The familiar characters and settings of this story are the
property of DC Comics, Warner Bros. December 3rd Productions,
et al. but the story is mine.
A Walk in the Dark
By Nan Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Suicide Slum at three in the morning wasn't the place for a
stroll, Clark Kent reflected, grimly. He eyed the open space
before him with acute suspicion. The sight of a man in halfway
decent clothing around here was an open invitation to a
mugging, but what else was he supposed to do? There really
wasn't much choice. He had to find somewhere that he could get
He zipped up his leather jacket against the chilly mist that
rose off the bay and permeated the air, still searching the
darkness. Nothing appeared to be moving except for the shadowy
form of an alley cat that streaked across the broken sidewalk
and vanished between two buildings.
The streetlights ahead of him were out--vandalized, he thought.
The glow of the lamps apparently made good targets for rock
throwers, and the only pay phones he had found so far had been
in an equivalent condition. Ancient tenements rose on all
sides, their windows long since broken and boarded over. A
"Condemned" sign hung by one corner from its nail on the door
behind him. The sign was almost as old as the building. Tearing
down these decrepit structures apparently wasn't high on the
priorities list of the city planners.
His joints still ached from the Kryptonite exposure. How long
it would take for his powers to return was anybody's guess. It
had been all he could do to get away; Lois would kill him when
she discovered what a chance he had taken but what he had
learned had been worth it, even if things hadn't gone exactly
as he had planned. Only, now he had to survive to reach
Somewhere not far away, he could hear the strains of rap music,
the bass booming away at a frequency designed to vibrate
through his bones, and with it the roar of engines. That would
undoubtedly be the drag racers he'd busted a few nights ago.
They'd simply moved their location...again.
Taking a deep breath, he moved out onto the sidewalk, walking
at a brisk pace calculated to discourage would-be muggers. Mist
curled in the air about him, chilly and damp. The dark alleys
that opened between the buildings loomed menacingly, each a
possible place of concealment. He kept a good distance from
them and passed each one quickly. Here and there, drunks slept
in doorways and between trashcans, and an occasional dark
figure staggered or slunk away into the darkness. Clark gave
each a carefully wide berth. He wasn't looking for trouble
right now. All he wanted to do was get out of this place as
fast as possible with his skin relatively intact.
The rusted hulks of cars, stripped and left to disintegrate by
the side of the street were also places of concealment, he
realized belatedly, avoiding one ancient shell as he hurried
down the uneven sidewalk. The place was eerily quiet, except
for the distant throb of the bass speakers. Across the street,
he could see a pair of shadowy figures fade into an alleyway,
and somewhere not far away a cat squalled. There was a clatter
of aluminum trashcans and a skittering noise. Something--a rat,
he thought--squealed sharply. The sound was followed by a
second yowl, and a third. Tomcats squaring off, he told
himself; there were plenty of stray cats in this section of
Where were the police when you needed them? The answer was, of
course, that they weren't here. This section of Suicide Slum
was an area where the cops didn't come in groups of less than
six, and they avoided it whenever they could. That was why
Superman made it a priority to patrol around here more often
than in other, more affluent sections of town. Unfortunately,
Superman was now the one who needed help and there wasn't
anyone to help him.
He increased his pace until he was jogging, but that couldn't
last long, weakened as he was by Kryptonite exposure. Panting,
he leaned against the nearest wall. He wasn't in any shape to
do this, that was certain. He'd better hoard his strength in
case he really needed to run. Around here, that was a distinct
This close to the harbor, mist hid the sky and its moist
tendrils floated visibly in the air. One brighter spot in the
greyness told him the moon was up, but it shed little light on
the scene. A pale circle of illumination given out by a lone,
unbroken street lamp lighted the dark street far ahead, but the
rest of the area was cloaked in blackness.
Maybe it would just be better to find a place of concealment,
he thought, and then wait until the sun came up. That would be
in about three hours; it wouldn't be all that bad to wait--
except he could as easily be found by the denizens of this
place and murdered for the clothing on his back.
The sound of the rap music had been growing slowly but steadily
louder, and the roar of engines was increasing. The racers
weren't far away. It had been a growing problem in Metropolis
for months now; young, bored kids, turning the streets of
Suicide Slum into their dragstrip. Whenever the police managed
to close down one group another sprang up somewhere else.
There was a screech of tires, and the sound of racing engines
was suddenly overpowering. The music burst upon his ears, the
deafening beat of the bass pounding through him, powerful
enough to make the bones of his skull vibrate as three
rattletrap cars rounded the corner on two wheels, one after
another, each jockeying for position.
One car nudged the fender of the one in the lead, and the
driver nearly lost control. His vehicle swerved and two wheels
bumped up onto the sidewalk. The battered front grill connected
with the equally battered form of a mailbox, knocking it
sideways. Clark jumped back to avoid the flying objects and
heard the mailbox impact the corner of the building behind him
as he hurled himself headfirst into the nearest alleyway. The
car roared by, its wheels crunching on the deteriorating
pavement and scattering fragments behind it as it tore past. He
heard war whoops from the occupants and glass shattered against
the concrete sidewalk, inches from his face; a thrown bottle,
he thought. The bass throb swelled to thunderous proportions,
and then they were gone, racing away into the dark, leaving
behind the stench of gasoline fumes. All he could see were the
retreating taillights as they dwindled in the distance and
vanished. The ear-shattering pulse of the music decreased
rapidly in volume, until it was again only a faint and distant
vibration on the air.
Slowly, he picked himself up from the ground to discover
standing before him a pair of men clad in dirty, mismatched
garments, one of them brandishing a switchblade that must
measure no less than eight inches in length. Through the
scraggly beards that coated their chins and upper lips, he
could see two identical, unpleasant grins.
"Hi," he said.
The two men looked at each other. The nearer one spoke. "Gimme
Slowly, Clark reached into his back pocket and removed the
wallet. Trying to fight these two in his current weakened
condition didn't seem like a very good idea.
The unarmed man snatched it from his hand and tore it open.
"Twenty bucks?" he demanded. He dropped the wallet on the
ground. "Gimme your watch!"
Clark removed the watch and handed it over. The mugger grabbed
it and stuffed it into a pocket of his ragged coat. "Empty your
Clark obeyed. There was nothing of value in them. His cellular
phone, of course, was gone, or he would have called for help an
The knife wielder grunted. "Awright, take off your jacket. I
want your clothes."
Lois Lane awoke suddenly and with a jolt. The clock on her
bedside table said it was just past three a.m. and the room was
quiet. Clark's side of the bed was vacant; there was no sign of
him moving around in the bathroom.
What had awakened her?
She blinked up into the dark, trying to pinpoint what it was.
The room was completely silent except for the fluttering of an
insect's wings against the windowpane. There was nothing that
should be producing this sense of unease.
Lois turned over, trying to get comfortable. Surely, Clark
would be back soon.
Ten minutes later, she was still wide awake. Her pillow seemed
to be full of previously unnoticed lumps and the brand new,
extremely comfortable mattress had developed them as well.
Resigned to the inevitable, she sat up and reached out to turn
on the table lamp. Something was bothering her; a vague feeling
of alarm, of something not right. Again, she glanced at the
clock. It was nearly three-fifteen. Clark was usually back long
before this unless some kind of emergency had come up.
Well, she wasn't going to get any sleep this way. With a sigh,
she reached for the TV remote control and switched on the
television, searching for a news channel. Maybe she could find
a report of Superman's activities to tell her what was keeping
Apparently, there were no major disasters of any sort tonight.
A 3.4 earthquake in California, which had caused only the most
minor of damage, didn't seem to qualify. But there had been a
holdup and subsequent riot and fire at the Alley Cat Bar near
the docks. Hadn't that been the place Clark said he was going
to stake out this evening? The bar was in the roughest section
of town, where Suicide Slum impinged upon the bay. Surely, he'd
be helping out there if there were lives at risk.
But in spite of the news report, she could find no mention of
Superman. The fire had gotten a good hold, probably due, she
thought cynically, to the fact that the fire fighters and
police were reluctant to venture into that section of town. It
looked to her like Metropolis's Finest had shown up in force
and heavily armed. She hadn't seen that kind of a concentration
of police cruisers since the President had visited Metropolis a
few years ago. The blaze had spread to several other rickety
buildings, and sparks were threatening structures across the
So, where was Clark? She'd warned him to be careful. The theft
of Kryptonite from STAR Labs two days before, almost certainly
an inside job, should have been enough to make him cautious,
and he'd promised her faithfully that he would be. Besides, he
had pointed out, he was going there as Charles King, the deck
hand. There would be no reason for anyone to pull out
Kryptonite on him. So where *was* he?
Well, she could try calling him. She hesitated only for a
moment, then reached for the phone. Even if he was busy, he'd
understand. It wasn't as if she made a habit of this.
The cell phone's answer function was her only reply. Lois left
a message for him to call her and hung up, unsatisfied. The
nebulous sense of something amiss that had woken her was
growing. After a moment, she made a decision and slid out of
bed. She certainly wasn't going to get back to sleep anyway. It
wouldn't hurt for her to simply drive over to the fire. She'd
be safe in the Cherokee. At the very least, she might get a
story out of it, and maybe she'd find Clark.
Satisfied with her rationalization, she began to dress.
This wasn't funny at all, Clark decided. The muggers had taken
all of his outer clothing, leaving him in his bare feet, T-
shirt and briefs, and nothing else. The month might be June but
this close to the water it was chilly! The only thing of value
that they hadn't taken was his wedding ring, and that was only
because they hadn't seen it. He retrieved his wallet after some
search, and most of the contents. The loss of the money wasn't
important. At least he was unhurt, but the next person who
tried to mug him wasn't going to find much worth taking.
And it was going to be embarrassing showing up at a police
station or anywhere else in his current condition. On the other
hand, he couldn't stay here. That was pretty much guaranteed to
get him into worse trouble. Maybe his powers would return soon,
he thought, hopefully. As it was, this was going to be a long,
cold walk--unless one of these tenement clotheslines had
something he could borrow for a little while. It seemed
unlikely that anyone would open a door for a man in his
underwear at this time of night. He could always return
anything he took later, along with some kind of compensation
for the inconvenience.
Assuming he didn't manage to get mugged again.
Cautiously, he peered out of the alley. No one appeared to be
in sight, and at least it was dark. He hadn't expected to be
grateful for the lack of lighting, but a lot of things hadn't
gone as he'd anticipated this evening.
First, there had been the surveillance in the Alley Cat Bar.
Timothy Breen, was a petty thief and occasional courier for
Intergang and Clark had been keeping an eye on him for weeks.
The man had met his contact, all right--a prominent member of
the Metropolis City Council; one of the few Clark would have
sworn was clean. He'd eavesdropped on their conversation and
now possessed a great deal of information that should lead,
eventually, to a lot of people losing their positions in the
city government. All that remained then was to return home.
Only then the unexpected had happened.
The Councilman had opened his briefcase, removed a familiar
metal box and lifted the lid. Clark, seated in the shadows, two
tables away, had had no time to move without drawing attention
to himself and struggled to control his reaction to the chunk
of Kryptonite. He could feel his powers draining away as he sat
there, but he didn't dare attempt to leave. His legs would have
given way instantly if he had so much as tried to stand. The
two men had talked for nearly ten minutes, the green stone
sitting in the open container between them, shielded from the
view of other customers by the body of the Councilman. Only
Clark, seated in the shadowed corner, could see the evil, green
glow of the object on the table. Then, at last, Breen closed
the box and tucked it into the capacious pocket of his baggy
And at that minute, two men who had been sitting at the bar
announced a holdup.
They had lined up the patrons, many of them seamen who had just
received their pay, and proceeded to relieve them of every item
of value in their possession. Clark, at the end of the line,
watched as they worked their way toward him, knowing that if
they drew the attention of Councilman Pearson to him, the jig
One of the men took the metal box out of Breen's pocket, tried
futilely to open it, and then tossed it onto the pile of loot
that was steadily growing by the door.
He never knew how the fight started, but all at once the mass
of big, burly men surged forward, and the two holdup men went
down under a wave of bodies. One of the guns fired, and a
ceiling light exploded in a shower of glass and sparks. A
bottle flew across the room, and someone else threw a chair.
One of the female employees screamed and ducked under a table.
Clark made for the pile of belongings, his goal the lead box.
The last thing he needed was for Intergang to get hold of a
chunk of Kryptonite. As his hand closed around it, someone hit
him on the side of the head and he went down, but managed to
land on his hands and knees. The door was just beyond him, and
he crawled toward it, avoiding the solidly intertwined mass of
cursing, struggling bodies. Once outside, he could use his
cellular phone to call the police. He was certainly in no
condition to do anything about the barroom brawl that had
suddenly erupted, but at least he could summon help.
He made it out the door at last, accompanied by a pair of men,
who lurched after him, straining and swearing as they fought.
Clark staggered to his feet and stumbled away, to come up
gasping against a crumbling brick wall. A pile of garbage bags,
leaking garbage, was stacked against it, and he leaned back,
panting, against the damp bricks.
After a moment, he groped for his phone, only to discover that
it was gone. He must have lost it when he fell, he thought, and
there was no way he was going to try to go back inside to get
it. Maybe he could find a pay phone to make a call.
The heavy little lead box in his hand drew his attention. This
was the Kryptonite that had vanished from STAR Labs two days
ago. The symbol on the lid was unmistakable. Somehow,
Councilman Pearson had gotten hold of it; he might even have
been behind the theft for all Clark knew.
The box was too big to fit in the pockets of his jacket or of
his jeans. Gripping it in one hand, he started down the street,
looking for a pay phone. The area wasn't good and for the first
time, his vulnerability dawned on him. It was one in the
morning, and between him and civilization lay Suicide Slum. As
Superman, he was invulnerable but without his powers and with
no transportation but his feet, he was as easily hurt as anyone
else. He had to get out of here, and it could be a very long
At least the muggers hadn't done anything worse than relieve
him of his belongings. Clark pulled his T-shirt down as far as
it would go and moved out onto the sidewalk, hugging the
building. Dressed as he was, his feeling of being exposed was
more acute than ever. True, he flew about every day in a skin-
tight red-and-blue outfit, but at least then he was *covered*,
and it was by his own choice.
The skin on the back of his neck and shoulders prickled as he
moved along, feeling as if unfriendly eyes watched his every
move. He strained his ears for the slightest sound that would
warn him of an imminent attack. The sounds of the nightlife in
Suicide Slum weren't reassuring. Somewhere a dog howled and the
noise was joined by several others, until a chorus of canine
song was going full blast. Here and there, he could hear the
sounds of cats challenging each other, or the occasional tomcat
serenading his current lady-love. A huge, rusted dumpster in
one alleyway gave out odors he could detect a block away, even
without his enhanced sense of smell, and passing it, he could
hear the stealthy sounds of motion as scavengers moved about
among the decaying garbage. The form of a man slumped against
it, and Clark heard the clink of glass. The smell of cheap
booze was strong in his nostrils.
At least, the ache in his joints was fading. That had to be
some kind of improvement. Still, it had been a good idea to
stash the lead box under a pile of broken cement chunks barely
a block from the bar. If he'd still had it when the muggers
held him up, it would now be in their hands. He could come back
for it tomorrow when his powers had returned.
Something struck the edge of the dumpster from above and burst
open; a plastic garbage bag, he realized belatedly as he jumped
back from the flying debris, dropped from an upper story window
in the general direction of the big container. His heel snagged
on a piece of broken pavement and he staggered backward. One
foot met nothing and he was suddenly falling. He flailed out
with his hands and caught the edge of the opening with one
For a moment, he swung by his fingers, breathing hard, and
managed to grasp the edge with his free hand. It was an open
sewer manhole, he saw. He hauled himself slowly and painfully
from the hole, grimacing at the fragrant aromas that drifted
upward from the aperture. When he regained the surface, he got
painfully to his feet, brushing dirt and gravel from his hands
and knees. The sooner he got out of here, the better, before he
managed to kill himself, he thought, unhappily. Somewhere in
the distance, he could still hear the vibration of the rap
music. Recalling his previous encounter with the racers, he
hoped fervently that they would stay away.
To the east, the sky was brighter. Could it be so late that the
sun was coming up? He was sure that much time couldn't possibly
have passed. The color seemed wrong for a sunrise, anyway, and
now that he thought about it, there seemed to be a faint smell
of smoke on the night breeze. It must be a fire over by the
harbor, he realized. And Superman was in no shape to help.
He stifled a soft swear word. This whole night had been one
disaster after another. Sometimes he thought the Fates had it
in for him.
Well, he could head for it and try to get help from the fire
fighters. On the other hand, the part of Suicide Slum that lay
between him and the harbor was the roughest section of the
slums. It had taken him two hours to work his way through it,
unharmed. Regretfully, he rejected the option. It would be
wiser to go on and get to a better section of town. In his
current state of dress, a cop was bound to spot him when he got
out of this place, even this early in the morning. It might be
embarrassing, but it was a lot better than getting killed.
His mistreated wallet was lying on the sidewalk. Once more, he
picked it up and with a final glance at the malodorous pit,
started west again, looking around alertly. One of his hands
had been scraped painfully in the mishap, but all in all, he'd
gotten off lightly. If he'd fallen down the manhole, he could
have been seriously hurt.
Bare feet, he discovered shortly, were not suited to walking on
the broken pavement. Within a few minutes he was limping
painfully and trying to spot objects on the sidewalk that he
should avoid. Streamers of mist drifted past him, looking like
ghosts in the dimness. If he got out of this alive, nothing
Lois could say to him could possibly be as harsh as what he was
saying to himself, he thought. It was not only dangerous, it
He passed another gap between buildings. Something rustled and
he heard stealthy movement within. All his senses went on
"Hey, buddy." It was a man's voice, and another voice laughed.
The sound sent chills up Clark's backbone. "Hold on a minute."
Clark turned to face the new threat. "I don't want any
trouble..." he began.
"Whatcha got there?" A short, husky man with a bush of dark
beard streaked with white emerged from the darkness, and Clark
saw the glint of metal protruding from one grimy fist. Behind
him, a taller figure loomed menacingly.
Clark ran. Across the street, a six-foot fence barred his way,
but he went over it as if he were flying, to come down in a
small, cluttered, back yard. A dog began to bark frantically,
and he didn't pause but raced for the opposite side of the
As he went up the wooden planks, something warm, wet and filled
with sharp teeth closed on his ankle. He shook his leg and the
teeth let go. Never pausing, he scrambled over the top of the
fence and dropped into the adjoining yard.
Inside the shabby little house, another dog began to bark, loud
and deep. He ran across the yard as a light came on at an
upstairs window. Halfway across the grass, he encountered a
clothesline at neck level and nearly hung himself. As he
recovered, a voice from above shouted unintelligible words at
him. Clark disentangled himself from the line, regained his
equilibrium and sprinted for the fence.
Other voices were raised behind him as he went over and landed
on his feet in knee-deep grass. His ankle turned under him, but
he recovered and staggered through the underbrush, intent only
on putting distance between himself and the growing ruckus
behind him. None of the residents of the place were likely to
listen to him at this point, even if he tried to explain.
He barely dodged another clothesline, and a robe of some sort
tried to wrap itself around his neck. Behind him, he heard a
deep, savage growl, and a frantic glance over his shoulder
showed an enormous animal about the size of a small horse
charging at him, jaws wide open.
He reached the fence, inches ahead of the dog and went up it in
what might be mistaken for levitation. Jaws closed on the back
of his briefs and bit into the skin, but he kept going, feeling
the fabric tear. Then he was falling, to land on his hands and
knees amid tools and buckets of some kind, with a tremendous
clatter. Thick liquid spattered across his hands and legs;
paint, he realized, too late.
Behind him the noise was growing, a cacophony of yelping,
howling canines and the hoarse shouts of men. Another dog began
to bark, this time with the high yapping of a smaller breed,
and the house's upstairs light came on. Clark scrambled to his
feet and headed for the opposite side of the yard. The
neighborhood had to end somewhere, he told himself, hopefully
before somebody with a shotgun showed up. It would be terribly
ironic if Superman were to end up shot by an irate householder,
the victim of a simple misapprehension.
He went over the fence, panting. The rush of adrenaline--or
whatever served Kryptonians in place of it--was beginning to
wear out. His legs were wobbly, but he came down on the cracked
sidewalk again. Without pausing, he half staggered, half ran,
striving to put as much distance between himself and the small
community as he could.
Somehow, he was still clutching the robe that had attacked him
during his flight. The sickly light of a flickering street lamp
revealed it to be a hot pink, terrycloth garment that had seen
better days. Here and there green smears of paint dotted the
rough, pink cloth but judging by the breeze that was suddenly
sharp and cold on the seat of his pants, he needed it, the
color notwithstanding. He slipped his arms into the sleeves
that came up to his elbows and dropped his battered wallet,
which he had miraculously managed to retain, into the pocket.
Knotting the worn sash around his middle, he slowed his steps
slightly, striving to regain his breath. The robe strained
across his shoulders, failed to meet in the front by a good
three inches, and the length was just barely enough to be
decent, but it was amazing how much less vulnerable he felt
with even this much covering.
A shout behind him made him glance back. Several dark figures
had emerged onto the street, and the same streetlight beneath
which he had passed just moments before, revealed them to be
men clad in pajamas and robes, clutching various implements.
How had they found him?
Clark looked down in sudden realization. Both feet and his left
leg halfway to the knee were still coated in sticky, green
paint, and traces of the substance dotted the street behind
He ran. Behind him, he could hear the shouts of the pursuing
crowd of men, and tried to summon the energy to out-race them.
His twisted ankle twinged warningly, and he knew with a sinking
sensation that he couldn't keep this up for long. The yells
grew closer and he glanced over his shoulder. The crowd was
gaining. He looked desperately around.
To his right, an alley opened up, dark and forbidding. He
dodged down it, trying to ignore the sharp objects that dug
into his feet. The sound of raised voices to his rear told him
the crowd had reached the entrance to the alley and spotted
him. Shouts rose behind him as he ran toward the six-foot stone
wall that barred the end.
A glance over his shoulder revealed the men pelting toward him,
all of them shouting. He seized the top of the wall and boosted
himself up. The men were almost on him as he jumped.
A yell tore itself from his throat as he realized what he had
On the other side of the stone wall was empty space, and he
hurtled through thin air toward the oily surface of the river,
thirty feet below.
The building that had housed the Alley Cat Bar was still
smoldering, and in places flames continued to lick at the
frame, Lois saw when she pulled up at the police roadblock.
Buildings on both sides were blazing merrily, and the decrepit
businesses across the street had begun to burn. Fire trucks
crowded the street, and streams of water were directed toward
the crumbling structures.
The fire had gotten a lot farther than she had seen on
television; television crews covering the blaze had been kept
back where they couldn't interfere with the fire fighters. Lois
could tell that the situation was far more serious than it had
appeared. The ancient, wood-framed structures were dry--
tinderboxes just waiting for a spark to ignite them. Once the
fire had taken hold, they burned with abandon. Metropolis would
be lucky if the fire didn't spread to the whole section.
She descended from the Cherokee, locking it carefully behind
her, and sought out one of the police officers at the
The man was young, barely more than a boy. Lois held up her
press pass and smiled at him. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Do they
know how the fire started, Officer?"
The man glanced at her, then gave her a second, longer look.
"There was an attempted hold-up in the bar," he told her. "The
customers overpowered the hold-up men, but apparently one of
them fired his weapon and shot out a light fixture. According
to the bartender, that started the fire."
"How bad is it?" Lois asked. "Have they got it under control?"
The man shrugged. "I don't know. Every time we think they've
got a handle on it, it flares up again somewhere else."
"Any sign of Superman?" she asked, casually.
The man shook his head. "Not so far, ma'am. He's probably
taking care of an emergency somewhere else. I'm sure he'd help
if he could."
"I'm sure you're right," Lois said. "Thanks, Officer."
"You're welcome, ma'am. Be careful. This isn't the best area
for a lady to be in by herself."
This wasn't an area for anybody to be in by himself, Lois
thought, but she didn't say so. She avoided several scraggly-
looking characters as she moved back toward the Cherokee. Where
was Clark? The stolen Kryptonite popped into her mind again,
but she firmly dismissed the thought. There would be no reason
for anyone to use Kryptonite on a deck hand. Something else
must have happened to him.
The nagging feeling of something wrong had not diminished. She
unlocked the door of the Cherokee and got in, locking it behind
her, and sat still, staring at the burning buildings. The last
thing she wanted was to become the sort of wife who worried
constantly about her husband, demanding to know every second
where he was, but this was genuinely odd. If Clark had known
about the fire, surely he'd be here.
He hadn't called her back. Without much hope, she extracted her
cell phone from the side pocket of her purse and called him
again. The phone rang several times, then to her relief,
"Hello? Who's this?"
The relief vanished. It wasn't Clark's voice.
"This is Lois Lane. I'm trying to get hold of my husband."
"Oh. Look, lady, this is Officer Ferguson. Some guy found this
phone on the floor of the Alley Cat Bar. If you want it, come
down to the 57th Street Station tomorrow. I don't have time,
"Wait...!" There was a click of finality as the officer shut
off the phone. Lois cussed softly under her breath.
Well, that explained why he hadn't answered, earlier. He'd lost
his phone. But where *was* he? The presence of the phone told
her he'd been here. It wasn't like him to take off like this
when there was a genuine emergency. *Something* had happened,
that was for sure, and it was beginning to look as if it was
more serious than she'd at first estimated.
Well, maybe he was following Breen. She considered the
possibility briefly and finally rejected the notion. Superman
could easily have retrieved his phone and not lost his quarry.
Besides, he would never have gone off trailing a suspect when
there were lives at stake, and this fire certainly threatened
lives. Her gut feeling said he was in some kind of trouble.
But, what kind of trouble could Superman have gotten into?
The thought of the stolen Kryptonite resurfaced, and she felt a
sinking sensation in her gut. What if he *had* encountered it?
Okay, it seemed unlikely that Timothy Breen had the resources
to break into STAR Labs, but he was, after all, a courier for
Intergang. Suppose the person he'd been supposed to meet
tonight had been the one behind the theft? Intergang had
tentacles everywhere and one of their unstated but ongoing
goals was to eliminate Superman.
Without another thought, she dialed Bobby Bigmouth. If anyone
could help her, he was the one to ask.
The phone rang half a dozen times before someone picked it up.
A familiar, surprisingly alert voice said, "Bobby here. Who's
"Bobby, this is Lois. I need some help."
"Lois?" Bobby sounded surprised. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Yeah. It's four-twelve in the morning. I've got a problem. Can
we meet somewhere?"
Bobby sounded doubtful. "I dunno. I'm over by that fire in
Suicide Slum. Mebbe I could meet you at the Mandarin Palace in
a couple of hours."
"Bobby, I'm sitting by the barricade in my Jeep. Where are
"Huh?" Bobby's voice trailed off. "Oh, I see you. Stay where
you are. I'll be right there."
"Bobby, since when did you have a cellular phone...?"
Fifteen seconds later, there was a rap on her window and in the
flickering light of the fire, she could see Bobby's face
through the glass. She pointed to the passenger door, reaching
across to unlock it. A few seconds later, Bobby had climbed
into the seat beside her. "What're you doin' here, Lois?"
"Bobby, Clark was in the Alley Cat Bar this evening--
surveillance," she added at his raised eyebrow. "Something's
happened to him. He was watching an Intergang courier named
Timothy Breen. Do you know anything about it?"
"Breen? Sure. He was meetin' some guy there tonight."
"Do you know who it was?" Lois asked.
"Naw. I saw him, though. Big, tall guy with a bad toupee,
wearin' a business suit and a trenchcoat. The guy, not the
toupee. He gave Breen a box about this big." Bobby made hand
motions. "I couldn't see what was in it."
Lois felt her eyes widen. "You were *in* there?"
"Sure. I was sittin' next to the jukebox. I ducked behind it
when those guys held up the place. Then the fight started, and
this guy grabbed the box."
"Away from Breen?"
"Naw. One of the holdup guys took it. They had a pile of
people's stuff. This one guy grabbed it and got out the door."
"Then it's gone," Lois said.
"Nope." Bobby looked smug. "I followed him. Didn't wanna stay
in there and maybe get killed. I saw what he did with it.
Figured it was probably good for a Chinese dinner from you and
Clark, or somethin'." He reached under his jacket. "Here."
Clark flailed at the air, trying to force himself farther out
over the water. Thirty feet or so wasn't a killing fall,
assuming that he struck in the right position and that the
water was deep enough. His tumble towards the river seemed to
take forever and conversely no time at all. He could see the
shimmering, oily surface rushing toward him and found himself
praying for just a tiny amount of good luck on this incredibly
He hit feet first and his body plunged deep under the water.
His feet actually touched the sandy, weed-filled bottom of the
river, and then he was shooting toward the surface, trying hard
to suppress the almost overwhelming urge to breathe.
Just as the feeling became unbearable, his head burst from the
water and he sucked in a huge lungful of air.
For several seconds he floated, struggling to regain his
breath. The air smelled of decaying fish and rotten eggs, with
a piquant hint of sewer. Clark tried not to think of the sludge
in which he was immersed and treading water, attempted to spot
the shoreline in the darkness.
The pale glow of the sky outlined the riverbank. In this place,
the banks of the river rose straight up, black against the sky.
There was no way he was going to climb out here. He swam slowly
upstream, resting frequently and looking for a place where he
would be able to make it back out onto dry land. The pink robe
clung to his arms and hampered his movements, but he was
reluctant to discard it, considering the condition of his
briefs. If he ever managed to make it out of the water, he
would need it in order to avoid a charge of indecent exposure.
How long had it been? He didn't know. It seemed as if hours had
gone by since he had plunged into the water, but it was still
dark so it couldn't be that long. The banks of the river didn't
seem so high, now. Maybe he could find a place low enough to
pull himself out. In the movies, the fearless adventurer always
found a tree limb or a log or something to grab onto, but the
Hobbs River didn't seem to have such conveniences available to
the unlucky individual who happened to fall in. Clark rested,
treading water with as little effort as he could manage. He
hadn't been in such great shape to start with, and the smelly,
dark water was cold, to boot. He was getting tired.
A pier extended from the side of the riverbank. For a few
seconds he stared at the dark silhouette, uncomprehending, and
then, with new energy, altered his direction toward it.
The heavy, ancient pylons were slimy, covered with moss or
algae or something, and he couldn't climb them. He swam along
under the rough, wooden planks, hoping that there would be some
sort of ladder he could use to get out of here. For all his
exertion, he was beginning to feel chilly.
His foot struck bottom. Cautiously, Clark lowered his other
foot and an instant later was standing with his chin barely out
of the water.
For a few seconds he stood still, just resting, but it was too
cold to do nothing for long. He struck out toward the bank
again, floundering and flailing his way forward. Once, he
stepped into a hole and went under again. He surfaced, trying
not to think about what was in the water, and paddled forward.
Then it was suddenly waist-deep, and a couple of steps farther,
knee-deep. There was a narrow beach here, under the pier, and
in the dim light, he could see that the beach became a steep,
but climbable riverbank.
When he clawed his way up the muddy, six-foot bank, he
discovered he was inside a chain-link fence that separated him
from a city street. A locked gate barred his exit, but a short,
painful climb up the fence, careful negotiation of his way over
the three strings of barbed wire at the top, and he came down
onto the scratchy grass that lined the roadway. He sank down on
the nearly flat top of a yellow fire hydrant, breathing hard,
and surveyed the most recent damage to his person. His briefs
had acquired another tear, not that it mattered now, and he
sucked absently on a cut in the heel of his hand inflicted by
the wire, but at least he was back on dry land. Now the
question was, where was he?
He was obviously somewhere in the riverfront district, still
within the fringes of Suicide Slum, but the better sections of
the city weren't far away. With luck, maybe he could flag down
a cop and get some help.
He shivered. There was a light breeze blowing, and as wet as he
was, it felt like the breath off a glacier. He looked around
for a windbreak of some kind.
On the other side of the street were buildings. The street here
was deserted. The feeling was eerie, but he told himself that
most of the residents in this district were probably still
sleeping. With a last glance at the dark river behind him, he
crossed the thoroughfare and stepped out of the wind behind the
wall of a battered shed.
A glance to the east confirmed that it wasn't yet quite dawn,
but it must be getting close to five a.m. There was the very
faintest hint of a lightening of the sky on the horizon. Before
long, the sun would be coming up. In spite of his attire, Clark
welcomed that. Things wouldn't seem nearly so bad by daylight.
In the shelter of the old shed, he removed the robe and wrung
it out as well as he could. A whiff of the odor rising off the
fabric made him wince. The terrycloth seemed to have soaked up
a good deal of the river's stench, but he didn't have much
choice. He was going to have to wear it, at least a little
He slid the robe back on, shivering at the feeling of the wet
fabric and knotted the sash around his waist. His wallet was
still in the pocket. He hoped there wasn't much irreplaceable
in it that could be damaged by the water. The quicker he got
into relatively safe territory the better off he would be.
The soles of his feet were abraded, bruised and sore from his
journey over the rough pavement. Some of the green paint had
washed off, but his feet were still tinted with green. He was a
mess, he admitted unhappily. Explaining it to Lois wasn't
something he was looking forward to. Upon thinking it over,
however, he acknowledged to himself that it probably didn't
matter. She was going to kill him whatever he did.
The light to the east was growing stronger. Well, there was no
point in putting this off any longer. Clark took a deep breath,
stepped out of his sheltered spot and strode forward.
Lois took the heavy, little box from Bobby. On the lid was the
unmistakable logo of STAR Labs. She felt her breath catch.
Judging by the weight, this thing was made of lead. Unless she
was greatly mistaken, this was the box containing the
Kryptonite that had been stolen two days ago--no, three days,
now--from STAR Labs.
She shook it lightly. Something clunked inside.
Bobby raised his brows. "Is this the Kryptonite STAR Labs lost
the other day?" he inquired.
It figured that Bobby would know. "Probably." She tugged at the
top. "It's locked. Hold on a sec." She fished in her handbag.
"Where's my lock pick...ah." She withdrew the item. "Just a
Bobby sounded surprised. "You carry a lock pick in your purse?"
"Sure, doesn't everybody...there!"
There was a satisfying click. She withdrew the lock pick and
opened the lid. The chunk of Kryptonite glowed pale green in
"I guess that settles that," Bobby said, after a stunned
second. "Y'know, I've never seen Kryptonite before. Nasty-
"Yeah." Lois snapped the lid closed again and set the box on
"I'd like to know who the guy was that grabbed this," Bobby
said. "I guess it coulda been Clark. He had the right build,
but I couldn't see him very well. He took off west, walkin'."
"What was he wearing?" Lois asked.
"Jeans, and a black leather jacket," Bobby said. "I couldn't
see his face. He had black hair, though."
Would Clark have done that? Lois frowned, thinking. "That's
what Clark had on. Did the man who gave Breen this box open
"Yeah, I think he did. Like I said, I couldn't see what was in
it. 'Sides," Bobby added, "in that business they don't trust
nobody. Breen'd have insisted."
"I suppose so. If Clark saw it, he'd have tried to get it,"
Lois said. "Superman's his friend."
"Yeah, I know," Bobby said. "But harin' off on foot in Suicide
Slum is crazy. He'll get himself killed sure."
Lois bit her lip. Could Clark have been close enough to get
exposed to this stuff? Darn him, anyway! She'd told him to be
careful, and now he'd lost his phone and disappeared. He might
be walking through the worst part of the slums without his
super powers. What should she do?
She glanced at Bobby. "I have to find him," she said. "I owe
you a Chinese dinner, Bobby. Thanks."
"Y'know, Lois," Bobby said, "I think marriage is good for you.
You haven't insulted me once. Look, I'll show you the most
direct way outta here. You can drive an' I'll look. Maybe we'll
find him. He's got about a three-hour start on us, but he can't
have gone too far on foot around here. He went down that
street, there, headed west." He pointed. "If it was me and I
didn't have a ride, I'd make tracks away from the docks as fast
as I could."
"Okay." Lois started the engine, backed up and swiveled the
Cherokee around. "Let's go."
The horizon was definitely brighter. A pale, pink glow was
slowly growing, turning the dark water of the river a muddy
pinkish color. Clark hoped it would warm up quickly. He was
cold, wet, tired and filthy-dirty, and smelled to high heaven.
All he wanted to do was go home, take a hot shower and fall
Here and there, a shabbily dressed figure shuffled by. Clark
glanced down at himself and sighed. When he got into the more
civilized sections of the city, he was bound to face
embarrassing questions at the very least. As it was, this
neighborhood was still bad but nothing like the area he had
traversed during the night. He passed a liquor store
advertising beer, a metal grate covering the door, and the
windows shuttered. The wind on his back was cold and he found
himself shivering. He had to clench his jaw to keep his teeth
from chattering. As Superman, he tended to forget the kind of
discomforts endured by ordinary humans, but it would be a long
time before he forgot again after this past night. When he
could take the chill no longer, he ducked into an alley between
a grocery store and an old corner gas station for the meagre
shelter the ancient building offered. The gas station was
closed; the lights in the small, adjoining convenience store
were off and the door appeared to be securely locked. Maybe if
he waited here, the owner would show up before long and he
could make a phone call from the pay phone he could see through
the cracked window glass.
It was still cold but once out of the breeze, even the wet
terrycloth provided some small amount of insulation. This
couldn't last, however. He had to get help before he froze to
death. The temperature was probably around forty-five degrees,
but wearing wet clothing--what there was of it, anyway--the
effective temperature was lower, at least to him. His fingers
and toes felt like ice and his lips were numb. He huddled
against the wall, reluctant to step back into the wind.
Besides, he was tired. A few minutes of rest couldn't hurt,
He had almost slipped into a doze when the sound of raised
voices jerked him awake. Cautiously, he rose to his feet and
peered out of his inadequate shelter.
The sun hadn't yet risen, but the eastern horizon was ablaze
with the pink light of pre-sunrise and fluffy pink clouds
dotted the sky. An elderly man, his back to the door of the gas
station's run-down convenience store, was facing two, burly
men. One of the two held a baseball bat, and the other a knife,
and both were grinning.
"Open it up, Pops," the taller of the two said. "We got
business we wanna transact."
"But I'm telling you, I don't have any money in there," the
older man protested. "I took the receipts to the bank last
"Open it," the second man said. "Don't give us a hassle, Pop."
"Hey," Clark said.
The two men turned and both jaws dropped. As one, they began to
"Beat it, mister," the shorter man said, between snickers. "It
*is* 'mister', isn't it?"
Clark didn't give them a chance to regain their composure. He
charged, knocking the bat-wielder back against the wall with
his shoulder. The breath whooshed out of the mugger in a pained
grunt. Clark wrenched the bat from his hands and spun in time
to meet the man with the knife.
The blade glanced along his arm, but Clark used the end of the
bat to ram his second assailant in the solar plexus. He went
down on his rear on the ground, the knife clattering away. Both
men scrambled to their feet and ran.
The store's proprietor stared at him, clearly unsure whether
Clark was a rescuer or another mugger. Clark dropped the bat,
suddenly aware of a hot line of pain down his forearm, and the
fact that blood was leaking from a deep slash that extended
nearly from his elbow to his wrist.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Mutely, the man nodded. His eyes were fixed on the wet, pink
robe. "Who...who are you?"
"My name--" Clark felt the need to lean against the wall. "I'm
Clark Kent. I got--mugged. They took my clothes." He subdued a
slight wave of nausea.
"Oh, my Lord. Just a minute." The elderly man opened the door
hastily and gave him a hand. "Come on inside and sit down."
Lois steered slowly through the broken, dirty streets, peering
anxiously about. Bobby Bigmouth sat alertly beside her, looking
in all directions. It was just after five in the morning, and
to the east, the sky was turning a brilliant pink and gold
color. So far, they had seen no sign of Clark.
The cellular phone tucked into the top of Lois's purse
shrilled. Her heart leaped into her mouth at the sound and she
dug frantically, one-handed, in her bag for it.
"Just keep your eyes on the road," Bobby said. "I'll get it."
He fished the phone out of her purse and flipped it open.
Lois took the phone. "Lois Lane."
"Ms. Lane?" an unfamiliar voice said. "Are you Clark Kent's
"Yes! Yes, I am. Is he there?"
"This is Bob Gilmore. I'm the owner of Bob's Filling Station on
the corner of Rose Street and Paradise Drive. Your husband's
here with me."
"Oh, thank God! Is he all right?"
Gilmore hesitated. "Here, I'll let you talk to him."
There was a rustling sound, then Clark's voice said, "Lois?"
"Clark! Are you all right?"
"Um...more or less. Could you come and pick me up?"
"I'll be there as soon as I can!"
"Uh--can you bring me some clothes?"
"I'm in the Jeep--clothes? Why do you--no, don't bother to
explain. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Bobby looked at her, grinning slightly as she hung up. "He's
"I don't know. He didn't sound quite right. Can you show me how
to get to the corner of Rose and Paradise?"
"Bob's Filling Station? Sure," Bobby said. "Me and Gil are
buds. Turn left at the next corner..."
Clark, sitting on a hard, plastic chair, wrapped in Bob
Gilmore's jacket, winced slightly but endeavored to hold still
while the filling station owner swabbed at the cut on his arm
with antiseptic from the establishment's first aid kit. A
coffeepot perked noisily in the background.
"When your wife gets here, you have her take you straight to
the doctor, you hear me?" he told Clark. "Wouldn't want this
cut to get infected, and that river's polluted pretty bad. I'm
surprised it didn't kill you outright."
"Sure. Thanks, Gil, you're a real life saver," Clark said. "I
owe you a lot for this."
"Shoot," Gilmore said, "you don't owe me nothing. You didn't
have to charge in that way. You coulda stayed out of it."
Clark shook his head. "No, I couldn't."
Gilmore grinned slightly. "That attitude could get you killed,
son, but thanks for helpin' out. You sure saved my bacon." He
wrapped gauze around the injury with surprising skill. "You're
lucky I used to be a medic in the army. There you go. That'll
hold you 'til you see a doctor." He straightened up and glanced
at the coffeepot. "Looks like the coffee's ready. You take
A few minutes later, Clark finished his second cup. "Ah, that's
Gil fetched him a third. "Feelin' any warmer?"
"Yeah," Clark said. He took another swallow of the hot liquid.
"I'll feel even better when I can get a bath and some clothes."
"I'll bet." Gil glanced over his shoulder as the silver
Cherokee pulled up outside with a screech of tires. "That your
"Yeah." In spite of the fact that Lois was undoubtedly going to
kill him, the release of tension was so great he felt a little
light-headed. He drained the coffee cup and set it down. "I'll
probably need a doctor after she gets hold of me."
The old man chuckled. "'Fraid I can't help you there." He went
to the door and unlocked it as Lois opened the Jeep's door and
jumped out, followed by Bobby Bigmouth. "Come on in, Ms. Lane.
Mr. Kent's a bit worse for wear, but he'll be okay. Hi, Bobby."
Bobby followed Lois into the room. "Hi, Gil." He looked over at
Clark and both his eyebrows went up. "Wow, Clark, you're a
mess. You fall in the river or somethin'?"
Clark looked down at himself and the sodden pink bathrobe and
T-shirt that lay on the floor beside him. "You wouldn't believe
me if I told you, Bobby," he said. "I'm not sure *I* believe
Lois looked him up and down. "Well," she said acerbically, "I
want to hear it, anyway. I'll get the blanket out of the Jeep."
She returned with the car blanket within a moment. Clark got to
his feet and staggered slightly as his head swam. Gil and Bobby
grabbed him. "Easy there, Clark," Bobby said. "You look a
Lois wrapped the blanket around him. "Come on, Clark, let's get
you in the Jeep. I think I can wait to hear what happened."
It was an hour and a half later. Clark pulled the plug, rose
carefully from the hot water of the tub and stepped out onto
the thick bathmat. The bathroom was full of steam, but he
didn't care. He was finally warm. Lois handed him a towel,
glancing approvingly at her husband's muscular body. "Well, you
smell a lot better."
"I feel a lot better, too" Clark said. He glanced at his
bandaged arm and grimaced. "I'm sorry about all this, honey."
Lois giggled. "It's okay, Clark, I think you've been punished
enough. Now that it's over it's funny, even if it wasn't at the
time. The thought of you in a hot pink bathrobe...I always said
you looked good in pink."
Clark groaned. "Don't remind me. I'm going to have to replace
it. That one will never be the same again."
"How are you going to explain it?"
"I'm not. It's a gift from a friend, and that's the end of it."
"Well, at least wait until you get your powers back before you
go into that section of town again," Lois said.
"Don't worry, I will," Clark said. He yawned. "What a night. It
was probably good for me, though. It reminded me not to take my
powers for granted. Did you call Perry?"
"Yes. I told him you had a little accident on your stakeout
last night. You're on sick leave until tomorrow."
"And you say I'm the master of understatements. Get that box
back to Dr. Klein, will you?"
Lois shook her head. "I already talked to him while you were
soaking in the tub. We're keeping it in the secret compartment,
with Dr. Klein's blessing until they've got a safer place for
it. He doesn't want to take a chance that it might get into
Intergang's hands again."
"You're probably right," Clark said. He yawned a second time
and opened the door to the bedroom. "I'm beat. We can start
work on the Councilman Pearson connection tomorrow."
"I'll have Jimmy start researching his background as soon as I
get to the office." Lois watched as Clark put on his pajamas.
"I owe Bobby a Chinese dinner, too. He really helped me out."
"Yeah. I guess you never really know who your friends are until
you need them," Clark said. He crawled into bed and pulled the
covers up to his chin. Lois leaned over him and kissed him
lightly. "Good night, Clark. I'm glad you're home safe."
"Me, too." Clark was struggling to hold his eyes open. "Good
night, honey. I'll see you this afternoon." He turned over, and
closed his eyes. He was already asleep when Lois turned off the
light and tiptoed from the room.