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.
By Nan Smith
William Henderson glanced at his watch with a sensation of mild surprise. It was just before noon and definitely past time for lunch. He was just passing Centennial Park and, for once, succumbed to impulse. He pulled his car into the parking area and picked up the food he had purchased at the corner deli in anticipation of working through his lunch hour -- again. He didn't have to be anywhere for an hour and fifteen minutes, and the temptation to eat in the quiet and relative cool of the park was irresistible.
He wiped perspiration from his forehead as he got out of the car and glanced at the black thunderheads that had been gathering overhead since late morning. It was suffocatingly hot and had been since yesterday. The forecasters were predicting a thunderstorm but so far the only traces of it were the clouds and the occasional low rumble of distant thunder. He hoped the blasted weather gods would make up their minds soon before the heat and humidity had half the city keeling over from heat prostration.
Centennial Park was only marginally cooler than the rest of the city. The trees provided a certain amount of shade, but the moisture in the air was just as bad here as everywhere else. Henderson sank down on a shaded park bench, fanning himself with a section of newspaper that had lain on the wooden seat. It wasn't often that he had the chance to actually sit down and enjoy a few minutes of peace during the workday. The demands of his job usually made him eat lunch on the run between one case and another, but this was one of those rare occasions. A pity that it was so hot.
He laid the paper down and opened his deli sandwich, glancing at the headline as he did so. It was the sports page of the Daily Planet. The picture next to the lead article showed Superman teeing off at the local Charity Golf Tournament. The superhero participated in the event every year to help raise funds for kids with crippling diseases. Henderson had other reasons to appreciate his presence in Metropolis, most notably last week when he had saved the lives of two police officers pinned down by gunfire from the occupants of a stolen car. It had struck him at the time how many of his friends and co-workers owed something to the Man of Steel, and he decided that now might be a good time for the Metropolis Police Department to show him some gratitude. It was amazing to him that so few people in the city actually seemed to appreciate what the man had done for them, although plenty of them were eager to criticize when it looked as if their hero might be less than perfect. Witness the flap last year when the Dirt Digger had manufactured a supposed affair between the Man of Steel and Lois Lane. A great many persons had assumed the worst, but Henderson hadn't believed it for a moment. He'd come to know Superman over the previous four years, and it just wasn't in his character to conduct himself that way.
A distant clap of sound smote his eardrums, but this time it wasn't the rumble of thunder. Residents of Metropolis had become used to that particular noise over the last five years. It simply meant that Superman was on his way somewhere, fast. A few months ago, the Mayor had brought up the issue of enforcement of the noise abatement ordinance regarding Superman and subsequently the superhero had been too late to prevent the crash of a small passenger plane into the Hobs Bay Bridge. Thanks to him no one had been killed, but there had been quite a few injuries and the bridge sustained significant damage. The City Council had responded to the outcry of its citizens following the accident and acted quickly to grant their most famous resident a special exemption that Her Honor had the wisdom not to protest. For some time, Henderson had had his doubts about the woman's good sense, but it wasn't his job to criticize her. Hamstringing a resource like Superman wasn't exactly the brightest move he had ever seen but she was the choice of the city residents as long as she kept the majority of them happy. It was too bad that she hadn't thought of that before the plane crash. He just hoped that the next time she would use better judgment.
He bit into the sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. He'd presented his idea to the Police Commissioner for some sort of event by the Department to honor Superman, and the man had been very favorable. Commissioner Brighton had been a cop not all that long ago and had seen far too many of his colleagues hurt or killed on the job not to appreciate the difference that Superman had made. So now Henderson was in charge of the event. It figured, he thought cynically. The Army should have taught him that good deeds never went unpunished. Still, he might as well take an active role in this shindig. At least that way it would get done right.
He opened the cup of iced coffee and took a swig. Normally hot black coffee was his beverage of choice, but today anything hot would have been too much. He sat drinking the liquid, considering exactly what it was he wanted to include. Superman had never said so but Henderson had long ago gotten the impression that the Man of Steel wasn't really all that enthusiastic about over-effusive praise and flashy ceremonies. The Kryptonian was in actuality a rather quiet man who didn't seem to want the adulation of the masses. Something dignified would be appropriate, Henderson thought, with as many present as could be managed of the ordinary beat cops who had reason to want to thank him.
He finished the coffee and tossed the container into a wire trash receptacle. Time to get back to work. It was too bad his car's air conditioning was on the fritz again. Driving along with the windows open just didn't fill the bill.
Getting into his car, he grimaced and removed his jacket. It must be over ninety, and the humidity made it seem well above that. Henderson glanced at his watch. The third day of the Quigley trial would be getting underway in an hour and he was due to testify for the prosecution. Time to get moving.
By the time he had found parking his margin had shrunk to fifteen minutes. He picked up his jacket once more and shrugged his shoulders into it as he strode quickly toward the imposing building. At least, he thought, he would get a little relief from the heat although the air conditioning of the Courthouse left a lot to be desired. Expenditures for the less vital maintenance had been cut due to budget shortfalls, although Henderson noticed that somehow various projects designed to win voter approval for members of the City Council always seemed to be adequately funded.
Thunder rumbled overhead and there was a sudden light pattering of raindrops on the pavement as he hurried toward the Courthouse. As he approached, he caught a glimpse of red and blue overhead and then Superman touched down on the sidewalk ahead of him.
"Hi, Bill," Superman said. "I guess you're here for the Quigley case today?"
"Yeah. I'm supposed to testify this afternoon." Henderson glanced up at the clouds. "Looks like we're finally getting that rain they promised us. It sure held off long enough."
"I hope it makes some difference in the temperature," Superman said. "I transported a woman with heat exhaustion to the hospital a little while ago. She'd been sitting in traffic for an hour."
"Yeah, I heard you," Henderson said.
Superman's lips quirked, but he didn't comment.
"Hi, Henderson." The voice from behind him was familiar and he glanced around. Lois Lane, her dark hair sticking sweatily to her forehead, glanced past him at Superman. "Hello, Superman. Here for the Quigley trial?"
Superman nodded. "Are you covering it today, Lois?"
"I'm a witness," she said. "I've been following it from the beginning and I'm going to see it through to the bitter end, but I can't report on it until I've testified. They didn't know if they'd get to me today, but I was told to be here just in case." She glanced at the young man trailing along like a worried puppy dog. "He's going to take notes until Clark gets here. Clark'll be writing the article, at least for today."
The tiny sprinkle of rain, Henderson noted in disgust, had stopped. The three of them ascended the steps of the Courthouse together, and Superman politely held the door for them.
"Thanks," Henderson said. He gestured Lois ahead of him through the door and followed, wondering for the millionth time where the Kryptonian had learned his old- fashioned courtesy. In the five years since he had appeared in Metropolis, Henderson had never known the man to be anything but courteous, except for the occasion when a deranged illusionist had used hypnotism to convince him that wrong was right -- hardly something for which you could blame him. However he had learned them, Superman had human customs down perfectly. He even spoke English with a Midwestern accent, which spoke volumes about the thoroughness of his instruction before his arrival on Earth. There was the rumor, of course, that some top secret government agency had found and then lost a ship that had brought him to Earth as a baby, but he had never seen any proof of the story, and Henderson wasn't much on conspiracy theories. It seemed extremely convenient to him that the ship had been so fortuitously "lost" and the only witnesses to its existence were supposedly rogue agents who were fleeing the wrath of their own government.
In any case, his history was his own business, as far as Henderson was concerned. The New Kryptonians certainly hadn't measured up to his example, and he could understand why Superman had chosen not to accompany them back to their colony, wherever it was, once Nor was dead and they finally left. He doubted that the man would have liked ruling over a batch like that anyway. If ever he'd met a bunch of cold fish, that crowd qualified -- even the ones that hadn't been part of Nor's followers. If Superman was a refugee from a dead world, like the New Kryptonians had claimed to be, there was probably a good reason he hadn't wound up with them in their colony. It was just too bad that they had managed to find him anyway.
The courtroom was small, hot and crowded, as Henderson had expected. Her Honor hadn't arrived yet, although Quigley and his lawyers were already in place, and the Assistant DA, who was prosecuting this thing, was conferring with two other persons on the far side of the courtroom. Henderson identified three other witnesses, and here and there in the crowd were family members of two of the victims, come to watch the proceedings. Security was very tight, just as it had been the last two days. Quigley's cold-blooded experiment had killed four people and left two others severely crippled. It was only Superman's intervention that had saved Lois Lane's life and the lives of the three children who had been intended as his next subjects. Emotions had run high at the time the case broke and very few persons had forgotten it. City Hall received an average of three or four death threats every week regarding the man, from every part of the country, and the presence of the Metropolis PD was twice as heavy as usual in the vicinity of the Courthouse this afternoon.
Also, completely inexplicable to Henderson, a crowd of twenty-something females occupied the rear-left corner of the gallery, just as they had yesterday and the day before. Those were Quigley's groupies. How anyone could have romantic fantasies about the miserable excuse for a human being now on trial for murder and worse he couldn't comprehend, but there were quite a few of them. He turned back to face the front of the courtroom, shaking his head. Sometimes people baffled him.
Her Honor entered the courtroom and everyone stood. Henderson glanced at the defendant and saw a sneer twist his lips. The man's sheer arrogance was appalling. He had been so convinced of the rightness of his theory that he had been willing to sacrifice the lives of human beings on the grounds that the ends justified the means. He still swore that, given time, he would be able to re-grow the severed spinal cords of accident victims, and that the results should exempt him from the consequences of his actions.
The law, however, didn't see it that way, nor did Lois Lane, who had tracked down the perpetrator of the mysterious murders and located the three children who were intended to be the next subjects. Henderson, the arresting officer, had been appalled at what they had found in that laboratory, but had felt it incumbent on him to protest the risks Lane had taken. If Superman hadn't shown up, she would have been the fourth subject.
Lane had shrugged it off with a sarcastic comment. Superman, of course, had said nothing. In actuality, Henderson had a good deal of respect for Lois, and she for him, but wild horses wouldn't have dragged the admission out of either of them. They had maintained their relationship for years, and it showed no sign of changing. Henderson liked it that way. He enjoyed their exchanges and suspected that she did as well -- he wouldn't have known what to do if Lane were to drop her caustic attitude. He saw her turn to look at Quigley, her face carefully expressionless, and the man stared straight back across the room to meet her eyes. Henderson saw a look of pure hatred on the defendant's face. Lois didn't react overtly, but Henderson saw her hands, clasped behind her back, clench suddenly. Lane wasn't nearly as indifferent as her expression might indicate. Well, he knew that. Lois Lane had never been one of those journalists who remained aloof from her stories. She was passionate about what she did and her writing showed it. Not that he would ever admit that he knew that either. Or that he even read her articles.
The judge took her seat and the rest of the courtroom sat down. The proceedings began.
Henderson followed Lois out of the courtroom as Superman was called to testify. As she departed, Lois glanced at her subordinate with a warning expression that made the man cringe slightly. Henderson smiled sardonically but refrained from comment.
The Man of Steel's testimony didn't take long. He emerged from the courtroom fifteen minutes later, a grim expression on his face.
"Done?" Lois asked.
He nodded. "The defense attorney didn't keep me long. I guess he realized it wasn't doing his client any good. Good luck in there."
"Thanks." Lois leaned back in her chair, looking bored.
As Henderson expected, his name was next on the list. It was as he took the stand that he saw Clark Kent enter the room and approach the youthful reporter who was substituting for Lois. Even from across the room, he could have sworn he saw the tension drain from the young man's shoulders.
Henderson's testimony was longer and more involved, and it became apparent to him within minutes of the beginning of the defense's questioning that the man was endeavoring to pin a charge of police misconduct on him. Fortunately, Henderson was familiar with the tactics of a defense attorney with no other refuge to fall back on and had been extremely careful with his procedures in the investigation of Quigley's crime. He had documented everything meticulously, and had his facts and figures memorized, and the defense got nowhere.
At last, the defense attorney let him go. By that time it was nearly four and the judge called a temporary halt to the proceedings for the day. Henderson reclaimed his jacket from the spot where he had been sitting and stood while Her Honor departed. Clark Kent, next to him, gave him a nod of approval.
"Nice work," he commented.
He allowed himself a sour smile. "I just told the truth," he said.
"True," Kent said, "but that lawyer was trying to make it look like you framed him."
"I know. Expect the same when they get Lois on the stand. If he can't make it look like a frame-up, his client's toast and he knows it."
The crowd was slowly vacating the courtroom. Henderson waited with Clark Kent and his subordinate, unwilling to fight his way through the worst of the mob. Clark glanced at him, a slightly worried expression on his face. "Any progress on that threat against Lois, Bill?" he asked.
Henderson shook his head. "Not yet. We've got our people trying to trace the email, but it's a long shot at best. Your boss promised to lend me Olsen this afternoon."
"I get threats like that all the time," Lois's voice said from behind them, and Henderson turned to see Lois standing there, having somehow forced her way through the departing mob. That figured, he thought. Not even a crowd like that could stand against Mad Dog Lane.
"I know," he said in reply to her remark. "If you'd take my advice, I'd suggest that you watch your step, and I know you aren't going to, but you're a key witness. At least try to remember that."
"Yeah, I know." Lois didn't sound particularly concerned.
Henderson grunted. "As hard as it is to believe, Quigley's got some supporters." He jerked his head at the groupies who were waving and trying to get the attention of the defendant as half a dozen deputies escorted him out of the courtroom. "And they're not the only ones."
"Bill has a point, honey," Clark said. "Nobody in his right mind would be on this guy's side, but we don't know what's behind it. I don't want something to happen to you."
Lois gave a long-suffering sigh. "Yeah, you're right."
Henderson stared at her for a stunned second, not quite comprehending what he had just witnessed. He had never heard Lois Lane concede a point before. Being married to Clark Kent had certainly softened Mad Dog Lane, he thought as they trailed the stragglers out the door.
Lois glanced at him, her expression daring him to make a remark, but Henderson remained prudently silent. "I hope it's cooled off some," he remarked as they emerged from the courtroom and made their way reluctantly toward the big, glass doors at the end of the hall.
Lois's note-taker crossed the hallway toward a water fountain where several persons were waiting to drink. Henderson could see, to his disgust, that the concrete beyond the big doors was still bone dry. Little shimmers of heat arose from the surface.
"The rain was still holding off when I came in," Clark said, correctly interpreting his look. "Hopefully we'll get some relief by tonight. This is the worst heat wave I've seen since the one in November the year I came to Metropolis."
"And Lex's nuclear plant was behind that one," Lois said. "I wonder if that was one of his attempts to get rid of Superman. It does seem awfully suspicious, considering what we learned about him later."
"Wouldn't surprise me a bit," Clark said. He opened the door for his wife and Henderson and held it for them as they exited into the oppressive heat of the late afternoon.
If anything, it was worse than earlier in the day, Henderson thought. He hadn't believed the humidity could get any higher without drowning all of them, but it had. It was as if he'd been hit in the face with a warm mop and he could feel the perspiration springing out on his skin. It was as they reached the foot of the steps leading up to the Courthouse that he heard the screech of tires. A car that had been parked across the street, perhaps half a block down, pulled away from the curb and accelerated toward them. As it came opposite them, Henderson heard two loud reports. Then he discovered that he was seated on the ground, pressed painfully against a concrete planter by Clark Kent, as three more shots rang out. Lois was jammed tightly against him, and he could see blood running down her forearm and dripping on her skirt. Somewhere, not far away, a woman screamed and he could hear the diminishing sound of the engine as the vehicle raced away.
"Lois! You're hurt!" Henderson didn't recognize his own voice. He'd been shot at before but never had anything in his prior experience happened so fast.
"I'm okay." Lois held up her arm, and he could see that the blood was coming from a deep furrow torn in the skin just below her elbow. "They didn't quite miss."
"Stay here," Henderson pushed at Clark Kent, but he might as well have been pushing at a steel pillar. And that was when it happened.
Henderson had the feeling that the entire world lit up brilliantly, and the simultaneous explosion of sound nearly deafened him. Then it was gone, leaving his muscles twitching with the aftermath of electric shock, and there was a distinct smell of ozone in the air. Rain crashed down like a waterfall.
"I'm fine," Lois said, crossly. "It's barely a scratch and it's already stopped bleeding. Hasn't the Metro PD got anything better to do than harass me when those guys that shot at us are running around loose?"
"We've got an APB out for the car," Henderson said. "I'll never know how you remembered that license plate, with everything that was happening, Clark."
"He's got a photographic memory," Lois said. She glanced at Detective Reed who had been attempting to interview her. "I already told you, I didn't see a thing. I heard a shot and Clark pushed me down against the planter, and then there were some more shots, and I realized the bullet had just grazed me, and then lightning hit the planter. It happened so fast it was all a big blur."
"You three are all lucky to be alive," Reed said. "By all rights, you should have been incinerated."
Henderson had to agree with him. He still hadn't quite sorted out the sequence of events in his mind, but Lois's description sounded about right. He glanced at Clark. The man still looked shaken, and Henderson couldn't blame him since his wife had apparently been the target. He must have moved nearly as fast as the lightning to get the three of them out of the line of fire before the second shot. Adrenaline was an incredible thing, he thought. It made ordinary men into supermen in an emergency.
"Is that all?" Lois persisted. "I want to go home and change my clothes. This skirt is ruined."
It figured, he thought, keeping his face straight with difficulty. Someone had just tried to kill her and Lois Lane was more concerned about her ruined clothing.
"Fine with me," he said. "Are you sure you don't want a doctor to look at that?"
"I'll put some iodine on it when I get home," Lois said. "Come on, Clark. We've got some work to do. See you later, Henderson."
She pushed open the Courthouse door and marched out into the rain.
Glenn Reed looked after Lane and Kent as they pushed their way through a crowd of their colleagues waiting outside and stuffed his notebook into a back pocket. "How does Kent put up with her?" he asked, rhetorically.
Henderson allowed himself a dry chuckle. "Don't kid yourself," he said. "He doesn't just put up with her. That woman is his reason for breathing."
"Must be a glutton for punishment," Reed said. "I mean, she's easy on the eyes, but she'd drive me bats in a week -- if it took that long."
Henderson shook his head. "Lane's all right," he said. "She's just afraid to admit she's human. She's still one of the best friends the Department has."
Reed gave him an odd look. "You sound like you actually like her."
"I do. But if you ever tell her I said so I'll call you a liar to your face."
Reed snorted. "Your secret's safe with me. You got a car here or should I give you a lift back to the Precinct?"
"I'm parked in the lot down the street. If you want to give me a lift over, I won't turn you down. It's raining pitchforks out there."
"Yeah, I noticed. At least it's not as hot." He glanced at the mob just beyond the doors. "Ready to run the gauntlet?"
"As I'll ever be," Henderson said. He pushed open the door and stepped out into the rain. The representatives of the Fourth Estate closed around them like frenzied piranha.
"Henderson!" That was Jenkins from the Star. "Can you give us a statement? What happened? Who was the target? Was it related to the Quigley trial?"
Henderson held up his hands for attention. "All I can say right now is that we don't know. The shots were fired at Lane, Kent and me. Any of us could have been the target. Beyond that, we have no facts yet."
"The rumor is that you've got a license plate." The speaker was George Ware from the Herald. "Is that true?"
It baffled Henderson how these things got out. "We have a possible," he said. He glanced at his notes. "We're looking for a dark blue Ford sedan, probably 1992 or '93 ..." He glanced at Reed, who had pulled out his notebook, and read off the license number Kent had given them.
"You three were just missed by a lightning bolt," Linda Adams of the Whisper said. "How does it feel to have been so close to death?"
"We'd just been shot at, Ms. Adams," Henderson said, dryly. "What do you think?"
There was a murmur of laughter from the crowd. Even Linda Adams laughed.
"Granted," she said, "but you don't get nearly struck by lightning often, do you? Can you describe how you felt when you realized you'd escaped being hit?"
"Relieved to be alive," Henderson said. "That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. No more questions."
Reluctantly, the crowd parted to let him past. As they made their way to his car where it sat in the no parking zone in front of the Courthouse, Reed snorted. "What did she expect you to say? That you'd had a divine revelation or a near death experience?"
"She works for the Whisper," Henderson said, laconically. "Expect something like that in the next edition. Along with an exclusive interview with the ghost of Elvis who saved our lives."
Reed laughed shortly. "Of course. Why didn't I think of that?" He unlocked the passenger door for Henderson and went around to get into the driver's seat.
Henderson pulled the door open and staggered back a step as the handle came off in his hands. He stared at it in surprise. "What the ..."
"What happened?" Reed asked.
"Your handle just fell off," Henderson said.
"That's weird," Reed said. "I better hand this thing over to Maintenance when I get back to the Precinct."
"Yeah." Henderson got into the seat and pulled the door shut. "My car's down that way." He pointed.
Reed pulled into the lot, behind Henderson's car, a couple of moments later. Henderson pushed the door carefully open. "Thanks for the lift."
"Don't mention it."
He got out, closing the door behind him with equal care. If something had damaged it he didn't want anything else to fall off.
The rain was still coming down by the bucketful, but the temperature had dropped to a comfortable level and he found that he didn't particularly mind the rain. It was a relief after the muggy heat of earlier in the day. Henderson fished in his pocket for his car keys, inserted the key into the lock and turned it.
The locking button on the inner side of the window snapped up and there was a crunch. He withdrew the stub of a key and swore softly to himself at the realization that his key had just broken off in the lock. Great. Just great. With a sigh, he pushed the button on the handle and pulled the door open very gently, waiting for something else to happen, but nothing did.
Fortunately, there was an extra key under the mat. Feeling slightly paranoid, he eased the remaining key into the ignition and gingerly turned it on.
The engine responded with a smooth purr. He glanced back over his shoulder and, with extreme care, began to back the car out of the parking space. With the sensation of dancing on eggs, he pulled out into traffic and drove with more than his usual caution, threading his way through the rush hour traffic toward the Precinct. He didn't understand what had caused this attack of nerves, but somewhere in the back of his mind a small voice was telling him to be careful, that he was walking on the edge of a precipice that he could slip from at any second. Henderson wasn't usually the fanciful type, but he obeyed the impulse, telling himself that he'd had hunches before, and it was usually better to play it safe until you figured out what the problem was.
At last, he pulled the car into his space in the Precinct's lot and cut the engine. He still hadn't figured out the impulse to be extra-cautious, but he closed the door of the car gently behind him. He couldn't lock it because of the end of his other key still stuck in the lock, but at least nothing else was broken -- so far, anyway.
The downpour had subsided to a gentler rain punctuated by rumbles of thunder but at least it wasn't showing any sign of stopping yet, which was a good thing as far as he was concerned. The city could certainly use the relief from the heat. Now if drivers would only use a little common sense and exercise some caution on the highways, maybe the Highway Patrol wouldn't have to cope with too many accidents. That, of course, was probably a pipe dream, he conceded as he went up the steps of the Precinct, but he was an incurable optimist. Oh well; everybody had his own dirty little secret. At least this one wasn't likely to get him into too much trouble as long as he kept it under control.
Chief Dobbs looked up from his desk as Henderson entered the room. "Hey, Henderson! I heard about the close call. You okay?"
"Fine," he responded, wondering which close call Dobbs was talking about. "Any word on that license plate yet?"
"Yeah; it's a stolen car. The report came in a little while ago."
"Name of the owner?"
"Uhh ..." Dobbs ruffled around on his desk for a minute. "Guy by the name of Minton: George Minton and his wife, Linda. Here's the report."
"Thanks." Henderson took the paper. ""Did you run the owner's name for priors?"
"Not yet. Any reason to think he might be connected?"
"Not really. Olsen here yet?"
Dobbs jerked his thumb in the direction of an office. "In there. He says it's a long shot."
"That it is." Henderson crossed the room to the office Dobbs had indicated and stuck his head through the door. Jimmy Olsen of the Daily Planet bent over the office computer, frowning as he tapped at the keyboard. He glanced up as Henderson entered.
"How's it going?" Henderson asked.
Olsen sat back and stretched his arms above his head, relieving the tension in his shoulders. "Well, it's a spoofed address, but we figured that," he said. "Whoever this guy is, he's good. So far, he's routed it through at least half a dozen servers in four different countries. This is going to take a while."
Henderson nodded. "Keep plugging," he said. "Somebody took a shot at Lane and Kent at the Courthouse."
Olsen looked around. "Are they all right?"
"One shot grazed Lane's arm." He gave a dry smile. "She's fine but it looks like there's more to this than just a crank email."
"I'll find out where it came from, if it's humanly possible." Olsen said.
Henderson nodded. "I'm sure you will. Don't worry about Lois, Jim. She wouldn't even let anyone give her a Band-Aid. Just concentrate on the job."
"I will. Tell her to be careful, would you?"
"I already did, and so did Kent," Henderson said. "I'm thinking of having an extra patrol car check out their place a few times tonight, though."
"Thanks," Olsen said. "They're my friends, you know? I don't want anybody to hurt them."
"They're pretty good at taking care of themselves," Henderson said. "Kent had us down behind a planter before anybody else realized what had happened."
Olsen grinned. "That's CK for you," he said.
"Yeah." Henderson agreed. "Well, I'll let you get back to work. Let me know if you find anything."
"I will." Olsen had already turned back to the screen.
Henderson left the room and headed down the short corridor toward his office. He was still moving with caution, but common sense was telling him that the series of accidents was only that: just a bunch of accidents. Things like that happened. He might even be a little uncoordinated from the lightning strike. An electric shock did tend to foul up your reflexes for a little while -- and that had been one heck of a shock. That probably explained breaking off the key in his door lock. As for the handle of Reed's door, well, it was a weird accident, but it happened sometimes. He could probably dismiss the whole thing as a coincidence. Getting paranoid about it was silly.
Still, he opened the door of his office with a certain amount of caution but the doorknob didn't fall off in his hand. He let out his breath and entered. With a faint sigh of relief he settled into his desk chair and began to study the information on the sheet of paper that Dobbs had given him. The stolen car report was a very standard form and the information told him very little that he didn't already know. The car had been reported stolen some ten minutes before the shooting at the Courthouse and so far had not been found, although by now the description would be being reported on all the news networks. Well, hopefully they would pick it up very soon. He doubted the thief would want to hang onto it when every cop in town was on the lookout for it.
The sudden loud crackle of static from a police radio made him wince and cover his ears. He turned around in annoyance, wondering why his scanner was turned up so loud, but the device was off, just as he had left it this morning. The sound, now that he was paying attention, appeared to be coming from Pierson's office, next door, but the man must have the thing up full blast. The voice of an officer emerged, shouting from the receiver, requesting backup.
It sounded like an emergency all right. Henderson got to his feet ... and the arm of the chair came off in his hand. He was so startled that he almost missed the replies of several other units responding to the request.
This was more than a coincidence. He bent to examine the place where the arm had torn loose. The metal was twisted and the bolt that held the arm in place had been literally ripped in two. He stared at the evidence in front of him, his mind racing.
Slowly, he lifted the piece that he still held, staring at the torn metal. He wouldn't have believed the story from anyone else, but the reality was staring him in the face. Deliberately, he gripped the heavy piece of metal in both hands and exerted force, trying to twist it, still half-certain that it wouldn't work, that it was all some strange coincidence or a joke on the part of other officers at the Precinct on the notoriously unflappable Inspector Henderson.
The chair arm bent like rubber. Gently, he laid the telltale piece of metal down across his desk, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. What on Earth was going on? What had happened to him?
He was strong -- super-strong. And the radio in the other room wasn't turned up loud at all. His hearing had suddenly become incredibly acute. Somehow, he had acquired Superman's strength and hearing. How could this be?
There had been that case three years ago, he remembered suddenly, when Resplendent Man, the "Strange Visitor from the heart of Dixie", had appeared out of nowhere -- apparently an ordinary man who had suddenly, for no reason that anyone could determine, developed Superman's powers and just as suddenly lost them. And then there had been the little boy whose mother had claimed was Superman's son. The Man of Steel had vehemently denied the allegations, and the child had lost his powers too, after a year of being super human. There had been a lightning bolt connected with the incident that time, he recalled. Lightning had struck the plane in which the child had been riding. Superman had saved the plane and then taken pictures with the passengers outside the local motel -- which had allowed the woman to produce a photo of herself and the Man of Steel together.
He'd always wondered about those cases, believing that there was more to them than met the eye. Well, now it had happened to him.
Henderson found that he was looking at his hands. They didn't look any different than they had before, but those hands had just ripped a metal arm from his desk chair and then twisted the metal into a horseshoe. He was a loaded weapon just waiting to go off. He needed help or he was going to kill someone by accident, and there was only one being on the planet that knew how to handle these abilities. Somehow, he had to get hold of Superman.
Lois pushed open the Courthouse door and marched out into the rain.
Clark followed her. Lois was acting in character, but he could tell that something wasn't right. The term "acting" applied literally. She was acting. Her heart was pounding like a drum, twice as fast as normal. He might have thought that she was shaken by the experience of being shot at, or irritated at the questions of the police detective who had been taking the report of the attempted assassination, but her scent wasn't right. Lois was agitated, but not from fear and not from irritation. She was acting annoyed, but that wasn't it either.
Correctly assuming that she didn't want him to ask questions that she wasn't ready to answer -- especially while the members of the press, who had come to report on the Quigley trial and been present to see something quite different, were hemming them in -- he remained silent and let his wife deal with their colleagues, which she did in her usual no-nonsense way.
"Talk to Henderson!" she snapped, sacrificing the Police Inspector without hesitation. "He's got the whole report!"
"Come on, Lois," Jenkins from the Star almost whined, "what happened?"
"I didn't see anything," she said, plowing forward through the crowd. "I was too busy ducking!"
Somehow, such was the force of her personality that the crowd gave way in front of her and they headed down the steps without slowing. Clark kept a sharp lookout for anything that could indicate that the shooter was anywhere around, but there was nothing.
"Honey," he ventured as they reached the sidewalk, "is something the matter?"
"Later," she said.
Clark fell silent. She had a point, he thought. There were too many people around to make a private discussion completely private. He maintained his silence as they strode down the sidewalk to the lot where Lois had left the Cherokee. The fact that it was pouring buckets didn't seem to bother his wife at all, which wasn't surprising. When Lois was concentrating on something important, little things like getting soaked were not allowed to distract her from the main subject. It wasn't until they had climbed into the Jeep and closed the doors that he again ventured to bring up the subject.
"By the way," he said, as an opening, "that was quick thinking -- telling them that the lightning hit the planter."
"Well, I could hardly tell them that it hit you," she said, and now a slightly shrill note had entered her voice.
"I know," he said. "Lois, what's going on? What's the matter?"
"Look," she said, thrusting her arm at him.
"What am I looking at?" he asked, confused.
"Nothing," she said. "That's the point. The place where the bullet grazed me -- it's all healed up."
Clark stared at her arm, taking in the fact. The ugly furrow in the smooth flesh of her arm, that had dripped enough blood on her skirt to preclude its ever being worn again, had disappeared without a trace. The rain had washed away the crusting of blood that had coated the skin, and there was nothing to indicate that there had ever been a wound.
"Oh man," he whispered. Then, aware of the total inadequacy of the remark, he added, "Oh man!"
Lois began to giggle. There was a slight note of hysteria in it, but he could hardly blame her.
"Watch it," she choked. "You'll turn the air blue with that kind of language!"
He snorted. "I'll watch my step. Seriously, honey, is Ultra Woman back?"
Her laughter died. "Well, I have your powers. I'm not so sure about Ultra Woman. You weren't too happy about it the last time."
"That was different," he said. "Ultra Woman had my powers and I didn't. I still have them this time." He ran a finger over the place where the wound had been. "All in all, I'm pretty happy you have them. If someone tries to shoot you again, he's going to be in for a shock."
"That's true." She started the engine. "Let's get out of here. I need to go home and change."
Absently, he pulled the seat belt over his shoulder, regarding his wife as she backed the Jeep expertly out of the parking space. "This kind of changes the situation," he said.
"That's for sure." Lois pulled out on the street and inserted the nose of the Jeep firmly into a space about half the length of her car between a pickup and a minivan. The driver of the van blew his horn and braked to avoid her. Tires screeched and more horns blew. Lois ignored them. So did Clark.
"Who do you suppose was behind the shooting?" Lois asked. "And why?"
"Chances are, whoever sent that email," Clark said. "With luck, Jimmy will track him down. As to why; somebody doesn't want Quigley convicted, at a guess."
"But why? Who would support a monster like him?"
"Somebody with something to gain," Clark said. "I guess that's where we start looking next."
"That's probably the only lead we've got unless Jimmy manages to come up with a better one," Lois said. She changed lanes under the nose of a bus and turned left at the intersection, just as the yellow light turned red. "Maybe we should start checking out relatives, business partners, Intergang ..."
"Somebody could make a financial killing if the experiment actually succeeded," Clark agreed. "Maybe we should check out his finances. I'd like to know who his financial backers are. He didn't come up with all that equipment on his own."
Both of them were silent as Lois expertly negotiated the crowded streets of the Metropolitan rush hour.
"Before we look for anybody, I'm going to change my clothes," Lois said finally, glancing distastefully down at her ruined skirt. "Dried blood was never my color."
"I can't argue with that," Clark said. "I guess we could go hunt for the car. I got a good look at it, even if you didn't."
"Henderson didn't, either," Lois said, a little defensively.
"I was pushing him against the planter, too," Clark said. "Neither of you were in a position to see much ..." His voice trailed off at a sudden realization. "Oh boy."
"You were touching Henderson when the lightning hit you," Lois said at the same time. "Do you suppose ...?"
"I don't know," Clark said. "I guess it's possible. This has never happened when I was touching two people at the same time."
"When Jesse got super powers from you through the plane, he was the only one," Lois said, sounding hopeful. "Wouldn't that mean that maybe just the person closest to you would be affected?"
"Maybe. But that was through the plane," Clark said. There was a sinking sensation somewhere about the level of his gut. "This wasn't through a plane or anything else. I was physically touching both of you."
"We have to find out," Lois said. She turned the Jeep into Hyperion Avenue. "Let me just get changed and maybe Superman could make a visit to Henderson's office."
"What kind of excuse is he going to give?" Clark asked. "Besides, how would Superman know that Henderson might suddenly be super-powered?"
"You're talking about yourself in the third person again," Lois said.
"Wait until you have to talk about Ultra Woman to somebody else," Clark said absently. His mind was still on how to explain to Henderson his sudden burning desire to have a conversation with him.
"Anyway," Lois said, "if he did get your powers, we'd better come up with an explanation of why. After all, there's no public information about how Waldecker got his, and we didn't explain exactly how it happened to Jesse, either -- just that lightning hit the plane and that you saved it. People are going to figure out that lightning has something to do with it, and since the powers are identical to yours, they're going to know that it's related to you somehow -- but they don't know that you have to be hit by the lightning, or that you have to be touching the person. Of course, with Jesse you weren't even touching him. The powers were transmitted through the metal of the plane to him. Maybe we can spread the theory that there's some kind of contagion or something. Maybe ..."
"Honey," Clark said, grinning slightly, "you're babbling."
"I'm not babbling! I'm just trying to cover all the possibilities!"
"Okay," he agreed. "Anyway, I think the less said to anyone, the better. As for Bill, if he has the powers we'll have to see what happens. He's a smart guy. It's possible he may figure out more than we'd like, but the first thing to do is to find out if there's a reason to worry. If there is, he's going to need some help or he's going to hurt someone without meaning to. At least it's Henderson that it happened to. If I have to have anyone else know the secret, at least we know we can trust him."
"Thank heavens for small favors," Lois said as she pulled the Jeep to the curb in front of the Kent townhouse. "Why don't you drop by his office to see if he's all right? If Superman heard about the shooting he might want to talk to Henderson about it and find out if there's anything he can do to help."
"Now you're talking about me in the third person," Clark pointed out mildly, opening his door. "That's not a bad idea. By the way, you never answered my first question."
"Which one was that?"
"Is Ultra Woman back?"
"Does Superman want her back?"
Clark grinned. "You bet he does! She was the sexiest woman he ever met in his life."
Lois elbowed him in the ribs. "All right, you're on. I guess Ultra Woman is about to make a comeback."
William Henderson paced his office. He was wearing a trench in the carpet, he thought, trying to figure out what to do, all because he was nervous about going out among his fellows on the chance that he might hurt one of them with this new and dangerous weapon that he had become.
How did Superman do it, day in and day out? To his knowledge, the man had never injured anyone with his enormous strength. Of course there was that guy who had sued him for injuries sustained when the hero had saved his life, but what little injury there was, if any, had been caused by a piece of equipment or something falling on him, not Superman. Obviously he controlled it, probably every second. On the other hand, maybe it was instinctive by now. Ordinary people learned to control their strength very early in life. If they didn't, they could kill a kitten or a puppy just by picking it up. He hadn't torn anything up earlier while he was thinking about being careful; it had only happened when he hadn't, so he could control it if he thought about it. He didn't have to stay cooped up in this office for the rest of the day.
He glanced at his watch. It was nearly quitting time anyway. He'd better give his wife a call and tell her he was going to be late, and then go someplace where he could move around without risking his fellows. He definitely needed to talk to Superman, however.
Well, normally when Henderson needed to get in touch with him he called Clark Kent. Kent knew how to contact the Man of Steel; maybe he had his cell phone number.
He squelched the whimsical thought at once. This was serious; if he didn't figure out how to handle these powers fast he was going to have to sleep on the couch tonight. There was no way he was going to risk inadvertently hurting his wife with his suddenly acquired super-strength.
He reached for the phone. He'd just ask Kent to get hold of Superman for him; he didn't have to tell him why. This was definitely something he didn't want to advertise.
"I found it," Clark announced. He held up the pink suit with its trailing cape. "It's not even dusty. Not that I expected it to be, wrapped in five layers of plastic."
"That was fast," Lois said. She had barely stepped out of the shower and was drying her hair.
Clark gave her towel-wrapped form an approving look. "Too bad we've got things to do," he remarked. "It could be an interesting experience."
Lois didn't bother to ask what he was talking about. "Later, Loverboy," she said. "Give me that, and you'd better head over to Henderson's office before he gets off work."
He glanced at his watch. "He gets out in a few minutes. I ..." At that instant, Lois caught what he had to be hearing as well.
"Oh no," she whispered.
"I'm afraid Henderson is going to have to wait," Clark said. "This takes precedence."
An 8.6 earthquake would take precedence over just about anything, Lois knew, especially in a thickly populated country like Japan. In an instant, Clark was in his Suit, and Lois was in hers. It sounded bad, she thought, as they took off in two blurs of color. Buildings had collapsed all over Kyoto, and the death toll was bound to be ... well, horrifying. It was a good thing Superman had super-help this time. He was going to need it.
Henderson carefully put down the telephone receiver with a disgusted grunt. Just when he needed to contact Superman, Kent wasn't answering his phone. He glanced at his watch. It was five minutes after quitting time.
Well, somehow he had to figure out how to control these abilities of his. Sue wasn't expecting him home for some time. Maybe there was something he could do on his own, at least until he could get hold of Superman. If he practiced a little, maybe he could gain some idea of what these powers could do and make himself less of a danger to the people around him.
He got carefully to his feet and strode to the door. His jacket hung on the hook behind the door and he appropriated it, shrugging his shoulders automatically into it and wondering at the same time if the temperature outside had stayed within reasonable limits after the rain had stopped.
Keeping his hands firmly stuffed in his pockets, he strode down the hallway toward the exit, being extremely careful not to bump into any of his fellows that passed him. As he passed the office where Olsen still labored over the computer he stuck his head in the door. "Any luck?"
"Maybe." The young computer expert was frowning at the screen. "Mr. Henderson, would you mind if I make a record of my results and take them home? I can work on them more tonight."
Henderson shrugged, reminding himself to move with caution. "Go ahead. Just make sure nobody else gets hold of them. Call me if you find out anything even remotely useful. Do you have my private number?"
Henderson couldn't help grinning sardonically. "It's refreshing to hear a little respect sometimes. Here." He dropped his card on the table next to the computer. "If you do call me, try to be sure it's important."
"I will, sir," Olsen said, picking up the card.
"I'm sure you will," Henderson told him in a milder tone. "Good luck, kid."
The rain hadn't entirely stopped, he discovered when he stepped outside. A light but steady sprinkle was still filtering down as he made his way to his car. He glanced at the piece of broken key still protruding slightly from the lock on his door and grimaced. Then a thought occurred to him. Carefully, he gripped the tiny stub sticking from the lock with the tips of his fingernails and tugged lightly.
Under ordinary circumstances, probably nothing would have happened. His fingernails would have slipped from the tiny piece of metal and the key would have remained stuck until someone with the proper tools had come along to remove it. As it was, it came loose without resistance and he surveyed the results of his experiment thoughtfully. On the broken end, where he had gripped it with the nails of his thumb and middle finger, were two tiny grooves -- the marks of his fingernails, he thought with some amazement. He wasn't only extraordinarily strong, it seemed, but probably invulnerable, and it was quite possible that he had the rest of Superman's abilities as well.
The idea was a little frightening, but it presented interesting and even exciting possibilities. Again, the question of how this had happened crossed his mind. He had been in contact with Superman some four hours or so before the bolt of lightning had just barely missed him. Was that a possible connection? He didn't see how it could be, but none of this incident exactly made sense. He really needed to get hold of Superman, he thought as he got carefully behind the wheel and just as carefully started the engine. Without much hope, he took out his cellular phone and once more tried Clark Kent's number, with no result. Well, he supposed that he could go to Centennial Park, since no one was likely to be there in the rain, and yell for Superman. The idea wasn't particularly appealing, though. Maybe there was a reason that Kent wasn't answering, he speculated. It was possible that there was a breaking story somewhere and the man was just too busy to answer; perhaps he had even turned off his phone. If that was true, Lane would probably be there with him.
Gingerly, he reached out to turn on the radio, trying not to damage the thing. He must have succeeded, for the knob clicked on and he adjusted the sound with a mild feeling of accomplishment. If anything in the way of an emergency were going on anywhere near Metropolis, he might pick it up on a news broadcast.
" ... Has hit Kyoto Japan," the newscaster's voice was saying. "The destruction is incalculable. Hundreds are trapped and the emergency services are overwhelmed by this catastrophe ..."
It must have been an earthquake, Henderson thought, grimacing silently. He backed slowly and cautiously out of his parking space. It looked as if he was going to have to go it alone for a while. Superman was undoubtedly already on his way to the shattered city. The best thing he could do right now was to go somewhere that no one was likely to see him and try to learn how to handle these new and frightening abilities, at least until the Man of Steel got back to Metropolis.
"Superman has arrived in the city." The announcer's voice broke through his thoughts. "He is accompanied by Ultra Woman, who made a brief appearance some two years ago. Together, they have begun to rescue victims of this horrific disaster, moving tons of shattered concrete and metal that would otherwise take ordinary machinery hours to dig through, locating the injured by means of their super senses. The United States and several other nations have promised to send aid as soon as a relief effort can be organized ..."
Henderson pulled out into traffic, driving with a caution that he hadn't exercised since his days in Driver's Education at Metropolis High School. It was interesting that Ultra Woman had chosen just this time to make a re-appearance. Of course, if she was going to re-appear he guessed that now was a good time for it.
He maneuvered his way through traffic, trying not to overcompensate. It would be so easy to overreact to a careless driver, to try to dodge and as a result actually cause the accident that he was trying to avoid. He knew that his caution was probably excessive but what else was he supposed to do while trying to handle these strange, new talents? His respect for the Man of Steel had been steadily rising ever since he had realized that he now possessed Superman's powers. The amount of control the man had over himself and what he could do was truly awe-inspiring. If Henderson could just get to the point where he didn't feel he was a danger to his fellows, he'd probably decide that he was managing pretty well.
Centennial Park was completely deserted, as Henderson had expected. He slipped on the raincoat that he had put in the back seat this morning in the faint hope that the weather forecasters might be right, and got out, locking the door of his car. It would be best if he could find a place with a certain amount of cover. It wouldn't do for the local police patrol to see him doing some of the things that he was going to have to do to figure out how to handle these abilities.
The spot he had in mind was a picnic area, shaded by big, leafy trees and enclosed on all sides by bushes. The spot provided the cover that he was looking for, as the only ways in and out were several twisting paths that had been designed to wind artistically through the area, providing pleasant, scenic walks for visitors to the park.
He glanced around, seeing no one, and listened intently.
The patter of raindrops falling softly on the grass sounded like drums, and the rustle of some small creature in the bushes made him jump; then he forced himself to relax and listen, trying to identify all the sounds that were suddenly audible to his newly-enhanced hearing.
The raindrops were a distraction but he forced himself to focus on other sounds. He heard clearly the scurry of tiny paws, probably a mouse or other small rodent, he thought; the fluttering of wings from a bird somewhere above him; millions of noises produced by the tiny insect life in the area; the sounds that normal visitors to the picnic area never heard.
As he focused in on each sound the steady drumming of the rain faded into the background, and so did the sounds that he wasn't concentrating on. So that was the secret, he thought, with a sense of discovery. Superman could actually control what his super hearing picked up. If he couldn't, all the noises would have rapidly driven him insane.
Well, that covered one ability. What other powers did the Man of Steel have? He strode to one of the big, decorative boulders that dotted the picnic area and hefted it. It came easily up from the ground, although it must weigh a couple of hundred pounds. He returned it to its spot and looked around. The problem wasn't his strength but the damage that he could cause if he wasn't careful. He was simply going to have to re-learn how much strength to put into any motion, and he suspected that came from practice. He hadn't broken anything since he had become aware of his abilities, so maybe his brain was already re-programming itself to handle the problem. He fervently hoped so.
Well then, how about x-ray vision? How did one see through things? He picked his target: one of the big trees that lined the picnic area. Concentrate, he thought. Of course, if it didn't work it wasn't exactly an emergency. He could always wait and ask Superman when he got back from Japan. It was too bad he wasn't able to go to Kyoto and help out, he thought wistfully. He was quite certain that Superman and Ultra Woman could use the help but he hadn't even figured out how to fly, much less how to do all the other things that they could do ...
Concentrate, he told himself firmly. What is on the other side of the tree?
It was as if a window had opened suddenly in the trunk, except for the fact that the faint outline of the tree trunk was still there. He could see the sparrow hopping around on the wet grass just beyond the tree, pecking at the ground.
As quickly as it had appeared the picture vanished. Henderson blinked and took a deep breath. This was almost too much to take in.
And at that moment his new super-hearing picked up a scream.
"Give me your purse, lady!" a harsh voice ordered, and Henderson heard the sound of a blow.
He was running toward the sounds before he thought, grasping his police special in one hand. He could hear the sobbing of the woman, and then the voice of her assailant. "Ten bucks!" Another blow. Then he was on the scene, seeing a hefty individual bending over the cowering form of his victim, the contents of her purse scattered around on the wet ground.
"Police!" Henderson barked. "Put your hands on your head and don't move!"
It wasn't until after a pair of uniformed police officers escorted the mugger away and Henderson had accepted the fervent thanks of the elderly victim, retrieved her poodle for her, and seen her driven away by the paramedics to be checked for injuries, did the realization occur to him.
Centennial Park's picnic area was not far from the eastern border of the park. The mugging had occurred on the western side, nearly two miles away. He had crossed the entire distance in less than fifteen seconds.
Maybe learning to use Superman's powers wasn't going to be so difficult after all.
The sprinkle of rain had thickened again by the time Henderson walked slowly back toward his car. In truth, he found it rather pleasant, especially after the heat and humidity of earlier in the day. The lightning and thunder had ceased and the air was cool and filled with a scent of growing things that he had never noticed before when visiting Centennial Park.
The picnic area was still deserted, which wasn't surprising considering the weather conditions. Slowly, he strolled back into the enclosure.
The big, leafy trees blocked most of the falling water and only the occasional drop sifted through. He sank onto one of the benches to think in solitude.
He had Superman's speed. He'd demonstrated that unintentionally to himself. He'd even used a little of it to catch Snickers, the miniature poodle that belonged to little Mrs. Broadbent, after he'd stopped the mugging. He made a mental note to check back on the senior citizen tomorrow morning.
In any case, he probably had the full range of Superman's powers. It had been quite a while since he had actually stopped a crime in progress and prevented the mistreatment of one of the honest citizens of his city, rather than coming in to investigate once the damage was done -- and he found that it felt good. This was what Superman experienced on a daily basis. The Kryptonian had chosen to use his incredible abilities to do something that all the police in the city couldn't do, and Henderson had always appreciated that fact. Now he was in a position to do the same, at least for a while, until the powers disappeared. They had done so with the two other persons who had acquired them, and he had no reason to believe that he might be different. He would have liked to talk to -- what was his name -- Waldecker about how he had gained his powers. Henderson would be willing to bet that lightning had somehow been involved, but the man had taken off for parts unknown a short time after his adventure as Resplendent Man. Henderson could probably track him down, but such a project could take days or weeks and he needed the answers now. It was too bad there weren't any others except the little boy. Neither he nor his mother had any real idea of how it had happened ...
His thoughts braked to a halt. How did he know for certain that it hadn't happened to anyone else? This was the first time the idea had occurred to him and he considered it with growing realization.
Two years ago, Ultra Woman had appeared suddenly out of nowhere. For two days she had made headlines around the world and just as suddenly vanished without a trace. Her disappearance had coincided with the robbery of an armored car by another super- powered woman who seemed to have lost the powers within minutes of the event. Her capture by Ultra Woman and Superman was the last recorded sighting of Ultra Woman ... until today: the same day that Henderson himself had acquired Superman's powers.
A strong suspicion was forming in his mind concerning the sudden re-appearance of the superwoman. If he added up the facts that he knew or had guessed about Superman, and everything that he had learned in the last few hours, and applied a little of the common sense that had always been one of the basic foundations from which he worked, a few very obvious probabilities were waving red flags at him. Like everyone else, Henderson had always assumed that Ultra-Woman was a Kryptonian -- but what if she wasn't? What if Ultra Woman was an ordinary human woman who had somehow gained super powers like Waldecker and Jesse Whatever-his-name-had-been -- and Henderson, himself? Considering the events that had preceded his discovery that he had mysteriously acquired Superman's powers, it was more than likely that Ultra Woman had acquired them at the same time he had. He wasn't the only person who had been present when the lightning had struck. Lois Lane and Clark Kent had been there, too, and now Ultra Woman was assisting Superman in dealing with a disastrous earthquake in Japan. And Clark Kent wasn't answering his phone.
It all fit, Henderson thought, feeling almost numbly calm. It made perfect sense. If Ultra Woman was Lois Lane it was highly probable that Superman was her husband, which would certainly explain the acquisition of Superman's powers by the pair of them. Kent had been pinning Lois and him against the planter, protecting them from the hail of bullets, when the lightning had struck. If Clark Kent was actually Superman, perhaps the lightning had somehow given both Lois and him a charge of the super powers. In fact, it made even more sense, now that he was thinking about it. If lightning had actually hit the planter the thing would probably have shattered, but there hadn't been a mark on it. Besides, concrete was a notoriously non-conductive substance, and Henderson clearly recalled feeling an electric shock powerful enough to leave every muscle in his body tingling and twitching in the aftermath. If the bolt had actually hit Kent instead of the planter it would explain everything. And, of course, it wouldn't have made a mark on Superman.
And hadn't it been Lois who had claimed that the lightning had hit the planter? That made sense too, in the light of his new realization. She had been protecting her husband's secret, and Lois had always been an expert at thinking on her feet.
Slowly, Henderson began to smile. If his conjecture were true -- and he was at least ninety percent certain that it was -- a number of mysteries that he had wondered about had suddenly become crystal clear, and it was up to him to see that no one else made the connection. There was no way on the face of the Earth that he would jeopardize Superman's secret. The man had lived among them for years, probably using his position as a journalist to alert him to emergencies, arriving at those emergencies in his colorful Suit, then disappearing to report on them as an ordinary newsman. It was a fantastic masquerade, but one that Henderson could understand. As the super-powered alien from Krypton he would never be left in peace by the media, fans, fanatics, criminals and probably the government as well, but as an ordinary man he could still have a reasonably normal existence while Superman made the spectacular rescues. Henderson wasn't going to be responsible for the ruin of Clark Kent's life. He owed the man far too much to ever repay, but this was probably as close as he would ever be able to come to it and that meant that Police Inspector Henderson couldn't be seen exhibiting super powers. He was going to have to watch his step for as long as they lasted.
But that meant that he needed to learn everything that he could about using them. Kent had evidently taught Lois, for Ultra Woman had seemed quite skilled in the use of her abilities when she had made her appearance. He would simply have to be extremely careful until the two superheroes returned to Metropolis, and then he would go to Superman and ask him for help.
Satisfied on that point at least, he got to his feet, glancing at his watch as he did so. It was time he headed for home. Sue was expecting him in about half an hour, which gave him a reasonable margin to safely negotiate the rush hour traffic. A lot of unusual things had happened since he had joined the Force, but today had to win some kind of prize as one of the strangest; that was for certain. Dinner would be ready in a little while, and he wanted to have a talk with Sue about the events of the day. He would be sleeping on the couch tonight, and tomorrow night, too, if Superman hadn't returned to Metropolis by then, and he needed for her to understand why.
He was feeling slightly more confident in his abilities, less afraid that he would overreact and kill somebody by accident. Now that he had become aware of his powers his reflexes seemed to be adapting fairly well to the new set of circumstances, but he wasn't about to risk his wife's safety on the chance that he wouldn't hurt her. He was going to be sure before he was willing to sleep beside her again. He'd waited forty years to meet the right woman; her welfare was too important for him to take the slightest risk.
His car was still the only one in the parking area when he arrived a few minutes later. He unlocked the door, trying to do so without thinking about it, which, of course, was useless, he realized as the lock clicked smoothly open. It was like trying not to think about a red toothbrush. The more you tried, the less you could think of anything else. He started to open the door and hesitated, gave a quick glance around and then walked quickly to the front of the car. With one hand he reached down, grasped the wheel well with one hand and attempted to lift.
The wheel came up from the ground without fuss and without significant effort. Gently, he set it on the ground again, returned thoughtfully to the driver's door and got in. The car had felt like a featherweight. It illustrated vividly for him how much actual power Superman had at his command. Sure, he'd seen the Man of Steel rip the doors from cars, lift buses and trucks and once at Metro International he'd even witnessed him bringing in a jumbo jet that couldn't get its landing gear down, but somehow the sheer raw power involved hadn't actually registered like it had today. You saw those things and the mind sort of skimmed over them the same way it did when you saw a heavy piece of machinery doing its job. It was different when the experience was personal. And now all of Superman's power was at his command as well. It was definitely a little daunting.
He started to put the key into the ignition and stopped as another thought came to him. He had been thinking about Superman bringing in a jet. Superman flew. That meant that he probably could, too. After a moment, he gave himself a shake. Flying would have to wait. He'd done enough for one day, and it didn't sound like something you picked up on the spur of the moment. Superman could show him how when he got back. He started the car, put it in reverse and backed out of the parking space. He'd had enough of new experiences for the day. It was time to go home and soak up some normalcy.
Sue was in the kitchen when he walked in the door. He could hear her moving around and the clink of silverware as she set the kitchen table for dinner. He closed the door and called out, "I'm home!"
"In here, honey!" she answered. Henderson followed his nose as the aroma of her homemade marinara sauce drifted from the open door of the kitchen.
"Do I smell your spaghetti and meatballs?" he asked.
Sue removed the shredded cheese from the refrigerator and set it on the table. "You certainly do," she said. "Hungry?"
"Starved," he said. "How are you feeling this afternoon?"
She rested a hand on her rounded stomach. "Junior is playing football," she told him. "This kid is going to be a quarterback if all the kicking is any kind of preview."
Henderson grinned and crossed the kitchen to plant a kiss carefully on her lips. "Just so long as she's not a cop, honey, I'll be happy."
Sue laughed. She was an attractive woman ten years his junior, with almost blue-black hair and dark grey eyes. "Sit down and tell me about your day," she said. "You sounded awfully serious on the phone."
He obeyed, and she set the plate of spaghetti in the center of the table. "Help yourself. The coffee's almost ready."
"Thanks. It smells delicious." He picked up the salad dressing and poured a generous helping over the lettuce and tomatoes on his salad plate. "Have you had a chance to listen to the news yet today?"
She shook her head. "I was a little late getting off the unit and I've been busy ever since I got home. Why?"
"Well ... something unusual happened today ... unusual even for the normal day at the Precinct ..."
Sue listened without a word as he related the story of the shooting, followed by the lightning strike and his subsequent discovery that he possessed Superman's powers, but her eyes grew larger and larger as he described what he had done to try to figure out how to control them. When he finished she didn't say anything for several seconds. Then she gave herself a half-shake. "You're right," she said. "It was a little unusual." She sighed. "You know, Mother told me that I shouldn't marry a cop, but I don't think she had exactly this kind of thing in mind." She smiled at his expression. "But you know what? I'm glad I did."
He let out his breath. "Then you're not upset?"
"Well ..." She made a face. "I can't say I'm happy about you having to sleep on the couch, but I guess I can live with it for one or two nights."
"I'm not going to risk you or Junior with these powers," Henderson said. "Not for anything. When Superman gets back from Kyoto, I'll ask him for some help and it should be all right."
She nodded. "I think that's a good plan. And in the meantime, if anybody tries to shoot at you at least I know you can't be hurt. I try not to worry, but sometimes I can't help it."
"I know." He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I'm always careful, Sue. You know that."
"Yes, I do. I just don't want to wind up a widow at thirty-one, that's all," she said. "Was Ms. Lane hurt?"
"A bullet just grazed her arm. I think Kent was more shaken up than she was."
"If this kind of thing happens to her often I'm not surprised that he reacted so quickly," Sue remarked.
"Neither am I," Henderson admitted. "She's probably been shot at more often than your average cop."
"Why would someone have tried to kill her, though?" Sue helped herself to a serving of spaghetti.
"Probably to stop her from testifying against Quigley," Henderson said. "Someone emailed in a death threat against her yesterday. She was actually the one who broke the case, as humiliating as it might seem to the DA."
"Maybe you should put her on the Force," his wife said. "She sounds like a pretty good detective."
"Lane is a reporter through and through," Henderson told her. "I'm glad she's on our side, though."
"I remember what you said about Quigley. Why would anyone want to stop Ms. Lane from testifying against him? He sounds like a really horrible person."
He nodded. "That's one way to describe him, but after what happened this afternoon, I think someone may stand to lose a lot if he's convicted and put away."
"I suppose so," she said. "It would be nice if we did find a way to give people with spinal injuries the ability to walk again, but not the way he was going about it. Still, the man who discovered the cure would be rich beyond his wildest dreams. I guess that's a pretty good motive for murder."
"Money usually is," he said. He took a forkful of spaghetti. As usual, his wife's cooking was considerably better than the food at any of the places he'd frequented while still a bachelor, and outclassed his own feeble efforts by miles.
"This is great," he said. "If I wasn't already married to you I might ask you again, after a dinner like this."
She looked innocent. "You mean you just married me for my cooking skills?"
"Not on your life," he told her. "That was just a nice bonus. So," he added, "other than your husband being turned into a superman, how was your day?"
She giggled slightly. "Other than that? Pretty normal, I guess. Things are never routine on a rehab unit, you know. Old Mr. Brown was being uncooperative again. He says trying to walk on his new artificial hip hurts, and of course it does, but if he wants to walk again he's going to have to work at it. His wife came in while he was making a fuss and told him not to be a crybaby. They got into an argument and I heard her tell him that sex was out unless he could manage to walk around on his own, because she wasn't going to treat him like a baby one minute and like a husband the next. She must be seventy- five years old, but you know, it worked! I never saw anybody change his attitude so fast!"
Henderson snorted. "She sounds like a swinging little old lady."
"She really is. I like her," Sue agreed. "Anyway, he sulked a little, but he didn't argue after that. If he keeps working at it like he did today he'll be out of the unit in a week. Two at the most."
He grinned. "I guess I can understand his enthusiasm."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "You men are all alike."
"And aren't you glad we are?"
"Of course I am," she said, placidly. "Anyway, that was pretty much the highlight of the day. The little girl who started last week is making progress, too. She's beginning to develop more upper body strength."
"That's the one who was in the car wreck, right?"
"That's right. Superman saved her life, but she'd had nerve damage in the lower spine." She shook her head. "For a while they thought she might regain some motion in her legs, but now ..."
"Yeah." Henderson sighed. "You can see why the Quigley case stirred up so much emotion. He was trying to find a cure for tragedies like that -- but how he was going about it was ..." He paused, groping for the right word.
"Ghastly," his wife said, leaving no room for doubt.
"That's about it," he said. "I know we cops aren't supposed to get emotionally involved in our cases, but sometimes it's hard not to."
"Bill, I wouldn't have fallen in love with you if you didn't care," she said. "I know you can't let it show on the job, but I can still see it. It's what makes you so good at your work."
It was funny, he thought, how Sue had seen straight through his carefully maintained poker face right from the start. They had met during one of his investigations nearly two years ago and been married six months later. Now he couldn't understand how he'd managed before she came along. He guessed that was the effect a good wife had on a man. He'd taken a lot of ribbing from the guys at the Precinct over it, too, but he noticed that every one of them had shown up at the wedding.
When they had finished eating and cleared the table, he sent her into the living room. "You've been on your feet all day. Go watch TV or read or something. I'll take care of the dishes."
"You've had a hard day, too," she protested.
"Yeah, but it doesn't feel like it," he said. "I think that might be because of the powers. Go on and sit down. I'll be there in a few minutes."
When she had gone, he cleared the stove, stored the leftovers, scraped the dishes into the garbage disposal and loaded the dishwasher. As he finished sweeping the floor he glanced around to see Sue standing in the doorway watching him with a wide-eyed expression on her face.
"What?" he asked.
"When you said a few minutes you meant it, didn't you?" she said.
"Bill, you were moving so fast you looked like one of those movies in fast forward!"
"Oh. I was practicing," he admitted, sheepishly. "I don't know how long the powers are going to last, so I need to be sure I can manage them."
"You're doing pretty well," she said. "That was amazing!"
"I think I'm starting to get a handle on them," he said. "I haven't broken anything since this afternoon."
"That's reassuring," she said. "You know, this could be a very good thing," she added in the voice that he had learned meant that she'd just had what she thought was a brilliant idea.
"Oh?" he said, cautiously.
"Uh huh. I've been wanting to rearrange the living room furniture for a couple of weeks but I couldn't figure out how to move the piano. This is going to make it a lot easier, and you can practice at the same time."
He grinned wryly. "Why aren't I surprised? Okay, honey, I'm at your service ..."
Bill Henderson woke suddenly and completely. Sleeping on the couch wasn't something he was used to anymore, although he'd fallen asleep on the sofa plenty of times while he was still single.
The living room light was out and he could hear Sue breathing in the bedroom. For several moments he listened intently, trying to decide what had awakened him.
From outside he could hear the scream of sirens, but he was aware now that they were some miles away. Still, there were a lot of them. Something pretty big must be going on.
Quietly, he crossed the room to the kitchen and turned Sue's radio on very low. Country music came from the speaker and he adjusted the dial, searching for a news station.
" ... Fire at Metro General is raging out of control," the newscaster's voice said. "Now would be the time for us all to shout 'Help, Superman', but the Man of Steel is still in Japan ..."
Henderson was already moving. The hospital was on fire and the people needed a superman. It looked as if he was the only game in town.
He hurried into the bedroom and shook his wife's shoulder. "Sue!" he whispered.
She opened her eyes. "Bill? What's wrong?"
"There's a fire at the hospital! I'm going over to see if I can help." He opened his dresser drawer and yanked out a pair of black jeans and a black shirt.
She was instantly awake. "What if people recognize you?"
"It doesn't matter. I'll be careful, but I can't let people burn to death if I can help."
She sat up. "I have an idea. Put on that ski mask you wore when we went up to Vermont for our honeymoon. Then if anyone sees you they won't recognize you. It's in your socks drawer."
As usual, her advice was right on target. The ski mask was tucked into the corner of the drawer. He shook it out and pulled it over his face. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
She nodded. "Go."
He kissed her hurriedly and ran out of the room.
When he went out the door he headed instinctively for his car and stopped. It would take forever to get to the fire in the car, even though they would probably let him past the roadblocks -- assuming he took off his ski mask -- but on foot he could probably make it in less than a minute. An instant later he was running, striving for ever more speed, even as he moved faster than anything had ever moved on the face of the planet except for Superman, himself.
Aware now of exactly what he was doing, it was fascinating to watch his surroundings as he crossed half the city in the blink of an eye. He didn't feel any different, but everything around him seemed to slow down. Cars appeared to be frozen in place, people were poised with both feet in the air in the middle of a step; he even saw stoplights that were in the process of changing from red to green and he could see how the colors of the old one hadn't completely faded while the new one was in the process of coming on.
It wasn't just his physical body that had speeded up, he realized, but his mental processes as well. His thoughts. Everything. It was a little mind-boggling if he let himself think about it too much.
The hospital was ahead. He wove his way through the mob of fire vehicles and emergency personnel as if they were literally standing still. He could see hospital employees and ambulatory patients who were apparently milling about behind the fire lines, uncertain of what to do, and people on litters and gurneys in the process of being transported by anyone at all, even other patients. Streams of water from fire hoses were directed at the flames that were engulfing one entire wing. He could hear screams from trapped people still inside.
He came to a sudden stop under the branches of one of the trees that decorated the hospital grounds. Standing back in the shadows, he trained his x-ray vision on the building, willing himself to see through the layers of concrete and steel to the interior.
The barriers melted away before him and he saw at once where the cries were coming from. A small group of personnel and patients had attempted to escape the flames that swept through their ward by retreating through a short, narrow hallway, but now smoke and fire also blocked the other end. They had closed the doors at both ends in a vain attempt to keep out the flames and there was nothing to burn where they were, but there was also nowhere to go. They had minutes to live, as the heat and smoke were reaching critical levels.
He glanced down at himself and around at the furiously working fire fighters. No one could know that this group was where it was, and even if they did, no one would be able to reach them in time. It was up to him.
"Bill, old boy," he muttered to himself, "you'd better hope you've got the whole batch of powers because you're about to stake your life on them."
He took a deep breath and moved.
He raced forward faster than the eye could follow, past the fire lines, aiming for a spot as close as possible to the trapped people. For an instant he paused below a second floor window, bent his knees and thrust upward as hard as he could.
Someone behind him shouted but he paid no attention as he sailed upward like an arrow shot into the air and grasped the windowsill with both hands.
A blast of heat hit him in the face as he hoisted himself effortlessly through the window, but hot as it was, it didn't burn him at all. His eyes didn't even tear up. He had been right. He was as invulnerable as Superman.
He paused for an instant, glaring around with his x-ray vision, orienting himself. The trapped people were in the narrow section thirty yards ahead and branching off to his left. The whole main hallway was blazing, and he was going to have to walk through fire to reach it ...
Time for another test of Superman's powers. He inhaled deeply, sucking in more smoke than oxygen, but it didn't matter. Henderson blew out hard, exactly as he might to cool off a bowl of steaming soup, but with much more force.
He couldn't believe the results. The fire nearest him went out like it had been doused with a waterfall, and a thin coat of frost, melting quickly, covered every surface. Steam filled the air around him. Emboldened, he hurried twenty feet down the corridor and repeated the action. Less than a minute later, he stood in a steam-filled corridor outside the door that had been his target.
The billowing steam around him was warm, there was no question of that, but not hot enough to burn human flesh, and his time was limited. The fire had been beaten back temporarily but it wouldn't last. He pulled on the door.
It was locked. He set his jaw and exerted strength on the knob. There was a satisfying crunch, and the knob turned easily under his hand. He yanked the door open.
Muted cries and muffled sobbing met his ears. Two women in the uniforms of nurses or attendants were attempting to calm four patients, none of whom could be more than sixteen. Henderson could feel the heat in the room, and a quick look with his x-ray vision showed the space on the other side of the rear door to be engulfed in fire.
"Come on!" he commanded. "This way out -- hurry!"
They gaped at him and he smothered exasperation at the precious seconds that were ticking away.
"Who are you?" one of the women asked, obviously taken aback by his masked face.
"A friend. Come with me if you want to get out of here!" he commanded.
The other woman moved to help one of the teenage patients up from the floor, obviously deciding that going with him was safer than staying. Henderson stepped forward, lifted the boy effortlessly from the floor and jerked his head. "Follow me."
They stepped out into the hallway, still obscured with a haze of smoke and steam. From the far end he could see the lick of flames once again approaching, and with it a cloud of thick, black smoke wafting toward them.
One of the teenagers hesitated. "We're gonna be burned alive," he whispered.
"There's a window that way." Henderson pointed with the fingers of the hand that supported his burden's knees. "Hurry!"
"I can't!" The speaker was the one girl in the group. Henderson glanced back at the approaching flames, drew in his breath once more and blew out freezing air.
More flames went out. He turned to the group. "Go!"
This time they obeyed. He brought up the rear with his burden.
One of the teenagers peered out at the massed fire fighters. "How are we gonna get out?"
"Wait for me." Henderson put one leg over the windowsill, glancing at them. This would reveal to them beyond doubt what he was, but if he wanted to save their lives he didn't have a choice. Besides, after that demonstration they'd probably figure it out anyway, if they hadn't already. He swung the other leg over. It was too bad he hadn't mastered flying yet, but ...
Well, why not try? The very worst he could do was fall, and he wouldn't be hurt, nor would his passenger. His x-ray vision worked when he concentrated on wanting it to work. Hopefully, that was the secret behind the flying as well.
He slipped over the sill, concentrating hard on maintaining his height in the air, and very suddenly the feeling of gravity was gone. He was standing on nothing, taking the teenage boy with him. The ease of it would have been stunning if he hadn't had a much more important project on which to focus. He wanted himself to fly forward, and his body obeyed, sailing quickly in the direction that he literally willed himself to go. His feet touched the grass and he set the boy down.
Fire fighters and several uniformed police officers were surging toward him. From somewhere he heard shouts, and out of the corner of his eye he could see a news van. Oh well, the secret was out. He might as well put on a good show. Quickly he launched himself back in the direction of the window, moving faster now.
The remaining five persons were waiting, and he reached through the window, grasping a teenager in each arm. "Put your arms around my neck!" he commanded.
They obeyed unquestioningly. An instant later he had deposited them on the grass and was on the final trip.
The last three were the two hospital employees and one remaining patient. He reached through the window for the boy, and spoke to the women. "Grab me around the neck, one of you. Quick."
The younger woman hesitated. Henderson spoke sharply, using the voice he had cultivated as a cop to bring obedience from others. "Hurry! I'm going to take all three of you. Grab hold and hang on!"
The younger woman grasped him around the neck and he swung her onto his back. "You mind a piggy back ride?" he asked over his shoulder, reaching out for the other woman. She shook her head and tightened her grip enough to strangle an ordinary man. Henderson pulled the second woman against his side, holding both her and the boy with one arm around each waist. As smoothly as possible, he lowered them to the grass some distance from the rescue personnel.
One newsman tried to break through the police barrier to rush toward him. A uniformed officer whom he recognized as one of the new graduates from the Police Academy, who had recently been assigned to his Precinct, snagged the enterprising fellow by his collar as Henderson set his teenage burden down. One of the rescued women sat down hard on the ground, obviously too shaken to stand, but the other turned to him. "Thanks," she whispered.
"You're welcome," he said, automatically.
"Excuse me, sir." The very respectful voice was from a fire fighter who was standing behind him. Henderson turned.
"The Chief would like to see you, sir. He'd like your help. Can you tell if there's anyone else in there?"
Henderson turned to stare in the direction of the hospital. "Not in the burning area. Where's your Chief?"
"Over there, sir."
Henderson strode over toward Fire Chief Walters, making sure that his ski mask was firmly in place. The man was looking at him with an expression on his face that Henderson couldn't quite interpret. "You wanted to see me?"
The fire chief nodded. "You're not Superman, but you're a superman aren't you? Like him and Ultra Woman?"
"Yeah, I am."
"We're having trouble reaching some areas of the fire. There's a lot of volatile chemicals stored in there, and --"
"What do you want me to do?"
It was nearly four-thirty when the fire fighters at last had the flames under control. Henderson stuck around until he was certain that the rest of the job was just a routine mop-up and soared up into the air, disappearing into the darkness, leaving behind, he was certain, an excited and frustrated mass of journalists. He had been aware at the times when he spoke to Walters that a dozen or more news cameras were trained on him, and he was careful to hold himself stiffly and to keep his replies as brief as possible. Mostly he had simply obeyed the orders of the Chief.
Now, rocketing toward home through the night, he experienced a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. He had saved the lives of six people tonight, people whose futures would have been snuffed out without his intervention. It would be interesting to see what the media had to say about him. In any case, Metropolis knew it had a new superhero, at least for now.
Their small, fenced back yard was unlighted and provided a perfect landing spot. He could hear the television in their living room, so he surmised that Sue was awake and waiting for him. Gently, he knocked on the back door.
Sue must have been listening for him, he realized a moment later, for she didn't look in the least surprised when she opened the door and let him in. For a moment they simply stared at each other.
He pulled off his mask. "Well," he said, "that went a little differently than I expected."
"You were on television," she said. "I watched you rescue those people. You were amazing."
"All I did was the same things Superman has done for years," he said. "They're his powers, after all."
"I know, but it wasn't Superman saving people tonight," she said. "It was you. I think Superman would be proud of what you did. I sure am."
"I figured out a few things anyway," he said.
"I saw you flying," she said.
"Well, yes, but that isn't all." Henderson grinned, leading the way back into the living room where an announcer spoke excitedly from the television, and he could see an image of himself soaring through the air, bringing out the last three people from the fire.
Watching it and the subsequent images that showed him in action, he saw that the effect of the black clothing and the ski mask had been all that he could have desired. They hadn't been able to get a clear picture of him, and that was exactly how he wanted it. Let him stay a mystery.
"What did you figure out?" Sue asked.
"I don't break things, even when I'm not thinking about it," he said. "I didn't have time to concentrate on being too careful while I was getting those people out of the building, but I didn't hurt anyone. I still can't afford to get careless, but I think it's going to be all right."
"Are you coming to bed with me?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Give me another day to be sure. I don't want to take the slightest risk, but I think I can stop worrying before long."
"Good," she said, emphatically. "I've gotten out of the habit of sleeping alone."
He kissed her. "So have I." He drew back and wiped away a black smudge that he had unintentionally deposited on her cheek. "I think I'd better take a shower."
She grinned unexpectedly. "Better let me have those clothes. We don't want any black clothing of yours to show up covered with soot. I'll throw it in the washer."
"You should get back to bed," Henderson said. "You need your rest, and I can run a washing machine as well as you can."
"I have tomorrow off," Sue told him. "I'm too excited to sleep right now, anyway. Go take your shower and I'll start the washer as soon as you're done."
Aware that he wasn't going to win this one, Henderson did as he was told.
In spite of the extremely short night, Henderson was alert and rested when the alarm went off at six. He showered and readied himself for breakfast, but ran into an unexpected snag -- one that he should have expected, he thought, given what he had already learned about his newly acquired gifts. Sue, lured into the bathroom by a mild imprecation, found him scowling into the mirror, holding his razor in his hand.
"What's the matter?"
"How the devil do I shave? I just broke my razor blade!"
"Well, how does Superman shave? He grows a beard, too. I've noticed he has a five- o'clock shadow in some of the close-ups they've taken of him."
Sue poked him in the ribs. "You can't expect a girl to be blind," she pointed out. "Besides, it was before I met you."
"Oh. I guess in that case, it's okay," he conceded grudgingly.
"And you never looked at an attractive woman?" Sue demanded, one eyebrow up. "If you try to tell me you haven't ..."
He let a faint grin break through. "Point made. Don't kill me, honey."
"As if I could! Now, back to your beard. How do you suppose Superman shaves? I can't see him using an ordinary razor."
"Neither can I. The same thing that happened to mine would happen to his."
"Well, if that's so, then he doesn't use a razor. What does he use?"
"I suppose he could use some kind of super-strong metal razor blade," Henderson said, doubtfully.
"Where would he get it? And for that matter, how does he cut his hair?"
"I have no idea," Henderson said. "What am I going to do? I can't go to work like this."
"Sure you can," Sue answered. "Blame it on me."
"Tell anybody who asks that I've been wanting to see you with a beard and you decided to humor me. Men do all kinds of strange things to make their wives happy. Nobody will think anything of it."
She had a point. "You're sure you don't mind?"
"Of course not. Why would I mind? And when Superman gets back from Japan you can ask him how he manages -- and ask him how the heck you managed to get his super powers, while you're at it. I'd like to know, just for my peace of mind."
"Well, Waldecker and that little kid never knew, and Superman didn't know about the kid, either," Henderson pointed out.
"Oh, I know, but maybe he just didn't want to tell anybody." Sue ran a finger lightly over the coating of bristles on his chin. "You know, it is kind of sexy, now that I'm thinking about it."
He snorted. "I'll never understand women, but I guess I don't need to. We'll talk more about this when I get home. What are your plans for the day?"
"I thought I'd go shopping for some of the things we're going to need in about three months, and after that I was going to have lunch with my sister."
"Sounds like a good program. Too bad we couldn't have both days off together this week, but criminals don't take Saturdays off, so cops can't either." Henderson laid the unused razor on the counter. "I guess I'm about done here, since I can't shave."
"Go ahead and get dressed," Sue told him. "I'll have breakfast ready in a few minutes." She ran a finger over his chin again and made a faint growling sound. "I hope Superman gets back soon."
"Me, too." He patted her rounded belly. "I don't know what it is, but the farther along you get ..."
Sue laughed. "Don't tempt me. How does bacon and eggs sound?"
The Precinct looked like its usual self when he walked in the door, although he felt a little self-conscious. It wasn't the first time he'd shown up unshaven at his place of work but those other times had been as a much younger, undercover officer when he had been working Vice. From the back room he could hear the television going and recognized the voice of the LNN announcer. They were, he realized, showing the video from the night before of the new superhero who had rescued the trapped victims of last night's fire. Three or four members of the Precinct were standing around the set, drinking their morning coffee and watching the coverage.
"Hey, Bill, did you see this?" It was Norma Randall, who had been stuck with desk duty while she recovered from a sprained ankle, secured one night last week when she fell over a tricycle during her pursuit of a robbery suspect through a middle-class neighborhood.
"Yeah, this morning," he said. "Have they found out anything more?"
"Nope. The guy just vanished after he helped put out the fire," she said. "Looks like Superman has a new stand-in."
"If the guy doesn't turn out to be like that Vixen gal last year." That was Dan, the janitor, who had paused in his duties to watch the report.
"Nah." The speaker was Harriet, the night dispatcher. She drained her coffee cup and tossed the Styrofoam container into the nearest trashcan. "I don't believe it. The report I saw last night said he pulled those six trapped people out and then followed the fire chief's orders. Sounds to me like the city's picked up another Boy Scout. Always room for one more is what I say. Besides, Vixen was a robot. This guy isn't. Robots don't fly." She turned toward the door. "I'm ready for a good day's sleep. What happened to you?" she added as she passed Henderson. "Forget to shave?"
"You don't want to know," he said.
"You're right, I don't," she agreed, picking up her purse. "'Night all."
"Night," Henderson said, absently. He made his way to his office without encountering anyone else who seemed to notice his unshaven condition and surveyed his desk chair thoughtfully. That was something he needed to get rid of. The chair's broken, twisted arm might very well make someone think, given the appearance of the new super hero. It might not be too likely, he acknowledged, but it was a possibility that hadn't occurred to him before. Kent probably had to stay on his toes all the time to avoid leaving unintentional evidence. On the other hand, possibly not. He must have learned years ago to control his powers and probably didn't leave clues scattered around for others to find and connect with his civilian identity.
Quietly, he picked up the chair and checked with his x-ray vision to ascertain that the hallway was clear. The morning briefing was going on and the day's routine was getting underway, which left him a clear field. Quickly, he opened the door and made his way to the rear of the station to dispose of the telltale item in the dumpster half a block away. Returning at super speed, he re-entered the building and strolled back to his office, appropriating a chair from the area of the lockers on his way past.
This super-speed thing could be pretty convenient, he thought as he booted up his office computer. If he did it right, he could make it appear that Henderson and the black masked superman were in two different places at almost the same time, as he was quite sure that Kent did. Looking back over his five-year acquaintance with the reporter, he could think of incidents when Kent had appeared on the scene instants after Superman had departed, leading everyone to assume that they were two different people. There was no reason he couldn't use the same trick to guard Sue's and his privacy. The last thing he wanted anyone to realize was that he and the new superman were one and the same. It could very well make his wife a target, and he wouldn't risk her safety for anything. It must be a real relief for Kent right now that Lois was super-powered as well. Whoever had sent that death threat was going to have a very difficult time carrying it out.
Speaking of which ...
He pressed a tab on his office intercom. "Hey, Joan, any word from Olsen on that email threat against Lane?"
"Not yet, sir," Joan's voice said, "but there's been another development."
"Yes, sir. The Planet's editor called about an hour ago. They've had another one. He said that he was going to forward it to you, so you may have it by now."
"Thanks; I'll check it out." Henderson called up his email. Amid the advertisements for hair-restorer, sexual aids and debt consolidation loans, which he summarily deleted, Perry White's email stood out.
The text of the forwarded message was simple: "Meddlesome reporters deserve what they get. Lois Lane won't live to testify."
He studied the message for several seconds and punched the intercom again. "Joan, get me Perry White at the Daily Planet."
The sky was clear and dotted with stars as Superman and Ultra Woman flashed upward from the city of Kyoto, Japan. Behind them, the emergency services were mopping up the results of the massive quake that had kept the two superheroes busy for many grueling hours, but now their job was done. The rest could be left to the people of Kyoto to repair and rebuild their city in their own way and time.
As the waters of the Pacific Ocean rushed past beneath and the two superheroes flew east to meet the sunrise, Clark glanced at his wife. It had been a new experience, working with someone else who had the same super powers as he did. Logically, they should have been twice as effective, but he thought that working together as they had, they had done a great deal more than that. It was true that Lois had possessed super powers for a short time two years ago, but at the same time he had been powerless and had been forced to watch from the sidelines. This had been completely different. Still, hadn't it always been true that when the two of them worked together they were a team that was far more than the sum of its parts?
"We make a pretty good team," Lois said suddenly, voicing his unspoken thought.
"We always did," he said. "It doesn't surprise me in the least."
"I guess it shouldn't," she said, "but I never saw Ultra Woman as being a hero equal to Superman. I guess he's just larger than life."
"So is Ultra Woman," he said. He reached out and took her hand as he spoke. "We didn't stop being equal partners just because you suddenly have my powers, you know. You did great."
"I had a great teacher," she said.
"So, is Ultra Woman going to continue her career when we get back to Metropolis?" he asked.
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit," he said. "I think it'll be terrific. Besides, Ultra Woman is still the sexiest woman that Superman ever met."
She laughed. "You're on then, pal. Besides, Superman is the sexiest guy Ultra Woman ever knew."
"Sounds like this could be the beginning of a great relationship," Clark said. He pointed. "There's the coast of California ahead. Want to make a short stop in Kansas to see Mom and Dad?"
"Clark, it's barely seven in the morning there!"
"And your point is? Mom and Dad have been up since five. Maybe we can get some breakfast."
"I'd love some of Martha's cooking," Lois admitted, "if you think they won't mind."
"Then Superman and Ultra Woman will make a short detour to Kansas," he said. "Of course they won't mind. These are my parents we're talking about."
As they spoke, they flew over breakers and Clark looked down to see several surfers already at the business of the coming day. Surfing by moonlight? Well, this was Southern California, after all. They crossed the line from water to land and flew over sandy beaches that gave onto highways and ultimately to the buildings of a vast city. Los Angeles, like Metropolis, never really slept. There were already -- or still -- cars on the freeways, bumper to bumper, and tall buildings lit up like Christmas trees. The workday was already underway.
They flew eastward and left the city behind. On the horizon, the rising sun turned the sky red and gold, illuminating the landscape in pink light. They soared over the Sierra Nevada and continued on over Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. The sky grew progressively brighter until it was full day and they were flying over the vast plains of the American Southwest. Within minutes they could see the grain fields of the Midwest, and Clark altered their course toward Kansas and his parents' farm.
"Looks like they're up all right," he remarked as they slanted downward toward the farmhouse. He pointed at the tiny figure of his father crossing the yard from the barn. As he spoke, Jonathan Kent looked up and waved.
As they touched down in the yard, Martha flung open the door. Clark became a spinning tornado, and after a second's hesitation Lois followed his example. When they came to a stop Jonathan was laughing. "You've sure got that down," he said to Lois.
Martha had come to a stop a few feet away. "I knew it!" she said. "How did it happen?"
"Clark got hit by lightning," Lois said. "He was touching me at the time, and --" She held out her hands. "Voila! Ultra Woman is back."
"That's wonderful!" Martha said. "It happened just in time, too -- with that awful quake in Japan. But ..." She hesitated. "Have you seen the news since last night?"
"No," Clark said. "We've been pretty busy. Why?"
"Well -- there's been an interesting news report from Metropolis," she explained. "Something happened last night, and it's all over the television today."
"What kind of report?" Clark asked.
Martha looked at her husband. "Why don't you two come in and have some breakfast," she suggested. "We'll turn on the news and you can see for yourselves."
Clark glanced at Lois, who shrugged. A suspicion was tugging at the back of his mind, but he said nothing as they followed Jonathan and Martha into the house.
"The news commentators were all talking about it when I turned on the TV to get the weather report this morning," Martha said. She switched on the little thirteen-inch set that graced her kitchen. "I guess it must have been around two or three in the morning on the East Coast. There was a big fire at a hospital in Metropolis and they were having trouble getting it under control. At first, I was a little surprised that a hospital fire would make the news, but ..." She waved at the picture. "There it is again. They've been replaying the pictures all morning and I guess every news service in the city is going crazy trying to figure out who he was." She went to her cupboard and removed cups and saucers. "Coffee?"
Clark nodded absently, his attention riveted by the pictures of the fire at Metro General and of the image of the black-clad and ski-masked man who flew back and forth, rescuing six persons from the second floor of the Pediatric wing. His rescue finished, the cameras zoomed on him as he spoke with the fire chief and then quite obviously followed the man's instructions, helping the fire services to put out the flames. He glanced at Lois.
Lois gave a soft laugh as the cameras followed the mystery man's departure. "Now that is a bunch of frustrated news hawks if I ever saw them. It figures. He never did have much use for the media."
Clark couldn't help but grin. "I guess you're thinking what I'm thinking," he said. "I think the question we were wondering about is moot now."
"That's pretty obvious. It looks like he figured things out fast, too," she said. "That was a good job. Don't tell him I said that, though."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Clark said. "I guess Superman needs to drop by his office when we get back home."
"You know who it is?" his mother asked as she poured coffee.
Clark sounded slightly resigned, even to himself. "Let's say I can make a pretty good guess," he said.
"I guess you're not going to tell us, either," Jonathan said.
"Not unless he says it's okay," Lois said. "It wouldn't be right. Oh brother! Of all the people for this to happen to. Do you suppose he figured out how he got your powers?"
"Well, as you've pointed out quite a few times," Clark said, "he's pretty smart. At least we know we can trust him. I imagine he'd like to have a few words with Superman, though. There are probably some things he'd like some help with."
"I can think of a few," Lois said. "I wonder if he intends to go on wearing that ski mask."
"I would," Clark said. "He's pretty recognizable. And I just can't see convincing him to wear spandex."
The thought was apparently too much for Lois. She broke into giggles that had a slightly hysterical edge. "Ski Mask Man?" she spluttered. "Man in Black?"
"This isn't a movie," Clark informed her with mock-severity. "No ray guns or aliens that look like dogs, or man-eating cockroaches, either. If I were him I'd keep a low profile. At least he won't be the only super hero in town. I'd love to see what the Whisper will be saying about him, though."
Martha Kent laughed. "It sounds like life in Metropolis is going to be more interesting than ever," she said. "How about some breakfast?"
"I wouldn't mind that at all," Clark said. "Would it be all right if I took a quick ten second shower while you're getting it ready? I could use one after the last fifteen hours."
"So could I," Lois said. "Save me some hot water."
"Go right ahead, honey," his mother said. "Would you like waffles or eggs and bacon this morning? Or both?"
"I'm still working on it, Mr. Henderson," Jimmy Olsen's voice said over the phone. "I've traced it back to a server in England. I think that was the first one he routed it through after Metropolis. This second one might help me pinpoint it a little better; you never know. If I figure anything out I'll call you right away."
"You do that, kid. Whoever this guy is, he means business."
"Yeah, you told me what happened." Olsen's voice sounded subdued. "Lois was all right, wasn't she? I haven't heard from her or CK all day."
"Lane said something about taking the weekend off," Henderson said, mendaciously. "Maybe they went out of town for a couple of days."
"Yeah, maybe." The young newsman seemed to accept the explanation. "Anyway, I'll keep working. Y'know, I wonder if whoever this is has some kind of a personal stake in it or something -- besides just money, I mean."
"You never know," Henderson said. "Um -- Olsen, I wonder if you could do me a favor, if you have the time."
"Kent tells me you're the best researcher he knows. Can you dig me up some more information on Quigley's associates? We can do it from here but it will probably take a lot longer than it would you. We're dealing with more than one criminal case, you know."
"Sure." Henderson was sure he heard a laugh in the young man's voice. "I'll do a standard in-depth background on them for you. Maybe it will turn up something you can use."
"Thanks, kid; I appreciate it."
"You're welcome, Mr. Henderson. Bye."
Henderson hung up but remained staring at the phone for several seconds. Olsen might be young but Kent seemed to think he was a pretty bright kid and, although he would never have said so, he had always had a good deal of respect for Kent's opinion, even before he had guessed the truth about him. Maybe Olsen would be able to find some kind of connection other than just a business one.
He glanced at his watch. He'd planned on visiting Mrs. Broadbent this morning to see how she was feeling after the mugging in the park yesterday evening, and she should be up by now. Then he had to call the guy who was handling the arrangements for the Law Enforcement Tribute to Superman. Maybe, he thought, today would be reasonably quiet. Usually when he thought something like that things went crazy within an hour, but hope sprang eternal. He left his office and headed for his car.
Later, he would remember his prophecy.
Mrs. Broadbent was gratifyingly happy to see him and insisted that he come in and sit down while she served him a cup of coffee and home-made coffee cakes in her little apartment. Two of her neighbors showed up during the visit and joined the impromptu coffee klatch. Henderson left half an hour later with a foil-wrapped piece of Mrs. Broadbent's cake, sent specifically by the old lady for his wife, and the heartfelt thanks of all three senior citizens. He climbed back into his car feeling surprisingly good. He was beginning to understand what drove Superman. Kent had an extraordinary power to help that hadn't been granted to other people. It was the same reason that Henderson had become a cop in the first place. The simple gratitude of Mrs. Broadbent somehow brought it all into focus.
He pulled onto the Seaside Expressway and headed back toward the Precinct. A glance at his watch told him that it was nearly nine. He still had to make that call to Levitt and then he needed to check on the progress of the investigation of the shooting yesterday.
A black and green Ford sedan cut sharply in front of him, making him brake quickly. The car pressed forward, tailgating a bus lumbering along in the lane twenty feet ahead, cut right in front of a minivan, and then dodged around the SUV in the lane to his left. Free of the obstructions to its passage, the vehicle accelerated away at a good eighty-five miles per hour, or he was no judge. And it was gaining speed every second.
In his rearview mirror he saw flashing blue lights. Two cop cars tore past in pursuit of the fleeing sedan. As he watched, the radio erupted in the voice of a police officer. Henderson stared after the car for a split second and then reacted.
He signaled and moved into the right lane. An exit was coming up and he took it as fast as he could manage. If he moved quickly, the driver of that car wouldn't have the chance to get far. Hit and run drivers were a particular peeve of his. This car fit the description of a car that had hit a toddler at an intersection fifteen minutes before. The child was apparently on the way to the hospital, but the driver had taken off like a jackrabbit.
Henderson left the off ramp and turned right onto Orchard. A block down was a vacant lot and he pulled into it, cutting the engine as he braked to a stop beside a broken-down storage shed. An instant later, he was in the air.
He left a sonic boom shaking windows behind him as he made his way back to the expressway. Listening for them, he found that he could hear the reports being made by the pursuing police cars, which had now increased to seven, plus three motorcycle cops. The driver was still fleeing, apparently cutting back and forth through traffic to the imminent peril of other drivers. Somewhere, someone was ordering all the nearby patrol cars to the vicinity to try to head off the panicked quarry.
This had all the potential for a disaster, he thought. A driver who had lost his head and fled the scene of a hit and run, now trying desperately to escape the pursuing police ... It was time for him to intervene.
Flying faster than the cars could possibly hope to move he saw the chase in the distance and a moment later was overhead. A quick check with his x-ray vision showed him a young man behind the wheel, and when he concentrated he could hear the frantic thumping of his heart. The driver was in a blind panic, which was a recipe for a major accident.
He angled downward. With a single grab he planted his hands on the front bumper and pushed.
The car began to slow. He heard the screeching tires as the driver's foot continued to shove the accelerator to the floorboard, but to no avail. Bringing the car to a stop, he could smell the stench of burning rubber. The tires continued to spin, but he was holding the vehicle in place without much effort at all.
Police cars screeched to a halt around them. The driver's door popped open and the suspect started to flee, but a motorcycle officer had leaped from his cycle and pursued him on foot. The young driver got perhaps twenty feet before being tackled.
Henderson released the car, walked around to the driver's side and turned off the engine. As he straightened up, one of the men who had arrived by car approached. He stopped several feet away and cleared his throat. "Uh ..."
"Can I help you, Officer?" Henderson made his voice as mild as possible.
"Um ... I just wanted to say thanks. That kid was gonna kill somebody the way he was driving."
"Not to mention himself," Henderson said, unable to keep the dryness out of his voice. "You're welcome."
Moments later he was stepping back into his parked car. As he started the engine he listened to the radio, to the comments flying back and forth, and smiled at some of the names his co-workers were dubbing on him. He guessed he'd have to come up with some kind of official name if his powers stuck around for very long. How long had that Jesse kid had his powers? About a year? He'd have to check on that with Superman the next time he saw him as well. He pulled out of the vacant lot and turned onto a surface street that would lead him eventually back to the Precinct. Trying to work his way past the traffic jam that he had seen on the expressway would take hours and he didn't have the time to waste this morning.
Little did he know. He had just finished his call to Levitt regarding the tribute to Superman when his own police scanner burst into speech, reporting a hostage situation on the fifth floor of the building that had been LexTower. Still a center for business and trade after its founder's fall from grace it was now known as the Metropolitan Commerce Center. The report said that a disgruntled employee was holding the President of Granholm and North Investments, as well as several of his staff, hostage in the man's office. Police negotiators were on their way.
Henderson got to his feet. He really had to talk to Kent and ask how he got any work done with his Superman duties interfering with his work schedule this way. As an afterthought, he took the report that he had intended to read with him to his car. Maybe he would have a few seconds after he dealt with this latest crisis to actually read the progress report before a plane decided to crash or something and his presence was required again.
He emerged from the office of Granholm and North with the gunman tucked firmly under one arm. Police converged on him and relieved him of his prisoner, then went on to the former hostages. Henderson took off in a burst of speed, intending to return inconspicuously to his car. Instead, he found himself suddenly accompanied by Superman, who was keeping pace with him without effort through the air. A glance to the other side showed him the pink-clad form of Ultra Woman.
"Hi," she said, brightly.
"It's about time you got back!" Henderson growled.
"Oh?" Ultra Woman said, innocently. "From the news reports, you seem to have handled things pretty well while we were gone."
Up this close, with what he had already guessed, he could see the resemblance of Ultra Woman to Lois Lane, and her voice was unmistakable, especially with the note of unholy amusement that lurked in it. He turned to Superman. "How the devil do you shave?"
"Is that the reason for the ski mask?" Lois asked.
"You're wearing a mask, too," he pointed out, a little irritably. "I've got a wife, and a kid on the way. The last thing I need is a bunch of media pests sticking cameras in my bedroom window."
"Congratulations," Superman said. "I didn't know."
"Thanks," Henderson said. "So, you got any pointers for me?"
"Actually," Superman said, and Henderson saw a faint grin twitch the corners of his mouth, "I do. Do you have time right now, or should I make an appointment for this afternoon?"
Henderson pushed up the sleeve of his black shirt to check his watch. "I'm off at four. Where should I meet you?"
"How about by the Century Tree in the Metropolis National Forest?" Superman said. "We need to find a place without anyone around, if you want to practice."
"I'll be there at four-fifteen," Henderson said.
"Oh yes," Superman said. "Bring a mirror."
"Whatever you say. Now, I have a report to read," he said. "Don't be late."
It was at that instant that the sound of multiple sirens assaulted his ears. "Now what?"
"Chain reaction accident on the Bayview Parkway," Superman said. "We'll take care of it. You're still on duty."
"I'd better come along," Henderson said. "It doesn't sound good."
It was some two hours later when they finally finished helping the paramedics and the police rescue victims of the accident. Henderson alternated with the super-couple, ripping open crushed vehicles and flying victims to the emergency room. Sometime during the confusion, he managed to find the time to call in to the Precinct and inform them that he was trapped in heavy traffic at the site of the accident and would be returning when he could.
Half an hour into the relief operations the representatives of the media showed up, although how they had made it through the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam he had no idea, and he was aware that the cameras were trained on him and Ultra Woman as they worked. He was only grateful to the motorcycle cops that restrained the eager news hawks from rushing into the accident scene itself.
It was past noon when they finished. Superman jerked a thumb at the journalists and their cameras now converging on the three of them. "You want to deal with them yet?"
"I'd rather wait until after I've had a chance to talk to you about this."
"I figured that. Go on. We'll handle them."
"Thanks." Henderson took off, aware of wails of anguish issuing from the mob of media. A glance down as he shot away through the air showed him Superman and Ultra Woman engulfed in the swarm of journalists, and he found himself grateful to the Man of Steel and his wife for their willingness to take the heat in his place, at least for now. Eventually he was going to have to face them, but he would rather do that when he had all the facts at his fingertips.
Finally able to get back to his car, Henderson picked up the long-delayed report on the events at the courthouse the day before, that was still sitting on the front seat, and read the contents at super-speed: a distinct convenience, he reflected as he studied the summary. That was probably one way Clark Kent managed to have the time to fulfill his duties as a reporter and still handle his second job. Flipping through the pages, he came at last to the report on the stolen car used in the murder attempt. The car actually belonged to a woman named Linda Jackson Minton, living at 212 Chestnut Circle in Metropolis. Her husband, George Minton, was listed as the second driver on the registration.
There was something familiar about that name. On a hunch, he took out his cellular phone and dialed the number of James Olsen.
The phone rang several times, and he was just about to hang up when someone picked up the receiver.
"Olsen." The young journalist's voice sounded slightly breathless.
"This is Henderson," he said. "Olsen, do you have a list of Quigley's associates handy?"
"Sure," Olsen said. "Just a second." Henderson heard several clicks in the background and something chirped like a bird, then the young man's voice was back. "Here it is. What did you need?"
"The car that was used by whoever tried to kill Lane yesterday was owned by a Linda Jackson Minton. It's probably only a coincidence, but wasn't one of Quigley's backers named Jackson?"
"Yes, sir," Olsen said. "Charles Jackson. I've got everything on him right here. His wife's name is Wilma. He's one of Quigley's private backers. When Quigley was arrested he was interviewed and denied any knowledge of Quigley's illegal experiments."
"Only to be expected," Henderson said, making a mental note to check on Linda Jackson anyway. "Thanks, kid. How's the trace coming?"
"Not a lot of luck yet, sir. I'm still working on it."
"Call me if you manage to find anything."
"I will, sir."
On his long-delayed return to the Precinct, Henderson busied himself with several administrative duties, then, finished with the routine housekeeping chores, went to the file room to dig up what information he could on the Quigley case. A short time later, he returned to his office with a copy of the file and sat down to study it at his leisure.
The file of Quigley's backers was of particular interest to him. Charles Jackson was only one of several and not all the sources of funding had been tracked down; there remained two large deposits that Quigley had made just before his capture that no one had yet been able to trace.
A short time later, he left the Precinct again to handle the results of a drive-by shooting at 4th and Terrace. He returned to the Precinct a few minutes before quitting time, and as he was tidying his desk, preparatory to leaving, his cellular phone rang. He answered it.
"Mr. Henderson, it's Jimmy Olsen. I found some information I thought you might want to know about."
"I don't suppose it's about the email?" Henderson said.
"No, sir. After you called I did a little research. You said the owner of the stolen car is a Linda Jackson. That's probably in the report, right?"
"Did anybody look her up, because I don't want to bother you if you already know this."
Henderson glanced at the report still lying on his desk. "Just basic background. Age, profession, where she works and so forth. Why?"
"Charles and Wilma Jackson are her parents. I did some calling around but they've been out of town for three days. They won't be back until Sunday night."
Kent had been right when he'd told Henderson that this kid should work for the FBI. "Now that's interesting. I can't see them stealing their daughter's car to pull off an assassination but there could be some other connection."
"That's what I thought," Olsen said. "It seemed like I should tell you, anyway."
"I appreciate the effort," Henderson said. "At least you saved me some time."
"I'll keep working on the email," Olsen said. "At least now I have two to work with."
He had barely hung up when the instrument rang again. Henderson flipped it open. "Henderson."
"This is Darcy," a familiar female voice informed him. "You asked to be informed if the car in the drive-by yesterday was found."
"The one at the Courthouse?" Henderson asked.
"Yes, sir. It was just brought in. It had been sunk in the swamp near the Half Moon Basin in the harbor. Ultra Woman spotted it and notified us. Forensics is just about to start going over it."
The Half Moon Basin in the Metropolis Harbor was an isolated area that had been set aside as an ecological reserve for waterfowl. "Call my cell phone if they find anything useful."
"We will, sir. Good night." Darcy hung up.
Superman was waiting when Henderson arrived at the Century Tree, although a glance at his watch told him that he was half a minute early. There was no sign of Ultra Woman.
"She thought there might be a few things we'd like to talk about, man to man," Superman said, correctly interpreting his glance around.
"Yeah ... a few." Henderson produced the shaving mirror he had picked up from home. "I take it there's a reason you wanted me to bring this?"
The Man of Steel grinned. "Definitely -- unless you want to end up looking like Rip van Winkle," he said. "First off, I'm going to teach you how to shave, and for that you'll need a mirror. I've already checked the area. There's no one around to overhear us but for this we might want to move some place with less combustible material nearby."
"It involves heat vision," Superman explained. "Nothing else on Earth will cut my beard, and now that's also true for you. Let's go a few miles out over the ocean. I think we're safe there. We can talk on the way."
Together, they soared upward. Henderson glanced sideways at his Kryptonian companion. Now that he was looking for the resemblance he recognized Clark Kent's features, although it was amazing how the slicked back hairstyle and lack of glasses, combined with the change in posture and attitude gave him a completely different appearance. Still, it was beginning to be apparent that there was much more to being Superman than he had at first assumed.
"Did you figure out how this happened?" Superman asked suddenly.
"Kind of," Henderson said. "It was the lightning, wasn't it? It hit you, and you were touching both Lois and me."
"That's about it," he said. "It's happened twice before."
The Kryptonian nodded. "I stopped him from committing suicide," he explained. "As I grabbed the handgun, lightning hit it. The next day, Resplendent Man made his debut."
"And the little boy?"
"Jesse. I was supporting the plane, and he was sitting by the plane window. Lightning hit me and my powers were transmitted through the metal of the plane to him. The thing was, with him, the transfer was incomplete. The powers wore off after a year."
"Wait a minute." Henderson frowned. "How about Lois? You mean it didn't happen to her the first time Ultra Woman appeared?"
"No. That was completely different, involving Red Kryptonite. My powers were transferred to her, and I had none. Then the Newtrich sisters used it to transfer Lois's powers to Lucille Newtrich. Fortunately, Lois and I were able to turn the tables on them."
"I see -- I guess. But the kid, Jesse -- you said the transfer was incomplete?"
"We think so. They wore off by themselves. Waldecker's were transferred back to me with the use of a machine. You remember Gretchen Kelly -- Lex Luthor's doctor?"
"She was able to duplicate the effect of lightning and gave herself super powers for a short time. Waldecker helped me to take them away from her -- and him as well. The machine, however, no longer exists."
"Hmm." Henderson was silent, assimilating this information. "How long will mine last? Do you have any idea?"
"I don't know. I suppose we could ask Bernard Klein. He's the definitive expert on Kryptonian super powers, at least so far. He might be able to tell you." Superman shrugged. "For all I know, they could be permanent. Lois mentioned that she could feel the effects of the sunlight energizing her again after we finished in Kyoto, so you've apparently been given the ability to absorb solar energy the way I do. Whether it will last is another question."
Henderson absorbed that in silence for several minutes. "In that case, there's a lot I'm going to need to learn," he said finally.
"Not as much as you might think," Superman said. "The control becomes ingrained in a very short time. You won't hurt your wife, if that's what you're afraid of."
"It won't happen," Superman said, confidently. "Most of what I can teach you is some of the finer points of how to deal with being invulnerable." He came to a halt in mid-air. The blue swells of the Atlantic Ocean rolled gently a hundred feet beneath them, and far away on the horizon Henderson could see the outline of a passenger liner.
Superman followed his gaze. "That would be the 'Incan Princess' headed for Miami and points south," he said. "Ready for your first lesson?"
Henderson peeled off the ski mask and tucked it into his belt. "More than ready."
"It's easier than you might think," Superman informed him. "You're going to bounce your heat vision off the mirror and vaporize your beard. You want to be careful not to burn yourself ..."
Flying toward home, William Henderson found himself grinning under his black mask.
The training session had been instructive in more ways than one. In two hours, he had come to know Superman better than he had in the entire previous five years, and he had discovered that the super-hero was a good deal different than the stiff, formal face he presented to the public. In fact, he was indeed Clark Kent: very intelligent, friendly, frequently humorous, and in general an extremely pleasant person with whom to interact. In spite of the semi-adversarial relationship that existed between the members of the police and the press, Henderson was aware that like his wife, Lois, Clark Kent was one of the best friends a good cop could have on his side, and wished now that he had gotten to know the man better, sooner. He made a promise to himself that he would remedy that in the near future, whether or not he kept his super-powers.
And as a result of his help, Henderson now felt considerably more sure of his new abilities. The Man of Steel had run him through the entire repertoire, including some of which he had been unaware, and made certain he could control each one. When they had finished, Superman had given him a small salute of respect. "You know; if someone had to get my powers I'm glad it was you, Bill. I didn't really have that much to teach you. You figured out most of the important stuff on your own. Don't tell her I told you, but Lois meant what she said. You did a good job while we were gone, and she doesn't give anyone undeserved pats on the back."
That made him feel surprisingly good. Mad Dog Lane didn't hand out respect lightly. He'd have to return the compliment -- indirectly, of course.
He landed quietly in the back yard of their little house and entered via the kitchen door. Sue was seated on the couch when he walked into the living room, watching the news report of the three super-heroes helping at the accident. She started to get to her feet, but he crossed the room and sank down beside her on the couch. "Hi honey; how was your day?"
"Pretty good." She ran a finger over his chin. "I see you had a chance to talk to Superman."
"Yep." He kissed her. "See, no stubble."
"I noticed. So, what's the secret? Super-strong razor blades?"
"Nope. Heat vision."
Sue raised her eyebrows. "That must be something to see. You're going to have to show me how it's done, tomorrow morning. So, did Superman tell you how it happened?"
"Not exactly," Henderson said. "I get the feeling that he doesn't want anyone to know."
"I guess I can understand that," Sue remarked. "Okay; I won't ask what 'not exactly' means. If it got out that Superman's powers could be transferred to ordinary people, everybody would think they deserved super powers, too. He'd probably never have a moment's peace. Did he say how long he thought they would last?"
Henderson shook his head. "For all he knows, they could be permanent."
"Permanent?" Sue's eyes widened. "You mean like for the rest of your life?"
"Maybe. He knows a scientist that he's going to talk to about it. He said he'll let me know."
"Are you going to have to sleep on the couch again?" she asked, a little plaintively.
"No." Henderson rested a hand on her rounded tummy and then put his arm around her. He intended to go back to sleeping in his bed again, but he would probably sleep lightly for some time until he was sure. No point in upsetting Sue with that, though.
"Good." She leaned against him. "I've been watching you in action," she said.
"I noticed. What do you think?"
"You look wonderful," she said. "Very heroic. But I've always known you were a hero, anyway." She sat up suddenly. "I was thinking, though; if you're going to be doing this for very long, you might need something more super-heroish than black jeans and a black shirt."
"I am not wearing spandex," he informed her firmly. "A cape is out, too."
Sue giggled. "I agree. It wouldn't suit you. A jumpsuit, maybe. I'm thinking of something in black, close fitting, but not skin-tight. It should cut down on wind resistance when you fly, too. What do you think?"
"I take it," he said, "that you have a substitute for a ski mask to go with this hypothetical costume?"
"A silk hood that comes down over your eyes," she said. "It will look a lot more suave, and leave your mouth and nose free. I was thinking of a name, too. How about the 'Black Knight'?"
He snorted. "No cornier than anything I've come up with. But wasn't the Black Knight a bad guy?"
"You shouldn't be bound by tradition," she informed him. "From now on, the Black Knight will be a good guy. I bought a pattern at the Sewing Mart today and I think that - - with a few alterations -- it should be exactly what you need." She picked up a paper bag sitting by her feet and withdrew a packet with a picture on the front. "Visualize yourself in this, in black, of course, with a black hood, and no pockets ... what do you think?"
Henderson studied the picture critically. She had a point.
"Not bad," he said, finally. "But right now I feel like relaxing and watching TV with my beautiful wife. The costume can wait."
"So," Clark said, "he's all set. I ran him through everything and I'm sure he can handle it all." He signaled the elevator to take them to the newsroom.
"I always figured he could," Lois said. "Don't ever tell him I said so, but Henderson's as smart as they come. I had no idea he was married, though. I guess it shows you can know somebody for years and still not know them very well."
"Her name's Sue," Clark said. "She's a physical therapist at Metro General. He didn't say much else about her, but I get the feeling he thinks the world of her."
"Any woman Henderson would marry has to be kind of unusual, anyway," Lois said. "I always kind of thought of him as married to his job. I'm going to have to meet this one. So, did he have anything to say about the Quigley thing?"
"A little. He's been wondering if there's something else behind it besides just money. There were those two anonymous cash contributions that no one ever came forward to acknowledge, remember. And Jimmy found out that the car, yesterday, belongs to the daughter of one of Quigley's private backers: Charles Jackson. He and his wife are out of town, too. I suppose," he added, "it could simply be an incredible coincidence."
"Uh huh," Lois said. "And I'm the Mayor of Metropolis. I don't think the guy is likely to want to incriminate his daughter, but there's some sort of connection; you can bet on it."
There was a soft "ding" and the elevator doors opened.
"I suppose," Clark said as they entered, "that whoever's behind it could have used Jackson's daughter to divert attention from himself."
"I was thinking the same thing," Lois said. "It would have to be somebody who has access to the donor list, since it wasn't in the papers."
"Well, that would include everybody who has any kind of connection to the prosecution or the defense," Clark said. "Not to mention the cops originally involved in the case."
"Somehow I can't see any cop having that kind of money," Lois said. "How about Quigley's defense team? That's an awfully high-priced lawyer he's got defending him. Did anybody ever say how he's being paid?"
"I think he took the case gratis," Clark said. "Everybody assumed that it was for the publicity."
"Well," Lois pointed out, "that's possible. It's a high-profile case, after all -- but that doesn't rule out another reason."
The elevator doors opened on the newsroom floor and they stepped out. The office was considerably less crowded than during the day shift, but Jimmy Olsen was still at his desk, working at his computer. Clark led the way across the Pit. "Jimmy!"
"Huh? Oh, hi, CK."
"How's the hunt going on the email?"
Jimmy sighed. "Not very good."
"Well, maybe we can go at it from another angle then."
"Why not? I'm not getting anywhere this way," Jimmy said. "What's your idea?"
"Lois and I think that whoever stole the car from Jackson's daughter may have had access to Quigley's donor list," Clark said. "We need to know which of those people might have the resources to make donations the size of the anonymous ones."
"I get it," Jimmy said. "That's pretty smart."
"Let's wait and see if it pans out," Lois said with uncharacteristic caution.
"I'm getting ready to leave," Jimmy said. "I just emailed everything to myself so I could work on it when I get home. I'll start the research as soon as I get there."
"No date tonight?" Lois asked.
Jimmy shook his head. "Penny's working late."
"Perry still here?" Clark asked.
"He left a little while ago," Jimmy said. "He had a date with Alice."
"That's good to see," Clark said. "I guess we can talk to him tomorrow. Okay, Jim, we'll let you go. See you in the morning."
Jimmy nodded. "You're all right after yesterday, aren't you?" he asked. "I heard you'd been shot in the arm."
"Nothing but a scratch," Lois said. "It bled a bit, but it wasn't serious."
"That's good," Jimmy said. He saved his information and told his computer to shut down. "Be careful, okay?"
"We will," Lois said. "Don't worry about us; we can take care of ourselves. Just concentrate on your part."
When Jimmy had gone they walked slowly toward the stairs. Clark opened the door for her and a moment later Ultra Woman and Superman were launching from the roof of the Daily Planet. Below them, Jimmy, on his motorcycle, pulled away from the curb and into the early evening traffic.
Why he picked the sound out of all the other sounds audible to his enhanced hearing Clark never knew, but the click of the mechanism as someone began to pull the trigger of a rifle was loud in his ears and he knew at once who the target was. He dived toward Jimmy at super speed and snatched him up, motorcycle and all, as the shot echoed through the noisy evening air of Metropolis.
Jimmy yelled in alarm as he became airborne but instinct made him clutch the motorcycle's handlebars more tightly than ever. Lois shot past them in a pink and powder-blue blur and a moment later she was clutching the man with the rifle in an unbreakable grip.
"Who sent you?" she practically snarled into his face.
The gunman's expression went swiftly from shock to complete blankness. The sight of the infuriated superwoman didn't seem to intimidate him at all.
"I wouldn't hold my arm too tightly if I were you, Ultra Woman," he said, calmly. "I might have to sue you for assault."
"Not in this lifetime," Clark said. "I'm making a citizen's arrest. There's a cop down there," he added, nodding at the blue-clad figure of one of Metropolis's finest. "I think Inspector Henderson might want to interview this ... person." He glanced at Jimmy, who was clutching the handlebars of his motorbike in a death grip. "Hang on, Jimmy. I'll set you down in a minute, but I think maybe you shouldn't spend the night at your apartment tonight."
Jimmy gulped and nodded.Half an hour later he was looking around the small guest room at the Kent townhouse. "Are you sure you don't mind, CK?"
"Of course not, Jimmy. Superman's right; you shouldn't be where anyone knows where you are tonight. It looks to me like the person who ordered this knows you're on his trail." Clark gestured at the phone jack in the wall beside the small writing desk. "You can hook your computer modem up there."
Jimmy glanced around. "This is nice. I'll get to work right away."
"I'm cooking," Clark informed him. "I'll let you know when dinner's ready."
"He's not talking," Henderson said.
"Why am I not surprised?" Lois Lane's voice said from the other end of the phone. "Do you know he threatened to sue Ultra Woman for assault when she grabbed him?"
"I heard. The doc was here when Superman brought him in, so I had him check the guy over, just on principle. If he tries to claim that Ultra Woman injured him he'll have a hard time proving it. How's Olsen?"
"He's working in our spare bedroom. Don't mention that to anyone, please. Whoever is trying to get rid of me has evidently decided he needs to dispose of Jimmy, too."
"That's interesting," Henderson said, thoughtfully. "Only a few people are supposed to know that Olsen was trying to trace that email. The investigators that worked on the case, a couple of the DA's people and the defense team know, but no one else."
"Kind of narrows the field," Lois said. "Jimmy's doing a little research into that right now. We'll let you know if he finds anything interesting."
"You do that." Henderson grinned to himself. Mad Dog Lane was in hot pursuit of their would-be killer. He wouldn't give the guy a snowball's chance in Hades of hiding his identity. Not that he would admit that to her. He'd been a little irritated when they'd called him in from home to talk to the suspect but he'd flown over and found that the case had advanced another notch with the capture of a shooter. Ballistics was going over the rifle now to try to determine if it was the same one that had been used to shoot at Lane the day before. If it turned out to be the same weapon, they would be well on their way to a solution.
He tucked the cell phone into his back pocket and concentrated on making a super speed approach to the back window of his home. Judging by the smells issuing from the kitchen, Sue was just about to serve dinner. Maybe, he thought, it was a good thing that he'd acquired Superman's powers. The way his wife cooked, he'd had to devote more time than ever to working out just to maintain his normal weight over the last year and a half. If he kept the powers maybe he wouldn't have to worry about that anymore.
Returning quietly from a rescue at 2 AM, Clark slipped into his sleeping shorts, intending to get into bed beside his wife, and stopped as the sound of typing reached his ears.
A glance at the alarm clock confirmed that it was just past two in the morning. He picked up his robe and stepped into the hall. Beneath the guest room door he could see the flickering light of a computer screen and hear Jimmy muttering to himself. Quietly, he crossed the hall and knocked. "Jimmy? Are you still awake?"
There was the scrape of a chair and Jimmy's footsteps crossed the carpet. "Is that you, CK?"
"Who else would it be?" he inquired.
Jimmy pulled the door open. "I'm sorry. Did I wake you up?"
"No, I couldn't sleep. How's it going?"
"Not too bad." Jimmy yawned widely.
Clark grinned. "Why don't you get some sleep? I'm sure this can wait until tomorrow."
Jimmy shrugged. "I'll sleep tomorrow. I've dug up some stuff you might want to see." He yawned again, nearly dislocating his jaw. "I don't suppose there's any coffee around?"
"As a matter of fact, there is." Clark crossed his fingers behind his back, rationalizing that he hadn't exactly said the coffee was ready to drink. Still, they had some of that gourmet instant coffee in the cupboard, and it was at least twice as good as the newsroom java. "Why don't I get you some, and then you can tell me what you've got. You want sugar and cream? I guarantee it's real cream."
"Sure." Jimmy plopped into the desk chair again and began to type. "I think I've got ... ah! There you are, you little devil!"
Clark grinned at the exclamation and hurried on downstairs to make instant coffee at super speed. A few minutes later, he presented the cup and saucer to his co-worker. "What have you got?"
"What's going on?" Lois's voice interrupted from the doorway. She yawned behind her hand. "Don't you guys ever sleep? It's quarter after two."
"Jimmy's been digging into those backgrounds for us," Clark said.
"Maybe," Jimmy said, cautiously. "Of the people who might know about the list, only a couple really have the money to have made those donations. Quigley's lawyer is one, naturally ..."
"Naturally," Lois said. "Drake Gorton is a barracuda in the courtroom; one of the slickest lawyers in the business. I still can't figure out why he's defending Quigley for free, unless it's just for the publicity."
Jimmy shrugged eloquently. "Well, that's what he's doing -- defending Quigley, that is. Anyway, I looked into his finances and his history. In spite of being a lawyer he's squeaky clean; won't have anything to do with anything remotely shady. He attends church every Sunday with his wife of 35 years and has two children: a daughter, Kimberly, who is in law school ..."
"Figures," Lois said.
"... And a son," Jimmy continued. "His name is Willard. He's 24, a part time student at Metro City College. Apparently he's been in trouble with the law on and off through his teens and early twenties. His dad's got him off of some pretty serious charges a few times. Two years ago he was the driver in an illegal street race, rolled his car and is now confined to a wheelchair. There's no expectation he'll ever walk again."
"What does this have to do with his finances?" Lois asked.
"When I saw the stuff about Gorton's son, I looked a little harder," Jimmy said. "The dates of those two anonymous donations coincide with the liquidation of some of Mr. Gorton's assets. Maybe he was the anonymous contributor -- because of his son. The amounts are pretty close."
"That's a good possibility," Clark said. "Nice work."
"Yeah," Jimmy said, "but it still doesn't explain why whoever it is wants to keep Lois from testifying. The other possibility is Gorton's assistant, and I can't see her trying to kill either one of us either. She's a reputable attorney."
"It does seem pretty unlikely," Clark admitted.
"How about the son?" Lois asked, suddenly. "Would he have access to his father's stuff on the case? And who is the guy we -- we heard that Superman caught this evening?"
"Ultra Woman caught him," Jimmy corrected. "Superman was too busy saving my butt. I guess it might be worth finding out if he has any connection with Gorton or his son."
"Quigley's experiments were showing results," Clark said slowly. "It's possible that someone who didn't care about his methods might want to save him from prison, if he thought there was a chance for a cure. I'll talk to Henderson in the morning, and you can do some digging into Willard Gorton's history." He fixed Jimmy with a stern look. "In the morning, after you've had some sleep, that is."
Jimmy yawned enormously. "Okay," he agreed with only slight reluctance. "That bed does look pretty comfortable, now that I'm thinking about it."
"Good night," Lois said, pointedly. "You'll work better with a rested brain, anyway."
"Good night," Jimmy agreed. He told the computer to shut down. "I hope we're getting close. Don't you testify on Monday, Lois?"
"Well, I was told to be there at one," Lois said. "After that, nobody will gain anything by killing me, so I hope we catch him before then."
"Me, too." Jimmy sat down on the bed. "See you in the morning."
"Interesting theory," Henderson said. He took a bite of his wife's excellent waffles, trying not to get syrup on the telephone receiver. "Of course there's no direct tie-in, and there's no law that said Gorton couldn't donate his money to Quigley's research, if that's where it went. And I'm not even going to ask where this information came from."
"Call it an anonymous source," Lois's voice said. "It's just about the only lead we have."
"Well, tell your anonymous source to hunt up any connection between Harley James Brown of 1120 Beech Way, Metropolis, and Willard Gorton," Henderson said. "If he can find one, then we'll have something to act on."
"Clark's working on that," Lois said. "He nearly burned up a computer keyboard this morning in the process. Literally. We'll let you know what we find."
Henderson laughed dryly. "I'm sure you will. I'm on the afternoon shift today, so I'll be at the Precinct this afternoon. Or you can always get me via cell phone."
Lois signed off and Henderson went back to eating breakfast. Sue slid more waffles onto his plate.
"These super powers are sure giving you an appetite," she remarked.
"Yeah," he agreed. "I guess I'm burning up a lot of calories when I use them. Superman says that most of his energy comes from the sun."
"How about yours?" Sue asked. "Do you use solar energy too?"
"I seem to," he said. "I could feel myself charging up in the sunlight yesterday morning, after the fire at the hospital the night before." He grinned. "Taking it in this way is better, though. Face it, honey, I just really like your cooking."
"I'm hardly going to be insulted by that," she said. "Mom always said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach."
"Well ..." He patted her stomach. "Partly, anyway."
She swatted him playfully on the wrist. "Men! Don't you ever think of anything else?"
"Sure," he said. "Baseball, football and monster trucks."
Sue nearly choked on a mouthful of cereal. "Well, at least you're easy to please," she said when she could get her breath.
Henderson handed her the glass of orange juice she had poured for herself. "Are you all right?"
"Fine." She took a sip of the juice. "I'm going to have to remember not to give you an opening like that."
"Next time I'll wait until your mouth isn't full," he said. "So, I have the morning off. What's on the agenda?"
Sue hesitated. "I hate to ask you on your time off, but the bathroom faucet is still leaking. I got the stuff to fix it when I was shopping yesterday. If you can take care of it I thought I'd start on your costume this morning, before I go to work."
"Say no more, my lady. I'll start working on it right after breakfast," he said. "Let's see if Superman's powers come in handy with household maintenance."
Superman's powers came in more than handy, he discovered. It took only a few minutes to complete the chore that formerly would have taken nearly an hour. He walked in to the spare bedroom that Sue used for a sewing room, which was slowly being converted into a nursery. "All done."
"That was fast." Sue pulled out her tape measure. "Take off your shirt, please."
He raised an eyebrow. "This hardly seems like the time, but --"
She giggled. "Don't be silly. I want to measure you for your costume."
He obeyed, pretending disappointment. "You women! Get a guy's hopes up and then jerk the rug out from under him."
She wrapped the tape measure around his chest. "You should complain. Hmm ... I guess all that exercise paid off. You're going to look good in this outfit."
"Nothing skin tight, though," he reminded her. "I'd be afraid to show myself in public."
"Don't worry. I don't want a bunch of women ogling you like they do Superman. If he ever gets married I don't know how his wife will stand it. Of course, if it turns out that he's married to Ultra Woman I guess she's got no room to complain."
"Yeah, her outfit is a little tight," he admitted. "Don't worry, honey. No woman could possibly compete with you."
"Don't try to flatter me. I can look in the mirror," she informed him.
"Maybe, but you don't see what I see," he said with a note of unaccustomed seriousness. "You're the woman I wanted to marry, after all."
"According to the guy I talked to, Brown's parents managed to get hold of a lawyer and got him released on bail last night," Clark said. "And he does know Willard Gorton. Brown was arrested for participating in the same street race that crippled Gorton but his father hired a sharp lawyer and got him off with community service. His father is an executive on the Board of Directors of Cost Mart."
"Just one of Gorton's friends, huh?" Lois said.
"Maybe. Brown's been in trouble off and on, just like Gorton. His parents have somehow gotten him out of some fairly serious stuff. He was caught in possession of designer drugs six months ago. The charge was that he was peddling them to kids over at Metro City College, but somehow the evidence disappeared and the charges were dropped."
"Naturally," Lois said. "Well, hopefully, now that he was nabbed for this, he'll decide it's too risky to try again. He can't hurt me, anyway -- but I don't want somebody else to get caught in the crossfire."
"Yeah." Clark looked dissatisfied. "He's some kind of employee of Cost Mart now. Unloads trucks, stocks shelves, et cetera."
"I wonder if he does any other kind of work for Cost Mart," Lois said. "Maybe the illegal kind. This could have just been a job on the side for a buddy or something."
"Maybe. And maybe Intergang has taken an interest, too. There could be a lot of money to be made in this deal. Maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe Willard Gorton is just being used for information."
"Whichever way it is," Lois said, "I think Henderson should know about it. And wake up Jimmy. If the emails came from Gorton's computer he may be able to find out for us, now that we know where to look."
"Exactly what I was thinking," Clark said. "I'm going to give Henderson another call."
"So, after your mysterious informer found the emails on Gorton's computer, and Olsen identified it as the source," Henderson was saying, "I told our judge that Olsen had tracked down the email address and we seized the computer. Gorton sent the emails all right. He paid Brown ten thousand dollars to kill you, Lois."
"How about Brown?" Clark asked.
"He's not talking, of course. Jason Bentworth showed up a little while after Superman brought him in on Saturday, and he walked out on bail an hour later. We're charging him with attempted murder, though."
"Bentworth?" Clark said. "I guess I'm not surprised."
"Neither am I," Henderson admitted. "Of course we don't know Brown works for Intergang. It could just be a coincidence that Bentworth has ties to them and is also representing Brown."
"Uh huh," Lois said, dryly.
Henderson didn't comment. "This is off the record for now, got it?" At their nods, he continued. "We found a copy of Quigley's donor list on Gorton's computer, and he admitted that he'd made it for Brown, even though he didn't know why Brown wanted it. He's out on bail now, too. His father hired one of his friends to handle the case."
"And I take it there's nothing concrete to tie this to Intergang," Lois said.
"Of course not," Henderson said. He shared her sense of frustration, although he wouldn't admit it aloud. "But your testimony put the final nail in the case against Quigley. His lawyer went into conference with the judge and the DA right after you walked out of the courtroom. They're in negotiations of some kind. Probably over the terms for a guilty plea."
"Well, that's something, anyway," Lois said grudgingly.
"Better than nothing," Clark agreed. "Maybe things will change in the future with three of us to work on the Intergang problem."
"At least the odds are better," Henderson said. "I wish I knew how long this was going to last, though."
Clark shrugged. "Bernie Klein is running every test he can think of on Lois," he said. "He said that so far there wasn't any way to tell, but that theoretically your powers could last the rest of your life -- or they could wear off in a year or two. We'll have to wait and see. Well, here we are. Are you ready?"
Henderson glanced at him in his colorful costume and then down at the steps of City Hall where the mob of representatives from every media establishment in Metropolis awaited them. He swallowed. It was odd that the thought of something like this made him nervous. He'd dealt with the press almost on a daily basis for years, but that had been as the enigmatic Inspector Henderson, not as Metropolis's newest superhero. Unexpectedly his mouth was dry.
They paused in the air, and he was conscious of every face in the crowd peering up at them from the ground two hundred feet below. He checked his costume covertly one last time, made sure his hood was straight, and swallowed again.
Lois gave him a surprisingly sympathetic grin. "You can do it," she said. "Just stand there and look heroic. Answer the questions you want to and let them speculate about the rest, just the way we did when we first appeared."
He nodded. Together, they swooped downward to a landing on the steps of City Hall. Superman held up his hands as the crowd surged forward. Henderson folded his arms, aware that every camera present was aimed at him.
"I'm sure all of you have heard of the gentleman standing next to us," Superman began. "He made his first appearance Friday night to help the emergency services with a fire at Metropolis General, since Ultra Woman and I were dealing with the emergency in Japan. Since then he has made several more appearances. You've all had questions, and now he's ready to answer some of them, so we'd like to introduce our associate to you today. He's called the Black Knight, and the most important thing we can tell you about him is that he's here to help ..."