|Supercop II: The Black Knight
Author: Nan Smith PM
Three months after acquiring Superman's powers, Inspector Henderson, Clark, Lois and Jimmy find themselves up against a shadowy criminal who may have targeted a police officer for his next victim. This is the sequel to Supercop.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Words: 42,862 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 2 - Published: 01-27-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3364596
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Supercop II: The Black Knight
By Nan Smith
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, et cetera, and no copyright infringement is intended. Any original characters, scenes, dialogue and the story itself belong to me.
Crossing the parking lot, William Henderson turned at the hail. Norma Randall waved and increased her speed to a half-trot as she hurried across the pavement toward him.
"Getting back a bit late, aren't you?" he asked, glancing at his watch. It was five minutes before the start of the day shift. Together they ascended the two steps to the Precinct and Henderson pushed open the door for her.
"Yeah," Norma said. "The Midtown Rapist struck again. Or nearly."
"Apparently, he pried open a woman's bedroom window and tried to assault her," Norma said. "Unfortunately for him, her boyfriend was in the bed, too. Guy took the knife away from the assailant and started pounding on him. The boyfriend's a weight lifter, it turns out. The attacker managed to push him off and got out the window again, but he left blood on the sill and drops all the way down the sidewalk."
"Sounds like he left some evidence behind this time," Henderson said.
"You could say that," Norma said. "Anyway, I took the report. When I left, Forensics was going over the crime scene with a fine-tooth comb, and Wolfe was there, talking to the near-victim and her boyfriend." She yawned. "I'll be glad when I'm off the night shift."
"Don't blame you," Henderson agreed. "Better file your report and check out. The guys in charge are complaining about people taking too much overtime again."
"Somebody should remind them that the bad guys don't have set hours," Norma said through a wide yawn that she covered with one hand. "I guess I'll see you later."
"Night," Henderson said. He headed down the hallway toward his office. Without difficulty, his super-hearing picked up the commotion of the day shift coming on and the night shift getting ready to depart. Somewhere in the background, a police radio was reporting a driver going east in the westbound lane of the Seaside Parkway and he grimaced. It sounded to him as if some citizen of Metropolis was getting an early start on the upcoming holiday season. Halloween would be rolling around in a few days, and right after that the Christmas shopping season would begin in earnest.
Another radio report announced the arrival of Superman, and the capture of the wrong-way motorist. It looked as if Kent was on top of things this morning, he thought. In the three months since his acquisition of Superman's powers, Henderson had gained a deeper understanding of the way Clark Kent managed to juggle the events of his life in order to maintain two identities, and thereby, his privacy. As a matter of fact, his personal juggling act was getting pretty decent. At least so far, no one appeared to suspect that their own Inspector Henderson might have another side to his personality...
Well, time to get on with the business of the day before someone needed the Black Knight's services. He glanced again at his watch and had to remind himself for the umpteenth time in the last month that things would happen when they were ready to happen. Sue's obstetrician had told her three days before that she could go another week, at least. Still, as one of his married acquaintances had mentioned before, the ninth month was always the longest. Sue would let him know if anything started to happen.
He hung his jacket on the hook behind his office door and ambled
down to listen to the morning briefing before the day shift
commenced. If he had to take off suddenly -- as always seemed to
happen recently -- it would be just as well to let people see
him first, and establish that he was here. That was just one of
those little hints that Kent had passed along to him.
"Perception is everything," he repeated to himself. If everyone perceived that he was here when the Black Knight was handling an emergency across town, people wouldn't connect the two. It was something that he had learned to live by.
Sharon Langford, who had been the rapist's target, was in her kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee. She was still wearing pajamas and a bathrobe since the police wouldn't let her back into her bedroom to get anything else to wear until they were finished with their work. Lois took one last look around the bedroom and strolled casually into the kitchen. The woman turned as she entered.
"Hi," Lois said.
"Hi." The intended victim was probably about Lois's age and build. Her dark hair was mussed, and Lois could see the lines of strain on her face. "Are you a cop?"
"No. I guess I should have introduced myself. I'm Lois Lane, from the Daily Planet."
"Glad to meet you." The woman didn't sound all that glad, Lois thought, but she could hardly blame her. "I guess you're going to report on this, huh?"
"Well -- yes. Some of it, anyhow. Detective Wolfe asked me to keep part of it under wraps. They don't want their suspect to realize how much they know. And I won't give your name." Lois looked at the woman with some sympathy. It had to be a frightening thing to realize that the man who had broken into her home must have been watching her for days, and that only the unexpected early return of her boyfriend from his business trip had saved her from the fate of several other women before her. "How do you feel?"
"I guess it hasn't really hit home yet." The woman took a gulp of coffee and winced at the heat. "If Vern hadn't been here--"
"Yeah," Lois said. "I hear you. It sounds like he gave the creep what he deserved, though."
"Uh huh. But what about next time?"
Lois made a face. "I know. We've got a pretty good police force, though, and he left behind a lot of evidence this time. And he may go on to someone else -- not that that's any better."
For the first time, she saw some of the other woman's control slip. Her eyes filled with tears. Lois stepped forward. "Why don't you sit down? Do you need to call work or anything -- tell them you aren't coming in today, or something?"
She shook her head. "I work the afternoon shift, but I have to be there. I've used up all my sick time. I had the flu two weeks ago."
"If it's any reassurance," Lois said, "judging by what Wolfe's people found, he thinks that whoever this guy is, he's probably going to be out of circulation for a little while. You shouldn't have to worry about him for a few days, and maybe they'll get him in the meantime." She looked around the tiny kitchen. "It's too bad Mr. Carson couldn't stay. You'd probably feel better with him here."
"Vern had to go to work. He didn't want to." Sharon sank into a kitchen chair. "I hope Detective Wolfe is right."
"So do I," Lois said. "Tell me, have you noticed anyone hanging around watching you the last few days? Or anything unusual at all?"
The other woman shrugged. "The police already asked me that. I don't know, really. I could say I had a creepy feeling when I came home night before last. Vern usually walks me home because I live in this section of town, but he'd left on that trip, so I was a little nervous when I came in. I was nervous last night, too -- only then Vern showed up. He'd caught an early flight and got in at midnight. I guess whoever this guy is, he didn't know that."
"I guess not," Lois said. "Maybe you should stay at his place for a while until they catch the rapist. They will, eventually, if he keeps this up."
"I might," Sharon said. "We're engaged. Vern's wanted me to move in with him for months, but it just doesn't seem right until we're actually married. I'm being silly, I know."
"Well, it wouldn't have to be forever," Lois said. "And if it makes you feel safer--"
"Believe me, I'm thinking about it," Sharon said. "I'm going to talk to him about it tonight."
"Is there anything you noticed about the guy in particular?" Lois asked. "Did you see anything while he was fighting your boyfriend?"
"Not a lot," Sharon said. "It was pretty dark. There was one thing, though--"
"What was it?"
"Well, I don't know if it means anything," she said. "Vern
grabbed the hand holding the knife -- they fought over it. That
was how the glove got slashed like that -- and the guy's hand,
too. He was wearing a wedding ring. Just a plain, gold one."
"Did you tell the police?" Lois asked.
"I didn't think of it," Sharon admitted. "Do you think I should?"
"Definitely," Lois said. "Any piece of information could help."
"Tell us what?" a voice behind her asked. Lois turned to see the dark, narrow face of Detective Wolfe.
"Ms. Lane reminded me," Sharon said. "When Vern was fighting him and the glove got torn off -- he was wearing a plain, gold wedding ring. The other man, not Vern."
Wolfe removed a tattered notebook from his pocket and made a notation. "Thanks," he said. "Anything else you think of, call the number on my card."
"I'll do that," Sharon said. "If I remember anything at all, you'll be hearing from me."
Lois removed the notebook from her pocket for the umpteenth time since she had arrived at the scene. "Can you give me a quote I can use, Detective Wolfe? It'll help fill out my article."
"Just a warning for people in Metropolis, in general," Wolfe said. "Tell women who live alone -- or that have significant others that travel -- to be sure their windows and doors are secure. I realize we're having a heat wave right now, but being a little hot is better than having someone like this character getting inside their houses. They can always buy a fan."
"That's for sure," Lois said. "I'll be sure to include it in the article."
A short time later, Lois pulled the Cherokee into her spot in the Daily Planet's underground lot. She'd been covering the exploits of the Midtown Rapist since his first appearance three months ago, and the man was beginning to thoroughly irk her. If Ultra Woman got hold of him, she hoped she would be able to restrain herself, but it might be a close thing. It was becoming obvious to her that the guy really hated women, and the thought that he might be married bothered her more than she wanted to admit. The thought of the kind of home life he and his wife must have made her shudder.
From somewhere, a whoosh of air blew her hair about and then her husband's voice said from beside her, "You look like you're thinking pretty hard about something."
"Yeah, sort of. The Midtown Rapist was busy last night."
Clark scowled. "Again? Was anybody badly hurt?"
"Actually, he might have been. We can always hope, anyway." She went on to describe what had happened.
Clark listened in silence and then nodded. "With any luck, it'll stop him long enough for Wolfe to track him down."
"Well, we might be able to help," Lois said. "Other than the usual superhero stuff, I mean," she added. "I need to get in touch with Henderson. Wolfe pulled a bloody fingerprint off the knife -- and it wasn't the boyfriend's. He apparently had blood on his palms and wrists, but not on his fingers. If Henderson can get us a copy of the print, maybe Jimmy can do some of his magic on it. If we can figure out who we ought to keep an eye on, maybe we can stop him before he hits again."
"Can't hurt," Clark said. "I need to write up the wrong-way motorist story, and then maybe Superman could drop by the Precinct and have a talk with him."
"That sounds like a plan," Lois said. She rang for the elevator. "What was with the wrong-way guy? Was he drunk?"
Clark shook his head. "Diabetic. He was driving back from a business conference in Gotham. Apparently, he skipped his late night snack and let his blood sugar get too low. I dropped him and his car off at Metro General."
"At least that's one happy ending," Lois said. "I'm a little worried about Sharon, though."
"Sharon? Oh, you mean the woman our boy went after."
"Yeah. What if he decides she's seen too much? Considering how he apparently feels about women, I don't think it would bother him to kill her in order to eliminate a witness."
"What did Wolfe say?"
"Not much. I tried to hint her in the direction of staying with her fiance until the police find the perp, but she's not sure it would look right."
"He was sleeping in her bed," Clark pointed out. "What's the difference?"
"I didn't say it was logical," Lois said, shortly. "Maybe she's afraid her mother will find out or something."
"I guess it's possible. On the other hand, her mother probably wouldn't want her to be hurt by this guy, either, would she?"
Lois shrugged. "I just hope she's careful."
"Um -- Ultra Woman is at the desk, sir. She wants to talk to you, and she says she won't leave until she does. Should I let her inn?"
Henderson rigorously repressed the urge to grin. Apparently, his reputation with the new graduates of the Academy was such as to inspire respect bordering on awe. Enough, at least, that they were willing to withstand even the demand of a superhero to speak to him. That was something, considering the civilian persona of the superhero in question. He'd be willing to bet a month's salary that Lois had not couched the request so politely. Or even that she had phrased it as a request. He wondered how long the attitude would last. "Sure. Send her in."
As he spoke, the pink-clad form of Ultra Woman appeared in the doorway behind Johnny. "Nice of you to see me, Henderson."
Johnny fled. Lois entered the room and shut the door with a firm click.
"Really, Lois," Henderson said mildly, "you don't need to scare the kids to death. A phone call would be sufficient."
"I called four times. Your secretary -- or whoever she was - kept telling me you were busy," Lois said darkly. "I needed to ask you for a favor, so I decided to come in person."
"And that would be?"
"I need a copy of that print that Wolfe lifted from the Midtown Rapist's knife. Jimmy's going to do a search for me -- see if there's any record of this guy being arrested in any other state. If we can identify him--"
"And how would Olsen find out about that?" Henderson asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
"Never mind that. Can you get me a copy?"
Henderson snorted. "I'll see what I can do. She's not a secretary, though," he added. "I'll tell you what -- I'll give you my new cell phone number so you don't have to go through the switchboard. But be damn sure what you're calling about is important. Deal?"
"I guess so. It would sure improve things," Lois said. "This guy has to be stopped. If we can figure out who to watch, we might catch him in the act -- so to speak."
Henderson nodded. "If you do find out anything, don't give his prospective lawyer any grounds for false arrest or anything."
"Not a chance," Lois said.
"All right. I'll try to have it for you by this afternoon."
"Thanks," Lois said.
Henderson produced a business card and scrawled a number on the back. "Here. I didn't think I was going to have a use for these things."
"Business cards?" Lois asked. "Why would a cop need business cards?"
"Don't ask me. They handed them out four months ago. I think our computer guy was testing out some new software. So far, counting this one, I've used three of them."
"Oh." Lois took the card. "Well, thanks. We'll let you know what we find."
"You do that," Henderson said. "If we could convince the powers that be to upgrade the computer system around here -- and maybe tie it in to some kind of nationwide database -- we might have a better chance of tracking these characters, but it all comes down to the bottom line."
"Money," Lois said.
"You got it." Henderson got to his feet. "Now, I have a meeting to attend. I'll send that stuff over as soon as I can get hold of it."
Shortly afterwards the meeting broke up. Henderson left the conference room more convinced than ever that such meetings were a waste of time, and only conducted by the people in charge so that they could justify the department's budget at the end of the quarter. Halfway down the hall, headed toward his office, he nearly ran into Detective Wolfe as the man exited the restroom. Now would be a good time to make his request, he decided. "Jim, could I have a minute of your time?"
"Huh? Sure." The detective fell in beside him. "What's up?"
"I had a visit from Ultra Woman a little while ago. She'd like a copy of the print your guys got from the Midtown Rapist crime scene this morning. Would you mind if I give it to her?"
"Huh?" Wolfe looked surprised. "I guess not. If she thinks it'll help nab this guy, I'm all for any help we can give her. He's a pain in the--" He broke off as one of their female colleagues passed by. "Did she say how she plans to use 'em?"
"Not exactly," Henderson said, resisting the urge to cross his fingers. Kent's bad habits were rubbing off on him more than he'd realized. "I got the impression she's trying to connect him to crimes outside the state."
"Hmm. Well, I wish her luck." Wolfe scowled. "To tell you the truth, the guy makes my skin crawl every time I investigate one of his visits. At least this time we got a bit lucky. Forensics was able to pick the print of his left thumb and pinky finger from the inside of the glove, along with the print on the knife blade. I'll send everything over to you as soon as I get the rest of the lab results. Tell Ultra Woman I said we can use the help, will you?"
"I'll do that," Henderson said. "Thanks." He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. I'm speaking at a Metropolis High assembly."
"Recruiting for law enforcement?" Wolfe asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Not exactly," Henderson said. "They're doing an anti-drug campaign. I guess they figured I had two things going for me. Cop and alumnus. Maybe it'll discourage one or two of the kids from doing something stupid."
"Oh. Well, good luck. Watch out for the groupies."
"Yeah, right," Henderson said. "Wrong age bracket."
Wolfe snorted. "They don't seem to think so about the Knight. He must be about your age."
"Yeah, but I don't fly," Henderson said. "Big handicap; besides, can you see me running around in that getup?"
The idea seemed to cause Wolfe a minor convulsion. Henderson grinned and headed for the parking lot.
Several police were already on the scene when he arrived and were directing traffic away from the accident. Two men were trying to extricate the driver from the cab, heedless of the gasoline that ran past their feet. Henderson landed beside them. "Need some help?"
"Yeah," one of the men said. "The door's jammed."
"Right. You two move back from the gas," Henderson said. "If something throws a spark I don't want you caught in the fire."
The two men moved back and Henderson forced his fingers into the gap between the crumpled door and frame. Careful not to scrape metal against metal and inadvertently strike a deadly spark, he gripped firmly and inexorably forced the door free. The driver was semiconscious and Henderson x-rayed his neck and spine quickly to determine if there were any injuries that he needed to worry about. Finding none, he lifted the man quickly and carried him to a safe distance from the gasoline.
While Henderson was working, the paramedic van had arrived and he was able to hand his burden over to them. Quickly, he moved to locate the leak and squeeze the edges together, stopping the flow of gas. Other emergency services were arriving. He watched them move competently in to cover the spilled gas with fire-retardant foam, and after a moment's consideration, approached the team leader. "Give me a little room and I'll move that thing out of the way for you," he said.
The man nodded and lifted the bullhorn to his lips.
Henderson waited while people moved back, and he took advantage of the time to decide how best to lift the vehicle.
When the area had been cleared, the team leader turned back to him. "If you can lift it over to the shoulder it will give us more room to move traffic around it," he said. "We'll be better able to work with all these cars out of here."
"All right." Henderson had decided by now what the best technique would be and moved in to lift the enormous device cautiously a few feet off the ground. Carefully, he floated it to the designated location and lowered it to the ground again.
He again approached the man in charge. "Do you need me for anything else?" he inquired.
The man shook his head. "Nope; that'll do it. Thanks for your help, sir. This makes things a lot easier."
"You're welcome," he said automatically, and lifted into the
air. If he hurried, he would be able to clean off the gas fumes
and still make it to the assembly with a few minutes to spare.
He'd have to pick up his car from the lot later.
"Yeah. Couldn't have hit at a worse time," he said. "Sorry to rush right off, but I have to be at Metro High's assembly in five minutes for that anti-drug campaign of theirs. How are you feeling?"
"The same," Sue said. She made a face. "I'm getting tired of running to the bathroom every two minutes, though. If something starts to happen, you'll be the first to know."
He dropped a kiss on her lips. "Call me if you need me. I have my cell phone with me. And wish me luck." In the blink of an eye, he was on his way toward the high school, moving fast enough that no one would be able to spot Inspector Henderson flying. Two minutes later, he dropped to a soft landing between a storage shed and one of the temporary buildings in the rear of the high school's main office, straightened his glasses, adjusted his tie and made sure that everything was in place.
Casually, he strolled out into the sunlight and headed for the high school's auditorium to let them know that he was here. He had just under three minutes to spare.
Norma put the binoculars on the passenger seat, still gazing thoughtfully upward in the direction that the black-clad superhero had vanished. After a moment, she shook her head. The sense of familiarity was deceptive, she thought, but for a very brief second, watching the man in action, the impression had flitted through her mind that she knew him.
"Nah," she said after a moment. "You're sleep-deprived, Randall. It's just one of those things."
The van in front of her was beginning to inch forward, and she eased up on the clutch, allowing her car to creep after it. It seemed as if the Black Knight's intervention had speeded things up considerably. Maybe she'd get home in time to get a decent day's sleep after all. She would be awfully happy, she reflected, not for the first time, to be off the night shift. The lack of sleep was making her imagine things.
Henderson shook his head. "Traffic jam," he said truthfully, if rather misleadingly.
"We're running a little behind schedule," Crandon explained, ushering him up the rear stairs into the back stage area. "The man that usually handles the audio equipment called in sick this morning. Said he'd had an accident at home and was in the emergency room -- which left us short handed. Fortunately, one of our students that deals with the sound during musical performances was able to substitute, so we'll only be delayed about ten minutes or so. I hope Superman gets here soon. He's late. The Black Knight is scheduled to be here, too, but he's the second to last speaker, so he said not to expect him until the last minute."
He nodded, acknowledging the information, all the while glancing around at the students that were running back and forth, carting around equipment and generally creating an air of complete chaos. Since he had played the trumpet in his school band many years ago, he recalled a good deal of the preparations for various presentations and wasn't fooled. Still, he reflected, surely, he had never been as young as the kids he was watching now, had he?
Several of the other speakers were already waiting and he took a seat beside them. One or two of them were studying their presentations and Henderson took a moment to glance down at his own notes, reading them at super speed to refresh his memory. It was too bad, he reflected, that Kent's photographic memory had not been transferred with the other super powers, but he figured that was something he'd probably had from birth, and not a power conferred on him by Earth's yellow sun. He wondered for a second if all Kryptonians had that kind of memory, or if Kent had just been lucky. In any case, it didn't really matter. His own memory had always been excellent, and the ability to read and reread the speech a dozen times at super speed made memorizing it simple.
Speaking of Superman, here he came now, striding across the backstage area, his cape waving gently in the draft created by one of the fans. He nodded politely to the other guest speakers and took a seat next to Henderson. "Hi, Bill. I was wondering if you were going to get here on time. Weren't you in that traffic jam on the expressway?"
"Almost," Henderson said, deadpan. "I took a detour. Fortunately, the Knight showed up and helped clear the lanes."
"Yeah, I heard. I'd have gone to help, but I had to stop to break up a mugging. Besides, it sounded like he had it pretty well in hand. Got your speech memorized?"
Henderson nodded. "Looks like they're about ready to start. By the way, I'd like to speak to you privately after the assembly, if you can spare a minute." He'd pass along Brighton's request then, he thought. Then they could decide how to deal with that particular problem and get it out of their hair.
The chaos around them was subsiding, and Principal Crandon wiped his heated brow. "Five minutes," he said to the lined up speakers, and stepped through the curtains. Henderson followed his progress with his x-ray vision. The seats were full of whispering, squirming teenagers who, Henderson was well aware, were completely uninterested in the subject matter about to be presented, and who undoubtedly looked on this whole affair as a welcome relief from classes. Oh well, maybe the information he was about to give them would make a few of them stop and think before accepting that first offer of a recreational drug. It had been a cop, many years ago, that had impressed a very much younger Bill Henderson to stay away from such substances, and inspired him to want to follow in his footsteps. Maybe he and Clark could do the same for a kid or two in this audience.
Jimmy Olsen paused, his arms full of folders. "I just put some preliminary stuff on your desk," he informed her. "Serial rapists are pretty common, but the ones with this guy's pattern are a bit rarer. I've been looking for news reports on the same kind of crime spree in other cities, going back two years, for starters, and ending no later than three months ago, when it started up in Metropolis. It was the best I could do until you can get me the other information."
"Henderson told Ultra Woman that he'd probably have it over here by this afternoon," Lois said. "If it doesn't show up I'll call him and bug him about it."
"I'd call him, but he's got a new cell phone number," Jimmy said. "I tried to get him but they said the number was no longer in service."
"Yeah, I know," Lois said wryly. "He gave me his new one. Next time I see him I'll ask if I can give it to you. I doubt he'll mind, since you had his number before."
"Okay," Jim said. "I guess that was 'cause of the cell phone scam you and Clark busted up last month, huh?"
Lois nodded. "Yeah. I had to replace my phone and get a new number, too, for the same reason Henderson did. The Planet got a fifteen thousand-dollar cell phone bill because they'd captured my phone's code and cloned it. There were calls to Patagonia, for Pete's sake. And to Rwanda and Fiji."
"Wow," Jimmy said.
"Yeah. Perry nearly had a heart attack."
"Speakin' of heart attacks," Perry's voice said behind her, "I nearly had another one when I found out their boss had his boys stuff you in a 50-gallon drum and sink you in Hobs Bay."
Lois turned to face her boss. "Ultra Woman rescued me," she pointed out, "and since I'd seen Templeton's face and picked up a lot of details while I was his prisoner, I was able to tell Henderson's people exactly where to look for the evidence. It worked out fine."
"Yeah," Perry said, "but if it hadn't been for Ultra Woman, I'd be short one o' my best investigative reporters. I know I've always backed anything you have to do to get a story, and I always will, but I wish you'd be a little more careful. I'm gettin' too old for that kind of scare."
"I'm always careful," Lois said, ignoring the incredulous expression on the faces of both her listeners. "That was just a piece of bad luck."
"Uh huh," Perry said, unimpressed. "Well, try to remember what I said. It won't do you any good to get a story if you wind up dead. Speaking of which, how's the story on the Midtown Rapist comin' along? Do they have any new leads?"
"A couple," Lois said. "I promised Wolfe I'd hold off publishing them for now, though. He said he'll give me the exclusive if they pan out."
Perry nodded. "Sounds fair to me. In the meantime, what have you and Clark got goin' for now?"
"Well," Lois said, taking a seat at her desk, "I have to write up an Ultra Woman-saves-the-day story. I happened to be passing by when she broke up a grocery store heist this morning. Clark's attending that anti-drug assembly over at Metro High where Superman and the Black Knight are both speakers. He should be back pretty soon. We're going to be doing a follow up on the phone scam last month. Possible ties to Intergang."
"All right," Perry said, "get writing. We've got some space to fill up for the afternoon edition and the deadline isn't getting any farther away."
"Right," Jimmy said. "I have to get this stuff to Eduardo. 'Scuse me."
Lois turned back to her computer, beginning to type up the standard Ultra Woman-saves-the-day story, while Perry moved happily on to harass Ralph. It was funny, she reflected, how things had changed in the last three months since she and Henderson had unexpectedly received a dose of Clark's powers. In the early days of their relationship, Clark's luck at coming up with such stories had annoyed her. It had seemed to the younger, very driven Lois Lane that it was completely unfair that the superhero always seemed to appear to save the day when Clark was somewhere nearby. Later, when she had figured out his secret, she and Clark had shared such stories, but now she was in the same position as Clark at the beginning of his career as Superman. Well, not exactly, since Clark knew who Ultra Woman really was, but it was pretty close. She and Clark shared the superhero stories and sometimes went out of their way, in their other identities, to give the story to a colleague in order to keep themselves from appearing too cozy with the Dynamic Trio, as the Star had not-so-cleverly labeled them.
"Wow," Jimmy remarked as he passed her desk on the way back to his own. "You're getting to be a really fast typist."
She casually slowed her typing speed but didn't comment. She hadn't actually been typing at super speed, but her fingers were flying over the keys at a rate that she had never been capable of before. It was easy to do if she was in a hurry and wasn't thinking about it. The outer world tended to slow down and she could type accurately without consciously rushing. She'd thought that she had learned a lot about her husband's problems two years before when she had been Ultra Woman for two days. That had been deceptive, she knew now. In the three months since the lightning bolt had struck Clark, she had learned a great deal more about the way Superman handled the ordinary things in his life than she'd had the opportunity to discover back then. It had only increased her respect for him. All his adult life, Clark had been doing the things that she had been learning to cope with in the last three months, and he accepted them as normal. She still had a tendency to let her powers get away from her unless she paid close attention to what she was doing.
As the story took form on the monitor screen before her, she found herself wondering again how long these abilities were going to last. Henderson had caved in after about a month and gone to Bernard Klein as well, to the scientist's great delight. Dr. Klein had done repeated tests on both of them, spaced out every two weeks, and so far was unable to detect any difference in the molecular density of their hair. Jesse Stipanovic had received an attenuated dose of the powers through the metal of the plane in which he had been riding, and, even so, his had lasted for a full year. Dr. Klein theorized that what had been mostly impaired had been his ability to adequately absorb sunlight to replenish the energy that he burned up while using his super powers, and so they had gradually faded away. So far, neither Lois nor Henderson had shown any lack in that department at all.
Some distance away, she heard a sonic boom and wondered briefly if it was Clark or Henderson that had produced it but an instant later the door to the stairs opened and Clark stepped out. He trotted down the ramp to the newsroom floor and crossed to her desk. "How's it going? I hear Ultra Woman stopped a robbery a while ago."
"Yeah," Lois said. She put the final touches on her article and LANned it to Perry. "I happened to be passing by, so I stopped and got a statement from her about it. The robbers were a couple of guys driving through town on their way to New York. Apparently, they ran short of beer and decided to replenish their supply. You'd think thugs like that would figure out that Metropolis isn't a good place to try that sort of stuff."
"You'd think," Clark agreed. "I guess they somehow figure they're going to be lucky and not get caught."
"Hope springeth eternal," Lois said dryly. "Better get that Metro High article typed up."
"Right away." Clark dropped a kiss on the top of her head and moved over to his desk. "I talked to Joey Templeton's lawyer, by the way. He's pleading innocent in the phone scam case."
"Big surprise there," Lois said. "At least I don't have to show up in court as a witness this time. I already gave them my written testimony."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "I need to talk to Bobby. I seem to recall hearing somewhere that Templeton was once associated loosely with Cost Mart. Maybe he can confirm it -- or point us to someone who can tell us more."
"I'll try to get hold of him and arrange a meeting," Lois said. "He mentioned last time we talked that he's interested in the new Thai restaurant that opened up in Old Town."
"Hmm. Maybe we should buy him dinner there and find out what he thinks about the food," Clark said. "If he likes it, we should probably try it. By the way, Henderson passed along something to me after his speech. I need to talk to you about it after I'm done with this piece."
She had put the two bags of groceries in the back seat. They weren't heavy, and Norma was able to pick them both up, lock the rear door with her elbow, and unlock the front door of her house a moment later with a minimum of juggling her burdens. She turned the knob with her marginally free hand, pushed the door open with her hip, maneuvered her way inside and shut it with her heel.
Neil was already gone, of course. He worked in the morning, and she worked at night, which wasn't too bad a schedule, considering. It left them with the afternoon together, and they made the most of it.
His suitcase stood in the hall and she grimaced involuntarily. He was headed for a business meeting in Los Angeles this evening, and would be gone for two days. She would be dropping him off at the airport on her way to work. She never liked it when he traveled. They had been married for only two years and were still newlyweds. Well, in another few days she would be off the night shift and their schedules would coincide. They were both looking forward to it.
Norma set the bags down on the hall bench and locked the door behind her, then took the bags into the kitchen. There were only three items that needed to be refrigerated. She put them away quickly and left the remaining groceries on the kitchen table as she headed for the bedroom. She was ready for a good day's sleep.
It was as she was unbuttoning her uniform that she noticed the light smear of red on her right palm.
She paused, lifting her hand into the light of the bedroom lamp to examine it. She could swear that it hadn't been there a while ago, and when she ran the forefinger of her other hand across it, it smeared slightly. Cautiously, she lifted it to her nose, sniffing. Was it her imagination, or could she smell the faint odor of blood? She wasn't sure.
But she hadn't cut herself, as far as she could tell. If she had picked up a fairly fresh bloodstain on her hand, where had it come from?
She checked her clothing, finding nothing, and, after a moment, returned to the kitchen to look around.
There was a tiny smear of rusty brown on her grocery bag where she had touched it.
Frowning, Norma retraced her steps to the hallway. Nothing. After a moment, she opened the front door and examined the outer doorknob.
On the underside of the knob was another light brownish smear, now almost dry.
She stared at it a moment. This was distinctly odd.
She examined the substance, but it was now impossible to tell what it had been without the help of a laboratory. Again, Norma looked at her palm. Well, it could be blood, or it could be a number of other things. Perhaps some child had come along, trying doorknobs, maybe with a little raspberry chocolate from a morning doughnut on his hands?
Looking around, she could see no one within her range of vision. Mr. Jenkins had vanished. He'd probably gone inside for his morning coffee, she thought, and Mrs. Hanson had also disappeared. Even the blue car was gone.
Well, she seemed to have found the source of the stain, but it didn't, after all, seem that important. After a moment, she went back inside, closed and locked the door, and then stood indecisively for a second, looking around.
Nothing had been disturbed that she could see but, just to be sure, Norma conducted a search of the house, the .38 Special that all officers of the MPD carried while on duty in her hand.
All the windows were locked, she found, and both doors as well. There was no one hiding in the other bedroom, or in any of the closets. She even checked under the beds.
Feeling a little silly, Norma went back to her bedroom to prepare for bed. It had been nothing but a false alarm after all. The Midtown Rapist and his escapades must be getting to her more than she realized.
But just to be certain, she locked her bedroom door before climbing into bed.
Jimmy Olsen picked up the chocolate bar that he had just purchased and turned at Lois's hail. Since it was Lois bringing him the faxes that had just arrived, he assumed with some justification that it was the information that they were expecting from William Henderson.
His search of the morning had turned up seventy-two newspaper articles published in the last two years across the country about serial rapists whose patterns were similar to that of the Midtown Rapist and who fit the other criteria that he was looking for. Of those, quite a number of them were follow-ups on earlier articles about the same man, and eleven of the criminals in question had been captured. Still, some seven of the cases remained unsolved. Assuming that this guy hadn't sprung out of another dimension, or just recently started his criminal career after having been a model citizen all his life, it was just barely possible that three months ago he had been in one of those seven other locations and found things getting a little too hot for his continued residence there. Jimmy was well aware that it was a long shot, but for the moment, it was all they had to go on.
"Here they are," Lois said, presenting the papers to him with a flourish as he arrived at his desk. "Do you think you can work a little of your magic with them?"
"Maybe," Jimmy said cautiously. "I have some connections who can do some checks for me. Fortunately, the fingerprint databases in a lot of the big cities are computerized these days. Let me scan these into my computer, and I'll see what I can do. It's too bad there isn't a nationwide fingerprint database. It would sure make it a lot easier for the cops to track down these characters."
"That's what Henderson said," Lois said. "Maybe that's something the Daily Planet should highlight. I think I'll talk to Perry about it."
"That's a good idea," Jimmy said. "I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
Lois nodded, starting to reach for her phone. Then he saw her lift her head in the same way he had seen CK do countless times since he had come to work at the Daily Planet. She glanced at him, getting to her feet.
"If Perry asks, tell him I just remembered I have to meet Bobby Bigmouth in a little while. I need to go get him his lunch," she said.
Bobby Bigmouth was her most reliable, if somewhat exasperating, snitch, Jimmy recalled. "Will do," he said to her retreating back. Lois ran up the steps and disappeared into the stairwell.
Jimmy shook his head. He'd always heard that married couples tended to pick up each other's mannerisms, but he'd never believed it until now. He'd thought CK's habits were a little odd, but now Lois was doing it! If the day came when Clark started to babble like Lois, Jimmy promised himself he'd have a man-to-man talk with him. This togetherness thing could definitely have its drawbacks.
From somewhere nearby, a sonic boom rattled the windows of the Planet. Wow! One of the superheroes must have passed by a little too close. Jimmy glanced at the monitors just as the picture shifted to the scene of a local chemical plant that was blazing merrily and pouring out a dense cloud of smoke. Several fire trucks could be seen and men in protective gear were swarming around the building like ants whose hill has been disturbed. As he watched, Jimmy saw the black-clad figure of the Knight zip across the screen and vanish into the smoke. An instant later, a pink and blue streak approached from the left and followed him. Ultra Woman was on the scene.
The cameras shifted. Superman could be seen hoisting a large container of fire retardant, and, as Jimmy watched, he disappeared after the other two superheroes into the smoke. It must be fairly serious if all three of them were there, Jimmy thought. They must be afraid of an explosion or something.
Perry stepped out of his office, glanced around and spotted him. "Olsen! Grab your camera and get over there!" he commanded.
"Yes, sir!" Jimmy put the printouts Lois had given him down on the surface of his desk, set his empty coffee mug on top of them to hold them in place and snatched up his camera. A moment later he was on his way down the stairs, disdaining to wait for the elevator. Maybe CK had a point, he reflected as he thrust open the door to the lobby and headed for the street where he had parked his motorcycle. It was a lot faster than the elevator. No wonder CK was such a good newsman -- and managed to stay in such good shape, too. Jimmy roared away from the curb, barely missing the front fender of a taxi. Maybe, he thought, his career as a photojournalist was looking up. He'd actually been Perry's first choice this time. He'd be extra-careful to get some good shots for the paper. Maybe if he was very lucky, he'd even get one on the front page.
William Henderson and Ultra Woman followed Superman as he led the way to the fire chief. Chief Walters was speaking to one of his men as they approached. The other man nodded.
"Right away," he said and hurried after the group of men preparing to stow their fire fighting tools back onto one of the big hook-and-ladder trucks. Walters turned to them.
"Did you need anything?" he asked.
"No." Superman acted as their spokesman. "We just wanted to let you know that we've checked to be sure there's no chance of re-ignition. It's your baby, now."
Walters smiled a little. "Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome," Superman replied. The three of them lifted off together. Once well out of hearing range, he turned to Henderson. "Does the Black Knight want to talk to Commissioner Brighton, or would you rather one of us did it? How well does he know you -- Inspector Henderson, that is?"
Henderson snorted. "And I used to think it was strange hearing you talk about yourself in the third person. Now I'm doing it." He shook his head. "I'm going to have an identity crisis if I'm not careful. I think we'd better do this together. That way there'll be no room for misinterpretation. Brighton'll be able to tell the representative from New York that all three of us said 'no' in no uncertain terms."
"I agree," Lois said. "I know these bureaucrats. They want what they want when they want it and think they can invoke a city ordinance or something to make it happen, even when there's no rule covering the situation. We're going to have to remind them that, as private citizens, we have the right to live and work where we choose and no state official can change it."
"I have to agree," Clark said. "I sympathize with New York - but we live in Metropolis."
"Just because we live here, it doesn't mean we can't do them a favor once in a while," Lois added, "but demanding that the Metro Police Force transfer one of us to them is getting a little presumptuous, don't you think?"
Neither Henderson nor Superman answered the obvious. Clark glanced at his companions. "I take it we're all agreed?"
"I think so," Henderson said. "I think only one of us should do the talking, though."
Lois nodded vigorously. "I agree. You still act too much like Bill Henderson. You're getting better," she added as Henderson cast a sideways glance at her, "but you and I are still new at this, and you contact Brighton pretty often as yourself. You don't need to take the chance."
"I'm not arguing," Henderson said. "That's why I think that Clark should be the spokesman, and you and I should keep our mouths shut."
"All right," Clark said. "When should we do this?"
"No time like the present," Henderson said. "Brighton said to pass the message to one of the supermen if we could. If we all show up at once, I can't see him refusing to see us."
Lois glanced down. "There's Jimmy," she said irrelevantly. "Think we should talk to him? He's waving at us."
"Sure," Clark said. "Let's give him a quote and then we'll head over to see Brighton."
The three of them swooped down to land on the sidewalk next to the younger man.
"Hi, Jimmy," Clark said. "I'm sure you know my friend, Ultra Woman, but I don't think you've met the Knight before. Jimmy Olsen, Black Knight."
Henderson nodded briskly.
Jimmy's eyes were huge as he looked from one to the other of them. "Gosh," he said. Then he appeared to recollect his purpose. "What happened in there?" he asked.
"It looked like an accident," Clark said, "but of course we won't know for sure until the investigators have finished their work. The fire was fueled by a shipment of volatile chemicals that apparently arrived this morning and hadn't been properly stored yet."
"Do you think there'll be any environmental consequences?" Jimmy asked dutifully.
"I'm not qualified to give an opinion on that," Superman said, "but we got it under control pretty quickly."
"Okay," Jimmy said. "Do you mind if I take a picture of the three of you together?"
"No problem," Clark said. The three of them assumed their usual heroic poses and moved closer together. "How's this?"
"That's great!" Jimmy snapped two photos. "At least one of those should turn out pretty good. It was a pleasure meeting you," he said to Henderson.
"Likewise," Henderson said.
"Now, if you'll excuse us," Clark said, aware that several other journalists had noticed their presence and were converging on them, "we have an appointment with the Police Commissioner."
"Sure!" Jimmy stammered. "Thanks a lot!"
They lifted off, and Lois was aware that her youthful colleague snapped several more pictures as they flew away.
"That's a good way to deal with people who know Inspector Henderson," she remarked to the police inspector as they flew. "Keep it short and sweet."
"Point taken," Henderson said. "No need to rub it in. Let's get this thing over with."
"Inspector Henderson tells me that Commissioner Brighton wants to speak to the three of us. Could you let him know we're here?"
The young officer regarded the superhero thoughtfully. "Do you have an appointment, Superman?" he inquired.
"No. Henderson told us to drop by when we could."
"I believe the Commissioner is in a meeting," the young man said. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait."
Meeting? Henderson didn't remember any meetings that Brighton had scheduled today. A quick glance with his x-ray vision toward the room that his boss had commandeered for the afternoon showed him Brighton listening to the radio and frowning over what Henderson could see were vacation schedules. Not exactly high priority work when Superman wanted to speak to him. He glanced at Johnny's face and could see the faintest of smirks twitching the corners of his mouth. Johnny was apparently enjoying his tiny position of power a little too much.
"Excuse me a moment," he told Lois. "I'll be right back."
He left the room at high speed, and re-entered a moment later from the rear as himself. "Superman and Ultra Woman?" he said. "I take it you're here to speak to Commissioner Brighton?"
"Yes," Lois said, a touch of acidity to her tone. "Officer Braxton here seems to think we need an appointment."
Henderson turned to eye the young officer with a raised brow. "I believe you were informed with the others that the Commissioner wanted to speak to Superman, Ultra Woman or the Black Knight if you were to see one of them, weren't you?"
Johnny squirmed slightly. "It slipped my mind," he said.
Henderson's eyebrow climbed a little higher. "I think you and I need to have a little talk about certain unwritten rules around here, Officer Braxton," he said. "See me in my office before you go off shift."
Johnny nodded, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Yes, sir," he said.
"And give the Commissioner a call to let him know Superman and Ultra Woman are here to see him," he added. He glanced back at his fellow superheroes. "Sorry for the misunderstanding," he said.
"That's all right," Clark said, a little uncomfortably.
Henderson nodded politely to Lois and exited via the front doors, to return seconds later as the Black Knight. "Sorry," he said. "Kid's cat was stuck in a tree."
Johnny had been speaking into the phone, and now he turned to them. "Sorry about the wait," he said. "Go right in. Conference Room 3 on your left, halfway down the hall.
"Thanks," Clark told him. The three of them proceeded down the hallway.
"Norma!" her husband's voice called from the other side of the door. "Are you all right?"
"Just a minute," she called as she pushed back the sheet and slid out of bed.
"What's going on?" Neil asked when she unlocked and opened the door. "Why'd you lock the door?"
Looking back now, the whole incident seemed silly. She shrugged. "It wasn't important. I was a little spooked when I got home. The Midtown Rapist broke into someone's place last night. I took the report."
"Oh," Neil said. "I guess I can't exactly blame you. Have I mentioned that I'm going to be really glad when you're off the night shift?"
"No gladder than I will be," Norma said. She lifted her face to kiss her handsome husband. "I just wish you didn't have to travel so much on business."
"So do I," he said. "At least this trip will be short." He set his briefcase inside the bedroom door. "Let me get changed and put my bags in the car, and then you and I can go get something to eat."
"All right," she said. "What should I wear?"
"Something casual. I figured we could go over to Mi Casa and have a nice dinner before I have to leave."
"That'll be nice," Norma said. "I am sort of in the mood for Mexican food."
There was a couple seated in the waiting area that drew her
attention. For a second, she couldn't think why the man looked
familiar and then with a jolt she recognized Bill Henderson.
Instead of the usual drab trousers and rumpled jacket that she was used to seeing him wear, he was nicely dressed in a pair of tan slacks and a contrasting sports coat, his black, lightly greying hair was neatly combed and there was no sign of the dark glasses that he habitually wore at the Precinct. Accompanying him was a small, dark-haired, very pretty, and very pregnant woman that must be his wife. Norma had heard from someone that Bill Henderson's wife was due to have a baby any time, but the thought of anyone of his age becoming a parent had been hard to visualize. On the other hand, Bill would probably be a very good father to his son or daughter. She had seen him deal with the occasional child that somehow made his or her way into their station. For all his cynicism with his colleagues, Bill Henderson liked kids, and more tellingly, kids liked him.
She tugged on Neil's hand. "I see a friend of mine. Come over and be introduced."
Obediently, Neil followed her as she led the way to a pair of empty chairs next to Henderson and his wife. "Hi, Bill! Painting the town red tonight?"
Henderson smiled dryly. "Absolutely," he deadpanned. "I plan on dancing on the tables -- if I can find a lampshade."
The image almost made Norma choke. His wife gave a snort of laughter.
"I hope you'll reconsider," Norma said, trying for an equally deadpan expression. "Somebody might have to call a cop."
"True," Henderson said solemnly. "I guess I'll have to pass, then. By the way, have you met my wife? Sue, this is Norma Randall, one of our people at the Precinct. Norma, Sue."
"Pleased to meet you," Norma said. "This is my husband, Neil. Neil, I've mentioned Inspector Henderson, haven't I?"
"Once or twice," Neil said, extending a hand. "Good to meet you, Inspector." He paused. "Weren't you the officer that was nearly hit by lightning a few months ago? I seem to recall something about an assassination attempt, and then a near miss by a lightning bolt."
"Yeah, that was me, all right," Henderson said. "During the Quigley trial."
"Now I remember," Neil said. "You seem to lead exciting lives down at the station."
"Only occasionally," Henderson said. "We prefer it dull."
"That's for sure," Norma said. She turned to Sue Henderson. "I heard that you were supposed to be having a baby soon. Is this your first?"
"Yes," Sue said. "We're kind of in a holding pattern right now. The doctor told me that we could easily go another week, though."
"Well, if your husband doesn't show up at work some day soon, we'll know where to find him," Norma said. "Congratulations, sir."
"Thank you," Henderson said.
"Henderson, party of two," the loudspeaker announced abruptly.
"That's us," Henderson said. "Enjoy your dinner. I'll see you in the morning, Randall."
"Hopefully not," Norma said, and Sue laughed.
After the Hendersons had disappeared, Neil glanced around and went to select one of the take-out menus from a rack on the wall. "While we're waiting, I guess we can check over what's available. Too bad you can't have a glass of wine, honey, but I guess it wouldn't be a good idea."
"Not tonight," Norma agreed. "I'm on duty in a few hours." The faint feeling of uneasiness that had led her to lock her door this morning before going to sleep had returned. "I hope it's a quiet night."
"So do I. Try to stay out of trouble until the end of the month," Neil said. "Then you'll be on the day shift."
"Don't think I'm not looking forward to it," Norma said. She reached out to take a second menu for herself. "Let's see; what should I pick ..."
He lowered the binoculars after another moment. It looked as if Norma Randall was going to be a while. He could wait. Judging by the bags that she and her husband had loaded into her car, he was going on a trip of some kind. That was convenient. It would help make up for last night.
He absently twisted the wedding ring that he still wore. If only
his hand didn't hurt so much. And the whole side of the first
finger had no feeling. The bandage that he had applied
one-handed was clumsy and bulky, covering the thumb and
forefinger of his hand, but the whole digit had a disturbingly
numb feel to it. The knife must have sliced the big nerve there,
but he didn't dare go to the hospital for treatment. The police would be looking for someone seeking treatment for a cut hand. He would just have to take care of it as well as he could. If the woman had been alone like she was supposed to have been, this wouldn't have happened. He could have completed his business and gone on his way. Now he'd have to make Norma Randall pay in the other woman's place.
He'd seen her enter the house a short time after he'd managed to get away from the boyfriend, and had approached her car in the faint hope of finding something to identify her. In common with many cops, she had left her door unlocked and he'd taken advantage of the error of omission to check the envelope lying face down on the passenger seat, and from that he'd found her name and address. That had been a stroke of luck that he hadn't expected. He'd located her house, intending to scout out the premises, but the door had been locked when he tried it and before he could jimmy the lock, that guy across the street had come out to work on his garden. He'd departed casually, reasonably certain that he hadn't been noticed, but then he'd sat in his car, pretending to read the paper, waiting for her to come home so he could be certain that she was the one.
He'd been lucky, too. She'd shown up barely fifteen minutes later. Stupid woman. A cop, no less, he thought derisively. Women in positions of authority annoyed him. Women always tried to tell a guy what to do. His mother had been a big, domineering woman who had run his life until he'd left home. He'd been determined that no woman was going to tell him how to live once he was on his own, but, he reflected, just try to start up any relationship with a woman and she always seemed to think she could give the orders. He'd made up his mind that it wouldn't be that way for him. He was going to give the orders. No woman was going to push him around ever again. He'd be the boss in his own home, and if his wife tried to take over, he'd know what to do about it.
He'd finally found a quiet little woman who seemed to know her place, but, as might have been expected, she'd gotten too sure of herself and started to make demands. Take out the trash. Hang up your coat. Put your glass in the sink. When he'd shown her who was boss, the neighbors had called the cops! He'd spent the night in jail and then gone home with a warning when Mary had refused to press charges in spite of her two-day stay in the hospital.
He thought that over for several moments, his gaze fixed on the entrance to Mi Casa. Mary must have thought that he'd learned his lesson, he thought grimly, but the next time had been easier. He'd shown her. He'd put her in the hospital again, but she'd still refused to press charges.
He still couldn't believe that the woman had had the stupidity
to defy him after that. And when the cops had let him go the
next time, he'd gone home to wait for his wife to return home,
determined to have it out -- but she didn't return. And when he'd gone to work the fourth day after her release from the hospital, he'd come home to find her things gone.
Women were worthless, he thought. They needed to be taught a
good lesson. Especially women in positions of authority, like
that woman last night. He'd first seen her in a local Cost Mart,
where it turned out that she was some kind of supervisor. He'd seen her scolding one of the cashiers and that was when he'd chosen her as his next target. He'd tracked her for days, mapped out her schedule, and learned that her boyfriend was going to be on a business trip for two nights. Only the guy had come back too soon.
He'd come back to her later, though, once she thought she was safe. The female cop was a better choice for now, anyway. A female cop had been the one who had nearly caught him in Albany. She'd actually pulled his mask off. He'd managed to get away, but things had been getting too hot for some time, so he'd decided to change locations to Metropolis. Mary was as likely to be there as anywhere else. He seemed to recall her saying once that she had a relative -- a cousin or something -- in Metropolis, anyhow, so it was just possible that she was someplace in the city. It was too bad he'd never listened much to what Mary said, and he didn't remember what the name was. In any case, however, Metropolis was a big city, even bigger than Albany. It was easy to be anonymous here.
He raised the binoculars to his eyes again. No sign of the cop yet. That was all right, though. He could be patient. Patience was a virtue, he'd always been told. He hadn't made sure of his last target. This time he would. He needed to be certain that this time there would be no interruptions.
Sue conceded the point with a small grin. "Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day," she observed. "Since when have you started listening to weather forecasters?"
"I haven't," Henderson said, glancing around as they approached the crosswalk. "But I didn't want the evening ruined by coming back soaking wet."
The light in their direction turned green, and together they stepped out into the street. Henderson glanced in the direction of the stopped traffic once more, out of his usual distrust of Metropolitan drivers on a wet night. People tended to overestimate their visibility as well as their driving skill far too frequently on a night like this. From the darkened interior of a car half a block up the street, the glint of light reflecting off glass caught his eye. Instinctively curious, he trained his enhanced vision on the reflection, and saw that it was coming from the lenses of a pair of binoculars. The man was leaning forward in the driver's seat, resting his right elbow on the steering wheel and holding the device one-handed, apparently watching the entrance to Mi Casa.
"What is it?" Sue asked. She always seemed to know when he was using his super powers, Henderson thought, wondering how she accomplished the feat. Sue was one of the most observant people he knew. She'd been a witness to a robbery the day they had met and he recalled wishing that all witnesses had the keen ability for observation and attention to detail that she did.
"There's some guy sitting in his car up the way, watching the restaurant with a pair of binoculars," he said. Well, he supposed there was nothing illegal about what the man was doing but it was always possible that he was a lookout for a robbery or something. Henderson took note of the man's face for possible future identification and then the license. Then, if it turned out there actually was a robbery at the place, he would at least have some idea where to start looking.
"Write it down as soon as we get in the car," Sue advised, and he almost laughed at the realization that his pretty wife knew exactly what he was thinking. Sue was a smart lady, he thought again, but then he'd known that for a long time. If he were the sort to tolerate law breaking, he'd have been tempted to thank the guys who had held up that jewelry store for doing him a favor. If it hadn't been for that, he might never have met her.
Following her advice, as soon as they'd shut the doors he located the notebook that always stayed in their car in order to record gas mileage and scribbled down the license number and a brief description of the car. The plate was from New York, he noted. If the guy was here to rob a restaurant, it seemed like a long way to go but, as he was well aware, accounting for the things people did was a useless endeavor.
"What's he doing now?" Sue asked.
"Still watching the restaurant. You know, maybe the Black Knight should have a word with this guy."
"Maybe," Sue agreed. "If he's not doing anything illegal, it won't hurt, and if he's up to something, it might make him think twice. That's better than having some employee of the restaurant get hurt." She raised an eyebrow in an exact imitation of him. "Well, go on. Let's see some black armor."
"It's not armor." Henderson felt it necessary to correct her. "It's a jumpsuit."
"Maybe, but you're still a knight -- and you might as well be wearing armor. Move it, Sir Bill."
Henderson grinned and stepped out of the car. Casually, he sauntered toward the nearest alley, which his x-ray vision had already told him was empty of human life. As he made his lightning change to his other identity, he wondered peripherally if his wife's choice of his name -- the Black Knight -- had anything to do with the fact that cops were sometimes called knights in blue. He was a cop, even though he no longer wore a uniform, so maybe she had quietly slipped a double meaning into his moniker.
Exiting the alley straight upward, he made his descent to the
street directly behind the car in question in time to see the
occupant lean forward suddenly, tension in every line of his
body. Listening closely, he could hear the man's heartbeat
accelerate and wondered for a second if the fellow had noticed
him. But no; his attention seemed to be on the couple exiting
the establishment, and Henderson took an instant to glance in
the direction that the binoculars were trained, noting that the
apparent objects of his interest were Neil and Norma Randall.
That was interesting, to say the least, he thought.
Instead of immediately making himself known to the observer, he stood unobtrusively where he had landed, watching to see what would happen. The man followed the couple's progress as they headed for the lot where their car was parked, then laid down the binoculars and reached for the ignition.
"Hey! It's the Knight!" someone's voice said loudly.
"Cool!" Several people in their late teens converged on the car, and Henderson saw the car's occupant glance back with an expression of complete shock on his face. He heard the man's heart give a sharp jolt and begin to pound more loudly, and the engine of the car started up with a roar. He couldn't peel away from the curb, however, because of the teenagers that were now rushing toward Henderson. Bill stepped forward, making his way effortlessly through the gathering crowd, and leaned toward the window. After a moment of hesitation, the driver seemed to make up his mind and rolled it down.
"Can I help you?" he inquired. The voice was completely calm. If not for his super hearing, which detected the racing pulse, Henderson was quite sure he would have been fooled.
"Is there a particular reason you're sitting here with binoculars, watching the entrance of that restaurant, sir," Henderson inquired mildly.
"Uh -- not exactly," the man said, but Henderson heard his heart rate increase again. The guy's pulse must be nearly two hundred, he thought. Something was definitely wrong here.
"I see. Well, I noticed you a while ago," he said, "and you've been watching the doors for some time. I have no authority, of course, but unless you have important business here, or are waiting for someone, I'd suggest you go someplace else to observe Metropolis's night life." He paused. "A word to the wise, sir."
"Uh -- sure," the other man said. "Sorry."
"No problem," Henderson said. He turned to the crowd of teens. "Please move away and let the car out," he requested calmly.
Obediently, the crowd parted. One of the girls in the group was extending a small notebook and pen toward him. "Could I have your autograph?" she inquired with the breathless eagerness that Henderson was beginning to recognize. The young lady was one of his groupies.
With a certain amount of resignation, Henderson took the
notebook and signed his alias with his left hand. Fortunately, due to a particular incident several years ago that had left him
with several broken fingers and the necessity of wearing a cast
for several weeks, he was adept at writing left-handed. He
figured that, and the fact that he wore gloves, was a reasonably
sufficient disguise for his handwriting if anyone ever tried to
identify it. Besides, how likely was it that the Black Knight's
handwriting would be compared to that of a police inspector's,
Several other of the teens were also thrusting forward scraps of paper for him to sign. He did so, watching from the corner of his eye as the driver of the blue sedan pulled away. As he handed back the last autograph and lifted gracefully off into the slowly increasing drizzle, he made a mental resolution to run a check on that license plate. Something about the whole situation gave him an uneasy feeling. It wouldn't hurt to find out a little more about the car's owner.
A few seconds later, Inspector Henderson was getting back into his own car. Behind him, the car belonging to Norma Randall and her husband pulled out of the parking lot and turned left. Within seconds, their taillights had also disappeared into the traffic that filled the streets of Metropolis even on a night such as this.
"What happened?" Sue asked.
He told her as he started the car, checked over his shoulder and pulled carefully out into the slowly moving traffic. Sue listened without comment until he had finished.
"That was weird," she said finally.
"Yeah," Henderson agreed. "Something wasn't right; that's for sure. I'm going to run a check on the license in the morning."
She nodded. "I think that's a good idea. Why would a guy be watching Norma?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it," he said.
"Maybe she gave him a ticket or something," Sue suggested. "Could he be a stalker?"
"Anything's possible," Henderson said. "Cops have been stalked before by people with a grudge."
"That's kind of scary." His wife's hand crept over his on the gearshift. "It's too bad a bunch of your fans showed up just then. Have I mentioned before how happy I am that you have Superman's powers? At least I don't have to worry about some nut trying to take revenge on you."
He smiled at her. "Even if I didn't have the powers, I have
every intention of seeing this baby grow up," he said. "I've got
too much to live for to let myself get killed. How are you
feeling, by the way?"
"Same as always," she said. "Let's get home as soon as possible, though. I need to visit the restroom again."
"I guess that's another thing you won't miss once she's born," Henderson said.
"Don't tell me you peeked," Sue said. "You know what we agreed on."
"Nope. Cross my heart," he said. "I just think it's going to be a girl, that's all."
"Oh," she said, slightly mollified. "Don't you want a boy to carry on the family name?"
"My brother's got four boys," he pointed out. "The family name isn't in any danger of dying out. Anyway, I don't really care which it is as long as it's healthy."
"I'm glad," Sue said. "My dad was always disappointed that he had three girls. When my brother was born, he just about forgot we existed."
Henderson snorted. "I don't want to say anything bad about your dad," he remarked, "but that's a lousy attitude to have. The human race would be in really bad shape if we stopped having girls. Besides, I'm pretty glad you're here. I just somehow wouldn't have the same attitude about you if you were a guy."
Sue giggled. "I'm happy about that!" she said.
The presence of the three super-powered beings had never really worried him before. Metropolis was a very large city and as long as he made an effort to avoid being noticed, the chances of it happening had seemed slight. During his little ventures as a crusader for personal justice, he'd always made certain that the women that he chose for his lessons were unable to make any noise or in any way draw attention to the situation until it was much too late. Until last night, when things had gone completely wrong, it had worked perfectly. And then the Black Knight had seen him tonight.
Why had the Knight noticed him? The man certainly didn't fly
around checking out all the parked cars on the streets every
night, he thought. It would be a ridiculous waste of time.
Somehow, something must have drawn his attention, but it was very likely just bad luck. His dad had always told him that bad luck ran in threes, so he would just have to be extremely careful for a while, he decided. At least the Knight hadn't connected his activity with the cop. It didn't really matter if he followed her for the rest of the evening, anyway. She'd be at the 12th Precinct tonight, and would return to her home in the morning. He could wait.
For an uneasy moment, he wondered vaguely if the superhero was tracking him, flying above him in the dark to see where he went, but after a moment he discarded the notion. At the worst, the guy had probably thought he was casing out the restaurant for a robbery or something, and was undoubtedly congratulating himself on stopping it before it went any farther. When nothing happened, he'd probably forget entirely about the incident. After all, the guy broke up crimes of one sort or another practically every day. Why should he remember a robbery that didn't happen?Satisfied that he had found the perfect solution to his problem, he turned toward downtown. Going to a movie theater was probably a good idea, he decided, just in case the Knight did decide to check on him. He'd been wanting to see "Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," showing at the Metro Gold Cinema, for a while, anyhow. It would be just as well to take the night off. He could go back to business tomorrow.
"Not yet." Jimmy said, studying the offerings on display. "Friends of mine are checking the print databases in the seven cities, but so far no one's gotten back to me. Whoever this guy is, it's possible he's got some kind of record. You don't just jump into being a serial rapist overnight. He's probably had trouble with the law before, one way or another -- probably fairly minor. But if it was something serious enough for him to be arrested -- even if no action was ever taken --- they'll have his fingerprints on file. If we can match them, we'll have an ID on our rapist."
"Kind of a long shot," Lois said, glancing at her watch. She needed to hurry. Bobby Bigmouth was expecting to meet Clark and her in the park in twenty minutes. Hopefully, Superman wouldn't delay him this morning.
"I know," Jimmy said in reply to her comment, "but it's about the only angle we have right now. My guess is that he was doing this where he was before, wherever that was. Maybe things were getting too hot and he decided to change locations, but whatever his reasons, I'm betting that he's had a run-in or two with the law for other things."
"You're probably right," Lois said. "Maybe he'll have been arrested for petty theft or something."
"You never know," Jimmy said. "I'll let you know if anyone gets back to me." He scowled at the candy bars. "You'd think they'd at least have Double-crunch Fudge Bars or something."
"Nope," Lois said. "I order them by the box. The guys upstairs are too cheap to put any quality bars in this thing. They've even discontinued Clark Bars."
"Yeah, I know," Jimmy said disgustedly. "Maybe I should just get a sandwich."
"Not out of that machine," Lois advised. "The last time I got a sandwich out of there, the bread was moldy. If I were you, I'd go down to the lunchroom. It may not be gourmet, but at least you know you're not going to get salmonella. Besides, didn't you get breakfast?"
Jimmy shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I'm a little short this month. They cut off my power yesterday and everything in the refrigerator was -- well, you don't want to know, but I couldn't eat it."
"Why don't you ask Perry for a raise?" Lois asked. "You're a pretty good photojournalist. They can at least pay you a living wage."
"Thanks," Jimmy said, obviously gratified.
"Only the truth." Lois patted him lightly on the head and made a beeline for her desk.
The blinds to Perry's office were open, she noticed absently as she rummaged in her desk drawer for a tape recorder and a notepad and pen. Seated on the couch in his office, she could see a young, blond woman who was surreptitiously shredding the edge of the latest edition of the Planet that lay on the leather cushion beside her. Little pieces of newspaper confetti lay on the carpet all around her feet.
Clark wasn't around to chastise her for snooping. Lois trained her super-hearing on the office.
"I don't want to take advantage of our relationship, Uncle Perry," the blond was saying. "I'll get some kind of job. I've hidden long enough. I don't think he's going to find me, at least after all this time."
"Probably not," her boss's voice said kindly, "but you're already behind on your rent and bills. You need a job now, not later. This one will give you set hours so you'll be able to get something part time if you need to supplement your income for a while, just in order to catch up. Since you won't take a loan from me, this is the next best choice. You won't be freeloading, if that's what you're afraid of."
The blonde nodded. "I swore I wouldn't take advantage of anyone," she said. "My dad was horrible that way, and I don't want to be like him."
"Mary," Perry said, "your dad was a bully and a freeloader. Nobody was happier than Alice and I were when your mom threw him out, but you aren't your dad. No one in the family ever thought you were. You're hard-working and honest."
"But my marriage came apart, just like Mom's," Mary said. "I tried to hold it together -- I really did. But I couldn't stay any longer."
"That's because Robert was a jerk," Perry said with unaccustomed venom. "No woman deserves to be beaten, no matter how angry a man is. You were smart to leave him. Now, are you going to take the job or not?"
She hesitated. "I guess I don't have much choice," she said finally. "I just wish I didn't feel like I was getting this job under false pretenses."
"You aren't," Perry said. "This is a real job with real work to do. If you do your best, no one will think for a minute that I hired you just because you're Alice's niece. Now, I'll get Jimmy to take you down to start the paperwork. He's the best person you can ask about how to do the job, if you have any questions about it. He was the office gofer up to a few months ago. Now he's a junior photojournalist and the office computer guru." Perry paused. "Don't tell him I said that, though. He won't mind helping you get started."
"I hope not." The blond woman's voice sounded very uncertain.
"Take it from me: he won't. Jimmy's a nice kid. He'll be glad to help you."
"You wouldn't be listening in again, would you?" Clark's low, amused voice asked. Lois nearly dropped her tape recorder, but caught it at the last second. She cast her husband an annoyed look.
Clark raised an eyebrow at her, but didn't add to his comment. Lois knew she shouldn't have been eavesdropping on the private conversation but her insatiable curiosity was hard to resist. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the door to Perry's office opened.
"Jimmy!" Their boss's voice cut easily over the hubbub of the newsroom getting into gear for the day. "C'mere!"
"New hire?" Clark asked.
"I thought you didn't want to know," Lois said. "That's Alice's niece. Her name's Mary. She's left her husband, who abused her, and needs a job but she doesn't want to sponge off her family. Perry's practically pushing her into the job."
"Oh." Clark glanced quickly at the young woman and away.
Jimmy hurried across the room in response to Perry's call and Lois turned back toward the steps that led to the elevator. Clark followed her with that bouncy stride peculiar to him. They had about ten minutes before they were due to meet Bobby Bigmouth. Maybe the best snitch in the city could give them some information.
But, he reminded himself, it couldn't go on much longer. Sue had been even more disappointed than he was, but she'd lifted her chin and pointed out that one of these days the false labor would turn into the real thing. It was just a matter of time.
He could hear the TV chattering away in the back office again, and he made his way toward the room. Dan, the janitor, was just hanging up his jacket on the coat rack behind the door as Henderson entered.
"Oops, sorry." Henderson caught the door before it collided with the man.
Dan grinned. "I've been telling the boss he should move this thing before somebody gets a concussion, but nobody ever listens to me."
"Me either," Henderson said. "Everything quiet?"
"Well, there was a fight between two drunks in the tank," Dan said. "Had to stick one in a different cell. Other than that, I guess it's been pretty quiet."
"Huh," Henderson said. "Sounds like the beginning of the kind of day I like."
He went on into the room. Norma Randall was drinking a cup of tea while seated in a folding chair in front of the small television that occupied one corner of the room. Harriet, the night dispatcher was gathering up her things preparatory to leaving.
"Morning," she said as he passed her in the aisle.
"Good morning," Henderson said. "Quiet night?"
"Pretty much," Harriet said. "Two of the guys in the tank tried to beat each other up."
"So I heard. What happened?"
"Beats me. They were yelling at each other and one of them took a poke at the other one. The other guys in the place were complaining they couldn't get any sleep with two drunk guys crashing around all over the place, so Johnson took one and stuck him in the cell next door. That pretty much broke up the fight."
Johnson always took the direct approach, Henderson thought approvingly. "I guess no sign of our Midtown Rapist?"
"Not a peep -- not that anyone's complaining."
"Let's hope the boyfriend put him out of commission for a while," Henderson said.
"Amen to that," Harriet said. She picked up her purse. "Night all."
"Night," Henderson said absently. He moved toward Norma, who had finished her tea and was getting to her feet. "Can I speak to you a minute, Randall?"
"Huh? Sure." Norma tossed the Styrofoam cup into the nearest trashcan.
"In the hall," Henderson said.
"Huh?" Norma looked slightly surprised, but followed him obediently into the hall. "What's going on?"
"I wanted to pass along a word of warning," Henderson said. "I had a word with the Knight this morning. Last night, when you left Mi Casa, there was a guy watching you from a car halfway down the block. He got the license, and I'm going to run it for him first chance I get, but I thought you should know about it."
"Who was he?"
"The Knight didn't know. He chased the guy off, but wasn't able to follow him. Whoever he was, he was real interested in you. You done anything recently to tick someone off?"
"Only the usual," Norma said. She looked a little worried, but shrugged. "It's probably nothing."
"Probably," Henderson said, "but watch your step anyway. Good cops are hard to replace."
"Gee, Bill, you're all heart," Norma said.
Henderson grinned sardonically. "I've got an image to preserve. Be careful, all right?"
"I will. Seriously, though, thanks," Norma said.
"You're welcome," Henderson said.
And almost as interesting, how had the Knight spotted him - and how likely was it that he would have been hanging around Mi Casa last night just when she and Neil had been leaving the restaurant? And if this person had been watching her from a car, as Henderson had said, how had the superhero spotted him? Surely he didn't go along checking out the occupants of every parked car on the street.
Something didn't quite add up here. Of course, it was possible that the Knight had spotted the guy completely by accident, but it seemed awfully coincidental. On the other hand, coincidences happened, didn't they? The Knight had made it clear that he was on the side of law enforcement, but that still didn't really explain it. He had contacted Henderson and warned him, though. She figured she could be grateful that he had been around last night.
Her binoculars were tucked into the side pocket of the car door, she noticed when she got into her car. That brought to mind the memory of the last time she had used them: yesterday morning when she had trained them on the Black Knight while he was busy clearing up the accident on the expressway. Again, the thought crossed her mind that the man had seemed oddly familiar. Even in the jumpsuit, his tall, lean figure had a way of standing and moving that struck some chord of memory. The fact that he wore a mask, too, had always impressed her as slightly odd. Why should he wear that mask if he had nothing to hide?
Ultra Woman also wore a mask, and she had wondered about it the first time the superwoman had appeared. Why would one of the superheroes wear a mask unless he - or she - was afraid of being recognized?
She locked the door of her car and started the engine. Well, after all, why shouldn't the Knight have a right to a private
life? If she had possessed their incredible powers, would she
spend her entire life flying around looking for people to rescue
and disasters to fix? Of course not. The whole idea was
laughable. She would make darned sure that people didn't know
what she could do, and she would bet her last dollar that the
same was true of the superheroes. The Knight had to have a
civilian identity, and one that it was possible that she knew.
Ultra Woman probably did, too. So what did the superheroes do when they weren't on duty?
The thought of the Black Knight or Ultra Woman living in a little brick house with a white picket fence was slightly mind-boggling, but the possibility was difficult to deny. Nobody could be on duty twenty-four hours a day. And if the Knight and Ultra Woman had civilian identities, Superman probably did, too, mask or no mask. But that was a theory that she wasn't likely to broadcast. The superheroes deserved some down time, and if people were to find out who they were in civilian life, that down time would disappear. People would never leave them alone.
Oh, she would certainly pay attention the next time she saw them. If she knew the Knight in his civilian identity, she might just figure out who he really was. But it was just as certain that she wasn't going to tell anyone about it.
When she walked into her house forty minutes later, Norma was still thinking about her new and fascinating theory - so much so that she didn't notice the blue car that was pulled up against the curb halfway down the block. But she did notice the small, tasteful bouquet of flowers sitting mockingly in the middle of her kitchen table - something that she was certain hadn't been there last night when she and Neil had left.
She stared at it in shock for several minutes before she moved forward to open the folded note that lay beside it.
"Surprise," she read.
There was no signature.
"Bill?" It was Norma Randall's voice. "Have you had time to run that license yet?"
"I've got Cindy on it," Henderson said, frowning at the tremor in Norma's usually calm voice. "What's wrong?"
"I just walked into my house," she said. "There's a bouquet of flowers sitting in the middle of my kitchen table. And an unsigned note."
"I take it your husband didn't leave them," Henderson said. He got to his feet and headed out the door of his office. In his experience, Norma wasn't easily frightened. Maybe it was time the Black Knight took a hand - in his alter ego of Inspector Henderson, of course.
"I dropped Neil off at the airport last night," Norma said. "No one's supposed to have been here since yesterday."
"Give me your address," Henderson said.
Norma gave it. Henderson stepped out the rear exit of the Precinct. "I'm only a few blocks away. I'll be right there." He shut off his phone and, an instant later, the Black Knight was in the air.
He took his time, relatively speaking, so that Inspector Henderson could reasonably manage to make it to Norma's house from several streets away. The Knight dropped into a space between two houses where no windows provided anyone with a view of something he shouldn't see, and a moment later, Inspector Henderson was knocking on Norma Randall's door.
He heard her footsteps inside the house and then a long pause while she checked through the peephole. The door opened.
"Bill -- I mean, Inspector! That was fast."
"I was only a few blocks away," he said. "You sounded a little -- upset, so I thought I'd better hurry."
"I'm probably over-reacting," Norma said, sounding a little ashamed of herself. "Cops aren't supposed to be rattled by stuff like this."
"Why not?" Henderson said. "Cops are human, too. Let's see this bouquet, and the note."
"They're in the kitchen," Norma said. "I'm afraid my fingerprints are probably on the note. I picked it up by the edges, though."
"Well, we'll see what we find," Henderson said. "Do you have a plastic bag I can put it in? I'm going to have Forensics look at it. What worries me, though, is the guy that was watching you last night and now this. It's starting to look like it might not have been just a random incident after all."
Norma swallowed. "You think it might not be a coincidence?"
"I don't believe in that kind of coincidence," Henderson said. "Coincidences are usually harmless. This looks more like design. Tell me, have there been any other 'odd' things that have happened in the last few days?"
"Well--" Norma hesitated, and Henderson's instincts went on alert.
"What?" he asked.
"Well, I doubt there's any connection, but--"
"Why don't you let me decide that?" Henderson said. "What happened?"
She nodded. "All right. I guess you're the detective. Yesterday, when I got home from work..."
Henderson was silent, frowning slightly as Norma related the distinctly odd events of the previous morning. At the conclusion, he asked, "Did you clean off the doorknob?"
Norma stopped, obviously trying to recall. "No, I don't think I did. Neil and I have both touched it since, though."
"Yeah," Henderson said, "but there might still be some residue
left. If there is, Forensics will be able to tell us what it is. If it's jelly or something, you can relax." He turned and bent,
examining the doorknob. There was something there: in three places he could see a faint brownish crusting that would be barely visible to the naked eye. Henderson trained his microscopic vision on it and the picture expanded before his eyes.
It was dried blood, all right -- at least, Henderson was 99 certain that was what it was. He straightened up. "There's something still there." He flipped open his cellular phone. "I'm going to put in a call to the lab boys -- and you and I are going to stand right here so no ghost can come along and make it disappear before they get here."
Norma bit her lip. "I guess I should have told you about this before."
Henderson shook his head. "You had no reason to think it was important then. No one would have been likely to think anything of it if this other stuff hadn't happened. It still may be nothing. Let's just wait until we see what the lab boys have to say. They can check out the note and vase at the same time, although I doubt we'll find anything there. The guy would be a fool not to wear gloves, dropping it off in your kitchen this way." He hit the speed dial and waited for a moment. "Yes, this is Henderson..."
"I think I get it," Mary Owens said with a faint smile. "I guess you did this for a while, huh?"
"Yeah." Mary was a pretty woman, just about his age, Jimmy thought. She had a nice smile and the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. "I was on the bottom of the food chain while I went to school part time. I finally got my AA in journalism in June. Now I'm officially a photojournalist for the paper. That makes it all worthwhile. Can you handle a computer?"
"Yes, I can. I was a computer science major at our local community college."
"Well, that's good. Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent'll probably want you to do some research for them sometimes. I still do it for them a lot."
"You work with Lois Lane and Clark Kent?" Mary's eyes widened.
"Sure," Jimmy said. "They're pretty cool people."
Mary smiled hesitantly at him. "I guess you really love the newspaper business, don't you?"
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "I've wanted to be a newspaperman since my sixth grade class went on a field trip to the Daily Planet."
"It must be nice to be so certain of what you want," Mary said.
"I wasn't always. For a while I was sure I wasn't going to make it," Jimmy said. "Didn't you ever want something so badly you could almost taste it?"
"Once." Her expression changed and, for a moment, she looked lost.
"I'm sorry," Jimmy said quickly.
"No, it's all right." She pasted a smile on her face. "I made a mistake a while back and lived to regret it, but it's done with. If I have any questions, do you mind if I ask you for help?"
"Not a bit," Jimmy said. "I'll be glad to help. Come on. I'll show you where we keep all the supplies now, and Perry said to give you my old desk. My old computer's got a lot of programs you might want to keep -- or get rid of if you have something better for the purpose. This way."
"All right." Mary followed him meekly toward the storeroom. Jimmy opened the door.
"This is it. Nothing unusual. Just the standard supplies." He pointed. "Pencils, pens, notepaper, printer paper -- all the stuff that gets used in a newsroom. You'll probably get a lot of acquaintance with this place."
"Probably," she said with another smile. "I guess I'm on the bottom of the food chain now."
"Not for long if you can show Mr. White that you want to do more," Jimmy said firmly. "Come on and I'll introduce you to Lois Lane. Clark ran out of here a while ago -- he always seems to know when there's a breaking story, but you can meet him when he gets back."
Lois glanced up from her desk as they approached. "Hi, Jimmy. What's up?"
"This is Mary Owens," Jimmy told her. "She's taking my old job."
"I heard," Lois said. "The office grapevine is right on the ball today." She stood up and extended a hand. "Glad to meet you, Mary. I have to meet a source across town in half an hour, so I'd better go. I'm waiting for a fax from Bolivia. If it comes in while I'm out, put it on my desk, would you?" She picked up her recorder. "See you later; and don't forget what I told you, Jimmy."
"Huh?" Jimmy asked.
"About the raise," she said, and headed for the door with restrained haste.
"Oh," Jimmy said as she vanished through the door to the stairs.
"Raise?" Mary asked, timidly.
"Oh," Jimmy said. "My power got shut off because I wasn't able to pay my bill on time. All the food in my fridge spoiled."
"That's terrible!" Mary said. "Well, if Ms. Lane thinks you should ask for a raise, maybe you should."
"I'm thinking about it."
"Perry told me not to tell you, but he said you're the office computer guru," Mary said in a lower voice. "I think he values you more than you realize."
Jimmy looked thoughtfully at her. It sounded to him as if Mary knew Perry White better than she was admitting. There was some kind of mystery here. Maybe he could figure out what it was, but in the meantime, for once, he was going to take somebody else's advice and throw caution to the winds. "I'll be right back," he said. "I'm going to go see him."
She held up the bag but didn't hand it over. "A deli sandwich, macaroni salad, and raspberry torte for dessert. Have you got anything substantial on this character?"
"Not much," Bobby said. "The word on the street is that he's new in town, from somewhere in New York, maybe around Albany or Auburn. Arrived about three months ago, or thereabouts. Remember, these are just rumors."
"I guess it makes sense, though," Lois said. "The first assault was about three months ago. Is that it?"
"Maybe not," Bobby said. "He might drive a blue car. A homeless guy I know was sleeping in an alley on the street where the victim last week lived. He said he saw a blue car parked on the corner about the time it must have happened. He'd just finished a bottle of somethin' a while before, though, so he couldn't swear to anything for sure. He never talked to the cops, though. Didn't even know about it 'til he read it in the Planet."
"Since when do the homeless read the Planet?" Lois asked.
"He'd fished it out of the trash to sleep on," Bobby explained. "Joe used to be a cook at Le Petit Cafe 'til he got caught drinking the cooking wine. He likes to read the news before going to sleep."
That figured. "Anything else?"
Bobby shook his head. "Nope. That was the most I could find out. He's not really likely to advertise himself, you know."
"Yeah," Lois said sourly. "Well, that's better than nothing, I suppose." Reluctantly, she handed him the paper bag. "If you find out anything more, call me right away."
"You got it," Bobby said. "Are you into really vague rumors?"
"That depends," Lois said. "Is it just speculation or is there any truth in it?"
Bobby shrugged. "I dunno. The guy I was talkin' to said he'd heard that maybe he might have worked in a night club or something as a sound guy."
"You mean a musician?"
"No, the guy that handles the audio equipment. The mikes and speakers and stuff."
"Oh, I see," Lois said. "Okay, thanks."
"Remember, that part's just a maybe," Bobby cautioned. "Not really even a rumor. I'm just passing it along for what it's worth."
"I know. I'll keep it in mind," Lois said. "If you hear anything else, let me know right away. This rapist has to be stopped. Henderson says he thinks it's only a matter of time before he kills somebody."
"Yeah, I know," Bobby said. "I'll do my best."
"I don't suppose the person you talked to could give you a name," Lois said.
"'Fraid not," Bobby said. "I'll see what else I can find out, but don't bet the farm on it."
"Why do I bother to ask," Lois muttered to herself as she turned down an intersecting alley. A few instants later, Ultra Woman flashed upward and vanished in the direction of the Daily Planet.
"Congratulations," Mary said, smiling. "Unc -- Mr. White's bark is a lot worse than his bite."
"Yeah, I've heard that, but I've never seen any evidence of it before," Jimmy said. "Thanks for telling me what he said about me. I wouldn't have had the nerve if you hadn't."
"You're welcome," Mary said a little shyly. "You didn't tell him what I said, did you?"
"Of course not," Jimmy said. "You asked me not to." He grinned sideways at her. "Want to go out for a hamburger after work, just to celebrate?"
She hesitated and then shrugged. "Sure; why not?"
"Great! I know this little place over on 'K' Street that makes the best chiliburgers you ever tasted. You know how to tell a great chiliburger?"
She shook her head. "How?"
"By how many napkins you use up while you're eating it!" Jimmy said triumphantly. "This place supplies 'em by the bushel."
"Sounds wonderful," Mary agreed. "I haven't had a good chiliburger in years. All right."
"They also have chilidogs, chili fries and chili tamales," Jimmy assured her. "If you like chili, it's your kind of place."
"Do you have a car?" she asked. "I came on the bus."
"My car's in the shop," Jimmy said. "I rode my motorbike this morning. Even ridden one?"
Mary shook her head, looking doubtful. "No."
"That's okay. It's perfectly safe. I have an extra helmet in my locker."
"We...ll ..." Mary hesitated and then nodded again. "All right. I'll trust you just this once."
Jimmy grinned happily at her.
"Norma," he said quietly to his subordinate, "when was the last time you checked your doors and windows?"
"Last night, before Neil and I left," Norma said. "I always do."
"Hmm. Then I guess they were all fastened?"
"And you didn't unlatch any of them this morning?"
Norma was looking alarmed. "No, of course not! I saw the bouquet and called you!"
"Then I think we'd better double check them," Henderson said. "Because it looks to me like the latch on your dining room window is open."
"What?" Norma hurried to check the window.
"Don't touch it," Henderson said. "I want it dusted for prints first. I doubt there are any, but you never know."
Norma gave a short nod and Henderson heard her heart speed up. She was scared and trying not to show it.
He spoke to the leader of the forensics team and then deliberately went from window to window, checking any and all avenues of access into the house, and discovered that the basement door was unlocked. In the interests of thoroughness, he checked the basement and discovered that one of the basement windows was also unlatched. A toolbox had been set in front of the window, obscuring a view of the latch from the basement stairs. He frowned thoughtfully and returned to the living room with more instructions for the forensics team.
Norma was sitting on the couch, her pale face looking drawn and tired. Henderson came to a decision.
"Look, Randall, you're not going to be any good on the job tonight if you don't get some sleep. Go pack a bag and a spare uniform. I'm going to call a friend of mine to take you somewhere safe where you can get a good day's sleep."
"That's not necessary," Norma protested at once. "I can just lock all the doors and windows."
"Yeah, and then spend hours staring at the ceiling," Henderson said bluntly. "I like my people to be on their toes on the job. Fatigue can make you less alert and then you wind up getting shot because a robbery suspect got the jump on you. I prefer to keep my people alive. This is an order."
Norma opened her mouth again and closed it. "You're right," she said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
He waited until she had vanished into her bedroom and then stepped outside. Taking a quick look around to be certain that no one was close enough to overhear, he produced his cell phone and made a phone call.
When Norma Randall stepped out of her bedroom, a small overnight bag in her hand, she found Henderson waiting patiently for her, accompanied by a figure that every citizen of Metropolis would have no difficulty at all in recognizing. He saw her eyes widen as she took in the famous blue and red spandex suit and stepped in before she could speak.
"Superman, this is Officer Randall. Norma, I'd like you to meet Superman."
Kent extended a hand with a faint smile. "Pleased to meet you, Officer. Inspector Henderson tells me you need a lift."
Norma attempted to speak and only a faint choking sound emerged. Henderson didn't smile. "I want to make sure that no one can possibly follow her. Thanks for agreeing to help, Superman."
"No problem," Kent said. "I'm always glad to assist the police when I can." He turned back to Norma. "Are you ready, Officer?"
Henderson spoke. "I called my wife. She agreed with me that you should borrow our spare bedroom for the day. With luck, we'll be able to find out about that character last night and figure out what's really going on here. Besides, I remember your husband mentioning that he was going to be back tomorrow."
Norma was still too stunned to protest. Superman held out an arm and, a moment later, Henderson watched them take off. He turned to walk back into the living room where the forensics team was finishing up its work. "Anything?" he asked.
Sam Williams, the head of the team, shook his head. "Just the stuff on the doorknob. Like you said, it could be blood. We'll see what a lab analysis shows. Outside of the obvious stuff here, the guy was pretty careful. No traces of who he was; no prints; nothing. I'm not a detective but, if you want my opinion, I think this was intended to scare her."
"Yeah; so do I," Henderson said. "The pattern's been familiar lately."
Williams' eyes widened slightly. "You think it could be the Midtown Rapist?"
Henderson shrugged. "The thought had occurred to me. It's the pattern he's followed so far with his other victims. Randall took the report on his latest attack. If he saw her there--"
"Yeah." Williams took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. "I'll put a rush on the tests. If it is him, maybe this time you guys can nail the sicko. Going after a cop probably isn't the smartest move he could make."
"Yeah," Henderson said. Especially, he added to himself, if the Black Knight just happened to be watching the cop in question. If this was the Midtown Rapist, he'd just made a very critical error.
It didn't matter, though. He'd been very careful not to leave any traces except the ones he wanted to leave. And Norma Randall would be at the Twelfth Precinct tonight to report to work. He would be very careful from now on not to give her any more hints that she was being watched. Scaring her might be fun, but it didn't matter so much as the actual score. Let her think that he'd given up -- that it was nothing but a practical joke. Tonight, or just possibly tomorrow night. Randall had a lot to pay for -- the arrogance of her sex in general, for one, and the way women had treated him all of his life. She wasn't any different than any other woman, and she could repay what Mary owed him, and his mother, as well. Not that Mother hadn't paid before he'd left Albany, but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough for the way women had ruined his life. Norma Randall was going to have to pay, too. It was only justice.
In the meantime, though, it was time he got ready for work. He worked the afternoon shift over at Metro High as the guy who did the general maintenance on their electrical systems and sound equipment. He'd better get back to the Apollo and get changed.
He glanced at his bandaged hand. The first finger was still numb. It was probable that the nerve in there had been completely severed. Going to the emergency room was still out of the question, however. The police had undoubtedly spread the word about the Midtown Rapist's injury by now, and someone would be bound to report it. If he gave his real name, they would track him back to Albany and discover the record of his arrests for domestic violence and the police were bound to bring him in for questioning. On the other hand, his new identity had no insurance and, if the police did any real examination of his identification, they were bound to realize that he wasn't who he said he was. No, medical treatment was out, at least for now.
Still, his cover story should allay any possible suspicion at work. His forged identification had withstood the school's cursory background check, and Theodore Waxman had been a model employee for the last two and a half months. His co-workers liked him and he'd established a record for reliability that should stand him in good stead if anyone asked about his hand. He'd come back to the matter of Norma Randall tonight. That detective, or whatever he was, couldn't follow her around every minute. Sooner or later, the woman would let down her guard. His revenge would be all the sweeter for having to wait.
He grinned. As Henderson and Lane, they continued their ongoing verbal duel for form's sake but as fellow superheroes the relationship had changed somewhat.
"Not too bad," he said. "I might have a lead on our Midtown Rapist."
She changed her course to accompany him toward the Precinct. "Anything I should know about?"
"Only if it stays off the record."
She made a rude sound at him. "This is superhero stuff. You know me better than that. I've got a couple of tidbits to add to the list, too. I'll trade you."
He pretended to consider her offer for a moment and then grinned. "It's a deal. I'm afraid all I have are tidbits, too. It might be a false alarm."
"It seems like tidbits are all we have on this character," Lois said. "I talked to my snitch this morning, and he thinks the guy may drive a blue car."
"Oh yeah? That's interesting," Henderson said. "Anything else?"
"He might have worked as a sound man in a nightclub. You know - the guy that handles the sound equipment. Why is it interesting?" she added.
"Because of something that happened last night. Sue and I were leaving Mi Casa..." He went on to give the details of the incident. "And then this morning, I got a call from Norma--"
When he had finished, Lois was silent for nearly a minute. "That's downright creepy," she said finally. "But you say the car was blue? Interesting coincidence. Of course, there are a lot of blue cars in Metropolis -- and New York, for that matter. Do you think you could pass the information on the license along to Clark or me when you get it?"
"You'll be the first to get the call. And if Olsen manages to identify those prints--"
"I'll have him call you. You don't mind if I give him your new number, do you?"
Henderson shook his head. "Nope. That kid should be working for the FBI. If we're lucky, he'll be our ace in the hole." They were approaching the 12th Precinct as he spoke. "See you later. Inspector Henderson has to be seen around the premises for a while."
Lois snorted. "And I thought it was bad when Clark talked about himself in the third person. I need to get back to the office. I've got a deadline. Be sure to call me if anything happens with Sue."
"I'll do that," Henderson said.
Superman glanced casually in the same direction. "Is there something wrong, Officer?" he asked. "You're not afraid of flying, are you?"
"Uh -- no," Norma said. "I'm just a little surprised. I didn't realize Bill -- Inspector Henderson -- knew you well enough to ask you to do him favors like this -- especially for someone you don't know."
"Bill and I have been friends for a long time," Superman said, flashing her the killer smile that never failed to make her heart beat faster. She wasn't being disloyal to Neil, she reminded herself firmly. A woman would have to be dead not to react that way to Superman. "Besides, I'm always glad to help the police department. Bill told me about the break-in. Do you have any idea what might be behind it?"
"What do you mean?" Norma asked.
"I mean," Superman said, "do you think it was just random, or was there some other reason? Not many breaking and entering suspects leave their victims a bouquet of flowers."
"They don't, do they?" Norma said.
"In fact," Superman said, "I can think of it happening only once before in recent history. Two months ago, one of the Midtown Rapist's victims got a bouquet very much like that one, two days before she was attacked. Unfortunately, no one connected it at the time. I don't want to worry you, but--"
Norma swallowed. "No," she said. "I don't think you could worry me any more than I already am."
"I suppose not," Superman said. "Officer, I don't mean to tell you your business, but is there any reason you can think of that someone might be targeting you? A copycat, maybe?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I responded to the call from the guy's last attack, but I don't see how he could know it was me."
"If he was still hanging around, he might have seen you," Superman said. "Is there any way he could have identified you?"
"I don't know," Norma said. "I guess it's possible."
"Yes," Superman agreed. "It's possible. Will you do me a favor?"
She was aware of a sense of surprise. Superman was asking her for a favor? "Sure."
"Until Henderson and Wolfe bring this character in, if you think you might be in danger, would you do me the favor of yelling 'Help, Superman'? I can be there in seconds, and I'm as anxious to get the Rapist behind bars as Henderson is. It's only a matter of time before he kills someone."
Norma considered. It didn't seem quite right for a police officer to be yelling to Superman for help. On the other hand, the situation wasn't ordinary, and he had just asked her to do so. You didn't generally turn down a request from Superman. "All right," she said.
"Thanks," Superman said. "That makes me feel a little better. There's Bill's house." He nodded at one of the little tract homes beneath them and began a gentle descent. "Sue's waiting for us at the door."
"You know Inspector Henderson's wife?"
He nodded, giving her a slight smile. "We've met. Here we are." His feet touched the sidewalk and he set Norma gently down. The return of the feeling of gravity was almost a surprise. "This way."
A few minutes later, Sue Henderson had admitted her to the small, neat house and Superman had flown away. Norma looked after him for a moment.
"He's very nice, isn't he?" Sue said.
"Yeah." Norma brought her attention back to Henderson's wife. "I never expected to fly with him. He's a lot different than he seems on TV."
"I know." Sue reached for the overnight bag, but Norma forestalled her. The last thing they needed was for Sue to go into labor at this minute. "Come this way. We've turned our smallest bedroom into a nursery, but we still have a spare room for guests. Bill said somebody broke into your house?"
"Yeah." Norma said. "He left me a bouquet of flowers."
Sue made a face. "Creepy," was her diagnosis. "Well, whoever he was, he couldn't have followed Superman, so you're safe here for today."
"Yeah." Norma hesitated. "Thanks for letting me stay."
"Oh, that's not a problem," Sue assured her. "I think Bill's glad to have someone here with me right now. We're in a holding pattern, and he's more nervous than I am about it."
"Bill, nervous?" This didn't fit the pattern of the Bill Henderson she knew.
Sue laughed. "I know. I hate to disillusion you, but Bill's the traditional anxious father-to-be. I'm a little impatient, myself, but don't tell him that."
Norma found herself grinning. "Your secret's safe with me," she said.
Moments later, Norma was left alone in the small bedroom. As she readied herself for bed, she thought back to the short flight with Superman, and the subject of the superheroes that she had been wondering about on her drive home came to mind. Superman must have another life. That part she'd pretty much established in her mind as fact. But how could he possibly walk among the general population with that face and build and not be instantly recognized? Superman was impressive -- even more impressive close up than on television. He didn't wear a mask, but maybe in his civilian identity he did something else to disguise himself. Maybe he wore a wig, she speculated, yawning widely. Was it possible that whoever he was in his everyday identity was a blond or a redhead? The image made her snort softly. Not with that complexion. Superman had an olive complexion that certainly wouldn't go well with anything but black or dark-brown hair, so that was out. His eyes were brown with gold flecks in their depths, and had a faintly Asian shape to them, so he might do something to disguise them. Maybe he wore glasses, she speculated. Or maybe he worked in some field where he wore the kind of clothing that concealed his impressive physique. Maybe he was a lab technician or a doctor, or even some kind of construction worker. He wouldn't stand out at all among all the rest of the muscular guys that he would work with. Somehow the image of Superman sitting at a construction site, eating his lunch and whistling at attractive women who happened to pass by just didn't compute. He certainly didn't seem to be that kind of guy.
Oh well, the chances were that she had never met his civilian identity, anyhow. She certainly didn't have that indefinable sense of familiarity in his presence that she had with the Knight. Besides, whoever he was in ordinary life wasn't any of her business.
Norma lowered the blinds and pulled the heavy curtains, blocking out the bright morning sunlight. The room was as dark as her bedroom at home when she caught her morning's sleep, and the bed looked very comfortable. Norma climbed under the covers and turned over, and in spite of the disturbing things that had happened this morning, she was tired enough that she was soon sound asleep.
"It's Cindy," the familiar voice at the other end said. "You said you wanted the information on that license as soon as we had it."
"Right," Henderson said. "What have you got?"
"It belongs to a Robert Owens, last known address: Albany, New York," Cindy said. "I just faxed the report over to you."
"Thanks," Henderson said. "Any background on this guy?"
"Not yet. The address is an old one."
There was a pause as Cindy apparently checked her information. "Three and a half months old. He apparently moved out and left no forwarding address."
The urgency in his voice made her hurry down the steps to reach him. "Is that what I hope it is?"
Jimmy nodded vigorously. "We've got a ninety percent probability on the prints." He lowered his voice. "Robert Owens from Albany, New York."
Lois raised her eyebrows, recalling the information Bobby had imparted earlier. "Albany?"
"Yeah. I've got a friend on the police force there. He hunted up the guy's records for me. He's got three arrests for domestic abuse -- put his wife in the hospital, but she refused to press charges. Then about three and a half months ago, right after the last incident, he just disappeared. Didn't leave any forwarding address or anything."
"Anything else?" Lois asked.
"Yeah. He's being sought in connection with the beating death of his mother, Elizabeth Owens, in her home at approximately the same time. They haven't said he's a suspect -- just a 'person of interest.'"
Lois grimaced. "I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not going to," she said. "If this Owens character really is the Midtown Rapist, then the chances are good that he was the one that beat his mother to death, too. The guy hates women. That's pretty obvious. Give Henderson a call. The sooner he's on this, the better. Here's his number." She thrust a slip of paper into his hand. "I told him I'd have you call him if you got any results."
"Yeah." Jimmy reached for the phone on his desk.
The beep of the fax machine at that second made him pause, and he went to pick up several sheets of paper that slipped into the tray, one after the other. Lois saw him frown suddenly.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Jose got back to me with the other stuff." He got to his feet, glancing in the direction of the new gofer, who was just entering the editor's office with a cup of coffee and a donut in her hands. "Come into the conference room a minute, would you?"
"Sure." Lois followed her younger colleague into the room and shut the door. "What is it?"
"Look at this." Jimmy handed her the fax.
Lois blinked at the papers. The first two consisted of the police report on Robert Owens, and a photo. Lois frowned at the image of a small man with a pleasant face and the beginning of male pattern baldness. But the last ones...
Lois met Jimmy's eyes and she knew the appalled feeling in her gut was mirrored on her face. They were photos of Perry White's niece, bruised and bloodied, and the medical report that detailed three severe beatings. "Oh, my god," she whispered. "Jim, you call Henderson. I've got to talk to Perry."
"Mr. Henderson?" It was Jim Olsen's voice, and there was a note in it that he hadn't heard before. "It's Jim Olsen. I think we have a hit."
"You've matched the print?" Henderson was conscious of a feeling of excitement in his middle -- a feeling he thought he'd gotten past years ago. Cops were supposed to regard this kind of thing as routine, but that was before he'd become the Black Knight: someone who had the ability to stop criminals before they hurt innocent people. Of course, this guy had hurt a number of innocent people, but maybe, just maybe they could stop him from hurting anyone else.
"Yes sir. It's a 90 probability of a match. The guy's name is Robert Owens, from--"
"Albany, New York," Henderson said.
"You knew?" Olsen sounded surprised.
"Not exactly. The name came up in relation to a different investigation," Henderson said. "What have you got?"
"Uh -- a couple of things," Olsen said. "I'm going to fax what I have over to you. But--" He paused.
"Is there something else?" Henderson asked.
"Uh -- yeah." Olsen's voice dropped. "I don't know if I should tell you this way, but--"
Clearly there was something more here. "Something you don't want to discuss over the phone?"
"Uh -- yes sir."
"All right. I'll tell you what: I'm going to be in the vicinity of the Daily Planet in about half an hour. Why don't I drop by and we can talk then."
"Uh -- yeah. That would probably be better, sir."
"Fine. I'll be there." And in the meantime, he thought, it would give him a chance to contact the Albany Police Department. It looked as if they might finally have a break.
Her editor was just removing his heels from his desk as she stepped inside. "Geez Louise, Lois, don't be in such an all-fired hurry!"
"It's important." She shut the door firmly behind her and turned the lock.
At her tone, Perry sat up straight. "What's goin' on?"
"Jimmy thinks we may have identified the Midtown Rapist."
"He's identified the print -- or he's pretty sure he has. He's calling Bill Henderson right now. Henderson'll be able to verify it one way or the other, but we've got a problem."
Lois hesitated. "That's why I need to talk to you. Maybe you can handle it better than I can. My style is a bit too direct."
"You're not bein' very direct right now," Perry pointed out. "In fact, you're doin' a lot of beating around the bush."
"I know." Lois hesitated. In the other room, she heard Jimmy end his call to Henderson. "It's about Mary Owens. She's Alice's niece, isn't she?"
Perry eyed her with what she could swear was a calculating expression. "Clark and his lip-reading again?"
"Uh -- no." She wouldn't compromise Clark's reputation for integrity. "I've been working on it myself. Clark's been teaching me. Never mind that. I'm not trying to hurt Mary. It's just that the guy whose print they identified is named Robert Owens. From Albany. And Jimmy's friend sent him the police report -- with pictures." She couldn't help a small shudder. "I saw what he did to her."
Perry's jaw set. "I was afraid of that. What did he do to her?"
"You don't know?" Lois was aware of a mild sensation of surprise.
Her editor pushed his chair back sharply. "I suspected...but I didn't know for sure. Mary said it wasn't bad -- that he'd slapped her around a little. I didn't like it, but there wasn't much I could do -- but I guess she wasn't real candid, huh?"
"No," Lois said. "Jimmy has the pictures."
Perry got to his feet. "I want to see them."
"Call him in here." Perry looked surprisingly grim. "I want to see for myself."
"Okay. Just a minute." Lois didn't wait for permission. She exited her boss's office and beckoned to Jimmy, who was just emerging from the conference room.
Jimmy looked slightly surprised. Lois beckoned again. "Bring the stuff in here. Perry wants to talk to you."
And then there was the report of the beating death of the guy's mother. Of course they didn't have any proof but, given the pattern, it wouldn't surprise Henderson in the slightest if Owens turned out to be the guilty party there as well. The picture of Owens was the final piece of evidence. It was the man he had seen the night before. Robert Owens was here in Metropolis -- or he had been last night, at least -- and for some reason he appeared to be watching Norma Randall. The pieces were starting to come together.
He got to his feet. Jim Wolfe was in his office -- Henderson could hear him speaking on the phone. The other detective could take care of verifying the fingerprint and get as much background on Owens as was available. Henderson needed to get over to the Daily Planet. As far as he was concerned, Olsen had given him enough reason to pay attention to what he said -- in fact, he thought it might be a good idea to have him listed as a police consultant in the future. He'd certainly been plenty of use in the last couple of months. Admittedly, the kid was young and people tended not to notice him, but it was often the quiet ones that surprised you, he thought. He grabbed his jacket as he went through the door into the hall and rapped on the open door of Wolfe's office. "Can I have a word with you?"
Wolfe was just putting down the receiver. "Sure. What's up?"
"Could be we've got a line on the Rapist. Jim Olsen just sent me some information--"
"Oh?" Wolfe extended a hand for the sheets of fax paper that Henderson handed him.
"Yeah. One of his friends apparently thinks he's identified the print. We're going to need to confirm through official channels but it's a strong probable. The guy was in Metropolis last night. I talked to the Knight a little while ago and he identified the photo. And the license plate matches."
"I'll get on it right away." Wolfe glanced at the picture of Mary Owens and Henderson saw him grimace slightly. "Looks like a nice guy."
"Yeah," Henderson said. "If anybody asks, I'm heading for the Daily Planet. Olsen had some information he didn't want to discuss over the phone." He turned his head slightly as his super-hearing picked up a familiar voice. "See you later."
As he left Wolfe's office, Henderson lowered his glasses and glanced toward the desk in the lobby of the station. His jaw hardened slightly.
Superman was standing at the desk, speaking to John Braxton. The young man was shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Superman, but Inspector Henderson is busy. You'll have to wait. Just take a seat over there--"
Henderson headed for the lobby. Johnny was a nice kid in most ways, and was going to make a good police officer someday, but one thing he was going to have to get over first was his dislike of the super heroes. A few years before, they had had an assistant DA who had felt similarly about Superman -- what had her name been? Drake, that was it. Henderson had suspected at the time that the young woman's deep-seated dislike of Superman had come from the knowledge that if he chose, she couldn't control him. The fact that he wasn't human might or might not have entered into it; Henderson hadn't been close enough to the situation to draw any conclusions about that but the objections that she had raised had certainly lacked any validity. He recalled her complaint that the superhero was a vigilante, and had personally disagreed at the time, although it hadn't been necessary for him to defend Superman. Drake's own superior had summarily dismissed her objections, but Johnny's, yesterday, had been similar when Henderson had spoken to him. Obviously, the talk hadn't done much good and Henderson hadn't had the time to go more deeply into the argument.
"Superman," he said, stepping into the lobby, "just the man I wanted to see." He glanced sharply at Braxton, but pointedly made no comment.
"Inspector," Superman said. "I wanted to let you know that I delivered Officer Randall safely to her -- destination. You said you wanted to speak to me when I had the time?"
"Yes, I did." Henderson slipped on his jacket. "I'm sure you're busy, so why don't you walk out to my car with me. It won't take long."
Superman nodded, and together they exited the Precinct. Clark glanced briefly over his shoulder as he followed Henderson out and the door swung shut behind them. "Young Braxton doesn't like me very much."
"You picked up on that, huh?"
"It was a little hard to miss," Clark said. "What's his problem?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm going to make time for a talk with him when I can. Having a cop that seems to have the goal of obstructing Superman isn't exactly a plus for the Department."
"It isn't just me," Clark said.
"Yeah, I know." Henderson led the way toward the Precinct's parking lot. "I think he's a little afraid of us. Could be he's trying to prove that he's in charge. I don't think he's figured out yet that it isn't a power trip." Henderson shrugged. "I'll have to deal with him later. This is more urgent. Olsen may have identified our boy."
Clark's stride faltered just slightly. "He has?"
"We think he may have. Remember the guy that the Knight ran into last night? The report on the license plate says the car belongs to a Robert Owens of Albany, New York. The print that Olsen was checking out may be his -- 90 probability. Wolfe's having the Albany police do a more complete verification right now."
Clark bit his lip. "You said the car last night was blue. Something just occurred to me."
"This morning, while I was taking Officer Randall to your place. There was a blue car parked on her block, part way down the street. I noticed it from the air. I didn't think much about it, but it's possible that he was watching her then. He'd have seen me fly her away."
"Could have been somebody that lives there," Henderson said. "I don't suppose you happened to notice the license, did you?"
Clark frowned. "I'm thinking."
Sometimes a photographic memory could be a very good thing, Henderson thought, watching the other man. If Clark had noted the license, even subconsciously --
"I only saw it from an angle," Clark said finally. "The license was a New York plate, I'm certain of that -- an older plate. And the first two numbers were 46. That's all I saw."
"The first two numbers on the plate last night were 46," Henderson said. "If that's a coincidence, I'm Mayor Kelley's Great Aunt Mary."
"No. He's getting pretty bold," Clark said.
"Yeah. That could be a good thing." Henderson unlocked the driver's door of his car. "So far he's managed to avoid the cops. The only real trouble he's run into was the boyfriend the other night. He might be getting a bit cocky. That could turn out to be a mistake. We'll just have to be sure not to give him any reason to think we might have figured out who he is."
Superman nodded. Henderson got into the driver's seat and rolled down the window. "Look, I'm not going to try to give you all the information here. When you get back to the Planet, get Olsen to give you the stuff he has and read it. We've been saying that it's only a matter of time before our boy kills somebody. We may be wrong." He started up the car's engine.
"What do you mean?"
"He may already be a murderer," Henderson said. "See you at the Planet."
"This is Williams, getting back to you on that stuff from Randall's doorknob." The voice of the Forensics chief was a little crackly. Bad reception area, Henderson figured. "You were right. It was blood."
He'd been pretty sure already, but it was now one more piece of evidence added to the growing pile, Henderson thought. "Okay, thanks. You might pass that along to Wolfe."
"Already did. I had a brainstorm, though, and compared the
results to the sample we got from the Rapist's little fiasco a
couple of days ago. The blood type is the same -- A positive.
I'm sending the sample over to the labs for further comparison."
"Good work," Henderson said. "Let me know when we get the results."
"Will do." Williams signed off.
The security guards at the entrance to the Daily Planet were
getting to know him by sight, he thought, as he entered the
lobby. One of the vendors waved in a friendly way. "Hey,
Henderson. How's it going?"
"Surviving," he said. That was Jared, he thought. The guy that sold the double fudge crunch bars that Lois was always munching on. She claimed that they gave Ultra Woman an extra charge of energy, although he seemed to recall her eating the things long before the fortuitous lightning strike that had turned her into a superwoman. Still, you never knew. Maybe he'd have to try one. Besides, in spite of her attempts to eat a healthy diet, Sue's weakness for chocolate was something that he had learned about early in their relationship. Maybe he'd pick her up one on the way out.
It would have been tempting to simply run up the stairwell to
the newsroom but he had never done it that way before his
acquisition of super powers, and now wasn't the time to start.
Henderson signaled for the elevator and waited patiently for the car to arrive. Several other persons gathered while he was waiting and one of them looked sharply at him. "Henderson, isn't it? Seems like you're starting to make this place your second home!"
He glanced at the speaker, keeping his expression in its usual deadpan lines. Ralph something, he thought. "And you are...?"
"Ralph Stevenson. One of the Planet's reporters."
Recognition dawned. "Oh yes," Henderson said dryly. "I seem to remember you. Weren't you the one mixed up in that leak of information that nearly blew a bribery investigation of a City Councilman last year?"
"Uh--" Stevenson fell silent. The elevator doors opened and Henderson entered, satisfied that he'd made his point.
The elevator opened at last on the newsroom floor and Henderson stepped out, looking around. Perry White's office door was shut and the blinds to the editor's office were closed, but he could hear Lois's voice speaking from the room and Jim Olsen answering her. Perry White's voice was unmistakable, and he raised his eyebrows slightly at the note of anger in it. Well, judging by the discussion going on in there, it coincided with the investigation. Henderson descended the short flight of steps and crossed the newsroom floor toward White's office. Various newsroom personnel got out of his way as he made as straight a line as possible toward his goal, only pausing once to glance over his shoulder at the sound of the stairwell door opening. Clark Kent emerged, straightening his tie, and also made a beeline for his editor's office.
"Hey, Bill," he greeted Henderson as he paused to knock on the glass.
"Clark." Henderson nodded pleasantly. "I guess we're in for a war council."
"Looks like it," Clark said, opening the door. "Henderson's here to see you, Chief."
"Just the man I need to talk to." Perry White's usually pleasant expression was marred by a distinct scowl, but he motioned them both into the room. Henderson took in the sight of Lois Lane, Jim Olsen, and a pretty young woman seated on the office sofa. It took a second for Henderson to realize that the woman he was looking at was the same woman he had seen in the photos sent by Olsen to his office a short time ago: Robert Owens' battered wife.
"Mary," Perry White said, "this is Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department. Inspector, my niece, Mary Owens."
Henderson nodded pleasantly to her. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Owens. I saw the report," he added to Olsen. "Good work. Wolfe's checking the fingerprints with the Albany Police--"
His cell phone suddenly broke into the Chinese Dance again and he flipped it open. "Excuse me. Henderson," he said into the phone.
"It's Wolfe," the voice at the other end said. "Albany got back to me. We've got our I.D. They're his prints, all right."
"Put out a citywide APB," Henderson said. "And try to keep the LNN boys out of it, if you can."
"I'll do my best." The phone went dead.
Henderson turned to the group. "This is off the record for now," he said, "but in my book, Olsen's detective work entitles the Planet to the exclusive. You nailed him, Jim. The prints match."
"Owens?" Perry asked grimly.
"I don't understand," Mary Owens said. "I already told Uncle Perry that I didn't want to press charges against Robert. I just wanted to get away from him."
Henderson turned to Mary Owens. She was younger than Sue: probably in her early twenties, he thought, and had to suppress a shudder at the memory of the pictures. "Ms. Owens, I'm afraid this isn't about what your husband did to you, although that was reprehensible enough," he said. "This is something else."
Mary's eyes widened, and he saw the fear in them. "Robert's done something terrible, hasn't he?"
"I'm afraid so," Henderson said. He glanced at the editor. "Do you want to tell her?"
Perry's mouth became grimmer, if possible. "Robert is suspected of being the Midtown Rapist," he said quietly.
Mary's face went stark white and for a moment Henderson was afraid that she was going to faint. Apparently, Lois thought the same thing, for she pushed the girl's face down into her lap. "Take some deep breaths," she ordered in a tone that brooked no argument. Jimmy jumped to his feet like a shot and left the office precipitously, to return a moment later with a paper cup of water.
Mary obeyed Lois's instructions, and after a moment sat slowly up. Jimmy sat down next to her and handed her the cup. "Take a few sips," he said anxiously.
Mary obeyed meekly and the others were silent for several minutes. When she lowered the cup, she appeared to have regained her equilibrium, for she took another deep breath and looked up to meet Henderson's eyes.
"Are you all right?" he felt compelled to ask.
She nodded, setting the cup down on the corner of Perry's desk. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Why?" Perry said. "What he did isn't your fault."
"If I hadn't left him he might not have--"
"You left him to protect yourself!" Jimmy burst out. "Nobody should put up with being hurt like that!"
"He was already a cruel, brutal man," Perry said firmly. "You had nothing to do with this, Mary. If you hadn't left him, he could have killed you!"
"Your uncle is right," Henderson said. "You're not responsible for his behavior, Ms. Owens; he is." He had to work to keep the sympathy out of his voice. "I realize that now isn't a very good time, but there's never a really good time for something like this. Would you be willing to answer some questions for me? We need to know as much as we can about your former husband if we're going to find him in time to stop him from attacking someone else."
Mary Owens swallowed, glanced at Perry, and then, to Henderson's surprise, she raised her chin. "All right," she said. "I don't know if I'll be of any help, but I'll tell you what I can."
"Thank you," Henderson said. "Perry, can we borrow one of your conference rooms?"
"I'll do better than that," Perry said, getting to his feet. "You can have my office. Lois, you, Clark and Jimmy come with me and we'll give Mary and the Inspector some privacy."
She slipped on the robe that Sue Henderson had left hanging on the hook inside the bedroom door -- judging by its appearance, it probably belonged to Henderson. She certainly couldn't wear one of Sue's robes. Henderson's wife was considerably shorter and more petite than Norma.
The aroma of marinara sauce was making her mouth water. Maybe tonight she'd visit an Italian restaurant, she thought as she stepped into the hall.
Sue stuck her head into the hallway. "Did you sleep well?"
"I don't think I moved the whole time," Norma said.
"Good." Sue glanced at her watch. "Bill should be home soon. Dinner will be ready in about half an hour."
"Oh no--" Norma began.
"You like Italian food, don't you?"
"Well, of course," Norma said. "But--"
"Good," Sue continued. "Go ahead and shower. Bill called earlier. He wants to talk to you when he gets here."
"Did they find out anything about...this morning?"
"I think that's what he wants to talk about," Sue Henderson said. "Excuse me. I don't want to let my sauce burn." She disappeared back into the kitchen.
Not that she should be nervous, she told herself. Okay, Henderson was her department superior but over the months that she had worked in his vicinity, she had discovered that his unflappable, slightly cynical image hid an unexpectedly soft heart. Henderson could be utterly unfeeling to criminals that victimized the honest citizens of his city, but underneath it all he was an optimist and surprisingly idealistic. In spite of all the ugliness that he saw on a day-to-day basis, Bill Henderson genuinely cared about the good people that he served. It was one of the reasons that she liked and respected him, although she was sure that he would have vigorously denied it if someone had accused him of those traits.
A few moments later, she knocked on the wall by the kitchen door. "May I come in?"
Henderson was standing by the sink with his sleeves rolled up, apparently washing the vegetables for a salad. Somehow, Norma had never envisioned him at such a task, but she managed to keep her face straight. Sue was seated in a kitchen chair with her feet propped up on another one.
"Hi, Norma," she said. "Bill insisted on taking over for me, but don't worry. He makes a pretty decent salad."
Norma grinned slightly. "I'll trust you on that. How did things go today?"
Henderson turned off the water, shook off the lettuce vigorously and set about ripping the leaves into small pieces. "We've made some progress. I want you to be very alert tonight when you're out on patrol. If I didn't think you'd make a fuss, I'd have you assigned to the desk for the night. I might anyway."
"What happened?" Norma asked.
"Various things. This isn't for publication yet, because we
don't want the media to spread it all over the city and blow the
investigation, but we think we've identified the Midtown Rapist.
And that brings me to what happened this morning. It's a reasonable guess that he's targeted you next."
"What?" That was another trait of Henderson's. The man rarely sugarcoated anything. Even something like this.
"Come on in and sit down," Henderson said, "I'll fill you in."
Norma nodded automatically. "It seems like a strange coincidence that he picked up on me," she said. "Why should he? I was just the responding officer."
"I know," Henderson said. "We suspect he was still in the vicinity when you responded to the call. He must have identified you somehow, and decided you were his next target. According to his wife, he has issues with women in positions of authority, so that would follow."
"And he beat his mother to death," Norma said.
"We don't know that yet," Henderson cautioned. "That investigation is still ongoing. In any case, the important thing now is that he may have targeted you. The blood sample we picked up from your doorknob matches the one from the crime scene. They're doing further analysis to confirm the match but I think we have enough to at least take a few precautions. I've assigned you a rookie partner for tonight while we work on trying to locate him. Apparently, he hasn't registered his vehicle with the New Troy DMV and we don't have an address for him. Robert Owens is a fairly common name, unfortunately, but so far we haven't been able to locate one that has lived in Metropolis for less than three and a half months."
"He might be going under another name," Sue ventured.
Henderson nodded. "That, of course, is pretty likely, especially if he killed his mother. But he's using his car, at least for now. The Knight saw it yesterday evening, outside Mi Casa. In any case," he added, fixing Norma's gaze squarely with his own, "be careful tonight. When is your husband due home?"
"Tomorrow morning," Norma said. "I'm scheduled to work tomorrow night; it's Halloween, so they've got extra people on. Otherwise I'd have the night off. I've got three days off after that. And then," she added, "I go onto the day shift."
"Better confirm his schedule," Henderson said. "You're going to have to be extra careful until this guy is under wraps."
"Neil is supposed to call me at seven," Norma said, glancing at her watch, "just to let me know if the schedule is still on."
Henderson served himself a mound of spaghetti and poured a dipperful of his wife's marinara sauce over it. "Anyway, at least we know who we're after now, and so far he doesn't know we know. That's an advantage for our side." He reached for the grated Parmesan cheese and liberally dusted the top of the spaghetti with it. "We'll get him. Just be sure you stay out of his reach until we do."
Norma nodded automatically, helping herself to the spaghetti and sauce. She applied the cheese considerably more lightly than Henderson had, wondering absently how the man stayed so lean if he ate like this every night. Judging by this meal, his wife was an excellent cook. On the other hand, his broad shoulders had to mean that he worked out vigorously and regularly, so that probably explained it. Most of her mind, however, was on the subject of the Midtown Rapist. He must have targeted her because of his issues with women in positions of authority, as Henderson had said. Well, she wasn't just a woman in a position of authority. She was a police officer, trained to take care of herself in bad situations. This character might very well find out that he'd bitten off more than he could chew if he went after her.
Henderson seemed to be reading her mind. "I don't mean to belittle your ability to take care of yourself, Randall," he said, "and it has nothing to do with your being female. All it takes is one little moment of inattention, as more than one cop has found out the hard way. Three months ago, I'd have been toast if not for Clark Kent."
"Yes. You remember the shooting in front of the courthouse during the Quigley trial, don't you?"
Norma nodded. "I do now. And right after that you were nearly struck by lightning, weren't you?"
"Yeah. I figure I've used up my share of luck for the year," Henderson said dryly. "The point is, however, that Kent saved my life as well as his wife's by pulling both of us down behind that planter. You're no more of a supercop than I am, so be careful."
The sound of her cellular phone playing interrupted the conversation and Norma excused herself to answer it.
"Hi, honey," Neil's warm voice said from the speaker. "I'm about to go in to dinner with the company president and two of the company officers, so I can't talk long. How are you doing?"
"Um -- I'm having dinner with Inspector Henderson and Sue," she hedged. The last thing Neil needed right now was to worry about her safety.
"Oh?" Neil said. "Well, they seemed like nice people. Honey, I hate to break the bad news, but I'm going to have to stay another day. I wish I didn't, but they're apparently considering me for a junior vice presidency with the company and--"
"Don't worry about it," she told him quickly. "It's important. Call me as soon as you know what your new schedule will be."
"I will," he told her. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too," she said.
"Oops; here they come," Neil's voice said. "I'll call you as soon as I can. Love you." The phone went dead.
Half an hour later, they had answered a silent alarm and intercepted two holdup artists departing from the scene of a robbery at an all night liquor store. They called the paramedics for the night clerk, who had sustained a blow to the head, and eventually transported the teenage crooks to the Precinct.
That barely completed, they were called to the scene of another Halloween prank, where teenagers were in the process of painting someone's house without the owner's permission. The night was off to a running start, Norma reflected as they pulled into a parking lot for a delayed lunch break, following the business with the house painters. Things were hopping, all right, but so far, at least, there had been no sign of the creepy little man in the picture that Henderson had shown her and no evidence of a blue car following her. That didn't mean she could relax, of course, but it made her feel just a little better. Maybe the guy had decided that a cop was too dangerous a target.
"Man!" John Braxton said. The rookie that Henderson had partnered her with tonight was a good-looking young man just out of the most recent class at the Police Academy. Norma had met him casually a few times and had wondered briefly why Henderson had assigned this particular rookie to accompany her, since she had seen him coming on this morning just before she'd left for the day. He was cute, Norma thought, and seemed to be a pretty smart kid, but still in the dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears category, and she'd been keeping a sharp eye on him all evening in case she needed to intercept any attempts to be a hero. He reached for the hot thermos of coffee that he had brought along with his food and began to open it. "Is it usually like this?"
"You mean the night before Halloween?" Norma asked. "Yeah. Actually it's not as bad as usual. Maybe it's because we have three super heroes on watch this year."
"Three vigilantes," Johnny snorted. "We'd be better off without them."
Norma paused in the act of unwrapping a tuna salad sandwich, careful not to dislodge her own open thermos of coffee that sat on the seat beside her. "Why would you say that?" she asked casually.
"Well, you know -- they're not even cops! They've got no right to chase criminals. That's our job."
Norma raised an eyebrow at the younger man. "Metropolis has the lowest crime rate of any big city on the East Coast, and that's largely because of Superman."
"He's a vigilante," Johnny insisted. "That's against the law. He should be the one up in front of a judge. Why doesn't anybody ever bring that up?"
Norma was silent for a moment. She had run up against this attitude before in one or two rookies, and had seen the viewpoint change over time, but it usually seemed to spring from a misconception. "What's a vigilante?" she asked suddenly. "Do you know?"
"Well, sure." Johnny took a swig of his coffee, wincing slightly at the heat. A light mist was beginning to coat the windshield with tiny flecks of water. The weather report last night had predicted showers after midnight, Norma recalled vaguely. Maybe it would discourage the less-determined pranksters. The landscape out there sure looked uninviting at the present. "A vigilante is somebody that tries to take the law into his own hands. Like Superman."
"Not exactly," Norma said. She took a swig of her own coffee, careful not to sound anything but casual. Johnny sounded defensive, and if she started preaching he wasn't going to listen to anything she said. "A vigilante plays the part of judge and jury, and then executes the sentence. Can you give me an example where Superman -- or either of the other two -- has done that?"
Johnny was silent, scowling.
"If he did those things," Norma said, "he'd be in jail. All Superman ever does is catch bad guys and hand them over to cops -- just like he did tonight."
"But he has no right to do that," Johnny argued. "That's our job."
"Actually," Norma said, "he does."
"Ever hear of a citizen's arrest?" she inquired dryly. "I'm sure they covered it in the Academy. It's even in the Constitution. We may not encourage ordinary people to chase crooks, since it can get them hurt, but it's pretty hard to injure Superman. He's an honorary citizen, so he has the same rights as anybody else. If he sees a crime being committed, he can make a citizen's arrest -- and that's what he does. That's not vigilantism."
Johnny seemed dumbfounded for a moment. "I guess," he said after a moment. "But--" He frowned. "But," he began again, "what if he decided not to follow the law? Has anybody thought of that? What if he decided to make himself emperor or something? No one could stop him."
"True," Norma said, "but what if John Q. Citizen decides not to follow the law? Should we arrest and prosecute people for something they might do? Besides, don't you think that if Superman were going to do something like that, he'd already have done it?"
"Maybe he's trying to get us off guard or something," Johnny said.
"Uh huh; right," Norma said skeptically. "And why would he need to do that? As you pointed out a minute ago, we couldn't stop him if he decided to make himself the ruler, so why would he need to get us off guard?"
Silence for a long moment. She probably hadn't convinced him, Norma thought, but hopefully she had given him something to think about. "Look," she said finally, "you don't have to like Superman, but, as a police officer, you're obligated to treat him the same as you would any other honest citizen. And if you'd like a word of advice, I'd give the man the benefit of the doubt. He's saved the lives of a lot of guys in the Department here. You're not going to win very many brownie points with them if you give Superman a hard time. Take it from me."
"I guess not," Johnny said. "You're probably right."
Norma shrugged. "Just my two cents, for what it's worth." She took a bite of her tuna sandwich.
The rest of the night followed the pattern of the first part. Scattered examples of vandalism popped up here and there, along with reports of the occasional appearance by Superman, Ultra Woman or the Black Knight, each intervening to prevent a minor incident from becoming something larger. Johnny made no further mention of Superman, and Norma didn't comment about the reports, but she hoped that what they heard would not be lost on Johnny.
By 5:30 in the morning, Norma was struggling to keep her eyes open. She certainly wasn't going to have any difficulty sleeping today, she thought, but she was more thankful than she could express that she had only one more night on the night shift.
Johnny yawned widely enough to nearly dislocate his jaw. "Man! Another hour and a half and we're off," he remarked. "Any more of that coffee?"
Norma echoed the yawn. "No, but there's an all night convenience store on the next corner. Let's stop and get some. I've got to get something to keep me going until the shift is up."
The little convenience store was like all the others, with a gas station and racks outside with supplies of motor oil, gas additives and various other automotive products. A blinking sign in the window advertised beer and spirits and another informed potential customers of the fact that lotto tickets were sold inside. A car with a small dent in the right fender was parked around to one side with the motor running, and Norma saw a single occupant in the driver's seat, apparently reading a newspaper. She pulled into a parking spot in front of the store and turned off the engine. Johnny got out, slamming the door behind him and Norma also exited, wincing at the icy drizzle that immediately coated her face.
Inside the store, she could see the night clerk seated in a chair behind his counter. She and Johnny entered, and Norma wiped dampness from her face.
The coffee machine was next to the counter. Johnny moved over to it and chose the largest in the cup selections, beginning to fill it. Norma glanced at the man behind the counter, who had gotten to his feet when they entered.
"Cold night," she remarked.
"Yeah," the man said. "Can I help you, Officer?" He rolled his eyes to the left in the direction of the cold beer and soda. Norma was instantly alert. She glanced casually in the same direction, noting two men in heavy clothing standing close together, half-concealed by a rack of various bags of chips, popped corn and nuts. Everything seemed normal, except for the attitude of the clerk. The clerk again rolled his eyes in the direction of the two men.
Norma had learned to pay attention to such subtle clues. "Two coffees," she said, "and do you sell aspirin?" She put a hand on her belt. "Johnny," she said casually, "go back to the car and see if I left my wallet on the seat, would you?"
"Huh?" Johnny said, obviously confused. "It's in your pocket."
"Johnny," she said softly, "just do it."
The rookie finally understood what she was trying to tell him and started for the door. Unfortunately, the two "customers" had apparently also picked up on it and charged for the front of the store. A shotgun blast roared, taking out the candy rack next to the spot where Norma had been standing. Norma, however, was no longer there. She was down behind the counter with the clerk, her .38 Special in her hand. "Get out of here!" she shouted.
Johnny ducked out the door and from somewhere outside Norma heard the roar of a car engine and gunshots, and then the diminishing sound of the motor. She popped up from behind the counter and fired at the approaching men. There were crashes as the two dived for cover. She ducked back as another shotgun blast roared through the space where her head had been, taking out the candy machine on the counter.
A gust of wind blasted through the small store and then everything was quiet. A deep male voice said, "I've got them, Officer."
Norma peeked over the edge of the counter. The two men were face down on the floor, tied with what looked like the wire from the ruins of the blasted rack. Beside them stood the black-clad form of the man that she had watched through binoculars two days ago when he lifted a tractor-trailer as if it were a sofa pillow and moved it to the side of the freeway. The Black Knight glanced about as John Braxton opened the door and entered. Outside in the parking lot, Ultra Woman set down a car and forcibly removed the driver. She marched him into the store and seated him firmly on the floor beside the other two men. "The getaway driver," she said briefly. She glanced at Johnny. "You might want to make use of those handcuffs of yours, Officer."
Norma turned to the store clerk, who was getting shakily to his feet. "Are you all right?"
The man still looked somewhat shell-shocked but he nodded. "Yeah." He took a deep breath. "Thanks. You saved my life."
"I think," Norma said, "that the Knight and Ultra Woman saved both our lives." She glanced at Johnny. "Did you call for backup?"
Johnny nodded. "They're on their way." He knelt to click the cuffs onto the wrists of Ultra Woman's prize. "Um--" He glanced briefly at the superwoman. "Thanks."
"Yes," Norma said, looking into the masked face of the Black Knight, "Thanks."
"You're welcome," the Knight said.
"Better call off the alarm," Norma told Johnny. She knelt beside the three captives. As usual, when something like this happened -- not that she had encountered many life-threatening situations on the job, but there had been a few -- she hadn't been aware of the fear that tingled along her nerves. The adrenaline rush and the need to act tended to blot those other feelings out, but afterwards she had to consciously stop her hands and voice from shaking and work to conduct herself professionally. Deliberately, she shoved the reactions to the back of her mind. She would think about everything that had happened later when she had the leisure. Right now, she had a job to do. She took a deep breath, striving to sound cool and professional. "You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. If you choose to give up this right, anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law--"
He'd made an effort to keep an eye on Norma Randall last night. He'd checked on her every half-hour, each time hoping that he would see the blue car or some sign that Robert Owens was in the area, but each time he had been disappointed. The shotgun blasts had drawn him to the convenience store in time to intervene, but none of the three thugs so apprehended was Robert Owens, not that he had expected anything of the sort.
He doubted that the man had given up but it was possible, he thought, that with the appearance of Superman yesterday morning, Owens had decided to lie low for a while. On the other hand, it was very likely that he had decided that the best time for an attack on Norma would be Halloween night. There would be thousands of masked people abroad tonight, from children to adults. There would be parents accompanying children, men and women attending masquerade parties...what better time than Halloween to choose for his dirty business?
Henderson strode up the steps into the Precinct and swept the area with his x-ray vision, looking for Norma Randall.
There she was, at a desk in the main office, filling out paperwork for the incident at the convenience store. John Braxton was sitting at another desk, also hard at work. As he watched, he saw Norma sit back and stretch her arms over her head.
"Hey," someone said. "Watch where you're going, Inspector!"
"Oops, sorry," Henderson said absently, stepping aside to let Dan, the janitor, past.
"No problem. Maybe you should get some coffee," Dan said. "You look like you're half-asleep. Rough night?"
"Yeah," Henderson said. "Sue had false labor for hours." Sue, he reflected, wouldn't mind if he attributed his lack of attention to his surroundings to false labor, as long as it misled people from figuring out the real reason.
"Tough luck," Dan said. "My wife had tons of it with our last kid. It can't go on much longer, though."
"That's what I keep telling myself," Henderson said. "See you."
Dan lifted a hand vaguely and ambled on his way. Henderson headed for the office.
As he entered, Norma was gathering her things, preparatory to leaving, and Johnny was just getting to his feet, a sheaf of papers in his hands.
"Anything to report?" Henderson asked Norma. "I take it there was no sign of him."
"Nope," Norma said. "We ran into that bunch that's been knocking off convenience stores around the area, so that's one headache out of the way."
"Yeah, I heard," Henderson said. "I happened to see Ultra Woman on my way to work. What are your plans for the day?"
"I figured I'd go home and stock up on sleep for tonight," Norma said. "It's going to be worse than last night."
"That's for sure," Johnny said. "Last night was bad enough." He hesitated. "You know Ultra Woman, don't you, sir? I mean, isn't she a friend of yours?"
"I suppose you could say so," Henderson said. "Why?"
"I was wondering if you could thank her for me. She -- well, she and the Knight probably saved our necks last night." He added artlessly, "She's a fox!" He glanced quickly at Norma. "No offense, Officer Randall."
"None taken," Norma said, although Henderson could see her struggling to keep a straight face. "Haven't you seen her before, though?"
"Sure; but not like that!" Johnny said enthusiastically. "She was like a -- like a--"
"If he says 'angel' I'm going to barf," Norma murmured softly, but Henderson heard it and had to work hard not to grin.
"There just isn't any word to describe her," Johnny said finally, words apparently failing him. "Could you tell her thanks for me the next time you see her, Inspector?"
"Sure," Henderson said.
Johnny went out and Norma's eyes met Henderson's. He raised an eyebrow. "Now now, Officer Randall," he said, in his most deadpan voice. "One shouldn't laugh at a fellow officer."
"Wouldn't think of it," Norma said, although her voice sounded choked.
"If you're ready," Henderson added, "I'll give you a lift, since you don't have a car here this morning."
"Thanks, but you don't have to--"
"We've still got the problem of Mr. Owens to deal with," Henderson said. "I'd rather you didn't stay at your house today. Besides, Sue was having more false labor this morning. If anything happens, I'd feel better if someone were with her."
Norma gave a faint sigh. "You do know how to stop an argument before it starts don't you. All right; let's go."
He had access to the Internet from his tiny hotel room, and after several hours of research involving police cases reported in the local Metropolis newspapers, he had identified the man that he had seen with Norma Randall. The fact that Police Inspector William Henderson had apparently taken an interest in the break-in of Norma Randall's home worried him a little.
However, Henderson couldn't know who he was. As far as the
police were concerned, he was just an anonymous figure in the
great city of Metropolis. Even his place of work didn't have his
real name. Still, it was just as well that he had decided to lie
low for the night and allow them to let down their guard. No
more flowers, he thought, and no hang-up phone calls, either.
There was no sense in taking unnecessary risks or giving unnecessary warning.
But he had no intention of giving up. Officer Randall had a debt to pay him for the harm that her sisters had done him. Besides, it would be a way to show the police and the superheroes of Metropolis that they were powerless to stop him in his quest for justice.
He shifted, lowering the paper to peer over it at the doors to the Precinct. The woman would soon be heading home for a day's sleep. The chances were good that she was scheduled for duty tonight. It was Saturday, and Halloween, and the police presence this evening would be heavy. There would be trick-or-treaters, Halloween parties, and a thousand events -- most of them involving costumes and masks -- in every part of town, which translated into droves of anonymous persons all over the streets. They might figure that if someone was stalking her, tonight would be a perfect opportunity.
But he had no intention of waiting until tonight. Norma Randall might spend her day somewhere other than at her house. That was a distinct possibility, considering what had happened yesterday. He wasn't worried, however. All he needed to do was to follow her. If she went home, well and good. If she went to wherever her sanctuary yesterday had been, he would find out. It simply required patience and persistence. He had both.
Sue was seated on the living room sofa, watching the morning news and sipping a glass of orange juice. An abandoned piece of partially eaten toast on a saucer sitting on the coffee table attested to a half-hearted effort to eat breakfast.
William Henderson closed the front door behind them. "You know where the guest room is," he told Norma. "Get yourself some breakfast if you want. Tonight's going to be a busy one." He crossed the living room to sit down next to his wife. "How do you feel, honey?"
Sue grimaced. "More false labor."
Henderson frowned. "Are you sure that's all it is?"
His wife shrugged eloquently. "Well, I don't know for sure, of course, but it's the same as it was last night. Irregular contractions, and they're all in the front." She smiled at him and patted his hand. "Believe me, the minute I think it's the real thing, you'll get a call."
Norma had to hide a smile. This was a side of Bill Henderson that his colleagues didn't see very often. He deliberately cultivated his cynical, unflappable image at work and it was in its own way reassuring to know that very little could rattle the man. He always seemed to have everything under control, but under his hard-bitten, professional image was another Bill Henderson who genuinely cared about his fellow human beings. Well, she knew that. Look at how he'd gone out of his way to help her in the past couple of days. The city of Metropolis could do with more cops like him.
"If anything happens, we'll call you right away," Norma said. "It's got to happen some time, after all."
"Yeah," Henderson said. "I'll drive by your place on the way back to the Precinct, just to make sure everything's all right." He turned back to his wife. "Don't worry about any housework today," he told her. "I'll take care of it when I get home."
Sue gave him a patient smile. "Yes dear." She heaved herself up from the couch and stood on tiptoe to peck him on the cheek. "Now you'd better get back to the office before you get in trouble. Norma and I will do fine."
Henderson glanced at Norma, who made a point of looking around the hallway in every direction but the living room. He leaned down quickly to kiss his wife briefly on the lips. "I'll see you this afternoon."
Norma gave him a reassuring smile as he opened the front door. "If anything happens, I have your cell phone number on my phone's speed dial for now, sir."
Henderson nodded. "I hadn't thought of that. Thanks, Randall."
"No problem. And, sir --"
"Thank you for what you're doing for me. I appreciate it."
He gave the faintest of smiles. "You're welcome," he said.
Norma watched him leave, frowning a little. Something about the
way he had answered her had struck a note of familiarity, but
she couldn't put her finger on it. Finally, she turned to Sue,
who was picking up her saucer and glass.
Sue started for the kitchen with her burden. "I'm not very hungry," she said. "Do you want some breakfast?"
Norma shook her head. "I had coffee and a doughnut this morning. I think I'll just go to bed. Like Bill said, tonight's going to be a busy one."
"We don't normally have much trouble around here on Halloween," Sue remarked. She disappeared into the kitchen for a moment and re-emerged without the food. "This is a neighborhood with mostly young families and small children. Most of the trick-or-treating goes on before the sun goes down. I'm going to drive down to the corner grocery and pick up a pumpkin. I've been intending to carve a Jack o' Lantern for the last couple of days, but I just never seemed to get around to it."
Norma grinned. "If you haven't carved it by the time I wake up, I'll help you," she said. "I haven't carved a pumpkin in years."
"All right," Sue agreed with a smile. "In the meantime, I'll put up the decorations. Nothing fancy, but it doesn't seem like the beginning of the whole holiday season without at least a little bit of decorating."
Norma nodded, watching her thoughtfully. It seemed to her that Sue was getting awfully ambitious all of a sudden for a woman ready to deliver her first child. The information she had read as part of the first aid training that she had received when she became a police officer came to mind. Was it possible that Sue was experiencing the burst of energy that occurred a short time before labor commenced?
Well, sure it was possible. As she had pointed out to Henderson, it had to happen some time. And if it did, she'd call him as she had promised. In the meantime, that bed in the guestroom had begun to seem more and more attractive. She turned toward it with a little yawn. "Enjoy your shopping trip. I need to get some sleep."
Sue opened the hall closet and removed her coat. "I'll try not to disturb you when I come back in," she said, sliding her arms into the sleeves. "Good night, Norma."
He started up the engine of his vehicle and pulled away from the curb, aware of a distinct sense of unease, of having missed something important. It was probably just the natural nerves he felt about Sue, he thought. Her due date had come and gone two days ago. It could happen any time, and he sure as heck didn't want to be involved in some situation where he couldn't get away if his wife needed to get to the hospital in a hurry. On the other hand, he couldn't hang around the house waiting for it to happen. Outside of the fact that he would be using up the vacation days that he planned to use after the baby was born, his colleagues would think he was nuts. Still, he couldn't quite convince himself to relax. Too many things were happening at once.
He pulled up to the stop sign on the corner of his street and noticed two children in ghost costumes playing on the sidewalk. Halloween was off to an early start, he supposed. Well, it was Saturday, after all, and the kids always wanted to get into the fun a little early. Across the street an older kid, probably in his early teens, was made up like a zombie. In a distinct un-zombie-like manner, he was eating a hamburger as he strolled along the sidewalk, listening to the music of a Walkman as he progressed.
At last he left the quiet of his little neighborhood behind and made his way onto the main streets of Metropolis. The traffic was lighter than it would be on a regular workday, but not by much, and that was underlined a moment later by the sound of muted screams from somewhere ahead. When he focused in his hearing, he could hear the voices of men issuing curt orders. With a sigh of resignation, he pulled his car into a parking lot behind a gas station and cut the engine. It sounded as if the Black Knight was needed at Franco's Jewelry Emporium again. Something about the place seemed to draw the would-be robbers. Maybe the owners should hire a few big, beefy security guards, he thought. It might tend to discourage some of Metropolis's criminal element. A moment later, The Black Knight was on his way.
By the time he arrived, the two holdup men -- wearing Dracula masks -- were exiting via the back door of the shop, and three cop cars were screeching to a stop on the street in front of the place, their sirens winding down into dying gurgles. Henderson apprehended the suspects and marched them around to the front to hand them over to the responding officers.
He was just getting back into his car when the realization hit him. He was in the air, changing from Inspector Henderson to the Black Knight as his feet left the ground. The sonic boom marking his departure rattled windows across Metropolis as he traced his way through the air in a streak of black, back toward his home, hoping desperately that he wasn't too late.
The bed stood against one wall. In one corner, a padded chair was positioned at an angle to the rest of the room and beside the bed was a matching nightstand with a digital alarm clock. On the right wall, beside the closet, was an antique dresser and next to the dresser a pair of bookshelves was built into the wall itself. The top shelf, some inches above her head, held several china knick-knacks. The lower shelf was set at about the level of her shoulders and on it was a row of novels, held in place by a chunk of decorative quartz that evidently served as a bookend. Beneath her feet, a thick, round rug covered a large part of the polished, hardwood floor, and the single window on the opposite side of the room let in the light of the morning sun.
Norma lowered the blinds and pulled the curtains, darkening the room in preparation for sleep. From the vent above her bed, she could feel the soft draft of faintly warm air. Sue must be running the heater.
In the hall outside she could hear motion, and then the front door closed as Sue Henderson departed for the corner grocery.
Norma climbed into bed, sliding down between lavender-scented sheets, aware of a vast fatigue. It had been a tense few days and a busy night, and it wasn't going to be any easier tonight. But after that she had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off, before she started her day shift. She only hoped that they found Robert Owens soon. The thought of being stalked for days by a man who was almost certainly a psychopath was not particularly attractive. At least, here in the Hendersons' house, she was relatively safe. There was no way the guy could have traced her here.
She turned over, yawned and snuggled down beneath the blankets.
She couldn't have been asleep more than twenty minutes, but the muzziness of suddenly interrupted sleep was shocked away by the ice-hot jolt of sheer adrenaline that shot through her bloodstream.
The room was dark, but she heard the latch as it was eased back, and then the muted light of the hallway without was suddenly visible in a line as the door swung slowly and gently inward an inch and paused.
Someone had turned out the light in the hallway, she thought, and Sue Henderson was very unlikely to be attempting to sneak into her room in this stealthy manner. The faint line of pale light was partially blocked, and Norma's mind went bright with terror.
But not panic. She had faced danger to life and limb before. Last night she had barely escaped with her life simply because the Black Knight had shown up when he did.
The door crept open another inch, but Norma was already moving. Silently, she slid out of the bed. In two steps she had crossed the room to flatten herself against the opposite wall. The motion of the door ceased for a second and she held her breath, afraid that whoever was opening it might have heard her move.
Her revolver was in the holster of her uniform, and that was hanging in the closet. Did she dare to risk opening the closet door to get it? If he detected her movement, he would have the door open and be beside her in split seconds. If he was armed - and the previous victims of the Midtown Rapist had reported that he had threatened them with a knife -- she could very well be dead before she reached her own weapon.
The door eased slowly open another fraction of an inch. The faintest squeak of a hinge made the hair stand up on her neck. Holding her breath, she looked right and left in the darkness for anything that could be used as a weapon.
On the shelves to her right she remembered seeing several books and a heavy chunk of quartz that was evidently used as a bookend. Norma slipped a half step to the right and felt behind her on the shelf.
At first it seemed as if the thing had moved, but then her hand slid over it and she gripped it tightly. Slowly, she removed it, easing the books down to lie on their sides so that their sudden collapse wouldn't alert whoever was in the hall that she was there.
The gap between the door and frame widened again, more quickly this time, with another very faint squeak. She could see the silhouette of a man now: a small man, backlit by the filtered illumination from the living room windows -- windows where the blinds had been pulled. Softly, the intruder took a step forward, and Norma saw the faint reflection of the light from something metal in one hand.
The door came suddenly wide open, and the pale illumination from the hall revealed the empty bed. He spun toward her, and in that same instant, Norma heard the rattle of the lock on the front door open. Sue was coming home!
The intruder heard it too, and half-turned. Norma sprang, swinging with the chunk of quartz for the knife hand.
He twisted sideways, and her blow missed the knife, impacting against his ribs instead. "Sue, run!" she shouted. "Run!"
She felt him grip her by the hair, and without warning the knife was coming at her face. Norma caught his wrist with one hand, striking at the side of his head with the quartz.
The hand released her hair and grasped her wrist. For an instant they strained against each other, but it was obvious that her assailant was considerably stronger than she was. Norma released the resistance against his knife hand suddenly, turning her face sideways at the same instant. The knife went past her face and she felt the blade barely graze the skin of her jaw.
She didn't have time to worry about it. Her opponent was thrown off balance by her move, and she took full advantage of it, stepped closer to him and seized him by the throat, pushing him further off-balance.
Thrown sideways, her assailant released her right wrist, grabbing at anything to regain his balance. Norma pushed the flailing hand across his body, dropping the quartz. It hit the rug with a muffled thump, and abruptly she was aware of Sue Henderson behind her opponent and the sound of breaking crockery. The man staggered backward, and Norma saw him swing wildly with his knife at Sue.
A blast of wind filled the room, followed almost instantly by an explosion of sound that nearly deafened Norma. A sonic boom, she realized belatedly. There was someone else in the room, holding the intruder despite his frantic struggles. Suddenly everything was quiet, except for the residual ringing in her ears.
"I've got him," the deep voice of the Black Knight said grimly.
Sue had stepped to the doorway and now switched on the light. Norma Randall found herself looking at the face of Robert Owens, his dark eyes blazing with fury as he struggled futilely in the iron grip of the superhero. The knife lay on the rug, and the Knight kicked it aside. He looked directly at Sue. "Are you hurt?" he demanded urgently.
Sue shook her head. Norma saw that her face was white, but she appeared calm. "I broke the vase Bill's mother gave us," she said, irrelevantly, and looking down, Norma realized that shattered pieces of pottery lay all over the rug. Sue must have grabbed the first object available and come to try to help.
The Knight's lips twitched faintly. He looked at Norma. "Are you hurt, Officer?" he asked. "You're bleeding!"
Norma felt along her jaw line and her hand came away lightly smeared with red. "I don't think so," she said. Her voice was shaking, and this time she didn't try to control it. "He just grazed me."
The man jerked furiously against the Knight's grip on his
wrists. The effort was useless. The Knight's lips tightened
momentarily. "Why don't you give this gentleman his rights,
Officer," he said neutrally, but somehow Norma had the impression that underneath that controlled facade lay an entirely different emotion. "Mrs. Henderson, I'm sure you know the number for Detective Wolfe at the Twelfth Precinct. Why don't you give him a call." Owens jerked against the Knight's hands again and at last the superhero reacted. He shook the man lightly. "Don't worry, Mr. Owens," he said. "There'll be someone along very shortly to take you to more comfortable quarters. In the meantime, I suggest you cool down."
The man pulled uselessly against the steel fingers holding him. Sue glanced at the ordinary-looking little man and shuddered.
"How did you know?" she whispered, looking up into the masked face of the superhero. She cleared her throat and spoke again, more clearly. "How did you know he was here?"
The Knight flicked a finger of his free hand at the shirt Owens wore. "The employees of Metropolis Power and Light don't usually work on weekends unless someone has an emergency." he said very dryly. "He was reading your neighbors' meters. I don't think that qualifies."
Norma looked sharply at the Knight, struck by the tone of voice. There was something very familiar about this man, about the way he spoke. He was definitely someone she knew, she thought, and more than just casually.
"Thank you," she said. "I seem to be saying that a lot to you lately."
The Knight nodded slightly. "You're welcome," he said.
He sounded exactly like Bill Henderson. But it couldn't be, could it? Bill Henderson didn't have super powers.
Except that he did. Now that she knew what to look for, she had no doubt at all.
Norma glanced down at herself, clad in her flannel pajamas. This was hardly how she wished to appear to her fellow officers when they arrived, but disturbing the scene of a crime wasn't something she wanted to do, either. With a mental shrug, she turned to Robert Owens. "You are under arrest," she stated. "We can probably start with breaking and entering, and assault with a deadly weapon. I'm sure we'll find other crimes to charge you with when we really get into this thing. In the meantime, you have the right to remain silent..."
It had been a close thing. She had to admit that to herself. She probably could have defeated Owens, especially after the way Sue had slugged him with her mother-in-law's vase, but fortunately the Knight had shown up and saved her the necessity of doing so.
Now that it was all over, maybe she could begin to relax, she thought. She didn't feel at all sleepy, even though several hours had elapsed since the events of the morning. It was a good thing they'd given her the night off because she'd probably have been falling asleep on the job if she'd had to go in to work.
Sue Henderson smiled wanly at her from the sofa. "Well," she said, "that was certainly exciting."
"I prefer dull," Norma said. She shook her head. "What on Earth were you thinking, Sue? I told you to run. Why didn't you?"
"I was afraid he was going to kill you." Sue grimaced and put a hand on her middle. "I should have, but it never occurred to me. Now all I have to do is figure out how to replace Edna's vase, so she won't know what happened to hers."
Henderson entered the room and dropped onto the sofa beside his wife. "I called Dr. Baynor," he said. "He told me to bring you over to his office so he can check you."
"Bill, I'm fine," Sue protested.
"Yes, I know, but I'm not," Henderson said. "I want to be sure you're all right."
Sue rolled her eyes and gave in. "All right, but I warn you, the cramps are as irregular as ever. He's probably going to tell me to go home and call him when something actually happens."
"Probably," Henderson said. "Humor me."
"All right." Sue started to stand up and her husband was instantly on his feet to give her a hand. She glanced at Norma. "I hope you can manage to get a little sleep while we're gone. I wouldn't be able to, that's for sure."
Norma shook her head. "I'm too charged up. Maybe I'll carve that pumpkin for you. Besides, it's past noon. The junior trick-or-treaters will be coming around in a couple of hours. If you're not back by then, I can hand out the candy."
"We'll be back," Sue said with confidence. "Just in case they start showing up early, though, the candy's in the cupboard to the right of the refrigerator."
"Got it," Norma said. She watched as Henderson gathered up his wife's purse and helped her into her coat. "Good luck. And, sir --"
Henderson looked at her, deadpan as usual. "Yes?"
"I don't expect to see the Black Knight again very soon, but you probably will," she said. "If you do, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell him that if there's ever anything I can do for him, all he has to do is say so. I owe him my life at least once and maybe twice in two days. You can't really thank someone for something like that, but I'd like him to know how grateful I am."
Henderson smiled one of his characteristically faint smiles. "I'll tell him," he said. "I'm glad you're all right, Randall."
"Thank you, sir," Norma said.
"I'm taking some of my emergency time off," he told her.
Sue looked at his expression and then suddenly slid a hand over his. "I'm sorry, Bill. I should have run, like Norma told me to. I was just so scared he was going to kill her, I didn't even think. I just grabbed the first heavy thing I saw and hit him with it."
Some of the knot in his middle unwound slightly. "I know. But just the thought of losing you scares me," he said. "If I hadn't gotten there in time--"
"If you hadn't gotten there, Norma would have handled it," Sue replied seriously. "She almost did anyway."
"She's a good cop," Henderson said. He lifted his hand from the gearshift and turned it over, engulfing her small hand in his larger one. "I'm sorry to get all overprotective, honey, but I waited forty years to find the right woman. I can't help it."
"I don't mind," she replied. "Anyway, it's not likely to happen again. If it does, I promise to call for help instead of smashing your mother's vase. I'm sorry about that, Bill. I wish I'd grabbed that ugly floor vase my Aunt Gertrude gave us."
"Don't worry about it," he told her. "It's gone in a good cause, and I think my mother will understand."
"I hope so," she said. She grimaced slightly and took a deep breath. "You know, these things are getting a little harder. Maybe something actually is happening." She glanced sharply at him and added, "If it is, it's going to take a while. Don't you dare stick that light on the roof and turn on the siren! I'd die of embarrassment!"
He found himself grinning a little. "As far as I know, no one's ever really died from embarrassment."
"No, but I'll bet they wished they had!" she said tartly.
"Your wish is my command," he said meekly. "We'll be at the doctor's office in fifteen minutes anyway."
Fifteen minutes and two contractions later, they pulled up at the medical offices of the Bayside Medical Group, of which Sue's doctor was a member. Henderson parked the car and went around to the passenger side to help his wife out.
"Just a minute. It's almost over." Sue had closed her eyes and was breathing deeply. Henderson counted silently, noting that the contraction lasted a good twelve seconds. When it was over, he helped her out of the car.
"I don't think this is a false alarm," he told her. "Can you make it all right?"
"If it takes another seven minutes until the next one, I'll be fine," she said, determinedly.
"Okay then, let's not waste any time." After locking the door, he escorted his wife quickly into the nearly empty lobby. The medical offices weren't usually busy on weekends. The doctors took turns covering for each other in case of emergencies. The weekend receptionist looked up as they came through the doors. "Mr. and Mrs. Henderson?"
Henderson nodded. "That's us. I think we should have headed over to the medical center instead."
"Oh?" The woman looked sharply at Sue.
"They're getting more regular," Sue admitted, "and harder."
"Well, let's see what Dr. Baynor says." The receptionist pressed a button on her board. "Dr. Baynor, the Hendersons are here."
Twenty minutes later, they were getting back into their car. Henderson had to restrain the urge to peel out of the lot at
reckless speed. Sue lay back in the seat, breathing deeply.
"Take it easy, Bill. Dr. Baynor says it's going to be hours. We have plenty of time to get there."
"What does he know?" Henderson muttered.
"Oh, right," Sue answered. "He's only been an obstetrician for twenty-five years." She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Henderson gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to turn on his siren. Sue was right. They had plenty of time -- but all of a sudden Metro General seemed miles away instead of only a few blocks.
The traffic ahead of them came suddenly to a stop and he stared in dismay at the accident on the side of the road some distance ahead of them. It was just a fender-bender but of course every rubber-necker in the city of Metropolis had to slow down to get a good look. Making up his mind, he pulled out his cell phone and punched in Clark Kent's number. Within seconds, Clark's voice emerged from the speaker. "Kent."
"Clark," Henderson said, "I wonder if you could get hold of Superman for me. We're a few blocks from the hospital. Sue's in labor and we've got a traffic jam ahead of us. It's not an emergency, but --"
"Say no more," Clark's cheerful voice said. "He'll be right there."
Sue smiled at him. She looked tired, he thought, but happy. "Well, you were right. You're sure you're not disappointed that she wasn't a boy?"
"Not a bit," Henderson said firmly. "She's a healthy, beautiful girl -- almost as beautiful as you are."
"I guess you learned early that flattery will get you everywhere, Chief Inspector Henderson," she said. "I'm pretty glad to be able to see my toes again, too." She flexed them under the sheet. Henderson chuckled softly and tweaked one of the toes through the cloth.
There was a light knock on the doorframe and Clark Kent's voice said, "May we come in?"
"Sure." Henderson pushed the bed curtain aside with one hand. Clark, accompanied by Lois, entered the curtained cubicle. He set a bouquet of pink carnations on the nightstand.
"How are you, Sue?" Lois asked.
"I'm fine," Sue answered. "I had a really easy time."
Clark extended a hand and shook Henderson's. "Congratulations, Bill. I remember you saying you kind of hoped it was a girl. What's her name?"
There was another knock on the door and Henderson turned to see Norma Randall and her husband, Neil, standing there. Norma was holding a teddy bear that was larger than the baby.
"May we come in?" she asked.
"Sure," Henderson said.
Norma and Neil entered and Norma set the teddy bear down on the foot of Sue's bed. "Congratulations," she said, looking at the baby. "What's her name?"
"Valerie, after my mother," Sue answered. "And Dawn, just because Bill likes the name."
"That's beautiful," Norma said. She glanced at Neil, who chuckled.
"You know," Neil said, "you're setting a bad example, Inspector. I have a feeling the pressure I'm getting is going to increase after this."
Henderson snorted. "Just give in gracefully," he advised. "You're going to lose anyway. You might as well earn a few brownie points in the process."
Norma laughed and elbowed her husband in the side. "Inspector Henderson is a smart guy, honey," she said. "You should listen to him."
Clark had bent over the sleeping baby. "She looks like you," he said to Sue.
"How can you tell?" Sue asked. "Of course she's the most beautiful baby in the nursery, but she looks like a baby."
"She has your nose and your face shape," Clark said. He straightened up and Henderson saw him look at Lois. For a moment he felt a pang of regret for his friend. Clark wanted children and, given his extra-Terrestrial origin, it was highly unlikely that he and his wife would ever be able to have any.
A soft chime sounded over the intercom and a voice announced the end of visiting hours in ten minutes. Clark gave a last wistful look at the baby and turned to Henderson. "I guess we'd better go before they throw us out," he said. "We wanted to stop in and see you, though, even if it was just for a few minutes. Congratulations again, to both of you. We'll try to drop by your place after you've had a chance to get this pretty little thing settled in."
"Fine with me," Henderson said dryly. "Don't expect anything fancy when you do, though. I expect to be sleep-deprived for at least three or four months."
He heard Norma laugh softly.
The visitors lingered until the buzzer sounded, announcing the end of visiting hours for the night. Henderson bade them goodbye and then sank down in the chair again beside his wife. Sue yawned and reached out to press the button that lowered the head of her bed. "I'm ready to get some sleep."
Henderson stood up and reached over to lower the level of the light shining on them. "How's that?"
"Good," his wife said. She hid a small yawn behind her hand. "I love you, Bill."
Valerie began to stir and whimper, as if on cue, and Sue gave a faint sigh. "Hand her to me, would you?"
"Sure." Henderson got to his feet. Cautiously, he slipped his large hands under his tiny daughter and lifted her gingerly.
Sue laughed softly. "She's not going to break. Just give her to me."
Henderson gently transferred his daughter into his wife's arms. Sue checked and sighed again. "She's wet. Hand me one of the diapers and the wipes, would you? I need to change her before I feed her."
Henderson obeyed and watched as Sue efficiently changed the infant's diaper and then lifted her into her arms, beginning to pull at the top of her gown. A few seconds of rooting and fussing gave way to the sounds of a suckling baby. Henderson smiled, leaning back in his chair. He would have to go home soon and catch a few hours of sleep, but for now he was content to sit here watching his wife and daughter.
The hospital window showed a night sky alight with the glow from the mega-city below. The moon wasn't visible -- probably they were on the wrong side of the hospital to see it, he thought absently. But here in this room was everything Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department had ever wanted. It was something that he would spend his life protecting and making safe, both in his capacity as a police officer and in his other identity of the Black Knight.
Life was good.