I'm a fan of The West Wing, also of Lois And Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, but for some reason I'd never seen the Lois and Clark episode "Lethal Weapon" before the Season 4 DVDs were released, or realised that the villain of the week was played by the late great John Spencer, Leo McGarry in The West Wing. When I saw it this more or less wrote itself...
Minor spoilers for various episodes of The West Wing and Lois and Clark. The time frame is several years after the last series of Lois and Clark, early in Season 3 of The West Wing. Readers unfamiliar with the world of Lois and Clark should be aware that President Garner stood for re-election during the fourth season; I've assumed that he was successful and served his second term, and was followed in office by President Bartlet.
Apologies to anyone expecting to see the next part of my other Lois and Clark story "Nine Lives"; I lost a lot of work, including all my story notes, when my USB pen broke a couple of months ago, and I'm still trying to put the plot back together. In the meantime this was a lot easier to write.
The Washington Beat
by Marcus L. Rowland
"I'm sorry, Mr. McGarry," said the Secret Service agent, stopping the Chief of Staff at the entrance to the White House, "We'll need to check your fingerprints and run a retinal scan."
"I heard that my cousin escaped again," said Leo, letting the agent check his prints, "What the hell's going on in Metropolis?"
"I don't know, sir," said the agent, "you'd think that with Superman around the prisons there would be pretty secure."
"Morning," grunted Toby Zeigler, signing in at the next desk, "See your cousin's in the news again."
"It's bad enough that Hank looks and talks like me," grumbled Leo, "it was just embarrassing when he had that TV show and kids kept wanting Mr. Gadget's autograph while I was on the campaign trail. It got downright silly when he decided to become a 'criminal mastermind.'" He gestured the quotes, and the agent patiently pressed his hand back on the fingerprint scanner. "I don't know why anyone thinks he'd be stupid enough to come here."
"Nobody wants to take any chances since President Garner was cloned," said the agent, looking at the prints.
"Garner got unlucky," said Toby, "what with that and the New Kryptonian invasion. And of course there was the whole mind control thing when he let that guy John Doe use the launch codes..."
"Doe was a darned nice guy," said Leo, "for a homicidal megalomaniac."
"Look into the retinal scanner please," said the agent. Leo complied, and blinked at the flash.
"Okay, you're cleared," said the agent. "We'll keep you posted. Superman's looking for him so it shouldn't take too long."
"You'd think there'd be another line of work he could try," said Toby, heading towards his office. "It's my impression that 'criminal mastermind' is a crowded field in Metropolis."
"Don't ask me," said Leo, "Hank's family wanted him to be a dentist."
"That's good work," said Toby. "Pays well."
"I think Hank likes the idea of a billion dollars for a few day's work. I don't think dentistry pays quite that well, though considering how much I spent on Mallory's teeth over the years I could be wrong. The person I really feel sorry for is my nephew Carter, he's been Hank's stooge since the TV days, and he's already served two term in prison. Wouldn't surprise me if he was involved in this escape."
"Do you need C.J. to say anything about it?" Toby asked as they reached his office.
"It's a Metropolis story, not national," said Leo. "Someone will probably ask about it, if they do C.J. knows what to say. If they don't we should leave it alone."
"Before we begin," said C.J. Craig, the White House Press Secretary, "I see that we have a new face here today. Most of you will already know Lois Lane by reputation. She'll be representing the Daily Planet for the next couple of weeks, filling in for Jerry Cooper until he gets over the mumps and out of quarantine. Lois is a multiple Kerth winner, so the rest of you had better be ready for some competition. Welcome Lois." There was a ripple of greetings from the rest of the Washington press corps.
"Today's schedule is pretty much routine; the President will be in meetings related to the recent attempted coup in Haiti, the election campaign, the Grand Jury investigation, and accreditation of the new ambassador for the Irish Republic. The Vice President is opening the new energy research facility at the University of Las Vegas, then visiting military installations elsewhere in Nevada. Anyone covering that should have been aboard Air Force Two three hours ago, so I guess that you've either missed the flight or sent deputies." There were a few chuckles. "Finally, the First Lady will be visiting schools in the Washington area today, and speaking on issues related to drugs, tobacco, and alcohol abuse. Her office can give you the schedule, but I think that the press bus is already pretty full. Harry, then Lois."
"Is there White House concern at the escape of Hank Landry, AKA Mister Gadget?" asked Harry Dunn, the Metropolis Daily Star's White House correspondent.
"We're monitoring the situation," said C.J., "But it's a local problem for the Metropolis Police Department, and possibly the FBI."
"Even though he's Leo McGarry's cousin and a dead ringer for him?" said Harry.
"We're monitoring the situation," C.J. repeated. "There are obvious security concerns, but I'm not at liberty to discuss how we're handling them. Lois, then Melvin."
"There have been seventy-four escapes from Metropolis prisons in the past five years, involving more than a hundred prisoners," said Lois, "and in that time Federal funding for the New Troy penal system has risen by less than two percent. Does President Bartlet plan to review the situation? Does he plan to visit Metropolis and see things for himself?"
"I'm not aware that New Troy has applied for extra funding," said C.J., "but if they have it will be negotiated in the budget, as always. And I don't think that the President's schedule currently includes a visit to Metropolis, but there may be something planned for later in the year. I'll check and let you know. Melvin, then David..."
"The President hasn't visited Metropolis since the primaries," said C.J., "Neither has any senior member of the cabinet or White House official."
"None of them?" asked Josh Lyman, Leo McGarry's deputy. "How did that happen?"
"Scheduling problems, plus people don't like to be kidnapped that much," said Toby. "The agricultural secretary spent a couple of days there last year. Of course it was only supposed to be four hours, the rest of the time he was tied to a giant exploding rutabaga waiting for Superman to rescue him, but..."
"Why a rutabaga?" interrupted Josh.
"Because they didn't have a giant exploding zucchini," C.J. said sarcastically. "Does it really matter? The point is, someone needs to look at the President's schedule and fit in a trip before the election. His approval rating was down three points in the New Troy area in the last poll, that still gives him the state but we need to make sure it doesn't slip any more than that."
"I'm not sure it's a good time," said Josh, "there's this whole thing with Leo's cousin."
"That'll blow over once he's caught," said C.J. "Always assuming he doesn't wreck the city first."
"Bite your tongue," said Toby, "The last thing we need is another big hit on the FEMA budget."
"Right now the President is pretty busy," said Josh, "What with the election coming up, Congress investigating his MS, and, oh yeah, running the country. I can put it to Leo, but I doubt that he'll go for it. Is there anything else we could do? Photo op with senator um... Kepple, or governor what's-his-name? Both of them? At the White House? Maybe Superman too? Some funding for their penal system that doesn't need to wait for the budget?"
"Could we do that?" asked C.J.
"Justice might have some discretionary funds available. It's worth checking."
"So what do I tell Lois Lane?"
"That we're still looking into it, of course."
"Okay. That might buy us a little time," said C.J., "but she's too good a reporter to let us stall her for long."
"We're not lying or hiding anything," said Josh, "we're just forced to prioritize a little. And right now I can't see a presidential visit to Metropolis getting a high priority."
"Meanwhile Hank Landry remains at large," Lois typed on her laptop in her hotel room that evening, "and it's hard to avoid the impression that the Bartlet administration is complacent about the risks New Troy's underfunded penal system poses to the citizens of Metropolis and the world." She added "END," scanned it through and ran the spell checker again, then sent it to Perry White at the Daily Planet. A couple of minutes later she heard a faint "swoosh" noise and wasn't surprised when the balcony door opened and a blue blur appeared, solidified as Superman, then spun round and reappeared as her husband Clark.
"I wasn't expecting to see you until later," said Lois. "Aren't you out scouring Metropolis for Mister Gadget?"
"Sure," said Clark, "but he seems to have gone to ground. I've got Jimmy following up a few leads on line, but that'll take a while. Anyway, I saw you'd filed your story, thought we could both use a ten minute break."
"Make it twenty," said Lois, grabbing his tie and pulling him towards the bed. They were getting comfortable when Lois's cellphone rang.
"I'd better get that," said Lois. Clark groaned softly as she took the call, and heard a woman say "Lois Lane? This is the White House switchboard. Just a moment, please, I'm putting you through to C.J. Cregg."
"Lois? This is C.J. Cregg. Can you spare a minute or two?"
"Sure," said Lois. Clark groaned again and lay back on the bed.
"The President's been looking into the problems you mentioned at the briefing, and we're putting together a funding package that might help. Would you be free to come back to the White House tonight, we'd appreciate your input."
"I'm not really an expert," said Lois, "shouldn't you be talking to Superman and the police, maybe the guys who run the prisons?"
"We're planning to," she said, "but you've probably seen more supervillains in action than anyone apart from Superman, and you're in Washington. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours."
"What time?" said Lois.
"Eight-thirty would be good."
Lois glanced at her watch, saw that it was just after six, and agreed to the meeting. She ended the call and said "Okay, I'll have to start getting ready in an hour or so. Now where were we?"
"She just left her room," said the tinny voice in Hank Landry's ear at 7.35. "Ought to be headed down to the garage now."
"You're sure she'll be using the car?" Hank whispered into his microphone.
"Why rent it if she isn't going to use it?" Carter Landry replied. "Did you fit the equipment?"
"Of course I..." Hank started to yell, then stopped and switched off as he heard the elevator arrive. Lois stepped out, looked around, then walked to a silver Mercedes and drove off. Hank switched on his radio again and said "She's on her way. Get down here."
'ROAD AHEAD BLOCKED,' said the traffic computer in the Mercedes, indicating an alternative route to the White House. Lois swore softly, it was the third route change since she'd left the hotel. The Presidential motorcade must be on the move, that was the only thing likely to close so many roads. Which was odd, because she couldn't remember any engagements being mentioned in the morning briefing. She switched on the radio and checked the traffic reports; while the Washington roads were less familiar than those of Metropolis, there didn't seem to be any major incidents around the city centre. At the next red light she got out her cell-phone. There was no signal. After a couple of blocks she tried again, but there was still nothing... except a portly businessman on the sidewalk, talking to his own cellphone. Lois turned the ignition key, intending to switch off the engine and check reception outside the car, but instead there was a loud click as all the door locks slammed closed, and the car accelerated down the street, ignoring the steering wheel and brakes. Lois rummaged in her bag again, guessing what was coming next.
"Hello, Ms. Lane," said a familiar voice from the radio, "Mister Gadget says welcome to Washington. And now it's nap time..." White gas began to gush from the ventilator grilles.
The Mercedes took a final corner and swerved into an open garage. The tailing van followed it in, with Carter Landry in the driving seat, and Hank in the back operating the remote controls for the Mercedes. Both men put on gas masks.
"Get her out," said Hank, pressing the button that unlocked the Mercedes' doors, "I'll get the holographic imager."
Carter opened the driver's door and looked inside, then said "Where the hell is she?" The car was empty, apart from the last swirls of gas.
"Try in back," said Hank. "She might have had time to climb back before the gas took her out."
"Superman must have rescued her."
"If he had, we'd both be in jail," said Carter.
"So what the hell happened?"
"I don't know."
"However she did it," said Hank, "she'll be calling for Superman by now. We've got to get out of here before he tracks us down."
They began to throw equipment into the van. Behind them, unnoticed, the trunk of the Mercedes opened an inch or so. Lois checked her cellphone, saw that it was picking up a signal, and hit the speed-dial for Clark's phone.
"Nose plugs?" said Leo McGarry.
"Like miniature gas masks. Apparently she's been gassed so many times that she got a professor... um..." C.J. looked at her notes "...Hamilton to make them, put them in as soon as she guessed what your cousin was up to. Then she climbed into the back, pulled up the seat, and got into the trunk. Once the car stopped she called her husband, and he got hold of Superman somehow."
"And Hank and Carter are in jail again," Leo said with a smile. "How far did they get before Superman scooped them up?"
"They were on the interstate headed back towards Metropolis," said C.J.
"Do we know what their plan was?"
"They made the fake call to get her into the car, then they wanted to kidnap Lane and scan her to make a holographic disguise for Landry. He was going to try to use the thing about the Metropolis prisons to get an appointment with you, then take your place. After that I think he wanted to replace the President."
"What the hell for?"
"Superman doesn't think they'd thought it through past that point," said CJ. "God knows why anyone in his right mind would want the job."
"Gee thanks," said a voice from the doorway. C.J. and Leo got to their feet as the President entered Leo's office.
"Good evening, Mister President," said C.J.
"I've been thinking about the Metropolis situation," said President Bartlet, "and they obviously do need some help with their prisons. Talk to Justice about it, see if we can scare up a few million now. If not, I want it in the budget."
"I'll get Josh on it in the morning," said Leo. "I think he was already looking into it."
"What about a trip to Metropolis?" asked C.J. "It's high time someone from the government gave the place some attention."
"I'd love to," said the President, "but the Secret Service would throw a fit if we did it without giving them a few weeks to prepare. They want to triple the normal detail if I go there."
"The Vice-President, then?" asked Leo. "Would he be up for it?"
"Let's see now," said Bartlet. "Do I want to expose the Vice-President to the risk of being kidnapped and maybe tied to a giant... was it a turnip?"
"A rutabaga," said C.J.
"A giant exploding rutabaga," Bartlet said with a smile. "Well, he's always saying I should make more use of him in the campaign..."
C.J. and Leo smiled back. None of them liked the Vice-President.
"While the citizens of Metropolis applaud the President's decision to increase funding for the New Troy penal system," Lois typed, "we should remember that this was a one-off payment, and that the impetus for the decision was yet another escape attempt which just happened to involve senior government figures. Previous escapes have had no effect on government policy. It seems possible that with Mister Gadget back behind bars the impetus for reform will be lost."
"That's great," said Clark, reading over her shoulder. "Add in the sidebar about the vice-president's visit, and the rumours of a rift between Bartlet and the vice-president, and you've got your story."
"Think it's good for a Kerth?"
"If this has real political repercussions you could be in line for a Pulitzer."
"Okay!" said Lois enthusiastically, typing a few more words, moving the sidebar, and sending it back to the Daily Planet.
"Now what?" asked Clark.
"Well," said Lois, grabbing his tie, "Wasn't there something we were doing before we were interrupted last night?"
Clark grinned, and let her lead him back to the bed.