The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.
Thomas J. Watson
American businessman (1874 – 1956)
The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun.
R. Buckminster Fuller
American architect and futurist (1895 – 1983)
Randolph Goode looked around the conference room. His people had done a sterling job of turning the room into an appropriate venue for international negotiations. The framed posters –- oversize blow-ups of some of Goode's favorite Inquisitor front pages –- had been replaced by good fine art reproductions. A small buffet had been set out on the credenza but Navance, Kasparov and their aides seemed unimpressed by the staff's efforts.
Goode tried to cajole them into tasting the spread he'd had laid on.
"Forgive my bluntness, Mr. Goode, but I am a suspicious man by nature - why are you so interested in resurrecting these talks?" Kasparov demanded.
"Yes, what do you get out of it?" Navance chimed in.
"Why, I get what we all get potentially – peace on earth, goodwill toward man," Goode stated. "And since I've been a candidate for the Peace Prize, I thought this was the least I could do, see if we can't come up with a solution together. Just because I print what people want to read doesn't mean I'm not a good citizen of the world." He offered Navance another hors d'oeuvre. "Shrimp?"
Navance sniffed as though insulted. He wasn't a large man and Goode knew he was sensitive about his height. The publisher smiled inwardly. Navance was so easy to manipulate.
Kasparov tasted one of the little shrimp appetizers and grimaced. "You said Superman would be here to explain himself. Where is he?"
Goode tried to look innocent. "Well, he promised me he'd be here..." he said. "Maybe Lois Lane got tickets to 'Mama Mia,' or something," he suggested. Neither leader seemed amused by his joke. "What can I say other than it appears as though he's disappointed us yet again. However, I will be more than happy to shepherd you through the talks, if you will allow me. Come, sit!" He beckoned them to come to the table.
The conference room doors burst open and Superman strode in, a grim expression on his face. It was all Goode could do to keep from gaping. The Blue Boy Scout was supposed to be busy. He'd been assured Superman would be too distracted to pay attention to Goode's little meeting.
"Surprised, Mister Goode?" Superman asked. "I thought you were expecting me."
"I… uh," Goode sputtered.
Superman turned to the two leaders, ignoring Goode. "Gentlemen, you must call a cease fire immediately. Believe me, there is nothing that war could ever achieve that you could not better achieve without it."
Navance snorted. "Who are you to lecture us? You're no better than a common politician. You stand for nothing."
To Goode's annoyance, Superman seemed unperturbed by the accusation.
"I stand for what is right – and what's right is peace," Superman said. "I beg you not to let any side issues distract you from our common goal."
"Peace is built on the cornerstones of trust, Superman," Kasparov spat. "And if either one of us is to trust you again, first you must explain this." He tossed a copy of the Inquisitor on the table – the one with the photo of Lois allegedly giving him her room key.
"And this," Navance said, tossing a copy of the Dirt Digger next to the Inquisitor. This one had the photo of Superman supposedly entering Lois Lane's hotel room.
Goode saw his chance. "Yes, Superman, we're all ears."
"Gentlemen, they say that pictures don't lie, but they do, especially when manipulated by experts," Superman stated. "But that aside, you trusted me enough once to ask me to mediate talks between you. You need to trust me again."
"Superman, General Navance and myself... we understand such things," Kasparov began. "We are men of the world, but our people are not so sophisticated. They are outraged by what they read - they won't allow you to broker our peace talks unless you can give them a more... acceptable explanation."
As Kasparov was speaking, Goode's assistant, Hankins, walked in and hurried over to her boss. She whispered, "GNN has breaking news on Alice Burns."
"Are we covered there?" Goode whispered back. Hankins nodded.
Goode used the remote to turn on the wall-mounted monitor. The sudden sound caught everyone's attention. On the screen, Brock Thompson looked grim as he told of the murder of Alice Burns.
Goode was gratified to see that the news report had caught everyone's attention, including Superman. He flicked off the monitor.
"It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?" Goode asked conversationally. "The brave journalist who exposed your sleazy tryst with a married woman found dead?"
"We both know the story she aired was a complete fabrication," Superman stated calmly. "The real question is, why this so-called 'brave journalist' chose to air a story she knew full well was completely false. A story she knew would ruin her professionally.?"
"Can this be proven?" Navance asked.
"Yes," Superman said.
Goode snorted. "Like we're supposed to believe that where there's smoke there's no fire or you don't have an unhealthy interest in the redoubtable Ms. Lane."
Superman's expression had been calm but now Goode saw an ominous glint in his eyes.
"Mister Goode, despite appearances, I was born on another planet. What makes you believe I am even capable of having a sexual interest, healthy or otherwise, in a mere human?" Superman asked.
"And you say you never lie," Goode responded. "Where were you when Burns was screaming her lungs out, begging for mercy?"
"That depends on when she was killed," Superman said.
"Convenient, you being busy when one of the people who was out to show the world your true colors was being murdered in her own bed."
Goode caught the slight narrowing of Superman's eyes and a frisson of fear ran down his back. Had he pushed too far?
"Mister Goode, I sincerely advise you and your friends to stop your smear campaign against Ms. Lane and her family. You won't like the consequences," Superman said.
"Is that a threat?" Goode demanded.
"No. Threats sound foolish in the daylight, don't you agree?" Superman said. "But it is a promise."
Goode snorted in derision. "So much for not having an interest in a married woman. As far as denials go, that one ranks right up there with Watergate."
"As does your claim of not knowing where I was," Superman countered. "Or do you want me to believe you knew nothing of General Orloff's 'accidental' missile attack on Podansk?"
Navance paled. "We are finished here!" he announced, slamming his briefcase shut.
"My armies will crush you," Kasparov yelled at Navance.
"My missiles will destroy you first," Navance yelled back. He gestured to his aide, barking at him in Podanskese.
Kasparov snapped his own briefcase closed and headed for the door, his aide trailing at his heels.
"Gentlemen, please…" Superman began.
"Enough talk!" Navance growled.
"Mr. President, General, please," Superman began again. "For the sake of your peoples, you must keep trying to come to an accord."
The two leaders kept walking.
"Gentlemen," Superman tried once again. Goode had to admit, he was persistent.
"The vultures are already circling your two countries. Bets are being taken as to how many dead there will be and who will pick up the pieces when it's over," Superman said. "I can't stop you from condemning your people to death in a conflict neither side can win. I can't stop you from choosing to listen to the voices that say war is the only option and I can't stop you from believing everything you read in tabloids noted for their fiction. All I can do is ask that you step back from the brink and take a serious look at what's going on."
Navance and Kasparov exchanged a look of consideration.
"I am willing to meet again tomorrow," Kasparov said. "Here, at noon?"
Navance nodded agreement.
"Excellent," Goode chimed in. "Noon it is. You won't regret your decision." He watched the two leaders leave, Superman following behind them. Goode was closing the door when Hankin slipped in.
"Our 'friends' are on the phone," Hankin told him, holding out a small handset. Goode's gut clenched. "Superman stopped the missile attack," she added unnecessarily
"Like I didn't know that?" Goode groused. He took the phone from her.
"We were assured," the voice on the other end began, "that between your efforts to discredit him and General Orloff's unique talents, Superman would not interfere in the border dispute between our 'friends'."
Goode felt nausea rising as he listened. These were not good people to disappoint.
"People I thought I could rely on… well, you know how it goes," Goode said.
"Yes, we do know how it goes," the voice said. "We hope you appreciate the consequences for you should you fail to neutralize Superman for us."
Goode's mouth had dried up so he could hardly talk. "I understand," he managed to stammer.
"Good," the voice said. "Now, we have an additional little chore for you…"
Superman hovered high over the city listening to Goode. It wasn't ethical, and even the legality was questionable, but it was necessary. The overheard phone conversation confirmed Superman's suspicions –- Goode was actively involved in the smear campaign against Lois and himself.
Also It also appeared that Goode and whoever he was taking orders from were also actively working for the escalation of hostilities between Podansk and Latislan. Superman was certain that Navance had been unpleasantly surprised by the news about Orloff and the missile attack on Podansk. He was equally certain that Goode had been aware of it – the heart rates of the two leaders and their aides had jumped at the news and Superman had been able to smell the stress hormones. Goode, on the other hand, had shown stress only when Superman appeared, not at the news that the war he'd been allegedly trying to avoid had broken out.
Then there was the question of how much Goode knew of Burns's death. The news report had been brief and had given little hard information aside from the fact that the woman had been found dead and the police were working on the case. Were Goode's statements about how Burns died based on assumptions and guesses or an inside knowledge of what happened to the woman?
Goode's caller didn't say much more, only that Hankin had the details concerning Goode's 'little chore'.
Superman homed in on Lois's heart beat. She was with Bill Henderson at an apartment in North Bridge. A crime scene unit was working there. Burns's apartment? The body had already been moved out.
Clark Kent straightened his tie as he approached the yellow police tape. He flashed his press pass at the officer in the doorway.
"Kent!" Henderson called from inside the apartment. Clark ducked under the tape.
"GNN aired the report on Alice Burns," Clark said quietly. "No details, of course." He gave his wife a curious look. "Did Perry assign you to this one?"
Lois shook her head. "I was with Henderson when the report came in. I'm just along for the ride."
"When did she die?" Clark asked Henderson.
One of the other officers spoke up. "First estimate puts it about six in the morning."
Clark frowned. He was in the city with Lois and Jason when it happened.
"Something wrong?" Henderson asked.
"Superman was just in a meeting with Randolph Goode. Goode wanted to know where Superman was when Burns was 'screaming her lungs out, begging for mercy'."
"And where was Superman?"
"Around, I'm sure," Clark answered. He dropped his voice to a near whisper. "He didn't hear anyone screaming for mercy around six this morning."
"Burns had been gagged," Henderson said equally softly. "It's unlikely Superman would have heard much of anything."
"I doubt that'll make him feel any better," Clark said. "The media's already having another field day. The woman who 'outed' Superman's late night liaison found murdered."
"We don't know if her murder was related to that lie or not," Henderson said.
"When Goode's assistant came in to tell him there was breaking news about Burns on GNN, he asked if they were 'covered' there," Clark related.
Henderson sighed. "It's not a lot to link Goode to Burns, unless you have something else?"
Clark shook his head. "It's just awfully coincidental that this smear campaign started at about the same time Superman got involved in the problems between Podansk and Latislan and Goode has managed to get himself involved the negotiations."
"That's not something I can hand to an ADA to take to the grand jury," Henderson said. "And it could be just a coincidence."
"True," Clark admitted. "But I thought you should know."
Henderson nodded and turned to Lois. "Ready to go?"
"Go where?" Clark asked. He had assumed Lois would go with him back to the office.
Lois waved a hand in Henderson's direction. "Bill thinks it's been too long since I had some target practice."
"You're welcome to come along," Henderson offered.
"No thanks," Clark said. "I need to get back to work." He gave Lois a quick kiss but she reached up and grabbed him, giving him a much longer sensual kiss.
One of the nearby officers whistled. Lois pulled back and grinned. "I don't want there to be any doubts as to who the man in my life is."
"Maybe we can skip all this and just go home?" Clark suggested with a matching grin.
Lois sighed. "I would love to but I don't think we should feed the bullpen's prurient fantasies… I'll see you at the office later."
The MPD pistol range hadn't changed much since Lois's last visit. A light rain had lessened the dust from the gravel parking lot, but the area still sounded like a war zone as officers from all over the city lined up to fire off live rounds at far targets.
Lois and Maggie Sawyer had come out here at least once a month before Maggie moved to Gotham. Richard hadn't been comfortable with Lois having a gun in the house, especially when Jason was old enough to get into things, so she gave her trusty target pistol to her father for safe keeping. Now Lois found herself wondering what Richard's real motive was for talking her into getting rid of her gun.
One of the khaki clad instructors came up to her and Henderson. Henderson introduced him as Bennie Farmer, a long time MPD firearms instructor. He had two .38 revolvers with him.
"I thought you guys didn't use these anymore," Lois commented. The .38 was small and reliable but Lois knew most officers carried semiautomatics these days – they were faster, but not necessarily better.
"I'm old-fashioned," Henderson said.
"Besides, it's usually easier for beginners to handle," Farmer added.
"Careful who you're calling a beginner," Lois warned, taking the revolver from him and loading in six rounds. She put on the ear protectors Farmer handed her and stepped into an empty space between two officers firing at man-shaped targets set into the ground thirty feet way. She took her stance, feet in line with her shoulders, both arms straight out steadying the gun. She squeezed the trigger and a hole appeared in the middle of the drawn target. She pulled the trigger five more times and a neat little pattern appeared around the first hole.
"My dad taught me to fire a revolver like this when I was ten," Lois explained as she handed the revolver back to Farmer. "By the time I was thirteen, I could handle any personal weapon the army had." She peered critically at her target. "But I am out of practice. My pattern should have been closer together."
Farmer just stared at her a long moment. Then he said, "Lois Lane, the reporter, right? Your dad wouldn't happen to be General Sam Lane, would ithe?"
Lois grinned at him. "You got it. Now, I hear the new Firearms and Tactics Simulator is something else. Want to show me?"
Henderson chuckled as he led her deeper into the MPD enclave. Lois knew from her many previous visits that the Firearms and Tactics division at Roland's Neck held more than just the pistol range. It was an old naval base that had been sold to the city for a pittance many years before. It currently housed the bomb squad's detonation pit, a heli-pad, a boat launch, a small air strip, and underground bunkers that were reputed to have one of every firearm ever manufactured. Roland's Neck was MPD's practice area for urban warfare and almost no one outside the MPD even knew it was there.
The ground was covered with spent cartridges but Lois resisted the temptation to pick any up. Maggie had told her once that instructors had to have periodic tests for lead poisoning and police dogs weren't even allowed on the grounds – the lead contamination in the soil was so high that dogs absorbed the heavy metal through their paws and died.
The Firearms and Tactics Simulator was in the furthest of four pre-fabricated shacks. The FATS logo was hanging from the railing. Farmer had managed to get there ahead of them and was waiting by the door. Lois blinked as she stepped into the darkness beyond. The only illumination in the cabin was from a console near the door. Farmer closed the door and went to the console. The far wall suddenly lit up and Lois realized it was a large projection screen. A picture of a rundown apartment building was on the screen, the people in the shot frozen in place.
Farmer handed her a semiautomatic. It had the weight and balance of a real gun. Farmer explained the gun was connected to the computer controlling the simulation. It was all like a super videogame.
"Ready?" Farmer asked. Henderson agreed and the first video started. There were shouts apparently coming from inside one of the apartments and a man in a Hawaiian shirt was running up the stairs.
"Stop! Police!" Henderson shouted as though he was actually at the scene. "Drop your weapons! Police!"
The camera seemed to be following the man in the Hawaiian shirt and Lois realized that her character in the video was chasing the man up the stairs. The man ran into an apartment and slammed the door. Lois kicked the door open then ducked away as shots whizzed by over her head. "Police! Drop your weapons!" Lois shouted, getting into the spirit of it.
She peered around the doorframe and saw a woman sitting on a battered sofa, a dirty faced baby in her arms. She looked terrified. The man in the shirt was waving his gun around and another man, this one in a torn t-shirt, was scooping drug paraphernalia into a box.
"Freeze!" Lois shouted. The woman froze but the two men kept moving. The Hawaiian shirt pulled off two more shots. Lois heard more coming from beside her and realized Henderson had taken out the Hawaiian shirt. The t-shirt man dropped the box he was holding. The woman on the sofa shouted something. T-shirt man brought his hand into view and Lois could see a gun. She squeezed the trigger and t-shirt man went down, caught in the throat.
"Freeze!" Lois shouted once again. "Hands were I can see them!"
The woman brought her hands up and the baby began to squall.
Then the lights came on.
"Are you sure she's not a cop?" Farmer asked.
Henderson grinned as he took Lois's gun and handed it to Farmer. "I keep trying to talk her into joining the force. Her and her husband, but so far no joy."
"And I keep telling you, crooked politicians aren't scared of cops. But they are scared of journalists. I mean, look who brought down Nixon."
"Luckily, you're better looking than Woodward or Bernstein," Henderson quipped.
"I'm also meaner and I shoot a lot straighter," Lois replied.
"I still think it would be a good idea if you were carrying," Henderson said more solemnly.
Lois sighed. Perry hated the idea of journalists going around armed and Richard had agreed with him. A reporter's weapons were supposed to be his brains and his words, not a knife or gun. Clark's opinion was that the world would be a better place if no one had guns. It wasn't an opinion he shared with many people and he had never expressed it as Superman.
"I'll talk to Clark and Perry about it, okay?" she promised.
The overcast skies of the morning had turned dark and menacing. The earlier forecasts had predicted the clouds would burn off by mid-afternoon, giving Metropolis a mild evening. But once again the weather-guessers were wrong. It looked more like thunder storms tonight.
Lois felt a sharp pebble in her shoe and bent down to pull her shoe off and shake it out. That's when she heard the sharp retort of a semiautomatic weapon from somewhere near the trees that shielded the parking area.
She dove for the dirt as bullets pocked the concrete gatehouse. It was only a few yards away, at the entrance to the compound. She started to get to her feet to make a run for the gatehouse but Henderson yelled at her to stay down as he dropped on top of her, knocking the breath out of her and shielding her body with his own.
Bennie Farmer had been a MPD firearms instructor for ten years. Before that he'd been an instructor in urban warfare with the U.S. Army. It was this training that kicked in almost before his brain realized what was happening. He dove for cover, his gun in his hands. Then he called for backup. The shooters – there were at least two of them – were in the trees that bordered the parking lot. The gravel road into the compound was public property – part of Pelham Inlet Park, one of Metropolis's little known nature preserves. And although the MPD compound was surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire, there were still myriad ways an unauthorized person could get in.
The shots stopped and Farmer abandoned his shelter, a steel barrel filled with sand and cigarette butts.
Farmer waved for the people who had responded to his call for back up, three men and a woman, to follow him into the underbrush. With any luck the shooters would get tangled in the underbrush and poison ivy although he didn't hold out much hope of that. He made a mental note to ask the emergency rooms to keep an eye out for poison ivy and poison oak cases.
He could feel himself starting to itch.
"Which one of us do you think they were after?" Lois asked as Henderson drove her back to the Daily Planet. "You or me?"
"You don't think maybe somebody was just taking pot shots at cops?" Henderson asked.
"No, and neither do you," Lois stated. "The big question is how did anyone know either of us would be out there?"
"I told my secretary where I'd be," Henderson admitted. "And you told your husband."
"This is ridiculous," Lois stated. "I was on vacation, dammit. I don't have any investigations going on into anything anybody would want stopped. Neither does Clark, except for this war thing."
"You have nothing going right now?" Henderson prompted.
"Mayor Sackett's got an intern complaining he made sexual advances toward him," Lois told him.
"I didn't know Sackett swung that way."
Lois chuckled. "Neither did I and I doubt Sackett cares in any case. The kid was fired for incompetence. I was looking into it but I don't think there's much there."
"Nothing else? Nobody who just got out of prison and might be gunning for you?"
She shook her head. "They went to ground eight months ago. We think the Feds have them holed up somewhere. But they'd be trying to kill Superman, not embarrass him."
"And if they wanted you dead, you'd be dead."
Clark ignored the newest Superman coverage on the monitors as he made his way through the newsroom to the coffee area. He'd come back to the Daily Planet through the open window of his temporary office after leaving Lois with Henderson. He doubted anyone would have noticed the locked door but he did need to make an appearance to put off suspicions, just in case.
Polly was on the phone with someone. She waved him over, putting her hand over the mouthpiece and said softly, "Your little assistant is pissed at you for locking her out. What'd you do, fall asleep?"
He'd forgotten about Natalia.
"Where is she?" Clark asked in a near whisper.
Polly shrugged. "Probably down with her friends in ad sales." She took her hand from the mouthpiece and listened for a moment. "You're certain?" She waved at Clark to stay where he was. "Can you fax your findings over to me?" she asked the person on the phone. She gave them one of the bullpen fax numbers before thanking them and hanging up.
"That was the toxicology lab with the results on the goodies we sent to them," Polly explained. "Looks like you just missed a bullet. They were contaminated with E coli, one of the nastier strains, too."
"Do they think it could have been an accident?" Clark asked.
Polly shook her head as the fax machine two desks over did its handshake. "No accident. Who ever did it used a needle to inject the poison into the food."
"Polly, you didn't happen to notice who put the goodies on my desk this morning?" Clark asked.
"Yeah," Polly said, grabbing the sheets of paper the fax machine had just spit out. "Little Natalia."
A/N: Sex, Lies & Videotape - Story by Dan Wilcox; Teleplay by Andrew Dettmann & Daniel Truly