TAC Table of Contents
sequel to “Crime Wave”
Sally Fuller sat in her apartment reading the latest edition of The Daily Planet. The headline story was by Clark Kent:
The story told how Superman had been lured into a death trap by the lead criminal, survived, and brought him and his remaining gang members to justice. The head of all the rackets in Metropolis, the Number One Crime Boss as the paper called him, had been Walter Canby, head of the Citizens' Committee against Crime. Kent commented on the irony of Superman's discovery briefly, and praised Inspector Henderson and the rest of the Metropolis police force on their role in ending the crime wave that had turned the city into a new version of 1920's Chicago.
The revelation was old news to Sally. Until a few nights ago she had been in Canby's employ; only chance had allowed her to escape capture when Superman entered Canby's hideout. He had hired her to follow some of the known friends of Superman and film them on her 8mm movie camera. She had shown the film at Canby's and it had led to contacting Superman through Kent, who was the only person known to be able to do so.
Sally put down the paper and thought for a moment. Yeah, Kent is the only known contact for Superman, she thought. And news stories about Superman always appear in the Planet first, and often written by Kent. She browsed through the article again. But Kent never gave Superman any special praise for his accomplishments. Other reporters, including Lois Lane, heaped high praise on the Man of Tomorrow when they wrote of his exploits; but not Kent. Why not? Was Kent jealous of Superman? Or was there some other reason?
A certain piece of footage in the film she had taken played on the screen of her mind a moment. She had saved a print of the film; maybe it merited another look.
It was evening so darkening the room took but a moment. Setting up the projector took longer, and as the stubborn film refused to thread easily through the various sprockets and channels her impatience and frustration grew. A couple of un-ladylike words learned as a girl on the mean streets of Metropolis passed her lips as she forced herself to slow down and take her time threading the film. First chance she got she was going to buy one of those self-threading projectors.
She turned out the last lamp and flipped on the projector. Using a blank wall as her screen the light green paint gave the black and white images an odd tint. Her fingers tapped an anxious rhythm on the arm of her chair as she waited for the sequence she wanted.
There it was: Kent had come to the head of an alley not far from the Planet offices. He seemed furtive, glancing around like someone in fear of being seen or followed. Then he ran into the alley, for some reason removing his hat as he did.
A moment later and the muscular figure of Superman emerged from the same alley, took a quick furtive look about him not unlike that of Kent a few moments before, and crouching down, leaped into the air, waste paper and other litter swirling about in his wake.
As she had for Canby, Sally ran back the film and played it again. The swirl of debris settled itself where it had been abandoned, Superman landed backwards, glanced about, jogged backwards out of sight, and Kent put his hat in place as he ran backwards out of the alley and onto the main street again. Then she played it forward once more, this time at a slightly slower speed.
What was that? They had missed it before. No surprise, for it only lasted a couple of seconds. But there was a brief shadow show that played against the wall of the alley, between the time Kent ran into it and the moment Superman ran out of it. She stopped, ran it backward again, and ran it forward even slower stopping and freezing one of the frames in between.
Sally's vision was better than 20/20. It was vague, a very quick motion barely caught by the 24 fps speed of the camera, but it had enough form that she recognized what the lens had seen.
It was someone removing his jacket.
Her projector wasn't the best on the market but it did have a feature for “stepping” through a film frame by frame. The next frame showed the jacket removed, and in the next the silhouette stepped out of a trouser leg. The next couple of frames were a blur but seemed to show something being removed from the lining of the jacket and then something compressed and stowed in whatever it was had been previously stored in the jacket. The next few frames were unmistakable. A figure stood a moment, gaining stature, a cape flowing from the shoulders.
It was Superman; it had to be. Because Sally knew the next thing in the film showed the Man of Steel exiting the alley and flying away. She knew what she had seen: Clark Kent running down an alley, taking off his glasses, and turning into Superman!
The projector remained on the frame showing the silhouette of the caped man who had to be Superman. Sally studied it to be sure; studied it too long in fact. A spectacular event occurred as the hot projection lamp remained too long on one frame. The film, like the tinder of a Boy Scout campfire being lit by sunlight concentrated through a magnifying glass, burst into flame. In seconds the entire film flashed into fire and Sally barely escaped being burnt herself.
Grabbing a throw from the back of the chair she managed to snuff out the flames. But her film, certainly the part that revealed the secret she had just discovered, was gone. Any proof she might have had was now ashes.
At first she thought of the copy she had left with Canby, but surely Superman had found and destroyed it before anyone had known it existed. And for whatever reason neither Canby nor anyone else who saw the film that night had figured out what she had seen.
So much for using the film against Superman. The evidence that proved that Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same was destroyed.
She smiled. But Clark (Superman) Kent didn't know that.
* * *
Even the usually gruff, no-nonsense Perry White had to admit he was charmed by his visitor; though he would never allow anyone else to know it. Slim, blonde a lean feline allure still gave her figure a seductiveness belying her plain gray school ma'arm dress. Perry remembered such dresses on his own teachers, in the little one-room schoolhouse he attended before the turn of the Century; but none of them wore the dress as she did.
Perry cleared his throat as though it might dismiss such thoughts and addressed his visitor. “You certainly have good credentials, Miss Fuller.” He cleared his throat again and as those thoughts were not in his throat they still plagued him. “The Daily Planet does have an affiliated television station; we just went on the air this past fall. So far our news program has been staffed alternately by reporters from the paper. Clark Kent and Lois Lane have each done several turns on camera.”
“And I have seen their broadcasts. Both do very well.”
“I'm sure they'd appreciate hearing it.”
“But Mr. White, we are heading into the second half of the Twentieth Century. I believe television is soon to be the new medium through which many families will receive their news and entertainment. And I think the nightly news programs will soon take the place of the theatrical newsreel.”
Perry puffed judiciously on his cigar. Miss Fuller had expressed no objection when he had asked, as all gentlemen do, if he could indulge. She had even lit it for him when his own lighter failed. “What you say may very well be true. During the War radio became a valuable means of keeping the country apprised of what was going on. I'm sure you recall Mr. Murrow's broadcasts from London.”
“I do. And one day television may provide the same kind of reporting. For right now, I believe motion pictures taken at the scenes of local news stories may perform something of that first-hand function. If you believe such a position should be added to your television staff, I would like to fill that need.”
Perry tapped the cigar over the ash tray on his desk. Grant over at the television studio had expressed a desire to expand the news department, to better compete with other stations. This might be the means of doing it. So far no other television station in Metropolis had film coverage such as Miss Fuller was suggesting. “This isn't up to me, you understand,” he said. “Mr. Grant of our television station would have the final say. Though if he agrees, you will be working with some of our reporters here as well.”
“I understand, Mr. White. I hope I am not being too forward in my proposal.”
“Not at all, Miss Fuller.” Perry rose and extended his hand. “I will call you after I have spoken to Mr. Grant and let you know of our decision.”
Sally took his hand like a lady. “Thank you, Mr. White. I hope we will meet again. It has been an honor to meet you.”
“The pleasure was mine. Good day, Miss Fuller.”
Perry gazed long at his double doors after she had passed through and closed them behind her. Another throat clearing and he shook himself back to business.
* * *
As Sally started toward the elevator at the end of the hall a tall man in thick glasses whose shoulders sloped slightly under his gray suit, making him seem an inch or two shorter than his actual height, rounded the corner and nearly collided with her.
“Oh, excuse me, miss.” He gave an apologetic touch to his glasses.
“That's all right; no harm done. You're Mr. Kent, aren't you?”
“Yes, that's right; Clark Kent.”
Her smile was nearly as bright as her platinum blonde hair. “I thought I recognized you.” She stepped closer, putting a hand on his arm. “I'm a big fan of yours, Mr. Kent. And maybe we'll be working together soon. I sure hope so.”
The elevator opened and Lois Lane stepped out just in time to take in the scene.
“Oh, the elevator,” Sally said. “I've gotta run.” She pushed past Lois and got on the elevator, pressing the HOLD button a moment to keep the doors open. “See you around, Clark.” With an exaggerated wink she let the doors close as she grinned a good-bye.
Clark was visibly flustered.
“Who's your girl friend, Clark?” Lois asked.
“She's not my girl friend. I don't even know her name.” Though he admitted silently he was curious.
“No? Well, she seemed quite friendly if you ask me.”
“I guess she's just the friendly type,” Clark said. He started down the hall toward Perry's office. “Excuse me, Lois; I've got to get this story to Mr. White before the deadline.” He tapped a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“Sure; don't let me stop you.” Lois marched along beside him.
Clark was uncomfortable about Lois following him; he knew she wasn't about to quit until she knew who the mysterious blonde was and why she seemed interested in Clark. But Lois' office was at the same end of the hall as Perry's so he figured she'd turn off when they reached the end.
No such luck. She followed him right into Perry's office. There wasn't much Clark could do but hand in his story.
“Here's the story on Canby's trial, chief. He and all of his cronies were sentenced to the chair.”
Perry took the pages and browsed through them. “And to think Walter Canby was a respected attorney, and even a good friend, or so I thought.” He glanced at his watch. “I'll make this priority, Kent, and send it to Composing in time for the next edition.”
“Thanks, Mr. White.”
“And what brings you here, Lois, or are you just shadowing Kent for lack of something better to do?” Perry demanded.
“Oh, I'm just tagging along with him until he tells me about his new girl friend.”
“Girl friend?” Perry's gruff demeanor was banished by a teasing smile. “Who is she, son? Some girl from your old home town, come to look you up?”
“She's not my girl friend.” Clark retreated; his protest was a bit harsher than he intended. “I really don't know who she is. I nearly collided with her in the hallway, she recognized me, and said something about maybe working here soon.”
“Working here? Was she a slender blonde in a gray dress?” Perry asked.
“Yes she was, Perry,” Lois said, “and even I have to say she fills it rather nicely.”
Perry hoped the red in his face didn't contrast too greatly with his whitening hair. “That sounds like Miss Fuller.”
“Miss Fuller?” Clark asked.
“Sally Fuller,” Perry said, referring to her resume on his desk. “She came applying for a job as a moving picture photographer. I had been talking with Grant about adding film to the television broadcasts.” He regarded his cigar a moment. “Funny how she heard of it, since the story about expanding the Planet's news broadcasts just appeared in yesterdays' paper; and on a back page at that.”
“That is strange,” Clark said.
“No stranger than her running into you first thing, and making goo-goo eyes at you as she left,” Lois taunted Clark with a bit of unexpected acid.
Clark couldn't resist and grinned as he said, “I don't know; maybe that's not so strange. You wouldn't be jealous, would you Lois?”
“Me? Jealous? Why would I be jealous if some girl took a liking to you? Why... I...” For one of those rare occasions Lois was at a loss for words and left the field.
Even Perry laughed with Clark at Lois' consternation. “Well well,” Perry said, “did you see a touch of green in Lois' eyes Kent?”
“No, not really,” Clark said with a touch to his glasses. “Maybe I shouldn't have teased her like that.”
“Nonsense; she's given it to you often enough. It's time you gave it right back to her. Maybe she'll respect you more. I know I will.”
“Yes sir. What can you tell me about this Miss Fuller, chief?” Clark asked.
“Only what's on her resume.” Then Perry was suddenly struck with an idea. “Wait a minute. I still have to OK it with Grant but if we hire her to film news events for the TV broadcasts, how about if I team her up with you?”
“Team her up --- with me? What do you mean, Mr. White?”
“Kent, sometimes I wonder about you. Lois seems to think this Sally Fuller might have a crush on you. Maybe she does. And just maybe you'd make a good team.”
“You mean when I'm covering stories on location for the TV station?”
“Yes. In fact, I'm going to make that part of my pitch to Grant. We'll corner the TV news market in this town overnight!” He reached for his phone.
“Excuse me, chief, but didn't you want to review my article on Canby before deadline?”
“And I won't make the deadline if you stand around here lollygagging and keeping me from work!”
With Perry back to his usual self Clark excused himself and made an exit. As he walked down the corridor to his office the flirtatious wink and grin of Sally Fuller haunted him. Who was she? Was she just some fan who had developed a crush on him, based on his writing and his picture in the paper? He wasn't sure whether he wanted the answers or not.
Besides, there were other things he was concerned about right now.
* * *
Sally returned to her apartment and threw herself down on the sofa. A laugh shook her nicely shaped form. Her feminine charms had worked before, and had worked again today. You still got it, kid, she congratulated herself, you still got it.
She was sure to get the job; use of movie film in TV broadcasts was still experimental, and she had no doubt of being the first and maybe only to apply. It was a cinch.
She sat up and lit a cigarette. She wanted to go to the prison and tell Canby what she had discovered, and what she planned to do with it; but she didn't dare. Visitors at the state prison had to sign in. She could always use a false name, but what if The Daily Planet decided to use photographs of her in advertising their new cinematographer? Some guard at the prison might recognize her and put two and two together. She couldn't risk it.
It was too late for Canby and his cronies; she had guessed that the moment he had decided to try and kill Superman. Once she had shown him the film she had discretely left his employ, moved to another apartment, and waited for the inevitable.
It was too late for Canby; but not too late for her. It was impossible to kill Superman. But there might be a way to make him helpless; even make him do her bidding. Yes, that's what she'd do. And then who knows? Maybe there would be a new Number One Crime Boss in Metropolis.
* * *
It was the end of the workday and Clark was tired; not just a little, as he sometimes was for a moment or two after doing something major like grabbing hold of a plane and maneuvering it to avoid a crash. He was as tired as he imagined most Earth humans were at the end of a particularly hard day at the office.
And this wasn't the first time, and it wasn't the only symptom.
When he reached his apartment he removed his coat and undid his tie. Setting them down on the bed he began unbuttoning his shirt and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. The shirt half-opened he turned and regarded his reflection.
The blue tunic crested with the red and yellow shield looked back at him in a reverse image that seemed oddly alien; and not because the uniform was made from alien material either. He thought about Superman, what his alter ego meant to the people of Metropolis and around the world, feeling that for some reason he was no longer able to live up to their expectations of him.
He removed the remainder of Clark Kent's business suit and stripped himself of the red and blue of Superman as well. He stepped into his closet and pressed a hidden spot opening the secret panel he had installed. There had been sufficient space between the walls to construct a closet, concealed from anyone who might come into this room of his apartment. He hung the costume up and pressed the button again, sliding the panel back into place.
Dressing again he thought of someone who might be able to help him. He wondered if he might be willing to meet with him tonight.
* * *
Dr. Tom Hayden knew Clark from the time the reporter had helped him break up a gang that was peddling fake medicines that were endangering his patients and those of his colleagues. Since then the two had become good friends. He was a psychiatrist but his medical degree permitted him to treat other ailments as well and Clark had called upon his expertise and discretion before.
Clark was now in his office, buttoning his shirt after a physical exam. He had asked for the exam on the condition that Hayden didn't draw blood. This wasn't the first time Clark had made that request and as usual Hayden honored it. He was naturally curious about his friend's quirk; he doubted Clark was afraid of needles, but sometimes it wasn't easy to tell. He had seen men bigger than Clark faint at the very sight of one, and boys preparing for Scout camp not even flinch while receiving a tetanus shot.
“Well Tom? What do you think?” Clark tightened his tie and shrugged into his coat.
“I wish more of my patients were as fit as you are,” Hayden said. “Your constitution is strong, one of the strongest I've ever seen. But my realm is psychiatry, so even though I know how to give a thorough physical exam, like you just had, my normal tendency is to look at this problem through the mysteries of the mind, not the body. This fatigue you've spoken of, the muscle weakness; I think they're more of a result of stress than anything else.”
“Stress?” Clark was intrigued yet incredulous.
Hayden nodded. “You've told me yourself Perry White isn't the easiest boss to get along with.”
Clark had to chuckle. “You're right about that.”
“And you've just completed a long campaign against organized crime in your paper.”
“Yes, but I've done that before.”
“I remember. That series of exposes about Luigi Dinelli even led to a Hollywood movie about him, didn't it? And Dinelli tried to put a stop to it, and you were in danger even out there a couple thousand miles away.”
“True.” Clark saw where he was headed, though he wasn't sure this was the answer.
“So things like this take a toll on a man. I'll bet even Superman has to take a rest now and then.”
Clark tried to hide the expression that came to his face. But it also led to a decision. “Tom, I've changed my mind. I'd like you to take a blood sample.”
Hayden was surprised. “I really don't need to, Clark. There is nothing a blood test will tell me that I don't already know from the rest of the exam.”
“I still want you to take it; on one condition. This involves the utmost secrecy.”
He was slightly miffed. “Clark, whatever is said or done within this office remains here; my oath requires that.”
“I know, Tom, and I meant no offense.” Clark leaned forward. “It's just that --- you may be surprised at what happens.” He removed his jacket and began rolling up his left sleeve.
Hayden's curiosity grew as he prepared an empty hypodermic. He swabbed Clark's forearm with alcohol and pressed the needle to his skin. The needle seemed to meet some kind of resistance. “Sorry, Clark; something wrong here.”
“That's all right.” Clark's jaw tightened. “Go ahead, try again and put all the effort into it you have to.”
Hayden pressed again; it was almost like driving a nail bare handed. But suddenly something gave.
The needle pierced Clark's skin, entered a vein, and Hayden filled the syringe with blood.
Clark didn't flinch, seem dizzy, or any of the other symptoms of one who disliked needles. Instead there was a look of determination, as though a question had been answered; and he didn't like the answer. As the reporter rolled down his sleeve he said, “Thanks, Tom. And if you will do me one more favor?”
“Of course. If you want this analyzed I'll have it at the hospital first thing tomorrow...”
“No. I was wondering if you could give it to me.”
Hayden was befuddled, and not for the first time tonight. “May I ask why?”
“I have some friends who I would like to have test it.”
“I'm sure your friends are quite competent,” Hayden said, “but I assure you the technicians at the hospital are also perfectly qualified.”
“And I'm sure they are. Please Tom; you've humored me so far tonight, and I'm very grateful to you. Just indulge me in this one last request.”
Hayden sighed. “All right. I'll transfer it to a vial so it's easier to carry.”
* * *
Sally had made a few phone calls. Sally had some contacts: guys she had grown up with who had become petty criminals. They weren't much to start out with, but one had to begin somewhere. One of their old hangouts was a 24-hour dive on a corner in Suicide Slum. Though it was past midnight she knew a couple of them were sure to show up. Dressing down as camouflage she got out of the cab and paid the driver.
“I wouldn't wander around this part o' town this time o' night, miss,” the cabby warned. “Ya sure ya don't wanna ride somewheres else?”
“I grew up here; hung out around here plenty of nights, this late and later,” Sally replied. “School nights too.”
“Yeah, I had me wild days too but I grew up. Ya sure ...”
“I'm sure. Good night.” She strode off to escape further argument.
She hadn't gone far when she was grabbed by the arm and hauled into an alley.
“What's a sweet thing like you doin' out this time o' night?” The grip was hard and she felt the tip of a switchblade under her chin.
A swift knee into the spot where it hurt the most and her assailant was leaning against the alley wall, groaning and shielding his damaged goods. The dim street light managed to reach into the shadows and he saw her face. “Hello, Sally,” he grunted.
Sally grinned. “Still getting beat up by girls, Lonnie?”
The pain was starting to subside, but barely. “No; just you, Sal.” He forced himself to straighten. “What're you doin' here, anyhow?”
“Thought I'd look up some of the old gang. Any of them around?”
“Yeah. There's some at Jonesie's.” That was the all night dive.
“Well, lead me to them. I'm in the mood to reminisce.” She offered her hand, hooking his elbow, and he escorted her to Jonesie's, limping all the way. They entered the diner and Lonnie announced, “Hey guys! Look who I found!”
There were maybe about a half dozen of the old crowd, male and female. Most looked like they bought their clothes from Good Will or maybe even scrounged them from that charity's rejects. The girls were more colorful in their choice of face painting than in their clothing, and considering the bright unnamed shades of red and yellow of the latter that was saying something. There had been some shuffling together of tables to accommodate everyone. Skinny Edwards was there, along with Big Mike, a couple of hunks whose names Sally had forgotten, along with “big-boned” Kim whose blonde hair fell past her shoulders in a tangled mess, contrasting with slim dark Donna.
The place was clouded in tobacco smoke and the only good thing to say about the stale, sour beer was that it was cold. It was a place where a lot of business was transacted; the kind that the cops would like to know about. The policy was that if asked, no one knew anything about anybody's business, including their own, and any spy received an immediate death penalty and a long scuba dive in Metropolis Bay without the benefit of scuba gear.
“OK Sally,” one of the hoodlums asked. He was known as Big Mike. “Why did you call us out here tonight?”
She took a long drag on her cigarette before answering. “All of you have been on the receiving end of articles and editorials by one Clark Kent.”
As this tale is based upon a family show we won't bother with the resulting characterizations of Kent that were heard for the next several moments. Suffice it to say none of the three had any love lost between them and the reporter.
The three glanced at each other. “It's been tried, lady,” one of them said. He was known as Big Mike.. “You might as well try to rub out Superman.”
Sally held back the laugh that wanted to come. “I guarantee Clark Kent will trouble you no more if you do as I say.” She was tempted to add the same about Superman but decided to keep that little secret for now. “I'll leave a message for you here when I know. Just wait until then and be ready.”
* * *
A good night's sleep did Clark a world of good. He didn't quite fully feel his usual self but better than he had. His window faced east and the bright morning sun brought warmth and new energy to his Kryptonian cells. Having been sent to Earth as an infant, he had no real memory of Krypton. But as Superman he had met often with professors Roberts and Lucerne: the first an astronomer and the other a physicist. It was through them he had confirmed that the lost planet Krypton had been the place of his origin. Their further belief was that while all Kryptonians were naturally supermen compared to Earthmen, with greater strength, speed, agility and heightened senses, those abilities were greatly enhanced by the rays of Earth's yellow sun. Clark always noticed the difference; he seemed to soak up and process the sun's rays during the day and store them like a battery.
Was that it? Was whatever was causing these periodic feelings of weakness or fatigue somehow preventing his body from taking full advantage of the shot of energy he received from the sun? Maybe Roberts or Lucerne might have the answer.
As he set out his clothes he gazed a moment at the secret closet. Then he shook his head at his own hesitation. Of course he was going to wear his costume. He certainly had enough in him for the day's possible challenges. Superman might be needed; and performing super deeds in Clark Kent's drab off-the-rack grays would attract some unwanted attention.
* * *
Perry's conversation with Grant turned out to be a mere formality. A newsreel type approach was exactly what Grant had in mind as well, and Sally Fuller was the front runner. Perry mentioned her possible tie to Kent and Grant agreed it might be just the thing to put WMET at the top of the local news programming heap. Immediately after his meeting with Grant Perry called Sally to tell her she had gotten the job and to report the next morning at eight to make it official and discuss her duties.
Next morning at eight Sally Fuller got off the elevator at the ----- floor once again. A young man came running from the stairwell to her left and stopped a moment near Clark Kent's office to catch his breath. As he did so he obviously took note of her.
“Golly!” He gulped. “I mean --- I'm sorry, was I staring? I didn't mean to stare. I mean...”
Sally laughed. “That's all right.” She put out her hand. “I'm Sally Fuller; this is my first day.”
The young man looked at the hand, wiped his own as though it might contaminate hers, and shook. “Hi. I'm Jimmy... I'm James Bartholomew Olsen, photographer and cub reporter.”
“Well I'm very pleased to meet you, James Bartholomew Olsen. May I call you James?”
Jimmy stuck his hands in his pockets. “Gosh, no. You can call me Jimmy.”
“All right, Jimmy. I'm here for a meeting with Mr. White and Mr. Grant.”
“You are? So am I!”
Sally offered her hand on his arm. “Then I would be honored to have you as my escort, James Bartholomew Olsen; Jimmy.” she chuckled.
Jimmy chuckled with her, crooked his arm and stiffened his back with all the dignity he could muster and started to usher her down the hall.
“Well!” said a voice behind them in his best Jack Benny impression.
Jimmy stopped. “Oh, Mr. Kent. Uh, Mr. Kent this is...”
“Clark and I have already met,” Sally said. “Good morning, Clark.”
“Good morning, Miss Fuller.”
“Please, call me Sally.”
“Very well, Sally.” Clark grinned. “I see you have made another conquest.”
“Jimmy has been kind enough to offer to escort me to our meeting. But I do have two hands.” She offered the other one and Clark, uncertain what else to do, took it in the crook of his arm and thus both men led her down the hall between them.
There was a little bit of Alphonse and Gaston Plus One when they reached Perry's office but Clark opened one door and Jimmy opened the other and they finally entered. Fred Grant, manager of WMET, was already there. Perry, of course, was puffing his impatience away on what might have been either his first or tenth cigar of the morning. Introductions and other pleasantries were made and Sally Fuller was offered the most comfortable chair in the room which was navigated to a spot just before Perry's desk. The others gathered round as best they could, Clark perched on the corner of the desk.
“Perry and I have discussed several ways we might improve and expand our local news programming,” Grant began, “and one of the ideas we kicked around was having someone with a movie camera accompanying a reporter to provide an on-the-scene report. Through Ludlow, head of our photography department here at the paper, Jimmy has been trying out a couple of types of movie camera.”
Jimmy grinned shyly as this was his cue. “Well, you know there are different kinds of movie cameras just as there are different kinds of still cameras.” As was his wont, Jimmy's initial shyness melted quickly when he knew he had an audience; an especially pretty one at that. “So Ludlow asked me to put some of these cameras to the test and see which ones were best suited to our needs.”
Clark flashed a wink at Sally as Jimmy adopted a professorial tone. She smiled and nodded back.
Perry merely harrumphed and barked, “Get on with it.”
Knocked down a peg or five, Jimmy resumed. “Yes sir. Well, it seemed we wanted something lightweight but 16mm, for better clarity on TV.” He took a brochure from his pocket. “This is the camera I'm suggesting we buy.” He passed it to Perry who glanced at it and gave it on to Grant. Grant gave it to Sally.
“Ever use a camera like this?” he asked.
Sally perused the brochure. “I've used this brand, but not this model. I'd like to have an opportunity to try it out myself, if Jimmy would help me.”
“Golly, sure Miss Fuller.”
Jimmy's sheepish grin returned. “Sure, Sally.”
“All right then,” Perry said, “it's settled. Olsen, you and Miss Fuller learn all you can about that camera. If it still looks like the one we want I'll authorize Ludlow the funds to purchase two of them.”
“Congratulations, Jimmy,” Clark said. “Looks like you and Sally will be working together quite a bit.”
Jimmy liked that prospect. He liked it a lot.
Clark seemed suddenly distracted. “If the meeting is over, chief, I just remembered something important.” He fidgeted, edging his way to the doors.
“Stay right there, Kent.” Perry ordered, “I'm not through.”
Clark stayed where he was, trying not to appear too anxious to leave.
“When Olsen and Miss Fuller have finished getting acquainted with the new camera, I'm assigning her to be your personal cameraman. I mean, camera-woman.” Truth was Perry wasn't sure at all just what to call her.
“That's all right, Mr. White,” Sally said. “We can figure out job titles later.” She turned to Clark. “Where were you going, Clark? Maybe we can try out the camera now instead of waiting.” The way she stood by him suggested cameras weren't the only thing she wanted to try.
“I'm sorry, Sally. Not this time.” He was backing to the door. “But I'm sure we can try it out next time. Excuse me.” He was out the door, closing it behind him before anyone could say more.
Jimmy followed and just as he opened the door Sally heard a door just down the hall slam shut. “Where did he go so quick?” Jimmy asked.
“Oh, I think Clark can probably move pretty quickly when he wants to,” Sally said. She came up to Jimmy. “You want to show me that camera?”
“Sure.” Jimmy was more than ready. He led her to the stair and down one floor to the City Room.
Sally had noticed the Store Room as they passed it, just down the hall from Perry's office. She suspected that was the room Clark had disappeared into, and she also suspected why. On both counts she was correct. As Jimmy got out the camera and started showing her its operation an announcement came over a shortwave radio that the City Editor kept tuned to the police band.
“Silent alarm at Schwartz Jewelry Store at corner of Siegel and Shuster. All units respond.”
“Jimmy, did you hear that?” Sally said, her hand on his shoulder. “Must be a jewel robbery!”
Jimmy liked having her hand there. “I'll bet it is. Jeepers, there'll be police cars there in minutes!”
“How far away are we?”
“Just a few blocks.” He saw a gleam in her eye. “Are you thinking what I”m thinking?”
“If you're thinking we get there same time as the cops and test the new camera, I sure am!”
“My car's downstairs. C'mon!” He grabbed the camera, Sally grabbed her purse, and they sprinted to the elevator.
* * *
Police cars had blocked off the traffic at either end of Siegel Ave., preventing Jimmy from parking within two blocks of the jewelry store.
“Just drop me off here,” Sally said, grabbing the camera and jumping out as soon as Jimmy slowed. An officer was coming toward him, already jerking this thumb for Jimmy to move on so he did. Golly; I'm gonna miss all the fun.
Sally flashed her brand new press badge and zig-zagged through two police cars and the attempts by four officers to stop her, the camera on her shoulder already taking it in.
There was some kind of ruckus going on inside and one last policeman tried to stop her but she ducked under his arm and stood just within the door.
It was pretty much over. Two crooks, their faces masked with handkerchiefs, lay on the floor dazed while a third still thought a bullet might stop Superman if he just found the right spot. While this idiot was getting target practice Superman had the fourth and last crook in one hand while his fist was drawn back. The blow most certainly was controlled, but it sure didn't look it. The crook went down on top of the other two, knocking any wind or remaining fight out of both. Superman let the crook with the gun empty it before grabbing it from him, squeezing it into a lump of useless metal, and giving another tap with his fist that sent him to join the others in Dreamland.
Superman stood with arms akimbo a moment, in the attitude of one who takes a breath or two after some exertion, though clearly he didn't need it. Then he noticed Sally and her camera.
“Smile for the camera, Superman!” Sally suggeested.
Instead Superman appeared annoyed, turned away, and strode out to where the police waited. Undaunted, Sally followed him out, still running film.
“They're all yours, Inspector,” Superman said. “No one was hurt, though the four thieves might have a different opinion. Excuse me?” He gave a glance that included Sally, took a few paces through a break in the crowd, and leaped into the air.
Sally followed his flight. When he disappeared behind a nearby skyscraper she figured she'd gotten all she could. She turned off the camera and lowered it from her shoulder. It might have weighed the least of those Jimmy had tried, but her shoulder was a bit raw from holding it there. She'd have to do something about that next time.
“And just who are you, miss?”
Sally recognized Inspector Henderson; he had been one of the subjects of her little home movie for Canby. “I'm Sally Fuller, Inspector.” She showed her press card.
“She's with me, Inspector,” the puffing, panting voice of Jimmy Olsen said as he came on the run. “Sally is new with The Daily Planet.”
“Oh?” Henderson was not immune to her charms either. “Sorry to have troubled you, Miss Fuller.” He straightened his tie.
So did someone else who showed up about that time. “Did I miss anything?” It was Clark, coming from somewhere; Sally thought, Right on cue.
“Oh, just Superman capturing the gang of jewel thieves we've been after for the last month,” Henderson said. “Where were you, Kent?”
“I just got here, Bill. Hello, Sally, Jim. Guess I got scooped this time.”
“And by the Planet's newest employee at that,” Henderson teased. “Looks like you've got some more competition, along with Miss Lane and young Olsen.”
“That's all right, Inspector,” Sally said, passing the camera to Jimmy and cozying up to Clark. “I think next time Clark and I are going to be a team. Aren't we, Clark?”
Clark's reply was an uneasy tug at his collar.
* * *
Sally and Jimmy walked ahead of Clark on the way back to the Planet. That was all right; Jimmy was briefing Sally on photographic procedures at the paper and he wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
Yes, he had caught the robbers. Yes, one of them had fired at him Usually he felt the impact as though a kid were blowing spitballs at him through a straw. But these bullets hurt. Not as though he believed himself wounded in any way but perhaps the way someone wearing a bullet-proof vest still feels the force of the bullets striking him. It was an indication that things still weren't quite right. And that lingering fatigue was beginning to get to him again.
“Mr Kent? You all right?”
Clark looked up. Jimmy had called over his shoulder to him. Both of them were well ahead of him; he had fallen way behind. “I'm fine, Jim. Just wool gathering, I guess.” He started to trot up to meet them and it took a little effort. What in the world is happening to me?
Or was it something from out of this world?
* * *
Jimmy drove Sally back to the Planet and introduced her to Phil Ludlow.
Sally, as usual, put on the charm. “I know you can get this film processed in time for the evening news broadcast, Mr. Ludlow.”
Ludlow wasn't able to do any such thing, but certainly wanted to please the lady. He felt his mouth grinning and his face reddening in a way it hadn't since he first asked a girl for a date back in high school. Reminding himself of his wife and two kids back home, Ludlow put on his business face. He was a down-to-earth, common sense sort who put up with Jimmy's occasional immaturity because he saw talent there, both as a photographer and as a budding reporter.
“I'm sorry, Miss Fuller, but we don't have the facilities here for processing movie film.”
Her disappointed look got to him.
“But I know of a photolab a couple blocks away that does. You know the one, don't you Jimmy?”
Jimmy thought a moment. “Sure; the one on Coates Street.”
“And we have a running agreement with them on jobs we can't handle. Jimmy, why don't you take Miss Fuller...”
“Call me Sally, please.”
“Take Sally to them and see if they can rush it. I've got an emergency fund here that'll pay for it.”
Jimmy grinned. “I'd be delighted. I mean, OK Sally, let's go.”
Ludlow watched them go. Jimmy had gone through so many crushes it was a running joke at the paper. Fortunately Jimmy took it in stride; after all, he was too young to settle yet so why not enjoy the bachelor life a few more years? Sally was a few years too old for him, though. Ludlow chuckled as he got back to work. And I'm a few years too old for her. He caught himself. And married, too.
* * *
As Jimmy took Sally into the photo lab he noticed a couple of tough looking men eying them from a few feet away. He hurried her into the store.
* * *
The workday was ending and Clark felt the weakness creeping its way through him again. Some instinct was telling him to put away his costume. There was no time to go to his apartment and stow it in his secret closet; it was Clark's turn to host the WMET Evening News, and he had to go from the newspaper office direct to the studio.
He made the walk he had done so many times from his office to the Store Room, locking it behind him. He removed his gray business suit, shirt and tie, and set them aside. Normally he compressed them and stored them in a secret pouch in his cape, located behind the S shield. He remembered the first time he showed this to Ma Kent. She was impressed.
“And it doesn't wrinkle folded and tucked in there like that?” Sarah Kent had asked.
“No. The suit is treated with a special chemical I invented.”
“Land sakes. Bet you clothing manufacturers would pay you quite a bit for something like that.”
Clark grinned. “I'm not out to make a fortune.”
“Of course not. 'Sides, you'd make a heap of enemies from the dry cleaners an' tailors you'd be taking business from. Not to mention the drop in the sale of irons an' ironing boards.”
He had treated the Kryptonian cloth of his costume with the same chemical, and now he compressed it into a square, flat packet and placed it into a pocket of his jacket.
Clark hoped there would be no need for Superman tonight; he didn't feel quite up to it.
* * *
The TV studio used for the broadcast wasn't very large, no bigger than his office at the paper. And the set wasn't much to write home about, even though he did write home to Ma Kent the first time he appeared on TV. It consisted of a desk, a chair, and a background made of drywall painted gray with the letters WMET in black blocks. Most of the space was taken up by the massive TV camera, its operator, and an isolated glass booth for the director. A speaker mounted in the glass wall allowed for communication between the two until air time. After that Hodge spoke only to the cameraman through a microphone which fed into the latter's earphones.
Don Hodge was the director. Like Perry he liked his cigars, and was puffing one now as he paced. Clark was calmly reading his script, more for something to do than anything else. He had written the script himself, based on the stories scheduled to be covered in the fifteen minute broadcast. First up was the jewelry store robbery he had foiled as Superman. It wasn't his choice to lead with it, it was Hodge's. But Sally had not yet arrived with her film and it was five minutes to air time. Clark knew why Hodge was nervous; Perry had told him to expect the film, and it hadn't come yet.
The door of Hodge's booth opened suddenly and a blonde thunderbolt burst in. “I'm here! They're threading the film now!” She leaned on Hodge's console, panting heavily.
Hodge observed her a moment and demanded, “Who the devil are you?”
“I'm Sally Fuller. I shot the footage for the broadcast.” She spied Clark on the other side of the glass. “Hi, Clark!” She waved and shot him a wink.
Clark waved back. He was glad she had made her first deadline; Perry would certainly be pleased. He watched and listened as Sally explained to Hodge about the film. Hodge listened and when one long trail of smoke replaced his anxious rhythmic puffing Clark knew his director's blood pressure had probably settled to something closer to a modicum range.
Hodge glanced at the clock. “One minute to air time!” he called.
Sally suddenly came through the door separating the two areas.
“Miss Fuller!” Hodge called, “we're on the air in 45 seconds!”
“I just want to tell Clark about the film.” She shut the door behind her, all but in Hodge's face, and rushed over to Clark. “It took some time but we got it developed, printed, and edited. It's mostly Superman beating up on the crooks.”
“Thanks. That'll help when I introduce the film.” Clark started around the desk to take his place.
“You should have seen Superman in action, Clark! He was terrific!”
“Fifteen seconds!” Hodge called out.
“Yes, I'm sure he was. Sally, why don't you go back to the booth and watch the broadcast from there?”
“Oh, I'm all right here. I'll stay out of your way.” She bent down and gave him a peck on the cheek. “That's for luck.”
Clark hoped the TV make-up covered the blush he felt on his cheek. “Thanks.”
The cameraman was getting antsy now, and waved for Sally to step aside, which she did, taking a seat on an extra chair in the corner.
“On the air in five --- four --- three --- two --- one ---”
The ON THE AIR sign lit red over the door of the booth and Clark began his broadcast. He began his usual way, welcoming the audience to the news, and telling the story as he had written it. Then he ad libbed, “And we have a special treat for you tonight: actual footage from the scene with Superman in action.” The camera light went out and he received a signal from Hodge that the footage was rolling; it played on a monitor in Hodge's booth. He smiled at Sally in congratulation. Hodge gave the signal the footage was over and the camera light came on. That's when it happened.
Sally suddenly pulled her chair over to Clark's desk. The cameraman gestured and clearly wanted to say something that was not only out of his job description but probably prohibited over the airwaves. Clark covered with another ad lib. “And here is the young lady who provided us with that film coverage of the attempted jewel robbery, Miss Sally Fuller, a new addition to our new broadcast staff.”
“Oh Clark, wasn't it exciting? I mean, I've read about Superman, mostly in your stories in The Daily Planet.” She gave him a playful squeeze on the arm at this; Clark winced and flashed a helpless glance at the cameraman. “But to see him light into those crooks! Of course, Clark, I'm sure you've seen him in action plenty of times, haven't you?”
“Uh... yes, Sally I have.” He gave a glance for her to return to her corner. “I'm sure we'll see more of Sally's work in the near future. Thank you, Sally.” Fortunately she took the hint, though not without a parting smile to the TV audience. “Now to further news....” He had to either speak rapidly or drop a story or two to make up for time; the network news came on immediately following them.
At last the broadcast was over. Everyone except Clark and Sally were sweating rivers; Clark because his Kryptonian body was incapable of it, and Sally because she had obviously planned her on-camera appearance and repartee with him.
And Hodge was out of his booth and ready to throw the book at her when Clark intervened. “Go easy on her, Don; it's her first time. I'm sure Sally is just a bit over eager.”
Hodge stifled much of what he had to say. “All right, Kent; but only on your say so.” He turned to Sally. “But I'll say this, Miss Fuller: don't do it again. If you want to appear on camera, fine; just clear it with me first.”
“I'm sorry, Mr. Hodge. I'll be careful next time.”
“All right. Good night.”
“Good night,” Clark said. He led Sally out of the studio. The broadcast was at 6:00; it was close to 6:30.
Clark had his own thoughts on it and chose his words. It was obvious to him that Sally wanted to be on camera; but he wasn't sure of her motives. “Have you had dinner?” he asked.
“No, I didn't have time getting that film ready to air. Why Clark, are you asking me for a date?”
“Well, I think we should talk.”
“Fine with me.”
They chose a restaurant and were ushered to a table. While eating he brought up the subject. “Sally, this is your first day and I don't want you to get off on the wrong foot. Getting on camera that way... well, I'm sure Don is going to tell Mr. White. And I don't know if he's going to like it.”
“Mr. White said I would be working with you and some of the other reporters on WMET. I just thought I'd see how we worked together on camera.” Her smile held more than just mischief. “I think we make a pretty good team, don't you?”
“Maybe it's too soon to tell. Just do like Don said though: next time you want to be on camera, ask his permission first. He's in charge of the television broadcasts, and a word from him can make or break whether you get on the air again.”
“OK, I'll keep that in mind.”
Both concentrated on their meals for a while.
“Clark, you said you've seen Superman in action.”
Clark answered tentatively. “Yes, in a way.”
“Well, you have to have seen him the way you write about his exploits.”
“I'm a reporter; that's what a reporter does.”
“But I've read a lot of your stories about him and stories by other people too. All the other reporters heap a lot of praise on Superman; they're really in awe of him. You don't make such a big deal of him that the others do.”
Clark shrugged. “Different writers have different styles.”
“But it's almost like you're downplaying him.” She leaned forward. “You can tell me, Clark. Are you jealous of Superman?”
“Me? Jealous of Superman? Why?”
“I don't know. Maybe you're jealous of the things he can do. You sure can't fly or burst through walls.” She glanced left and right conspiratorially. “Or can you?”
Clark betrayed his shock for just a moment before recovering. “Me? You're kidding me Sally, right? You --- you don't think... Only Superman can do the things Superman does. I'm Clark Kent. What makes you think I'm anything like Superman?”
“I'm just joking, Clark. You're right, this is one of the best steak dinners I've ever had.”
Relieved that she had changed the subject they continued with their meal and discussed other things. But Clark noticed a couple at another table who came in after them were looking their way every once in a while. Finally the man came over.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I don't mean to interrupt your dinner. Are you Clark Kent?”
“Why, yes I am.” He made sure his hands were clean; the man might want to shake his hand.
Instead he turned to Sally. “And you're the young woman who was on the news with him tonight, right?”
“Yes. Sally Fuller.”
Then he stuck out his hand, first to Sally then to Clark. “It's an honor to meet you both. My wife and I just saw your news broadcast before we left for dinner. What a coincidence to run into you like this.”
“It's a small world sometimes, isn't it?” Sally said.
He called over to his wife to join them. “Yes it is. I just wanted to come over and tell you how much we enjoyed watching the news tonight. Those films of Superman fighting those crooks were terrific! And you shot that film, Miss Fuller?”
“Please, call me Sally. Yes, I shot it and had it developed in time for the broadcast.”
“You did a great job.” He turned to Clark. “And I guess we'll be seeing more of her too, right Mr. Kent? I mean, you two seemed so great together.”
“Yes, you make such a cute couple,” the man's wife added.
Clark said,“Really, we're not a couple as you mean it, mister...”
“Davis. Craig Davis. And this is my wife, Janie.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Davis,” Sally said. “And Clark and I just met a couple days ago.”
“Yes. We're just out for dinner together tonight because we just finished the broadcast,” Clark said. “I thought I'd invite Sally to celebrate her first day on the job.”
“Ahuh,” Mrs. Davis said. “And that's how it starts sometimes, dearie,” she said to Sally.
“Well, we've taken up too much of your time already,” Mr. Davis said. “And I see the waiter is coming with our food.” He shook hands all around again. “It was a pleasure to meet you both.”
“A pleasure to meet you too.” Clark smiled. “I hope you enjoy your dinner.”
“Thanks. Good night.”
They finished their meal. “Well, looks like we've got the beginnings of a fan club,” Sally said.
“The Davises? Things like this happen sometimes. And other times people recognize you but don't say anything.”
“What did you think when Mrs Davis called us a cute couple?”
Clark wasn't sure how to answer so instead he signaled for the check. After paying he led Sally outside and they started walking.
“You didn't answer my question,” she said.
Again he was saved from answering when a man came up to them as they neared an alley. “Hey, I know you two. I just seen you both on the TV.”
Clark knew better than to try correcting the man's grammar. “Yes, you probably saw us on the news tonight.” He introduced himself and Sally to him.
“My buddy is a big fan too. Hey, I bet he'd like a autograph. C'mere, will ya?” He took Clark's sleeve with one hand and Sally's with the other and led them toward the alley.
This didn't look good, Clark thought. He checked out the alley with his X-Ray Vision. Sure enough a second man was waiting there with a gun.
“I'm sorry, we don't have time right now.” Clark pulled his arm free and jammed a heel on the man's instep. “C;mon, Sally.”
The man in the alley stepped out and prepared to fire.
Clark took her hand and started to run. His speed lifted Sally's feet off the ground a little bit but it was necessary. He ran just fast enough to avoid the two gunmen but not enough to appear faster than a normal person.
Then he felt the bullet.
That is, he felt the bullet.
And the next. And they hurt.
And something warm was beginning to seep through onto his shirt, something red.
Another breezed between them and Sally cried out.
A cab! He hailed it, bundled Sally in, and managed to slide in beside her. He collapsed against her and felt consciousness slip from him.
Sally trembled beside him; an injured Clark Kent, bleeding from a gunshot wound, was the last thing she had expected. “Hey driver!” she managed to say, “Mercy Hospital; and make it quick.”
A stew of thoughts raced each other through her head. He's not Superman? But –- what did that film mean? She looked on the man who suddenly seemed so helpless. Is he dying? If Clark Kent dies --- if those men are caught --- I'll burn for this just like them! Her next orders to the driver contained a few words she'd learned growing up on the mean streets of Suicide Slum, and that should suffice to suggest their nature. The driver responded by shoving his foot even further to the floor and taking chances around and through traffic even a New York cabby might avoid.
* * *
Clark was taken right into surgery and Sally paced the waiting room, chain smoking. The same questions kept coming back: Had she been wrong? If Kent isn't Superman ---
Her gunmen had fled from the coming police sirens. The cops had followed the ambulance to the hospital and had already questioned her. No, she didn't recognize the men who shot. Yes, she believed they were targeting Kent; why would they be shooting at her? They had taken her name and a routine check was going to bring up her juvie record, but she had managed to remain under the police radar since then. If Kent wasn't Superman, she didn't care if he lived or died. But if he wasn't, what was going to happen when the real Superman showed up? It was rumored Kent and Superman were friends; if Kent died he'd want vengeance, and nobody was going to stand in his way.
“Miss Fuller?” a man's voice said behind her.
Sally turned and a chill shivered through her. It was Inspector Henderson. He was a friend of Kent's too. And a good cop, too. If he suspected she had anything to do with this... “Yes?”
Henderson showed his ID. “I'm Inspector Henderson, Metropolis PD. I understand you were with Kent when he was shot?”
The cigarette jiggled in her trembling fingers and fell to the ground. Henderson ground it out with his shoe and took a pack from his jacket. “Here, allow me.”
“Thanks.” She took a cigarette and handed the rest back to him.
“Keep 'em,” he said. “I'm trying to quit.” He took out a lighter and lit it for her. “Did you see the men who shot Kent?”
Sally forced calm into herself with a drag on the cigarette. “Yes; I mean, no. It happened so fast. Inspector, I already answered these questions when the officers asked them.”
“I know, but I'm following up anyway. You see, Kent's a friend of mine. Has anyone said anything to you about his condition?”
Sally shook her head. “He's still in surgery. I think they said there were two bullet wounds.”
Henderson's eyes closed a moment and Sally believed he might be breathing a quick silent prayer. For the first time since childhood she wished she still believed; she could use some help now.
“You just started working at the Daily Planet, right?”
Sally nodded. “This was my first time on air tonight.”
“I saw the broadcast. Looked to me like you were flirting a little with Kent.”
She believed courage came with each inhalation of nicotine. “I suppose I was, a little. Thought it might look good on TV.”
“Probably did; especially if you wanted to move up real quick, say to joining Kent on the air; or maybe even replacing him?”
“Inspector, I don't know what you're talking about. Clark is a good looking guy; any girl might fall for him.” She grinned. “Being a man you wouldn't think of him that way.”
Henderson cleared his throat and noticed two newcomers entering through the glass doors from the parking lot. They spotted him and hurried forward. “Miss Lane, Olsen.”
“Inspector,” Lois greeted him. “Miss Fuller.”
“Hello Lois; Jimmy. How did you hear about...?”
“The Inspector called us before coming here,” Lois explained.
“How's Mr. Kent?” Jimmy asked.
“In surgery. He was shot twice.”
“How did it happen?” Lois asked.
Sally gave them a brief rundown. “The police have questioned me and now Inspector Henderson. I'm waiting to hear what's going on just like the rest of you.”
A nurse came over to them with a bundle. “Who is here with Mr. Kent?” she asked.
Four voices answered.
“Which one of you brought him in?” the nurse continued.
Sally answered that it was her.
“These are Mr. Kent's belongings,” the nurse said, indicating the bundle. “Do you wish to take charge of them?”
Lois reached for them but Sally seized them first.“Yes, I'll take them.”
Lois looked like she might argue the point but Jimmy held her back. “It doesn't matter,” he said. “Is Mr. Kent all right?” he asked the nurse.
“Both of the bullets have been removed,” she said. “He's a very lucky man; neither penetrated very far. One was just enough to nick a blood vessel, which was why he was bleeding. But he's still under sedation, and won't be conscious for a while.”
“How long will he be out?” Henderson asked.
“It's hard to say; different patients respond to anesthetic different ways. But they're preparing a room for him now. He'll be here at lest overnight.”
“Thanks,” Lois said. “Will you let us know what room he's in when he's settled?”
“Of course.” She was clearly anxious to on her way to other duties. “Is there anything else?”
“No, that's fine. Thank you.” Henderson gave her a brief grin and the nurse went about her work. “I'm staying the night; you three can go home if you want.”
“I'm staying too,” Lois said. “The Chief said to call him when we heard any word.” She spied a pay phone down the hall. “I'll go call him now.”
“If you're finished with me, Inspector, I'd like to go home,” Sally said. “This has been quite an ordeal.”
“I understand, Miss Fuller. Just give me your address and number so I can reach you.” He took his notebook and pencil stub from his pocket and wrote down the information as she gave it. “I've got a police car here with an officer to drive you, if you'd like.”
Sally almost declined the offer but suddenly relished the irony of it. “Yes, thank you.”
Henderson took her to the waiting unmarked car, gave the driver instructions, and saw her off.
Sally sat in the back seat. She became aware of the bundle she was hugging to her; it was Clark's clothing, folded into a brown paper cover such as dry cleaners use. Something had told her to accept it and take it home with her. She would find out why in the morning. Right now what was needed was a good night's sleep.
If she was able to get it.
* * *
Dr. MacIntyre scrubbed his hands after the surgery. He'd been in the medical profession twenty years and had spent more than his share of time on emergency room duty, removing bullets from gunshot victims. He'd never seen a case like this before. Neither bullet had gone too far below the surface; one was nearly visible without an incision and he had extracted it without having to widen the wound at all. The other had gone deeper, nicked a vein and required incising the wound to gain room to work. Man, that Kent had a tough hide! The anesthesiologist had trouble inserting the needle for the IV. And while the lab had typed Kent's blood as O- they said there was still something odd about it But all the usual had been necessary: anesthetic, monitoring his vitals, and sewing up the wound when they were done.
His name sounded over the loudspeaker. Dr. MacIntyre sighed. Time to do it all over again; another patient, hopefully something other than a bullet wound, but another surgery. He glanced at the clock; still four hours to go on his shift. Oh well. “For Duty and Humanity.”
* * *
Lois sat on a stool beside Clark's bed. The reporter was still asleep and hooked up to a tube leading to a half-filled bottle of blood. Jimmy had gone for coffee for the two of them. She went over in her mind the many times she belittled Clark and even insulted him; sometimes openly in public, like the time they went to Silsby, the town that boasted the “World's Deepest Oilwell.” It was the deepest, all right. It reached right into the center of Earth, and mole-like creatures who inhabited an unknown world below the Earth's crust emerged. A mob had formed in the lobby of the local hotel and Clark had tried to calm the crowd. “Let me handle this,” he had said. Let him handle it, she had thought at the time. What on Earth does Clark think he can do? Then when news came that the creatures had been seen in the house of Luke Benson, one of the mob's leaders, all of them marched to Benson's house and Clark simply disappeared. “He does that all the time,” she had said to Craig and Corrigan, two employees of the oil company, “gets himself in a jam then disappears.” And there was the time Clark had encouraged the young college wrestler, Wayne Winchester, to go up against “Bad Luck” Branigan, a pro wrestler with a paralyzing grip. She had told Clark in what was then no uncertain terms, “I never want to see you again as long as I live,” and had walked out of Perry's office with Wayne. Clark had been right; Wayne had beaten Branigan and now he was making his way as a pro wrestler thanks to Clark and his friend Sam Bleaker, a local promoter.
Clark had made his share of enemies along the way. He was quiet and slow to anger; he had certainly taken her abuse and Perry's with remarkably good grace. But when he was behind that typewriter he wrote the truth as he saw it, and let no one stand in the way. Now one or more of those enemies had caught up with him and he was fighting for his life. And she and Clark were colleagues; no, more than that they were friends. In fact Lois began to wonder if there was something more she was beginning to feel as well... No, her love was Superman; and Clark was certainly no Superman.
Yet there was something about the profile of the man in the bed that...
“Here's your coffee, Miss Lane,” Jimmy said returning with two steaming cups. Inspector Henderson was right behind him with a cup of his own.
“How is he, Miss Lane?” Henderson asked.
“He's still under anesthetic,” she said. “The doctor said he was very lucky; neither of the bullets penetrated very deep.”
“Mr. Kent seems to live a charmed life sometimes,” Jimmy said.
Henderson nodded. “I've been around him enough to say the same thing. I suspect Kent's got more guts than we give him credit for.”
“Clark? He's the first one to disappear when there's trouble.” Her response she realized was more of a reflex but dared not admit that to them.
“Maybe,” Henderson responded, “But that's never stopped him from taking on some of the toughest customers in the underworld.”
“Inspector, do you think that's what happened? A couple of crooks Mr. Kent put away through his articles did this?”
“It won't be the first time, Jimmy,” Henderson said. “I've seen it happen to other crime reporters in my day; and some didn't make it.”
Lois shivered at this and the coffee in her Styrofoam cup sloshed over a little on her hand but she didn't feel it. “Let's hope he makes it,” she whispered as though in prayer.
Jimmy sat on the edge of the low cabinet at one end of the room, sipping his coffee slowly. He still favored a blend containing nearly as much cream as coffee and three teaspoons of sugar, as he had when he first drank it in his early teens, but its warmth and soothing comfort was the same as if he drank it black like the Inspector.
Mr. Kent lay there looking so weak and helpless. That was not the man Jimmy had come to admire and respect. Since coming to work at the Planet Mr. Kent had become like a big brother to him, maybe even something of a father figure. Jimmy's own father had died shortly after Jimmy was graduated from high school. The little neighborhood store that had been their livelihood was now run by his mother, but Jimmy had assumed responsibility early as well, working his way through obtaining a journalism degree at a junior college. There were some times of struggle, and though Jimmy lacked a strong male role model during these years he had stuck to his goal and after two years had gained a job as cub reporter on the Daily Planet.
One of Jimmy's fondest memories of Mr. Kent was during his vacation at his Aunt Louisa's on Moose Island. Strange things were going on and Jimmy called Clark to tell him of them. He never figured out for certain how he did it, but Mr. Kent showed up on Moose Island within an hour or so; though the subsequent appearance of Superman shortly after probably had something to do with it. He figured Mr. Kent had asked Superman to fly him there. And between Mr. Kent's detective work and Superman's rescuing him more than once from the smugglers who were using the island's deserted lighthouse as a base, he had quite an adventure.
Funny, he never got around to asking Mr. Kent if his guess was correct and Superman had flown him there then stuck around to help out.
And when Jimmy hadn't come home one night and his mother worried about him, Mr. Kent was the first person she had called. That was when a crook had drugged him to rifle Mr. White's files for information on Superman. He was glad his mother felt she could rely on Mr. Kent. And then the older reporter had volunteered to lead the police to whoever was seeking to learn about Superman. While the other Planet staff were given plainclothes officers for protection Mr. Kent had refused, hoping to get closer to the man behind it all, who they learned was an evil scientist called Dr. Ort. Ort had even tried to give Mr. Kent the same truth drug, but somehow he had evidently avoided drinking it and played along until he could contact Inspector Henderson. Ort was killed by police while trying to escape.
Mr. Kent had taken Jimmy under his wing as well, becoming a mentor to him in the newspaper business. Jimmy had learned a lot from being with him. They occasionally even went out to Chicago Cubs games if the team was in town and just enjoyed each other's company.
He had to get well; he just had to!
Henderson stood for a while behind Lois, looking for signs of Kent awaking from the anesthetic. Then he turned to the window, but rather than seeing the city sprawled out beyond he remembered the several times Kent had been involved in some crime or mystery Henderson had found difficult to solve.
Like most professionals Henderson disliked amateurs dabbling in his line of business. He had dealt with nosey crime reporters before, from the Planet and other Metropolis newspapers. They all seemed to be too eager to cross that line and solve a case themselves, rather than just report the results once the police had done their work. But Henderson had to admit Kent often provided the most telling clues to solving some real hard nut cases.
It was Kent who, going to the docks, provided the clue that led to solving a series of presumed suicides of prominent men in Metropolis whose deaths had been “predicted” by Madame Selena, who ran a local wax museum. It turned out the supposed suicides were still alive, though barely, kept prisoner in the basement of the wax museum.
Kent had also helped recover a Chinese jade statuette worth a considerable sum when it was stolen from a curio shop in Chinatown. He was also the only one to solve the riddle of the smashing of a series of cheap plaster animal figures, the items inside forming a rebus puzzle leading to the whereabouts of stolen bonds. (?)
As much as Henderson had first seen Kent's detective work as an intrusion he now valued his assistance. By the time they had flown to Hollywood to oversee the filming of Czar of the Underworld, based on a series of crime expose editorials Kent had written, they had even become friends.
And now this same friend lay fighting for his life. Henderson had lost friends on the force to gunshots. But if it came to pass, he knew he would feel this loss more.
* * *
Clark lay in a state somewhere between sleep and waking. There was pain his his chest; a sensation he hadn't felt at any time in his life. He remembered the two crooks firing at him and bullets striking him. There was a dim recollection of entering and collapsing into a cab, something warm and wet on his shirt, and then nothing.
He was Superman; bullets bounced from him, they had no effect on him. What happened? How was this done? A few months ago Prof. Roberts and Prof. Lucerne had shown him a meteor they said came from Krypton. Its effect upon him had been similar to what he was experiencing now: these weaknesses, this feeling that his power was sapped from him. He someone gotten part of that meteor and formed it into bullets? Was that the answer?
When he had recovered he was going to find out. Meanwhile he had to rest.
* * *
Sally thanked the officer but refused his offer to escort her to her door. She entered her apartment and tossed down the bundle of clothes. Those idiots! She used a stronger term but this will suffice. They almost shot me too! And all for nothing. Sure, if all went well Kent would be out of the way. But if he isn't Superman...
An odd emotion, not exactly regret but perhaps akin to it, was nagging at her. The thought --- or hope? --- that Clark would pull through nagged the back of her mind. Was she getting soft? Clark was a good looking guy, and had treated her well; a lot better than most of the boy friends she'd had over the years.
Shaking the emotion from her she looked again at the bundled gray suit. She didn't know why but she started to open the bundle and examine the clothes. Sally sniffed in derision. Plain department store clothes; Kent might have a closet full of them and they wouldn't have cost as much as one of Canby's tailored suits. Oh well, might as well hang them up to take back to him when he's released. She took them into her room and took out a couple of hangers.
But as she held the coat she felt something in the inner pocket. Probably his wallet. But the wallet was sitting on her dresser; she had already found it. She reached inside and pulled out a square packet of cloth. Yet this cloth was of a type she had never seen or felt. It had an odd texture.
And what she saw of it was in two colors: red and blue.
Then she noted Kent's belt. It was two sided, and there was something odd about the buckle too. One side was black and the other yellow. And the buckle had a round, solid back to it; the side that showed with the yellow surface of the belt.
She tried unfolding it; the material refused to budge from its compressed state. It was somehow shrunk and folded upon itself by a person much stronger than her; a person with super strength.
Red and blue. Strange, unknown material. Compressed together with super strength.
A grin turned her mouth into an upwards curve. Then a chuckle began in her throat. The chuckle became a laugh. There was only one article of clothing, colored red and blue, which might be capable of being folded as tightly as this, if the person folding it was strong enough.
When she finally had her laughter under control she dialed a number. The phone rang for an eternity or two before Lonnie answered. “The time is now!”
* * *
Jimmy and Lois had been taking turns at Clark's bedside and it was Lois' turn. She had been there since late afternoon, watching for him to awake, talking to him, not knowing if her words reached beneath h8s drug-induced sleep.
“You know I've always thought of you as a rival, Clark. Ever since you got the scoop on me and every other reporter in town on the rescue of that airport worker, your first day on the job. Beginner's luck, I called it. But you seemed to get more than your share as time went on. And I have to admit, I've come to respect you. We both came from small towns; I was from Clifton, you're from Smallville. Guess you worked on your high school paper same as I; maybe even put in some time on our local papers. So we both started from the ground up.
“But I've also come to realize something else about you. You're a good friend to have. Jimmy found that out right off, but then he was probably looking for an older brother figure or something. It took me more time because of my own stubbornness and independence, I guess. But even with all the times I've sniped at you and even downright insulted you, you've taken it all and in stride and only gotten angry at times when I knew myself that I'd crossed a line.
“You know, there have been times when I've even wondered if you're Superman. After all, you arrived in Metropolis it seems the same day he did; and you're never seen together.” Lois sighed heavily and glancing toward the hallway to be sure she was unobserved, placed a hand on one of his. “Now to see you lying here, two bullet wounds, knowing you're just as mortal as the rest of us...”
She could go on no further. When a nurse came at about six to check Clark's vitals she asked Lois if she wanted anything from the cafeteria, or if she wanted to take a break and go down there herself. Lois refused on both counts, though she thanked the nurse for asking.
Night came and the lights were turned out in the room, save for a small one in a corner. The lights in the corridor were still on full and when the night nurse left she pulled the door partly closed so only a narrow bar of light angled its way across the floor. It had been a long day and by midnight even the hard, metal-framed chair in which she sat was as comfortable as a foam mattress and Lois fell asleep, her head lolling to one side.
The voice was quiet and weak but it was enough to startle her awake. “Clark? Clark! You're awake!” She nearly sprang from her seat and again placed her hand on his. He grinned up at her, noticing the affectionate gesture which she hurriedly withdrew.
“That is you, isn't it, Lois?” he asked.
“Yes, it's me.” His glasses were folded and sitting on the bedside table. She picked them up. “Here.”
He donned the glasses and an owlish look came about his eyes, distorting his face. He grinned again at her. “That's better.” He looked about him. “How long have you been sitting there?”
“I don't know; it seems a long time. You were shot, do you remember?”
He nodded. “Yes. I was with Sally --- is she all right?”
“Yes; Sally is fine.” Lois wondered at the hurt pride in her own reply. Why did his mentioning Sally bother her? “Inspector Henderson thinks they were criminals who had a vendetta against you.”
“Could be.” He winced at a flare of pain in his lower chest. “Guess I'm lucky to have survived.”
“I'd say so.”
Clark tried to sit up but the pain worsened. With Lois' help he managed it and she re-arranged his pillows. “Thanks.”
“I'd better tell a nurse or doctor you're awake. And Jimmy and the Chief and the Inspector probably all want to know it too. Will you be all right while I go make some calls?”
“Yes, thanks Lois. Oh, Lois?”
“Before you call Jimmy and the others could you do me a favor?”
“I'd like to speak to Dr. Tom Hayden. Will you call him for me first?”
“Hayden? Is he on staff here?”
“I don't know, really. But he's a friend of mine and my personal doctor.” Clark gave her Hayden's number. “I'd like to see him as soon as he can make it.”
“All right. I'll call him first.” She stopped before she went out the door. “I'm really glad to see you're all right.” Then she seemed to throw herself out, she exited so quickly.
Clark knew that deep down Lois cared, even if she refused to admit it.
* * *
Paul Sanders was just one of the two dozen employees who worked at Stewart's, the ritziest jewelry store in Metropolis. And now he was one of two dozen who lay on the floor against the far wall while two men with huge frightening machine guns covered them. Two more covered the front entrance and the rear exit. Meanwhile three others were filling large canvas sacks with just about everything they could get their hands on. All wore heavy black knit masks over their heads and faces. A trained gemologist, Paul added up in his mind the value of each set of items as they disappeared by the sackful. There was enough to allow all seven men, their children, and their children's children's children to live extremely comfortably for several generations to come.
He had been about to trigger the silent alarm when one of the gunmen thrust the black bore of his weapon's barrel virtually up his nose. As far as he knew no one else had been able to trigger any of the other alarm buttons, located at each display case. If one or more had managed it there would be a whole fleet of squad cars here by now.
And what about Superman? He seemed to know when a robbery was committed or when people needed help even without the aid of alarms and other means of alert. Where was he now?
As a man filled a sack he took it out back to where they must have had a large truck waiting. Finally it seemed they had stripped the store clean; or run out of canvas sacks. A harsh voice which Paul suspected as being disguised ordered the men to all “get in the truck.” They filed out the back with the warning that if any of them called the cops in the next five minutes they would be dead.
Paul studied his co-workers for two or three long minutes after the gunmen were gone. “Well,” he said, standing up, “if none of you are going to do anything I will.” He went to the nearest alarm button and pressed it.
It was nearly a half hour before Inspector Henderson and several officers showed up. Kendrick, the store manager, took the lead in telling Henderson what had happened. Paul stood nearby and offered his own observations which Kendrick didn't appreciate.
“What took you so long, Inspector?” Kendrick demanded, perhaps venting some of his anger against Paul by using Henderson as a target.
“There was another major robbery on the other side of town,” Henderson said. “Must have been the same time as this one. We were responding to that one and had just finished up when we received your alarm signal.
“That's not good enough, Inspector! Kendrick said. “Those thieves got away with several fortunes!”
“I know, I know. Now whatever you can tell me will help us find them.”
“You have all we know! Go out and arrest these hoodlums!”
Henderson clamped his mouth shut. “We will, Mr. Kendrick. We will.” He thrust his notebook and pencil back in his breast pocket. “We'll be in touch if we have any more questions.”
Kendrick aimed more rebuttal at Henderson's back, demanding why they were asking honest citizens questions when they should be out catching crooks.
Henderson, to his credit, kept his cool as best he could. But his frustration level was near its limit. Then the news of two more robberies, one in which a guard was killed, came over his car radio. Again they were on opposite parts of town. What's going on here? Henderson thought as he ordered his driver to one of the crime scenes. Instinctively he reached into his breast pocket to find it empty and sighed. He almost wished he hadn't decided to give up smoking.
* * *
“So, you've decided to come back to us after all, eh Kent?” Henderson asked as he knocked on Clark's hospital room door. A forced grin drew up the corners of his mouth but looked as unnatural as it truly was. The angry tossing of his hat and the heavy sigh that accompanied it said far more than the words themselves.
Clark was sitting up in a padded lounge chair that had been brought in for him. “Hello, Bill. Yes, they may even let me out later today or in the morning.”
“That's good news.” He sighed again. “And I need good news.”
Clark motioned to the only other chair in the room. “What's wrong?”
Henderson sat down. “Metropolis is coming apart at the seams. Kent, do you know how I can get in touch with Superman?”
“Superman? I don't know.” He studied his friend, speaking with caution.
“Well, he seems to have disappeared. And Metropolis is beginning to face a crime wave that's growing to become as bad as the one Canby was behind.”
Clark's eyes narrowed behind his glasses. “Tell me about it.”
Henderson told of the two robberies he had investigated so far, the armored car hijackings, and hints of a new protection racket for small business owners. “And they seem to be all done by the same gang. There's a kind of trademark to their methods.”
“I don't remember anything about this before I was shot.”
“It's all happened in the last couple of days. And if this is just the start, who knows what it'll be like in a week or a month.
“Kent, I've been a cop since I got out of high school. I've seen a lot of crime and a lot of criminals. And I've been fortunate enough to put quite a few of them away. But this has gotten beyond what the department can handle. This gang doesn't plan just one job or two; there have been two or three or even four going on simultaneously.”
“Even Superman wouldn't be able to be in two or three places at once,” Clark reminded him.
“I know, but if we just had a way to contact him... “ His grimace again was a silent testimony of his frustration. “Where is he, Kent? Superman usually seems to know when we need him. What's happened to him?”
Not for the first time Clark was tempted to confide in his friend. “I'm sure he'll be back soon.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Am I interrupting anything?” Another visitor was at the door.
“Tom! Come right in,” Clark said. “Inspector Henderson, you remember Dr. Tom Hayden.”
“Oh yes, from that fake drug case. Are you one of the docs treating Kent?”
“No, I'm not here officially; just as a friend.”
“Well, I'd better get back to trying to track this gang. Hope you're out of here soon, Kent. Good seeing you again, Dr. Hayden.”
“Same here, Inspector.” Hayden waited until Henderson had left and pulled up the chair. “How are you doing, Clark?”
“Much better, Tom; thanks.”
“With your constitution, guess it took nothing less than a bullet to set you back.”
As with Henderson, Clark wished he could share his secret with Hayden. “Yes, I suppose you're right.”
“How are they treating you here?”
“Oh, just fine. But I didn't ask you here just for a social call.”
“No. Tom, I'd like you to talk to a couple friends of mine; and of Superman's.”
“Friends of Superman's? Sure, Clark. Who do you want me to see?”
“Two professors: Roberts and Lucerne. Roberts is an astronomer and Lucerne a physicist. They are examining the remains of some equipment Superman left with them. I'd like to know if they have had any progress.”
“Of course, I'll go see them. But why is this so important now? Don't go getting worked up over some story you've been following now. There are other reporters on the Planet payroll. They even have that new girl, Sally, filling in for you this week on the evening newscast. Well, she's sharing the desk with Miss Lane, but she's holding her own.”
Clark filed that piece of information for later. “How is she doing?”
“I've seen her a couple of times. She does a pretty good job.” Hayden chuckled. “Of course, getting the news from an attractive lady does make it easier to take.”
Clark flicked a smile. “Well, this isn't about a story. This is a follow-up to something Superman asked me to do.”
“Then why doesn't Superman check it out himself?”
“He's otherwise occupied right now.” That was certainly the truth.
“Yes, with the rise in crime I can understand he has his hands full. Does what Roberts and Lucerne are doing have anything to do with it? Are they working on something that might help?”
“You might say that.”
“All right. Where can I find them?” He took out a pocket notebook and pen.
Clark gave him an address for a lab Roberts and Lucerne shared out of town.
After sitting with Clark a while longer Hayden said good-bye and left.
Clark hoped his professor friends' work was successful.
The future safety of Metropolis depended upon it.
* * *
“So are we all set for tonight? Sally asked.
Murmurs and answers of consent came from those around the table. One or two spoke in more detail, updating their female boss on developments of jobs in progress.
Their meetings had moved from Jonesie's to the remote house where Canby had set his trap for Superman; a trap that hadn't seemed to work at first but, Sally figured, must have had a delayed reaction on the Man of Tomorrow.
They were gathered in the very room where the equipment had been installed. Conduits still lined the wall, twisted and broken now with cables hanging naked like slender snakes from their torn openings. All power to the machine had been cut off, but the meeting table was still set well clear of the wires, which appeared ready to leap at them and attack.
“Good. And with Superman out of the way we've got nothing to worry about.” Sally lit another cigarette and blew the smoke up in a column.
“How can you be so sure?” Big Mike asked.
“I'm sure,” Sally said. Her upbringing had taught her how to deal with mugs like Big Mike. Growing up she had never backed down from a fight, verbal or physical, against female or male, small or big. And she wasn't about to start now. She faced down the doubt in the eyes of Big Mike and a few of the others. Keeping her victory smile to herself she said, “Now I've got to break this up. The news broadcast starts in one hour.”
The meeting started to break up. Sally gathered her things and headed for the door. Big Mike sent a commanding glare over the others as she went, making a show of his own preparations for departure. Following his lead the others did the same. Sally glanced back but had no time to lose. The drive back to Metropolis would take over a half hour, plus the necessary wardrobe and make-up changes for the camera. If she thought at all about their staying behind it caused her no alarm.
When they heard her car start off down the steep incline to the road below Big Mike sat down again. Some sat, some milled around out of curiosity. He had spoken to most of them by phone prior to the meeting that he had something to say to them afterward. Now was that time.
“I don't trust her,” he said. “She's too sure of herself.”
“Yeah,” Lonnie said. “What makes her think Superman's out o' the pitcher?”
“I don't like that she's workin' for th' Daily Planet,” another said. “She know about all the jobs we're pullin'. How do we know she won't tell what she knows on TV? Or to the cops?”
Big Mike nodded. “That's what I been thinkin'. So why don't we pull some jobs she don't know about?”
Grins came from around the room. Those who had been standing sat at the table again.
“Whatcha got in mind, Big Mike?” The speaker was a stocky fellow whose hair consisted of a half-ring beginning at his ears and barely covering the back of his head. In a moment of prophetic irony at his birth his mom had named him Harry. His nom-de-crime was Cue Ball.
“Just this. You all got jobs you've wanted to do an' run by Sally, and she put the kibosh on 'em.” Murmurs of assent came from round the table. “Well, you had all lined them jobs up before tellin' her about 'em, right?” A second chorus of assent hummed. “Well then, let's do 'em. Let's hit this town like it never got hit before.”
Lonnie had one misgiving. “What if Sally's wrong about Superman? Maybe he's just been waitin' for some reason, or workin' his own angle.”
“If she is and Superman tries to stop us, he still can't get all of us. We just hit an' keep on hittin', job after job after job. No way he can get all of us. An' if none of us squeals on the others, the rest of us can keep it up.
“Sally thinks she can be the new crime boss of Metropolis. Well, she's got another think comin'.”
* * *
Sally had shot footage that day of the aftermath of a museum robbery and, sitting beside Lois at the anchor desk, had introduced it. The fact that she knew the job was happening and just when it would be over of course got her to the right place at the right time.
Lois was just about to move on to the next story when someone handed her a note. She glanced at it, frowned and addressed her audience through the eye of the camera.
“I've just been handed a bulletin. The Weisinger Savings and Loan has just been robbed of a large number of negotiable bonds. The value of the stolen bonds is in the hundreds of thousands.”
Beside her Sally suddenly looked ill and eased herself off camera. The alert cameraman focused on Lois, who folded her hands and made a direct appeal. “Inspector Henderson and the fine men and women of the Metropolis Police Department are, I'm certain, doing everything they can to stop this new crime wave that has begun in the last few days. Yet there is one who has devoted his life to fighting criminals, who brought to justice the ringleaders and finally the mastermind behind the city's last crime wave. Yet he has seemed to have disappeared.
“Superman, if you are watching, please help put an end to this new streak of robberies and other crimes. We need you.”
Lois went on with the remainder of the broadcast while Sally hunched into a corner of the studio, cigarette smoke clouding her face. What was going on? This job wasn't planned. She remembered it as being proposed, discussed and dismissed. Were they countermanding her orders? By whose authority?
* * *
Hayden found the laboratory and knocked on the door. Prof. Roberts, a look-alike to Robert E. Lee, answered the door. “Yes?”
“I'm Dr. Tom Hayden, a friend of Clark Kent's.” He gave Roberts one of his business cards. “Clark sent me to speak to you and Prof. Lucerne. May I come in?”
Roberts studied the card as though it contained the secrets of the universe, studied the man in front of him almost as closely, and finally stepped aside. “Come in.” He led Hayden through a sort of parlor to a large open area in the back of the building. Flasks, tubes, various forms of equipment which were mysteries to Hayden sat about in what might not have seemed an orderly fashion but no doubt the two scientists knew exactly what and where everything was. Roberts introduced him to a small dome headed man with a fringe of gray hair who went by the name of Prof. Lucerne.
“Don't think us rude,” Lucerne began, “but exactly why are you here?”
“You've heard that Clark was shot and wounded?” Hayden began.
“Yes,” Roberts said. “We were sorry to hear that. How is he doing?”
“He's recovering. I visited him earlier today and he may be going home tomorrow.”
Prof. Lucerne nodded. “That's good. He's a fine young man.”
“Did he send you here?” Roberts asked.
“Yes.” Hayden figured it was time to get down to business. “He wanted me to ask you about your progress on studying some equipment Superman left with you.”
Roberts and Lucerne exchanged glances. “Did he tell you the nature of this equipment?” Lucerne asked.
“No. He just wanted to know if you've had any success in finding out how it works.”
“Excuse us for a moment,” Roberts said and drew Lucerne a discrete distance away.
Hayden felt no offense at this. Whatever Superman had them working on was obviously of great importance and required some high degree of secrecy. He gathered only Superman and Clark knew what the professors were doing and if they were suspicious of an outsider's questions they were certainly entitled to be. After a moment they came back to him.
“You can tell Mr. Kent that we have discovered the secret of the kind of radiation the device emitted,” Roberts told him. “And that we are working on a solution and should have one in a few days.”
Hayden respected the rhetoric of their response. They answered his question without telling him anything. Yet what they said might mean much to Clark, and certainly to Superman.
“Thank you for your time,” he said, shaking their hands in turn. “I'll relay this to Clark and I'm sure he'll relay it to Superman.”
“Give Mr. Kent our best,” Prof. Lucerne said.
“I'll do that. Good-bye.”
Hayden got in his car. It was well past visitors' hours at the hospital so he headed home. There would would be plenty of time to tell Clark this once his reporter friend was in his apartment and had settled back home.
* * *
Clark was still in a hospital gown and robe when Lois and Jimmy arrived.
“Golly, Mr. Kent, the nurse said you're ready to go home but you... well, you don't look ready.”
Clark grinned. “I know, Jimmy. During the surgery they gave my clothes to Sally for some reason and I guess she took them home with her.”
“Well we came here to offer you a ride,” Lois said, “but I can't very well take you like this!”
“It does make it a bit awkward, doesn't it?”
“Well, 'Hail hail, the gang's all here!'” As if on cue Sally made an entrance. A finger was hooked over the hanger for a dry cleaner's bag. “Hey Clark! Glad to see you're up and at 'em.” Came over and gave him a one-armed hug. “A couple o' ol' bullets don't stop you, right?” Then as if just noticing them and wishing she hadn't, “Hi Lois, Jimmy.”
“Good morning, Sally,” Clark said. “We were just talking about you.”
“Oh, so that's why my ears were burning on the way in.”
“I suppose that's my suit in there?” he said, indicating the bag.
“Yes, that's it.” She hung it on a hook on the back of the bathroom door. “I had it laundered and pressed and even bought a fresh shirt and tie for you.”
Clark tried to look grateful though panic stirred inside him. “Thanks. If you'll excuse me I'll go ahead and get dressed.” He went into the bathroom, closing he door behind him.
“So, what were you saying about me?” Sally asked.
“Oh, just that you had the suit Clark was wearing when he was brought here,” Lois said.
“I guess they gave it to me because I'm the one brought him in.”
* * *
The first thing Clark did after closing the door was to check the pockets of his suit. There was a slim chance that... No, it wasn't there. A certain red and blue bundle, about the size and thickness of a wallet, was missing.
Who had it? Did Sally find it and deduce what it was? Or did the dry cleaner find it and neglect to return it with the business suit? Either way it was almost certain his secret was out. And he had to get to the bottom of it.
He began dressing and put on the best front he could.
* * *
Clark emerged from the bathroom and said, “Well, I'm ready to go.”
“That's a big improvement!” Lois said. “My car is in the visitors' lot so...”
“Actually, I was hoping to drive Clark home,” Sally said.
“Oh?” Lois' hand itched to slap her and she might have if she could figure out why.
“And I was hoping you'd ask,” Clark said.
Of course the usual procedure was followed. Though a patient might be considered ready to go home that didn't mean they thought he was ready to ride an elevator and go out the front door under his own power. So Jimmy went to the front desk and soon a wheelchair was brought in. Clark mused to himself over the irony: here he was the most powerful man on Earth --- potentially, at least --- being pushed in a wheelchair.
Lois and Jimmy watched Sally drive off with Clark beside her. Jimmy heard Lois mutter something under her breath and couldn't resist teasing her.
“Miss Lane, I do believe you're jealous.”
“Jealous? Me? Of Sally?”
Jimmy couldn't suppress the grin that accompanied his answering nod.
“Don't be ridiculous. I just don't know what Clark sees in her, that's all.”
“Ahuh.” Jimmy decided to let it go at that.
“C'mon. We'd better get back to the office before the chief sends a search party for us.”
* * *
There was metered parking along Clinton Street where the Standish Arms Apartments were located. Sally pulled in so that Clark was on the curb side and got out to open the door for him. “You can get out on your own, can't you?” she asked. “I don't want to feed the meter for just a couple of minutes and I sure don't want to pay a fine either.”
Clark got out of the car with no difficulty, though his chest still pained him a little. “I was hoping you would come up for a few minutes. I'll pay the meter, if that's what you're worried about.”
Sally turned on the feminine wiles. “Why Mr. Kent! Are you inviting me to be alone with you in your apartment?”
“Yes.” Clark's tone was firm and businesslike. “I have a few questions for you and I think you know what they are.”
“Sure. OK, lead the way.”
Clark dropped a couple of coins in the meter, enough for about a half hour, and opened the door to the building for Sally to enter. The Standish Arms had an elevator, thankfully. It was probably one of Mr. Otis' experimental models but it got them to the fifth floor safely and Clark led Sally to his apartment.
When they were inside Clark wasted no time. “There's something missing from my suit. It was in the breast pocket.”
“You wont be needing it,” Sally replied. “Besides, if you can be stopped by a bullet or two what good will your circus suit do you?”
Clark decided not to mention the indestructibility of the Kryptonian material.
“By the way,” she added, “I have a film I took of Clark Kent running into an alley and Superman coming out.” It was a bluff she hoped would work.
“I've seen --- I mean, Superman saw a film like that. Walter Canby had it in his apartment. He told me he destroyed it.”
“I figured you had. And don't worry: neither Walter nor any of his cronies figured out what I did. They didn't see the part I saw.”
“And what part was that?”
“Oh, the part in between: of you removing your suit and revealing your blue long johns.”
“So what is it you want, Sally?”
Sally's smile mocked his dilemma. “Bet you've never been in a spot like this before, huh Superman?”
Actually he had, only a few months before, when his costume had been stolen by a sneak thief. The two who gained possession of it had tried to blackmail him and he had taken them to a certain mountain cabin he sometimes used as a hideaway. Unfortunately they had tried to escape and paid for the attempt with their lives. And when their bodies were found the problems were not over. It was only a couple of weeks before that the denouement of that adventure had finally come to a close. He didn't want to go through that again.
“I've been in tight spots before,” he finally answered.
“But none like this. Say, I just realized: I'm a bona fide news reporter now, right? This would make a great one for the six o'clock news. I can see it now: you and I on the air, live, no way you can stop me from saying anything I want. And all I have to say is, “And here's the biggest story of the year: Clark Kent is really Superman!”
“You wouldn't do that. Besides, how would you prove it?”
“Oh, I don't know. Maybe that film of you changing in the alley might find its way on the air.” No chance of that since it no longer existed, but Superman didn't know that.
“Not if I find it first.”
Her smile was broad and mocking. “There's very little chance of that. The film and that packet of red and blue are both in a safe place.” She thought a moment. “That costume isn't what gives you your powers, is it?”
“No.” The costume had some properties, being impervious to fire and acid.. If worn by a normal Earthman it would protect them from those things, and even bullets and knives to a certain extent. But it didn't impart great strength or extended senses or the ability to fly.
“Yet you were actually wounded by bullets when you weren't wearing it. Hmm. Maybe that machine the professor rigged up for Canby did something to you after all.”
Clark refused to answer.
* * *
Big Mike was surprised the even let him see Canby. Of course he had given a fake name on the register, claimed to be a distant cousin, and fortunately his face wasn't familiar to any of the guards or other personnel. He was let into the visitors' room and told to sit at a certain booth. In a few minutes a guard brought Canby in.
Canby somehow made even the drab prison gray look like an expensive suit. He sat opposite Big Mike with all the dignity of a lord to the manor born and regarded his visitor as one might a pesky insect. He showed no sign of recognition at Big Mike and the latter wondered a moment whether it was real or feigned then decided it didn't matter either way.
“Well?” Canby asked with the manner of a man who has far more important matters to attend to than indulging in casual visits from strangers.
“I've been working with Sally Fuller,” Big Mike began. He didn't know if any of the guards were listening or whether there might be spying devices recording conversations. “You remember Sally.”
“I've seen her on the TV news,” Canby replied without further commitment.
“She claims to've somehow grounded Superman; maybe permanently. An' she acts like she owns all our businesses, if you know what I mean.”
Canby's features remained unchanged as he considered the information. “I see. Businesses such as I once oversaw.”
“Yeah. What do you think of it?”
“I don't like it. Sally had her uses but I doubt she is very skilled at management.”
“That's the way I figure.”
“Is there any reason why someone else, yourself for example, couldn't shall we say request her resignation and assume her position?”
“None at all. Me an' some o' the others is already makin' plans of our own. We pulled a job or two without tellin' her about 'em.”
“I see. Very good. That shows independent thinking, which is quite an asset.” Canby smiled, resting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands. “As to Miss Fuller's further activities, I'm sure you realize there is an obvious solution.”
Big Mike grinned and nodded.
* * *
It was early evening when the door buzzer sounded at Clark's apartment. It was Tom Hayden.
“Come right in Tom,” Clark said, shaking his friend's hand.
“How are you feeling, Clark?” he asked as he took an offered seat.
“A bit sore but far better than I did a few days ago. Did you have a chance to see the two professors yet?” He was doing his best to hide his anxiety.
“Yes, I saw them yesterday but I waited until today to give you a chance to settle back in.”
“I appreciate that. What did they have to say?”
“They seemed a little suspicious of me, and I don't blame them for that. But they said something about they have identified the type of radiation the machine emitted and will soon have a means of reversing its effects.” He chuckled. “Have to admit I don't know much more than I did to start with but maybe all this makes more sense to you.”
“It does, Tom. Thanks, you've been most helpful. Have you had dinner?”
“No, I came here right from the office. And I have a couple of hours before my evening appointments.”
Clark rose. “Then let me treat you to dinner to pay you for your trouble.”
Tom rose to face him. “Now Clark, that's really not necessary. I did it as a favor, that's all.”
“All right; but at least join me for dinner. After three days of hospital food, two of which were a liquid diet, I'm in the mood for a good steak, medium rare.”
Tom chuckled. “All right, you've got me. I've got my car right out front.”
“Good.” He clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Just let me get my coat.”
* * *
The steaks were seasoned and cooked perfectly, the baked potato exhaled steam when it was cracked open, and the salad set it off perfectly. Tom drove Clark back to his apartment and said good night. The walk up to the fifth floor did Clark some good, though it tired him.
He decided to visit the professors in the morning, though he had to see them as Superman. He thought about Sally and whether he might be able to learn where she had hidden his costume but decided against it. She hadn't been able to open it; it took more than mortal strength to unfold the material once it had been compressed with Super Strength. For that matter, even if he had it he was unable to open it, since most of his strength was still gone.
Next morning after breakfast Clark went to his closet and touched the hidden spot that opened the secret panel. Some time before he had asked Ma Kent to make a spare costume for him. She had used some of the remains of the Kryptonian blankets, knitted in with ordinary Earth threads, so it was not as strong as the original costume. It sat folded on a shelf in the secret closet.
Taking it down he removed his clothes and put on the spare costume, donning his business suit over it in a semblance of his normal routine. He rode the elevator down, caught a cab, and had the driver let him out about a block from the professors' laboratory.
When the cab was gone he went into a nearby alley and changed to Superman. Then he walked the two blocks to the laboratory. No one was around to see him for which he was grateful.
“Superman!” Prof. Roberts exclaimed when he saw him. “Good Lord, man; everyone has been wondering where you have been.”
“I've been in hiding, you might say,” he replied after saying 'hello' to them. “I'll explain in a moment. Clark Kent sent a mutual friend, Dr. Hayden, to see you. I understand you have analyzed the radiation that Canby used on me?”
“Yes we have,” Roberts said. As he led Superman into the laboratory in the back he added,“It --- well, Prof. Lucerne can explain it better.”
“You were most fortunate, Superman; most fortunate,” Lucerne began. “Whoever designed this machine had some idea of how your body functions, how your powers work.”
“Yet it didn't effect me right away. I felt the radiation of course, but there was no noticeable difference in my powers until later.”
“You remember our discussions about your molecular structure, how it differs from Earthmen?”
“Yes. You said that my dense molecular structure is part of what gives me the greater strength.”
Lucerne was growing excited. Superman knew from experience when that happened he had to listen more closely, for Lucerne sometimes got so wrapped up in what he wished to say the words tumbled out faster than he wished. Some things at times got lost in his enthusiasm.
“And the rays of our sun amplify the powers you were born with.”
“The radiation of this machine ---” he waved his hand at the piles of wreckage Superman had left with them “--- works counter to the sun. You absorbed these rays, even though they didn't weaken you, but they upset your body's processing.”
“You mean the radiation affects the way my body draws energy from the sun?”
Lucerne clapped his hands. “Yes, that's exactly it. Without that additional spark, while you are still far stronger than an ordinary man your powers are diminished. You might even have lost some of your invulnerability.”
“You mean things that don't ordinarily harm me, like fire or bullets, might be a danger to me?”
Lucerne nodded solemnly. “Yes. The very density of your cellular structure may shield you somewhat still, but you may feel pain; something like a bullet or knife might even penetrate. You may even be wounded.”
“I see.” This explained a great deal. When those crooks shot at him he felt the impact. And perhaps that even weakened him enough that those two bullets fired later actually penetrated his skin. Like Tom Hayden's needle, and the needles and scalpels the surgeon had used on him to extract the bullets; his body had become weakened enough that needles and knives could pierce and cut.
There was another device sitting half-assembled to which Lucerne now drew his attention. It consisted of a booth or chamber, with a device in its ceiling that obviously was designed to emit some sort of radiation. What appeared to be the control console was incomplete and therefore still separate. “This machine, when completed, we hope will draw the harmful radiation from your body.”
“But you're not certain?”
“We can't be certain of anything right now,” Roberts said. “It's a chance, you see? A chance, that's all.”
“And it's a chance I'll have to take,” Superman said. “When will it be completed?”
“It still needs some work,” Lucerne said. “A week; perhaps more.”
A week! Superman wanted to shout, but that would be venting his frustration on the two professors who were clearly doing the best they could. Forcing his emotions down he said, “Is there anything I can do to help?” His father had been a scientist, and Pa Kent had trained him well in using his hands in repairing their farm equipment.
“We can use your help, yes,” Roberts said.
“Good. Show me what to do.”
* * *
When Big Mike relayed Canby's reaction to the others they agreed unanimously to follow his lead; and that included putting Sally out of the way, if need be. The Weisinger robbery had been their test case and it had gone off without a hitch.
“Let's hit 'em hard again,” Big Mike said. “Just like before: two jobs at once, opposite ends of town, same time.”
Several of them had jobs in mind and pitched them to Big Mike. Two had plans which fit in perfectly, and they had the men lined up to pull both of them. They agreed on the time, compared watches, and Big Mike sent them off.
* * *
Henderson didn't like it. The gang had struck again; a fur warehouse on the east side and a home burglary on the west. The victim of the break-in was Victor Travers, one of the wealthier citizens of Metropolis, so Henderson had elected to attend to that robbery personally.
But the tactics of this gang weren't the only thing he didn't like. There was that Sally Fuller, this time with young Olsen at her side. He appreciated the role of the news media, but that didn't stop them from being a nuisance.
“C'mon, Jim,” he heard her say as soon as the young photographer had parked. “Let's get some good footage for tonight.”
Jimmy lugged the movie camera from the back seat and readied it, all the time trying to keep pace with Sally who was well ahead of him and aiming herself straight at Henderson. Sally had the microphone in hand almost before Jimmy had finished plugging it in and began talking into it as soon as Jimmy gave her the high sign.
“We're on the scene of a burglary, at the home of Mr. Victor Travers, well-known millionaire. Police Inspector William J. Henderson is in charge of the investigation.”
Henderson tried to turn away but she took his arm. Henderson acquiesced though his lips were pressed into a tight seam. The neighbors were gathered and gawking and if he broke free the Commissioner would give him the devil for the bad PR that might result.
Sally thrust the microphone in his face and asked, “When did the break-in happen, Inspector?”
Henderson shot a glare at the camera lens and sighed. Might as well to get it over with. “Mr. Travers was awakened about two o'clock this morning when he heard a sound. There were two men; one covered him while the other gathered up the loot.” He'd said enough. “If you'll excuse me, Miss Fuller, I need to get on with the investigation.”
“Of course, Inspector. Thank you.” She gave Jimmy the “cut” signal then spied someone she believed to be Travers himself arguing with one of the officers. A motion of her head to beckon Jimmy to follow and they were soon well within of Travers' personal space. Travers had been glowering at the officer, who as far as Travers was concerned wasn't doing his job since he hadn't yet arrested the men who robbed him. He turned that glower at Sally as she took him by the arm as she had Henderson and began talking into her mike. The officer took the opportunity to make himself scarce, grateful to the reporter for ending Travers' tirade which actually had prevented him from doing his job.
“I'm speaking to Mr. Victor Travers, victim of this midnight robbery.”
“It wasn't midnight, it was two A M,” Travers corrected.
“Thank you for clarifying that for us, Mr. Travers. Our viewers would like to know if you have been able to determine just what was stolen.”
“None of their -------- business.” Mr. Travers used an expression that was not allowed over the airwaves. “Now let me go, young lady, or I'll call the police on you!” He jerked his arm free and put as much distance between himself and Sally as the crowd permitted.
Sally didn't have to give the “cut” sign; Jimmy had already stopped the camera at the sound of Mr. Tranvers' choice of expletives. She suggested a couple of random shots of the police in action and the house and grounds, and when Jimmy had completed that task they returned to the car.
“You drive, Jimmy.”
“Gee, thanks, Sally.” He stowed his equipment, started the car, put it in gear, and maneuvered through the mob until they were in the clear.
I didn't agree to this, Sally was thinking. I'd better get to the bottom of this before I lose all control. Though she suspected she had lost it already.
* * *
Sally spread the word for them to meet and after the evening news broadcast they met. Sally had some words of her own to say to Big Mike and the others; words that were not yet ready for prime time.
“It's simple, Sally,” Big Mike said. “The boys said they'd rather work for me than for you.”
“But I took care of Superman,” she said. “He's out of the way, for good far as I know.”
“How can you be sure?”
She told them of Canby's machine. “I guess it had a delayed affect. An' I got a hold of his costume, too. He can't go out an' fight crime in his ordinary clothes without lettin' everybody in on who he is.”
“Yeah?” Big Mike shoved his huge frame nearly against her. She quivered a moment but stood her ground. Her whole life had been spent standing up to bullies like Big Mike. “Then I suppose you're tellin' us you know who Superman is?” he challenged.
“What if I do?” Her eyes met his with defiance.
Chuckles traveled through the group, Big Mike indulging in a huge laugh.
“OK then, spill it. Who is Superman?”
Sally knew that if she told the secret her life was over. “That''s for me to know, not you.”
“She don't know,” Lonnie said. “She's a reporter now. If she knew, it'd been all over the news by now.”
“No; I intend to keep his secret.”
“Oh? So you an' the Man o' Steel is like this now, huh?” He crossed his fingers and stuck them in her face.
“I've got my reasons.”
“Yeah, I bet you do.” Big Mike didn't seem to know what to do next.
“We better get rid o' her,” one of the gang said. “She's gonna rat on us next.”
“I haven't ratted on you yet, have I?” Sally countered. “If I snitch on you I snitch on myself.”
Big Mike squeezed his lower lip between finger and thumb to stimulate his brain. “Yeah, but you might cut a deal an' leave us out to dry.”
“How do you know I haven't left word about this place and you guys if I don't show up for work tomorrow? White'll send Henderson and his boys looking for me if I'm not at the Planet when I should be. Then you'll all be in trouble.” Actually she had left no such note; it sure seemed like a great idea now and she wished she had.
Big Mike massaged his lower lip some more and maybe it even did some good. “OK, we'll let you do this time. But next job we pull you gotta be in on it.”
“I'm up for anything from hop scotch to manslaughter,” she said. “Just let me know.”
As she drove away she knew she had gotten off easily; too easily. Had Sally been the religious type she would have prayed a “Thank You” to Whoever might be up there listening. But she wasn't.
* * *
The ray projector had been fully installed in the booth and all that remained was to complete some connections between it and the control panel. Superman and his two professor friends inspected their work and agreed it was almost done.
“We can take it from here, Superman,” Roberts said.
“Yes I think we can finish it in oh, a day or two.”
Superman had been keeping track of the rise in crime since his incapacitation and was anxious to get back on the job. It was also about time Clark Kent got back on the job as well. “Good. I'm glad we were able to work together on this.” It was good to work with his hands, using only a little more than the average man's strength for a change. Things like this reminded him of the fragility of the Earth humans he had dedicated himself to protecting. But he could not go on protecting them until his powers are fully restored.
He shook hands with them as he left and started down the street to the alley to change back to Clark. The professors watched him go. He jogged, not much faster than the average competition sprinter.
“I hope the chamber works,” Roberts said.
“Yes. We must restore Superman to himself.”
* * *
“Kent!” Perry White exclaimed, rising from his chair to shake the reporter's hand. “Good to see you, son. I'm sorry I didn't come to see you in the hospital...”
“That's all right, Mr. White. Lois and Jimmy came several times, and Bill Henderson was there too. You have more important things to do here.”
“Nonsense. I'm just glad to see you up and about.” He placed a hand on Clark's arm. “But don't overdo it your first time back. That's an order.”
Clark grinned. “I won't. I just thought I'd mosey around a bit and let everyone know I'm all right. Where are Lois and Jimmy?”
“Lois is out on an assignment. Jimmy is working in Ludlow's department, checking some of the equipment.”
“Then if it's all right with you, sir, I'll go visit him there.”
“Go ahead.” Perry returned to his seat. “And if you catch him dawdling, tell him he doesn't get paid for loitering!”
Good old Mr. White! “I'll do that, chief. Thanks.” He said hello to Miss Bachrach, who was just returning from the Stock Room.
“Mr. Kent! It's good to see you. That should teach you to be more careful who you write about. Sorry, no time for gossip. I've got to get these paperclips put away.” Her whole greeting and “conversation” took no more than a half minute, if that.
Clark had known Miss Bachrach long enough to recognize that half minute however as worth a full hour of her time, and that her admonition about being “more careful who you write about” was out of genuine concern, something she would deny under the most severe Medieval torture imaginable.
He reached Ludlow's office, said hello to the receptionist there, and asked where Jimmy was. When he reached the equipment storage room he knocked on the frame of the open door. “Where's that young photographer who they say might win the Pulitzer some day?”
“Mr. Kent! Golly, it's great to see you?”
For once Clark had a taste of what it was to nearly have his arm yanked off. Jimmy seemed unable to stop pumping it, once he started. He finally caught himself, disengaged his hand from Clark's, and stepped back.
“Are you back to work?”
“Not quite yet. But I miss the old place, and you and Lois and Mr. White. Just thought I'd drop in for a short time and say hello.”
“You miss this place? Well, I guess that can happen. I'm checking these camera bags and making sure they all have plenty of flashbulbs and film.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“What?” Jim realized Clark was joking. “Well, not as much fun as using the cameras. But you can't take pictures without film and flashbulbs. Though maybe someday we can.”
“That would be quite a trick,” Clark said. “I didn't know you went into science fiction, Jimmy.”
“Well, my mom doesn't approve of it but I'll buy a pulp magazine now and then.” He turned back to the table where he had been working. “Funny the things you find in these bags.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“Sometimes a little change, or maybe something off a keychain. Or maybe even a key itself.” He held up a small key he had found.
“May I see that?” Clark asked. Jimmy handed him the key and Clark examined it. “Where did you find this, Jimmy?”
“In one of the camera bags. Matter of fact, it was in the one for that new movie camera, the one Miss Fuller --- Sally and I have been using.”
“Really? Is it yours?”
“No, it's probably Sally's. We're the only ones who use that camera.”
“I see. Mind if I keep it? I'm going to see Sally and I'll give it to her. It's probably for something important.”
“It looks like a locker key; you know, the kind at airports and bus terminals.”
“I think you're right, Jim. See these initials?” He held the key for Jim to see.
“I see where some initials were; they're kinda faded from use, I guess.”
“Yes, but I think they're for Metropolis Union Station.”
.Jim looked closely. It might have read MUS at one time, but they sure weren't clear now. “Golly, Mr. Kent, those must be awful strong glasses you have. Hey, maybe I need to get a pair myself.”
Clark grinned. “No Jimmy; I don't think you're going to need glasses for some time to come.” He slipped the key in his pocket. “Well, I'd better be going. It was great to see you, Jimmy. So long.”
“So long, Mr. Kent. Take care of yourself. And if you see Superman, tell him we need him back to end this crime wave just like he did the last one.”
“I'm sure he knows, Jimmy.”
* * *
The taxi ride to the train station seemed agonizingly slow. Clark just hoped his hunch was right about the contents of the locker. He paid the driver and entered the terminal. He knew where the storage lockers were and went straight for them. The number of the locker was on the other side of the key; fortunately a lot clearer than the lettering on the other side.
He glanced around; no one was paying him any attention. He tried the key in the lock and it turned. There was only one thing inside, and it was about the size of a thin wallet. Its colors were red and blue. He wanted to shout and cheer but knew that wouldn't do. He had his costume back; if the professors were right, he would soon have his powers back as well.
Clark had hoped the film of him turning into Superman was here as well, but it wasn't. Was there really another copy besides the one he had destroyed? Sally had said there was, and obviously she had seen something that made her suspicious of his identity. Maybe it too was destroyed; not on purpose, certainly, but perhaps by accident.
He didn't have time to worry about that now. There were other things to do. He went to a pay phone and called the office, asking for Sally. She hadn't come in yet, and since Jimmy was working with the equipment they used together she wasn't out covering a story. He looked her up in the phone book and found her number. No answer there either.
Clark felt no cause for alarm. Yet he hoped Sally hadn't come to any harm.
* * *
More robberies took place in the next two days, and Superman, though he now had his costume back, didn't dare try to stop them. His powers weren't up to par and until they were he had no way to be sure he might not again be wounded by a bullet, this time fatally. It was frustrating to be on the sidelines, talking to Henderson after the fact and trying to figure out a way of trapping the criminals. And he wrote up the robberies for the paper.
Sally still hadn't shown, and Jimmy was doing the filming now. Perry had let Clark resume his evening anchor duties and had asked if Jimmy could join him on the air. Perry had agreed amid his usual bluster, and the Clark and Jimmy show was popular for the next two nights.
The next morning Clark received a phone call at his apartment. “Clark Kent speaking.”
“Mr. Kent, this is Prof. Roberts. Can you contact Superman?”
“I can try. What is it, professor?” He wanted to ask if it was about the regeneration booth but held back.
“Tell Superman we have finished our chamber. We don't know for certain if it will work but tell him he can come and try when he can.”
“I'll be sure to do that, professor. Thanks; and thanks on behalf of Superman as well.” He said good-bye and hung up the phone.
There was no time like the present. He called Perry to tell him he had a lead on Superman's whereabouts and would phone in the story later.
The red and blue packet was still sitting on his dresser, unopened. He found and took hold of two edges and pulled. It took a bit more effort than usual, but it started to give.
Five minutes later and it was good to feel that Kryptonian cloth against his skin again. He donned Clark Kent's suit on top of it and went downstairs to get a cab.
* * *
“So you want me to come with you on this one?” Sally hoped she was successful in hiding her shudder.
“Yeah,” Big Mike said. “We got it all planned out. Then you can see for yourself we know what we're doin'.”
Sally had been held in the house on the hill for several days now. They had treated her well enough: fed her regularly, and hadn't physically harmed her. Two of them had been on guard at all times. But her instincts told her she was on borrowed time.
“OK, what's the deal?” she asked.
“The main branch of the First National Bank of Metropolis; maybe you've heard of it?
“The safe there contains millions. We're gonna hit it and then skip town. We'll each have enough to live on Easy Street the rest of our lives.” Big Mike was sure of himself, that much was certain.
“Sure sure, we've got it all set for you. Don't worry, we'll take care of you.”
“That's what I'm afraid of,” Sally said. “I haven't been on the job or made a broadcast for days. How do you know White hasn't called in Henderson and his men to look for me?”
“So what if he has? You told us yourself nobody knew of this place except Canby and the ones closest to him, like you.”
Big Mike laughed, as did the others with him. “You said yourself Superman's outta action. So what if he knows this place?” He stopped in the act of lighting a fat cheap cigar. “He don't know you were with Canby, right?”
Sally didn't answer. Superman knew; or at least Clark Kent did. Yes, that was her ticket. “I told you too that I know why Superman hasn't been around. In fact, I know who he is.”
The cigar burned un-smoked in Big Mike's thick fingers. The startled look on his face lasted only a moment, replaced by a jeering grin. “Yeah, sure you do.”
“I'll tell you if you let me loose.” It was a gamble but maybe Big Mike would bite.
“Nothin' doin'. Tell us first.”
It was Sally's turn to laugh, even if she had to force it. “And if I tell you, I'm dead five seconds later.”
“You're wrong,” Big Mike said. “It'll be two seconds later.”
“Hey Big Mike,” one of the crew said, “this dame don't know nothin' about who Superman is. It's just a scam to try t' get us to let her go.”
“Yer prob'ly right,” Big Mike answered. “How would you know anyways?” he asked her.
“I've got this film,” Sally said. It worked on Superman; maybe it would work on them. “It shows him changing in a an alley from his secret identity to Superman.”
“Yeah? Where's this film?”
Big Mike resumed his habit of massaging his lower lip while he tried to think.
Sally depended upon Big Mike's efforts at using his brain to buy her some time. She wasn't sure how, but there had to be a way of getting out of this.
* * *
Superman again appeared at the laboratory door. After greeting his friends he said, “Kent told me the chamber is ready?”
“We think it will work,” Lucerne said. “It's based on what we know of your molecular structure. I have to confess, we don't know everything about you.”
Superman strode directly to the chamber and studied it. “But you believe this will restore my powers.”
Lucerne shrugged his shoulders. “We've done what we could. The rays of this device are opposite to the radiation which affected you. Exposure should reverse the effects.”
Roberts broke in. “But we're not certain. This new radiation might work or it might not. Or the reaction may be delayed, like the other. Or... or it may not work at all. It may even remove what powers remain to you; permanently.”
Lucerne nodded agreement with his colleague.
“Well gentlemen,” Superman said, “that's a chance I'll just have to take.” He took one last look at the interior and stepped inside.
Roberts and Lucerne were both grim as they took the controls. At the press of a lever the door of the chamber closed, sealing Superman inside. Lucerne reviewed the settings, based on the radiation level he and Roberts had decided upon, set his dials accordingly, and nodded. Roberts took hold of the handle of a knife switch, inhaled deeply, and swung it home.
There was a hum and crackle at the ceiling of the chamber; bright golden pitchforks of energy stabbed at the Man of Tomorrow inside. The hum climbed the scale to a scream, the energy glowed as bright as a trapped sun, and the chamber grew warm then hot. The professors had to back away from the heat that radiated from it. Perspiration flowed on their bodies beneath their clothing.
Superman braced himself against the wall of the chamber, his knees buckling as he fought to stay upright and awake. The radiation hurt, which Canby's had not. This must be what flying into the sun feels like, he thought. Something was wrong; he was growing weaker, not stronger. His legs no longer wished to support his weight and he felt himself slide down, down, until he knelt on the floor, bent and subdued. Roberts had been right; instead of restoring his powers the machine was draining them. He felt consciousness slip and blackness coming to claim him.
Then the darkness receded, gradually, so gradually he was uncertain of his senses, and then consciousness crept upward into awareness of his body and of a transformation that was occurring within it. Each cell, each gene, each molecule of DNA was being drained not of its strength or power but of the foreign energy that had invaded it; the energy that had blocked his cells' absorption and processing of the rays of Earth's yellow sun. And as that toxic energy was removed it was replaced with the life-giving, power-giving, energy of that sun.
His muscles felt it first, losing the flaccidity that made them fail him and gaining mass and firmness, driving now to raise him to a standing position, now to an expansion of his chest, to bulge his biceps. His hearing became more acute; he could hear the professors outside the chamber, wondering whether their invention was restoring or destroying him. He wished he could speak to them, re-assure them, but he knew the process was not yet complete. His vision was returning, and he saw them through the solid walls of the chamber, anxiety on their faces. He didn't know how long they had planned to expose him to this radiation but he left it to them to decide. All he knew was that his strength and powers were returning and he began to feel his old self.
A soft buzzer sounded from a timer on the control console, set by Roberts for the exposure time they had calculated. He opened the knife switch turning off the machine, Lucerne adjusted all his controls back to zero, and flipped the lever to open the chamber.
The glow inside the chamber had already dimmed and its walls were beginning to cool; or at least grow less hot. Superman stepped from the chamber, flexing his hands and arms, testing the strength he felt in them. He gave an exultant stretch, a loosening shrug to his shoulders, and regarded his two friends with a smile. “I think it worked.”
“We have to be sure,” Roberts said.
Superman looked about the room. “Is there anything here that's expendable?”
They handed him an ordinary table radio.
Superman took it between his hands and crushed it. At Super Speed he gathered up the broken pieces and tossed them in a garbage can.
“There's one more test to make,” Superman said, “and if you'll excuse me?”
He stepped out their front door and they followed. Three running steps and a bound and he was airborne. Roberts and Lucerne watched until he was but a red and blue speck in the sky.
* * *
His form a red and blue arrow in the sky, the cape riding the wind like a red wing, Superman gave an exultant laugh, home again racing the clouds. Fully restored to full power he was ready to confront Sally and learn if a copy of that film really did still exist.
* * *
It was a veritable caravan of sedans and canvas-topped trucks that rolled out from the house on the hill. Sally, her hands now tied behind her, knew for certain she was a prisoner and her fate was sealed. Two of Big Mike's lugs flanked her in the back seat; there was no getting out of this.
As with many who face death Sally began reviewing her life. Hanging out with the wrong crowd from the time she was ten had started her on this path. Shoplifting, picking a pocket or two, running scams for free food or other rewards were her early crimes. As she grew older so did her companions, and all of them were in and out of reform school and often back in again before they were eighteen. Then some of those same companions continued on to bigger crimes, to major felonies; and she went right along with them. Thing of it was, she was never caught.
And then she met Walter Canby, eminent attorney; and as it turned out, the worst of the lot. But in becoming part of his organization Sally really thought she had hit the Big Time. But she knew how to hedge her bets, how to play the odds; how to avoid getting caught. And she wasn't. And so she had been able to build a new criminal empire upon the ashes of Canby's old one.
That's what it was about to become, at least for her: ashes.
* * *
Superman crashed through the windows of Sally's apartment. He called her name, and began searching the place with his X-Ray Vision. She wasn't there.
It all clicked together: Sally had been part of Canby's organization. A new crime spree was running wild, growing worse than what had been under Canby. And Sally had surely known about Canby's trap for Superman. The Man of Tomorrow realized it had been her who had made the call sending him into that trap, so she must have known of that isolated house...
He was out the window in a running leap. The hotels, apartment houses, and skyscrapers of mid-town were a blur as he flew out of the city and into the surrounding hills. There was the house, situated on top of a hill with a steep but drivable incline on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. A search with X-Ray Vision revealed no one there. His features grim with frustration he burst through the wall of the house into the very room where Canby's trap had been set.
No such trap was waiting for him this time. It looked like it had become a meeting room, with a long table and accompanying chairs. Papers were scattered on the table surface. A quick study of them sent him through the wall again and back into the city. He just hoped he was in time.
* * *
“Nitro” York was their explosives expert. He worked diligently at the huge vault. The dynamite was in place and he was finishing the job of setting the fuses.
Sally, tied hand and foot far too close to the vault for comfort, watched in the horror that can come in knowing the manner and time of your death.
“Nitro” had joined the fuses together and run the wires to a secure distance from the explosives. He connected the wires to the switchbox and the rest of the gang gathered.
“All right,” Big Mike ordered, “throw the switch.”
“Nitro” shoved the plunger home.
The force of the explosive hit them with a fist of air and it took a moment to recover. Smoke obscured the large room where the vault stood. Coughing and sputtering they waited until the smoke cleared enough to go in.
“It's clearer now, boys,” Big Mike said. “C'mon.”
“I wouldn't go in there if I were you,” a commanding voice said from within the smoke.
Big Mike was the first to make out his figure. “Superman!”
The usual attempt at killing Superman with bullets ensured. The Man of Tomorrow seemed to take pleasure in the experience, laughing in their faces. He let them empty their guns .before wading into them.
As stupid as any of the other many crooks Superman had fought in the past, all of them were under the delusion that if bullets won't hurt him, my fists will. Superman let them hit him and gave back blows designed only to stun them a moment or two, letting them get up and try again. Superman was enjoying this, reveling in the fight perhaps; often only shoving or stepping aside an opponent so he might have another chance. And even though his full strength had been restored Superman was careful not to use all of it in the blows he gave.
It took a little time but finally all gave up or lay unconscious on the floor. There were about a score of them and Superman was grateful for the workout.
He stepped back into the room of the vault. Sally lay beside the open safe. He had arrived just as the explosion had gone off and managed to shield her from the massive door which had been thrown several feet in her direction. But he had not been able to block all of the concussive force of the blast and she had been knocked unconscious. He checked her pulse; it was weak but present.
There was a phone on a nearby desk and he dialed. “Operator? Give me Police Headquarters; Inspector Henderson.”
* * *
Sally woke up; sort of. Her head was foggy and at first her vision was the same. She realized she was in bed and the antiseptic smells informed her she was in a hospital. Someone was sitting by her bedside. There was the blur of a gray business suit topped by a face wearing glasses. As her vision cleared she began to think she recognized the face.
“Clark? Clark Kent?”
“What --- what am I doing here?”
“You don't remember?”
“You were caught in an explosion. Some criminals were blowing open a safe and tied you up beside it.”
“You mean they meant to kill me?” She shuddered.
“Yes.” He had already examined her with his X-Ray Vision and seen she had suffered a concussion with a slight brain injury. “Don't you remember anything about it?”
“No; no, I don't. What are you doing here? You're a reporter; are you covering this for your paper?”
The eyes behind the glasses showed confusion. “You don't remember anything? You don't remember working with me on the newscast?”
“Newscast? What newscast?”
“But you know I'm Clark Kent.”
“Well of course. I read your occasional columns in the Planet and recognize you from the photo they put alongside.”
“Is that all?”
An old coquettish grin and a flash of her eyes came. “Why, what more is there?”
Clark smiled. “Nothing, I suppose.” He placed a hand on hers. “I'm glad you're all right.”
It was then she noticed her left wrist was handcuffed to the safety bar of the bed. “Wait; what's this?”
“Some of the crooks Superman captured when he rescued you said you were in on most of the robberies and other crimes they had committed.”
A dim recollection was returning. “Oh.” The nod was slow and contemplative. “Yes. Yes, I was.”
“But this last job, they were trying to get rid of you.”
Some degree of memory and understanding was returning.
There was a knock at the door.
Clark stood up. “Come in, Bill; she's awake.”
Inspector Henderson entered, his face a mixture both grim and concerned. “How are you, Miss Fuller?”
“My head is splitting and I feel like I've been used as a punching bag. Otherwise, I'm all right.”
Henderson flicked a brief grin. “The doctors are going to take care of you.”
“Mr. Kent ---”
Clark and Henderson exchanged glances at Sally's use of formality.
“Mr. Kent told me what happened, that the criminals I was working with tried to double-cross me. I was supposed to die in that explosion.”
“That's what Superman told me when I got there with my men.”
“I'm going to jail too though, right?”
Henderson nodded. “There's too much evidence against you, Miss Fuller.”
“Sally,” she said. “Call me Sally. Mr. Kent already did.”
“You can call me Clark.”
Sally smiled. “Thanks, Clark. Inspector, if I tell you what I know will that help?”
“You mean if you turn state's evidence against the rest of your gang?”
“My gang?” The question was spoken in a whisper, asking herself and not those in the room. “Yes,” she said more firmly. “If I testify against them will it go better for me?”
“I can't make any promises,” Henderson said, “but I'll talk to the District Attorney for you about it.”
“Thanks.” She put her free hand to her bandaged-swathed head. “I'm tired. Can --- you all leave me alone for awhile?”
“Of course, Sally. Come on, Bill.”
As they went out the door she spoke one word.
Clark was startled. “Go ahead, Bill; I'll catch up to you.” He re-entered her room, shutting the door behind him. “What is it, Sally? You mentioned Superman?”
“Yes.” Her voice was fading as sleep was starting to come over her again. “You said Superman rescued me? Was that right?”
“Yes.” Clark studied her; was something else coming back to her memory?
“Funny,” she said. “Rescued by Superman.” Her eyes closed and she drifted to sleep.
Clark remained a moment or two before re-joining Henderson in the outside hallway.
There was a smile on Sally's lips as she drifted to sleep.
"Like The Only Real Magic -- The Magic Of Knowledge"
Posted May 8, 2016