This is how I would have written the story chronicled in Superman #168 and Detective #756 where Lois and Batman go after Luthor's kryptonite ring. I conceived the plot before that story was published, but what can I say? I'm a slow writer. The only change I have made on the basis of the published story is to take a couple of cheap shots at it. If you have read the story, you will probably get the jokes. If you haven't, why not? It's a good story.

Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor, Perry White, Catherine Grant, Lois Lane, Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Oracle, Gotham City, Matches Malone and probably other characters I've overlooked are copyrighted by DC Comics. I am using them without permission and I am making no money on this story.

The Ring


Lois sighed and walked over to close the window. He never remembered to close it behind him. Well, to be fair, he was usually in a hurry. She had been hoping for a quiet, intimate evening at home, just the two of them. He had been depressed since the election -- well, so had she. She had hoped some time to themselves would cheer them both up. She should have known better. There was always another crisis, another emergency.

"Ms. Lane."

She jumped back with a gasp. Where had HE come from?

"Batman." She was pleased her voice sounded steady and swallowed a sarcastic retort. After all, the man had saved her life not so long ago, even if he was an irritating S.O.B. who delighted in scaring people to half to death. "Most of our guests prefer the door."

He stepped in through the window, ignoring her remark.

"He just left."

"I know. I need to talk to you privately."

"Did you arrange that?" If he had spoiled her evening alone with Clark....

"Intergang. I just made sure they drew more attention than they had intended."

"Clark will be back any minute...."

"It will take even him a while to deal with their advanced technology. I need to talk with you about a certain kryptonite ring."

"Luthor's?" There wasn't more than one, surely?

"I don't think he has any legal or moral claim to it."

"Huh, we agree on something, then." It took a moment to process what he had said. She looked at him. "You're going to take it back, aren't you?"

Lois hadn't realized that the Batman ever smiled. It was not a reassuring sight.

"You know Luthor better than I do. Where would he keep the ring?"

"How should I know? It could be anywhere. It could be in a hidden vault 100 feet beneath the White House or on his bedside table or any of a million other places!"

"There is a vault under the White House. Newly built and ringed with every sort of sensor and alarm imaginable. Not even the Flash or the Martian Manhunter could get in there undetected."

"Could you?" Lois asked curiously.

"Luthor hasn't been down there since it was completed. So the question is whether the ring is in there, or whether it is an elaborate trap."

"Don't you ever answer questions?"

"Would Luthor lock the ring away like that or keep it close by to gloat over?"

She opened her mouth to say "How should I know?" and stopped, hooked by the question. The answer was obvious.

"Close by. He used to wear it all the time. Not any more, of course." Kryptonite poisoning had cost him his hand and, almost, his life.

"Would he carry it on him?"

"No." Lois didn't know why she was so certain, but she was. "Not on him."

"If the ring were in a lead container, it would be perfectly safe."

"No." Lois groped to put her knowledge into words. "Luthor likes to think that he is completely rational, but he's not. He reacts... emotionally to things. He wouldn't carry the ring on him, not after it almost killed him. He would handle it as little as possible. But he would still keep it nearby. Because of the power it gives him over Superman."

"Good. That agrees with my analysis."

"So, did I pass the test?" Lois asked sardonically. Or was the great Batman actually double-checking his own conclusions?

"Ms. Lane, your husband will return in a matter of minutes and we have a lot to cover before then."

There is nothing more annoying, Lois thought, than a man who is always right.

"Where would Luthor be most likely to keep the ring? The Oval Office? His bedroom?"

"I... I really don't know. Either, neither." A thought struck her. "The bathroom medicine cabinet?"

The Batman raised an eyebrow.

"Well, who would look for a super weapon there? And where else would you keep a cure for a pain in the ass?" That's certainly how Luthor sees Superman, Lois thought. The Batman gave her a half-smile. It made him look almost human. Almost. Then another possibility hit her.


"What is it?"

"I just thought of something. He might have Hope or Mercy carry the ring," Lois said, speaking of Luthor's two personal bodyguards. Female, of course. Luthor had a thing about surrounding himself with beautiful women. He wouldn't entrust the ring to the Secret Service. They were loyal to the Presidency, rather than Luthor personally. But Hope and Mercy were a different matter.

"Hmph." Evidently, that possibility hadn't occurred to him. Congratulations, Lane, you thought of something he missed. I doubt many people manage that.

Lois had no doubt he could handle either of them separately. But inside the White House, without attracting attention? And what if they were together or guarding Luthor?

"They guard his personal quarters when he's at the White House. That concentrates the targets."

"You really ARE going to break into the White House?" Lois couldn't quite believe it, even of the Batman. "The security must be fantastically tight."

"I've dealt with worse."

Lois felt a tingle of excitement. She held out her hand. "I'm in."

"If things go wrong, it could get uncomfortable for you" Well, duh, Lois thought. "Luthor could pull Superman in."

"Uh...." Of course, he would. He would enjoy putting Superman on the spot like that. The thought of someone breaking into the White House to steal from the President, no matter who that was, would appall Superman. Even though he would be the beneficiary of what they were planning, he would feel honor-bound to stop them.

"No matter how angry he gets, I'm his wife. He has to forgive me." They shook hands.

"So when do we go in?"

"You're not going in with me. I know I can get in; two people would double the risk."

"You don't think I can handle it?" Lois asked hotly. "I've gotten into and out of more dangerous spots." She added flippantly, "If I get caught, I can say I was visiting my father and got lost. What's your alibi?"

"Your father works at the Pentagon and lives in Georgetown. The only time he is at the White House is to see Luthor."

Well, Lois admitted to herself, it was a stupid idea.

The Batman continued, "It's an unnecessary risk. And I need you to do something else."

She glared at him, then reconsidered. Can it, Lane. This is not about your ego. This is about eliminating a deadly threat to her husband, who just happens to be the greatest superhero alive.

"What do I do, then?"

"I need you to keep Luthor out of the way. I can't risk his walking in on me. I've observed the security arrangements. I can get into the White House without trouble. But once inside, I will need time to search his personal quarters, his personal guards," Lois suppressed an image of Hope and Mercy patiently letting the Batman pat them down for a ring, "and the Oval Office. A minimum of 30 minutes when I know Luthor will be elsewhere."

"Ah," said Lois. Not very glamorous, perhaps, but she could see the necessity.

"I know three people who could get in to see Luthor. Superman wouldn't do it. The other person is not trustworthy." Lois would have sworn a flicker of sadness, even grief, passed over his face. But this was the Batman. She must have imagined it. "That leaves you."

"What makes you so sure I can do it?" He just looked at her. How much did he know? If he knew about her secret... he wasn't saying. He was good at keeping secrets.

Grudgingly, she said, "Okay. I'm still in."

"If anything goes wrong, just sit tight and play innocent. They can't connect you to anything."

Leaving all the risk to you, Lois thought. But it made sense: no point in putting more people at risk than necessary. She nodded reluctantly.

"Obviously, the timing depends upon when you can get an appointment with Luthor, but the sooner the better."

"Is this where I'm supposed to turn my back on you so you can disappear?" Lois asked. The Batman gave her another half smile and stepped back. The guy could be a charmer if smiled more, Lois thought, and blinked. He had just blended into the blackness of the open window and then, he wasn't there anymore. A wisp of cape showed for a moment and then, nothing.

I guess saying good-bye is too ordinary for him, she thought. She closed the window.

She heard the window open a few minutes later.

"It was Intergang, Lois. They managed to overload their sonic cannon. That's what caused the explosion. They're lucky they didn't blow themselves up. As it was, no one was hurt, they are all in custody and property damage was mini...mumpf." When they came up for air, his eyes were twinkling.

"Someone's in a good mood."

"Well, that means we have the rest of the evening to ourselves, right?"

"With luck."

With luck, Lois thought, they would manage a lot more than that. Keep Luthor occupied for at least 30 minutes? No problem.

"So," she purred into Clark's ear, "why don't you show me just how super you are."

"Thank you for this interview, Mr. President."

"Why so formal, Lois? You used to call me Lex. Surely I haven't come so far up in the world that you can't still?"

Lois forced a smile as she accepted the chair the Secret Service man held for her.

"Thank you, Charles, that will be all." The man nodded and left. Lois forced another smile.

Like everything, it gets easier with practice, she told herself hopefully.

It hadn't been difficult to arrange the interview. All it had taken was to completely humiliate herself. Perry had looked at her oddly but had agreed that an interview with Lex Luthor was a good idea, if she could swing it. He knew she had a history with Lex and, if she was willing to exploit it, he could hardly object. Clark was more vocal, for he knew better than Perry just how much she loathed Luthor. He clearly did not believe her when she said a journalist made use of every resource at her disposal, however distasteful. But he didn't ask again, trusting her. That made it worse.

Lex was happy to grant her an interview. Not that a lowly reporter could just call up the President of the United States. She went through channels, but his response came back with gratifying quickness. Which was the only gratifying thing about it. Lex would grant the interview, but only under certain conditions. Given her behavior at Luthor's first press conference (poor Cat Grant sounded so uncomfortable as she said it) all questions had to be submitted ahead of time. Lex would choose which he would answer and Lois was not allowed to refer (in the interview or the article) to any questions he chose not to answer. Well, the first was done sometimes -- in puff pieces. Real journalists wanted real answers not prepared pap. The second meant she couldn't tell her readers what topics Lex chose to avoid. Lois swallowed her pride and agreed.

Then Cat added, apologetically, that Lex would want to review the article before it was published. To check for mistakes. Of course, anything he objected to would have to be corrected. Lois was furious. She might as well be a PR hack! She controlled her anger. Lex was yanking her chain. He knew she would never ask him for anything unless she was desperate; she knew he would never miss an opportunity to rub her nose in the fact that he was President of the United States. As long as he didn't guess why she needed this interview, she could live with that.

Lois had asked to have the interview in the Oval Office, citing the special ambiance of that setting. As expected, Luthor squashed her pretensions. After all, Lois thought, the Oval Office was where he met visiting heads of state. A minor sitting room used occasionally by the President would suffice for a mere reporter. Lois smiled.

The interview was set for 3 PM one week later. Lois wondered how to let Batman know. He hadn't given her any way to contact him. Of course, he might already know; he might have hacked into Luthor's appointment records or bugged his secretary. He was the Batman; she wasn't taking any bets on what he couldn't or wouldn't do.

The next day, a package arrived for her at work. Curious, she looked it over. It was postmarked Washington D.C. and had a Washington return address. Somebody by the name of Beatrice Statman. It didn't ring any bells.

Inside were a letter and a gift-wrapped box with a bow and a tag: "For Lois and Clark." She opened the letter and read:

Dear Lois:

It was good to hear from you. You're right, it has been much too long. Have you heard from Annie lately? I can't believe she is expecting her third. College seems so long ago. Do you keep in touch with that guy from Gotham you were dating? Can't remember his name, just how cute he was. Altho Clark sounds like he's got him beat!

Everything is much the same as always with me, altho all the hoopla over the inauguration has been very exciting! Not that I got invited to the important parties, of course, but Lex has certainly stirred things up! I know you think he's a jerk and I'm sure you are right -- but at least he isn't as smarmy as most of the politicians in this town.

I owe you two a wedding present. I remembered what you said about Clark and I decided this was just the thing. You might want to open it in private. I just wish I could see your faces when you do!

If you get down to Washington, give me a call and we'll get together and talk about old times.

Love, Bea

At the bottom of the sheet was engraved: From the Desk of Bea Statman, followed by her address and phone number.

Lois frowned. Annie Bauman had been her roommate in college. They kept in touch -- barely. Most recently Annie had written to say that she was pregnant, for the third time. She had dated a number of men in college, but she couldn't remember any being from Gotham. She did not remember a Bea Statman at all. But there was something about that name.... She gasped. Oh, he wouldn't....

"What did you get?"

She ruthlessly throttled the urge to hide the letter and turned smiling to Clark.

"Oh, I wrote an old college friend and I got more than I bargained for." She handed him the letter.

"A wedding present? Isn't it a little late? I wonder what it is?" He turned to look at the box. He blushed scarlet; then, after a moment, his mouth curled up impishly and his eyes started to twinkle. "Your friend has a strange sense of humor."

"That," said Lois, "doesn't surprise me at all." She tore the wrappings off the present, opened the box and pulled out a heavy, metal statue of... a penis, an erect penis and testicles on a base. It was quite lifelike if rather oversized. On the base was a brass plaque with the words: "Super Dick". Lois remembered what the letter had said about Clark and started giggling.

"What's so funny, Lois?" She turned around to see Jimmy standing behind her. He saw what she was holding and gaped. She grinned and held the statue out towards him. "Very lifelike, don't you think?" Clark choked.

Jimmy read the plaque and his eyebrows went up.

"It's for Clark," Lois went on impishly, "a reminder of the part of him most near and dear to me."

Both Clark and Jimmy seemed to lose the power of speech.

"What?" asked Lois at her most innocent, "didn't you know Clark has a super power?" Lois thought Clark was going to choke to death, trying to contain his laughter. Jimmy turned and fled. Lois thought of what she had said to Clark the other night, after the Batman left. Had he bugged the apartment? He wouldn't dare... would he?

Lois waited until she was sure Clark had left before she called Bea Statman's number. Someone picked up after the second ring.

"Beatrice Statman."

"Bea, this is Lois Lane."

"Lois! How good to hear from you again! How are you? Have you opened it yet? The present, I mean?"

"Uh, yes...."

"What did you think of it? What did Clark say?"

"That you have a strange sense of humor."

"Is that all? I was hoping to get more of a reaction than that."

"Well, he blushed up real good," Lois admitted.

'Bea' chortled. "I should hope so. That was the least I expected. My friend will be disappointed."

"Your friend?" Lois asked carefully. Was this some kind of code phrase for the Batman?

"The statue came from a good friend of mine. He was more than happy to give it up, believe me. You should have seen HIM blush up when his partner presented it to him on his last birthday. We ribbed him about it for weeks." Partner, Batman had a partner. But the thought of Robin giving Batman that statue made her head spin.

"I asked him if he had modeled for it, but he swears she never, uh, examined the original." She -- the partner is a woman? Lois thought of Batgirl and the Huntress and then gave up. If there was some secret message in all this, she didn't see it.

"Well endowed, is he?" Lois asked impishly.

"Well, let's just say that the phrase 'Super Dick' fits him on more than one level," Bea told her laughingly.

"I take it he's a real lady's man." Under that cowl, Lois thought, Batman could be another Bruce Wayne. Yeah, right. Get real, Lane.

"Well," said Bea judiciously, "not as much as he could be. He has to beat them off with a stick. He's a real hunk," she explained. "It's not surprising, I suppose, that he slips up occasionally."

'Bea' was trying to sound impartial, Lois thought, but not quite managing it. Whoever this guy is, he's not just a friend. The Batman with a girlfriend? Forget it, Lane.

"I'd like to meet him," Lois said, thinking the one she would really like to meet was 'Beatrice Statman'.

"I might be able to arrange that. Are you coming to Washington any time soon?"

"Yes, actually. I will be in Washington on Tuesday. I have an interview with our new President at three..."

"Ooh, the exciting life of an ace reporter! Why don't you drop around my place after you're through? We can talk over dinner and I'll see if my friend is free. Just let me know if you are going to be delayed for any reason."

"Sounds good," Lois agreed.

"Good, then ... oops! Minor emergency, got to go. They can't manage for five minutes without me."

The line went dead. Lois memorized the number in case she needed it again. Then she spent the rest of the morning worrying. It wasn't breaking into the White House -- she had done riskier (and stupider, she admitted to herself) things than that. Her part was a piece of cake. Which was the problem. She didn't doubt that the Batman could handle it, but she wasn't used to playing such a passive role. Finally, about lunchtime, she took a deep breath and pushed the whole matter out of her mind.

Tuesday came soon enough. The flight down was uneventful. Getting into the White House was more tortuous. The secret service agents were very thorough and at one point she was afraid they wouldn't let her take her cell phone with her. Finally, they decided it hadn't been converted into a bomb or a death ray and by 2:45 she was sitting in an antechamber waiting. That was when an aide in a short skirt and high heels came walking up to her. Luthor had always liked to surround himself with beautiful women. That obviously hadn't changed.

"Ms. Lane?" Lois nodded. "I'm sorry. The President is running behind schedule. I'm afraid we'll have to reschedule the interview." She didn't sound sorry. "We could squeeze you in a week from Thursday..." Lois groaned, "unless you would prefer to wait?" The President has graciously offered to make time at the end of the day for you."

"When would that be?"

"Five o'clock, maybe five-thirty. It depends upon how his other appointments go." She smiled to be polite, but obviously thought she had more important things she should be about.

"I'll wait."

Lois called 'Bea' on her cell phone and explained the situation.

"Well, that's presidents for you. No one's time is valuable but theirs. Give me a call when you know what time you'll be. I'll be here."

It wasn't five or five-thirty when the same aide came for her. It was almost six-thirty. Lois kept a stranglehold on her temper and took a small measure of satisfaction making the woman wait while she called 'Bea'.

"OK, Bea. I figure a half an hour or so for the interview, then however long it will take to get to your place." For verisimilitude, she added, "I hope dinner won't be ruined."

"Don't worry about that, Lois. It will keep. You wow him and I'll see you later."

'Jorge Martinez' looked around the President's bedroom. There it was, sitting in plain sight on the bedside table. The ring box. Amazing. Lois would be amused. He checked Mercy's gag and bonds. Hope had been easy. She had been alert when she opened the door, but she knew Jorge -- the Secret Service agent would wake up in a couple of hours in a broom closet -- and his story had been convincing. She had relaxed just a bit, and that's when he hit her. A blow to the solar plexus to knock the wind out of her, then a round house kick to the jaw. She had been unconscious before she knew she was in a fight.

Mercy had not been so easy. She should have been asleep in the next room. The two alternated guard duty and Mercy had the late night shift. She should have been catching up on her sleep. But she had been awake and had heard something. Not enough to be alarmed, but enough to be suspicious. She came through the connecting door and saw him standing over Hope and knew immediately who he was. It had shown on her face.

Both of the women carried a cell phone with a "panic button" which would bring the Secret Service busting in with guns drawn. If she had gone for the "panic button" it might have been sticky. But she recognized him -- not as 'Jorge' but as the Batman. Maybe Luthor had warned them he would be coming, sooner or later. She owed him for last time, when he had taken her down in front of Luthor, and she wanted a rematch. So she didn't go for the panic button, she went for him. By the time she realized that was a mistake, it was too late.

He secured Hope and then disarmed the alarm on one of the windows and opened it. It was an easy drop to the ground from there. Always have an escape route prepared. The connecting doors led to Hope and Mercy's room on one side and a sitting room on the other. He pushed wedges into the crack between the door and frame on each door into the hallway. The locks were electronic and could be overridden from outside; this was more secure. The surveillance cameras in the suite were normally turned off -- even the President gets some privacy -- but could be activated in an emergency. A small can of black spray paint took care of them.

Then it was time to search. He was careful to check the two attached bathrooms (including their medicine cabinets) and pat down both of the bodyguards. It took fifteen minutes, but at the end of it he was sure that -- if the ring were in the suite -- it was in the ring box on the bedside table. He looked at it and wondered if Luthor had read The Purloined Letter. Did he hide you in plain sight, he wondered, or are you a trap? Twelve of the thirty minutes left. He picked up the ring box.

It was light for something that should be lead-lined. He opened it and saw a note. It said: "Tsk, tsk, tsk, you shouldn't have done that." The Batman smiled.

Lois shifted in her chair and stifled a groan. The room looked out over the south lawn and was opulently decorated with exquisite antiques. Eighteenth century, Lois thought. Louis XIV. Or was that Louis XVI? She could never keep them straight. Luthor sat behind a desk that would not have looked out of place in the Oval Office and smoked a cigar. An expensive cigar, Lois was sure. Probably, she thought snidely, a Cuban cigar. That was just his sort of joke, smoking an illegal Cuban cigar in the White House. After all, he was the President. Who was going to stop him? He hadn't bothered to ask if she minded. But otherwise, he had been perfectly polite. Why shouldn't he be? He was holding all the cards. Or so he thought.

So Luthor sat in his ultra-comfortable desk chair and talked. And talked. And talked. It was all pre-digested pap straight out of a LexCorp press release. Luthor had not said a single thing worth printing, and he knew it. He was enjoying playing the affable host while she bit her tongue to keep from telling him what she thought of his performance. How could anyone talk so much and say so little?

No one normal could, Lois decided. Luthor was a meta, she had discovered his super power and he was using it to kill her. He was boring her to death.

"Breep, breep, breep, ...." The sound was soft and discreet but Lois knew instantly that This Was Not A Good Thing. Luthor's look of bland affability turned instantly to one of concentration. He must have activated some control, for a slim ultra-modern computer monitor rose up out of the desk, followed by a keyboard. A few key strokes and the look of concentration turned to anticipation. The look of a shark that smells blood. Definitely Not A Good Thing.

"So, you were saying, Lex?"

Luthor blinked, looking perplexed.

"You were telling me how you underbid WayneTech for your first Defense Department contract, back when you were just starting out. I'm sure my readers will want to know every detail."

"Not now, Lois!"

"Well, then, moving on to the next question, when can we expect a First Lady? Are you seeing anyone in particular?"

Luthor stared at her incredulously. Lois leaned forward inquisitively. "Or are our young ladies destined to have their hearts broken by the first single President since Harding?"

Luthor suddenly started laughing uproariously. After a moment, he got himself under control and smiled. "You get an "A" for effort, Lois," he said enigmatically, "now shut up."

Lois leaned back and tried to look innocent. I've bought you an extra minute, Batman, she thought. I hope you make good use of it.

Luthor hit a button. "Hope?"

No response. He hit another button.

"Mercy?" No response. Luthor started to frown. He set to work on the keyboard, pausing several times as if for a response. Apparently, it didn't come. The frown deepened. Maybe things aren't so bad after all, Lois thought, cheered.

Finally, Luthor sighed and hit another key.

"Yes, Mr. President?"

"Miss Sutter, apparently we have an intruder in my bedroom. Hope and Mercy don't respond and the surveillance cameras aren't working. You might want to inform the Secret Service."

"At once, Mr. President!"

"Oh, and activate Protocol 12, please."

"Protocol 12, yes Mr. President."

Luthor turned his attention back to her. "Really, Lois, I had thought better of you. Working with the big, blue Boy Scout I can understand. He does have certain superior qualities, after all, even if intelligence isn't one of them. But a man who styles himself after a flying rodent? Your standards have certainly deteriorated."

How did he know? Was he expecting the Batman? The hallway door opened softly and two grim-faced Secret Service agents entered. One took up position near the window; the other stood right behind her. She could feel his eyes boring into the back of her neck. She smiled. "I have no idea what you mean."

"No? Somehow, I don't believe you. I don't think my next guest will either. Charles, would you please open the window?"

"Mr. President, I don't think this is a good idea."

"You can stand next to the window and make sure no bogeymen sneak in," Luthor said consolingly. The man shrugged and turned to open the window.

"That's better. A little fresh air." Luthor opened a drawer in the desk and pulled something out. Lois couldn't see what. He played with it, below the level of the desk, as he said, "Well, Lois, your motive for this interview becomes clear. And here I imagined you were just trying to amuse me."

Lois just smiled. Let him talk, he has no proof of anything.

Whoosh. Superman stood with his hands over his ears and looking very irritated.

"Turn it OFF, Luthor."

"I just thought, it works for that Olsen brat," Luthor said mildly. He turned to the monitor. "Miss Sutter, you may deactivate Protocol 12 now."

"Yes, Mr. President."

Luthor turned back to Superman, who had lowered his hands but still looked annoyed. "Maybe I had the gain up too high."

"What do you want, Luthor?"

Luthor turned to the guards. "As you can see, Superman is here to protect me. We have private matters to discuss."

"Mr. President, are you sure this is wise?"

"Charles, I have tried to be patient with your obsession with my security. That is your job, after all, and I have no desire to be assassinated. But I will not allow it to interfere with my duties as President of the United States."

The man looked unhappily at Lois. Luthor added, good-naturedly, "I imagine that Superman can even protect me from Lois Lane, if he puts his mind to it."

The Secret Service agents left the room.

"There, much better. Now we can speak our minds. Well, such as they are."

"What do you want, Luthor?"

"Mr. President." Superman just glared at him. "Don't worry, I'm sure that you will get the hang of it eventually."

"What do you WANT, Luthor?"

"Your pointy-eared friend has invaded my home." Luthor's voice was steely now. "As a courtesy, I have called you here to give you a chance of resolving the matter peacefully. However, you had better hurry, if you want to beat the Secret Service to him. At that point, I imagine things will get... bloody."

Superman looked aghast. "No, not even he would...."

Dare? thought Lois whimsically. She almost laughed out loud, but that would hardly help things. And she didn't want anyone to think she was hysterical.

"Bring him here when you find him. I want to talk with him." When Superman didn't move, Luthor raised an eyebrow. "Well?"

The anger was coming off Superman in palpable waves; it was amazing the whole room didn't melt in the heat of it. Who was he most angry at, she wondered. Luthor or the friends who had put him in this impossible situation. Not a word, Lane, anything you say will just make things worse.

"You've used lead based paint on all the walls, Luthor," Superman grated out. "I can't see him."

"Then you had better go look for him, hadn't you?"

Superman's jaw clamped shut, and then he was gone with a whoosh! that scattered papers and almost sucked Lois out of her chair.

"He makes such a good go-fer, doesn't he?" remarked Luthor amiably. "Although he has to have the simplest tasks carefully explained to him. Still, I'm sure we can train him up in time."

At that, Lois' temper exploded. "You slimy son-of-a-bitch! You're not fit to speak his name! I ought to take that twisted, lying head of yours and stuff it up your ass!"

She jumped up and started towards him when she took in the smug look of pleased anticipation on Luthor's face.

"That's right, threaten me," he said softly. "If I called my guards in now, what do you think would happen?"

Oh shit. Threatening the President of the United States in the White House. The guards wouldn't hesitate to take her down hard. She could imagine Superman returning to find her on the floor -- probably bruised and bleeding -- with two burly Secret Service agents holding her down and Luthor gloating over her. He would lose it, she knew he would. Betrayed -- as he would see it -- by his wife and friend, forced to do Luthor's bidding. How much could even he take?

He had smashed up Luthor's LexCorp office a couple of times, when Luthor had pushed him too far. But Luthor hadn't been President then. If he did it now, with Secret Service agents present.... Now that she was standing up, she could see what was in Luthor's hands. It was a ring box.

The kryptonite ring, it had to be. Luthor would use it, claiming self- defense. The Secret Service agents would corroborate his story -- incorruptible men trained to react to any threat to the President. It didn't matter that Superman would never actually harm Luthor. All they would see was the threat. The World's Greatest Hero would be dead because she had lost her temper.

And the other super-heroes would never accept it. They would know Superman's death was deliberate murder. They would go after Luthor. But Luthor would have the full weight of the Law on his side, the full power and authority of the Federal government behind him. Attacking the President of the United States would make them outlaws. Luthor would hunt them down and destroy them.

All because she had lost her temper. Lois sat back down.

Luthor smiled. "That's better. It's important for the press to understand their proper place in the scheme of things, don't you agree?"

Lois said nothing.

"Now I believe you were about to ask me a question."

Lois raised her eyebrows. What the hell?

"The interview," Luthor said slowly and firmly, as you might to a particularly slow child. "We haven't finished the interview."

From the pounding on the bedroom door, the Batman estimated that they would break through any moment now. The Secret Service had been slower in responding than he had expected. Then the wedges had bought him almost a minute, as the guards tried the doors then -- when they wouldn't open -- tried to use the computer override on the electronic locks. Only after that had failed had they tried physical force. That had given him plenty of time to complete his preparations.

The rewiring of the light switch had taken the longest, almost thirty seconds. He had taken one last look around the master bedroom, to fix everything (and particularly the location of the window he had opened earlier) in his mind. Then he had broken sleep gas ampoules under the noses of both Hope and Mercy -- can't have them waking up too soon! -- and dragged them into their own room. Having them unaccounted for ought to discourage the Secret Service from blazing away indiscriminately. Now he stood in Hope and Mercy's room with his back against the wall next to the door into the master bedroom, his shoes stuffed into his jacket pockets and his night vision goggles on, and waited in the darkness.

Wham! The door flew open. The Batman closed his eyes so that the burst of light from the hallway wouldn't blind him. He heard the agents throw themselves into the room, rolling behind any available cover. They didn't have night vision goggles -- why should they? -- so one moved to the wall and flipped the light switch.

The Batman heard the "pop!" as the lights shorted out, popping the circuit breaker and putting the room and the hallway outside into darkness. He stepped into the master bedroom and took three running strides towards the open door. He tossed the ring box towards the open window and leaped over the nearest agent. They had followed their training, staying low to avoid any gunfire, and he cleared the man easily as the ring box clattered off the windowsill and rolled out the open window. His hands caught the top of the doorframe and he pulled in his legs as his momentum carried him through.

His stocking feet connected with the opposite wall, absorbing the impact almost soundlessly and redirecting his trajectory down the hall. He hit the floor well away from the open door and rolled. Nightwing could have managed it more elegantly but -- despite what Dick said -- no style points were awarded in this business. What little noise he made was covered by the sounds within the room, as all attention was drawn to the open window. Seconds later, as 'Jorge Martinez' was straightening his tie, he heard a whoosh! followed by shouts of "Don't move!" from the President's bedroom.

Superman's voice could just be heard: "Easy, fellas, I'm...." Then came then sound of automatic gunfire. He must have moved, the Batman thought as he hurried down the hall away from the doorway, any noise he made covered by the racket.

Superman looked around the bedroom. He hadn't been able to catch all the bullets and the decor had suffered as a result. At least no one had been injured. Luthor is not going to be happy, he thought, and felt a little better at the thought. The lights snapped back on then and the Secret Service agents stared at him in chagrin.

"The President asked me to help out," he said weakly.

A couple of the agents looked annoyed at that, but the one in charge looked thankful for the help. "The intruder must have gone out that window just moments ago."

"Are you sure?" Superman asked. By habit, he tried to use his X-ray vision to search the area, but all the internal walls were covered in lead-based paint, just like the outside walls.

"No one could have gotten past us."

Superman nodded. "All right. I'll search outside. I suggest you be a little less quick on the trigger. We don't want any fatalities if we can avoid it."

'Jorge' walked briskly down the hall. He heard the thunder of the footsteps in time to keep from being knocked over by the two agents who came barreling around the corner. He grabbed onto one of the men to keep him from bowling him over.

"Jorge, do you know what's going on? We heard shooting, but there's only static on the comm."

"I know," said 'Jorge', neglecting to mention that he had just slipped the cause of the static into the man's jacket pocket. He didn't THINK Superman could trace the jammer, but he wasn't about to take unnecessary chances. "There was a screw up, we lost the intruder and Johnson tried to ventilate Superman."

One agent smiled at this, the other said, "Superman? What's he doing here?"

"The bossman called him in."

"Typical. That ...." The man stewed, not quite willing to voice his opinion of the President aloud.

"He's searching outside for the intruder, we're searching inside."

"Got it. Andy, you take that corridor, Jorge you go the other way and I'll try to hook up with Johnson."

"If you do, be sure to compliment him on his shooting. I think he killed the dresser."

Everybody laughed at this and then the two agents sped off. 'Jorge' waited until they were out of sight and then continued on towards the Oval Office.

How could I have fallen for such an obvious trick? thought Superman. He had checked out everyone on the grounds of the White House -- twice, just to be sure -- and the Batman wasn't among them. It had been slow going. X- ray vision could see through a latex mask, but it also saw right through flesh as well. So Superman had flown up to each person and made sure they were who they appeared to be. All in all, it had taken a good thirty seconds and everyone would be wondering at the suddenly windy weather, but at the end of it he knew the Batman was nowhere on the grounds of the White House.

The only question was why he hadn't realized that immediately. It was an old trick: leave a door or window open and people automatically assumed you had used it. The Secret Service agents might be sure no one could have gotten past them, but they didn't know who they were up against. He did.

That meant the Batman was still in the White House. It would take time to search it. He couldn't go zooming around inside a house at top speed without the risk of breaking things or colliding with someone. It would take several minutes, at least. Superman grimaced and headed back towards the White House.

'Jorge' closed the door to the Oval Office behind him. He slipped his night goggles back on and the darkened room sprang into focus around him. They would be monitoring all the security cameras now, but there were far more cameras than people to monitor them. They would be scanning them, checking each one for a few seconds, looking for something out of place, before going onto the next. An agent entering the Oval Office would not be surprising; all the rooms were being searched. If the lights were out the next time they checked, that wouldn't be suspicious either. They would assume the agent had completed his check and gone on. If someone had been watching as he closed the door without turning on the lights, they might be suspicious. It was a risk, but a small one.

He quickly wedged the door shut, then turned and scanned the room. There was another ring box, sitting in plain sight on the President's desk. He ignored it. He wasn't going to fall for the same trick twice. He saw no other obvious possibilities, so he walked around the desk. The drawers were locked, of course, but that hardly slowed him up at all. He stopped, however, when he heard a slight whooshing sound outside the door, followed by a soft thump.

It took Superman a couple of seconds to force open the wedged door. There was only so much force he could apply without shattering the door, after all. Once he had the door open, he saw two small black spheres flying at him. He almost instinctively knocked them out of the way. Which was a mistake, he realized, when they burst on contact into a dense cloud of black smoke which blocked even his vision.


Finally, thought Lois in relief. The last ten minutes had been among the most excruciating of her life. Physical torture would have been preferable. Luthor had made sure she wrote down every lie and platitude he trotted out while she waited on tenterhooks for Superman's return. Would he catch the Batman? Well, of course he would. How could even the Batman escape from Superman? But what then? God, how could even Luthor say all this tripe with a straight face?

Now she looked at Superman, standing just inside the still open window, and froze. He looked ... disheveled. His cape was torn, his hair mussed and there were black streaks on his face and costume. But worse than anything was the look in his eyes. It was a look she had seen before, in the eyes of soldiers on the battlefield who had suffered a terrible wound but were still intent on doing their duty.

"What's that on your face?" Luthor demanded.

Superman reached up with his left hand and touched his face. He looked at the black on his hand in surprise and said, "Lead dust."

"Makes a good smokescreen against a man with X-ray vision," added the man Superman held aloft by the scruff of his jacket. He couldn't be the Batman, Lois thought. He was too short and his body shape was wrong. Evidently Luthor thought the same, for he frowned.

Then the man eeled out smoothly out of the jacket, dropped lightly to his feet and straightened. He seemed to grow three inches in the process, his eyes focused and it was HIM. How does he do that? Lois wondered.

"I trust you have not harmed the real Jorge Martinez," Luthor growled.

"He'll have a headache when he wakes up."

"Do you remember what I told you the last time you invaded my home?" The Batman just stared at him. "And yet here we are," Luthor continued. "I guess it's time to call in the Secret Service."

"Luthor," Superman growled.

Luthor looked surprised. "He broke into the White House. That's a federal offence. It is my duty to uphold the laws of this great country."

"Can it, Luthor. If that's what you intended, you would never have called me in. Besides, I doubt if the Secret Service could take him down." Superman crossed his arms as if to say he had done his part and was finished with the matter.

"If you would just leave, Superman," the Batman growled, "I could retrieve what I came for and go before anyone else crashes the party."

"What, you mean this?" Luthor asked and lifted the ring box. The Batman stepped between Superman and the ring. He made no other overt move, but they all understood the implied threat. If Luthor tried to open the box, he would not be allowed to complete the action.

They were acting like a bunch of schoolyard kids trying to work out the pecking order, Lois thought and chuckled out loud. Everyone looked at her in surprise and the tension level dropped noticeably.

"So what's the deal, Luthor?" she asked. Luthor frowned at her and she said, "Excuse me, MISTER President. Superman is right. You are not going to have him arrested, so what's the deal?"

Luthor glared at her for spoiling his game, but she didn't care. Superman had calmed down and, while the Batman was there, she had no fear of Luthor using the ring. It was amazing how much lighter that made her feel.

"Batman leaves," Luthor snapped, "and he does not come back except at my personal command." He looked at the Batman malevolently. "And if I call, he comes."

The Batman said nothing. Superman said slowly, "Bat...." The Batman turned his head and glared at him. Superman sighed. "OK, 'Mister Martinez'. I don't have the time to keep digging you out of the White House." He stopped and added with an effort, "As a favor to me."

"I won't come back for the ring," the Batman stated, "but I don't do YOUR bidding, Luthor."

"But you will come when your President calls," Luthor purred.

"That's not a button you can push with me, Luthor."

"Enough!" Lois snapped. Really, it must be testosterone poisoning. Superman was smirking, but he wasn't much better. "You're just yanking his chain, Luthor. Unless your guards catch and unmask him, all you have his a mysterious invader, identity unknown. And if you were sure your guards could do it, you wouldn't have called in Superman. So accept his promise and be done with it."

"How can I trust his promise when he won't even admit who he is?" Luthor asked sulkily. He looked at Superman. "I require your promise, as well."

"Fine. I promise he won't come back for the ring!" Superman snapped. So he had noticed the Batman's careful phrasing, Lois thought. So had Luthor, of course, but it didn't seem to bother him. Superman turned to the Batman. "Will you, 'Mister Martinez'?"

"You have my word."

Lois stood. She had had enough of the posturing. "Then, as enjoyable as it has been, I think it's time to end this little soiree."

Luthor waved dismissively at the super heroes. "You two may go. But, Lois, you seem to have forgotten something."

She looked at Luthor in horror. He wouldn't, he couldn't....

"We haven't finished the interview."

It was over two hours later when Lois finally left the White House. Luthor had droned on and on, saying nothing worth printing the whole time. He had his dinner served in the sitting room and appreciatively nibbled at a sumptuous feast worthy of a five-star restaurant while Lois tried to ignore her rumbling stomach and pretended to take notes. How could he talk so long and say so little? It was a kind of genius, Lois suspected. Young children should be tested for it, she decided and those with the special talent should be separated out and quietly murdered.

Lois considered just walking out on Luthor. She considered asking a question NOT on the list; something so outrageous she would be thrown out. But Luthor would just think up something even more petty and malicious to inflict upon her or, worse, Superman. Besides, after what had almost happened, she needed time to recover her composure. So she tuned out Luthor's voice, made appropriate noises from time to time, and thought.

Had Luthor been trying to provoke Superman to attack him? Maybe not, Lois thought, or at least not yet. The possible future she had glimpsed would require preparation to achieve. Luthor still had to consolidate his control over the executive branch, particularly the military. He had to build up support in Congress, so he could be sure that, when the crisis hit, they would grant him the special authority necessary to deal with the emergency. Of course, with all the super heroes in this country -- and more appearing all the time -- it would take years to deal with them all. Lois was sure Luthor could manufacture more "super heroes" to oppose him if needed, so that the emergency would become permanent without anybody quite realizing it, as would the special authority granted Luthor to deal with it. He would become dictator without anybody noticing it.

But to make it work, he had to undermine Superman's reputation with, not the other super heroes, but the ordinary people. So they would accept his version of events and not wonder why the man of steel would attack the President of the United States.

Luthor had been hoping to make Superman lose his temper and say or do something Luthor could use against him, to belittle him in the eyes of the world. Luthor didn't know how powerful a lever he had in Lois, how big a reaction he might have provoked. Lois shuddered and hoped he would never know.

It was nine o'clock by the time she made her way -- hungry and oh-so-weary -- to Pennsylvania Avenue. She looked hopefully for a familiar figure, but there was no sign of Clark. She had hoped he would give her a ride home, and chew her out on the way, but it was probably better to postpone the confrontation until he had more time to cool down. She sighed and looked around for alternative transportation. There was never a cab when you need one, she thought, then blinked as a beat-up checkered cab pulled up to the curb in front of her. Surprised and tired, she opened the door and stepped in before she thought to be suspicious of the perfect timing. By then the cab was accelerating away from the curb.

"I figured I owed you dinner after that. 'Beatrice' sends her regrets, by the way. She wishes she could be here, but circumstances make that impractical."

The face in the rear view mirror was entirely new, but the voice was familiar. He looked faintly Italian now, with black slicked back hair and a thin mustache.

"The commute from Gotham," Lois suggested sardonically.

The Batman grinned, showing irregular teeth and a match held in the corner of his mouth, but didn't reply.

"I'm surprised my husband isn't still haranguing you about this stunt."

The Batman shrugged. "He may be. He was too busy being mad to pay much attention to me, so I slipped away when he started repeating himself."

Lois winced. That wouldn't help his temper any. He's my husband, she reminded herself, he has to forgive me. Eventually.

"Call me Matches." Another grin. Disconcerting from the Batman; but of course he wasn't BEING the Batman right now.

"Well, Matches, I'm tired and grouchy as hell and I'm scared. Do you understand what Luthor is up to?"

"Yes, that's why I had to get the ring away from him."

"Well, you didn't and now you can't even try again!" Lois snapped. "And Superman is the one who pays for your mistake."

"I've had the ring for months."

"What!?!" She just gaped at him.

"I visited Luthor on election night and told him he could have the presidency or the ring but not both. He made various Luthor-esque threats and I left. He immediately went to gloat over the ring -- it was sitting in a lead-lined ring box on a shelf in his office, by the way. When he went down to make his acceptance speech, I re-entered his office, took the ring and put a duplicate in its place. Then I picked up the 'bug' I had been monitoring him with and left."

"Cute." She could feel her temper building to an explosion. "You mean you put us through all that for nothing?"

"If I never went back after the ring, Luthor would get suspicious. The duplicate is as good as I could make it, but there are some tests it can't pass. It would have no effect on Superman, for instance."

"So he finds out. So what?" She was yelling and she didn't care. The manipulative son-of-a ....

"Green kryptonite is not the only possible weapon against Superman, merely the simplest and most effective. As long as Luthor thinks he has the ring, he has no reason to bother with any of the alternatives. Once he knows it's gone he won't rest until he has found some other weapon to use against Superman. I know at least one alternative he could gain access to, if he chose."

That stopped her cold. He was right, of course. Suddenly she thought, so that was why he was so ready to stop Luthor from using the kryptonite ring. When it didn't work, it would give the whole charade away. And here she had thought he was trying to protect her husband.

They turned down an alley and stopped.

"Why are we stopping?"


They walked through the back door and into a busy, if not overly clean, kitchen. Pizzas in all stages of life littered the countertops, while big ovens took up one whole wall.

"Matches, you're early."

"Traffic was light." His voice was much more nasal now, not at all like the Batman's voice.

"Your pizzas are still in the oven. Take your girlfriend out front, Caro's holding a table for you. Ten minutes."

"Thanks, Paolo. But I told you; she's not my girl friend. Believe me, I don't want to get her husband mad at me."

They both laughed at this.

"Tell Benny his cab is out back. He can take her to the airport as soon as we're done. I promise him a big tip."

"As soon as she was seated, 'Matches' excused himself and headed towards the rest room. Lois noticed a pay phone in the alcove as well. She wondered if he would call 'Beatrice Statman'.

The waitress -- she looked no more than eighteen, with curly hair and the tight body of a teenager -- followed him with her large, hopeful eyes.

"A looker, huh?"

The waitress sighed. "Yeah, but he just thinks of me as Benny's younger sister." She shrugged, but still watched him.

"Is that how you know him? Through your brother?"

"Yeah. He saved Benny's life, up in Gotham. The idiot got himself in with some bad sorts. Matches pulled him out of a bad situation and told him flat out this wasn't the life for him. He had one chance to straighten himself out, cause next time Matches wouldn't be there to save his ass. Then he gave him bus money to go home. Good thing, too. Next night..." her voice lowered, "the Batman busted his 'friends'. They were dealing drugs."

Why am I not surprised? "So Matches lives in D.C. now?"

"Nah, but he always eats here when he's in town. Papa wouldn't hear of anything else. Maybe two, three times a year." She looked at Lois speculatively. "This is the first time he ever brought a girl with him."

Lois smiled vaguely. "Really."

She could see Matches heading back towards the table and the waitress suddenly remembered she had other customers and bustled off.

"So you had the ring all this time?" she asked as he sat down.

"I did. Now you do." He smiled. "Congratulations, Lois. Or should it be felicitations? I never can remember."

She realized her mouth was hanging open and closed it with a snap.

"You mean that ... statue?"

"Inside the right testicle. You may have noticed the statue is made of lead. Not unusual for amateur work like that -- it's a soft metal, easy to cast or work with. It seemed made to order. The previous owner was happy to part with it."

Lois sniggered.

"Although 'Beatrice' was not so pleased. She found it a great inspiration for ... commentary."

Jokes and rude remarks, Lois translated. She thought she would enjoy meeting 'Super Dick'. She knew she would love to meet 'Beatrice'.

Matches grinned. "I told her to treat it as an opportunity, not a problem. I left her trying to come up with something to top the statue."

Their dinner arrived at that point. Lois looked as the deep dish Chicago- style pizza with pepperoni, Italian sausage and mushrooms -- her favorite. The Chianti, which she preferred with pizza, was not very good but the pizza more than made up for it. Well, he was the World's Greatest Detective. It would be more surprising if he hadn't detected what she liked.

"But what am I supposed to do with it?" she asked, once the first slice of pizza had taken the edge off her hunger.

"I always thought it would make a good candlestick."

Lois pictured the statue with the top of the penis cut off and a burning candle stuck in and choked on a bite of pizza. She managed to wave 'Matches' off before he could prove he knew the Heimlich maneuver. "I'm all right, I'm all right"

Finally, when she had stopped coughing, she glared at him and demanded, "Who are you and what have you done with the Batman?"

He grinned cheekily. Apparently, as 'Matches' he was allowed a sense of humor. I am NOT going to think about the psychological meaning of all this, she thought determinedly. Not now, at least. Maybe later.

"OK, then, why me? Why didn't you keep it?"

"If Luthor finds it's missing, he's going to know that I took it. Then he is going to set the entire American intelligence community hunting me. They may succeed in finding out my real identity." Perhaps the most closely guarded secret in the entire super hero community, but he could have been discussing the chance of rain tomorrow.

"If that happens, he must not find the ring. He might suspect that I would give it to Superman for safe keeping, although I doubt it. Luthor would never let such a talisman out of his direct control and he judges everyone else by his standards. It would never occur to him that I might give it to you."

Which meant he considered the ring more important than protecting his identity. That was a sobering thought.

"You're really putting it all on the line, aren't you?" Lois asked wondering.

"Superman is the key, Lois. Once we get proof of criminal behavior, he can unite -- not just the super heroes -- but the country against Luthor. But until then, Superman is vulnerable. Not to physical attack, but to ... moral attack. Luthor will do whatever he can to undermine him, to belittle him and make him appear suspect. Don't let him succeed, Lois. Don't let Luthor win.

"By the way, Beatrice says, call any time. You remember her number?" Lois nodded, feeling rather overwhelmed. "Good, she can always get a hold of me, or whistle up help if you need it. And ... I think she could use another friend."

"I like Oracle."

'Matches' smiled, neither confirming nor denying her guess. Superman had let slip once that Oracle was a woman and Lois knew she had some connection with the Batclan. It seemed a reasonable conclusion.

"Beatrice likes you. She doesn't give her number to just anyone. Here comes your ride. Hey, Benny, over here!"

Lois turned to see a male version of Caro approaching. Older, sadder, but his face brightened at the sight of 'Matches' and his smile was just the same.

"Hey, Matches. This the dame?"

"That's Ms. Lane to you. Lois, this is Benito. He's driving you to the airport. Don't overtip him." Matches winked at her.

"Ah, Matches, is that how you treat a friend? Glad to meet you, Ms. Lane. No luggage? OK. Matches told me what time your flight is, so don't worry. We'll be there in plenty of time."

"Good." She didn't bother to turn back, she knew the Batman wouldn't be there. She thought, Clark has always been lucky in his friends. Even the ones that won't call themselves that.

She followed Benny out back to the cab. One battle won. But there would be many more before this war was over.