Clark hung up the phone and dropped into a chair still wearing his Superman uniform. He knew he really should rest and allow his shoulder time to heal properly, but he also knew that if Intergang was trying to take out everyone who had any information about their organization then he and Lois were probably the next ones on their hit list. He wondered idly for a moment whether Clark or Superman rated higher on that list before he laughed ruefully to himself and then slowly pulled his uniform shirt over his head taking care of his sore shoulder.
It was only a small hole that decorated the shoulder of the shirt, but the rest of the right front side was almost black with dried blood. Focusing his vision for a moment he let loose a sustained burst of one of the few things that could clean Kryptonian blood, his heat vision. The stain began to slowly disappear as he vaporized the blood and effectively dry-cleaned his shirt. When he was done dizziness swept through him and he was glad he had been sitting or he would have fallen down.
Obviously his reserves were not what they should be so he was going to have to take extra care if he encountered Wilson or any other Intergang thugs over the next several hours. He allowed himself to rest for a bit and then used his heat vision combined with his microscopic vision to fuse the threads around the hole in order to seal it up. In moments the shirt was as good as new.
"Well," Clark said aloud smiling to himself, "at least I know that if the journalism thing ever gives out I make a pretty good seamstress."
Rising from his chair he then proceeded at slightly more than human speed to strip completely and shower before re-donning his uniform and a fresh work suit and heading for the door. He might not beat Lois to work, but he wouldn't be more than a few minutes behind her. He'd forego the Superman express to work, though, in favor of a cab and trust that even Wilson wasn't organized enough to execute a hit on the team of Lane and Kent so soon after a failed one on Superman. Besides he told himself as he settled back into the rear seat of the cab if he didn't get some rest he wouldn't be able to save anyone anyway.
"Now the only question is how do I ask Lois out," Clark said the sound of his own voice startling him as he realized he had said that last thought aloud. Quickly looking up at the rearview mirror he saw the cab driver staring at him.
"Sorry," he apologized sheepishly.
"Hey, buddy," the cabbie replied shrugging his shoulders and turning his attention back to his driving, "as long as no one's throwing cars at me then you can do anything you want."
Arriving in front of the Daily Planet, Clark got out of his cab in time to intercept another visitor to the newspaper.
"Mr. Hagan," Clark greeted the District Attorney, "what are you doing here?"
"Just seeing if your investigation had turned up anything, Kent," the other man replied.
"Don't you have an entire police task force on this, Mr. Hagan? Why be concerned about a mere investigative journalism piece?" Clark asked.
"The Metropolis police are highly competent and professional, but you and Ms. Lane seem to have the talent for finding yourselves in the middle of things that puts you a few paces ahead of 'traditional' investigative techniques, Mr. Kent," Hagan said somewhat ruefully. "Besides, Maxwell seems to trust you more than the police."
"He's only called me once, Mr. Hagan, and I haven't heard back from him since. Besides, I told you before that I'd let you know if we heard anything else from him."
"I know, I know, Kent," Hagan said as the two of them boarded the elevator and Clark hit the button for the floor of the City Room, "and it's not that I don't trust you. I just like to get out of the office sometimes. Feel like I'm really in the middle of things, you know? Being in charge of things doesn't always mean that you feel like your contributions really matter. I feel a responsibility to the people of this city. They may have elected me to prosecute the criminals the police catch, but it doesn't mean I need to just sit around and accept the status quo if they can't catch them. People demand that a certain amount of order be imposed."
"I'm sure the people of Metropolis respect all your efforts, sir," Clark responded, "both in and out of the office."
The elevator doors opened and the two of them stepped off, Hagan following Clark into the City Room.
"And I appreciate the sentiment, Kent," Hagan said, "but I think people would appreciate it more if we shut Intergang down sooner rather than later."
"Sounds like your speech writer has been watching too many Dick Tracy Crime Stopper cartoons, Hagan," Lois said as she approached the two from the side.
"Lois," Clark said breaking into a big smile despite himself.
"Clark," Lois said just realizing who it was that had accompanied Hagan into the City Room, "how are you feeling?! I mean…did you get enough sleep?"
Clark raised a slight eyebrow at Lois' strange turn of phrase. "Sleep? Well, I guess I…"
"And what are you doing here anyway, Hagan?" Lois said turning toward the District Attorney trying to cover for her slip. "Don't you trust us to keep you up to date or were you just hoping to learn how to run a proper investigation?"
"Like I told Kent here, Ms. Lane," Hagan said with a tight smile, "you two tend to luck into things from time to time that someone conducting an investigation though more 'traditional' means might not encounter."
"Luck?" Lois exclaimed her face beginning to redden. "What do you…"
"I told Mr. Hagan that we hadn't encountered anything new yet, Lois," Clark quickly interrupted taking his partner's arm and turning her slightly toward him and away from Hagan.
"Hmmph," Lois snorted, "and even with us not being limited by the boring and usually ineffective 'traditional' methods, too."
"I was actually especially curious about whether or not Maxwell had attempted to contact either of you." Hagan stated ignoring Lois' sarcasm.
"And I told him that neither of us had heard from Maxwell since the morning Wilson attacked him," Clark interjected.
"Is that true of you as well, Ms. Lane?" Hagan asked. "Have you heard anything from him?"
"Spare me the Perry Mason routine, Hagan. I haven't spoken with Maxwell since the night of our interrupted interview," Lois responded. "Have you made any headway in finding out how Deadshot found your 'safe house' by the way?"
"Um, no, no we haven't," Hagan said his smirk becoming a grimace.
"That might go a long ways toward solving this thing faster than waiting around to find Maxwell," Lois said.
"We're working on that, Ms. Lane," Hagan said as his frown deepened.
"Just thought I'd bring that up," Lois said as her smile deepened as well.
"Kind of you to keep me on the straight and narrow."
"Watch dogging the government has always been the first job of the press."
"Have you found any leads on Marcus Styles," Clark said interrupting the two before things got worse.
Lois glanced toward Clark and her smile disappeared as her face darkened, but she held her tongue for fear of Hagan suspecting something was up.
"No, we've come up empty on him as well. Have you two discovered anything?"
"Nope," Lois quickly chimed in before Clark could speak. "We searched the world over…" She let the sentence taper off as she shrugged her shoulders.
"Yes, yes," Hagan said, "'and thought you found true love'. I know the song though I'm surprised that you were ever a Hee Haw fan Ms. Lane."
"Comes from hanging out with the farmboy here," she replied jerking a thumb toward Clark. "Had to do my research so we could work effectively together."
"I'm sure he's overjoyed. So nothing on Styles then?"
"Nada, zip, the big zero."
Hagan held her gaze for a moment and she returned it smiling innocently. He looked up at Clark who was remaining studiously quiet.
"What Lois says goes for both of us, Mr. Hagan."
The District Attorney looked at both of the reporters for several seconds before finally nodding his head and responding.
"Well, just make sure you keep me informed and don't run off by yourselves. There are dangerous people involved in this and we don't need two more bodies turning up just because you wanted to get to a lead before the police."
"We'll let you know if we discover anything," Clark said before Lois could respond and for once she didn't look like she wanted to interject.
Hagan nodded his head again and headed for the door. When he was out of earshot Lois adopted a mimicry of his voice and said, "'There are dangerous people involved.' Well, no…"
"Lois!" Clark exclaimed.
"…joke, Dick Tracy," she finished with a wide smile. 'What's the matter, Clark? Don't trust my newsroom etiquette?"
"I've just learned to be careful," Clark said smiling back. "I take it from your reluctance to bait Hagan and the look of death you gave me when I brought it up that Jimmy found an address to go along with Styles' phone number."
Lois produced a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her jacket and held it out to Clark.
"It's a condominium over in Lancaster. Very posh, very exclusive little neighborhood."
"Just the kind of place a ganglord would feel is his just desserts."
"And if he likes to sleep in and we hurry we might catch him before he leaves for his day at the office," Lois said standing and grabbing her purse.
Arriving in Lancaster the two quickly located Styles' condominium. Approaching the front door Clark turned to Lois.
"So, how do you want to play this?"
"Simple and straightforward," Lois replied ringing the bell. "He opens the door and we hit him with questions until he confesses everything."
"Okay," Clark replied and waited a few moments without anyone answering the door. "And if he doesn't answer the door?"
"We break in," Lois replied with a smile reaching into her purse for her lock picking tools.
Clark let out a small sigh and as she retrieved her tools he stepped around her and turned the knob. The door was unlocked and opened freely.
"Or," Lois continued unabated replacing her tools in her purse and shouldering Clark aside, "clearly thinking we heard someone call from inside we enter and look around totally in compliance with the law trying to find out who might have called out to us."
The imaginary "who" turned out to be a surprise for both. Styles and Maxwell lay on the floor of Styles' den each with a small neat hole in his forehead and each clearly dead.
"Damn," Lois said. "Intergang got to them first."
For Clark's part, however, the surprise he felt was for an entirely different reason. When he and Lois had first entered the home he had fully expected to find Styles at home and alive because he had distinctly heard three separate heartbeats, his, Lois' and what he thought had been Styles'. If Styles and Maxwell were dead though then that meant…
"Well, well, well. And I thought I was having bad luck today."
Clark and Lois whirled around to confront the speaker and Clark's stomach dropped as he recognized Slade Wilson in his traditional garb. Sweat beads began to break out on Clark's head and a slight headache began to form along with stomach cramps as he felt the Kryptonite radiation as it leaked from the gun holstered at Wilson's side.
"You two were next on my list to track down and I thought I'd have to spend the whole day reconnoitering to find the perfect place to take you out," Slade continued walking toward the two. "And here you drop right into my lap along with Maxwell. If I had known Styles was such good flypaper I would have used him in the first place."
"You want a cookie?" Lois asked defiantly eliciting a laugh from Deathstroke.
"I'd heard that you were the spunky one, Lane. Hell, they said you laid into Lawton like a pro. That was gutsy. But, you, Kent," he said turning toward the male reporter, "you were the surprise. Nobody said anything about you being any trouble and then here you come wading into the fray like George Foreman. Broke Lawton's jaw with one punch. Now that's something I can respect."
"These two," Slade said gesturing toward the two dead men, "went down without a fight begging for their lives. No backbone. But, you, you took out a trained killer with a punch that would have made his old sparring partner, Batman, proud. One punch Lawton said. I laughed right in his face. Now that was gutsy too, Kent, but that was also effective. Takes a hell of a man to throw a punch like that. A man like that would almost be a challenge."
"I thought you had enhanced strength and reflexes?" Clark asked trying to draw Wilson's attention toward him and away from Lois as he took a half step to the side away from his partner. "How could any normal man be a challenge?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised what a normal man can do if properly skilled and trained," Slade replied. He saw Clark's move and knew exactly what he was doing, but felt confident enough in his skills that he didn't care and so he turned along with Clark. The man thought he was being gallant by drawing Slade's attention away from the woman. Wilson wouldn't be so cruel as to destroy his hope outright. At least not yet he laughed to himself.
"Still," he continued, "you're right that things are a little lopsided. So, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. You both know I'm going to kill you, but I'll offer you a sporting chance. One punch. I'll give you one free punch, Kent and if you can take me out like you did Lawton then not only do you get out of here alive, but you get one hell of a story."
Clark couldn't believe it. Even weakened from the Kryptonite and lower than normal energy levels he knew he was strong enough to take Wilson. When he had first seen the masked killer his initial fear was for Lois. Then he switched to wondering how he could save her and take out Wilson while protecting his secret identity. Now this idiot was handing him the solution on a silver platter.
Fast on the heels of this, however, was the fear he had harbored since his fight with Deadshot. He was strong enough, but was he too strong? Hurt as he was by the Kryptonite he had had trouble gauging his strength in taking out a normal human and had almost killed him. Now he was not only suffering from the same radiation exposure, but also an injury to his shoulder, depleted injury levels from healing a gunshot wound, and having to gauge how much strength it would take to knock out a meta-human without causing permanent or debilitating injury. What if he guessed wrong?
Too much and he'd snap Wilson's neck like a twig exactly as he had first feared he had done with Lawton when he'd heard the crack of bone and the man had dropped to the floor unmoving. Too little and the man would then launch a counter attack the result of which at the best would reveal his identity to both Lois and a hired killer and the worst being that Lois might be injured in the crossfire.
Wilson saw Clark's hesitation and the sweat on his face and misinterpreted it as fear of the mercenary. He smiled viciously at the thought before he spoke.
"What's the matter, Kent?" he asked placing a hand on his holstered gun. "Do I need to shoot Lane in the stomach to inspire a response?"
Clark's reaction was instantaneous as he brought his fist up from his side in an almost perfect right cross that moved fast enough that Slade's superior reflexes barely saw it coming, but not so fast as to raise undo suspicion in the mind of the mercenary or his fellow reporter.
Deathstroke went down on one knee, but was by no means unconscious. He shook his head and rubbed his jaw, but proved by speaking that Clark's punch had been far less effective on him than it had been with Deadshot.
"I'll give you this, Kent," Slade said blinking his eye and trying to retain his balance to rise to his feet, "It wasn't enough, but your punch sure is like the kick of a…"
The rest of his speech was halted by the impact of a wooden driver with the side of his head. This time he went completely down and stayed there.
"You know something?" Lois said looking down at the unconscious man. "You're a real pain in the neck."
She tossed the now bent golf club down on the floor and turned to Clark.
"I mean what is it with these megalomaniac super villains and talking you to death? In the old days they caught you on a deserted street and just gunned you down. Sure, you got shot in the back, but at least they didn't yak your ear off first."
She suddenly noticed that Clark was staring at her a bit wide-eyed and was slightly pale.
"You ok, partner?" she asked stepping forward and reaching out to touch his arm, a look of concern on her face. She had known Clark was still not 100 and had worried that he wouldn't be able to take Wilson down so she had sought her own way out of their predicament. Now she worried that he may have been even more hurt than she had originally thought.
Her fears were allayed, however, as a slow grin began to cross his face.
"Getting better everyday," he replied. "That was one heck of a swing."
"Probably the only thing I ever listened to my father about," Lois said as she pantomimed a golf swing. "It's all in the follow through."
She saw his glance flicker down toward Wilson and then he took a couple of faltering steps back.
"We'd better find someway to secure him and then call the police," he said as he tried to be subtle with his retreat from the crippling radiation.
I'm an idiot. Lois thought to herself as she realized the true reason for Clark's paleness. Sure he was still suffering from the effects of his wound from earlier, but Wilson must still have Kryptonite on him somewhere. She glanced down at the unconscious villain and quickly bent to take off his holster and belt the only places his costume seemed to allow for him to carry anything like Kryptonite. She stopped though before she undid his buckle as a thought occurred to her.
"We probably need to disarm him first, but you don't think he's the type to booby trap his belt do you?"
Clark looked up at her in surprise and she could see him suddenly have the same thought that had struck her a moment ago. She saw him lick his lips slightly and his eyes narrow as he turned his attention back for a moment on Wilson's belt.
"No, I don't think he'd want to risk anything lethal on himself in case it came loose during a fight."
Satisfied that he had taken her hint and scanned for any dangers Lois turned back to the fallen man and removed his belt and gun and quickly retreated moving them into the next room. Once the danger had been removed Clark quickly retrieved a knife from the kitchen and removed some electrical cords from ready appliances and used them to secure Wilson as Lois called the police.
"Two for two, Kent," Henderson said as Maggie Sawyer and some other members of the SCU removed a now fully conscious Slade Wilson from the premises and into a waiting Police van. "You thinking about giving up this reporter thing and partnering with Superman full time?"
"Oh no," Clark said throwing his hands up, "reporting is much less stressful even with Perry White yelling about deadlines. Besides, I'll claim Deadshot, but Wilson was all Lois'. The super powered ones are out of my league."
"You'll just take on the homicidal ones armed with twin magnums and an uncanny talent for shooting," Henderson said nodding thoughtfully. "The simple ones."
"Something like that."
"And you, Lane," Henderson said, "I thought reporters were supposed to report the story not become a part of it."
"Hey!" She exclaimed, "you congratulate him for stopping bad guys and give me grief?"
"I figure he falls into these things because of who his boss makes him associate with and he needs the work. You actually seem to thrive on this stuff."
"Beats racquetball," Lois said shrugging "and I hate book clubs."
"Uh huh," Henderson said with a scowl. "So, how did you two end up here playing Batman and Robin?"
"Yes, I'd be interested in hearing that as well since you told me a little over an hour ago that you had no information on Styles," Forrest Hagan said as he entered the room.
"Uh oh," Lois muttered under her breath.
"Mr. Hagan!" Clark said in surprise. "I, um, was given the address by an informant right after you left. I knew you hadn't had a chance to get back to your office yet and we didn't see the harm of checking it out ourselves first just to make sure it was legitimate."
"Mr. Kent," Hagan said turning slightly red," Ms. Lane has a reputation for this sort of thing, but I had hoped you were cut from a different cloth. I'm beginning to see now that that was a wrong assumption so let me make this clear. This is an on-going criminal investigation. If you have any information about this matter that the police do not then give it over now because if I get even the hint that you're 'checking things out' on you own again without letting us know first I'll see both of you brought up on charges and your entire newspaper shut down while we investigate it for complicity."
"That's about enough, Hagan," Lois said as she thrust herself between Clark and the D.A. "I'll see your 'on-going criminal investigation' and raise you a Constitutional amendment. We're reporting the news to the public here. If we learn anything conclusive we'll share it as not only required by law, but also because of the responsibility we owe our fellow citizens. If all we have is rumor and conjecture, however, then we'll decide the appropriate disposition of the matter."
"Now see here…!" Hagan sputtered as he began turning bright red now, but came to an abrupt stop as Lois produced a tape recorder and thumbed the record button as she placed it in front of his nose.
"So, for the record, Mr. Hagan, as a candidate for governor would you like to comment on where you fall on the subjects of Due Process, the First Amendment, and the people's right to know. Should reporters be arrested and silenced and entire newspapers shut down when they receive information from dubious sources and choose to pursue a line of inquiry before wasting the time of the police who are busy protecting the people? And should the government have first refusal on all information and get to decide what is and is not passed along the public?"
Hagan's face remained beet red, but he clamped his mouth firmly shut and did not answer.
"I didn't think so," Lois said as she shut off the recorder and put it back in her pocket. "Come on, Clark, we have a story to write up. You can reach us at the Planet for the rest of out statement, Henderson."
Henderson bowed his head to hide his face as he nodded slightly in acknowledgement as the two passed by him. Lois thought she caught the hint of a smile on his face though. Hagan did too it seemed from the sound of the argument she heard begin as she and Clark exited the room.
"So, unless Wilson starts talking we're back to square one," Clark said as he leaned back in his chair.
The story of Styles' and Maxwell's murder as well as the capture of Deathstroke the Terminator was already being sent to the printers for the evening edition's front page. The team of Lane and Kent sat around Clark's desk along with Jimmy Olsen trying to brainstorm next steps.
"Wilson talk? Not likely if what I've heard is true," Lois said. "Maybe we should see if we can get in to see Black Adam. "
"I'd say the odds of him talking are as slim as Wilson's," Clark replied.
"And he was probably just hired by Wilson anyway, so he wouldn't know anything," Lois admitted.
"Maybe," Clark said but something about that scenario bothered him.
"I just don't get Black Adam's involvement, though," Jimmy said. "From what I've heard about him 'hired thug' doesn't meet his profile. He was actually considered a hero at one time. Intergang is a long fall from being the right hand man of a pharaoh. And mob enforcer is a totally different gig than meting out eye for an eye justice to Ancient Egyptian bad guys. I thought he was a would be world conqueror, wanting to rule with an iron fist and bring back the old laws, not break all of the new ones."
Clark turned slowly around in his chair and stared at Jimmy, the pieces of the puzzle beginning to fall one at a time into place in his mind.
"My thought was that a man too afraid to use his powers to their fullest and impose order upon these wretched masses was not someone we needed to fear, but they insisted," he quoted almost too himself.
"What? Clark is something wrong?" Lois asked.
Ignoring her question Clark addressed Jimmy.
"Jimmy, did you say that you had the financial records of all of the companies we suspect of having deals with Intergang, including the record of their campaign contributions?"
"Yeah, I have the printout on my desk," Jimmy replied rising and heading toward his workspace with Clark on his heels.
Lois looked back in forth between the two men as they talked and as they walked off she hurried to catch up. At his desk Jimmy quickly skimmed through several pages of printout and finally handed a few to Clark. Lois watched as Clark scanned each page in turn, a grim expression forming on his face. After a moment he laid them down on the desk.
"I'll be back in a bit," he said turning and heading for the bank of elevators. "I have to take care of something."
Jimmy looked at Clark's departing back for a second and then cast a puzzled look in Lois' direction.
"What was that all about?" he asked.
Lois didn't answer, but instead grabbed the sheets of paper that Clark had just looked at off of Jimmy's desk. She quickly looked through them and soon knew what Clark had found.
"Oh, no," she said her face turning white.
"What?" Jimmy asked even more puzzled than before.
Lois turned and ran to her desk to grab her purse and then headed in the direction Clark had just left.
"Jimmy," she called over her shoulder, "call Henderson and tell him to get Sawyer and a squad of men and head over to the Court House. Tell him we know who the head of Intergang is and that he'd better be prepared to head off a very angry Man of Steel."
Forrest Hagan sat in his office feeling for the first time in several days like the weight on his shoulders had been lightened. He even took a moment to settle back in his chair, close his eyes and utter a brief sigh of relaxation. The moment was cut short though as he felt a sudden breeze hit his face and move the papers about on his desk. Opening his eyes he was startled by the sight of an angry looking Man of Steel in front of his desk.
"Superman!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"What were you hoping to accomplish?" Superman asked in a deadly calm voice. "It couldn't have just been election as governor. Your plot was too involved."
"What in the hell are you talking about? Are you insane? Get out of my office!" Hagan sputtered in indignation.
His indignation quickly turned to fear though as a very angry Superman's face was suddenly very close to his and a steel hard fist slammed onto his desktop.
"The people demand a certain amount of order be imposed," Superman said.
"What?!" Hagan asked shrinking back into his seat.
"A friend of mine reminded me that Black Adam isn't your garden variety super villain. At one time he enforced the pharaoh's will in ancient Egypt. Now, unfortunately, his way of 'imposing order' conflicts with modern views on the subject so he often ends up in conflict with people like me. But, either way, he's not a candidate for Intergang enforcer. That would just make him one of the things he hates. The only way he'd join up is if he thought it would give him some say in imposing his version of order."
"I still don't see…"
"Then Clark Kent speaks to me about his admiration for our District Attorney who doesn't like to just sit in his office when he feels the people want and deserve more. 'They demand that a certain amount of order be imposed.' When I heard that quote it rang just a little to close to Black Adam's speech and it gave me the first step in filling in some blanks."
"You don't have any proof of these ridiculous charges," Hagan said as he seemed to get hold of himself. This was a legal argument and he knew how to win those.
"You'd be surprised, Hagan. At the very least I can tie you to Intergang campaign contributions. That's enough to stop any gubernatorial dreams until I can get the rest."
Hagan's face went from a mask of resolve to fury.
"You son of a…you have nothing! You're trying win with a lot of conjecture and no facts."
"You somehow found out about the old Intergang network and found a patsy in Maxwell. You used him to set up some big businesses with some juicy government contracts and consequently to make them ripe for blackmail. Then you sat back and filled your coffers with ill-gotten gold. The problem I have is why run for office. Why didn't you just keep it all for yourself. Was the title and position that attractive that it was all you really wanted? And how could that alone have bought you Black Adam's help? Even he isn't that much of a fool."
Hagan brought his hands to the top of his desk and laid them flat as he composed himself.
"Is this the part where the evil villain foolishly tells all of his plans so the hero can expose him and put him away forever?"
"No, that's only if you have the hero captive and think he's about to die so you have nothing to lose and an overwhelming need to gloat. This is where you're already exposed and come clean so you can gain at least the small victory of watching my face as I appreciate how truly cunning you are and how close you came to winning."
"Oh, well, I guess that's why evil villains are rarely lawyers then," Hagan said as he shrugged his shoulders and dropped his hand to his desk drawer. "We generally know when to keep our mouths shut, but since you do have some points I should at least show you the rest."
After a decade of crime fighting Clark should have been expecting what came next, but a lifetime of invulnerability sometimes played against you so he was still surprised at Hagan's audacity when the man produced a gun and pointed it at the hero.
"I was always much more of a fan of the villain who gloated to the hero who was about to die rather than the one who wanted only the small victory," Hagan said.
"But I thought we covered the fact that the hero usually gets out of these things, Hagan and defeats the villain."
"Those villains never had access to police evidence rooms, hero. I mean really, how many times do you have to be shot at with Kryptonite bullets before you get a little careful about guns?" Hagan said with a slight shake of the gun to emphasize its contents.
Superman became aware of the faint glow from the barrel of the gun indicating the makeup of the bullet in its chamber. What he didn't feel, however, was the other evidence that should have been present and a slight smile crossed his face at the foresight, paranoid or otherwise, that wiser minds practiced.
"Don't smile too soon, Superman," Hagan said the gun deadly steady in his hand. "I have no problems pulling this trigger and I'm a fast thinker so believe me I'll have a plausible explanation when people come crashing through that door at the sound of the gunshot."
Superman met the eyes of Forrest Hagan above the gun he held.
"Oh, believe me, I know you'll pull that trigger. After the last few days I have no doubts as to the depths you'll sink for your own gain. So, please, gloat away."
"You're a fool, hero. You think this was all about money or power? You have no idea what this is about. You won't be here to see it, but you can take heart that the sheep on this little mud ball will be well taken care of in your absence. Order will be imposed and the world as you know it will change. I'll become governor and then I'll become President and then we'll have to make up a title for my next post."
"The world?" Clark asked laughing despite himself. "You're right, this is a lot bigger than I thought."
"Laugh all you like Kryptonian," Hagan said with a smile. "I'm not some demented fool with delusions of grandeur or even one who would reveal all even to a dead man. Just know as you die that someone much greater than yourself will soon be here to guide this world down the path of true freedom. We'll stop all crime permanently and follow a higher path. The people of Earth will know the meaning of order and the importance of obedience."
He fired the gun point blank between Superman's eyes.
The bullet stopped an inch short of his face as he caught it between his thumb and forefinger. He stared at it a few moments in fascination before he placed it lightly upon Hagan's desk and then turned his attention to the man himself who was staring wide-eyed in shock. The chemical composition of the bullet had been fascinating and Clark reminded himself to ask Bruce about it later, but Hagan's expression was priceless and stole all other thoughts from his head. He almost laughed out loud and probably would have if he hadn't been interrupted by the sound of splintering wood as the door was kicked in and Henderson came though gun raised with Lois Lane hot on his heels.
"No one move!" he shouted as other officers entered weapons at ready and trained on Hagan.
"Hagan put the gun down now!"
If Clark though Hagan's expression was funny before it was hilarious now. The man seemed almost ready to pass out from shock.
"I told you the hero always got out of these things," Superman said quietly as he leaned forward and took the gun from the attorney's hand.
Hagan's expression of shock was replaced by red-faced fury as he turned his attention to the Man of Steel.
"You fool! You think this stops anything?! My master will give me your head as a trophy to sit on my bookshelf. All you've done is delay the inevitable. This city will be burnt to the ground as an object lesson to others of your ilk unless they submit!"
The man was becoming almost hysterical and even Superman was shocked by the venom in his tone.
"All of you will die for his greater glory! All Hail D…"
The air was suddenly split by a deafening roar, as a hole seemed to appear in the air behind Hagan. An enormous arm snaked out and grasped Hagan by his head yanking him from his seat and pulled him back though the hole, which immediately shrank to the size of a quarter. All before even the astounding reflexes of the Man of Steel could do more than take a half step forward.
Bringing his other senses to bear Clark was trying to focus on the warp in space and define its nature when suddenly it increased in size to allow a face to appear. The head was enormous and its features obscured by darkness, but the eyes glowed a dark red and seemed to smolder with energy. The distant sound of weeping and wailing could be heard in the background punctuated by the occasional distant scream of agony.
"The darkness is growing, mortal," the being addressed Superman in a voice that sounded as if it were straight from the grave, "and while you have gained a brief reprieve soon nothing will stop it from swallowing your world."
The face then drew back and the hole closed completely leaving not even the smell of sulfur as would have seemed appropriate in its place.
"What in the hell was that?" Lois said.
Superman stared at the empty space for a moment before answering.
"I'm not sure, Lois, but 'Hell' might indeed be the apt term and if so then Hagan hasn't escaped payment for his crimes after all."
"You know what that was, Superman?" Henderson asked stepping forward to the hero's side.
"I'm not sure, Bill," Superman said, "but I remember encountering something similar when I was a kid. Let's hope it's not that though because that took an entire legion of super-heroes to stop it."
"Who is it?" Lois demanded.
"Evil incarnate," Superman answered before turning toward her. "Evil incarnate."
Back at the Planet Lois tried her best to play along with the others who bombarded Clark with questions as to how he broke the story. Truth be told, even she was curious as to how he had put two and two together and came up with Hagan.
"It was Jimmy, really," Clark said with a self-deprecating shrug. "He's the one who realized that Black Adam wasn't your typical mob errand boy. He wanted to re-institute the old ways of order and law. With that in mind I didn't even have to think very hard to notice that another purveyor of law and order kept popping up in this. One who knew about the safe house and was keeping close tabs on our investigation. The only times we were a step ahead is when Hagan didn't know what was going on. I played a hunch and there it was in black and white in the printouts Jimmy had of the financial records of the businesses tied to Intergang. Forrest Hagan was the universal recipient of all campaign contributions for Intergang."
"What I want to know, Kent," Perry said chewing on an un-lit cigar with arms crossed leaning on Clark's desk, "is if you figured it out first, then how come Superman and Lane along with Henderson got there first?"
"Simple, Perry," Clark said with his best disarming mid-western smile, "Lois figured it out right after I did, mobilized the police and headed over there for the story. Me, I was side tracked by having to contact Superman."
"And that was accomplished how, exactly?" the elder man wanted to know.
"How else?" Clark asked. " I went up to the roof and yelled for help."
"Uh huh," the editor said, "and why didn't you show up right behind them then?"
"Well, when I made it to the street to hail a cab I realized, uh, that I had lost my wallet and didn't have cab fare."
Perry raised an eyebrow at that.
"I tried to convince the cabbie that the Planet was good for it, but when he asked for a press pass I, um, well, I realized that was in my wallet too."
The surrounding crown burst into laughter and Perry just smiled and shook his head.
"However, you did it, good work you two." He stood and headed back to his office. "Who knows," he said over his shoulder, "this went so well I might need to make you partners on a full time basis."
As the crowd began to disperse Clark and Lois turned to look at each other.
"Partners?" Clark asked.
"Only if my name comes first in the by-line, Smallville," Lois said with a grin.
"Alphabetically, Kent comes before Lane, Lois."
"And if we worked for the alphabet you might have a case, but at the Daily Planet Lane always comes first."
"Because that's the way of the world?"
"Nope, because what Lane wants Lane gets and don't make me go and get a golf club to push the point."
"So you get what you want even if you have to use force, huh?"
"Absolutely, Mr. Kent, but also with hard work. When Lois Lane sets her sights on something she may use force on the way, but never doubt that she'll work extra hard to win it."
"And what if force isn't even needed?" Clark asked leaning in closer to his new partner.
"Then that energy can be saved for something else," Lois replied also leaning in.
She saw the old familiar war being fought behind Clark's eyes, but this time she saw a different part win out.
"What are you doing later this evening, Ms. Lane?"
"I have a date," she replied.
"A date?!" Clark asked surprised.
"Yeah, he's taking me to that new French Bistro over on the south side," Lois said standing and retrieving her purse and coat.
"He is? I mean…"
"So what time are you picking me up, Farmboy? I mean we don't have reservations so we'll need to be early."
Clark seemed hopelessly confused and it brought a smile to Lois' face.
"Sometimes its fun even without the golf club," she said patting his cheek and heading for the elevator. "Pick me up in an hour. That'll give us both time to change into something more appropriate."
"Yes, ma'am," Clark mummered also starting to smile as he watched her retreating back. "That'll give me more than enough time to take care of everything I need to."
The Martian atmosphere was almost non-existent, but that was all the better as it would help to keep things withering and allow for privacy.
Clark stepped back from the pair of gravestones that he had placed in the Martian surface. He had a memorial to his parents in the Fortress, but there was something more personal about a tombstone even if there were no bodies beneath the soil. The stones stood five feet high above the ground one with an image of Jor-El carved into it and the other depicting Lara. Kryptonian writing decorated both with their names and a prayer to Rao. Lillies graced each grave.
"I wanted a place that wouldn't be disturbed by the public, or by battle, or any of a hundred things that happen on that blue-green dot up there in the sky," he said addressing the gravestones. "And I thought it appropriate it be somewhere in space. I hope you like it."
He looked around the vista for a moment drinking in the view.
"I checked with J'onn to make sure he wouldn't mind. He said his people would be honored to have you here. They were great respecters of family."
He swallowed the lump he felt in his throat and then continued.
"I'm a great respecter of family too and it's time I paid you your due. I've lived my whole life as Clark Kent and I haven't given Kal-EL much thought. But he was a real person and he was loved. I don't have a lot of memories of the two of you, but what I do have are all good and more and more are coming back each day. I'd like to think I've honored your memories by fighting the good fight. Now, I'd like to think I'm going to honor them even more by actually living."
He rose slowly in the air and stopped a few feet above the stones.
"I'll be back to visit and to talk soon, I promise."
In a cemetery in Kansas a man in a dark suit and glasses knelt and placed flowers on the graves of two other special people.
"Hey, Mom and Dad. I'm sorry I didn't get to talk much the last time I was here, but things were a bit hectic. Its calmed down now though, but I have to leave in a bit. I have a date. I think I found that middle ground you talked about, Dad. I didn't think it existed before, but the thing is someone helped me realize that when you want something to be a certain way you have to work hard at it and maybe sometimes you even have to force it."
He stepped back and smiled down at the two people who helped him become the man he was and knew that somewhere they smiled back at him. An instant later he was gone.
"So, Mr. Kent," Lois said as they walked out of the restaurant arm in arm into the snowy night, "how do you usually spend Christmas?"
"Huh? Oh, I volunteer at the mission and help serve meals."
Lois looked up in surprise at her companion and then laughed out loud.
"Now why does that not surprise me even a little bit?"
"Just seemed like the right thing to do," Clark said shrugging his shoulders.
The two walked in silence for a few moments before Lois spoke again.
"You think they could use an extra volunteer this year?"
"As a story on graft and corruption at City Hall perpetrated by aliens in league with Nazis that gets me a Pulitzer."
"You ain't just whistling Dixie, Smallville. I get you for Christmas evening though."
Clark became silent for a moment.
"You don't want to?" Lois asked tentatively.
"No, I want to, believe me I want to more than anything. It's just…"
"Still a new idea?"
"Yeah, and well, this isn't just a step that I take lightly. Relationships are important to me."
He looked at her with a smile.
"I'm glad to hear that."
"Then what's wrong?"
Nothing really, it's just that you need to understand that a relationship with me might get a little complicated."
"Really? Why? You seem pretty straightforward to me, Smallville."
"There are things about me you don't know," Clark said.
"Then you can tell me when you feel that you're ready."
"You'd trust me to move at my own pace?" Clark asked looking incredulously at Lois. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Lois Lane?"
"Hey, goofball," Lois said playfully slapping her partner on the chest as she took his arm again and continued walking with him down the street, "I'm not that pushy and besides, you're talking to the number one investigative reporter in the country. How do you know I haven't already figured all of your secrets out?"
"You think so, huh?" Clark asked laughing.
"Of course," Lois replied beginning to laugh with him. "After all, what do you think I am, galactically stupid?"