakes. The other was the break in the fuel line; though fused, it looked too clean for a result of the accident. The car crashed, due to tampered brakes, and when it didn’t catch on fire did someone deliberately cut the line and start it going? Why?
Turning his gaze to the ground around the crash he noticed something else.
Henderson was making his way up the hill; Clark gave him a hand the last few steps. “Was it the car taking Corben to prison?” he asked.
“Yes,” Henderson replied. “Even with what little’s left we can tell that much.” He looked down once more on the spot. “Abrams and Townsend; a couple of good men.” He shook his head. “Both were married and had kids; Townsend had another on the way. I’ll go visit their wives myself. No way to break this kind of news that makes it easier, but I’d rather do it in person than over the phone.”
Clark listened with his arms folded. “It’s always sad, Bill; and I don’t envy you being the bearer of bad news. But if there’s anything I can do, maybe come along with you when you see them, if you’d like.”
Henderson sighed and nodded. “Thanks, Clark; I’d appreciate that.”
One of the highway patrol detectives started up the hill. Henderson recognized him as a local chief he knew. He was a big, burly guy with a bulldog face wearing an ill-fitting suit. The growl in his voice matched his looks. “Bill,” he said addressing Henderson, “it’s too bad about losing two of your men this way.”
“Thanks, Dan.” Henderson knew this was the most sympathetic Dan ever got. He introduced him to Clark.
“A reporter, huh?” Dan gruffed. “Guess you’ll love writing this one up. You guys live for sensational stuff like this.”
“Not really,” Clark replied. “I followed Bill’s investigation of Corben and the trial. He had just been sentenced to be executed.”
“Yeah; that’s what the prison cop told me,” Dan said. “Well, he’s paid for his crime; too bad he had to take two of the good guys with him.”
“Is there anything unusual about the crash, chief?” Clark asked.
“Unusual? What do you mean, Kent?” Dan asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just a feeling.”
“Kent has these feelings sometimes,” Henderson explained. “Drives me nuts with ‘em on occasion, but a lot of times he’s right.”
“Well, there are a couple of things; but they’re not for your paper,” Dan warned.
“You mean like the marks in the grass where it looks like something heavy was laid down; something like a body?”
“Just what do you mean, Kent?” Dan demanded.
“Yeah, Kent; how did you see that from up here?”
Clark gave a touch to his glasses. “Well, sometimes I can see quite a lot through these specs of mine.” He extended his hand. “Good to meet you, chief.” Dan narrowed his eyes as he shook with him. “And I promise I won’t include anything about those two depressions in the grass.”
Dan was even more astonished. “Two?”
“Oh yes,” Clark said in innocent tones. “There’s one near the wreckage, of course, and the other one against the hill.” He casually indicated the spot.
Dan looked down the slope; it was clear he hadn’t noticed this one. “Right; the second one. Well, you know we’ve all been tramping up and down here. But yeah, it’s there.” He rounded on Clark. “How did you...”
“Bill, can you spare one of your men to drive me back to town? I’d like to write up what I can about this before any other reporters get out here. That’s why you asked me to come along, wasn’t it: to get first dibs on the scoop?”
“Yeah,” Henderson said, “that’s why.” As dazed as Dan at his friend he called one of the uniforms and told him to give Clark a lift to the Planet office and come back.
As the car turned and headed for the city, Dan said: “Strange guy, your friend Kent.”
Henderson started to retort but with a nod admitted the statement true.
Clark had handed the finished story to Lois to read. They were in his office and she rested casually against the edge of his desk as she read. She finished the last page and handed it back to him.
“It’s so sad about the two policemen.”
Clark nodded. “Bill is going to call me when he visits the families; I offered to come along.”
“If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
“I will, Lois; thanks.”
“So Corben is dead; not from the electric chair but a tragic accident.”
“So it would seem.” Clark regretted the words as soon as they were said.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, Lois. Nothing at all. Excuse me.” He stacked the pages of the story and rose, passing her and going into the hall.
Lois pursued him around the corner and caught his sleeve before he had gone far. “Clark Kent, do you know something about this that’s not in your story?”
“Lois, you’ve done enough crime reporting in your day to know the police hold certain information back.” He gave his most charming smile and took her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “In fact, aren’t you the one who taught me that when I first came here a couple of years ago?”
She moved his hand aside. “That small town charm doesn’t work with everybody, Mr. Kent.”
“Then think of it this way: if neither Henderson nor Chief Matthews of the highway patrol want to keep some of their evidence secret, don’t you think we ought to honor their wishes?” He flicked his head toward Perry’s door. “A certain editor taught me that one.”
He grinned as he strode toward his editor’s office, leaving Lois fuming. Jimmy found her still emitting metaphorical steam from her nostrils as he got off the elevator.
“Hi, Miss Lane! What’s the matter?”
“Do you have your car today?” she asked.
“Well, yes but...”
Lois took him by the arm and hustled him back into the elevator. “I’ll tell you on the way, Jim.”
“Sorry Miss Lane,” Henderson said, “I can’t tell you anything more.”
“But Inspector, there has to be more to the story than that,” Lois insisted.
“Kent has been covering the Corben case from the beginning; that’s why I called him when his body was found. It’s his story, Miss Lane, and I’m sorry I can’t help you.”
“What if Mr. White assigned me to photograph the crash scene?” Jimmy asked. “Would you give us permission then?”
“Did Mr. White give you that assignment?” Henderson’s eyes gave a cagey smile.
“Then I can’t give you permission to visit the site. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got other matters.”
“But Inspector...” Jimmy protested.
“Thanks, Inspector. You’re right: Clark deserves to continue covering the story. Come on, Jim.”
He reluctantly followed her out and when they were in the hall he said, “Jeepers. And I had my camera with me too.”
“Then we shouldn’t let it go to waste, should we?” Lois said.
“But the Inspector didn’t give us permission to go. Besides, I don’t know where it is.”
“I do, thanks to Clark’s story. You drive and I’ll navigate.”
The highway patrol in conjunction with some of Metropolis crime lab technicians were almost done when Lois and Jimmy arrived. Chief Matthews was supervising the loading of the wrecked car behind the tow truck when Lois came up behind him. He turned his bulldog scowl on them. “What do you two want?” Then he recognized them. “Oh, more reporters. Well, you’re too late; we’re ready to roll out of here and I’m too tired to talk to you.”
“That’s all right, Chief,” Lois said. “My colleague and I just want to take a few pictures of the site, if that’s all right.”
“Does Henderson know you’re here?” the chief asked.
“We’ve just come from his office,” Lois responded truthfully.
“Go ahead then, take all the pictures you want.” He lumbered back to his car increasing the canine resemblance. After the last vehicle drove off Jimmy unlimbered his camera and prepared to take his pictures.
Clark and Henderson left Laura Townsend’s house with grim faces.
“Well, I’m glad that’s over,” Henderson said. “Connie Abrams and Laura Townsend are strong women, and they’ll get through this. But it’s still tough to have to give them the news.”
“It’s especially sad that Townsend’s baby will never know its father,” Clark said.
Henderson nodded. “It’s one part of this job I hate, but I’d rather do it myself than for them to get the news any other way. Thanks Clark, for coming along. What you said to Townsend’s boy I think helped him a lot.”
“He should know his father was a hero. I lost my father too, but I was an adult. I can’t imagine what it must be to lose your dad at five.” As the infant Kal-el he had lost his birth parents before he was one; but he had no real memories of them.
Henderson’s car radio was beeping when they got to it and his driver answered before handing the handset to his boss. “It’s for you, Inspector; the highway patrol, Chief Matthews.”
Henderson took the handset. “Yeah, Dan; what is it?”
“Just wanted you to know those two reporters you let take pictures arrived.”
“What two reporters?” Henderson asked.
Clark’s interest was aroused and though he remained where he was in a casual, hands-in-pockets pose, his Super Hearing caught every word.
“I recognized the one as the Lane woman from The Daily Planet. Guess the other was a photographer, a kid.”
“Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen?” Henderson asked.
“Yeah, I guess that’s the names. Just wanted you to know I left them there; we were pulling out, so they weren’t in the way.”
“But I didn’t give them any permission,” Henderson said. “In fact I forbid them to go.” He turned. “Kent!”
His reporter friend was nowhere around.
“What’re you two doin’ nosin’ around?” The big lug had loomed out of nowhere it seemed and was coming toward them like the giant in a bogey tale.
Jimmy had taken two photos and was preparing a third when the man showed up. “I’m a photographer for The Daily Planet,” he said, as though that was full protection from assault.
The man loomed over him menacingly.
“We’ll be done after one more picture,” Lois said, flicking a “Hurry it up!” glance at Jimmy, who snapped his last picture.
“Gimme that!” the man reached for the camera and Jimmy switched hands to hold it at arm’s length, out of the giant’s reach.
A familiar whoosh and thud brought a red and blue clad figure to their rescue. Lois gave a sigh of relief at the first sound.
“I’ve never liked bullies,” Superman said, taking the man by his shirt and lifting him a foot off the ground. “Even when I was a boy. And believe me, I have even less use for them now.”
“Let me down, will ya?” the man protested. “I wasn’t gonna do nothin’. Just havin’ some fun.”
Superman gave him a shake. “I’ve heard that one before; each time it was from some bully picking on somebody weaker.”
“Let me down an’ I’ll explain!”
Superman let him down but kept his grip. “All right, explain!”
“I saw the lady and the kid takin’ pictures. There was a car crash here, see? An’ I didn’t know if they were allowed. I was just gonna take the camera until I cleared things up.”
“And what stake do you have in this?” Superman demanded.
“Just doin’ me job as a private citizen. Really, I didn’t know.” He glanced down at Superman’s fist, still gripping his shirt. “Will ya let me go now?” he pleaded meekly.
“All right.” Superman released him with a slight shove. “Don’t let me catch you bullying anyone else or I’ll introduce you to my friend Inspector Henderson.”
“Thanks. Thanks, Superman.” He hurried off to his waiting car.
Superman stood watching him go.
Jimmy and Lois came beside him. “What is it, Superman?” Lois asked, noting the conflicted look on the Man of Tomorrow’s face.
“I’m wondering now if it was such a good idea to let him go.”
“Why would he object to us taking pictures?” Jimmy asked.
“That’s what worries me,” Superman replied.
An hour or so later back at The Daily Planet Jimmy brought a picture to Clark’s office.
“I just delivered the photos of the crash scene to Mr. White,” he said, “but I have one more I wanted to show you, Mr. Kent.”
Jimmy handed the photo to Clark who kept a calm poker face as he saw himself in action. “It’s a picture of Superman holding a thug up in the air. Wait, is this the man you said gave you and Lois a hard time?”
“That’s the one. I thought maybe you and I could take to Inspector Henderson and maybe he can match it up with somebody in his mug shots.”
“Good idea, Jimmy. I thought it might not be a good idea to let him go...”
This last was an aside, but Jimmy overheard. “You thought? Superman said the same thing.”
“Well Jimmy, you know Superman and I often think alike.” He rose and took his hat from its hook. “Yes, I think Henderson should see this; let’s go, junior.”
“’Bull’ Deagan is his name,” Henderson said after looking him up. “He has a record, mostly for strong-arm stuff, barroom brawls and drunk and disorderly. He’s been out for a little over six months now, and as far as I know he’s kept his nose clean. If you want, I can call his parole officer and let him know about this.”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea, Bill,” Clark said.
“And why not?”
“Well, why did Deagan try to stop Jimmy from taking pictures? I’ll bet he would’ve broken the camera if he’d reached it.”
“I sure thought that’s what he was gonna do,” Jimmy agreed.
“Why not let Deagan alone and see what happens?” Clark suggested. “I still think there’s something fishy about that crash, and this may mean I’m right.”
“Kent, you’re a reporter; not a detective. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve reminded you of that the last couple of years.”
“But don’t you think it’s worth trying? This Deagan may have some connection with Corben; maybe he planned the crash to make sure Corben was dead, for some personal vendetta or under somebody else’s orders.”
“All right; your instincts have been good before. I have a couple of good spotters on the force. I’ll assign one of them to keep an eye on Deagan.” Henderson dialed a number on his phone.
Deagan pulled up in front of the dark, lonely house on the hill outside of town. Old, secluded, masked by a cordon of trees whose interwoven branches concealed that anything rested in their midst, it seemed like something from another time. To Deagan it looked like a castle from one of those old Frankenstein movies that scared him as a kid; and this one scared him now. But he didn’t dare show it.
Angry rumblings stirred amid dark, heavy clouds. The crack of thunder startled Deagan, and he pulled his coat collar up against the sudden torrent of rain. Lightning flashes lit the path and hurried him up the long stone stair cut into the hillside.
He reached the house and rapped the huge brass knocker twice. The sound reverberated like a funereal tolling. A small, grated square opened and a woman peered out. Satisfied, she shut the panel. Half of the huge oak double doors creaked open, the hinges protesting on being roused from their rest.
A small, thin woman with a pinched face, large eyes over a blade of a nose, and graying auburn hair rolled into a bun that had gone out of style over half a century before let him in. She closed and barred the door without a word. She wasn’t mute; but she had learned quickly to keep her mouth shut. She didn’t know what business the professor was about; nor what business this Deagan fellow had with him. It was better for her not to know.
Deagan knew his way, and the housekeeper retreated back into the safety of her kitchen. Deagan entered the library. Thousands of books crowded the shelves. As he always did, Deagan sniffed scornfully at the sight of them. But he went to one of the bookcases just the same and pressed a small metal label-holding plate. The section swiveled open and Deagan stepped through it. A hidden foot-treadle closed it behind him. Steep, open-slatted ancient wooden steps led downward in a close spiral. He descended into a dank, damp basement. To one side was a heavy metal door. Deagan knocked on it.
Professor Vale slid several bolts and turned a massive handle to open the door. Deagan stood on the threshold. “Well?” Vale asked, “what is it?”
“The cops found the car and they got the bodies. But some dame and a kid were takin’ pitchers...”
“What ‘dame’? What ‘kid’?” Vale put derisive emphasis on the two words.
“They said they were from The Daily Planet. I tried to get the camera but Superman showed up.”
“Yeah. You know he’s got a thing about those reporters from the Planet, especially that Lane chick. That mighta been her.”
Professor Vale stepped into his laboratory. Deagan stayed just outside it, wary of entering. It was dark inside, lit by only a few lights. As it was underground there were no windows. Shadows loomed large, and hulking machinery lurked in darkened corners. Some powerful engine dominated one side of the room.
In its center lay two operating tables, with a sheeted form upon each. One sheet had blood stains; the other did not. Between them was a stand with various surgical instruments and an array of metal-working tools as well, including a small welding torch; the latter items seeming incongruous to the other, and vice versa.
Deagan made a point to ignore the furniture and content of this large vault of a room. But nightmares of those old monster films still haunted him; even in daylight. His cloth cap gained new sweat stains and a vigorous mauling in his beefy hands.
Vale stroked his chin as he paced a bit. The odd lighting painted his face only in certain places, leaving much of it in weird shadow; save for the light of fanaticism in his eyes.
“No matter,” he said. “What if they find that the accident was planned, even that the fire was started intentionally? It won’t be traced back to me.” He looked on one of the tables, the one with the blood. “And they believe Corben died in the crash, and was burned in the fire. He’s dead, as far as the authorities are concerned; and that’s all that matters.”
“But what if they start lookin’ into it?” Deagan protested. “That Henderson’s a smart cookie; so is that Kent guy. Corben himself thought so.”
Vale turned to him. “They’ll come looking for you, not me. And you won’t tell them anything about me, will you Mr. Deagan?”
“No; no, perfessor, I won’t say nuthin’.” He kneaded his cap a bit more. “Can I go now?”
“Of course; of course. In fact, I have no further need of you. Have Mrs. O’Connor pay you the usual and go your way.”
“Thanks; thanks, perfessor.” He made all haste in crossing the basement and mounting the stairs, and was stepping into the library before Vale had shot the last bolt in his door in place.
The stone steps were slippery, and Deagan nearly fell in his rush down to the street level, and soaked by the time he reached his car. He lost no time in getting to his favorite watering hole.
The irony of demanding “a cold one” while he stood chilled and wet to the skin was lost on him, and he welcomed even the feeble heat the dive offered. The place had the best chili; he could tell from the way it seared his guts on the way through. He ordered a bowl and took a seat. Holly, a buxom bar
maid whose blonde ponytail tangled high from the crown of her head instead of at her neck, brought it over to him. She bent over as she set the bowl and some packages of crackers at his place and Deagan copped a peek at the depths revealed by her scoopnecked top.
“Thanks Holly,” he said, and grabbed her arm as she went by. “You’re a life saver, you know that?”
“Yeah? Mint or fruit flavor?” She pulled her arm away.
“Holly, that ain’t no way to treat me after all we..., Ah, you know.”
“Yeah. That’s all over, you know. You just wait ‘till Ben comes back; you’ll see.” She started bussing the next table.
“Maybe Ben ain’t comin’ back,” Deagan said over a mouthful of chili, cooling his throat immediately with a long swig of beer.
“Whaddya mean, Ben ain’t comin’ back?” Holly swung on him, hands on hips, her filthy cleaning rag clenched tightly in one fist.
“I dunno; just a feelin’.” Deagan went back to his chili.
“Holly! Quit yer jawin’ and work!” came from the bar.
“Awright, OK, keep yer shirt on.” She shot a last glance at Deagan. “Nothin’ better happen to Ben, or else...”
“I’m not gonna do a thing to him,” Deagan said truthfully. He didn’t have to; it had already been done.
Prof. Vale chuckled to himself as he welded the last seam. Putting the torch down and removing his mask he surveyed his handiwork. The hard part was done; the first step in his experiment.
The storm still raged outside; much as it might have been for another doctor, many years before, on “a dreary night in November.” Next was to spray the plastic coating; three layers ought to do it. And the face: he had the face already molded; it was just a matter of putting it in place and making sure no open seams were visible.
He turned to the corpse on the other table. He was done with this; no need for it anymore. Vale wheeled the table to a large, deep oblong concrete vat lined with glass and containing a quick acid. Carefully he wrapped the body in its sheet and positioning the table as close to the vat as possible, rolled the body into the vat.
There was a splash, a vigorous hungry churning, and a little of the acid struck the table and nibbled at it.
But the body in the vat was gone in mere moments.
Vale wheeled the table out of the way and returned to the sheet-covered figure waiting on the other. There was still much to do; very much to do.
Holly generally avoided police stations if she could help it. There was a time when she was a frequent unwilling visitor; but she was legit now. At least that’s what she told herself, and in general it was true. But what Deagan had said about Ben bothered her. That plus the fact she hadn’t seen him in a couple of days.
She had made herself up as best she could; her wardrobe wasn’t extensive or expensive. And it was not so much fashion as flashon. And she had used just about every color in her paintbox to highlight her eyes, lips, and cheeks. To be sure, it certainly turned the heads of the officers on duty and those coming and going in the main squad room.
One officer was “escorting” a “lady of the evening” whose suggestive attire was dull and drab in comparison to Holly’s. When the officer paused to get a better look at the barmaid the latter said, “What’re you lookin’ at?” and his prisoner nudged him with an elbow and scolded, “Yeah, copper; what’re you lookin’ at? Get yer eyes over here and let’s get this thing over with.” The “woman of ill repute” actually grabbed his arm with her handcuffed hands and dragged him to the booking room. She knew the way.
Another became so absorbed in Holly’s charms the purse-snatcher he’d brought in almost managed to sneak away before another cop blocked his way and hustled him back to his original custodian.
Desk Sgt. Carmichael, in his many years on the force, had never seen anything quite like Holly and his eyes grew large within his heavy Irish face. He sat staring at her as she approached his high desk. She was speaking to him first; then she was shouting at him; then she was banging her small fists and kicking the front of the desk trying to get his attention.
It was at this point that Inspector Henderson and Clark Kent entered, returning from lunch.
“What’s going on here, sergeant?” Henderson asked. “SGT. CARMICHAEL!” Henderson shouted, rapping his own fist on the desk which finally broke the poor sergeant from his trance.
“Oh! Geez, I’m sorry Inspector. This dame... I mean this lady came in and... and she wants me ta... Hey lady, just what was your complaint again?”
“It’s Ben Collins, my guy. He’s missing.” She turned to the Inspector and tears started flowing in dark streaks, carrying her mascara with them. “Are you Inspector Henderson?” she asked.
“That’s right, and this is my friend Clark Kent from The Daily Planet. You say your boy friend’s missing?”
“You gotta find him, Inspector; you just gotta.” She drew a heavily scented and well worn handkerchief from her purse and cried into it, falling upon Henderson’s broad shoulders for support.
Henderson, flattered but uncomfortable, passed her on to Clark and she found refuge in his even broader shoulders, though the reporter was just as uncomfortable. Her crying became more audible and a drop or two of mascara-stained tears fell on his gray suit.
“I’ll take care of this, sergeant.” Henderson looked around at the other officers, still gaping at the distraught woman, and ordered: “Do I have to say it? The show’s over, everybody go about his or her business!” Henderson fumed at having to use that generic crowd-control phrase on trained police officers who were acting like rubber-necking civilians. He snapped his head at Clark. “Kent, bring her to my office.” And he strode across the lobby to the elevator leaving Clark to manage Holly as he guided her to where Henderson waited, already in the car and impatiently thumbing the HOLD button for the door. Once all three were inside Henderson stabbed the button for his floor. Clark tried consoling the young woman while Henderson stood apart, frowning and uncertain whether he was angrier at the officers’ behavior or his own anger. He took a deep breath, tried to remember the taste of the delicious rib-eye sandwich smothered in fried onions that Clark had bought him for lunch, and had calmed down by the time they reached his office.
“Please sit down, Miss...”
“Vine. Holly Vine,” she said, taking the seat Clark held for her. She smiled her thanks to him.
Henderson stopped in the middle of writing it on his notepad. “Holly Vine?” He put the pencil down and gave a charming smile he wasn’t really feeling right now. “I’m sorry, miss, but not your professional name. I need your real name, your birth name, for the records.”
Holly drew herself up into a flashy dignity. “Just what kinda profession you think I am, Inspector?” She sniffed back tears, adding a haughtiness worthy of Liza Doolittle standing up to Henry Higgins. “I’ll have you know I’m a good girl, even if I am a barmaid. And Holly Wooten Vine is the name my mother gave me. I can’t help it if she had a sense of humor.”
Clark’s repressed chuckle forced a similar one from Henderson. “She’s got you there, Bill,” Clark teased.
“All right, Miss Vine. Now you say your boy friend Ben Collins is missing?”
“Yeah. You see, I tend bar at the Shamrock. Ben’s always there every night, or he calls me when he can’t come. I haven’t seen him for three days now.”
“Three days? Well, I think we can try to track him down for you Miss Vine. Has he ever disappeared like this before?”
“No. An’ if he gets work that’s gonna take him outta town more’n a day he always tells me.”
“Do you know anyone who might have it in for him?” Henderson asked next.
Holly gasped. “You don’t think someone mighta...”
“We don’t know, Miss Vine, but we have to explore all possibilities. Does Ben have any enemies you might know of?”
“Why, Ben’s one of the sweetest guys ever walked the earth!” She held the handkerchief to her lips a moment then said: “Except maybe Bull.”
“Bull?” Clark asked. “Do you mean Bull Deagan?”
“I dunno his whole name. The less I know about him the better.”
Henderson still had the photo in his desk from the day before. “Is this the man?” He passed it to Holly.
“Yeah, that’s him. That’s Bull.”
Clark and Henderson exchanged glances; both men thought the same thing.
Henderson dialed a number on his phone. “Send Officer Campbell up here.” He hung up and said, “I’m having an officer drive you home. We’ll call you as soon as we have a lead.” He rose and offered his hand.
Holly offered her own like a lady in the movies and Henderson instinctively took it by her fingertips. “Thanks, Inspector. I knew you was straight.” She turned to Clark, offering her hand the same way. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kent.”
“The pleasure was mine, Miss Vine,” Clark said.
A knock preceded Officer Campbell and Holly exited, flashing a flirtatious grin, under his young and handsome custody.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Bill?” Clark asked.
“That Bull Deagan might have had something to do with this Ben Collins’ disappearance? Of course.”
“It’s more than that. Remember Lois and Jimmy saw Deagan at the crash site where Corben was killed?”
“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with this Collins case.”
“Neither do I,” Clark said, “but it’s pretty suspicious his name coming up regarding both Corben and Collins, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but I still don’t see the connection.”
Henderson’s phone rang. He listened for a moment and said, “All right; pick him up,” and hung up. “That was the tail we put on Deagan. He’s in a dive called the Drunken Keg.” Clark started out. “Hey, where are you going?”
“I just remembered somewhere I’ve got to be.” Clark disappeared out the door.
As Henderson watched him go he remembered an exchange with Lois Lane some time back when Kent had made one of his vanishing acts. Lois had asked him (probably rhetorically) where he goes. Henderson had replied: “I don’t know. He probably runs down an alley, takes off his glasses, and turns into Superman.”
Nah, Henderson told himself; that’s ridiculous.
It was another doozey of a thunderstorm, and Bull Deagan knew he’d have a hard time getting a cab. That was the way these things always went. He shrugged his coat tighter, turned up the collar, jammed his cap down, and plunged into it.
In an instant he was drenched; drenched and mad. We’ll leave to the imagination the various terms he used to describe the rainstorm and its Sender. He started looking for a cab.
Instead he felt something hard in his back.
He almost laughed; a hold-up? What two-bit...
“I’m Detective Saunders, Metropolis Police. Bull Deagan, I’m bringing you in for questioning.”
Retorting with a description of Saunders’ sainted mother, Deagan unexpectedly swung his bulk, knocking the gun from Saunders’ hand.
Saunders wasn’t exactly Wally Cox, but he wasn’t Charles Atlas either. Deagan’s fist slammed into Saunders’ jaw. The detective tried to fight back, but another blow bounced him off the wall of the dive.
Deagan wasn’t finished; his temper was up, and he had someone to take it out on. He grabbed Saunders by the coat and though the detective fought and punched Deagan hauled him behind the seedy establishment and started to work.
He didn’t hear the sound behind him through the storm. Before he knew it he was grabbed from behind and tossed aside like a garbage bag.
A lightning flash lit up the alley.
Superman stood within its flare.
The rain had freed a little spit curl onto his forehead, but it seemed to have no effect on his red and blue costume. Water ran from it as from an oilcloth slicker. Even the red cape flowed free of the wet. What was that clown suit made of, anyway? Deagan asked himself.
Superman knelt by Saunders. “Detective, are you all right?”
“Yeah; yeah, sure.” He started to his feet, aided by Superman. “I’ve handled worse mugs than you,” he said, eying Deagan.
“Oh yeah?” Deagan prepared to renew his attack. Big mistake.
Superman caught him midway, with a palm thrust to his chest. “You’re the big man I saw before, bothering my friends Lois and Jimmy.”
“Yeah? What of it?” Bull Deagan was afraid of nobody; not even Superman.
“I see you’re still a bully,” Superman said. “I’m sure Detective Saunders can take care of himself, but I let you go once and I don’t intend to make the same mistake twice.”
“Oh yeah? Whatcha gonna do?” He raised his fists. “Get outta my way.”
Superman’s lips smiled but his eyes didn’t. “Make me,” adopting the mantra of bullies from time immemorial.
Deagan swung a powerhouse right to Superman’s jaw. The jaw didn’t give, but several bones of Deagan’s hand did. Undaunted, he swung a left to the jaw; now he had two broken hands. He’d been a boxer; he’d broken his hands before. You fight through it; ignore the pain. A guy’s belly was always a soft target anyway. He threw the left then the right to Superman’s stomach. It was like using a water heater as a heavy bag.
He stood a moment trying to ignore the pain, trying to figure out what the soft spot was on the Man of Steel.
“C’mon,” Superman said, “I thought you were a tough guy.”
Deagan did an impression of his nickname and charged head-first against Superman’s body. He fell on his back, stunned. Perhaps the stars and planets he saw orbiting his head had once been passed by the rocket that brought Superman to Earth. Then he sank into oblivion.
Superman turned back to Saunders. “You’re sure you’re OK?”
“Sure am, Superman; and I’m glad you showed up when you did. Thanks.”
“Call Inspector Henderson and tell him I’m on the way with Deagan. And I’ll put in a good word for you. You held him off long enough for me to get here, and I’ll be sure to let Henderson know that.”
Saunders’ grinned, and though his jaw complained of it he was thankful he had something to grin about. “Thanks, Superman.”
The detective hurried to a nearby phone booth, alternately massaging his jaw and his ribs as he went. Superman watched him go as he hauled the unconscious Deagan to his feet. Saunders is lucky, Superman thought; if I’m right, Deagan’s last victim didn’t make it.
As a boy, Clark had hauled many a heavy sack of grain and feed over his shoulders in helping Pa run the farm. Deagan was just another one of those sacks as he took his running start to the end of the alley and bounded into the air.
This storm was what Prof. Vale had been waiting for. Childhood memories of Colin Clive and his tower laboratory flashed in his mind, like streaks of the lightning that played about his castle. Unlike Clive’s Henry Frankenstein, he didn’t need the lightning to power his equipment. But he enjoyed the atmosphere, the electricity he felt in the air; even here in this underground vault. He was ready.
The meteor fragment had emitted a strange radiation in his spectrometer. That hadn’t been a surprise; anything originating from space might hold elements and compounds unknown to earthly science. But this meteor emanated a new kind of energy that defied analysis from his instruments. He had found a way to harness this energy, to power the thing that lay on the single operating table now near the center of his work area.
The fragment was in place, in the small central compartment he had designed for it. So far he’d noticed no ill effects from the radiation; yet he had taken precautions. And the compartment itself housing the fragment was of lead, shielding its radiations from any who were near.
But contacts in that compartment would soon feed the energy it emitted into the circuitry and motors and even into the...
There was no time for further reverie. He was anxious to see if he was to succeed, if the work of almost a lifetime was to see fruition tonight.
Prof. Vale wheeled the table closer to the massive generator that dominated one side of the vault. He unwound two cables, spooled into recesses in the generator, and attached the clips from each to contacts on either side of the compartment containing the meteor.
Heaven seemed to shout its protests; the lightning even seemed to seek him out, its flash reflecting through the high windows and into the vault.
Vale donned polarized goggles and heavy rubber gloves; he daren’t risk any voltage from the generator, or any feedback from the meteor.
There was a large, single, knife-switch. Vale gripped its thick, heavy handle in his gloved hand, took one last look at the man-shaped thing on the table, and threw the switch home.
The fury of the storm centered on the house, on this castle lifted from some venerable gothic tome. The rolls of thunder shook its foundations, the lightning played about it, seeming to enter into the room itself.
The moment passed; the time Vale had discerned was necessary to send that spark of electricity that released the energies, the power contained in the meteor. He opened the switch, breaking the connection.
At that moment the heavens hushed their anger, perhaps in awe of what Prof. Vale had done.
Slowly, Vale removed the gloves, finger by finger, and lifted the goggles from his face. Slowly again he approached the manlike thing on the table. He removed the clips from the contacts and let them fall. He took the stethoscope which hung ready round his neck and fitting the ear buds in place set the disc upon a surface just above the power compartment.
There was a steady hum from inside, and a faint rhythmic sound that grew stronger over a minute before settling to a steady beat.
Vale chuckled as he thought again of the words of Mary Shelley:
“I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”
“[He] saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”
And this he saw happen now before him, on this table. Ah, but his man was not stitched together of portions from cadavers; not a patchwork of rotted flesh whose several parts would reject each other.
This was a man of metal.
All except the brain; “the brain of a dead man,” Clive had said, “waiting to live again in a body I made with my own hands... with my own hands!”
In the movie Frankenstein’s bungling assistant had provided the brain of a criminal. Frankenstein didn’t know that until it was too late. But Vale had wanted the brain of a criminal; it better suited his purposes. That’s why he had hired Deagan to do what he had done.
That’s why he had wanted Deagan to bring him John Corben.
What remained of John Corben’s body had become one with the acid solution in the giant vat.
But his brain!
His brain now rested in the titanium skull of the metal man that lay before his creator.
The limbs had ceased their initial convulsions and subsided into rest. One arm, the one nearest Vale, hung now at the side, but the hand flexed as though trying itself, so he didn’t concern himself with it. The eyes were open, their strange yellow tint subsiding into a softer brown. The features were classically handsome; no flattened head or Neanderthal brow, no scars or fastening clips or neck electrodes to mar the look of a human.
The chest and arms even sported what seemed natural hair, that of the chest helping obscure the small hatch to the meteor chamber. If anyone saw it they’d probably think it was the scar from a war wound, which the metal man could boast about, while sneering inwardly that such a thing was now impossible for him to receive.
Prof. Vale leaned over his creation, admiring his own handiwork.
He didn’t notice the free arm, which slowly rose behind his back. But he felt the grip of the hand when it tightened on his throat.
Neither Henderson nor Superman ever laid a hand on him, but the Inspector’s steady pressure and relentless questioning, plus Superman’s mighty figure occasionally driving an impatient fist into his palm soon broke him. Not quite enough, however.
“Yeah, OK; I had a fight with the Collins guy. Me an’ him like the same girl.”
“Yeah.” Deagan chuckled. “I roughed him up pretty good. That musta learned him, ‘cause Holly hasn’t seen him no more.”
“Because you killed him,” Superman said.
“Did I? Prove it. Ya gotta have a corpse delicious, don’t ya?”
“A corpus delecti,” Henderson corrected, knowing the Latin was lost on Deagan. “We might have him at that.”
Deagan glanced up in alarm before he masked it.
“Or maybe we’ve just got what’s left of him,” Henderson pushed.
“I don’t know nothin’ about that.”
“Why were you bothering my friends Lois and Jimmy?” Superman asked, not for the first time today.
“Them reporters? I seen the cops where that car went off the road. Durn shame, you know? Anyways, I know you guys don’t like people stickin’ their noses into police business, and I thought I’d do my civic duty and shoo ‘em away for ya. Just like I saw on Andy Griffith the other night.”
None of the three in the room knew Deagan was echoing what were nearly the last words of Officers Abrams and Townsend.
“What do you know about that wreck?” Henderson said, like Superman repeating a question for what seemed the hundredth time today.
“Just what I read in the papers. Some guy named Corben was being taken to the pen to wait for The Chair. He got his a little early, that’s all. Them two cops got it too, an’ that’s too bad.”
“And you wouldn’t have had anything to do with that, would you?”
“Me? Whatcha think I done?”
Henderson gestured to Superman and the two exited the interrogation room and went into the hall. “He’s got us, Superman; all we’ve got is suspicions but no evidence.”
“And I don’t think Deagan’s bright enough to have thought of everything,” Superman replied. “He might be good a following instructions, but it’s obvious he didn’t plan any of this. Someone’s behind him, someone he’s afraid to reveal.”
“How do you suggest we find that out, put another tail on him?”
“Let me tail him this time,” Superman said. “He’ll have to go back to get his car at that bar where I picked him up. I’ll follow him from there.”
The storm had returned to its earlier wrath, and the Vulcanic thunder and blazing lightning seemed to have chosen Vale’s citadel as a sole victim. The very stones shook with it, and something was smoldering above.
But to Vale this was nothing as dangerous as the iron grip that held him.
The Man of Metal sat upright on the table, his left hand clutching the scientist by the throat. The eyes stared at him, trying and failing at recognition.
“Who are you?”
The voice was deep, but natural. It was not mechanical, nor was it a rumble from the grave. Yet it held menace.
“I --- I am Prof. Vale.”
The answer meant nothing; the Metal Man kept his grip on the professor and studied his right hand, flexing it, fisting it, and bending his arm. The muscles under what appeared to be flesh bunched as they should; the hair on the back of the arm appeared real.
But they were not his own.
“What have you done to me?”
“I saved your life,” Vale answered, feigning courage. “You should thank me.”
The Metal Man came to his feet. His legs were unsteady at first, and in catching his balance he cast Vale to the floor. The Professor’s feet scurried him away in a hurried crawl until he was out of reach. The Metal Man ignored him and within a few steps accomplished what took a newborn a year to do. He looked down at himself, a muscled body of perfect symmetry; but surely not his own. He saw as from a higher level than before, and deduced that somehow he was now taller.
He felt his arms and his chest; they felt like flesh, yet there was a hardness beneath that was surely not bone.
His mind was clouded, yet those clouds were parting and clearing. He remembered his name: John Corben. But this was not his body; not even a body of flesh and bone, though on the surface it seemed to be.
“My name is John Corben,” he said, as though to affirm it to himself.
“Yes! Yes, you are John Corben,” Vale agreed. “Or at least, you were.”
Corben reached toward Vale with hands that either pleaded or threatened; Vale wasn’t certain. “What have you done?” He brought his fist down on the operating table. “TELL ME!”
The table broke beneath his blow, crashing to the floor between them. Corben looked at the hand as though it were a stranger.
He took the wreckage of the table and lifted it; it seemed to weigh next to nothing. He raised it over his head and Vale backed away again in retreat. The Metal Man threw it against a bare wall, destroying it and cracking open the stone and mortar wall. Thunder gave it the sound of an explosion.
Corben turned again on Vale, this time astounded into quiet. “This strength; how did you give it to me? How was this done?”
“Come; you shall see.” He approached Corben and reached for his arm. “There is a mirror over here.”
Corben spied the full length mirror Vale was leading him to and shook off the professor like a fly. He stood before the mirror and examined himself.
The face that stared back was that of a stranger, and the body that of a superman.
They were not his face or his body, not those he knew. Yet the face and body was now his. It must be. When he moved his head the head in the mirror moved, and when he flexed his arms the arms in the mirror flexed.
A new face, a face no one would recognize.
And the body of a superman; the strength of a superman.
Was he, perhaps as strong as Superman? Was he perhaps even stronger?
Vale had gathered his courage again and stood at a respectful distance behind him. Corben saw him in the mirror.
“You were being transported to state prison to await execution. There was a car crash. The two police were killed; you survived.” He took a small step closer. “But you were badly injured, your body broken and useless. Yet your heart still beat, your brain still functioned.
“I had you brought here. I’ve been planning for this moment for years; most of my life, in fact.
“I transferred your brain into the titanium skull of your new body. That is, I transferred the essence of it: your thoughts and memories, your beliefs and your personality traits, your behavior; your whole mind. Your soul, if you will.” Vale hoped he was earning some points. “Your whole body, the frame on which it is built is an alloy of titanium, far stronger than any known metal. The material which covers it has the appearance and touch of flesh, but it is not. It is a compound which I created, that will resist wear and damage.
“Why? Why did you do this? And why me?”
Prof. Vale shrugged. “Because I knew it could be done; because I knew I was capable of performing such a feat.
“And why you? Because you are a criminal; because you are not bothered with morals or conscience.” Vale smiled. The shadows of the darkened vault gave that smile a sinister twist. “In that way, you are much like me.”
The Metal Man nodded. “I am a criminal. I am a murderer, did you know that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What is to stop me from murdering you right now?”
“Nothing; nothing at all. But I doubt that you will.”
Corben again studied his body. “Does this strength come from this metal frame?”
“In part; the energy supply does more.”
“Yes. If I may?” Corben gave no answer, but Vale cautiously approached then placed a hand on the Metal Man’s chest. “Here, inside a lead chamber, is a piece of meteor which I found years ago. It gives off a strange radiation, a strange kind of energy. I learned to harness that energy, and it provides the power that keeps you alive and gives you your strength.”
“Keeps me alive?”
Vale nodded. “Your body mimics heartbeat and respiration, due to mechanisms inside it. And the energy of the meteor also powers the brain which contains your life; or all that I was able to save of it.”
“Suppose I refuse this. Suppose I demand my own body back.”
Vale shook his head. “Your own body is gone; I destroyed what was left of it in that acid vat over there.”
Corben saw the vat and slowly approached it. He stood over it a long moment.
Vale recited from behind him,
“Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay
To mold me man? Did I solicit Thee
From darkness to promote me?”
Corben turned with a question on his face.
“Milton,” Vale explained. “Paradise Lost.”
Corben’s frown still held the question. “Adam’s demand of God, blaming Him for his creation. I read it in school.”
“It’s also the epigram on the title page of a certain work by Mary Shelley.” Vale smiled. “I thought you might be asking that question yourself about this time.”
“Yes. Or rather, why did you do this? You told me it’s because you could; but you said you wanted a criminal, a murderer, for your purposes. Just what are those purposes?”
“We can discuss that later. Now, think of it. You have a new body, a new face, a new life. What is the first thing you wish to do?”
Corben’s new features twisted into hate. “There are a few people I’d like to visit,” he said. His hands clenched and unclenched reflexively at his sides.
Vale nodded, that eerie smile in its shadows transforming him into a thin gargoyle. “Yes. I’d say there are at least twelve.”
“And three more,” Corben added.
Superman had followed Deagan’s car from the dive to a narrow country road. The storm was wrecking havoc along the way, and more than one tree had been felled by winds or lightning. Superman had stopped to clear roads of the debris as he went, but it was still easy to follow him.
The center of storm appeared to be a lonely spot outside of town. The road here was unpaved: dirt in dry weather and mud in rain. And this wasn’t just rain: it was nearly flooding.
Deagan’s car stopped. His wheels spun, digging themselves in deeper. Superman willed himself to halt, hovering. He dared not help him; he didn’t want Deagan to know he was being followed.
Deagan began rocking the car, forward and backward. It inched its way out of the muddy ditch that had been the road, turning as he did so. His wheels managed to find traction on the edge and he worked the steering all the way to the left, finally performing a U turn and starting back the way he came.
Superman frowned; Deagan wasn’t going to lead him to his boss. But perhaps the road he had abandoned might. Still hovering he sent his vision up the road and saw where it made its way uphill about another mile ahead. His X-Ray Vision penetrated the sheltering forest and revealed the dark pile that looked like some medieval castle from Europe. He started toward it.
Thunder shook the air around him, and a bolt of lightning worthy of Thor himself struck the house directly.
In spite of the torrent of rain the house caught fire.
The roof sunk in, and supporting timbers flamed and sagged. One fell like a giant’s torch into the library and set the carpet and the dry wood floor beneath it ablaze. The books caught next, and all the knowledge and wisdom inside them could not save them.
One of the sections set ablaze was the entrance to the underground laboratory. The heavy bookcases collapsed, blocking the entrance.
Prof. Vale heard the crash, and rushed up the steps in panicky flight. Flames licked at the rotting wood. The old stairs collapsed beneath him and he fell to the concrete floor below, debris covering him and the fires eager to have a taste of him.
Corben saw him fall and bent over him.
Deagan glanced in his rearview mirror and saw the lightning strike Vale’s stronghold. It must have struck something flammable because the roof suddenly went up in flames. He stepped on the gas. It’s a good thing he was getting away. Making that U turn back there was the right move. He was glad he wasn’t gettin’ caught when that place went up.
To blazes with the professor and whatever he had spawned in that workshop!
To blazes with the professor, Corben decided. It’s every man for himself!
Corben didn’t know if his new body was fireproof but he didn’t want to stay around to find out.
There was a slight edge to the landing which was still bare. Bending into a crouch he leaped, landing on the spot. He grabbed the nearest bookcase and pulled it aside. It broke more than it moved, but he had cleared part of a path. Punching and elbowing his way he cleared the rest.
The living room was an inferno, but Corben crossed it on the run. He felt the heat, but whatever the synthetic skin was made of it was at least fire resistant, if not fireproof. He took hold of the massive oak door and tore it free, stepping out into the savagery of the storm.
Superman had hurried to the scene, and at first had tried to quell the fire. This was beyond even his power, so he began searching for survivors to rescue. He landed on the front lawn and prepared his X-Ray Vision.
The front door was suddenly torn away from within. No fire could do that.
A man stepped out onto the porch, nearly naked, the rain falling upon him in heavy sheets, and he spread his arms and lifted his face to it as though at home standing in his own shower.
Their eyes locked a moment, and the man began to laugh. It was a loud, ringing laugh of madness and triumph.
“Who are you? Are there any more inside?” Superman called out to him.
But the man was gone; and the Man of Tomorrow caught a glimpse of a figure running away with incredible speed.
Superman had no time to concern himself with this man who had escaped so quickly if there might still be victims. He scanned the inside of the house and first found a woman, overcome with panic and desperately trying to find a way out. Then he saw a man lying unconscious in the basement.
Superman strode purposefully into the flaming house, the fires licking about him to no use. He ignored the heat and flames and continued to the back of the house.
The woman was evidently the maid or cook, and she seemed to run every place at once. She saw Superman step out of the flames like some mythic hero and it was too much for her. Superman caught her as she fainted.
He carried her as gently as possible as he found the opening in the wall of what must have been the library and leaped down into the darkened abyss. Seeing in the dark was one of Superman’s lesser abilities, but it was of good use now. He saw the man lying unconscious and took him by the coat and leaped up to the main floor again. He shifted his holds to carry them more to their own comfort.
A quick dash took him and his two human burdens across the living room and out the front door. A few quick strides to gather speed and he leaped into the air.
Deagan roared down the narrow country road, hoping no one was coming the other way. There were no lights but his headlights, and the pelting rain made their illumination all the more feeble.
A shadow appeared in front of him.
Deagan slammed on the brakes.
The headlights fell upon a large figure of a man, naked save for what appeared to be trunks, blocking his way. Deagan stared, his chin dropped to full length. The man came around the passenger side and yanked open the door, which wrenched loose from its hinges and was tossed aside. The man got in the passenger side.
“Drive,” he said.
Deagan had no intention on arguing with someone who could rip doors off cars. He drove.
“Faster. I need clothes.”
“I guess you do,” Deagan managed. “Bet you’re awful cold, out here in this storm.” He grinned at his passenger in nervous camaraderie.
His passenger looked at him a moment and chuckled. The chuckle became a laugh. The laugh grew into hysteria.
He had picked up a naked hitchhiker, a madman with the strength of Superman. Deagan hadn’t prayed since he was five, but he prayed now.
Superman had called Inspector Henderson as soon as he knew the man and the woman were being cared for in the hospital. Henderson joined him at Mercy General a few minutes later, finding him in the children’s ward. A nurse at the Emergency Room reception desk had told him where to look, but Henderson kicked himself a little at not guessing on his own.
It was a long room with a row of beds, each with a boy or girl who was about to have his or her tonsils or appendix removed. Henderson watched as Superman made the rounds of the children, shaking hands, ruffling hair, kissing cheeks, sitting for a moment to offer a word or two of comfort and courage to a child afraid of the eminent unknown. Henderson smiled as he watched, knowing that Superman often made such visits. He waited, fading back a bit to let Superman finish his visit with the last bed.
The boy was small, about six, and his parents had apparently given him a Superman hand puppet. He was showing it to his hero as Superman himself sat on a stool beside his bed.
“I go in this afternoon to have my tonsils taken out,” the boy said. “Can you come with me?”
Superman’s smile was sad as he placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I can’t promise, Lee, but I’ll tell your doctor you want your Superman puppet to come with you. That will be like having a miniature version of me watching out for you. How does that sound?”
Lee was disappointed but understood. “OK; I know you have people to save and crooks to catch.” He smiled. “Gee, that’ll be almost like having the real thing.”
Superman grinned as only he could. “And I’ll be thinking about you this afternoon, Lee, and if you want I’ll say a little prayer for you too.”
Lee brightened. “Will you? Golly, thanks Superman!”
Superman shook hands with his little fan and spotted Henderson across the room. He took one more pass through and smiled to them. “Good-bye boys and girls! And I know the doctors and nurses will take good care of you!”
Cheers and good-byes followed him as he reached Henderson and they stepped out into the hallway.
“You really have a way with children,” Henderson said. “I’ve seen you with them before, and they really take to you.”
Superman sent a wistful look back into the ward. “Spending time with them, especially here, helps me sometimes as much as it does them.” Placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder he added, “I have a doctor or two to speak to.” He smiled. “You see, I made some promises to some brave little boys and girls in there and want to make sure the doctors can follow through on them.”
“Of course. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
Henderson had just finished reading an article in National Geographic on the natives of Bora Bora when Superman returned. He rose to meet him. “It’s such a dark, cold, wet night. Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m buying.”
Superman smiled. “Of course, Inspector. Thanks.”
Eyes followed them as they went to the coffee shop off the side hall from the Emergency Room. Henderson bought two cups of coffee, grabbed some sugar, creamers, and plastic spoons and took them to the table where Superman was waiting.
He was autographing the cast on a boy’s broken arm, and the young fellow almost caused himself further injury trying to read it as he went off.
Henderson sat down and they prepared and sipped their coffee. “Not the best, but it’s hot. Now who are the two you brought in from the fire?”
“I’m not sure. But this must have been the house where Deagan was headed, and my guess is the older man is the brains behind whatever Deagan has been up to.”
“I guess Kent filled you in on Deagan; is that why you were able to save Saunders from a beating?”
“Something like that. The man is unconscious, and the woman just needed a sedative and some oxygen. She’s sleeping and they’re keeping her here overnight to be safe.”
Henderson wiped his mouth with a napkin from a holder on the table. “So I guess my best chance is to talk to her in the morning.”
Superman nodded. “There was someone else in the house, too.”
“Is he here?”
“No. He was about my size, wearing nothing but his underwear.”
Henderson gave him an ironic smile, his eyes indicating Superman’s costume.
He smiled and shook his head. “No, Inspector, not long underwear; just his boxers.”
He’d tried to keep it quiet but a couple of young nurses at the next table heard and exchanged shocked glances.
Henderson silently mused that those nurses have probably already seen more than that. To Superman he asked, “Who was he? Ever seen him before?”
“No. But there was something very strange about him.” He stared into his half-empty coffee cup, giving it a little warm-over before doing the same for Henderson’s.
“Strange? How do you mean?”
“He seemed crazed, like the fire had put him over the edge somehow. And before I could stop him he’d run off across the lawn, back toward the main road. I’ve never seen a man with such speed.”
“You mean he was so fast you couldn’t stop him?”
“He was safe; whatever his mental state, at least he had escaped the fire. I had to make sure there was no one else inside.”
“And you found the man and woman and brought them here.” Henderson finished his coffee, surprised that the last of it was hotter than the first.
“Yes. And once we finish here I’ll try to pick up his trail.”
“A big man wearing only his shorts shouldn’t be hard to find. I’ll put out an APB on him myself,” Henderson offered.
“Thanks. But tell your men not to try to take him. I have a feeling he’ll be pretty hard to handle.”
“Then what’ll I do if my men spot him?”
“Have them call you and you tell Kent. He’ll tell me.”
“What if he can’t find you in time?”
“Don’t worry; he will.”
“Yes,” Henderson said, gathering the empty coffee things, “he usually does, doesn’t he?”
The burglary report was handed to Henderson shortly after he arrived at his office the next morning. Someone had broken into the Big Men’s clothing shop on Mazurki Street. The cash registers had been broken open --- looked like a sledge hammer had been used on them --- and cleaned out. And three suits, some shirts, ties, underwear, socks, and shoes had been stolen.
Henderson frowned over the report. After issuing an APB for the thief (his second one in twelve hours) he dialed a number he knew by heart.
“Kent? Henderson. You can tell your friend Superman we are no longer looking for a big man in his shorts. I think he’s got himself a wardrobe.”
Deagan’s rented room was in a glorified flophouse that aspired to greatness by calling itself a boarding house. The place had been condemned more times than the city housing authority could count, but for whatever reason had never been demolished. It should have been, a generation or two before Deagan had even been born. But it was home; that is, it was what Deagan could afford with what was left after what little money he made was spent on his hobbies of booze and women.
The wallpaper once displayed a lovely bright rose pattern. Much of the glue had lost its stick and now you might say that was the cause of its appeal. What wallpaper remained was faded, its roses wilted into brown. His furniture consisted of an overstuffed chair which the moths sublet without payment, a mattress and frame which other moths sublet from the first moths, and a three foot square wooden box with a tiny 13” screen in its center, whose rabbit ears were bent in directions that probably should have gotten him great reception from whatever hit programs were currently broadcast on Mars. He barely got the three local stations as it was.
And now he had a houseguest.
When a man introduces himself by calmly ripping the door off your car you don’t argue with him when he says he wants to make a stop in the middle of the night during a torrential storm to pick up some clothes. Especially when the man in question isn’t wearing any to begin with.
His houseguest was sitting in the one chair wearing a shirt and one of those suits now. It fit well enough, and his features were those of a movie star. But Deagan couldn’t help but feel he was in presence of some monster right out of an old horror movie.
He had written some names on a pad and was studying it.
“I’ll be going out tonight,” the man said. “Don’t wait up.”
Deagan swallowed. “OK; I won’t.”
The man rose and looked out the tiny single window. “The storm has cleared. It should be a fine night.”
“Ahuh.” Deagan shot a glance at the pad. He’d seen or heard one or two of those names before; but where?
Henderson had called Clark to meet him at the hospital when he talked to the housekeeper. She was to be released at noon so they had to see her in the morning. Clark met him in the hospital lobby and they went to her room.
“Miss O’Connor?” Henderson asked, showing his badge. “I’m Inspector Henderson and this is my friend Clark Kent of The Daily Planet. We’d like to ask you some questions.”
Miss O’Connor looked from one to the other, her drawn lips pinching her features all the more. Then with lowered eyes she shook her head.
“I know you’ve been through quite an ordeal,” Henderson said, “but we think your employer may have been involved with a known criminal who was seen in the vicinity of his house.”
Her already large eyes widened a little but she made no answer.
Henderson made one or two more tries, keeping his patience in check, with no more luck than before. Clark saw his friend reach his exasperation limit and took his arm.
“Come outside with me a minute, Bill.” He drew the Inspector into the hallway. “She isn’t mute, is she?”
“No; the nurse assured me of that. She’s spoken with her several times, but only regarding how she feels or whether she needs anything.”
“Let me talk to her; maybe she’ll speak to me.”
Henderson hesitated. “All right. But I’ll be right here and I’ll be listening.”
“That’s exactly what I hoped you’d say.” Clark returned to the hospital room, his eyes and smile warm with sympathy. Miss O’Connor was sitting up as she was before and watched him with the same anxiety as before.
Clark pulled up a wooden visitor’s chair and sat by her bed. “I hear you’re being released at noon.” She regarded him with silence, but he thought her look may have lost some of its fear. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to get home.”
She turned away and he saw nightmare come onto her face.
“Were you living in that house where Superman rescued you?”
It was a long time before she turned to him and gave a slight nod.
“I see. Then you may need to stay somewhere else for a while.”
Her look was questioning.
“Miss O’Connor, I’d like to help you. I have some friends who might be able to help you too. We may find a place for you to stay until you’re ready.”
“I don’t like charity,” she said, setting her lips as though she regretted having spoken.
“This won’t be charity. We may even be able to find you another job.”
She studied him with suspicion. “Why? Why would you do this?”
“Because I want to help you. My friend the Inspector wants to help you, too. And I’m sure if I spoke to my other friends they’d offer help too.”
“Why? You don’t know me.”
“But you’re in trouble, and we want to help. You were the housekeeper in that great old mansion, weren’t you?”
She nodded then harrumphed. “Great old mansion indeed. More like a horror house.”
“A horror house?”
Her lips set again. “I said too much.”
“Are you afraid of your employer?”
She didn’t need to make any expression or gesture to affirm his question.
“He can’t hurt you. The doctors say he’s in a coma and don’t know when or if he’s coming out of it.”
“Just the same, I won’t say more.”
Clark put his hand on hers. “That’s all right. You don’t have to say anything more.”
She started to pull away but stopped. “Are you sure?”
“Yes; we’ll make sure he doesn’t hurt you. And I’ll talk to my friends and see if they can help. Would you like that?”
The pause was not anywhere near as long before she nodded. “Thank you.”
Clark rose. “I’ll come back this afternoon when you’ve been released, if you’d like, and maybe one or more of my friends can come.”
She gave the first smile she had probably given in a long time. He patted her hand and returned to the hallway where Henderson was waiting.
“You heard?” he asked.
“Yes,” Henderson answered as they started down the hall. “A horror house. Just what was that old gentleman up to? And who or was the man Superman saw escape the fire?”
“I don’t know, Bill, but I think we’ll be hearing from him again soon.”
Henderson gave his permission if Clark could find someone to take her in. Clark called Lois first and got her at the office. He told her the situation.
“I’d like to, Clark, but don’t think I can right now.” Lois had her own plans in mind and wasn’t sharing them with her rival. “Jimmy’s here, do you want to ask him?” When he answered “yes” she handed the phone to Jimmy.
“Golly, Mr. Kent. I’ll have to ask my mom first. But if she works as a housekeeper, maybe mom might like the help.”
“Thanks, Jim. I’ll be right here at this pay phone.” He gave the number. “Call me after you’ve talked to her.”
Henderson had used another pay phone to call headquarters. When Clark was done he told him, “Just got off the phone with my aide. He hasn’t heard anything from the men we’ve got trying to track the guy Superman saw. It’s too bad Superman didn’t give us a description.”
“Hmmm,” Clark mused, “I should have thought of that.”
“What’s that, Kent?”
“Nothing, Bill. Yes, it is too bad Superman didn’t tell you anything more than he did. I’m sure he got a clear look at his face.”
“Yes, it’s not like Superman to forget a detail like that.”
Jimmy called back on the pay phone and told Clark his mom had OK’d taking Miss O’Connor in at least for a couple of days.
“Thanks, Jimmy. I’ll let Miss O’Connor know.”
Clark arranged to pick up Mrs. Olsen and bring her to the hospital. Miss O’Connor was quickly won over by Jimmy’s mother’s kindness and Clark drove them home.
Once Miss O’Connor was seen into Mrs. Olsen’s care Clark drove to the ruined house. Henderson had given him the address (not knowing Clark didn’t need it) and asked to join him there.
In daylight the damage looked worse than the night before, especially to his super-eyes. The officer at the door had been given orders to let him in after showing his press pass and Clark entered. “He’s downstairs, Mr. Kent,” the officer informed him.
“Thanks.” Clark entered, hands casually in pockets, hiding that he was already familiar with the house. “Inspector?” he called.
“Down here, Kent,” Henderson’s voice came from below.
A crude ramp from some scrap timber had been fashioned to replace the destroyed stairs and Clark feigned caution making his way down.
“Quite an interesting setup down here, Kent,” Henderson said.
As Superman he hadn’t taken time to look around, anxious to get the old man and Miss O’Connor to safety. Now he surveyed the chamber and it resembled the cellar of some gothic manse.
“It looks straight out of a horror film,” he said. “You think that’s what Miss O’Connor was talking about?”
“That’s my guess. Look at this.” He waved his hand at a large piece of apparatus, damaged by the fire and stained with smoke but obviously some powerful engine.
“Any idea what it is?”
“Not for sure. I’ve asked Prof. Lucerne to take a look at it and he promised to come after his classes are over for the day.”
“Have you identified the owner of the house?”
Henderson took out a pocket notebook. “I had the address checked through the city records. His name is Joseph Vale; it seems he’s a scientist of some sort.” He waved the notebook at the mysterious apparatus. “Which is obvious when you see this.”
Clark nodded. He strolled around the vault looking for details or clues, his Microscopic Vision on low serving as a magnifying glass. His attention was drawn to the large rectangular acid vat and he peered in, adjusting his vision to higher power.
The chemical was obviously some powerful acid. But some particulates were suspended in it. He concentrated on a cluster of them and resisted the impulse to gasp aloud.
“Bill, come here a moment.” When Henderson was by his side he said, “Why do you think he had this acid vat?”
“We’re trying to figure that one out. Why?”
“You see those tiny bits and pieces, those particles floating in it?”
“Yes, we’ve already taken a sample for analysis.”
“I have a feeling you’re going to find at least some of it to be bone fragments.”
“Bone fragments? What do you suspect, Kent: that he used this acid to dispose of unwanted relatives? Or maybe snoopy reporters who think they’re also detectives?”
Clark let the jibe pass; he knew his friend’s patience over this whole thing was wearing thin. “Not exactly; but I have my suspicions who it might be.”
“Oh? Where do you keep your crystal ball, Kent?” Henderson released a gruff sigh. “Sorry, Kent; this case is getting to me. There’s just too many twists and turns. First those two cops and Corben dying in that crash, then Deagan’s interest in the wreck, then this fire after Deagan was seen nearby.”
“I know; it’s a puzzle to me too,” Clark admitted. “But I think there are still some more parts to it that we haven’t found.”
Mel Peters was batching it that night or he might not have been the only victim.
His wife was at her friend’s house. It was bridge night, girls’ night, and Mel was only too happy to have the house to himelf. He sat with his feet up (something Joan Peters would never allow) drinking beer and munching potato chips while watching the game, three other things she wouldn’t have allowed if she had been home.
The door crashed open and the bowl of chips on his lap spilled to the floor. The can of beer dropped from his hand and poured its contents over them.
Joan was going to be mad.
That was the last thing Mel Peters thought in this life.
The next morning Clark had just finished typing the story of the investigation of the fire at Vale’s mansion when Lois and Jimmy came in.
“Well, good morning you two,” he said. “How are Miss O’Connor and your mom getting along, Jimmy?”
“Swell. Except Miss O’Connor insisted on making breakfast this morning and I made the mistake of saying I liked her waffles better than mom’s.”
“Yes,” Clark said chuckling, “you’ve got to watch yourself with remarks like that.” He remembered the first time he tasted Lana Lang’s cooking when they were teenagers and the slip of the tongue that got him the silent treatment from Sara Kent for a day or two. “And just what brings you by?”
“Things have been just a little too boring around here,” Lois said. “At least for some of us. Mr. White has me covering the flower show this afternoon.”
“And he wants me to take the pictures,” Jimmy added.
“I’m sure you’ll flavor it with your usual dramatic touch,” Clark said. “I’m anxious to read it.”
“Very funny, Mr. Kent,” Lois said. “And meanwhile you get to cover a murder trial, a car wreck that kills the murderer, and a house fire where Superman rescued the two residents.”
Clark adjusted his glasses. “I’m sure Mr. White will let you have a turn at the next round of murder and mayhem. Frankly, I’d rather be covering the flower show than this.”
Lois was quiet a moment. “I guess you’re right when you put it that way.”
Henderson came in. “Kent! There was a murder last night.”
“A murder? Who was it?” Clark asked. His two friends also listened with shocked faces.
“Mel Peters. Does the name ring any bells?”
“Mel Peters. Wait, wasn’t he one of the jurors at Corben’s trial?”
“That’s right. His door was broken down by someone with tremendous strength. And Peters himself... well I won’t describe what was done to him, Miss Lane; not with you present.”
“Who do you think did it?” Clark asked. “Do you have any leads?”
“There were plenty of fingerprints,” Henderson said. “It seemed like whoever did it didn’t care if we found them. So far there are no matches.”
“Can you provide me some samples?” Clark asked. “I’ll send them to my friend Craig Roberts at the FBI.”
“I was just going to ask you to do that.” He reached in a pocket and pulled out a small envelope. “Here they are.”
“Meanwhile I received another visit from Miss Vine. She brought a picture of Ben with her this time.” He brought the photo from another pocket.
Clark examined it. It was a photo of Ben and Holly, and he could estimate the missing man’s height. “Bill, have you noticed something about this?” he handed it back.
“What do you mean?”
“About how tall would you say Holly Vine is?”
“I dunno; I guess about five-three, five-four.”
Clark nodded. “And how tall would you say Ben is, judging from that photo?”
“About six feet, give or take.”
“And well built too. Does his general size remind you of someone else?”
Henderson resisted getting angry over his friend playing detective again. “All right, who?” then in taking another look he answered it himself. “Wait a minute: he’s about the size of John Corben!”
“Corben? The man who died in the car accident? The one who was on his way to the electric chair?”
“The very same,” Clark said.
“Wait a minute; you don’t think somehow Ben Collins died in that car crash and Corben survived?” Henderson’s frustration level rose a notch.
“I’m just suggesting the possibility.”
“And you think our friend Deagan may have something to do with it?” Lois asked.
“It would explain his interest,” Clark said.
Lois frowned a moment. “Oh, I just remembered something. Jimmy, there was that thing we had to do; remember? You promised to help me.”
“Yes, and we’d better hurry.” She hustled him out the door.
“What do you think that was about?” Henderson asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll bet it lands Lois and Jimmy in trouble.”
Clark’s guess was right; they wouldn’t be Lois and Jimmy otherwise. A few minutes later they were in Lois’ car.
“What did you mean, Miss Lane? I got it that you wanted to go somewhere but where are we going?”
“Mr. Kent thinks Deagan is the key to all this, and I think so too. I think I found his address.”
“And we’re going to see him?”
“I’d rather not...”
“We can’t let Mr. Kent get all the glory. Maybe Deagan will give us a clue of some kind.”
“Do you think Deagan killed that Peters guy?”
Lois’ answer was grim. “He may have, Jim.”
“And you want to get his confession?”
“Or maybe something that will tie him to Corben and show why he might have done it.”
“All right. I don’t look forward to seeing him again. But promise me one thing?”
“If he’s at home let’s not go in.’
Lois grinned. “You’ve got it, Jim.”
He wasn’t at home and the door was locked. Even our two intrepid reporter friends didn’t want to stoop to breaking and entering so they left.
But they didn’t leave without being seen.
Deagan had been sitting at the bar for some time nursing a beer before Holly finally showed up.
“Hey, what’s kept ya?” Deagan greeted her. “Tom pours a good beer, but he ain’t as pretty as you.” He tried to reach for her and she avoided him.
“Leave off, will ya Bull?” She started toward a table to wipe it.
“That’s no wait to treat me,” Deagan said, grabbing her arm.
“And that’s no wait to treat a lady!” a voice said behind him.
Deagan turned. It wasn’t Superman; it was the... the monster from Vale’s basement.
But he didn’t look like a monster. Vale had selected his features as beautiful, and indeed he was classically handsome. Holly’s mouth opened in surprise as she surveyed his face and form. She liked what she saw.
The newcomer took Deagan by the shoulder and moved him aside. Deagan stumbled against a table and slid to the floor.
“He isn’t a gentleman, is he?” the newcomer asked.
“Th---thanks for helping me,” Holly said, already suddenly wary of the stranger. “You didn’t have to be that rough on him, though,”
“That’s all right. Deagan’s a friend of mine. He’ll understand.” He glanced at Deagan who nodded in frightened agreement.
“John...” he stopped himself and then smiled at the name that came to mind. “Metalo. John Metalo.”
“Sounds foreign,” Holly said.
“Yes, you might say that. I’ve got to say something to my friend here.”
“All right. Can I get you anything?”
“No; I never drink... beer.” He hustled Deagan outside. “I saw those two reporters you were telling me about. They were nosing around your place.”
“Olsen and the Lane broad?”
Metalo nodded. “They didn’t see me or get in. But they might get wise. I’d better find another place to hang out.”
Deagan hoped he was covering his relief. “OK, if you say so.”
“I’ll find a place then get in touch with you.”
Ya don’t hafta, Deagan thought. “OK.”
Metalo grinned at Deagan, who grinned back. When Metalo was gone Deagan wiped the sweat from his brow and went back in.
He went back to his beer and drained it. “Give me another!” he called to Holly, who took his glass back for a refill.
“Who was that guy Metalo?” she asked. “He gives me the creeps.”
“Me too, sugar, me too.” He downed half his second beer without a breath.
“I’ve seen some rough customers around here,” Holly said, “but he takes the cake. Something tells me he ain’t quite human.”
“Baby, you got that right.” Deagan gulped the rest of his beer.
“Where’s the dark alley where you first met up with him?” Holly asked. “So’s I can avoid it, that is.”
“Sister, the less you know the better.”
Metalo had no intention of lingering; he had business to do. He started to hail a cab then laughed at his own stupidity. “You fool; you can run there faster than any cab!” He started in a jog, then in a trot, and finally a full run. Miles flew behind him. He exulted in his new power. I wish Superman would take a hand in this. Yeah, I’d like to get my metal hands on him!”
A vicious laugh that was rapidly becoming part of him accompanied his race to his destination: the second name on his list.
Deagan wasn’t too far gone to think, at least as far as his limited brain capacity allowed. He’d made a copy of Metalo’s list when the later was out of the room. He pulled it from his pocket. The first name, Mel Peters, he’d seen just that morning. Where was it? “Holly! You gotta paper around here?”
She brought him a Daily Planet and though it was today’s edition there were enough sweat rings, stains and smudges for a week’s wear. But he found what he was looking for and his lips formed the words as he read them.
Melvin J. Peters, [the article said] recent juror on the murder trial of John Corben, was found murdered last night. His wife, Joan, found the body after coming home from her weekly bridge game. The murderer had to have been someone of great strength, due to the nature and extent of the injuries.
Deagan stopped there; his head hurt. But he knew just what they meant when they talked about the murderer’s apparent strength: it was Metalo, he was sure of it. He’d seen and felt for himself what the man who called himself Metalo could do, and imagined what he probably did to Peters.
He looked at the list again. The next name was Arthur Tweed.
Metalo was probably on his way to Tweed’s now. He dug in his pocket for a dime and knocked over a chair on the way to the pay phone. The buzz in his head and the sweat soaking his palms made him fumble as he dropped the coin in the slot. He dialed the operator. “Operator? Get me the Daily Planet. I wanna talk to that reporter Kent.”
Clark was just about to leave when his phone rang. “Yes?”
“You have a call, Mr. Kent,” Miss Bachrach said.
“Who is it?”
“He won’t give his name,” she said with indignant disapproval.
“Put him through anyway, please. Thanks.” He imagined accurately her “Hmmph!” as she made the connection. “Clark Kent here. Who is this, please?”
“You don’t know me, Kent. But I gotta tip. That juror guy, Tweed; he’s in trouble. They say you know how ta get aholda Superman. If ya can, ya better hurry before it’s too late.”
“Hello? Who is this?” The phone had clicked silent before he started asking and the dial tone mocked his delay.
There was no time to lose. Locking the door he removed his outer clothing and in seconds Superman was a red and blue streak leaping through Clark’s office window and heading for the home of Arthur Tweed.
Superman had long ago memorized the Metropolis phone directory and knew where virtually everyone in the city lived. It only took him seconds to reach Tweed’s quiet suburban home.
The suddenly truncated scream from within proved him too late. He crashed through the window into a scene of carnage.
In he midst of it stood a man, about his own size, with the form and features of a demigod but still radiating pure evil. He knew instantly who he was.
“You’re the one I saw fleeing Prof. Vale’s!”
“The very same. There was no time for introductions then; but since I’ve already finished my work here, allow me to introduce myself now. I call myself Metalo.”
“Whatever you call yourself this is the last murder you’re going to commit!”
Metalo stood in the center of the room, daring Superman to attack.
The Man of Tomorrow swung a hard blow to Metalo’s chin. It rocked him, but Superman’s own fist ached as well. Metalo’s laugh was mocking, and Superman swung again harder. Metalo staggered back, but still stood.
“Is that the best you’ve got, Superman?” he challenged. “C’mon, you don’t have to pull your punches with me. I’m sure not gonna.”
Metalo weighed in, giving Superman two quick blows.
Superman was knocked back against the wall, stunned by the power of Metalo’s fists. He ducked the next punch and the wall behind him was shattered. He aimed a punch at Metalo’s mid-section and while it doubled him up a moment his opponent responded with a haymaker that sent Superman through the opening and out onto the lawn, sprawling on his back.
Metalo was on him in a moment, raining lefts and rights to his jaw.
Superman, even as a boy, had never felt pain from the blows of another; but this time he did. He grasped Metalo by the shoulders and shoved with all his strength, throwing his attacker several yards away.
They both rose, facing each other in crouched positions.
“You’re probably wondering why I can take anything you dish out, right Superman? That’s because I’m made of metal. A new alloy of titanium; at least that’s what the good Prof. Vale told me.”
“Vale? That’s why you fled from his house when I saw you,” Superman said.
Metalo gave a contemptuous laugh. “Not because I was afraid of you, that’s for sure.” He grinned. “But I had places to go and things to do.” He jerked his head toward the house. “This was one of them. And I wonder if you’ve figured it out yet?”
“Your victims were the jurors on the Corben trial.” Superman took Metalo’s grinning nod as his answer. “What do you have to do with Corben?”
Metalo looked like he was going to answer but gave a short bark of a laugh instead. “No, I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.”
Superman rushed him, hoping to wrestle him apart; but Metalo broke the hold and threw Superman back down.
Superman found himself out of breath; another entirely new sensation. Yet Metalo seemed as fully vigorous as ever.
“I never tire, Superman.” He tapped his chest. “Vale put a piece of some kind of meteor in me. That’s my battery, you might say; that’s what powers me.”
“Then... you’re a robot?”
“More than a robot, Superman. My body is metal, but my brain is a human one. Can you guess which human?”
His victory laugh echoed behind him as he ran off.
Superman stood and started to follow, but decided discretion was the greater part of valor; at least for now.
Because if nothing else, Metalo had revealed his agenda.
“In all my years on the force,” Inspector Henderson said, “I’ve never seen anything as gruesome as this.” The bloody remains of Tweed and his unfortunate family were strewn about the living room.
More than one member of the forensics team and a rookie patrolman had already been sickened at the sight. Henderson and Superman had stepped outside to avoid the sight and let the team finish.
“I’ve felt some of his power myself, Inspector,” Superman said. “He’s a man of metal; which is why he chose the name Metalo.”
“And he’s the mysterious fugitive from Vale’s mansion?”
“Yes. And it sounds like Vale created him somehow.”
Henderson frowned. “You mean like some kind of Frankenstein?”
Superman nodded. “That’s what it sounds like, if what Metalo told me was the truth. It seems too fantastic to be true.”
“More fantastic that the sole survivor of a lost planet, fighting crime on Earth?” Henderson countered.
Superman acknowledged Henderson’s point with a shrug. “Guess you’re right. Has Vale awakened from his coma?”
“Not yet. Maybe we can get some information from the O’Connor woman.”
Superman had a sudden thought. “I hope we haven’t put Jimmy and his mother in danger by having Miss O’Connor stay with them.”
“How did you know she was there?”
“Kent must have told me.”
“Well, I don’t think this Metalo knows she’s there. At least I hope not.”
The old abandoned mine was in the foothills just outside of Metropolis. Metalo --- that is, John Corben --- had grown up around here and often played in and around the mine. As he sat on the stone seat he and his playmates had used all those years ago, he smiled that his old hideaway had now become his refuge so much later.
His childhood had been rough; a drunken father who had driven off his wife when John was about five and had taken his anger out on the son. John had learned to be tough and to fight back before he was ten. But many a time he had run here, bruised and sore, to the shelter of this cave.
That was another lifetime; literally another lifetime. John Corben was dead; yet he lived on in Metalo.
Metalo frowned. Which was he? Was he John Corben or Metalo?
It didn’t matter. If he was John Corben in a metal body, he now had the power to achieve his revenge. And Metalo was the instrument of that revenge.
He smiled as he remembered his tussle with Superman. The Man of Steel, they call him. Hmmph. He was made of some kind of steel himself; and whatever that rock was in his chest that gave him such enormous strength. He’d beaten Superman in fact; put him down for the count. And if he had to, he’d do it again. In fact, he was looking forward to it.
When Superman arrived in Clark Kent’s apartment he dialed a familiar number on the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Olsen? This is Clark Kent.” He carefully used the slightly quicker and more casual tone of Kent in speaking with her. “I know it’s late but I just wanted to make sure everything was all right there.”
“Yes, it’s fine Mr. Kent. I have to admit that Miss O’Connor is a good cook. Not quite as good as me, you understand. Oh, I hope you don’t take that as being vain or jealous.”
“No, not at all.” He was glad to have something to chuckle a little about after the horror of the evening. “Sounds like she shouldn’t have any trouble finding a job when this whole thing is over.”
“What whole thing, Mr. Kent?”
“It’s nothing to worry about, Mrs. Olsen.” At least he hoped it wasn’t. “As we said, Miss O’Connor might be an important witness for a case Inspector Henderson is investigating.”
“Yes, you said that. Well, I hope everything turns out all right.”
“So do I, Mrs. Olsen, so do I. Good night; and tell Jimmy I called.”
“I will. Good night, Mr. Kent.”
A few minutes later, Clark Kent in his pajamas lay unable to sleep. What he had said to Mrs. Olsen wasn’t a lie: he hoped it wasn’t anything to worry about. But he wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t sure at all.
Corben sat in the solitude of his cave, an exultant smile on the synthetic flesh of his face. Outside another storm raged; rainwater surged from an outcropping of rock high up on a mountain within his view. It gushed like a fountain or baby waterfall. Lightning called its brother Thunder, who answered obediently only seconds after; the storm was holding its bacchanal just over his sanctuary. But Corben --- Metalo --- saw it only as the appropriate background music for his mood; for his life now, in fact. He didn’t know if he could withstand the storm; but he had faced Superman, and beaten him! No one alive could make that claim!
He relived the battle in his mind. Superman was supposed to be so powerful; the strength of a hundred, some said. Yet they had fought almost as equals. Metalo had even seen blood and bruises appear on his opponent. He had drawn Superman’s blood! Surely no one had done that before.
Metalo examined his hands, flexing them, gathering them into fists and opening them again. These hands had defeated Superman. He didn’t even have to fear the mighty Man of Steel!
Metalo laughed, and its echo shouted approval. The Man of Steel. Wasn’t he, Metalo, also a man of steel? What had the professor called it: a titanium alloy of some kind. Yet as Corben, in his former life, he had heard of Hero, the robot built by the eccentric Prof. Hinkle. Superman had no problem defeating that robot, and had even torn him limb from limb, dismantling him. What was different about his own metallic make-up?
He touched that spot Vale had indicated on his chest. Desperate curiosity drove him to tear open his shirt.
By the flickering campfire he had built in the cave he saw the edges of the flap, made to look like a surgical scar. After pressing and pinching he found the way to open it.
He felt it; his sense of touch was enhanced as well. It was a shortened cylinder, about the diameter and depth of a can of tuna, a circle of lead in the center of his chest. What was in it? What strange material did Vale find in that meteor that gave him such great strength yet seemed to diminish Superman’s own? He felt a slight crack in the front disc of the housing, no doubt a result of his battle with Superman. Corben was no scientific genius; he had in fact nearly failed high school physics. But maybe that crack occurred early in their fight and whatever radiation the meteor produced also weakened Superman.
And if a slight crack in the housing allowed enough radiation to escape to weaken Superman, what might happen if it were opened further?
Prof. Lucerne straightened from the long time he had spent bent over the viewer of his electron microscope. He dragged the wire-rimmed spectacles from his face and squeezed his eyes tight, pinching his nose until it hurt.
He had seen that form of radiation before in his spectroscope. It was when he and his friend Prof. Roberts were studying a meteor the latter had found outside of Metropolis a couple of years before. The radiation wasn’t harmful to any ordinary human being.
But it was deadly to Superman.
Superman must be warned; and he knew of only one or two ways of contacting him. He took a note card from a locked drawer and dialed the secret number into his phone.
Clark had done his best to hide the bruises and cut lip from his battle with Metalo, and his own powers of recovery had made some progress, but there were still some remnants. He had shut his office door, hoping for some seclusion but Lois entered without knocking, followed by Jimmy.
“Golly, Mr. Kent!” He chuckled. “What’s the other guy look like?”
“Jimmy!” exclaimed Lois, joining in the fun, “are you forgetting who you’re talking to?” She turned to Clark, concern in her eyes now. “Seriously Clark, what happened to you?”
Before Clark could answer Henderson came in.
“Kent! What happened to you?” he asked.
“I was in a fight. Got the worst of it, too.” That was the truth; whether any of his friends believed it was up to them.
The looks the three tossed at each other suggested they didn’t.
“All right, don’t tell us. I’ve got important news. Remember Deagan, the guy who threatened you?”
“I’ll say I remember,” Jimmy said.
“Is he the one Superman saw near Vale’s house the night of the fire?” Clark added.
“He’s the one. Well, he turned himself in; says he wants protection from Metalo.”
“Metalo?” Jimmy exclaimed. “Who’s Metalo?”
Clark resisted the urge to answer.
“He’s the one who has been murdering the jurors at the Corben trial. Superman fought him last night.”
“And... and Metalo won?” Lois gasped.
“Superman said he’s some kind of robot, with tremendous strength.” Henderson fished into a pocket. “Deagan gave us this.” He handed a piece of notepaper to Clark.
Clark looked it over and immediately recognized the first few names. “These are the names of the jurors!”
“You mean it’s this Metalo’s hit list?” Jimmy asked. He shrugged sheepishly. “Too many gangster movies on the late show, I guess.”
“But that’s just what it is, Jimmy,” Henderson said. “Metalo has followed this in the order he has them listed.”
“Then Richard Towers is next on the list,” Clark said.
“We’ve already placed a cordon around Towers’ home. If Metalo shows up, we’ll get him.”
“Are you sure, Bill?” Clark said. “If this Metalo has already fought Superman and is still at large, do you think ordinary bullets will stop him?”
“We’ve got an assist from a few National Guard troops. You know I’m a captain in the Guard. And we’ll have grenades, bazookas, and flame throwers to use on him if we have to.”
“I hope it works,” Clark said. He handed back the note and rubbed one of his bruises. “I’d better tend to these; Bill, good luck tonight.” Excusing himself, Clark left.
“I’d better go too,” Henderson said. “I want to make sure we trap this Metalo, whatever he is.” He went to the elevator.
Lois put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. “Let’s follow him, but keep out of sight.”
“Who, Mr. Kent or Inspector Henderson?”
“Inspector Henderson. While Clark’s off licking his wounds, we can get the exclusive story on the capture of Metalo.”
A moment later Clark’s phone rang to an empty office.
At her desk Miss Bachrach switched lines. “Prof. Lucerne? I’m sorry but Mr. Kent isn’t answering. Would you like me to take a message?”
“Tell Mr. Kent I need to talk to Superman right away. It’s a matter of life or death; especially for him!”
Miss Bachrach stifled her sigh and scribbled on her notepad. “I’ll tell him, professor.” She hung up. The nerve; saying it meant life or death for Superman. Superman couldn’t be killed. Who was this nutty professor anyway? The call had come just as she had heard the door of the Store Room open; again. Before she could check on it the phone rang. But Miss Bachrach was determined (stiff-necked stubborn, some would say) to solve the Mystery of the Store Room someday. She took the note to Clark’s office and left it on his desk.
It was night; the first night in a while without a thunderstorm. Henderson’s men plus about a half dozen National Guardsmen were concealed in and around several houses in Towers’ neighborhood. The neighborhood had been cleared; Towers and his family went first and then everyone else was cleared.
Lois and Jimmy were also concealed at a point from which they saw Towers’ house. Jimmy had his camera, ready to photograph Metalo; if he came.
There was what seemed at first a familiar whoosh and thud of feet; but it wasn’t Superman. Metalo had leaped into the middle of the street.
At a command from Henderson his men opened fire. Bullets tore at Metalo’s clothing, but bounced harmlessly off him. He staggered a little at the impact at first, but his face twisted into rage and he advanced upon a cluster of Henderson’s sharpshooters.
It seemed no one could withstand the barrage from the automatic rifles they were using, but Metalo not only did but he reached the emplaced men and tore the rifles from their hands, crushing the barrels like so much lead pipe. The riflemen ran and Metalo threw their ruined weapons after them.
The Guardsmen made the next attempt. Two grenades fell at Metalo’s feet; he seemed frozen to the spot, unable to flee.
The grenades exploded; the street ripped itself into fragments and cast them into the air. Smoke and dust dirtied the air. Henderson and his aides ducked for cover as debris sailed toward them. Lois and Jimmy also sought refuge in their car.
The dust settled. A great pit, like a sinkhole, had been blown into the earth by the explosion. There was no sign of Metalo; Henderson felt about in the dark for some of the remains, hoping something metallic might be among them, parts of the thing who called himself Metalo.
A hand grasped the edge of the pit and with one mighty effort hauled its owner back to the surface.
It was Metalo; his clothing only tatters now, and nicks in his skin exposed some of the metal beneath.
A final order from Henderson; this was the last weapon in their arsenal.
A missile fired from a bazooka rocketed toward him. Metalo didn’t chance this attempt and leaped straight up in the air.
The missile sailed beneath him and struck one of the houses further down the block, sending it instantly into flame.
Metalo landed near the crater again with a heavy thump. If a robot could be said to stare murder at someone, Metalo did at that moment. And his eyes were on Inspector Henderson.
The whoosh of another approaching figure and Superman appeared. All eyes were on him as he landed on the roof of the house that was now blazing, and with three or four huge super breaths blew it out.
Metalo watched as Superman leaped to face him. They didn’t waste any time before starting to pound each other again. But Superman’s blows now had purpose: he struck repeatedly at the center of Metalo’s chest. The synthetic flesh covering the power source ripped under his blows and the lead cover beneath appeared. There was already a crack in it; Superman grasped it and tore it away to get at the meteor beneath.
He cried out and staggered back. Metalo was as surprised as anyone to see him stumble and fall on his back.
“Kryptonite!” Jimmy whispered to Lois. “Metalo’s secret is Kryptonite!”
The stone of power now revealed was easily visible. It glowed in the darkness, with a faint green tinge. The radiations almost had the appearance of the beam of a lantern, shining its pale green rays directly upon Superman.
Metalo recovered quickly from his shock and straddled Superman, raining blows on him left and right.
“No! No, you’re killing him!”
“Wait, Miss Lane! Come back!”
Lois ran from their hiding place and began desperately raining blows of her own on Metalo’s back with her little fists. They had no more effect than an annoying gnat, but it distracted Metalo enough that Superman got in one mighty punch that threw him off before collapsing again.
Metalo recovered quickly and came to his feet. He saw Superman lying helpless; but he also saw Lois, someone even more helpless, and an idea curled a grin onto his face. As Superman tried wearily to sit up Metalo grabbed the unconscious Lois and leaped off with her.
“After him, men!” Henderson commanded. “But be careful of Miss Lane!”
“No!” Superman attempted to call out. “It’s no use.” He struggled to his feet, clamping shut his eyes and breathing deeply, shaking his head which did more harm than good and attempting futilely to shrug off the pain that still coursed through his body. “You can’t stop him; more lives may be lost needlessly.” He straightened, balled his fists beside him, gathered what strength he had left, and took his familiar running leap...
Which only landed him a few feet from his starting point. Henderson and another officer rushed to his side and supported him.
“You’re in no condition to follow him, Superman,” Henderson said. “Whatever that monster did to you, you need time to recover.”
“But Miss Lane!” Superman managed between gasps.
“We can only pray he won’t harm her.” But Henderson feared the worst as much as Superman did.
A car started up nearby.
“Who was that?” an officer asked.
Henderson and Superman exchanged frightened glances. “If Miss Lane was here,” Henderson said.
Superman nodded. “Jimmy Olsen must have been with her.”
Jimmy could see Metalo leaping through the air. The robot, or whatever he was, wasn’t following any particular road, but Jimmy kept him in sight as best he could. He’d seen all the firepower Henderson had mustered, and Superman himself fail to harm Metalo. But he had to see where he had taken Miss Lane!
The road was bordered by trees on both sides. It was an old unpaved country road, cut through this forest probably at the time of Jimmy’s grandfather; or maybe even great-grandfather. Untrimmed branches tapped and felt of the car along the way. They had in part prevented the road from becoming a muddy mess, and Jimmy didn’t have to worry about mud.
A siren was approaching from behind. The Inspector had sent one of his cars after him. Jim floored it; he might get a ticket, or he might lose his pursuer.
He glanced in his rear view mirror. The lights of the car were well behind him, but the siren still sent its shrill command to halt. He ignored it and scanned the skies until he saw Metalo again. He was bearing off to the right.
There was a fork ahead. Jimmy killed his lights and took the right fork. It was a narrow country road. He hoped no one was coming the other way. There were no lights, only the occasional afterthought of a reflector. And with no headlights on, he scraped against one without seeing it.
When he believed he was far enough ahead that the police didn’t see him he switched on the lights again.
The road was narrower than he thought. He prayed it was one way; and in the direction he was going. He glanced up ahead again at the sky. Metalo arced across again; and once more, angling a bit further to the right.
Then he must have stopped.
Jimmy found a small bare space along the side and pulled to a stop. He cut the engine and lights and turned on the dome light. In the glove box was a flashlight. He thumbed the switch and sighed a thanks that the batteries were still good.
When he got out of the car he took his bearings; Jimmy’s old Boy Scout training took over and he began the hike through the woods. He held the flashlight down, illuminating the ground to avoid creepers, above-ground roots, and fallen debris. He went so far and stopped, checked his bearings again and forged ahead.
The woods did not continue as far as he thought. He began to see a clearing ahead, a large one. The faces of cliffs and mountains began to show through their camouflage of leaves and limbs.
Jimmy stopped at the edge of the woods and knelt behind a large oak. This must be where Metalo went. But there was no cabin or other structure around. Had he missed him?
Wait; what was that? Jimmy played his flashlight on what appeared a man-made arch into the side of one of the mountains. It looked like an old tunnel of some kind; a cave or a mine.
He angled the flashlight away from the opening. If Metalo is in there Jimmy didn’t want him seeing the gleam. He searched the ground between his spot and the mine entrance. If he kept to the margin of the trees and edged along the wall of the mountain he’d reach the mine entrance and perhaps hear what was going on inside.
Jimmy wished now that he hadn’t eluded the police; he could use their help right about now. That’s what I get for trying to play hero, Jimmy told himself; not for the first time. And surely it wouldn’t be for the last. At least he hoped not.
Drawing in a deep breath of courage he made his way to the side of the mountain. He kept the flashlight off; there was enough moonlight to see his way. Slow steps sidled him along. It seemed to take days; it seemed he had been making this trek toward the mine all his life. It seemed he’d never known anything but the night, the mountain, and the mine entrance that had to have been miles away. But he finally came up beside it.
He stood, fearing even his breath was too loud. He heard the murmur of voices inside but couldn’t make them out. He inched around the upright to the mine entrance and peered in. He could hear Metalo’s voice but still not what he was saying. Jimmy flattened himself against the wall just inside and cautiously sidled in. He kept his flashlight off.
His foot struck a stone which sounded like a boulder as it rolled. He stood stock still, not daring to move.
Heavy footsteps came toward him. Jimmy froze.
“Ah, if it isn’t young Olsen. Come to save the beautiful Miss Lane, I presume?” Metalo’s face showed signs from the battering by Superman’s fists. Parts of his metal skull showed through torn patches of synthetic flesh.
Metalo took him by the belt and carried him further into the mine like he was a ten pound sack of potatoes. He dropped him next to Lois.
“Jimmy! Are you all right?”
“Hello, Miss Lane.” He felt of himself; everything was there, but some parts hurt. There was a fire in the center of the chamber. Metalo sat upon a stone seat across the fire from them.
“Now maybe you’ll answer my questions,” Metalo said. “How did Henderson know who was next on my list?”
“Miss Lane wouldn’t tell you no matter what you do to me,” Jimmy boasted. In a much less certain voice he asked her, “You wouldn’t, would you?”
“She doesn’t need to,” Metalo said. “I’ll bet you know the answer just as well, don’t you Mr. Olsen?”
“What if I did?” Jimmy regained his bravado, though with a croak in its voice.
“One way we can find out,” Metalo said. He lifted Lois like a doll and held her. “If you know the answer, tell me; or I’ll do something to Miss Lane that neither one of you will like.”
“Don’t tell him, Jim!” Lois pleaded.
“Ah, so you do know!” Metalo exulted. He gave Lois’ waist a slight squeeze. The reporter cried out in pain.”
“No! Don’t hurt her!” Jimmy cried. “I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
Metalo eased up a little. “Well?”
“A guy named Deagan had a list he said he copied from you. It’s the names of the jurors in the Corben case.”
Metalo nodded. “I see. So Deagan has betrayed me. What else has he said?” He gave Lois another squeeze and she groaned, trying to hold back a scream.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy said.
“Where’s Deagan now?”
“Inspector Henderson has him in jail, in protective custody.”
Metalo set Lois down more gently than she expected. “Thank you; that’s all I need to know.” He looked about him. “You know, when I was a boy I used to play in this mine. I’d run away and hide here. People said the mine was dangerous, and might cave in any time; but it never did.” He looked about at the supports: wooden, and rotted. “Funny thing about old mines though; they can stand for a century and the slightest thing might make them collapse.”
He stepped back, on the other side of the supports. “I have an errand to do. I think I’ll leave you two here until I decide what to do with you.” The grotesquerie of his Satanic grin was worsened by the exposed metal of his skull. “Unless you both simply cooperate and smother to death.” He gripped the supports and with an echoing laugh tore them from their place.
The roof above the supports collapsed, rock and dust filling the space. They were closed in. Even through the wall of stone they heard his mocking laugh before it retreated into the night.
The fire was on their side, and it gave light. It also gave forth smoke, which began to choke them. Coughing and gasping, Jimmy began shoveling dirt on the fire with his hands. He scraped skin from them as he did, and saw the blood start to come; but he kept shoveling until the fire was out.
“I had to do it, Miss Lane,” he said. “The fire was burning up our oxygen.” He felt about in the dark and cried “Ouch!” when his hand touched a hot ember. He continued to grope blindly.
“I know, Jimmy. What are you looking for?”
“My flashlight. Here it is!” He pressed the stud and a thin beam of light cast strange shadows on their faces. “There. At least we’ll have some light until they find us.”
“They will find us, won’t they Jimmy?” Lois asked, doubt in the question.
“Of course. Why, some of Inspector Henderson’s men followed me. I’ll be they’ll be here in a jiffy.” But the eerie spectre of his face in the dark reflected his own doubts.
When the officers realized Jimmy hadn’t taken the left fork they turned around, scraping bark from a couple of trees in the narrow road, and headed back. They made a hairpin turn onto the other road and Officer Michaels said, “Look! I’ll bet that’s Metalo!”
His partner Officer Jameson glanced up from driving and saw the figure sailing across the sky. “I don’t see any sign of the girl reporter.”
“He must’ve left her somewhere. The Olsen kid probably found them. Maybe if we follow along here we’ll find them too.”
It wasn’t much further when they spotted Jimmy’s car and pulled up behind it. The officers got out and looked around them.
“He must’ve gone into the woods from here,” Jameson said. “The question is, where?”
“Let me radio back to the Inspector and tell him where we are, Michaels offered.” “If Metalo is gone, maybe Miss Lane and Olsen are tied up somewhere.” He went back to their car.
Superman had recovered, and sat with Henderson and the others to decide what to do. “I have to find what he did with Miss Lane and Jimmy,” Superman said.
“You’re in no condition to go up against Metalo again,” Henderson cautioned. “I don’t know what force he has over you, but you’re no match for it.”
The radio in Henderson’s car buzzed. He clicked it on a pulled the mike to him. “Henderson here.”
“This is Michaels, Inspector. We’ve found Olsen’s car. We think Metalo has them prisoner somewhere nearby.”
Superman looked up as he heard.
“Any sign of Metalo himself?” Henderson asked.
“We saw him fly off; looked like he was headed toward the city.”
“Where are you?”
Michaels gave their position.
“Stay put; I’m on my way.” Henderson restored the mike to its cradle. “Care to take a ride with me, Superman?”
“A pleasure, Inspector.”
Deagan sat on the lone cot in his solitary cell, his hands clasped between his knees. But he wasn’t praying; Deagan had given that up when he was five and hadn’t gotten what he prayed for. The fact that praying for a gun to shoot his abusive father might not sit well with He Who Answered Prayers hadn’t occurred to him. He hadn’t gotten the gun, so he gave up praying.
In the long run it didn’t matter; Deagan Sr. was shot by a trigger man for a bookie as an example to others who feel too far behind on their debts.
The cot he sat upon was the only furniture, except of course for the necessary sanitary fixtures. There was a single high barred window. During part of the day the sun cast an image of vertical bands upon the opposite wall. The image first appeared near the floor in the morning, and as the day went by it slowly climbed up the wall until it vanished shortly before sunset. It was Deagan’s own private movie theater. The fact there was only one show that played day after day was of little matter to him. He enjoyed it anyhow. After all, he was safe. He was safe from Metalo.
What was that Metalo, anyway? He knew Prof. Vale had made him in his laboratory, but was he a man in armor or some robot with a human brain?
It didn’t matter. Metalo couldn’t get to him here.
Deagan’s cot sat against the outer wall of the cell, and he sat and enjoyed watching the vertically barred image make its daily journey up his wall. Some of us are easily amused.
A heavy thud shook the outer wall. What was that? Did some crazed wrecking crew swing its iron ball at the prison wall?
Another thud came. And another followed. The concussion nearly spilled Deagan from his cot, and he stumbled to his feet.
Another blow and the wall buckled inward slightly, driving the cot further. Deagan stood fascinated, unable to move his eyes from the rhythmic pounding.
A crack formed in the wall, and some small chunks littered the floor. He stepped back to avoid them.
The inmates along his corridor muttered and shouted, confusion and chaos and fright coloring their voices.
The wall shook again, and s couple splinters of stone barely missed him. He backed away further.
More murmurs and shouts, booted feet running toward his cell, responding to the ruckus, but it was only background to the show now playing before him.
The wall shuddered as stone and mortar spewed themselves into the room. A hole about three feet from the floor appeared; and there was a fist poking through.
The fist had a few shreds of what seemed flesh still adhering to it. But what was revealed underneath was not bone. It was metal.
Deagan’s cry was almost the shriek of a woman, as the wall imploded. Bits of masonry struck at him, bringing blood, but he ignored it. He pancaked himself to the opposite wall, willing himself to somehow meld with it, the vertical bars of light painting weird shadows on his face.
Metalo kicked the debris away, slammed the cot against the wall. He stood with his feet spread in the center of the cell. “Hello, Deagan.”
Deagan leaped to the door, gripped the bars and shouted desperately for help. He saw the shadows of two officers approaching, clawing their guns from their holsters on the run.
He was seized from behind, a metallic hand clamping his throat in its grip.
The officers reached his cell and stood frozen at the sight.
Metalo lifted Deagan more than a foot in the air. His cries for help were choked in his throat. His face was turned toward the guards, his eyes pled mutely yet eloquently for help.
“What is this thing,” one officer demanded, “Frankenstein?”
The officers hesitated; this man was held in protective custody. He wasn’t to be harmed. He had important information in the Metalo case...
One of the officers cursed at his partner. “Shoot him! That’s Metalo!”
The bullets brought only laughter from the metal creature. He closed his grip on Deagan’s throat.
Deagan’s head leaned at an impossible angle, his pleading eyes still staring at the helpless guards.
Metalo contemptuously threw what remained of Deagan at them. Instinctively they jumped back, as the body only struck the bars of the cell and slid to the floor.
Deagan’s dead eyes were still fixed on them, pleading giving way to reproach.
With one last mocking laugh of triumph, Metalo escaped through the entry he had made.
They drove and found Michaels and Jameson standing sentinel at Jimmy’s car.
“We think he went off in the woods, Inspector,” Jameson said.
“We don’t know.”
Superman had been scanning the area with his Super Vision. “I think I know where they are, Inspector. Follow me.” He strode off into the woods at a quick pace, yet not at Super Speed. Henderson and the two officers kept him in sight. They broke through the trees and saw the mine entrance. Superman leaped to the spot and celebrated with a deep breath of relief. He peered into the depths of the mine. “He’s sealed them inside. I don’t know how long they’ve been in there, but there’s no time to lose.”
“Superman! You sure you’re up to it?” Henderson asked.
“I’ve got to be. You men stay back here.” He entered the mine and no one felt like arguing him out of it.
He reached the barrier of rock. He’d have to open it yet inure it didn’t collapse again; perhaps this time even over them. He began digging, and with each rock and piece of rubble he cleared away he felt stronger. Soon he had an airway open.
“Superman! Is that you?” Jimmy’s voice came through.
“It’s me, Jimmy. Are you and Miss Lane all right?”
“We sure are, now that you’re here!” Lois answered.
Superman continued digging. The roof above, supported and stabilized by its own previous fall, started to groan and sag above him. There wasn’t much time to lose.
“I’ve cleared a path large enough for you to climb through. I can’t guarantee how long it’ll hold!”
Jimmy helped Lois to her feet and they made their way toward the faint light coming through the opening. He aided her through and Superman helped her the rest of the way.
The ceiling complained even more loudly.
“Come on, Jimmy; you’ve got to make it!” Superman thrust his hands at the ceiling, calling upon all his remaining strength to hold it in place. A couple of pieces of new debris fell as Jimmy made his way through. One struck him a glancing blow on the head which only hurried him along. The two reporters ran to the entrance where Henderson and his men waited.
Superman released the ceiling of the cave, and a new rockslide covered the hole he had dug and buried him as well.
“Superman!” Lois cried and would have run back into the mine if Jimmy and Henderson hadn’t restrained her.
They stood silently. Silence also came from inside the mine.
Tears started down Lois’ cheeks. Jimmy sniffed back tears from his own eyes, wrapping an arm around Lois. Henderson tried his best to stifle his own emotions; he couldn’t show his suffering in front of his men. But the two officers also stood stunned and silent, peering as did the others into the blackness of the mine for the next eternity.
There was a rumble; and another rumble. There was a sudden burst as of a dynamite blast clearing rock.
And Superman emerged from the mine, the blue and red of his uniform spotted with dirt and dust. He brushed himself off with his hand. “Hello, everyone,” he said as though arriving at some party. There were hugs (from Lois) and handshakes all around. Superman led the way back to the cars.
Any celebration of their survival was interrupted by Henderson’s car radio. He unclipped the mike and thumbed the switch. “Henderson.”
There was a stunned silence as Henderson’s features reflected the shocking news. Superman and the others exchanged furtive glances, knowing it wasn’t good. The Inspector put a hand over the mike and faced the others.
“Deagan is dead. Metalo broke into his cell and killed him.” His instinct was to order a pursuit, but the sight of Superman and memory of what he had seen with his own eyes only scant hours before brought sense into play. He uncovered the mike. “There’s nothing you can do; pursuing him would be a needless waste of life. Just keep me informed; I’m heading back to the station.” He replaced the mike in its cradle.
“You did right, Inspector,” Superman said. “Even I don’t want to tangle with him any time soon.”
“I don’t blame you one bit,” Lois said.
“What about the rest of the names on Metalo’s list?” Superman asked.
“I’ve already made plans for their safety,” Henderson said. “I’m going to see that they’re carried out as soon as I return to the office.”
“Superman,” Jimmy asked, “was that Kryptonite in Metalo’s chest?”
“Yes, Jimmy, I believe it was. But it was a far more virulent form than I’ve ever encountered.”
“Is that why you think it took you longer to recover from its effects?” Lois asked.
“Yes; and I wish I could find an answer.”
“Are you all right now?” Henderson asked.
“I’m better, but still don’t feel completely up to par.” Superman arched his back, stretched and flexed his arms, and finally massaged and squeezed his arm muscles to loosen them. “If you’ll excuse me?” He began his trademark running leap, though without its usual vigor. His red and blue figure soon climbed out of sight.
Miss Bachrach heard the door to the Store Room open again. This time she was ready and as she rounded the bend Clark Kent was just shutting it.
“Mr. Kent! Are you the one who has been going in and out of the Store Room so much?”
“I’m not sure what you mean, Miss Bachrach.” Clark shrugged his coat better into place and tightened his tie. “I wanted to get a pack of paper clips.” He produced the pack from his pocket as evidence. It was a pack he always kept there for just such an emergency.
“I see. Well, you received a call while you were out.” She started to turn toward her desk to retrieve it and stopped, half turning. “By the way, Mr. Kent, when did you get back?”
“Just a few moments ago,” Clark said truthfully.
Miss Bachrach studied him overtop her glasses, peering through the lenses of Clark’s to search his eyes. The glasses slightly distorted them, and she wasn’t sure he wasn’t having a little fun at her expense. She finally reserved any questions for another time. Duty brought her back to the task at hand. “Just a minute.” She went to her desk and returned with the note of Prof. Lucerne’s call. “He said he wanted you to get in touch with Superman.”
“Yes, I see. Thank you, Miss Bachrach.”
“Just how do you get in touch with Superman, Mr. Kent?”
“Why, Miss Bachrach! That’s a secret between Superman and me. Unless of course you’d like to see him perhaps socially?”
“Socially?” Her pale face turned crimson. With a dignified “Hmph!” she marched back to her desk.
Clark smiled as he returned to his office, reading the note on the way. He hoped he hadn’t hurt the woman’s feelings, and had used humor attempting to soften his reply.
So Prof. Lucerne needed to speak to him --- that is, Superman --- as soon as possible. It was a cinch he couldn’t change in the Store Room any time in the near future; looked like Miss Bachrach was starting to keep an eye on it.
He locked the door and moments later Superman leaped from Clark Kent’s window. Prof. Lucerne’s laboratory was only a couple miles away, but his diminished speed lengthened the usual four or five seconds into one or two minutes.
“The meteor fragments I found at Prof. Vale’s are definitely Kryptonite,” Prof. Lucerne said. “But there are some peculiarities about some of the fragments that make them particularly strange.”
“How do you mean, professor?”
“They are an isotope of Kryptonite I have never seen before.”
“What could cause that?” Superman asked.
“I had the opportunity to examine the equipment in Vale’s lab when I was there. He had a great deal of electrical apparatus, some huge engine, and I believe he may have used them to pass a high voltage electrical charge through the piece of Kryptonite that powers Metalo.”
“You’ve seen evidence of such a charge in some of the fragments you brought back?” He was glad Lucerne had them safely locked away in lead.
“Yes. It’s changed the Kryptonite’s molecular structure; as I said, created a new isotope of it.”
“Perhaps he used that electrical charge to bring Metalo... well, to bring him to life, for lack of a better expression.”
“That is my theory, yes.”
uperman crossed an arm and held his chin a moment. “Professor, have you ever met this Prof. Vale?”
Lucerne’s face was grim. “Yes I have. He was a lecturer in electro-biology at Metropolis University until he was forced to resign.”
“Forced to resign? On what grounds?”
“Prof. Vale thought of himself as the mad scientist from some cheap horror movie. Even in some of his lectures he spoke of transferring a man’s brain into a... a robot body.”
“Like that of Metalo?” Superman asked.
“Precisely like Metalo.” Lucerne frowned intently up at Superman. “Superman, do you think that’s what Metalo is? Do you think he is a robot with a human brain?”
“He told me so himself, professor. What you’ve told me has only confirmed much of what I suspected, about Metalo and about the Kryptonite that powers him.” Superman paced a moment, his red cape flaring slightly behind him. “And in my last encounter with him, I broke open the lead casing that contained the Kryptonite, exposing me to it.”
“Now that he has that knowledge, I doubt he’ll replace the lead shielding.”
Superman’s features were grim. “I know he won’t. Metalo is a murderer, with a list of victims he hasn’t gotten to yet. There must be some way to stop him. Perhaps some sort of radiation-proof suit?”
“There is a way, but it will take me some time. I will have to make the suit special for you. An ordinary suit may not be enough.”
“How much time, professor? Inspector Henderson said he’ll do what he can to keep the other potential victims safe, but there are no guarantees.”
“I think I can have it done in two days. Will that be soon enough?”
“It will have to be, Professor. And thank you.”
Shaking hands with the professor he leaped through the window and was gone.
Nurse Evans pressed the elevator button and waited, scratching her auburn hair under her cap. The elevators seemed to be taking longer than usual today. The doors finally slid open.
Nurse Evans screamed, the tray of meds she carried clattering to the tile floor, pills spilling from cups and the carafe of water emptying itself and soaking them into mush. Nurse Evans fainted, fell, her cap coming free and her beautiful auburn hair obtaining a treatment of whatever pain relievers and sedatives were dissolving in the solution in which rested her head.
The long white coat was an ill fit, and the surgical cap and mask did little to disguise the metallic features below as Metalo stepped from the elevator and delicately over Nurse Evan’s prostrate form.
The screams and fright proved to Metalo the worthlessness of his disguise and he flung the cap and mask away like some do-it-yourself Phantom of the Opera.
What little synthetic flesh remained only made the exposed metal skull and it fixed rictus mortis the more horrible. Metalo relished the effect he had on doctors and other staff, giving a pleasant “Good day!” to some and even a metallic wink to an occasional pretty candy-striper.
But he had a purpose. He had obtained Prof. Vale’s room number and glanced about the small plastic number plaques until he found the one he wanted.
Prof. Vale had been sleeping and dreaming; or rather a nightmare. He awoke to find the metallic face from that nightmare staring at him through the curtains of his bed.
“Ah,” it said, “my creator.”
Vale’s scream was silent; not because Metalo had clamped upon his throat as he had Deagan, or even muffled it with a metal hand over Vale’s mouth. Vale’s terror was so great his mouth gaped for a scream that his throat could not voice. With a sweep of his arm the monitoring contacts attached to Vale were ripped from him and Metalo took him up in his arms.
He carried him out into the corridor and saw an orderly with a gurney. “You don’t mind if I borrow this for a moment, do you?” There was, of course, no argument when Metalo laid Vale upon it gently, buckled the restraining straps as a precaution, and rolled the gurney back into the elevator from which he had appeared. “This is a nice restful little hospital,” Metalo said. “I’ll remember that should I ever need medical attention.”
His mocking laugh retreated slowly as the car lowered itself to the ground.
Clark and Henderson arrived shortly after the latter had received a call saying Metalo had kidnapped Vale. There was at least one young intern, Dr. Chamberlain, who was calm enough to talk. They met with him in an employees’ break room.
“He gave Cora --- excuse me, Nurse Evans here --- a scare and she fainted.” He nodded toward Nurse Evans, still re-gathering her wits in a chair beside him in the break room. The smiles they exchanged suggested there was more than co-worker status between them, but there was no time for that now; and Chamberlain was already professional enough to understand that. “But he didn’t seem to have any other purpose than to kidnap the old professor.”
“Who treated Prof. Vale?” Henderson asked. “Was there any one doctor or nurse?” He included in the question the three or four others in the room.
“Actually, I tended him once or twice shortly before he came out of his coma,” Nurse Evans said.
“Are you sure you want to talk about it now?” Chamberlain entreated. The nurse nodded.
“Did he say anything before or after he awoke that you remember?” Henderson asked.
“Yes. There was a name; Corman, or something like it.”
“Could it have been Corben?” Clark asked.
“Yes, I think it was: Corben.”
Clark and Henderson passed silent messages in their nods to each other.
When Clark and Henderson returned to headquarters the latter’s assistant stopped them apologetically at Henderson’s door.
“I’m sorry, Inspector, she insisted on seeing you so I let her in your office. She kept begging me and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“That Vine woman. She’s in there now, still waiting.”
Clark suppressed a smile at Henderson’s chagrin. “Looks like you’ve made a conquest, Bill!”
Henderson’s retort rumbled in his throat as they entered the office. Holly Wooten Vine, somehow even more colorfully painted and dressed than before, rushed up to the Inspector.
“Oh Inspector! It’s that Metalo! It has to be the same one!”
The men were immediately concerned. Henderson pulled up a chair for her before seating himself behind his desk. Clark perched himself on the corner of it.
“What do you mean, Miss Vine? Have you seen Metalo?”
“Yes. Oh, it was a couple of nights ago now; but it must have been him.”
“Where did you see him?”
“At the bar where I work. He was there a couple of nights ago with Bull.”
“Bull Deagan?” Clark asked.
“Yeah, Bull Deagan. Bull was making his usual pass at me and this big guy chased him off me. I thought he was kinda handsome. And he said his name was John Metalo.”
“John Metalo?” Henderson repeated.
“Yeah. I thought it sounded kinda foreign, you know? But that’s not what he started to say. I thought he was gonna say some other name at first.”
“What other name?” Clark asked.
“I dunno, but it started with a C or a K. ‘Cause it made a ‘ka” sound, ya know? ‘My name’s John Ka-.’ Like that, ya know?”
Clark nodded. Some of this was starting to make sense. “Did he and Deagan seem to know each other?”
“This Metalo guy said he and Bull were friends, but Bull seemed kinda scared of him. And the Bull I know ain’t afraid of nobody.”
“Have you seen Metalo since?”
“No, thank heaven. But I heard about him on the news, and I read The Planet.” She smiled up at Clark. “I like your paper, Mr. Kent. Especially when it’s a story you wrote.”
“Thank you, Miss Vine.”
Her smile broadened, the crimson lips framing excellent white teeth. “You can call me Holly if you want.”
Clark smiled. “Thank you.”
Henderson cleared his throat. “Back to Metalo, Miss Vine.”
“Oh, you can call me Holly too if you want. Since we’re gettin’ so sociable now and all.”
He cleared his throat again. “Thanks. Do you have any idea where Metalo might be Miss Vine?”
“I said you can call me Holly. No, I don’t know where he came from and the less I know the better. Is it true what he did to those people?”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is.”
“Maybe you can lock me up where he can’t get to me?” Her coquette’s smile returned. “Or maybe one of you gentlemen can take me in for a bit?”
“I don’t think you’re in any danger, Miss Vine,” Henderson said. “Does Metalo know where you live?”
“I don’t think so.” The disappointment of their dismissal of her self-invitation was apparent.
“Have you seen him anywhere around your neighborhood, or in the bar since that night?”
Henderson rose. “Then I don’t think he’ll show up. Metalo is on a mission, we’ve determined that much. I’m not at liberty to discuss that mission, except to say he seems to be targeting certain individuals; and I doubt you’re one of them.”
“I’m not on his hit list? Are you sure?”
Henderson smiled at her use of gangland jargon. Probably picked it up from some of her customers, he thought. Or some dime detective magazine. “I’m sure. Tell you what: I’ll have Simmons, my aide, drive you home.”
She brightened. “OK. He’s a looker too. Thanks, Inspector.” She gave each of them an impulsive hug around the neck and straightened herself up as Henderson gave Simmons his instructions. The latter was a young guy with a young wife and kept his mixed feelings about escorting a gorgeous, vivacious young flirt home to himself. He just hoped Holly’s high octane perfume wouldn’t linger on his uniform. That young wife might have certain opinions about him squiring pretty barmaids around town.
Clark shut the door behind them and took his seat on the corner of Henderson’s desk, this time facing him. “Bill, Superman told me you had taken precautions for the remaining jurors and their families.”
“Yes; I’ve contacted them all, gathered them up, and moved them to several safe locations where Metalo won’t find them. At least, I hope not.”
“I’m sure if your instructions were carried out properly they are all safe by now. Besides, if Metalo has kidnapped Vale he probably has other plans on his mind right now. And so do I.
“Remember the nurse said she heard Vale mutter the name Corben while he was coming out of his coma?”
“That’s what she thinks he said, anyway,” Henderson answered.
“Let’s go under the assumption she did hear the name Corben. And Miss Vale said she thought he started to say his name was John Ka- something. Perhaps he almost said ‘John Corben’ and caught himself, making up the name Metalo on the spot.”
Henderson nodded. “Sounds plausible. But wait a minute, Kent: you’re not trying to tell me Corben is Metalo, are you? We’ve got Corben or what the fire left of him in the morgue.”
“Have you? Were Corben’s remains positively identified?”
“Well, no; but who else could it be?”
“I have a hunch. Did they try to do an identification by dental records?”
“They didn’t bother because they knew it had to be Corben.”
“Don’t forget about those two patches on the ground near the wreck, where some heavy objects had been laid. And one of them looked like something had been dragged up the hill.”
“Yes, and even my buddy Matthews with the Highway Patrol hasn’t gotten an answer to that.”
“And remember that photo she brought of Ben Collins, and we remarked how he and Corben were the same size and build?”
“And Collins is still missing, and there’s been no body found.” Henderson was starting to get the idea.
“Unless the body you have in the morgue isn’t Corben but Collins,” Clark concluded stating the apparent obvious. “Is there enough left to make a dental identification possible?”
“Yes. And Corben got into a fight while in prison awaiting trial. He broke a tooth, and the prison dentist had to replace the crown; so we’ve got X-Rays on file.”
“Then I’d say run a comparison between the teeth of the corpse in the morgue and the prison dental records.”
But Henderson was already dialing the phone to order just that.
Vale had never liked flying; and sailing through the air in Metalo’s arms while his creation leaped and bounded his way back to the ruins of the laboratory was almost more than he could take.
But Metalo was surprisingly gentle with him. He laid Vale down on a scorched but still somewhat serviceable couch that still smelled acrid from the smoke.
“You’re not going to kill me?” Vale asked, fearing the answer.
“Of course not,” Metalo said. “You’re my creator, and I’m your creation.” His metal features hardened, if one could say so. “Unless you think me a monster.” Metalo nodded. “I’ve seen some of those old Frankenstein movies too, you know.”
“Then why did you bring me back here?”
“I have some questions for you.” He opened his shirt, showing the broken lead housing of the meteor. “What is this meteor made of?”
“I don’t know. The spectrograph and electron microscope showed it to be some substance I’ve never seen or heard of before. All I know is it gave off great power, especially after sufficient current had been run through it. Only lead blocks the rays.”
“Whatever it is, it’s harmful to Superman.”
“Superman? You’ve met with Superman?”
Metalo’s death-head’s grin grew somehow wider. “You might say that.”
Vale wasn’t certain now whether that was good or bad. “How do you mean it’s harmful to Superman?”
“I think if I expose him to it long enough, it’ll kill him.”
No one knows where a mind goes when one is in a coma. They say a person in a coma can hear what goes on around them. But is the mind otherwise asleep? Is it perhaps a sleep like death? And to paraphrase the Bard, in that sleep like death what dreams might come?
Whatever dreams Vale may have had while in his coma, his mind may have reviewed his previous actions. Perhaps even he had developed a conscience, a realization of where the evil his preservation of a murderer’s brain in an all-but invulnerable body might lead.
“What do you want me to do?”
“First, fix my face. I liked the face you gave me, and I want it back.”
“That’s easy to do, if the molds weren’t destroyed. What else?”
“I want you to repair this chamber,” Metalo said, pointing to the power core. “But I don’t want you to cover it with lead, as before.”
“Cover it with the same titanium alloy you made me from. That way the rays of the meteor will still come through.”
“I see. You want the rays to escape, as a sort of protection against Superman.” Vale had an idea of his own, but hoped it didn’t show.
“Exactly. That way Superman can’t get near me; but I can get near him.
“Near enough to kill him.”
Two more days passed. Henderson had the cave staked out, but there was no sign of Metalo or of Prof. Vale.
The result of the dental comparison came back.
“You were right, Kent,” Henderson said. “The corpse we’ve had in the morgue isn’t Corben.”
“Then it’s Miss Vine’s friend, Ben Collins?”
“We can’t tell for certain, but it’s more than likely. We’ll have to call her in to tell her the bad news.”
“I’ll tell her,” Clark said. “She may take it better if I go to the bar where she works.”
Henderson grinned and winked. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Now Bill, this is strictly on the level. Perhaps if she’s among friends when she receives the news she’ll have someone there who can share her grief.”
“OK, Kent, sure. And if you come back with tear stains on that gray coat of yours I’ll know just who shared her grief with her.”
Clark frowned and started to retort, but the twinkle in Henderson’s eye forced a grin onto his own face. “Don’t worry, Bill. I’ll put in a good word for you while I’m there.”
His grin grew wider as he saw the wordless, open-mouthed reaction on his friend’s face as he went out the door.
Metalo had made his rounds after Vale had done his work. It only took visiting three or four of the remaining houses to figure that the other jurors and their families had been moved to parts unknown.
But instead of it making him angry he realized that the jurors weren’t the ones he really should be after. The jurors were pawns, forced by some law or another to do their “civic duty” once every few years and serve on a jury. Their job was to say “yea” or “nay” to whatever lies and half-truths a bunch of lawyers provided them. Of course, in court the lies and half-truths were called “evidence.”
And who manufactured that evidence? That cop Henderson and that snoop reporter Kent. They were the ones he should really be after.
He had left Vale tied up in the lab. He had done what Metalo had asked him to do, but he might have further use for him. Vale might be a good guy to have around, at least for a while longer.
Not like that Deagan. He knew what to do with a Judas like him.
Say, who was that cute trick Deagan liked in the bar? Holly, wasn’t it? And she kinda liked his looks that time he was there, back before Superman made a mess of his face. But that was all repaired now, just like new.
Yeah; maybe he could pay Holly a visit. Sure, might be fun.
Then he’d take care of Henderson and Kent.
Bill Henderson was right; Holly did cry on Clark’s shoulder when he broke the sad news to her. The tears soaked through his coat and into his shirt. At least his super costume didn’t show stains.
They were in a corner of the saloon so they had some seclusion when he told her. Clark guessed right when he figured she’d probably guessed the truth for some time and had saved all the tears until now. He guided her to a table and pulled out a chair for her. He sat beside her and she immediately re-buried her face in his shoulder as the next wave of tears began.
“You must have really loved him,” he said.
“I did.” And the third wave began. She pulled handfuls of napkins from the holder on the table and soaked them through.
After a few moments, however, the well ran dry and so did the napkin holder.
“How did it happen?” she asked. “Do you know?”
“We don’t know anything for certain,” Clark said, “but I have my suspicions Bull Deagan had something to do with it.”
Holly nodded slowly. “You’re probably right. He and Bull both wanted me. But I really loved Ben, I really did.” A slight smile curled her lips. “Guess I always will.”
“No one deserves what happened to him.”
“How did it happen?”
“We think Deagan killed Ben and used him to fake the death of a condemned murderer. Did you ever hear the name John Corben?”
“Corben? No. Wait; was he the one you meant, the condemned murderer?”
“Yes. Did you ever meet him?”
“Did Deagan ever mention him?”
“No. Are the cops gonna pick Bull up now?”
Henderson hadn’t given the press the “go” to print the murder of Deagan. Clark hesitated but decided it was perhaps better for Holly’s peace of mind to know. “Deagan is dead. He had already been picked up and... he was killed in prison.” She didn’t need to know who killed him.
“I hate to say this,” she said solemnly, “but good riddance.”
“Yes,” a voice said, “good riddance indeed.”
They turned. The speaker was coming toward them. Both spoke at once.
Clark rose instinctively to defend Holly as she threw a hand across her mouth and screamed. But as he stepped toward Metalo all strength suddenly left his body, his knees buckled under him and he fell to the floor.
“Mr. Kent!” Holly cried.
Metalo laughed. “They always said this Kent was a milksop. Faints at the sight of me, eh?”
Then Metalo thought again. He’d seen this kind of “fainting spell” before. He grinned as an idea came to him.
Metalo started toward Holly and took her arm. It was a firm hold but not intending to hurt her. “Holly, what say you and me go and have a party?”
“No! Get your hands off me!” She beat at him uselessly with her free hand. “Mr. Kent! Wake up, Mr. Kent!”
“Hey, what is this buddy?” one of the longshoremen who frequented the bar rose from his seat. He was nearly as tall and wide as Metalo.
“Yeah, lay off Holly. She’s hurtin’ already cause of her boy friend Ben.” Another stevedore who was sitting with the first man rose. And more began to take their lead. One broke an empty bottle on a table to use as a weapon. It wasn’t long before a score of large, burly, unshaven and unwashed cavaliers gathered to her rescue.
“That’s what I came to tell you,” Metalo said to Holly, ignoring the gathering of heroes. “Deagan killed Ben, and I killed Deagan for you.”
Holly gasped, a few straggling tears wet her cheek, and a new set of mutterings stirred among the crowd. Few of them liked Deagan, but this Metalo guy had just confessed to his murder. They had all heard it.
“Hear that?” the first burly said. “He’s a murderer!”
“Yeah. Guess he don’t know we have our own justice here sometimes.”
The crowd started toward him. Metalo released Holly to face them. Holly knelt by Clark, trying to wake him.
Clark was awake, but weakened by the nearness of Metalo’s Kryptonite. He was aware of what was going on, but hadn’t the strength to even speak. If Metalo stayed there much longer...
The crowd jumped him, but Metalo had no time for them. With swinging arms he swept them from him, and many suffered broken heads or limbs, livid bruises and deep gashes.
“That’ll teach you punks a lesson,” Metalo said. He turned back to Holly. “When your new boy friend there wakes up tell him I’ll be waiting where we first saw each other, along with some friends of his.” Metalo grinned blew a kiss to her. “And I’ll see you later.”
The would-be rescue party cleared a path for him to exit, and all were glad to see him go.
It took a few more minutes, and some nursing from Holly, but Clark soon regained most of his strength.
“Is Metalo gone?” They told him what had happened. “Was anybody hurt? Does anyone need an ambulance?”
Tom, the bartender, was already patching up some of the men. “Just rest easy, Kent. I did a turn as a medic in the War; whiskey’s just as good a disinfectant as any. Stuff’s been used for worse than that, I guess. Just let Holly tend to ya.”
Clark considered and agreed to Tom’s wisdom. He tasted something unfamiliar on his tongue. “Miss Vine, did you give me something to drink before I came to?”
“Sure. Tom keeps some half decent brandy for the fancy types that sometimes wander in here. Always helps bring ‘em around in the movies.”
Brandy, he thought. Well, I guess Ma won’t mind this one time. “Thanks, Holly. I don’t drink alcohol, as a rule.”
“Well, I didn’t know.” She gave one last pass over his forehead with a wet cloth. “Listen, Metalo left a message for you. I don’t understand it, but maybe you will.”
“What is it?”
“He said something about he’ll be waiting for you where you first saw him, and he’ll have some of your friends. Do you know what he means?”
Clark’s mouth became a grim line. “Yes, I’m afraid I do.” It means Metalo may have figured out my identity, that my “fainting spell” was a result of the Kryptonite in his chest. He started to rise; he was still a little unsteady on his feet.
“Mr. Kent!” Holly rose with him, and offered support. “You OK? I mean, should you get up this soon?”
“I have to. Something must be done to stop Metalo.” He didn’t feel right then as though he were in any shape to do so.
“But you can’t do nothin’, Mr. Kent! Even Superman had a hard time of it fightin’ him. I heard about it on the radio.”
“I know, but something still has to be done. Excuse me.” He picked up his hat and staggered his way out of the Shamrock.
He made his way to an alley. A poor drunk was sleeping it off, his snores reverberating against the rusted, rot-filled trash cans long forgotten by the city’s sanitation crews. Much different from the alleys downtown. Clark reached the other end of the alley and continued walking. The exercise brought some tone back to his muscles. His body was starting to fight against the poisoning rays of the Kryptonite.
Three blocks further and he believed he was recovered enough to try it. Another alley was just ahead. He turned into it.
A moment later Superman leaped into the sky.
Thunder rumbled above; another storm was coming.
Superman put on more speed.
“Hello, Mrs. Olsen? This is Mrs. O’Connor.”
“Oh yes, Mrs. O’Connor. I was wondering about you. How are you doing?”
“Oh, just fine. I moved back to the little town outside of Metropolis, the one where I lived before... before the professor hired me.”
“I’m glad you’re doing well. Anything I can do for you?” Mrs. Olsen asked.
“Yes there is. I think something’s going on in Prof. Vale’s house. I’ve seen lights, and strange noises have come from it.”
“Really? You think someone’s there?”
“Yes, I do. And I think your Jimmy might be interested. He and his friends Miss Lane and that inspector.”
“You mean Inspector Henderson?”
“Yes. I think they ought to see what’s going on in there.”
“I’ll tell Jimmy. You know, he wants someday to be a good reporter like Mr. Kent. Oh, he should tell him about it too. You know Mr. Kent was really the one who wrote the stories about the professor and the fire and all.”
“I think Mr. Kent knows about it already,” Mrs. O’Connor said. “That’s why I thought of Jimmy. If he gets there first, maybe he and Miss Lane can beat Mr. Kent to the... what do they call it? The scoop?”
Mrs. Olsen chuckled. “Something like that. He’s at the office. I’ll be sure to call him there. Thanks for thinking of my son, Mrs. O’Connor.”
“Glad to help the young man.”
As Mrs. Olsen dialed her son’s desk at the Planet, Mrs. O’Connor hung up her phone and turned to the menacing figure beside her. “Did I do all right?”
“You did fine, Mrs. O’Connor; just fine. And since you won’t be needing this for a while...” He yanked her phone cord from the wall. “I’m letting you live, Miss O’Connor, just as I’m letting Vale live; for a while. I may need the expertise of a scientist, and maybe a good housekeeper as well.” He grinned, which frightened her all the more. “Not that you or anyone can do anything to stop me. And in an hour or two, even Superman won’t be around to annoy me anymore.” He chuckled as he exited her back door and bounded toward the ruins of the Vale mansion.
A crash of thunder heralded his exit.
As soon as Jimmy received the call from his mom he told Lois and she called Henderson. The three agreed to meet at the ruined mansion.
They arrived about the same time and Henderson stopped the two reporters. He had brought two squad cars with him.
“Now Jimmy, you and Miss Lane stay back here until we investigate. We don’t know anything for sure yet.”
“We’ll stay back, Inspector,” Jimmy said. “Don’t worry.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” came a voice from inside the remains of the front entrance. “I was hoping you would all join me.”
Two of Henderson’s officers instinctively opened fire. Metalo gazed on them with a “You kidding me?” look that Lois found eerily similar to Superman’s expression when crooks shot at him.
“Henderson, please tell your men to stop wasting their valuable ammunition.”
“Cease firing, men,” Henderson said.
“Now, if you will all step inside. Prof. Vale is in the basement, and he will enjoy the company.”
Knowing there was no use in resisting all of them entered the ruins and descended the rebuilt stair to the underground lab.
Metalo looked from one to the other a moment. “Henderson, I’ve wanted to take care of you for some time. The same with your colleague, Miss Lane: that nosey Kent. He should be along soon. I gave him a special invitation.” Chuckling at his private joke, Metalo ascended the stair to greet his final guest.
Mrs. O’Connor had held back her scream when Metalo had first entered her kitchen. It’d had plenty of time to boil up within her, and once he was gone she screamed with the shrill tone of a hundred pressure cookers sounding off at once. She ran out her front door with it still keening from her throat.
Neighbors came running, frightened yet curious at the sound. The black heavy clouds of the approaching storm and the lightning that split the darkness in twain did not hold them back: one of their own was in trouble.
“Mrs. O’Connor! What’s wrong!” Old Diegel said. He wasn’t that old, he just looked it.
“The mansion! Something’s going on again at the mansion!”
“What is it?” Kelley, a young stalwart, asked.
“The professor’s back! And that... that Metalo they been talkin’ about!” Mrs. O’Connor let out another scream, and more neighbors came at the sound.
“Let’s go see what’s goin’ on!”
“That place is evil! We all know it!”
“Minnie knows about it!” another shouted, calling Mrs. O’Connor by first name. “She worked there!”
“It shoulda burned to the ground the first time!”
“Then let’s do it now!”
Once people become a mob, there is little to stop them.
Superman landed again through Prof. Lucerne’s window.
“Professor, is the suit ready?”
“Yes. I knew you needed it soon as possible and had some of my assistants working on it day and night.” He opened a closet door; the radiation-proof suit was inside.
“Metalo has several of my friends prisoner,” Superman said as he examined the suit. “This is my only chance if I’m to save them.
Superman began donning the lead suit over his uniform. When it was done he glanced at himself in a full length mirror Lucerne had behind a door.
The suit was of chain mail, gray, very closely woven, for flexibility. A metallic version of his shield, in red, was embossed upon the chest. A broad leather belt encircled his waist, and a red cape hung from the shoulders. Lead mail gauntlets protected his hands.
He held the helmet under his arm, not quite ready to put it on. There were tiny slits for his eyes, lined with a fine lead mesh.
Superman felt awkward in the outfit, as though dressed for a costume party as Sir Galahad. He frowned at himself and sighed. This was the only way to defeat Metalo. He placed the helmet over his head and was surprised he could see fairly well through the mesh.
Lucerne stood next to him. “A perfect fit.”
Superman had a somewhat different opinion. “I hope this only has to be used once,” he said.
“I hope so too.” Lucerne held out a hand. “Good luck, my friend.”
Superman took it in his gauntleted hand carefully. “Thanks, professor; and good-bye.” He leaped out into the night.
“I hope it is not good-bye,” Lucerne said to the vanishing figure, “but only farewell until we meet again.”
As Superman flew toward the ruined manor he saw something that troubled him almost as much as the danger his friends were in.
There was a mob gathering in the road that led to the manor house. It looked like a scene from an old Universal horror movie: some carried garden tools and others carried lanterns and camping lights. But some actually carried lighted torches. It was clear what they crowd aimed to do. He could almost hear the chase music from Bride of Frankenstein in his ears as he flew past the crowd to land in front of them.
They stopped. All of them had heard of Superman, but none expected to see him attired this way.
“Get out of the way!”
“He’s made of metal! It must be Metalo!”
“Shoot him! Destroy him!”
A shotgun went off and Superman leaped aside to avoid it.
“He’s dressed like Superman, but he’s afraid of gettin’ shot!”
“No!” Superman shouted. “Please! Go back to your homes!” He removed the helmet. “I am not Metalo. I’m Superman. It’s this lead suit that might have been damaged by the shotgun blast. And I need this armor to fight Metalo!”
“Superman! In a lead suit? Why?”
“Please! Return to your homes. You can only be hurt or killed if you try to fight Metalo.” He nodded his head toward the house. “He is holding some of my friends hostage: Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and Inspector Henderson. If you try to destroy the rest of the house, you’ll harm them.”
The crowd was starting to draw back, and fear shone from their eyes.
Superman turned just in time to feel Metalo’s fist against his helmet as he knocked it from his grip. Superman fell back for room. The crowd did the same, though as the two squared off the crowd instinctively formed a circle around them.
Superman went on the attack, keeping his distance but using the heat of his X—Ran Vision on Metalo’s synthetic flesh. He knew it caused no pain, but the fact that he’d had it restored meant there was some egotism involved, and destroying his outer appearance attacked his ego.
Metalo cried out as his face was melted away. The crowd faded back, avoiding the sight.
“You’ve destroyed my face again, Superman. But it can be repaired. Can you?”
Metalo jumped Superman, but the Man of Tomorrow held his ground and gripped him tightly. They fought now like two wrestlers, and Superman lifted Metalo and slammed him to the ground. He jumped him, following his advantage, and they continued to struggle, Metalo not allowing him to keep him down.
“It sounds like they’re fighting!” Lois cried, in the cellar.
Henderson had already untied Prof. Vale. “Maybe while Superman has him occupied we can escape. Can you make it, Professor?”
“Yes, with a little help.”
“We’ll help you,” two officers volunteered.
The prisoners made their way up the steps and across the entry parlor. Through the remains of the front wall they could see the crowd outside, and heard the pitch of battle. They started toward it.
Metalo had Superman down now, and grabbing Superman’s unprotected head held it close against his chest, against the unshielded electro-charged chunk of meteor rock which powered him.
Superman’s eyes clamped shut, grimacing with the pain, he fought to free himself from the headlock Metalo had on him. His powers were draining, and his muscles seemed soft and useless.
“Stop it!” a male voice cried, “you’re killing him!”
There was an explosion of powder, and Metalo jerked backward. The man with the shotgun had let fly with both barrels, and a double load of buckshot had riddled Metalo’s back. It caused little damage, but startled and distracted him enough that Superman freed himself from the hold and started to crawl away on his back, crablike.
Metalo turned on the man with the shotgun, and one of Henderson’s men emptied his service revolver into the Metal Monster’s back.
With a roar Metalo spun toward his new assailant.
But now others in the crowd were joining in. Those without guns grabbed rocks and threw them at Metalo. It did little more to Metalo than increase his rage tenfold; but it gave time to Superman.
The Man of Tomorrow stood again, ready to face Metalo. The helmet was now in place, and every inch of him was protected by lead. He strode in and began pelting him with body blows, again seeking the power source which he had opened before. But now the lead armor shielded him from most of the radiation; enough that a combination of super strength and super will kept him determined to prevail.
Metalo back pedaled, trying to escape Superman’s unrelenting assault. Chunks and sheets of synthetic flesh now lay on the ground.
The power source was exposed. Superman saw the small round chamber that held this superior isotope of Kryptonite. Metalo was tiring, in his own way; if a robot can tire. Perhaps Superman’s blows had damaged something other than the false flesh that covered him.
All he had to do now was reach in and seize that piece of Kryptonite and throw it as far as he could; hopefully into Metropolis Bay, to lie alongside the piece already there.
But what would that do? Would that kill Metalo? Metalo was a machine; he could not be killed.
But Metalo had the brain of a man; he believed it was John Corben’s brain, but he had no proof.
But Metalo had confessed, before Holly and a roomful of men and women of murdering Bull Deagan; and two officers were eye witnesses.
Did that justify Superman taking Metalo’s life? Was he executioner now?
Metalo charged; no time for reverie. They closed again, grappling. Superman attempted to seize the power chamber; it was the only way.
Metalo bore him to the earth again, straddled him, and with one blow tore the helmet from him again. With his head exposed once more, Superman felt his strength flow from him, like liquid poured from a bottle. The Kryptonite was within reach; he only need take it with his gloved hand and tear it loose. It was him or Metalo; self defense.
Or was it the taking of a human life? Just what of John Corben was in the being called Metalo?
Metalo began raining punches on Superman’s face. He felt teeth loosen; something he had never experienced before. A blow to the head dazed him, blinding him to all but his own private fireworks show for a moment.
Vale stood beside Inspector Henderson, intense, watching for something. The Inspector noticed his concentration.
“What is it, professor? Are you expecting something to happen?”
Vale made no reply; his eyes remained fixed on Metalo.
Then Metalo’s fist, raised to strike again, slowly opened, and his hand fell. He seemed suddenly weak, as weak as Superman was from the Kryptonite.
“Now’s your chance, Superman!” Vale cried. “It’s Corben! Corben’s brain is in him! He’s a murderer, Superman!”
Metalo, partly distracted by Vale’s shouting, tried to rise on legs that appeared arthritic. Superman freed himself and stepped back.
“Corben’s dead!” Vale called out.
Metalo rose and turned, facing Vale with puzzled inquiry on his features.
Vale had a grim, down-turned smile on his face. “It’s something I did to you, Metalo; something I did when I repaired your power chamber and replaced the lead cover with the alloy. I made a change in your circuitry, so that when your power had reached a certain level it would shut down.”
Metalo stepped menacingly closer but Vale looked up at him with no fear. “You had become too powerful. I thought to control you, but I cannot.”
“You--- you’re my creator! You did this to me?”
Vale nodded. “I created you; I placed the brain of a dead man in a body which I made with my own hands. I created a man who was to do my bidding; to be my slave. You have the memories of John Corben; but John Corben is dead.”
It was almost the last thing he said. Metalo didn’t have the strength to battle Superman, but he could attack Vale. He tossed Henderson aside and grasped the little scientist. There was a snap and Vale fell like a broken doll. Metalo, still somehow drained, backed away.
“Corben’s dead,” Vale repeated in a whisper only few heard. “I killed him to save him. The essence of his brain is in Metalo’s metal skull; that is all.” Henderson knelt beside him. Vale gasped; breathing was almost too much of a struggle for him. “Metalo is not alive. He’s just... just a thing I in my vanity pieced together. ‘A being in my own image...’ or as I wished I could be. A thing; a monster.” The breath which carried that final word was his last. Henderson closed his eyes and laid him back.
Metalo was as stunned by the revelation as anyone. “Then... I’m not alive. I’m not John Corben, only a thing?”
Superman was recovering but he had come to his feet and faced Metalo.
Metalo looked upon Superman. What was left of his metallic features held a terrible wretchedness. He offered no battle. He stood, legs and arms outstretched, looking for a moment like some grotesque of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. He stared into Superman’s face with a look of deep solemnity. And the voice that now came from him was weighted with that same solemnity.
“It was once the sentence of a court that John Corben be taken from here to a place designated by the state where, in due time, you will be executed.” Metalo, or Corben, or whoever he was at that moment, added with finality: “That place is here, and that time... that time has come.”
Superman saw in Metalo’s artificial eyes, which somehow now held something human behind them, what he wanted done. With a solemnity that matched Metalo’s own, Superman took hold of the meteor of electro-charged Kryptonite and gently pulled it from the chamber.
He stepped back for room, and with a great arcing swing of his arm threw it high and far until it was lost to mortal sight. Following it with his Super Vision, he knew his aim was true and it had sunk to the bottom of the bay where it would remain.
Metalo still stood a moment as though power still coursed through him. Then his arms fell to his side, his head dropped to his chest, and though he remained standing it was clear he was gone. The Menace of Metalo was over.
It was a week after the final fight with Metalo. Prof. Vale had been buried and Metalo’s body had been loaded into a truck and taken away. Lois, Jimmy and Inspector Henderson were gathered in his office.
“All of the jurors and their families have been returned to their homes and settled back in,” Henderson said. “And you know the forensics lab identified some of the materials in the acid vat from Vales as fragments of human remains.”
“Any clue as to whose they are?” Lois asked.
“There’s little doubt that it was Corben’s body that Vale disposed of in the acid. We don’t have science enough to tell for certain, though the bone fragments suggest Corben’s blood type. Maybe one day we’ll have the science to make positive identification of remains.”
“I’m sure we will.” Lois said. “Clark, you’re quiet.”
“Hmm? Oh, sorry Lois. This has been quite an ordeal for all of us.”
“And how!” Jimmy said. “Miss Lane and I were kidnapped by Metalo twice!”
“That’s right, Clark,” Lois said, “and now that I think of it you weren’t targeted by him at all.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Henderson said. “Kent and I were both on Corben’s list; I’m sure Metalo had plans for both of us.”
“Is this... Mr. Kent! And Inspector Henderson!”
An unmistakable colorfully dressed figure entered the office. Both Henderson and Clark were struck speechless for a moment.”
“Well?” Lois asked, “aren’t one of you going to introduce us to your girl friend?”
“Lois Lane, Jim Olsen,” Henderson said, “this is Miss Holly Vine.”
She extended her hand to Lois and Jimmy in turn, as she had seen in the movies. “A pleasure I’m sure. Oh, Inspector, I heard you were taken captive by that awful Metalo.” She clasped her hands behind his neck and her face was bare inches from his. “Are you all right?”
“Yes; yes, I’m quite fine, Miss Vine.”
“Oh, Inspector; I told you to call me Holly.” She planted a quick smooch aimed for his lips but Henderson turned his head the last second and it landed on his cheek. “And my poor Mr. Kent!” Holly added, suddenly discarding Henderson for the reporter. She assumed the same position with Clark. “One sight of that Metalo and you fainted dead away. I was sure he was going to kill you, right then and there.” She planted the same kind of kiss and Clark managed the same maneuver to decoy it.
“I --- I thought so too, Miss Vine.”
“Oh, why don’t you men call me Holly?” She still hadn’t released Clark. “One thing I’ll say for Metalo though.”
Clark frowned. “What’s that?”
She gazed into his eyes in a certain way known to all women. “He called you my new boy friend, and well... I wouldn’t mind it if you wouldn’t.” She hit the bull’s eye --- or Clark’s lips --- with this one, taking the reporter entirely by surprise. After what seemed a good five minutes she came up for air and smiled at him. “I’m not so bad; I’m still a good girl.”
“I’m --- I’m sure you are, Miss Vine.” He almost choked out the name. “Holly.”
“See? That wasn’t so hard. I just had a hard life, that’s all. And I can do more than just serve drinks and food. Why, I might take some of the money I’ve made and take some night classes. What do you think?”
“Education is always a good thing,” Clark said. “Jimmy learned Journalism in night school when he first came here.”
“Journalism? You mean being a reporter?”
“Yeah, Miss Vine, that’s how I got my job here,” Jimmy said.
“No, I don’t think that’s for me. But I’ll bet if I try some of those classes I’ll find something I like. Don’t you think so, Mr. Kent?”
“Why don’t you call him ‘Clark,’” Lois said. “After all, if he’s going to call you ‘Holly.’”
“Can I do that --- Clark?”
Whatever was in Clark’s throat took some effort to swallow. “Yes; I guess so.” There it was back again and he cleared his throat.
“Maybe you can help me choose some classes. Stop by the Shamrock some time after work and I’ll treat you to a drink.”
“I don’t drink alcohol.”
“Well, I make a mean pot of coffee if I do say so myself,” Holly replied. “Of course, I do that better at my own place.” She gave him one last peck and licked the taste of it from her lips. Her smile said it tasted good.
She started out of the room. “I’m in the book if you want that cup of coffee,” she said, pausing at the office door. “Don’t forget the name: Holly Wooten Vine.” She blew one last kiss meant for both men and left.
Lois grinned. “Looks like you’ve made a conquest, Clark.”
“What about you, Inspector? I thought she liked you too,” Jimmy said.
“Maybe Jim,” Lois said, crossing her arms with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “But I think Miss Vine --- excuse me, Holly --- has set her sights on Mr. Kent.”
Both men squirmed a bit and shared commiserating glances.
Lois came coquettishly up to Henderson and fingered his lapels. “Don’t worry, Inspector. There’s someone out there for you too. C’mon, Jim.”
Clark and Henderson were left alone and neither had anything to say to each other for a long moment except whatever silent messages were in their furtive glances. Finally both men cleared their throats in a way that said, Well, back to work.
“I’d better go. I’m sure there are some crooks out there to catch.”
“Yes; and I’ve got one or two things to finish here before I go. Have a good evening, Bill.”
“Thanks. So long, Clark.” The inspector took his hat and left.
Clark sat brooding at his desk. Henderson had told Superman that he had carried out the wishes of the state, like any authorized executioner. And that since he had sanctions reaching all the way up to the President as a law enforcement officer, he had the authority necessary to use lethal force if necessary. And by Vale’s own admission, John Corben was dead. The Thing that was Metalo was not living; it was a robot, a machine, that carried only the memories of the man that had been Corben.
When Clark was in school, one of the first poems he read that really touched him was by John Donne: “No Man is an Island.” A line from it had always been a byword to him: “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am part of Mankind.”
John Corben was a murderer; and the state had sentenced him to death. As Metalo, he had committed many more murders.
Perhaps Vale was right, and the procedure or process of transferring Corben’s mind into Metalo’s body killed the biological shell. And Metalo, after all, was only a machine.
But Clark remembered the words he had said, almost to himself, when Metalo had stood lifeless before him; and he wondered then and now whether those words were for Metalo or for Corben. Like Metalo’s last words, they had been spoken by the judge who had sentenced Corben, part of the ritual of the court; but Clark’s rural upbringing had always taken them to heart. And sitting at his desk, he lowered his head and whispered them again.
“May God have mercy on his soul.”
Prof. Lucerne dug the keys from his pocket as he neared the door of his laboratory. He nearly dropped them when he saw the door was open. The lock had been forced; there was damage to the mechanism.
He entered with caution. There was no one inside. The place was a shambles. None of the equipment had been seriously damaged, but someone was obviously looking for something.
His eyes widened behind his wire rims. The store room had also been broken into. He clicked on the light and immediately saw the lead-lined safe he used for storing radioactive materials. Somehow the door to it had been forced.
And it was empty.
He grabbed his phone. “Operator? Give me Inspector Henderson. This is Prof. Lucerne. I need to report a robbery, and break and enter.” As he waited to be connected he pondered what to say next. He had to report it; but it had to kept secret as well.
The fragments of Kryptonite from Prof. Vale’s lab, including the isotopes created by current induction, had been stolen!
"Like The Only Real Magic -- The Magic Of Knowledge"