Superman flew into one of the seedier sections of downtown Metropolis. The next name on his list was Alan Kirkwood. He had once been a minor employee of STAR Labs until Kent’s investigative reporting exposed his activities selling important technology to such criminal organizations as the 100 and Skull. Superman had arrived at the address Kirkwood had given the parole board in time to see him hail a taxicab. The taxi had dropped Kirkwood off at a bar called Green K; to call it a dive would be to give it a good review.
Boldly, Superman pushed open the doors of the bar. All sounds of talk and laughter stopped instantly. A man shooting pool froze with the stick halfway to the cueball.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Superman said to the crowd at large. “I hope I’m not interrupting the happy hour.”
“What you doing here, Red S?” the bartender demanded. “Even if you are some kind of deputy cop officially, you can’t come in here without a warrant!”
“This is a public establishment,” Superman said evenly. “I can come here any time I want, if all I want is some conversation with a friend. Isn’t that right, Mr. Kirkwood?”
Superman had spotted the techno in an instant; his suit, while not as upscale as his pre-prison days, was very out of place in this bar. “Wh-what do you mean, Superman?” Kirkwood stuttered.
“I just wanted to ask you some questions,” Superman said. “How’s life treating you? Do you think the Phillies have a chance at the pennant this year? Where you were yesterday between eleven A.M. and noon?”
“Aw, spit!” one of the larger thugs in the bar exclaimed. “He knows! Get ‘im, everyone!”
As one, the bar’s denizens rushed at Superman. Some brandished impromptu weapons like pool cues and beer mugs, while others pulled out lengths of chain or zip-guns. All in all, there were over two dozen of them.
Five seconds later, Superman and Kirkwood were the only ones standing.
“Want to come quietly, Kirkwood?” Superman asked. “Just being here is a violation of your parole.”
“Not yet I won’t!” the scientist said, whipping a small device out of his pocket. The thing was no larger than a television remote control. A pencil-thin beam of white light edged with light blue stabbed out of it and struck Superman in the chest. It felt cold — very cold — almost as cold as the deep reaches of space itself. Superman waded through the beam, snatched the device from Kirkwood, and crumpled it in his fist.
At that, Kirkwood sagged like a marionette with clipped strings. He knew when he was beaten. “You win, Superman. I’ll come quietly.” Kirkwood pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “The stuff is in the back room, in crates marked cocktail peanuts.”
Superman raised an eyebrow. “Stuff? What stuff?”
“Oh, come on,” Kirkwood said in exasperation. “You know I and these ruffians robbed a shipment of electronic parts from a ship in Metropolis Port yesterday morning. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“Well, actually, it’s not,” Superman said, smiling. “It’ll do, though. You have the right to remain silent…”
Galaxy Broadcasting security had been unable to find the man who had wired Clark Kent’s office doorknob. Several people had reported seeing an electrician, or at least a man wearing the coveralls and cap of a staff electrician, on the floor that morning. None could give a description of the man; it said something about the white-collar mentality that most of them regarded the blue-collars as invisible.
Morgan Edge had insisted Clark take the rest of the day off. He didn’t want anything to happen to his star anchorman. Christopher Chance, in his guise of Kent, had just as firmly insisted that he continue.
About three o’clock that afternoon, a office assistant knocked on Kent’s office door. Chance bade the young man come in. “Here’s the video tape you requested from the archives, Mr. Kent,” the young man smiled. He dropped the thick envelope in Kent’s in-box and left.
Chance tensed immediately. He had ordered no tape. It was possible the real Kent had, the day before, but still…
In an instant, Chance had the window up and the package hurled out into the afternoon sky. It exploded in midair.
Chance was grim-faced. Whoever wanted Kent wanted him badly, and no mistake.
The last stop on Superman’s list was a large home in Swancourt, a rich suburb of Metropolis. This was the home of Charles Tare, once a state senator representing the people of Metropolis. Kent’s articles had exposed the senator’s illegal activities, resulting in him being removed from office and serving eighteen months in prison. If anyone resented Clark Kent enough to kill him, it was this man, who had lived high on betraying the people who elected him and was brought low by Kent.
Superman rang the bell of the Tare home. It was opened by a young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She looked at Superman with surprise. “Why, Superman! What brings you here?”
“I’d like to see Mr. Tare, if he is in,” Superman said simply. The question seemed to bring confusion to the nurse’s face. She beckoned for Superman to follow.
The nurse led Superman into the master bedroom, where the middle-aged Tare lay in a large bed. He was hooked up to a machine that monitored his body functions and vital signs. A wheelchair was parked next to the bed.
Tare raised his head slightly as Superman came in. “Well, I never expected to receive such a distinguished visitor. Hello, Superman.”
“Mr. Tare,” Superman began. “I have to admit I find your condition something of a surprise.”
“You hadn’t heard?” Tare asked. “It happened last week, just two days after I was released from prison. Struck by a car while crossing the street.”
“I’m sorry. What do the doctors say?”
“That I’ll probably never get out of this bed.” The former senator laughed a short, mirthless laugh. “Just as well. While I was in prison I had time to think, and here I have more time. You read those things Clark Kent wrote about me?”
“They’re true. All of them. You know, when I started out as a young politician, my head was full of dreams. I was going to make the world a better place. But I found my ideas stalled or defeated by old-time politicians, riding the gravy train of incumbency and not wanting to let a young idealist rock the boat. And somewhere, in twenty years of being offered bribes and considerations to sign my name to this or vote against that, I eventually became one of those old-time politicians. Kent’s articles made me examine what I had wanted to be, and what I had become. I deserved the time in prison. Maybe I deserve this, too.”
Superman smiled slightly. “I don’t think so, Mr. Tare. I don’t think so at all.” Superman realized it was not impossible for a man in Tare’s condition to hire someone to do his dirty work, but listening to the man’s words and the rhythm of his heartbeat as he spoke them, he seriously doubted that he had.
Three possible killers and three negative results. Superman was no closer to finding Clark Kent’s assailant than when he started.
“I don’t know how you do it, Mr. Kent!” the pretty young blonde fussing over Chance’s hair gushed. “All the hard work you do, chasing down leads and getting stories and all, and you never have a hair out of place!”
“Just lucky, I guess, Candy,” Chance said as he sat uneasily in the makeup chair. He had been worried that the makeup artist would notice that he was already wearing makeup, and in fact was not Clark Kent, but he had dodged a bullet. This silly girl was so empty-headed she never noticed; just chatted away and put the TV makeup on right over his own.
“It’s so exciting doing your makeup every day, Mr. Kent,” she droned on. “I mean, you always look so handsome on TV; seeing you in real life is just thrilling!”
“Well, if I look good on TV, it’s a tribute to your own skills, Candy,” Chance said, smiling.
“Aw, you’re gonna make me blush, Mr. Kent,” Candy giggled. “You’re so handsome already, there’s never much for me to do!”
Chance groaned inwardly. “Well, you’ve done your usual great job, anyway, Candy. I’d better get going. Wanted to do a run-through before the broadcast tonight. Make sure I pronounce Azerbaijan correctly.”
“Buh-bye, Mr. Kent!” Candy giggled, waggling her fingers at the departing Chance.
Oh, brother, Chance thought to himself. Does Kent go through that every day? If I were him I might welcome being assassinated!
Chance strolled down the hall to the main studio. He felt an unexpected pang of nervousness in his stomach. Funny; he was shot at for a living, but the idea of going on live television gave him butterflies.
“Christopher Chance,” a small voice said at his ear. He stopped and looked around. No one was there. Where was the voice coming from?
“Christopher Chance,” the voice went on, “I know who you are. Meet me in Clark Kent’s office in two minutes.”
That was all the voice said. Chance glanced around but could find no source of the voice. Steeling himself, he went quickly to Kent’s office.
Chance opened the door, bracing himself for whatever awaited him inside. Nothing he could have done, however, prepared him for the sight that met him there.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Chance,” the man seated behind Kent’s desk said. “Please close the door. I don’t want us to be overheard.”
Chance closed the door. “What are you doing here, Superman?” he asked. “And how did you know who I was?”
“Clark Kent told me,” Superman said. “We’re kind of close, as he told you. He’s asked me to check some leads, try to find out who’s trying to kill him.”
“I see. Any luck?”
“Sadly, none. All three leads turned out to be blind alleys. How about you?”
“Someone tried to kill me — or, rather, Kent — twice. As you can see, they were unsuccessful. But I’m no closer to finding out who.”
Superman frowned. “That’s bad. Since I came up dry, I was hoping you might have more luck.”
“Not so far,” Chance said. “I’m due to go on the air in a couple minutes. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Mr. X will strike while I’m on the air.”
“It’s possible,” Superman said. “I’ll stick around out of sight but close by. If he does make a play, we’ll get him.”
“You know,” Chance said, scrutinizing Superman with his eye for facial features, “I’m surprised Kent didn’t ask you to impersonate him. If you put on these glasses and combed your hair differently…”
“Hey, look at the time,” Superman said. “Don’t want to miss your broadcast!”
“Ten seconds to air time, Mr. Kent,” the stage manager told Chance.
“Roger that,” Chance replied. “I’m ready when you are.” Chance glanced at the teleprompter. This shouldn’t be too hard, he thought, just read the words off the screen. Try to forget that I’m being seen by everyone in Metropolis — eight million people.
Chance shifted uneasily in the comfortable chair. As he did so, he felt something — a very minute disturbance, something almost no one else would notice. It was a faint, barely discernable humming, like a battery-operated clock. Trying not to be noticed, Chance felt beneath his seat. His fingers came on something he recognized by the touch — a time bomb, most likely plastic explosive.
“And we’re on the air,” the stage manager announced. Chance smiled as he listened to the voice-over announcing the Six O’Clock News with Clark Kent.
“Good evening, Metropolis,” Chance said into the camera, aping the way he had seen Kent do it on videotapes he had studied. As he began to read the copy off the teleprompter, he tapped on the desk with a pencil. The stage manager was puzzled. What was he doing that for? Was he nervous? Nah, not Clark Kent!
Superman, watching from his hiding-place with his x-ray vision, noticed the tapping, too. That was very out of character, and according to Bruce, Chance mimicked a person’s mannerisms perfectly. So could he be trying to send a message? Superman had told Chance that he would be nearby. He tuned in on the pencil taps with his super-hearing. Yes — it was Morse code. Bomb… under… chair. Great Scott!
The cameraman barely noticed a blue blur moving behind Clark’s chair. It was there and gone in an eye-blink, so he chalked it up to a trick of the lighting.
Chance felt a slight breeze behind him and mentally let out a deep breath. He looked out on the stage crew as he continued to read the news. He saw a young man in stagehand’s coveralls looking around nervously as he made his way to the exit. Jackpot.
“And we’ll be right back after this word from Merlin Toys,” Chance said as the stage manager readied to cut to commercial. Everyone watched as Kent inexplicably rose from his desk. The nervous stage hand bolted for the door; Chance ran after him and caught him with a flying tackle.
Superman flew into the studio to see Chance dragging the stagehand to his feet, his arms locked in a wrestling hold. The stagehand was struggling madly.
“Here’s our boy, Superman,” Chance said. “He was trying to put some air between himself and the studio, like he knew something was going to happen.”
“Let me go!” the young man demanded. “There’s a bomb gonna go off any second! Lemme outta here!”
“Relax, son, the bomb is gone,” Superman said. “Now, who are you? Why did you try to kill Clark Kent?”
The young man’s fear turned to defiant rage. “So, you’re the one who’s been savin’ him, huh? I should’a known! All the free press he gives you! Well, my name is Carl Pluzczek!”
Superman shook his head. “I’ve never heard of you.”
“No, of course not!” Pluzczek ranted. “I’m not a famous TV star like pretty boy, here! But Candy Westphall was my girlfriend!”
Chance and Superman watched each other do double-takes. “Candy, the makeup girl?” Chance asked.
“You know it, Kent,” Pluzczek growled. “We were in love, we had somethin’ goin’! Then she got a look at you, and you smiled at her, and her heart went all pitter-patter! Now she won’t gimme the time of day! I had to get rid of you so I could get her back!”
Superman and the Human Target looked at each other.
Building security arrived just then. Chance turned the complaining Pluzczek over to them, and he and Superman walked back to the desk.
“Amazing,” Superman said, shaking his head. “I can’t wait to tell Clark.”
“Well, Pluzczek may get the last laugh, after all,” Chance said.
“Well, he’s going to be in the news now,” Chance said. “Making it, rather than reporting it. If my first impression of Miss Westphall was correct, she just may give him another chance now.”
A silent beat passed, and both men broke out laughing.