“The usual, Mr. Kent?” the counter man at the GBS cafeteria asked with a smile.
“You bet, Paul,” Clark Kent said, smiling back. Paul liked Mr. Kent; of all the people who worked for Galaxy Communications, Mr. Kent never forgot to be nice to the little guys. And Mr. Kent was one of the very big guys, indeed, the star anchor of the GBS Evening News. Many were the rumors of his being offered jobs at CNN and 60 Minutes. Still, he always had a smile for the janitor, the candy clerk, and the cafeteria worker. “Chicken salad and bacon on whole wheat–“
“And lots of mayo,” Paul finished. “Coming right up, Mr. K.”
“Clark, if I live to be a hundred, I’ll never know how you choke that stuff down,” Jimmy Olsen said good-naturedly.
“What’ll it be for you, Mr. Olsen?” Paul asked.
“Oh, something light today — Italian hoagie with a side of barbecue chips, please.”
“Say, Jimmy,” Clark said, “I’m working on a crossword puzzle. Do you know a five-letter word for incongruity?“
“Huh? I think that’s irony — oh, very funny, Clark.”
The two longtime friends carried their lunch to a table and sat down. Jimmy was discussing a story idea with Clark, bouncing ideas off him. Clark listened intently, so intently that he was halfway through his sandwich before he noticed the taste — poison.
Immediately, Clark feigned illness. His hand went to his forehead, his eyes glazed over, and his perfect control over his bodily functions made him sweat profusely.
“Something wrong, Clark?” Jimmy asked. “You don’t look so good.”
“I-I don’t feel so good, Jimmy,” Clark said. “Will you excuse me for a moment?”
“Sure, Clark. I knew the sandwiches would catch up with you eventually.”
Clark got up and walked on unsure feet to the men’s room. Once inside a stall, he gave up any pretense of illness. He waited a few minutes for appearances’ sake, flushed the toilet, and left to rejoin Jimmy.
“Feeling better, Clark?” Jimmy asked.
“A bit, yes,” Clark said. “I think I may have a stomach bug or something. Don’t think I’ll finish my sandwich.”
“Yech. Just don’t offer it to me, is all.”
Clark swiftly examined the remains of the sandwich with his microscopic vision. As he suspected, it was strychnine — a very deadly poison that kills in a decidedly painful way. Clark could not believe that Paul knew anything about this, but he knew a way to find out without alerting suspicion.
“Say, Paul,” Clark said on his way out of the cafeteria. “Just wanted to compliment you on today’s lunch! You surpassed even your usual high standards!”
Paul smiled sheepishly. “Aw, thanks, Mr. Kent, but I’m afraid I can’t take credit for it!”
Clark’s left eyebrow raised in Leonard Nimoy fashion. “Oh?”
“Yeah. We had a new guy start this morning. He told me what a big fan of yours he is, and asked me if he could make your sandwich this time. I told him just how you like it. Must be a quick study!”
“Indeed. Think you could find him for me, Paul? I’d like to say thanks and greet such a big fan.”
“Sure thing, Mr. K!” But a search of the kitchen area turned up no sign of the new worker. His time card could not even be located until they checked the ashes in the bottom of the oven.
“Bruce, it’s Clark,” the voice came over the telephone wire.
“Clark, hello,” Bruce Wayne answered. “What’s up? Still planning to show up for Jason’s birthday next month?”
“God willing, yes,” Clark said. “I need your help, Bruce. I’m afraid someone is trying to kill me.”
“Isn’t someone always?“
“No, not me, Superman. Me — Clark Kent.”
Interest registered in Bruce Wayne’s voice. “That is something new. Any ideas?”
“None concrete. I’m going to track down a few leads, but I’m worried about the assailant trying again.”
“I see what you mean,” Bruce said. “Wouldn’t do to have Clark Kent take a bullet in the back or walk into an exploding elevator and miraculously survive.”
“Especially if the killer tries something while I’m on live TV. I hate to impose, Bruce, and I wouldn’t ask it of anyone else…”
“But you want me to impersonate you.”
“Just for a few days until I find the killer. You’ve done it before; I know you can fool everyone.”
“I’d love to help, Clark, but you caught me at a bad time. I’m leaving for Japan in the morning — important conference for Wayne Enterprises. My presence is crucial. It could mean the difference between hundreds of people keeping their jobs.”
“I see,” Clark said gravely. “Yes, go, of course — that’s too important. I’ll think of another way out of this.”
“If I can suggest something,” Bruce said, “I know someone who might be able to help you.”
“So you say the sandwich was poisoned, Mr. Kent?” the suave-looking man in Clark’s apartment asked.
“Yes. Fortunately, I only ate a little bit of it before it made me sick, and I — ahem — expunged it. The sandwich was made by a new cafeteria worker who insisted on making my lunch. He hasn’t been seen since.”
“And you’d like me to take your place for a while until the would-be killer is found.”
“Yes. You come highly recommended, Mr. Chance. I’d appreciate your assistance.”
“Call me Christopher,” the man known as the Human Target said. “Very well, Mr. Kent. Starting tomorrow, I shall become you.”
“Good morning, Mr. Kent,” the security officer at the main lobby of the GBS Building said with a smile. “Good weather for this time of year, isn’t it?”
“Um, sure is,” Christopher Chance said, smiling back. He could tell that Kent was on friendly terms with this man, but he did not know his name. “Supposed to rain tomorrow, I hear.”
Chance made his way up in the elevator with no incident. His disguise was flawless; he had observed Kent for a day, watching his mannerisms. He had Kent’s walk down perfectly as he knocked on Lois Lane’s office door.
“Morning, Clark,” Lois said. “All set for this morning’s story conference?”
“All set, Lois,” Chance said, aping Clark’s voice and inflections perfectly. “I want to discuss your idea for the story on Superman’s old enemies, the where-are-they-now piece.”
“Excuse me, Lois?” a deep voice boomed from right outside the window. Lois and Chance turned to see Superman hovering outside the window.
“Sorry to interrupt, Lois, but I wanted to check and see if you were feeling any lingering effects from that zap you took from the Prankster’s neuro-ray last week.”
“The one that made me laugh my head off on live TV?” Lois asked. “No, everything’s fine, Superman. Thanks so much for checking!”
“Certainly, Lois. Hello, Clark; didn’t mean to interrupt a meeting.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Superman. I appreciate your concern.” Kent had filled Chance in on Superman’s close friendship with Kent, Lane, and others of WGBS’ staff, so Chance was not surprised.
“I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. See you both later!” With a smile and a wave, Superman flew off.
The Man of Steel smiled to himself as he flew. That should give Lois’ suspicious mind something to work on!
Superman’s elation was short-lived. There was still the problem of who wanted Clark Kent dead. One small consolation: whoever it was obviously didn’t know Clark was Superman.
He had wracked his super-brain trying to think of the enemies he had made as Clark Kent. The list had diminished since his becoming a TV anchorman, but there were still plenty of inmates at Metropolis Prison who were put there by a story Clark Kent had written for the Daily Planet. Superman had checked with Warden Larson at the prison and learned that three such inmates had been released in the past two weeks. Superman was now on his way to check out the first.
Abel Dean was a small-time confidence man whose schemes had been exposed by Kent’s articles. According to Warden Larson, Dean had learned electronics in prison and was now working at Picture Perfect TV Repair in the Hob’s End district. Superman flew above that establishment now and peered through the roof. He had to be careful; his x-ray vision could upset the delicate electronics within. He had no desire to ruin anyone’s cable converter. Using the barest portion of his x-ray vision, Superman spotted his quarry. Dean, a wiry little man with large eyes, was at a work station laboring on a circuit board. After a few minutes he looked at his watch, covered the circuit board with a cloth, and left the work station. Superman watched him look furtively around him as he headed for a door with a crude hand-lettered sign on it, reading KEEP OUT.
That was enough for the Man of Steel. Superman flew down to investigate further.
“Hello, Dean,” Superman’s booming voice echoed through the small back room. Dean nearly jumped out of his skin.
“S-Superman! What are you doing here?” the timid little man stammered.
“I’m just checking up on you, making sure you’re not violating your parole. Someone’s got a grudge against Clark Kent. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t you.”
“Me? You’ve got me wrong, Superman! Sure, at my trial I was pretty mad at Kent, but I’m over that now!”
“Really? So what are you sneaking around back here for? And what’s behind that door?”
Dean moved his tiny body between Superman and the door. “N-nothin’! I swear, nothin’!”
“Well, just let me see for myself, OK?” Superman asked, politely but with an undertone that Dean wouldn’t dare refuse. Trembling, Dean stepped aside.
Superman opened the door and could not believe what he saw.
A personal computer and monitor stood on a workbench. Next to the keyboard were sheets and sheets of lined paper with figures and symbols written all over them. On the monitor screen, computerized figures showed a young woman running down what appeared to be a stone passageway. Every now and then a mummy would jump out in her path, or a bat would fly down. She would invariably shoot these intruders with a pistol.
Superman turned to Dean. “What in the world is this?“
“It’s my invention, Superman,” Dean explained. “I’ve been working on it on my lunch hours. I learned electronics and basic computer science in prison, see. There was a Pac-Man machine in the prison rec room, and I watched guys lined up to play it for hours. I figured there was a gold mine to be made there! So I decided to make my own video game!“
Superman watched the screen again. It appeared to be a simplified version of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, only with a scantily clad female as the hero.
“It’s not ready for distribution yet. Please don’t tell anyone, Superman!”
The Man of Steel chuckled to himself. “I’ll keep it under my hat, Dean. Just keep your nose clean.”
“I will, Superman. Thanks! By the way, I’m trying to come up with a name for the game. How do you like Grave Robber?“
Superman wrinkled his nose. “Keep working on it.” In a blur, the Metropolis marvel was gone.
“Mr. Edge really went for your idea about Superman’s past foes, Lois,” Christopher Chance, in his disguise of Clark Kent, said to Lois Lane as they walked down the carpeted hall.
“And why not? This town is Superman-crazy, and justifiably so,” Lois said, still holding the can of soda she had been drinking during the meeting. “OK, we’d better split up the list to cover it faster. Do you want to interview Elton Craig or the Purple Pile-Driver?”
“Well, that depends–” Chance began, then stopped. They were a few steps from Kent’s office door, and Chance’s hand was moving for the knob. He smelled something, though — something that didn’t belong. It was a sharp tang of ozone, the kind of smell you only got around live electricity.
Chance faked a coughing fit, brought his fist to his mouth, and coughed vigorously into it.
“Clark, are you OK?” Lois asked with concern.
“Fine, Lois,” Chance said around coughs. “Just suddenly got… dry tickle in my throat.”
“Here, drink some of this,” Lois said, passing him the can of soda. Chance coughed out a thanks and reached for the can. A particularly violent coughing spasm shook him as he took the can, and he spilled it on the office doorknob. A shower of sparks shot up from it, accompanied by a loud sizzle.
“Clark!” Lois gasped, eyes gaping wide. “Your doorknob — it’s electrified!”
“Great Scott, Lois!” Chance gasped, aping Kent’s mannerisms perfectly. “I-I could have been killed!“
“Keep calm, Clark. I’ll call building security!” Chance watched Lois dash down the hall to her own office, half-wondering how she could run so fast on such high heels. He was earning his pay from Kent, all right. But where would the killer strike next?