By Jon B. Knutson (email@example.com)
Summary: Central City converges on Metropolis — at least, three of its more well-known citizens do: Barry Allen (aka the Flash); his scientist wife, Tina; and James Jesse, also known as the villainous Trickster. Double trouble ensues as the Trickster teams up with the Prankster, Superman learns he may not be the fastest man alive after all, and old friends Tina and Lois discover they have a lot in common.
All characters copyright (c) 1996 by DC Comics, Inc. Author's Note: This story is one I've been trying to write for some time… in fact, it's been over a year since I started it… or rather, false-started it. I forget who it was who suggested the basic idea for this story, but it was a good idea that took a lot of thinking before I could make it click. The guest-stars in this story have (obviously) gone through some changes since we saw them last, but they're changes which I feel represent a logical progression from what we originally saw. Hopefully, the enjoyment you get from reading this will be worth the time it took to write the damn thing!
Oh, and continuity-wise, it fits in just before "Tempus, Anyone?" And, if anybody's curious, I've included a cast listing at the end of the story.
"It's just not fair," Lois Lane complained with a frown. She was wearing a burgundy-colored blouse with a jacket and knee-length skirt of a darker burgundy, with shoes to match. Her dark brown hair was pushed behind her ears (because Clark off-handedly mentioned once he preferred it that way, although Lois was starting to form the opinion that Clark would've preferred it if she hadn't cut it as short as it was; but then, she preferred the glasses frames Clark *used* to wear until a year ago, so perhaps they'd achieved parity there anyway).
Clark Kent put down the rather large hamburger that he'd just taken a bite from. Chewing quickly, he swallowed, and said, somewhat apologetically, "Genetics, Lois… I can't help it." Clark was dressed in a navy blue suit with a white shirt and black shoes. His tie reminded Lois of the "stargate" sequence in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." Behind his glasses, his brown eyes had a glint of humor in them, as if he was half-kidding with his fiancee.
Lois took a sip of her double-chocolate milk shake, and lowered her voice. "Genetics… why I have to spend an hour in the gym working out every day so I can indulge my little, teeny, tiny chocolate addiction, while you can chow down to your heart's content on every greasy, calorie-ridden food that you come across… and still have the build you do. When I remember what I said to you that first time I was in your kitchen about what was your secret…"
Clark half-smiled, and said, "Okay, so I didn't have to earn my physique… that puts you up on me, in my book."
Lois frowned, eyebrows lowered. "Right."
"No, really… you have to put an effort into something I've more-or-less taken for granted."
Lois took a French fry from her plate and chewed on it, thinking. She'd resisted Clark's suggestion that they visit Schaffenburger's ever since the restaurant opened a block away from the Daily Planet, but after Jimmy Olsen insisted that Schaffenburger's had "the best burgers in Metropolis… even better then Big Belly Burgers!" she wasn't able to resist any longer… especially after hearing about the double-chocolate milk shakes.
"Hmmm," Lois said, as if she wasn't quite convinced.
"I'm serious. All my su—" as if Clark was aware the two were in public, he changed his statement, looking furtively from side to side as he did "—er, you know's, are because I was born with them. But I look at Batman, over in Gotham… there's no evidence he's anything more than a normal person with gadgets and training, yet he deals with stuff almost as bad as Superman does. A lot of people put him down for not having — you know's — but I've got to admire him for it."
Lois considered this for a moment. "So, you're telling me that you're *envious* of me for having to work at keeping up my figure, because you don't have to? If I didn't know you better, I'd swear you were feeding me a line."
"My days of 'feeding you lines' are long over," Clark said, seriously. "In fact, the exact date was—" Clark suddenly tilted his head slightly; a little move that Lois recognized now as Clark's super-hearing coming into play.
Clark listened intently, hearing a screech of tires. "Uh, Lois, I'm sorry, but…"
Lois rolled her eyes. "I know, Clark… you've got to stop apologizing for it. Where is it?"
Tuning in his super-hearing more exactly to a nearby police scanner, Clark said, "Just north of Metropolis… on Highway 18… about 2 miles south of Mt. Curtiss," Clark said as he got up from his seat. "Heading south."
Lois got up from her seat as well, scooping up the half-finished burgers and fries and tossing them into a paper bag (Schaffenburger's didn't believe in plastic trays). "No sense wasting these," she said, but Clark was already heading towards the back of the fast-food restaurant, to the men's room. By the time Lois was out the front door, heading to her silver Jeep Cherokee, she could already hear a distinctive mini- sonic boom echoing from the sky. "That's another thing you've got up on me, Clark," she murmured as she unlocked the door and entered the Jeep. "But unless I want to get struck by lightning or hit with a red Kryptonite laser while you're holding me…"
In the skies above Metropolis, Superman flew at the fastest safe speed he could, his distinctive red cape flapping behind him with its yellow insignia. His blue tights, slightly shiny, occasionally reflected a tiny glint of sunlight. Red trunks with slightly darker red boots, plus a yellow belt and the now world-famous red "s" in a pentagonal shield completed the costume. He wore, strapped to his back, a small red nylon backpack, cleverly designed to be virtually unnoticeable under his cape.
*At least I don't have to lie to Lois about why I have to leave anymore*, Superman mused as he scanned ahead with his telescopic vision. On Highway 18, a two-lane highway which seemed designed simply to take Metropolis' citizens by Mt. Curtiss and to campgrounds, he spotted a lavender Volkswagen van, circa 1969, heading towards Metropolis. At least, lavender seemed to be the predominant color; there were splashes of other colors all over it. In the back of his mind, Superman wondered if that's what Clark Kent's ties looked like to the uninitiated. The VW van was traveling at surprisingly high speeds — Superman could tell from the way it handled curves that the van *had* to have been extensively customized.
But as unusual as the van was, its pursuer was more unusual still.
At first, it appeared to be a red blur, with patches of yellow, stretching for about 100 yards. But as Superman sharpened his vision, he could make out first afterimages, and then the real image, of a predominantly red-clad figure, with yellow trim on his costume.
"Another super-human?" Superman asked out loud in surprise. A quick scan further north revealed that the State Patrol vehicles which were pursuing the van and its follower had collided… the vehicles were useless, but the occupants were unharmed, save for a few bruises, so far as Superman could determine. He turned his attention to the apparent super-human… or what he was assuming was a super-human being.
It definitely appeared that was the case… especially since the red-clad figure was *running* after the van… and catching up to it. The driver of the van, a man in his mid to late thirties, had a frantic expression on his face, from what the Man of Steel could see from his vantage point.
*Time to check this out,* Superman thought, increasing his speed and flying down towards the running figure. He pulled alongside and matched speeds with the runner… a task he found difficult, since he had to reverse direction before he could do so.
The runner glanced to his side, and his eyes widened. Now that Superman was closer, his vision could more easily make out details. The red costume covered the wearer's entire body, including the head, save for eyeholes and a cutout for the lower face. What appeared to be golden discs with wings covered the runner's ears. Stylized golden lightning bolts encircled the runner's waist, as well as indicated the terminus of the runner's gauntlets.
"What's all this about?" Superman yelled, hoping the sound of his voice would carry at those speeds.
The runner, surprised at the combination of Superman flying alongside him as well as the shout, stumbled, rolling himself into a ball as he fell.
*Whoever he is, he's had practice with high speeds,* Superman realized. The runner was coming out of his tumble, and getting back to his feet. Superman landed in front of him.
"Oh, this is just great… do you know what you just did? I was just about to…" the runner started complaining.
Superman held up a hand, palm first. "Hold on a minute. Who are you?"
The red-clad figure didn't seem to hear the question… or perhaps it was just his second surprise. "Wait a minute… that costume… you're Superman, right?" The runner's tone had taken a 180-degree turn. "I've been wanting to meet you for some time," he said as he extended a hand, sounding for all the world like someone finally meeting a movie star they'd been a fan of for years.
Caught by surprise, Superman extended his own hand, "Uh, thank you… I guess. And you are?"
"Oh, I guess I'm not that well-known outside of Central City. I'm the Flash."
Lois Lane was breaking a few speed laws herself as she headed towards Highway 18. Fortunately for her, the state patrol didn't seem to be operating in her area. Finally, she got out of Metropolis proper, and onto the highway, passing cars whenever she could, and soon found herself ahead of the other drivers.
There was a blind curve up ahead. Lois always hated driving on Metropolis' own "Deadman's Curve," ever since one of her earliest stories for the Daily Planet. "Deadman's Curve" had racked up quite a death toll over a two-week period, and Lois, feeling a bit like the crusading journalist that Perry had described himself as in his younger years, decided to do something about it. Her story had been meticulously researched, and discovered to her horror that most of the deaths were of people who had been driving small economy cars.
The next day, Lois traded in her Toyota for a larger car. Later still, she traded that larger car in on her Jeep.
Remembering her old research, Lois slowed down as she approached the dangerous site. At least, as a result of her story, the curve no longer had a solid rock wall on one side. On the other side, the cliff still dropped nearly 50 feet, but at least better, stronger guard rails had been installed… although there were still the distinctive paint scratches on the guard rails from where some drivers had gone too quickly around the curve.
The psychedelically-painted VW van approached the curve from the opposite direction. The driver of the van looked back over his shoulder behind him, ignoring the rear view mirror. "Is he still following us, Prank?" The driver was dressed in a white jumpsuit, a patch on the back of which indicated that it was the property of "Central City Automotive." The driver's hair, somewhat unkempt, was a light brown. There was a hint of mania in his eyes, which were partly hidden by a strangely-designed domino mask. *Damn, can't see a thing with this on,* he thought, yanking it from his face and tossing it to the floor.
In the back of the van, a young woman in her mid- twenties said, "I don't think so… at least, I don't see him… maybe we lost him?" The woman was dressed quite unusually, but the driver of the vehicle didn't seem to mind as his eyes roved up and down her figure, which was quite nice. The woman was dressed in shiny silver boots with matching gloves and tights… the tights seemed to have been assembled entirely from scraps of leftover spandex, giving it a patchwork effect. However, it was quite form-fitting — the reason the driver kept his eye on her for a few seconds. She also wore a cape of a material that was of some material that could hardly be called opaque. Her long blonde hair was somewhat compressed from where the young woman's elastic-banded mask held it in place.
"Good," the driver said, turning his eyes back to the road in front of him…
…just in time to realize he'd got up to the curve.
Lois spotted the van just as it started crossing the line into her lane, and simultaneously braked and twisted the wheel to avoid an accident…
…an accident that nevertheless happened. The van, skidding out of control, hit Lois' Jeep in the side, sending both vehicles spinning to the guard rail…
…which gave way, allowing both van and Jeep to roll off the road to the bottom of the ravine.
Lois tried to scream as her Jeep went over the side, but no sound could come out. *OhmigodI'mgoingtodiewillmyseatbeltsholdwherethehellisClarkhelp!* she thought in a rush as everything spun around her.
"I've got a lot of questions for you… and I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me," the Flash said, excited. "Deja vu… it's like when I met Nightshade way back when."
"Nightshade?" Superman asked. Before the Flash could answer, Superman turned his head slightly to one side. "Hold that thought… there's been an accident."
"An accident? Let's get going, then… wait a second… I completely forgot about who I was chasing! He can wait though," the Flash said, and then he was off.
Superman followed a split-second later, thinking, *He's pretty fast… maybe even faster than I am.*
Lois opened her eyes. "I'm alive!" she realized. She looked around. Miraculously, her Jeep had even landed right- side up. Carefully, she unhooked her seatbelt, opened the door of the Jeep (which fell off), and stepped out. "No broken bones, at any rate… but I'll bet I have bruises galore."
She looked over at the van, which had landed upside down. Lois staggered over to it, to see if she could help its occupants. As she neared it, the driver's door swung open, and the driver fell out of the van onto the ground. For a moment, Lois was afraid the driver was dead, but as he hit the ground, he rolled back onto his feet. "Ta-daaa! Once again, I escape from certain death!"
Incredulous, Lois shouted, "Are you insane? You could've killed us both, and you act like this is some kind of prank?"
The driver looked at Lois for a second. "D'oh! I almost forgot about Prank! Don't go away… I'll be right back after this word from our sponsor!"
Lois stood there, stunned, as the driver skipped to the back of the van and wrestled the back doors opened. The spandex-clad woman whom the driver had referred to as "Prank" fell out of the van, still and lifeless… a trickle of blood spilling from her mouth. Lois tried to stifle a sudden sob.
The driver of the van looked at Prank's lifeless body, and then back at Lois. In a voice that was obviously supposed to be an impression of Tweety Bird, the driver said, "Oh, gawsh! Da poor Pwank… she faw down and go boom! I lose more Pwanks that way!"
Lois knew for certain that she was dealing with a lunatic, and she started to run away.
"I didn't tell you to run, now did I?" the driver said, his voice getting demanding. Unseen by Lois, the driver reached into his coat and pulled out a large black pistol, took careful aim, and fired. The bullet struck a boulder Lois was passing, and Lois stopped in her tracks.
"Drat! I missed… I was aiming for your head," the driver said. "Oh, well, I guess a live hostage is more valuable than a dead one," he shrugged. "At least I won't have to carry you." He ran over to Lois and said, "Now, put your hands up in the air like a good girl, and I won't have to blow your brains all over this wonderful scenery here, okay?"
"O-okay," Lois said. *Clark, where the *hell* are you?* she thought.
"Now, let's start walking… preferably to somewhere I can get the car towed outta here… let's see what's down this way," he indicated with the gun. "Hey, what's this?" he asked after they'd walked a few seconds. "Cool! Looks like a secret shortcut!"
Lois risked a glance to the side to try and determine what her captor was looking at, and saw a small cave entrance. *Oh, this is wonderful,* she thought. *Looks like one of the old lead mines from the 1940's,* she recalled. *That'll make it hard for Clark to spot us with his x-ray vision.*
"I know a better short cut, up ahead," Lois suggested vainly as her captor forced her into the cave.
Mere seconds after the two entered the cave, Superman and the Flash arrived at "Deadman's Curve." "Down there, in the ravine!" Superman shouted to the Flash. The two costumed crimefighters sped to where the van and jeep lay, the Flash's speedy run throwing up a rather large quantity of dust and dirt into the air.
The dust settled around them as they searched the vehicles. "Nobody here, except for Prank," the Flash called from the van, "and she's not going anywhere."
Superman had already scanned the jeep with his x-ray vision as they landed. He felt his stomach do flip-flops as he realized Lois wasn't inside her jeep, and began scanning the immediate area.
Dejectedly, Superman looked back at the Flash. "No sign of Lois… I mean, the other driver, either." As if coming out of a fog, Superman added, "Prank?"
"His accomplice… I've been after them for some time."
"After who?" Superman asked.
To Lois' amazement, the old mine tunnel soon connected with a much more recently dug tunnel which seemed to stretch for miles in either direction. The tunnel was nearly 20 feet across, and with the exception of where the mine shaft connected with it, was tiled on the walls and ceiling. The floor of the tunnel was a dark concrete. Hidden lighting illuminated the tunnel.
"See? I told you this was a secret shortcut! Now, we need to head north… or is it south? Which side of a tree does the moss grow on? Well, it doesn't matter, since we don't have any trees in here… or any moss, either. Or Mos Eisley," Lois' captor rambled before he sneezed.
Lois was baffled by this most recent turn of events. Ever since Superman's arrival in Metropolis, she'd been involved in a succession of stranger and stranger events… and this one was looking as if it was trying to secure the number one position; or at least in the top ten. *I suppose things can't get too much stranger between now and the wedding,* Lois thought hopefully.
"Let's try…" Lois' captor said, as he licked his forefinger and placed it in the air, aiming the damp spot in several directions, "… this way!" He nudged Lois ahead of him with the butt of the gun. "You know, you've got pretty nice gams on you… ever considered modeling? I know people who know people who know people who don't know anybody in the field, you know."
Lois was beginning to tire of her captor's rambling. "Would it be possible for you to be quiet for a few minutes, at least?"
Her captor looked shocked (not that Lois could see it). "Be quiet? Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Who do I think you are? That's a good question, that one… who the heck are you, anyway? I mean, if we're going to be spending a lot of time together, we should at least know each other's names."
Exasperated, Lois said, "My name's Lane… Lois Lane."
"Lane Lois Lane, eh? I hate to break it to ya, but Lane's a guy's name. But nevertheless, or neverthemore, that's an interesting coinkeydink, because I've got alliterative initials, too… or is that illiterative? Or illegitimate? I forget. Anyway, my name's James Jesse… which is like Jesse James, but backwards. My friends used to call me Jesse before I killed them. But you, with the great legs, can call me anything you want, but you can't call me late for dinner. Well, that's not true, but then, if I always told the truth, I wouldn't be here, I'd be on a dollar bill. Call me the Trickster."
"The Trickster?!?" Superman asked.
"That's what he's been calling himself for about six or seven years now," the Flash explained. "He likes to use a lot of magic tricks in his crimes… it's his schtick. It seems like every crook I fight's got some kind of schtick. Remind me to tell you about Captain Boomerang sometime. Anyway, Prank is what the Trickster calls his sidekicks… and he's run through quite a few of them, but fortunately, the ones who didn't volunteer for the job managed to live through it… so far."
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Superman said. "Your enemy… the Trickster… right?"
"Right," the Flash agreed.
"The Trickster…who's run through a series of sometimes unwilling sidekicks, and whom you've been chasing here from Central City, was in a car crash and subsequently kidnapped a friend of mine. Unfortunately, all the dirt and dust that you kicked up has covered up their trail… not that there appears to have much of one here to begin with."
The Flash thought about this for a moment. "I thought you had some kind of x-ray vision… can't you use it?"
"I've been trying," Superman said, resigned. "But there used to be a lot of lead mines around here, back in the 1940's… there's still a lot of deposits that weren't tapped… and that blocks my x-ray vision. And with the twists and turns of this ravine…"
"Sorry," the Flash said. The Man of Steel thought for a moment that the Scarlet Speedster didn't really mean it, but even with the skullcap mask, the Flash's regret was obvious. "The Trickster's got a habit of kidnapping friends of mine, too. So far, I've been lucky." He looked around the area. "I suppose we're left with just a standard search approach, then… with the two of us searching at super-speed, we should be able to cover the area pretty thoroughly, eh?"
Without waiting for a reply, the Flash sped off in a blur of red.
*What is it with this guy?* Superman wondered as he flew into the air and began searching for Lois and the Trickster. *And why is he making me feel so uncomfortable?*
"Well, well, what do we have here?" the Trickster said. "Why, it looks like… yes, it is… it's a Brand New Car!" He said the latter statement as if he was a television game show announcer.
Lois took advantage of the sudden stop in their walk to sit down and rest her feet. *Next time I get kidnapped by a lunatic and go for a five-mile hike, I've got to remember to wear sensible shoes,* she thought. *Not that I get to choose when I'm kidnapped,* she reflected, frowning.
The Trickster's attention had been diverted by an alcove in the tunnel the two had been walking down. The alcove was covered with a thick sheet of glass, and had a standard 12-button keypad next to it. Above the panel was a sign reading "Emergency Vehicle Storage — Authorized Personnel Only" with what appeared to be a stylized DNA helix next to it.
Behind the glass was what certainly appeared at first glance to be a car… but what a car! The shiny silver finish of the car reflected the light at several different angles. Tinted windows obscured the interior, but the overall impression Lois got when she glanced at it was something out of a science fiction movie. She did a double-take when she realized that the car had no visible wheels.
"It's the new Trickstermobile!" the Trickster said with delight, rubbing his hands together (a difficult task to do with the gun still in his right hand). "But first, I have to figure out the security code. Let's see…"
As the Trickster began punching out numbers at random on the keypad, Lois stood back up. "You'll never guess the combination that way," she said. At least, she hoped the Trickster would never guess the combination. She still recalled the time where she had a similar keypad that she desperately needed to figure out the combination of… and got lucky [Note: See "The Phoenix"]. *What are the odds that it could happen again?* she wondered.
Apparently, the odds were better than Lois had thought. After a sequence of accompanying beeps that sounded to all the world to Lois like the theme from "Star Wars," the Trickster said, "Ah! There we go! Open sesame!" as the glass panel slid aside. "Now, all I have to do is hot-wire it… get in, legs!" James ordered, gesturing with the gun.
As Lois approached the strange vehicle, the door opened automatically for her. Still pointing the gun at Lois, the Trickster also entered the newly-christened "Trickstermobile."
The interior of the vehicle revealed a wide array of indicators and controls… none of which were labeled, or seemed to correspond to any controls from a normal automobile. "This could be harder than I thought," the Trickster admitted. "Fortunately, I am a soo-per genius… nothing can foil my intellect once I've put on my thinking cap." With that, he reached into his jumpsuit and pulled out a battered baseball cap, which was sloppily lettered, "Thinking Cap" in glued-on golden glitter. He placed this on his head. "Ah, I think I've got it now… I'll simply press THIS button here!"
The Trickster stabbed an amber button on the console.
Superman and the Flash had completed their survey of the area; Superman from the air, and the Flash from the ground. The Fastest Man Alive waved the Metropolis Marvel to join him on the ground.
As Superman landed, he noticed that the Flash appeared quite tired. "I don't know how you do it, Superman," the Flash said. "A half-hour of super-speed searching and I've burned off all of my energy… I've gotta get something to eat to restore my lost calories, or I'll fall over. You, on the other hand, look like you could take on my entire rogues' gallery with one hand tied behind your back."
Superman replied, "That's probably because I get my energy from sunlight… which there's plenty of today. I'll give you a lift into town and you can get something to eat."
"Thanks," Flash said.
Superman lifted the Flash's tired body easily, and began flying back towards Metropolis, still searching the ground below with his x-ray vision and telescopic vision for any sign of Lois and/or the Trickster. As such, he didn't spot something else that the Flash did.
"I don't believe it… looks like you might be liable for copyright infringement to me," the Flash said, pointing ahead of them. "What do you call that, the 'Super-Signal?'"
Superman looked up from his ground scanning. Just ahead of the two, floating in the sky, was the unmistakable pentagon-shaped red and blue S insignia, just like the one on the front of Superman's costume. "Must be some kind of hologram… emanating from… there."
Superman angled his flight downward to the apparent source of the hologram. It was in an area of the ravine that had less dense growth than the majority of it. An abandoned mining shaft opened up from the cliffside, looking more like a cave due to neglect. Standing next to the apparent hologram projector was an athletic-looking man, wearing blue tights with yellow gloves, boots, trunks, and helmet, and carrying a large golden shield, shaped like a policeman's badge. Superman landed, saying, "Guardian*? I thought you pretty much stuck to Suicide Slum… not the outskirts of town. To say nothing of having access to high-tech stuff like this," indicating the projector.
[*AUTHOR'S NOTE: For more on the Guardian, see my earlier fanfic story, "Guardian of Metropolis," which should be available in the fanfic archive.]
"There's a lot about me that I can't tell you, Superman," the Guardian admitted. "But that's not important. I believe that I have two people you and your red-clad friend there are looking for." The Guardian pressed a stud on his belt buckle, and a futuristic-looking car rolled, seemingly of its own accord, out of the nearby mine shaft.
Superman had already set the Flash down on the ground. "Guardian? I'm called the Flash… pleased to meet you," the Scarlet Speedster greeted as Superman approached the car. The gull-wing doors on either side opened as Superman neared it.
"Lois!" Superman exclaimed, seeing Lois, apparently asleep, in the passenger seat. He tenderly lifted her out of the car, checking her over to see if she was all right. There was a faint trace of some kind of gas in the air that Superman was able to easily smell.
"Guardian! What happened to Lois?" Superman said, visibly upset.
"Easy, son, she'll be fine, more or less… she and the other guy were both given a dose of a special knock-out gas," the Guardian assured.
"What do you mean — more or less?" In his concern for Lois' safety, Superman was beginning to lose his temper, despite his respect for the Guardian.
"The gas has a side-effect in that it causes a limited form of amnesia. Neither of the two will remember anything from the last hour or so. Otherwise, there's no permanent side effects, so long as neither one suffers from a head injury or any other physical shock in the next week or so. Trust me… the amnesia is necessary," Guardian insisted.
"I'll let it pass… for now," Superman said with a warning tone in his voice. "However, I'm going to want to talk to you about this… very soon. Got that?"
The Guardian nodded. "Understood. I should've come a bit cleaner with you at our previous meeting, but I've got my orders. And even admitting that is more than I should say."
Flash, in the meantime, had gone over to the other side of the car, where he found the Trickster. "Toto, we're definitely not in Central City anymore," he said as he saw the interior of the car. He pulled the Trickster out of the car with the Guardian's help, and then the Guardian entered the car and drove into the cave.
"So, what's *his* story?" the Flash asked, indicating the Guardian.
"Believe it or not, he was a crimefighter in the 1940's," Superman said, cradling Lois gently in his arms.
"I believe it… we've got a lot in common, it seems," the Flash said. "Including being in love with a very attractive woman?"
Superman tried to look innocent. "She's just a friend of mine."
"Uh-huh." The Flash didn't sound convinced.
The Trickster and Lois were beginning to revive. "Hmm… anything handy to restrain James with?" the Flash asked.
Superman set Lois on the ground, waited until he was sure she was steady on her feet, and then lifted the Trickster up with one hand and turned him around. "You must be tired," he said, pointing to the pair of handcuffs already on the Trickster's wrists.
"I guess so. Now, about that ride into town? Can you handle all three of us on one trip?"
Superman allowed himself a self-satisfied smirk. "There *is* a reason that I'm called Superman. It may not be comfortable, but I can get everyone there."
The first stop was police headquarters. By the time the four had arrived there, both Lois and the Trickster were completely conscious, although a little woozy. "Tell Henderson that this is James Jesse, alias the Trickster, and he's wanted by the Central City Police," Superman instructed the desk sergeant.
"No problem, Superman," the desk sergeant said as a couple of uniformed officers took James' arms and began to take him to a holding cell.
The Trickster was hauled away… but before he was out sight, he looked at Lois again, more intently. "I should have guessed… those eyes… that hair… those legs! Megan, my original Prank, you've returned to me at last!" He continued his ranting as he was brought to a holding cell.
*There's not that much of a resemblance,* the Flash thought. *Dark hair, nice legs and figure, but that's about it.* He then turned to look at Inspector Henderson, who shook his head sadly as he watched James Jesse being hauled away. "Inspector, by any chance, do you have a twin brother who's a newscaster in Central City?" Flash finally asked.
Henderson looked at the Flash. "Nope."
"The resemblance is very uncanny… oh, well, it's not important."
Lois, Superman and Flash walked out of police headquarters. Lois looked at Superman and the Flash, and said, "You know, I would have one heck of a story here… if I could remember the last hour or so of it. I guess I owe you both?" she asked.
Superman looked at Lois, trying hard to maintain his "we're only friends" act. "Not entirely, Miss Lane… but I'm afraid I can't say any more. Now, I believe you're due back at the Planet? Your fiance, Mr. Kent, may be worried."
Lois still seemed a bit groggy. "Um, right… I'm sure he's been worried sick. Bye! And thanks again." Lois stepped to the street and hailed a cab, getting lucky enough to attract the first one's attention.
As Lois entered the cab, the Flash said, "I hate to sound like a broken record… but I really do have to recharge my batteries. And I should probably call my wife, too, and let her know everything's okay. And Superman — if you ask me, I think you're an idiot to let this Kent guy take Lois away from you."
There was no answer. The Flash turned, and noticed Superman was gone. A sudden "crack!" in the sky made Flash realize the Man of Steel had flown away.
"I guess he didn't want to talk about it," the Flash said. He walked down the street (he'd grabbed a few donuts at the police station to keep him going), and found an alley to duck into and change out of his costume. Anybody who was paying attention would've seen Barry Allen, Police Scientist, exiting the alley.
Barry Allen was slightly taller than an average man, and kept himself in very good shape. He had a strong jawline, and his light brown hair, though close-cropped, was slightly curly. He spotted a public telephone just down the block, and dialed a number he'd memorized years ago.
"S.T.A.R. Labs, Dr. McGee's office, Dr. Anderson speaking." Said a voice on the other end.
"Andy, this is Barry… I thought my wife would still be there?" Barry asked.
"Nope, she left early today… said something about meeting you in Metropolis. There was a note… yeah, LexAir Flight 412… arriving at Metropolis Airport at 4:00 p.m."
"Thanks, Andy… bye!" Barry hung up the phone. "Now, for something to eat… gotta support the old superspeed metabolism…" He looked up and down the block. "Aha! That's the ticket!"
Barry Allen, the man with the highest metabolic rate ever known, crossed the street and walked half a block down to "Wing's All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet." He was pretty certain he'd get his money's worth.
Clark met Lois at the front entrance of the Planet. "Hi… I thought you'd maybe take the afternoon and talk with twinkletoes," Lois said, giving Clark a quick squeeze before they entered the building.
"Some other time, I might have… but given the choice of working on a story with you, or spending the afternoon talking with… uh, twinkletoes… I chose you," Clark said charmingly. "Plus, I didn't really see that, aside from the obvious, we had that much in common, anyway."
Lois abruptly stopped and turned to face her fiance. "Hello? Is this the real Clark speaking? I thought you were more sensitive than that… it seemed plain to me that he really wanted to talk to you… and I'd guess you two are probably more alike than you imagine… you might even be two of a kind."
Clark frowned. "You're right… okay, I'll be completely honest with you…"
Lois smiled, "That's what I've been expecting from you ever since that *talk*."
"First of all… I wanted to make sure that *you* were really all right. You know I'll never get used to you being in danger," Clark revealed, his concern showing in his brown eyes.
Lois smiled. "I'm fine… believe me," she assured Clark. "So, what's the second reason, then?"
Clark's face was a stream of emotions. "Well… it's hard to put it into words. There's something about the Flash… he really bothers me… something about him just made me want to get away from him. He made me feel uncomfortable… I don't know what it is, exactly. Maybe it's just that he was reading me too easily or something. Maybe I'm even feeling threatened by another super-being in Metropolis. Should I go look for him?"
Lois considered this for a moment. "Well, he mentioned getting something to eat, and I'll bet that *his* suit comes off, too. He's probably not in costume anymore, but perhaps you'll run into him again. If you don't, though, I'd take a weekend and fly to his stomping grounds, and apologize for brushing him off."
Clark smiled. "I'll do that… and I will try to give him the benefit of the doubt when I do meet him again," he said, relieved. *Mom must be rubbing off on Lois… that sounds like something she'd say.*
"Meet who again?" a somewhat gruff voice asked to Lois and Clark's left. The two turned their heads.
"Hi, Chief… you might call him a competitor of mine," Clark demurred. "Someone who rubbed me the wrong way, I guess you'd have to say."
Perry White, dressed in a tweed suit, white shirt and red tie, looked shocked. "Great shades of Elvis… you mean to tell me that Clark Kent has to give up his title of 'modern-day Will Rogers?'" Clark and Lois could tell it was a mock shock, especially since Perry couldn't help but smirk a bit as he took a sip of his soft drink. "Did you hear that, Jimmy?"
Jimmy Olsen, walking through the Planet lobby while reading an oversized predominantly blue-covered book, looked up. "What's that, Chief?"
"Clark met someone he didn't like," Perry explained.
Jimmy whistled. "Will wonders ever cease?" he asked with a grin, then continued his reading.
Perry leaned to one side to look at the cover of the book. "Champions?" he read. "What in the world is that about, sports figures?"
"Nah," Jimmy responded. "It's a game."
"LexAir Flight 412 is now arriving at Gate 35," the loudspeaker announced.
Barry Allen looked up from today's Daily Planet, quickly finished off his candy bar, thinking, *Gee, the sign said all I could eat… they didn't have to ask me to leave after my sixth — or was it seventh? trip?* He was still hungry, and the expensive airport food wasn't helping his budget much.
But then, neither was having his wife fly out to Metropolis, either. Barry hoped she'd at least arranged for a hotel before flying out.
Barry realized he'd find out soon, as he saw his wife leaving the plane. She spotted him easily, waved, and ran to greet him. "Tina, you didn't have to fly out here, you know," Barry chided before giving her a passionate kiss.
"Barry, you look like hell," Tina replied after the kiss ended, as if that was the best answer to Barry's statement she could come up with. Dr. Christina McGee-Allen (still known professionally as Dr. Tina McGee), a lovely woman in her early 30's, looked more intently at her husband. Her tawny hair was pulled back in a bun, and her dark eyes and full lips indicated her displeasure at the way Barry was treating himself. In spite of the fact that she'd been living and working in the United States for most of her life, she still hadn't lost her British accent. "This is the longest you've ever run pursuing someone, and I wanted to be 100% certain that you were okay."
"Married for three years, and you're still a doctor at heart," Barry joked. In a lower tone of voice, he explained, "You know I've been chasing Jesse for the last week… just a few hours ago, I was pursuing his van on foot for at least three hours, thanks to traffic and the twisty road he chose, and guess who I met up with?"
"Superman?" Tina guessed.
Barry scowled. "How did you know? Anyway, Jesse crashed into this reporter's Jeep, killing his latest Prank in the process, just after I met Superman, and the two of us spent another half-hour looking for them. And the strangest part of it was, that we didn't find them… some *other* super-guy did, who's been doing this since the '40s, but Jesse and Lois had been gassed by then…"
Tina held her hands in front of her. "Slow down a minute, Barry… you're not making any sense. Who gassed Lois?"
"I guess it was the Guardian, but…"
"Hold on… reporter… Lois… Lois Lane?"
"Right… we've seen some of her stories picked up by the wire services and printed in the Chronicle."
Tina put an arm around Barry, directing him to Baggage Claim. "Oh, I've known Lois for a long, long time… our mothers were very good friends… in fact, I'd say that they were two of a kind. How's Lois these days?"
"Well, I guess she's engaged to some guy named Kent… although it seems Superman's in love with her, too."
"Really? Maybe we should stop in at the Planet… I haven't seen Lois since before I went to college."
"Sure… but if we're going to be staying here, shouldn't we arrange for a hotel room? Maybe a rental car?" Barry asked.
Tina pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. "Already arranged, thanks to the Metropolis S.T.A.R. Labs people… it pays to have contacts, sometimes. It turns out that they've got a deal set up for visiting scientists. And while I may not be here in an official capacity…"
James Montgomery Jesse paced the walls of his cell, his mind racing. There was a wild look in his eyes that detracted from his otherwise-handsome features… a wild look that indicated that James Jesse was a very dangerous man. "Stuck here for two weeks before I can be transferred back to Central… that should give Prank plenty of time to free me," he mused.
A sudden commotion at the end of the cell block diverted his attention. "You'll be sorry for treating me this way!" a voice called. "When I get out of here, you'll pay for this indignity!"
"Sounds like my kind of guy," Jesse murmured as he walked to the bars of his cell, pressing his face between two bars to get a look at the originator of the threat. He was rewarded for his efforts by seeing a rather tall, slender man with dark hair being escorted by two guards. Although he struggled to get free, the guards held him firmly.
The guards approached Jesse's cell; one of the guards drew his baton and rapped the bars of Jesse's cell, saying, "You've got some company, Jesse… meet your new roommate, Kyle Griffin. You two should have a lot in common."
Jesse backed away from the cell doors as the guard who addressed him unlocked the cell, while his partner shoved Griffin inside. "Yeah," the guard said, "you're really two of a kind!"
The cell door was locked, and the guards walked away, one of them (Jesse couldn't tell which) whistling an old "Carpenters" song.
"Insult to injury," Griffin said as he flopped down on the lower of the two bunks provided in the cell. "I hate the Carpenters." Looking up at his cellmate, Griffin smiled. "Besides, he was off-key. You seem to have me at a disadvantage," he said, extending a hand. "Jesse, was it?"
Jesse ignored Griffin's outstretched hand. "James Montgomery Jesse. And the bottom bunk's mine."
"Ooookay," Griffin said, standing up, and then jumping to the top bunk. "Good thing for you I'm not a bed- wetter." Griffin laid back in his bunk, folding his hands behind his head. "James Montgomery Jesse… I don't believe I recognize the name… and I should, considering this is the high- security wing. So, what makes you so dangerous?" he challenged.
"Dangerous?!?" Jesse said, the wild look in his eyes becoming even more so. Keeping his voice lowered, he darted to the bunks. "I am probably… no, definitely… one of the most dangerous men alive!"
"Sure you are," a voice from across the cell block said.
"Shut up, Luthor!" Jesse shouted. Turning back to his cellmate, he said, "Perhaps you're more familiar with my nom de plume, the Trickster?"
Griffin's eyebrows raised. "Trickster? We *do* have a lot in common. I'm better known as the Prankster."
"Prank… ster?" Jesse's mind raced at a mile a minute. *Prank… my sidekick… but Prank is a woman, isn't she? he thought. Or maybe not… I can't remember if she… if she was a she… was a blonde or a brunette… or was she both? Or maybe neither. Or is she dead again? Prank has had a nasty way of dying on me a lot.*
"That's the name… although most people pronounce it as one word, not two. Yes, I remember you now… didn't you used to operate in Central City some years back? In fact, you may have served as an inspiration to me, and for that, I owe you one."
Jesse looked at Griffin strangely. "What do you mean?"
Griffin looked around, then motioned Jesse to come closer to him before whispering in conspiratorial tones, "I'm getting out of here… tonight. And I'm taking you with me… partner."
Jesse considered this. "Tell me more."
Griffin's plan had been in the preparation stages for some time. When he had been thrown in prison over a year ago, he'd faked an illness (not too difficult to manage if you swallow some bar soap), which landed him in the prison hospital for some time. Pretending to be too weak to move, Griffin utilized his time well, swiping some small things here and there… nothing too large to be missed, mind you… and secreting them in his prison uniform (the hollow heels he'd created in his shoes were a big help with this). He had originally been assigned to the same cell, and he had previously prepared a few makeshift gadgets from odds and ends that had been stashed inside the mattresses of the bunk bed.
Still a little groggy from the gas, Lois spent most of the rest of the afternoon sitting at her terminal, typing up her notes from the interview she and Clark had conducted before lunch. Clark sat next to her, offering his ideas as the story came together. Lois kept trying to change the subject to what had happened at lunchtime, knowing Clark had more information on it than she had. Without too many details on what actually happened, though, Lois knew the piece would have to be padded with information from the morgue on the Flash and the Trickster. Clark had a feeling that whenever he went to refill their "Daily Planet" coffee cups, Lois was switching to a different document on her computer and writing up that story, as well, changing back to their interview before Clark returned.
"You're still wishing that you had more on what happened at lunch, aren't you?" Clark asked.
Lois stopped typing. "Yes, I do… if I could only remember it…"
"Lois!" a feminine, British-tinged voice called from across the city room.
Interrupted, Lois looked up from the desk. "Tina? Tina McGee?" Lois got up from her desk, brushing by Clark, who followed her to the elevator.
Lois and Tina hugged like the long-lost friends they were. Barry and Clark stood next to them silently, until Barry extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Tina's husband, Barry Allen."
Clark extended his own hand, and took Barry's. "Clark Kent… Lois' fiance."
*So, you're Kent*, Barry thought. *And Lois chose you over Superman… interesting.*
As Barry and Clark shook hands, Lois and Tina shot questions back and forth, providing answers in turn. "How long have you been married?" "Why haven't you called?" "How's your mother?" "How long are you staying in Metropolis?" and so on. As Lois and Tina brought their conversation over to Lois' desk, Clark and Barry helplessly followed them, the two men gathering at Clark's desk. "I haven't seen Tina chatter like that in quite some time," Barry commented. "It's nice to see friends reunited."
"Yes, it is… it's funny, though, but Lois has never mentioned Tina to me… ever," Clark replied.
"Tina's never mentioned knowing Lois to me, either," Barry said, laughing. "Say, that coffee smells great… may I…?"
"Oh, sure," Clark said. "I'll get you a cup."
By the time Clark and Barry had returned from getting a cup of coffee for Barry, Lois and Tina had an announcement for the two of them. "The four of us are having dinner together tonight, Barry, isn't that wonderful?"
"At the dining room of the Hotel Lexor, to be exact," Lois said. "It'll be the perfect chance to catch up on old times."
Barry and Clark looked at each other. "Perfect," they said, nearly simultaneously. Fortunately, their unenthusiasm wasn't noticed by Lois and Tina.
That evening, after lights out, Griffin lay in his bunk, pretending to be asleep, but in reality, keeping his eyes open to note when the guards had completed their patrols. He was amazed that in all the time he was in the hospital, the guards still hadn't changed their routine. Moving swiftly but silently, he hopped down from his bunk and woke up Jesse, who had been snoring loudly.
Jesse would have yelled out upon wakening had Griffin not thought to put his hand over Jesse's mouth. "Be quiet!" Griffin hissed. "It's time."
As Jesse got out of his bunk, Griffin got busy, pulling his gadgets from the mattresses and placing some items within them.
Across the cell block, Lex Luthor stirred in his sleep, waking up when Jesse accidentally dropped a shoe on the concrete floor. Instantly alert, Luthor arose and walked silently to his cell door. "What are you doing?" he asked quietly.
"None of your business, Kojak," Jesse said.
Luthor could see something was happening in the opposite cell; only one constructive action could be occurring. "Take me with you… I have resources available you wouldn't believe."
Griffin stepped quickly to the cell door. "I don't think so, Lexie," he said, raising his left hand. "Two's company, but three's a crowd." In his left hand was a small device that, when squeezed, sent a stream of liquid spewing across the cell block, splashing in Luthor's face; in seconds, Luthor's body slumped to the floor, unconscious.
"Concentrated ether… an escapee's best friend," Griffin commented. "I hated to use a dose this early, but these things happen," he said, shrugging. He then placed another small device in the keyhole of his cell. "I'm so glad they haven't installed electrical locks in this wing yet," he said to Jesse. "Those can be difficult."
Jesse's eyes widened as a small cloud of acrid-smelling smoke issued from the keyhole for a few seconds. Then, when it stopped, Griffin opened the door wide, and gestured grandly with one arm. "Ta-da! After you, my friend."
Jesse exited the cell, reaching into the pocket of his prison uniform and extracting a business card, which he tossed into Luthor's cell, accurately landing it next to Luthor's prostrate form. Jesse and Griffin stole away quietly, save for Jesse's barely-contained giggling. Jesse reflected that of all the things he'd palmed during his pre-imprisonment search, this was the least likely item that he thought he'd be able to use.
When Luthor woke up the following morning, he saw the card and read it… after which he scowled angrily, tearing the card into tiny pieces. *Obviously, I'll have to stick with plan 'A'*, he thought. Had someone bothered to put the pieces together, they would have discovered that it had the phone number for the Metropolis "Hair Club for Men" embossed on it.
"Oh, that was just fabulous… the Lexor's reputation is well-earned," Tina enthused as the busboy took the dishes away from dessert. "And the portions… there's no restaurant in Central City that has such large portions, either… if it weren't for Barry's help, I wouldn't have been able to finish everything on my plate!"
"Or have room for the chocolate mousse, either?" Lois said, knowingly. "Looks like both Clark and Barry have pretty large appetites, to me."
"Now, where was I before dessert?" Tina asked.
Lois took a sip of coffee before replying. "You were telling us how you and Barry finally got from friendship to love, I think."
Tina smiled at the memory. "It was quite amusing, really. We'd been friends for several years, you know… and every time I dated another man, Barry would get quite upset… it was rather charming, actually, seeing him jealous, now that I think of it. I must admit," she said, her fair skin showing a faint blush, "that when Barry dated a different woman, I was no less jealous."
Lois smiled herself; it was nearly a parallel of what she and Clark had gone through. "So, what was it that finally got you two to see the light?" she insisted.
Tina smiled, thinking about how it had finally happened. "New Year's Eve, three and a half years ago. Barry had a date with a young woman named Tiffany, while I had a date with a fellow scientist named Peter. We'd both planned, quite independently, that we'd enjoy the festivities from downtown Central City, little knowing we'd run into each other. It was quite a surprise, believe me!" Tina took a sip of tea before continuing. "Once we'd encountered each other, though, the four of us decided to stay together for the evening."
Lois and Clark exchanged knowing glances, both remembering their 'date' during the Kerth Awards.
Tina's eyes softened as she remembered the night. "It was a beautiful, clear evening, and even the lights of Central City's business district couldn't dim that of the stars. We were in the Grand Ballroom of the Central City Lexor Hotel — not as nice as the Metropolis one, but still the best in our part of the world. The band was playing magnificently, the food and drink were marvelous… a night for romance.
"Especially for Peter and Tiffany. They'd hit it off with each other much more than either of then had done with either of us, and Barry and I soon found ourselves abandoned by our dates. Something about that situation reminded me of that wonderful movie, 'When Harry Met Sally,' and I must admit that I'd had just the tiniest bit too much to drink."
Tina didn't seem to notice Barry's embarrassment over her telling the story, so she continued. "I insisted that the night not go to waste, and told Barry I wanted to dance. We'd danced before, but as friends… something about that night made us see each other in a different light. Just as the countdown to midnight reached zero, we kissed for the first time, almost without being aware we'd initiated it. It just felt right."
Memories of *the* kiss between her and Clark, memories sparked by Tina's story, prompted Lois to give Clark's hand a squeeze.
"We ended up staying up the entire night at an all- night coffee shop after the party was over, laughing at the time we'd wasted, denying the way we'd felt for each other all along," Tina concluded.
Lois sighed. "That's… wonderful. It's amazing how two people can be so blind, isn't it?"
"Like yourself and Clark, here?" Tina asked.
"As always, a brilliant analysis. We *did* have quite a few hurdles to overcome."
With a twinkle in her eye, Tina said, "But you managed to leap over them eventually, and won the race?"
Lois presented Tina with a mock frown. "'Tain't funny, McGee," she said. There was silence for a moment or two before both women burst out laughing at their old, private joke.
Clark and Barry had been, for the most part, quiet during the meal, as Lois and Tina dominated the conversation, save for the occasional "That's right," or "Really?" They had been listening, however, learning that both Lois and Tina's mothers had often traveled in the same social circles, which led to Lois and Tina meeting while they were still teenagers, Tina a few years up on Lois. Despite the age difference, the two of them found plenty in common, aside from their different vocational goals. It appeared that after Tina left home for the first of several colleges, the two of them had lost touch with each other, until today.
When they weren't listening to the women talk, each was trying to figure out the other. Unfortunately, their reticence didn't help much.
"Could you excuse me, please?" Tina asked getting up from the table. "I need to freshen up a bit."
"Me, too," Lois chimed in.
As the two walked away to the ladies' room, Barry said, "I guess this is the part that every guy dreads on a double- date… when the women go to the ladies' room to talk about the other's guy, and forcing the guys to finally get to know each other?"
Clark laughed, the tension broken. "I guess so, Barry. So, what brings you and Tina to Metropolis, anyway?" Clark decided that perhaps, just perhaps, he liked Barry after all. It helped to know that Barry and Tina's relationship had been a close match-up to his and Lois'. Clark was still puzzled at why he'd initially disliked Barry when he first met him at the Planet; he'd originally attributed it to what he'd called in his high school and college days the 'double-date male rivalry thing,' but realized it wasn't that… it was something else. Barry reminded him of someone… but Clark couldn't put his finger on it. *I guess it's not important,* Clark thought, dismissing any other possibilities.
Barry balked at that; he hadn't expected the question to come up. He quickly fell into 'covering the secret identity' mode, explaining, "Tina's visiting the Metropolis S.T.A.R. Labs… just to compare notes, I guess. We're both scientists, but she's the Einstein of the family." He realized he'd said it a little too quickly. *I wonder what sort of stuff Superman does to cover his secret identity… assuming he even has one?*
Clark smiled at that. "I guess Lois would be Woodward to my Bernstein… or should it be the other way around? I forget which was which. Lois can get real determined when she knows we've got a great story to cover, but we can't get enough information to really make it as big as she'd like it to be… which, admittedly, doesn't happen often. Today was a different story, though." Clark had surprised himself by offering the information. Yes, he decided, Barry's all right. "Around noon today, she got involved with something Superman and another crimefighter called the Flash were doing. Say, the Flash mentioned he was from Central City, too… that's quite a coincidence."
"Well, as fast as the Flash seems to be, I'd imagine any city he traveled to must have somebody from Central City visiting. Just as any city Superman happened to visit would probably have tourists from Metropolis there."
"I suppose so."
"Anyway, you were saying about Lois and a story?"
"Oh, she was upset that she couldn't remember a lot about what had happened during the whole thing. In fact, she was even trying to write up as much of a story on it as she could behind my back, padding it out with information from the newspaper's morgue on the Flash and the Trickster. She's convinced that she's missed out on a front-page story."
"Because of the gas?" Barry asked.
"Right," Clark responded automatically.
The two men had become so relaxed with each other in the last few minutes that both of them had spoken without thinking… as if each had guessed the other's secret without being consciously aware of it, and were continuing their conversation from earlier. There was an awkward silence for several minutes as the two men mulled over their conversation.
*He'd said he was married*, Clark thought.
*I knew there was something between him and Lois*, Barry thought.
Barry finally spoke up, but in conspiratorial tones. "I guess one of us has to say it first… you're Superman?"
"You're the Flash?" Clark asked, also in hushed tones.
Neither denied it. There didn't seem to be any point in it. Each of them regarded the other with new respect and awe.
"Does Lois know?" Barry asked, trying to break the silence that ensued.
Clark, still stunned by the revelation, answered somewhat hollowly, "Since we got engaged… a little earlier, to be exact. Does Tina know?"
"Since I got my powers," Barry admitted, still working through the surprise himself. "So, do we share our secrets between them, too?"
Clark thought about it for a few moments, indecisive. "I don't know… I've never encountered this kind of thing before." He frowned, thinking, *Now, what do I do?*
"Me, either… let's keep it to ourselves, for now, okay?"
"I suppose so… for now, anyway," Clark replied, relieved that his secret wouldn't be spread any further. "Oh, here they come."
Tina and Lois sat back down. "So," Tina said with a smile on her face, "have you two found anything in common while we girls were away?"
Barry glanced to Clark quickly before responding. "You might say that."
Clark Kent shook his head as he read the teletype report on the escape of the Prankster and the Trickster. After Griffin's last exploit, he thought that greater security measures would have been taken to keep Griffin imprisoned. He took a sip of coffee, wincing when he noticed it had cooled to room temperature. Glancing about the newsroom of the Daily Planet, Clark realized nobody was looking his way except Lois, who was reading the teletype with him. Lowering his glasses briefly, he shot a short burst of heat vision into his mug. Returning the glasses to the proper position, he took another sip cautiously. "Perfect."
"Can you believe it? The oldest trick in the book, and it worked!" Lois was referring to the fact that Griffin and Jesse had made their way out of prison walls by hiding in laundry bags, which were loaded into trucks and driven outside the prison.
"It looks like we have to believe it," Clark insisted. "Funny, I don't remember hearing about this Trickster, before yesterday, and there's not much background on him in the story."
"So let's see what the Planet database has," Lois said, momentarily forgetting her frustration at the Prankster's escape with the distraction of digging up information. She sat down at her desk and turned on her desk terminal. A few keystrokes, and her screen was filled with information.
Clark leaned over Lois' desk to read the screen. "Hmmm… committed a few crimes in Central City a couple of years ago, but was apprehended by the Flash, whom we just met yesterday" Clark commented.
"Now that I think of it, I remember hearing something about the Flash… I thought he was just a rumor, but I guess he just kept a low profile. He's supposed to be the fastest man alive, or something like that… Nobody outside of Central City seemed to believe in a super-guy fighting crime… that is, not until Superman showed up three years ago," Lois supplied.
Comparing dates, Clark realized that the Flash's initial exploits must've been publicized (as little as they were outside Central City) during the time he was traveling around the world. The more he thought about it, he realized that his mother had mentioned something in one of her letters about it, asking if Clark had passed through Central City around the same time.
"Well, Barry's on the police force in Central City," Clark said, "Maybe he knows something that can help." *And the fact that he's the Flash leads me to believe that he can *definitely* provide some important information.* "I'll give him a call at his hotel room."
Clark reached for the phone, but was distracted for a moment as Jimmy and Perry entered the City Room. "I tell you, Chief, it was scary… I didn't get a wink of sleep last night… and it's my turn to GM tonight," Jimmy said. His face was pale, and his clothes looked like he'd slept in them.
"GM?" Lois asked.
"Game master… I've been getting together with a group of guys from S.T.A.R. Labs and Titano's Pizza one night a week to play role-playing games," Jimmy explained. "Role- playing games are…"
"Hold on a minute, Jimmy," Perry interrupted. "That's not important right now. How many times did this wacko call you last night?" he asked with fatherly concern.
"Three or four times… after a while, I just shut the ringer off on the phone and let the answering machine take my calls. Which reminds me, I've got to stop by the police station and make a statement," Jimmy said.
Lois and Clark both stared at Jimmy, asking, "What happened?" simultaneously.
Perry took the lead. "Jimmy received some calls last night from some lunatic who claims Jimmy's been making harassing phone calls for the last three months. In fact, this psycho insisted that Jimmy called his house last night at 5:30…"
Jimmy grew impatient waiting for Perry to finish, and so jumped in. "…which is ridiculous, because I got home from the Planet, called the guys up to confirm we were gaming tonight, and at 5:30, I was going online to check for e-mail. I had downloaded it all and was reading through it when this guy called the first time. He wasn't too obnoxious that time, just insisting that I'd left a message for him. He said, 'Hi, this is Tony… you left a message for me?' And I told him I didn't know who he was. I tried to find out what it was about, but I think he was calling from a cell phone or pay phone that wasn't working, because his voice kept coming in and out. I tried to stay calm, and finally asked him, as nice as I could, if he could call me back from another phone. I figured it had to be a misunderstanding, but he knew my first name, and my phone number…"
"…which is, of course, unlisted," Perry interrupted, taking over for the young photographer. "Then, about 45 minutes later, this nuthead called again, telling Jimmy that he had connections with the phone company, and could find out where Jimmy lives. Then he had the audacity to claim he also had connections with Intergang, and they'd come over to his house and kill him."
"What?!?" Clark cried, worried about Jimmy. He'd thought Intergang was finished with, but like the mythological hydra, it seemed to grow a new head for each one that was cut off. Even if this person was lying about that, a threat to kill someone was serious business.
"That's when I called 911, of course… and told them everything I could remember about this guy… how old he sounded, what kind of accent he seemed to have… but they didn't think it was anything to worry about… apparently, threatening phone calls aren't a big priority right now," Jimmy said, frowning.
"And as soon as he finished talking to the police, he called me up, and asked me to come over for a while," Perry said with a touch of pride.
"Well, Chief," Jimmy admitted, "I would've called C.K., but I knew he and Lois were out with their friends from Central City…"
"Anyway, as I was saying, this nutball called back again, but this time, I took the call. He had the nerve to say he had someone from the police department there, and that they wanted to talk to Jimmy… I couldn't get a name or badge number, so I knew it was a pack of lies," Perry explained. "I put the phone on speakerphone so we could both hear what this guy had to say next, and he was suddenly saying that the police had to leave for an emergency… which was so much bull, because they wouldn't leave in the middle of an investigation like that. This time, he was calling himself 'Anthony' instead of 'Tony,' and started denying making any threats at all…"
Jimmy jumped in again at this point. "I kept telling him I wasn't making harassing phone calls, but he wouldn't listen. Fortunately, after he hung up, Perry thought to hit pound-six-nine to find out what number this guy was calling from — you know, Caller ID — so I could tell the police."
"And?" Lois said, prompting.
"I've got the number right here. We were going to run a check on it in the Planet's computers and see if we've got anything on this guy," Jimmy explained. "I talked to the police again, and they said I'd need to come in this morning and talk to the detectives about this… then they can do something."
"If it'll help, Jimmy, I think I could get in touch with Superman, and have him help you out," Clark offered.
"Thanks, C.K., but I think the police might be able to handle this one… after all, we're not talking Luthor, or Metallo here," Jimmy said, smiling at the thought of the Man of Steel saying "don't bother my friend any more" to Anthony, or Tony, or whatever his name was. "Besides, the chief's offered to let me crash at his place until it gets straightened out."
"Well… are you sure? About Superman?" Clark pushed.
Jimmy thought for a moment. "Yeah… I'm sure. Thanks anyway."
"You're welcome, Jimmy… that's what friends are for."
Lois and Clark watched Jimmy and Perry head for an available terminal. "Pretty creepy," Clark noted.
"That guy certainly sounds like a case for the psychiatric ward at Metro General," Lois agreed. "Speaking of psychos… you were going to talk to Barry about two escaped ones?"
Clark gave Lois a "D'oh! I forgot!" look, then dialed the hotel.
After a few minutes, Clark was able to get through. "Barry… Clark here. Have you heard about the Trickster? He broke out of prison last night with one of Superman's enemies, the Prankster. I think we need to compare notes."
"I agree," Barry replied. "How do we want to handle this… costumes or not?"
"Ummm… without, for now."
"Works for me… why don't you and Lois come by the hotel? Tina was involved in some of the Trickster's antics, too… she could give you some good information for your story, at least. I'll see you in half an hour?"
"Half an hour… bye."
Barry hung up the phone and called to his wife, who had just got out of the shower. "That was Clark, Tina… looks like the Trickster broke out of Metropolis State Pen late last night with one of Superman's enemies. Clark and Lois figured we could provide them with some information for a story."
"Shouldn't you go out looking for him, Barry?" Tina asked as she walked out of the bathroom, drying her hair.
"I would, but for two things: One, I don't know what he's got planned, and Two, I don't know Metropolis very well."
"Well, let's work on number one, then… perhaps he's decided to head back to Central City?"
"Or he could be heading to San Francisco!" Barry said. Something James had said at the police station last night clicked on his head… The Trickster had mentioned Megan. Barry furiously dialed a long distance number.
The Trickster had come close to killing the Flash during his first exploit… not to mention Megan Lockhart. Megan, a private detective who knew Barry was the Flash, had moved to San Francisco long ago, but she still managed to fly out to Central City once or twice a year to visit old friends… or more specifically, to visit Barry. Megan and Barry had an unusual relationship, one that began as an adversarial one (when Megan had discovered Barry's dual identity), then progressed to a very intense relationship (which, Barry would later admit, was mostly physical), and had evolved to a lasting friendship.
Barry wanted to make sure Megan knew the Trickster was free as soon as possible.
After a few rings, Barry heard the distinctive click that told him that the phone at the other end had been picked up.
"Megan, this is Barry…" he started.
"Hello, you have reached the Lockhart Detective Agency. Our business hours are from eight a.m. to five p.m. You may leave a message after the tone," Megan's recorded voice said.
"Damn… forgot about the time difference," Barry said, hanging up the phone and dialing Megan's apartment. When he got an answering machine message there as well, he left a message there, then another at her office when he called back.
"Megan, this is Barry… I've just found out that the Trickster's escaped from prison. There's no reason to panic — he may not know you're in San Francisco — but I'm worried about you. Be careful, okay? I'd prefer it if you would take a couple of weeks and get out of town, just to be safe, but I know how you feel about running away. Give me a call sometime, too, okay? I'll be at the Metropolis Shepperton Hotel, Room 218, for the next few days, then I'll be back in Central City. And Tina says hi. Bye."
Barry hung up after leaving both messages. "Clark and Lois won't be here for about an hour," he said, standing up and giving his wife a quick kiss. "You know what I'd love to do?"
Tina smiled. "Yes, unfortunately, I do… we'd better hurry, though," she said, looking at the wall clock.
"Hurrying is what I do best," Barry said as he finished getting dressed at super-speed. "Breakfast buffet, here we come!"
"You call this a hideout?"
Griffin frowned at his new partner with annoyance. "You had something different in mind?" he asked James, in a mocking tone.
"There's no pizzazz here… no style!" James gestured dramatically. Griffin's hideout was an abandoned warehouse near Hob's Bay. Sparsely furnished with a couch, two chairs, a card table, three folding chairs, and a desk with a computer on it, the warehouse also featured what appeared to be a quarter- inch thick layer of dust. "Where's the big-screen TV? The mannequins? The bubbling cauldrons of multicolored liquids? The babes in miniskirts and high heels? How can I be expected to perform at my best with this mess?" he complained, wiping the top of the desk with a finger. He held the finger up to his face, grimaced, then blew the dust off. "Let's face it, Prankster ol' buddy, Suzy Homemaker you're not."
"Like I ever promised I was," Griffin answered, annoyed. "Look, Jesse, it's really quite easy to understand: This was purely a back-up location… just in case I had to abandon my regular hide-out." *I never figured I'd actually need it,* Griffin admitted to himself, *but that was before Superman got involved in my affairs.* With a dismissing gesture, Griffin insisted, "Besides, we'll make some improvements shortly… bankrolled by the first of our crimes, of course." Griffin plopped into the couch, sending clouds of dust flying. "Achoo!" he sneezed. "You are correct, though… we've got to get this place cleaned up."
Clark knocked at the door of Barry and Tina's room. "Let's hope that Barry and Tina are able to help out," he said, trying to prompt a response out of Lois, who had been strangely quiet during the drive over to the hotel. Lois still hadn't responded. "Lois? Earth to Lois?" Clark asked, waving his hand in front of her face.
Lois looked embarrassed for a moment. "I'm sorry… I'm just worried about Jimmy, that's all."
"I've been keeping an eye on him," Clark said, lowering his glasses slightly to make his point clear. "No problems so far."
Clark knocked again. "Strange, I thought they'd be in."
"Sorry we're late," Barry called from down the hallway. "We decided to grab a bite to eat while we waited, and I guess we lost track of time."
"Well, the crepes were delicious," Tina added. "And Barry… can really put it away when he puts his mind to it… and never seems to gain any weight, too. He makes me jealous sometimes."
Lois finally had snapped out of it. "I know what you mean… Clark's the same way."
Clark and Barry exchanged brief, knowing glances.
Barry unlocked the room and gestured Clark, Lois and Tina inside. "Shall we begin, then?"
Clark and Lois sat down on a plush couch. Barry took a seat in a plusher chair, Tina sitting on the arm of the chair. "What can you tell us about the Trickster?" Lois began.
What can't I tell them? Barry thought. "Well, as you probably guessed, he's hopelessly insane. He's been in and out of the Central City Asylum more times than the police department care to think about it. But the Flash managed to stop him usually before his big plans came to fruition."
"What kind of crimes does he commit?" Clark asked. "If he and the Prankster are teaming up, if we can find something in common, that might give us a lead."
"Let's see… James has tried to kill the Flash a few times… that's been a continuing thread. He likes using magic tricks whenever he can," Barry explained for Lois' benefit (since he'd already mentioned this to Superman the day before).
"Magic tricks?" Lois asked, frowning. She'd had some bad experiences with magicians in the past… and being kidnapped by another one without knowing he was a magician didn't make her feel any better towards them.
"Yeah, escape artist stuff… sleight-of-hand… not to mention other kinds of tricks, too. He's rigged up whoopee cushions to emit toxic gas, filled lapel flower squirters with poisons… he's pretty much run the gambit."
"Sounds like the Joker without the make-up," Clark observed.
"Yeah… I guess he does," Barry said. Glancing at his watch, he announced, "Murphy should be in headquarters right now… I'll give him a call and get James' records faxed to the Planet, if that'll help."
"It can't hurt," Clark agreed.
"Clark told me that you'd been involved with one of the Trickster's crimes, Tina," Lois mentioned. "What happened?"
Tina took a deep breath, shifting herself so she was sitting on Barry's lap. "It was about a year ago. The Trickster had decided to go high-tech, and he decided that S.T.A.R. Labs was the place to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, when he broke in late one night, it was a night I was working late in the lab."
"She does that sometimes when I'm tied up at the police lab," Barry elaborated.
"Anyway, I was running some tests on a new piece of equipment I'd had a hand in developing when James entered the lab. He grabbed the equipment I was testing, and me, too, saying that taking a hostage may be old hat, but that it was a classic bit. I'd heard of him, of course, and knew he was a madman, so I didn't resist. And the first chance I had, I contacted the Flash," Tina explained.
"You know how to contact the Flash?" Lois asked, surprised.
"Ummm… I've been… friends… with the Flash for some time. When he got his powers, he contacted me to help figure out what they were and how to use them," Tina said.
"So the heroine created the hero?" Lois asked.
Tina smiled, blushing slightly. "I don't know that I'd call myself a heroine," she demurred, her British accent becoming a tad more pronounced. "I did what any other scientist would do under the circumstances."
"Tina, you are not like any other scientist I've ever known," Barry said endearingly.
Tina expelled a mock sigh. "I know, you only love me for my mind, not for my body."
"I've never said that," Barry insisted, mock denial in his face.
*Are Clark and I like that?* Lois wondered.
"Back to the Trickster," Clark said, trying to prevent the topic from drifting too far. "Do you have any idea what he might want to do in Metropolis?"
"Good question… I wish I knew for certain. There's only one thing to expect from the Trickster, and that's the unexpected," Barry explained. "What about this Prankster person? What's he done in the past?"
"Let's see," Clark thought, "there was the time he tried to assassinate the President. Oh, and Lois was kidnapped by him once, too. I wouldn't exactly call him harmless, if you know what I mean." The memory of Lois at Griffin's mercy made Clark tense up, unconsciously.
"If the two of them *have* decided to team up…"
"Then Superman's going to be pretty busy, and I'd imagine he's probably hoping that the Flash hasn't run out of town yet," Clark hinted.
Lois and Tina had been looking at Clark and Barry's bantering back and forth for the past minute. "You two are talking like you know something we don't know," Tina finally said.
"I agree," Lois said. "Come on, spill it. Don't keep us in the dark."
Clark looked at Barry. Should we tell them? his eyes seemed to say.
Barry looked at Clark. It doesn't seem we have much of a choice, he appeared to respond.
"I guess we have to come clean," Barry announced, resigned. "Tina, my secret's been safe with you for as long as we've known each other…"
"Barry!" Tina exclaimed, surprised.
Barry continued, "…I guess you can be trusted to handle another one… maybe even a bigger one."
Lois' reporter instincts were screaming at her. "Clark, you don't mean that Barry knows…"
Clark half-shrugged. *I guess there's no really good way to say this, is there?* "Barry's the Flash."
"…and Clark's Superman," Barry added.
Lois and Tina looked at each other's paramours, as if in a new light. "How long have you known?" Tina demanded.
"And why didn't you let me in on it sooner?" Lois cried, jumping to her feet.
"Lois…" Clark started. He'd seen that mood of Lois' before.
"Tina, please… calm down," Barry pleased. "We just learned each other's secrets last night, while you two were in the powder room. It was just a stupid accident." *Geez, I'd better let her know before too much longer that Julio's probably figured it out,* he thought, recalling some of the comments Julio Mendez, his assistant in the Central City Police Laboratory, had been making over the past several years.
"And," Clark interjected, "we mutually decided not to share each other's secrets with the both of you for the time being. We didn't say we'd *never* tell you, just not to tell you just *yet*."
"Well, I…" Lois started, then stopped.
"You, ah…" Tina started.
Lois looked at Tina. "Has he done this kind of thing to you before?"
Tina looked back at Lois. "He used to… but he'd stopped after we got married… or at least, I'd thought so. Clark?"
Lois' eyes rolled. "It must be one of the rules of the 'superheroes union' or something silly like that."
"At least it'll be easier for us to coordinate our plans now, Barry," Clark decided, resigned.
"With Tina and Lois helping, it should be a breeze," Barry agreed, with a bit more spirit than Clark. "Speaking of which, what *is* our plan?"
"Here's the plan," Griffin announced.
The temporary hide-out had received a thorough cleaning. Griffin had left the warehouse to steal a vacuum cleaner, but by the time he'd returned, James had gone, stolen three fairly large fans, plugged them in at one end of the warehouse, opened the loading doors at the other, turned on the fans, and blew the dust out. The two of them had argued over the means for a few moments, but agreed it was done now, and there was no use crying over spilt milk. In fact, about the only thing they had agreed upon so far was that they didn't want to wait before committing their first crimes as a team.
"Why do you get to come up with the plan?" the Trickster responded angrily. "Why can't *I* come up with the plan? I've been doing this longer than you have, you know. I've come up with great plans in the past!"
"Every one of which was foiled by that Flash fellow, isn't that right?" Griffin challenged. "Now, my plans have been virtually flawless…"
"But every one of them was foiled by that Superman fellow, isn't that right?" the Trickster mocked.
"Touchˇ," Griffin said. "Don't you want to at least listen to my plan, before you discard it? It's a very clever plan, if I say so myself. Probably my most clever plan yet."
James pouted like a spoiled child. "Oh, all right, be that way! Go ahead and tell me the plan!" Folding his arms, James fell into the couch like a child getting ready for a talking- down-to from his parent.
"We're going to go on the biggest crime spree Metropolis has ever seen!" Griffin said, gesturing like a game show hostess indicating a Brand New Car.
"Oh, is *that* your plan?" James mocked. "Where's the style? The panache? The deviltry?"
The Prankster smiled wolfishly, rubbing his hands together with glee. "Oh, there's style to this, all right. In order to succeed, we've got to keep Superman off our tails, and I've got the perfect way to do it, too: Fake Kryptonite."
"I've always preferred fake doggie-doo myself," James responded. "Besides, aren't you forgetting about someone? A certain scarlet speedster, the fastest man alive?"
"You mean your nemesis, the Flash? I'm certain he's already run all the way back home in his nice fuzzy red costume by now," Griffin dismissed.
James stood up, crossing the floor to where Griffin was speaking. Going nose-to-nose with Griffin (or rather, nose to chin, as Griffin had a height advantage on James), he said, "You don't know the Flash like I do, Prankster old boy. When the Flash gets a hold of an idea, like, say, tracking me down and throwing me back in jail, he latches on to it with a dogged determination, sinking his teeth into the idea like a pitbull, and not letting go." His menacing tones echoed throughout the warehouse.
"Fine… we'll always carry a bag of marbles, then, and throw them at the Flash whenever he runs by, no problem," Griffin dismissed with a wave of his hand, walking over to the computer.
The Trickster's attitude went from menacing to whining. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Been there, seen it, done that. Marbles is funny once… twice is repetitive, three times is unoriginal. People want something different, something they haven't seen… a new interpretation on an old favorite! New and improved, with more powerful whitening agents!" His speaking voice began sounding more and more like an ad pitchman. "Let's see," he said, beginning to pace. "Roller skates? Nah, too old-fashioned. In-line skates? Nah… who steps on an in-line skate and falls down? Liquid detergent? No, I've done that too. Same with oil. There's just no good ideas anymore, it seems!"
Griffin stopped at the desk and turned on the computer there. "So do what everybody else does… take two old hat items and combine them together. Like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup," he said off-handedly.
A gleam appeared in the Trickster's eyes. "By Jove, I think you've got it! We'll throw Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at the Flash! Wait, that won't work! I've got a better idea! We'll use marbles!"
Griffin's eyes rolled. "Oh, please… I suggested that first, and you dismissed it. Be as insane as you want, but at least be consistent."
The Trickster darted over to the desk, leaning in front of the computer monitor, his head resting on his right hand, his right elbow leaning on the desktop. The fingers of his left hand began "walking" across the top of the desk. "These won't be ordinary marbles, mind you… they'll be hollow marbles… filled with the slickest, slimiest, slipperiest oil money can buy!" His fingers finished their "stroll," and then gave Griffin's nose a slight "tweak" on the word "buy."
"Too expensive," Griffin dismissed.
James was outraged, and stood up… on top of the desk. "Too expensive? We're going to make so much money that it'll be coming out of our ears!" he shouted. Suddenly, his facial expression changed to one of disgust. "Eeww… we'll have to clean the ear wax off it, then!"
The Trickster leapt off the desk, landing on the floor in a crouch. "And how much will your fake Kryptonite cost us, eh, Pranksy ol' boy ol' pal? If you can get fake Kryptonite, I can get marbles with oil in them."
Resigned, the Prankster said, "All right, fine, fine! We'll go with both, then. Now be quiet and let me make the arrangements, or you're going to lose your marbles." Shortly after the computer had started up, Griffin began hitting keys in rapid succession.
Seeing this, the Trickster got up, looking over Griffin's shoulder. "Whatcha' doin'?"
"I'm making the arrangements for our crime spree… using the Internet."
"Oh, the super-information highway!" James said with glee.
"It's information super-highway, you idiot," Griffin said, trying to wave James away. "Did you learn everything you know by watching television or something?"
"No, not all of it… comic books helped, too. I learned what a googol was from a comic book, you know."
Griffin was barely paying attention as he typed away. "Oh, I'm sure that information comes in handy all the time… like when you're at a party, and trying to pick up on the best- looking woman there, you can use as an opening line, 'Pardon me, but did you know that a googol is the number one followed by one hundred zeroes?' I'm sure she'll be ready to have your children at that point."
"Oh, but I don't want just any woman, Griffin my boy… there's only one woman for me… and that's Prank."
"I thought you said that she died when you crashed the latest Trickstermobile," Griffin commented off-handedly.
"Oh, she wasn't the real Prank, just a temporary substitute. No, I'm talking about the real, original, accept-no- substitutes Prank… Megan Lockhart. Funny, though, for some reason, in Metropolis, she calls herself Lois Lane."
Griffin stopped what he was doing and turned to look at James. "Lois Lane? *The* Lois Lane? Of the Daily Planet? I'll say one thing for you, you've got good taste… although her personality could use some tweaking. I think I heard somewhere she's getting married to her partner, Clark Kent, though."
"What? My Prank, engaged to another man? Why, I oughtta cream her! One of these days, one of these days… Pow! Zoom! To the moon! I have to get her back… she can't marry some jerk with an alliterative name… she has to marry me!"
Griffin's right eyebrow raised. "Excuse me? Your name is James Jesse… that's even more alliterative than Clark Kent."
"Yes, but I'm the jerk with an alliterative name she has to marry! Don't you see?"
"I can see that working with you will be akin to working with Daffy Duck."
"You're telling me that the plan is to wait and see what they're going to do next?" Barry asked, surprised.
"Do you have a better idea, Barry?" Clark asked. Sighing, he continued, "We could spend all day flying and running around Metropolis looking for them, but even X-Ray Vision has its limits. All we'd end up doing is exhausting ourselves."
"But what if their plan is to kill someone?" Tina protested.
"Or kidnap someone?" Lois added.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't be vigilant. I'm just saying let's lay low, keep a low profile, and perhaps lull them into a false sense of security. Of course, if we hear of anything suspicious, we'll jump right on it," Clark said. He looked slightly annoyed.
Clark knew his idea was unpopular, and admitted to himself that he didn't care much for it. However, for the life of him, he couldn't come up with a better idea. Barry had first insisted that he run around Metropolis, until Tina pointed out that the expenditure of energy would mean several stops for "refueling" at restaurants every hour or two.
"S.T.A.R. Labs seems to figure into a lot of my enemies' plans," Clark said. "Tina, perhaps you can keep an ear open there for anything unusual that might get their attention. Lois, how about you contact some of our sources as well? Barry, you're a cop… out of your jurisdiction of course, but still a cop. I'm sure Metropolis' finest will be glad to give a visiting officer a tour of police headquarters… and you'd be in a great position to find out information before I could at the Planet."
"Great, I have to feed Bobby Bigmouth. And what's your role in this operation?" Lois asked.
"I'm going to put Jimmy's computer skills through their paces again. He's come through for us before, several times… why not now?" Clark asked. "Maybe he can come up with some kind of lead for us."
"You've got a computer expert taking pictures for the newspaper?" Tina asked, puzzled.
"What can I say?" Clark shrugged. "He's got the journalism bug, I guess… newsprint and ink gets under your skin after a while," Clark explained, trying to remember where he'd heard the expression before.
"All right, then," Griffin said, leaning back in his chair and cracking his knuckles. "I've placed the order for the fake Kryptonite and your oil marbles. Now all we have to do is pay the man, and he'll be ready to deliver in six hours."
The Trickster, who was laying down on the couch, reading a comic book, dropped the comic, and looked over at Griffin. "Six hours?"
"Impressive, isn't it?" Griffin responded.
James got up from the couch. "I thought it was thirty minutes or less, or it's free! We're going to lose an entire day waiting for this source of yours to come through? Six hours, 360 minutes, 21,600 seconds?"
"If we wanted the fake Kryptonite to look like a chunk of green plastic that wouldn't fool anybody, we could get it in a half an hour," Griffin explained. "But getting it to glow… that's another matter entirely. And, of course, the pieces have to be large enough that Super-Schmo will spot them before he gets close enough to know they're fake. These things take time, and we're paying a special rush fee as it is."
"So, what are we supposed to do, then? Sit around and twiddle our thumbs? I've done that for six hours straight before… nearly sprained my hands!" James ranted.
*I believe it,* Griffin thought. "Oh, I don't think we'll be bored, Jesse… after all, we do have to come up with the money to pay for the stuff. Ordinarily, I'd just order what I need and then kill the guy before giving him any money, but this guy's good… real good. Too valuable alive to kill. You can understand that, don't you?" Griffin explained.
"Can we kill him if we find someone better?" James asked, pleadingly.
Griffin's eyes rolled. "Yes, yes, if we find a better source for our paraphernalia, we can kill this source. Now," he said, standing, "we need to come up with three grand. What do you say we hit a few ATMs, get the money we need, and maybe a little bit extra to do some shopping. I'm beginning to agree with you… this place is a bit drab."
The Trickster started skipping around the warehouse. "Oh, goody, goody, goody! We get to go shopping! Tell me, Griffey, do you think Cost-Mart sells tights in mauve?"
"You're the second Central City resident to visit us in two days, Barry," Henderson said.
Barry, per Clark's plan, had gone to Metro Police Headquarters. While talking to the desk sergeant, Inspector Henderson had overheard Barry explaining that he was interested in comparing notes with the Metro PD lab boys. Henderson, strangely, decided he wanted to talk to Barry alone first, and had invited him into his office, where they sat, drinking coffee.
"I heard the Flash was here yesterday," Barry admitted. "But I guess, compared to Superman, he's not that big a deal."
"Power-wise, maybe," Henderson agreed in principle. "But what I really wanted to talk to you about was how the Central City PD dealt with having someone like the Flash around. I figured that you might have some tips for us, since we're still kind of feeling our way around dealing with Superman."
"Really?" Barry said, surprised. "I'd thought the relationship between Superman and your men was pretty good."
"It could stand some improving." Henderson leaned over his desk and said, conspiratorially, "Frankly, sometimes Superman's not as much of a help sometimes as he could be."
"How so?" Barry asked, curious.
"His methods, for starters. Do you know how difficult it is to get a conviction when the primary evidence is that Superman saw something with his X-Ray Vision or overheard it with his Super-Hearing? And, of course, there's always some joker who complains that excessive force was used… the DA's been having a real hard time dealing with that, especially since Drake was killed… all her files relating to Superman were lost when her car was blown up by Intergang."
Barry opened his mouth to ask about Drake and Intergang, but Henderson interrupted him. "That's not really important. Anyway, does the Central City police have any problems like that with the Flash?"
Barry tried to suppress a grin. "Well, not that I've seen. You understand I primarily do lab work… getting fingerprints, analyzing clues, etcetera. But from what I've seen and heard, it seems that the Flash has at least a basic grasp of police procedure. The conviction rate for the persons the Flash has apprehended, I'd guess, would be about 98 percent."
Henderson whistled. "That's 20% better than we've managed so far with Superman."
"Well," Barry explained, "it didn't quite start that high… it took some time to build it up. I'm sure Superman would be glad to assist you, once he finds out what you need."
"I guess," Henderson agreed. "One other thing… is it my imagination, or does every time some guy shows up wearing a costume and fighting crime, all the loonies start coming out of the woodwork? I've been in Metropolis for most of my life, and there's never been the type of lunacy happening as we've seen since Superman first appeared."
Barry half-laughed at Henderson's statement at first, then realized Henderson was serious. It was an issue Barry'd had to think about in the past. "I'd have to guess that maybe people like the Flash, Superman, and even Batman didn't cause it to happen… and that it's a good thing they were around when it started to happen."
Henderson didn't seem convinced. "Maybe, Barry, maybe. Now, you wanted to talk to our lab boys, right? I think Happersen's in the lab right now, working with Sawyer on something for the SCU," he said, as he escorted Barry from his office.
"SCU?" Barry asked.
"Special Crimes Unit… it's a pilot project we're trying to get started to deal with the kind of stuff that Superman would normally deal with, just in case he's not available. It's been pretty shaky going so far, and I've got to admit that we might have to give up on it soon."
"Could you pass me the ketchup, please?"
Lois sighed and passed a large red plastic ketchup dispenser across the table to Bobby Bigmouth, who was earning his nickname by eating at least one of everything on the Schaffenburger's' menu. At this point, he was on his second helping of French fries.
"Thanks," he said, drowning the greasy potatoes in the condiment. "Now, as I was saying, it might be too soon to be certain, but it seems to me that most of your basic master villains are finding it more efficient to utilize computers to obtain what they need, from information to gadgetry." Bobby stuffed his mouth with fries and chewed, continuing to talk as he did so. "Mmph… so I've been trying… mmm… to get the names of the suppliers in Metropolis…" he stopped talking long enough to take a large gulp of soda, washing down his fries, "…who've been going online."
Lois, expecting some news, leaned closer. "And?"
"And so far, I haven't had any luck at all."
Exasperated, Lois looked skyward, sputtering. "Bobby! You mean I've spent $35 on junk food feeding you so you can tell me you don't know anything?!? What kind of informant are you, anyway?"
"One who's willing to credit you on this one… once I have something, it's yours, gratis." Bobby continued eating his fries.
"Terrific… you have my number when you learn something, then," Lois said, leaving the restaurant. *I guess there's nothing to do now but check and see if there's any word on when my Jeep will be fixed,* Lois thought as she stalked back to her loaner car, a sub-compact. She was angry enough that she wasn't paying much attention to anyone around her.
"Well, well, well," a familiar voice said from behind her. "Imagine meeting you here? It must be kismet!"
"We'd just about given up on seeing you, Dr. McGee."
"It's McGee-Allen, now," Tina automatically corrected. It had become instinctual for her to respond that way since her marriage, and most of the time, she didn't even realize she said it.
Dr. David Anthony, one of the lower-ranking administrators of S.T.A.R. Labs Metropolis, apologized quickly. Dr. Anthony was very much along the lines of the stereotypical scientist; slight build, thick-lensed glasses, unkempt hair that was slightly balding on top, and the ubiquitous plastic pocket protector, holding an assortment of pens and pencils. A button on his lab coat read "Sliderules, Schliderules… Lemme Have My Laptop!" The lab coat looked like it hadn't been properly hung up or washed for several weeks, and was a mass of wrinkles.
"Where shall we begin?" Dr. Anthony asked, all too eagerly. One look at Tina, and Dr. Anthony had decided that she was the perfect woman, a combination of brains and beauty. *Too bad she's already married,* Dr. Anthony thought, *or I'd be after her in a heartbeat.*
Tina thought for a moment, and then said, "I'd like to see the most recent projects. I understand you're making great strides in alternate energy sources?"
"Ah, yes, a pet project of mine… well, not really mine, per se, but one that I've kept my eye on for some time. Unfortunately, and I'm sure this never happens to a scientist of your caliber, but just because I'm relatively new here, nobody seems to take my ideas 100% seriously. I've had this theory about utilizing Kryptonite as a power source for automobiles and aircraft…"
"Kryptonite? Isn't that the radioactive material that's deadly to Superman?" Tina asked.
Dr. Anthony shrugged. "Well, yes, it is, but as a power source, it's quite unique. We've got a quantity of it here, sort of gathered for safekeeping, you might say. There is a team working on developing an antidote to the effects of it on the Man of Steel, but I say, hey, if we've been collecting all the Kryptonite that's landed on Earth, who's going to use it against Superman anyway? So let's make the most of it, and see what good it does us."
To Tina, it seemed like Dr. Anthony was one of those scientists she's encountered all-too often who don't consider the consequences of their actions… her first husband had learned what a terrible mistake that could be first-hand, when it resulted in his death. "Assuming that you could use Kryptonite as a power source for automobiles, wouldn't it make it impossible for Superman to rescue someone trapped in such an automobile in the event of an accident?"
"Well, you must understand, Tina — can I call you Tina? — that it'll take at least five years of solid research and development before we'd see the first K-Car, or Kryptonite Car, on the market… by that time, I would imagine that cars will be much safer… and those morons working on an antidote for Superman should be finished well before then, considering how much money's being thrown at it."
"You know, Kryptonite's really a very unusual substance… aside from its effects on Superman, it seems to be virtually immune to friction… sure, it can be picked up and handled, but when it enters Earth's atmosphere, none of it gets burnt up by the friction of re-entry because it can't combine with oxygen…"
Tina decided that it was going to be a very long day, indeed.
"Okay, so what exactly is it I'm supposed to be looking for?" Jimmy asked.
Clark took a sip of coffee. "Anything that might be related to what the Prankster and the Trickster might be up to."
"That's a big order, C.K… any way we can reduce the parameters of the search? We're looking at a lot of different newsgroups here… to say nothing of electronic mailing lists, which can be nearly impossible to track down unless you get lucky and find someone who's already subscribed. And sometimes, it's difficult to figure out what the heck the newsgroup or mailing list is about. Add in IRC, and you've got at any one time several hundred channels."
Clark thought about this. "I don't suppose there's a newsgroup like rec.supervillains.misc, is there?" he asked, half- jokingly.
Jimmy grimaced. "I don't think so, C.K… I suppose I could start with alt.news.superman, though."
"There's a Superman newsgroup?" Clark asked, surprised.
"Sure… it's mostly a bunch of bizarros who are trying to determine all of the ins and outs of how Superman's powers work… among other things. One time I looked over the messages there, and found nearly forty messages debating whether or not Superman had been circumcised."
Clark nearly choked on his coffee. "You're kidding, right?"
James Jesse couldn't believe his luck. He'd just gone out of the warehouse to get something to eat while waiting for Griffin to finish developing his plan to get their starter funds, when he ran into the only woman (that he was aware of) that he had met in Metropolis.
"I knew we were meant to be together, forever and ever," he said, grabbing Lois's arm and pulling her aside.
"Let me go, you psycho!" Lois said, using a martial art move to break James' hold. "What is it with you guys anyway?," she demanded, angrily.
"I guess we just like to sweep women off their feet," the Trickster said as he gestured, and a small squeeze bulb seemed to appear in his left hand, which he squeezed. A stream of liquid spewed from it, hitting Lois square in the face. As Lois succumbed to the concentrated ether, James caught her, saying, "I might not care too much for the Prankster's idea of a headquarters, but I just looooove his toys!" Stooping over to retrieve the car keys Lois had dropped, James looked at them. "Bleh, a Honda… I thought you would've had better taste in cars than that, my dear," he said as he dragged Lois' limp body to the nearest Honda. Fortunately for James, it was the loaner car. "But any port in a storm, I always say," he said, opening the door. Releasing the catch on the front seat, he was able to maneuver Lois into the back. "Now, to return the seat to it's upright position, and we're just about ready to take off," he said, sliding in front.
He started up the engine, and yelling out, "And awaaay we go!" he pulled out into traffic, forgetting that he was looking for lunch and disregarding the other vehicles on the road. Looking into the rear view mirror to spot the three- car collision he'd caused, he sighed, "Some people just don't know how to drive defensively."
Clark was quite amazed at the level of scrutinization that had gone on in the Superman internet newsgroup. He'd known, subconsciously at least, that Superman had his fans, but he had no idea just how committed some of them were to being fans.
There were threads of comments on how exactly his powers worked, analysis of how strong he actually was, even a thread started by one person who was trying to determine what kind of weaknesses Superman might have… one theory came uncomfortably close to Kryptonite, which Clark had optimistically hoped was still only known to a few select people. It seemed obvious, though, that secrets were being hard to keep in the electronic age.
"Have you ever posted here?" Clark asked Jimmy.
Jimmy's face blushed slightly. "Uh, yeah… actually, I have a few times. But the other people who post on the newsgroup don't know that I've met Superman, much less that I'm in Metropolis… my screen name is 'Shutterbug.'"
"Which would make your e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org… I think it's pretty easy to figure out what dplanet stands for," Clark said.
"Well, yeah, C.K.," Jimmy agreed, "but you work for a newspaper. I don't think anyone else would figure it out that easily."
"I suppose so," Clark said as he advanced to the next posting in the Superman newsgroup. "This is strange," he said. "What do you make of this one?"
The post was indeed unusual, reading:
Subj: What's The Big Deal?
I can't believe what I've been reading here.
Don't you people realize that Superman would
be nothing if it weren't for the people he
fought? Luthor, Metallo, Intergang, etc. are
what make him look as good as he does. And
let's face it, most of them aren't really
that much of a threat to the big blue dum-dum.
Get a life, you wieners… and recognize the
true genius of people like the Prankster!
"What's lol.com?" Clark asked.
"Lexcorp On-Line," Jimmy answered, "It's actually considered kind of a joke when someone sees it in a message, because LOL means 'laughing out loud' in Internet shorthand. This is probably just one of those 'come into the newsgroup and post a get a life message' things… people do it all the time."
"I don't think so," Clark said. "Look who the message is from… and who he's building up."
"Griffer… and the Prankster…" Jimmy noted, realization coming to him.
"That's Griffin's post," Clark said with a note of triumph. It wasn't often he could one-up Jimmy on something computer-related. "The date's from before his last arrest, though… can we find any other posts that he's made, to any newsgroup?"
Jimmy thought about it for a few moments. "I think so… it'll take a little time, but I can get a search underway to look for anything posted by him… if I'm lucky, I might even be able to snag an e-mail of his, while I'm at it."
"Isn't that illegal, Jimmy?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so… but I figured this was an emergency situation, and the normal rules didn't apply," Jimmy explained.
"Rules aren't made to be broken, Jimmy," Clark admonished. "I'm sure you know that… enough that I don't have to stand here and look over your shoulder while you work."
Clark got up from the desk and walked out of the newsroom, stopping by Perry's office to let the Chief know that he was going to go out and check on Lois' progress on the story.
It took Jimmy a few moments to realize that Clark was giving him the opportunity to make his own decision. He was just about to try tracking down e-mail to or from Griffin, when he decided that Clark would be disappointed in him if he broke the law while trying to help out.
Seeing Jimmy make this decision (with a little help from his X-Ray Vision), Clark smiled as the Daily Planet elevator took him to the rooftop.
"Hey, Griffy, look what followed me home! Can I keep her?" the Trickster asked.
Griffin, entering the warehouse after completing a bit of "shopping," looked in the direction James indicated and slapped his forehead. "Of all the— Jesse, don't you realize who this is? That's Lois Lane, a friend of Superman's! We're not ready to deal with the big blue dum-dum yet! You could ruin everything for us, you nincompoop!"
James frowned, his shoulders slumping. "Aw, you never let me have any fun! Here I finally got a chance to replace my costume, and get a new Prank on top of that, as well as a new car, and all you can do is put me down." He kicked at an imaginary can. His face brightening, he said, "Don't you think she looks nice there, though?"
Lois was in no position to comment, being bound and gagged. That wasn't the worst of her predicament, though… before she'd recovered from the chloroform, James had taken off her normal clothing and replaced it with a set of tights and cape. She'd had the experience of wearing such a costume before during her brief time as Ultrawoman, but at least that time it was her decision to make, more-or-less. Besides, James wasn't quite the seamstress that Martha Kent was, and the costume had a tendency to fit too tightly in too many places.
It didn't keep her very warm in the drafty, cold warehouse, either.
Lois glared at Jesse with fire flashing in her eyes. If looks could kill, Jesse would've been a greasy spot on the concrete floor.
"In fact," James continued, "I'd say she's the sexiest Prank I've had in a long time!"
Griffin had to admit that Lois looked very good to him in the revealing costume. He walked over to Lois and gave her the once-over with roving eyes. "Not a bad idea to keep hostages dressed in tights… you know they can't hide anything in their clothes. Comfy, Lois?"
Lois' stream of expletives were muffled by her gag.
Griffin laughed, then turned back to Jesse. "All right, I suppose we're stuck with the rather curvaceous Miss Lane for the time being… so long as you've covered your trail properly? Have you disposed of her cellular phone and pager?"
"Why would I want to throw away such cool hi-tech stuff? All the important villains have 'em!"
"Because," the Prankster said, placing a fatherly arm around James' shoulder, "Once Superman finds out that his favorite Daily Planet reporter is not to be found, he might decide to call her cell phone or pager, and home in on those with his super-hearing!"
"Besides, we still have to deal with Superman's X-Ray Vision, and unfortunately, we don't have any handy sheets of lead around here anywhere to help hide her." After a moment's thought, Griffin said, "Although, I suppose putting a lead-lined box around Miss Lane would just make her stand out even more."
"How's that? I thought he couldn't see through lead?"
"That's right… but it doesn't mean he can't see lead, you idiot! Lead would show up on an X-Ray scan as black, I'd guess. Therefore, it would stand out. I see I'll have to be the brains of this operation."
"I guess I'll have to be the brains of this operation," James mocked in a sing-son voice. "I have brains, too, you know! Why, I have brains I haven't even used yet!"
"That wouldn't surprise me a bit, Trickster," Griffin agreed. "Now, give her a whiff of the chloroform again, and we'll be off on a fund-raising expedition, now that I've got the tools of the trade we'll need."
James approached Lois, who struggled in her bonds. "Oh, now, honey, this won't hurt a bit… you're just going to be a little sleepy for a while, so take your medicine like a good little girl!" he said as he sprayed a fine stream of chloroform all over Lois' gag.
Lois tried holding her breath until the chloroform completely evaporated, but the Trickster gave her a little tickle that caused her to exhale. When she inhaled again, she passed out.
"Don't you just love it when the little woman knows when to shut her mouth?" James asked his partner.
"Hey, Maggie! Got someone for you to meet!"
A rather tall, striking blonde woman with closely- cropped hair dressed in a rather severe black outfit turned in the direction of the voice. A cigarette (lit, despite the regulations against smoking in the building) dangled from her mouth, the accumulated ash at the end of it dropping off as she turned her head. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties. "Hi, Bill… who do we have here, a VIP from the capitol?"
"No such luck, Maggie," Bill Henderson said. "This is Barry Allen, Central City PD. Barry, Maggie Sawyer, head of our new Special Crimes Unit."
Sgt. Sawyer shook Barry's hand. "Good to meet you, Barry. From what I've heard of Central City, it sounds like the program should've been piloted there a couple of years ago."
Barry thought, at last, someone in Metropolis is familiar with my hometown. "Well, we've done pretty good with our standard methods. But I'm interested in what you're doing here, as well."
"I'll let you two whiz kids talk shop," Henderson said. "I've got some paperwork to catch up on."
Barry looked around the SCU's office. "Quite a set- up you've got here," he commented, mentally comparing what the SCU had to what he had in his lab in Central City. "Looks like your budget's a bit larger than I manage to get in the police lab."
"Well, we don't quite handle the fingerprints and dirt analysis stuff here," Sawyer replied. "Not that I'm putting you lab guys down, of course… we deal with the more exotic crimes, the sort of thing that Metropolis never had to deal with until Superman appeared."
"You mean the so-called super-villains, as the media calls 'em?"
Maggie laughed. "Yep, the super-villains. My right- hand man, Turpin, calls them the super-geeks. It's too bad Turpin's out of the office, you'd like him… well, once you get past his outward appearance. He's earned the nickname 'Terrible Turpin,' and most of the time, it fits. He's waiting on a shipment of an experimental high-tech weapon that S.T.A.R.'s supposed to be working the bugs out of."
"What kind of weapon?"
"It's a sonic device… supposed to affect the inner ear to cause dizziness. It'd be a great help in hostage situations, but so far, the damn thing doesn't seem to care who gets affected by it… the S.T.A.R. Labs technos are supposed to be refining it to a finer focus."
"I guess it wouldn't do much good if it took out the cops as well as the bad guys, eh?"
"That's the problem, all right."
"Perhaps my wife can help them out with it… she's with S.T.A.R. Labs herself, in Central City… in fact, she's at the Metropolis location right now."
Maggie rolled her eyes. "Uh-oh… I hope for your sake your wife's not very attractive, then."
Barry frowned. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"If she's pretty, then Dr. David 'hormone-imbalance' Anthony's probably latched onto her, then. The guy's a sad sack from way back… it's because of him that Turpin's going over to S.T.A.R. to pick up the sonic guns instead of me. Originally, I was dealing with them myself, but Dr. Anthony started following me around like a puppy. Finally, I got tired of him, and told him I was a lesbian, figuring that would get him off my butt, but even that didn't help."
"That's a heckuva lie to tell to get a guy to back off."
"Who said I was lying?"
"Let's go over this one more time, okay? It's really quite simple."
Griffin was beginning to lose his patience with Jesse. At first, Jesse's tendency to go off on tangents was amusing, but it had passed amusing and gone quickly to annoying. "You take the card here, and insert it in the slot with the face up, then press the green button on the hand-held unit. It's so simple even a politician could use it."
Jesse looked at the duplicate unit in his hands. It was relatively unimpressive-looking at first, until one looked closer at it. The primary unit was a box about three inches by four inches and an inch think. The front of the box was featureless except for a green button and a LCD display. From the top of the box, a cable connected it to what appeared to be an ATM card. One side of this card was a shiny silver, while the other had a magnetic strip on it. "Being this easy kinda takes the fun outta it, you know? I miss the good old days when you'd just point a gun in someone's face and say, 'give me all your money or I'll blow your brains out.'"
"This is faster, trust me," the Prankster said. "The hand-held unit has microprocessors which will spit out more possible account numbers and PIN numbers than you could ever imagine. Once you've inserted the card in the ATM and the computer's found a viable account number, it'll display the PIN number on the display. From there, it's withdrawal city, and it's virtually untraceable. Well, each person whose account we rob will discover some money's missing sooner or later, but since we'll be disguised, once the video records are dug up on the transaction, there's no way it can be traced back to us."
"I was kinda hoping for a little recognition, y'know?"
"Save it for the big haul… this is just working cash we're going for. And we've got to hurry… I'm supposed to return these to their owner at four this afternoon, along with a percent of the take. And no, we can't just kill him and keep the things — he's the only person in the world who knows how to fix 'em and replace the power source. Besides, we've got to be back here by two for the delivery of our toys."
The Trickster looked disappointed. "Darn!"
There are definitely advantages to being a Kryptonian on Earth, Clark thought as, dressed in his Superman costume, he flew over Metropolis. After all, he mused, who else can take a break by flying? Not even Batman can do that… hang gliding, yes, but not *flying*.
Superman considered making a quick trip to Smallville to visit his parents, but decided against it. The Kents were due to make a visit in Metropolis in a few days anyway; he'd call them later in the evening, and let them know the latest news.
Glancing at a clock tower below him, he realized that Lois should be meeting him back at the Planet in a few moments. Turning in a wide angle, he headed back to the Planet building, and quickly put his Clark Kent clothing back on before returning to the city room.
"Any luck so far, Jimmy?" he asked.
"Too much — or not enough. It depends on what you're looking for. Griffin's been a busy net surfer, but I can't seem to find too much that would be useful… wait a sec…"
Jimmy scrutinized the screen. "Ah, this might be worthwhile… a post to Griffin in a different newsgroup directing him to a page on the World Wide Web. Let's check this out."
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry's voice boomed across the city room. Perry stormed out of his office. "Do you know who I just spoke to on the telephone?" he asked Clark and Jimmy.
The two younger Planet staffers shrugged in ignorance.
"It was that goofball who's been harassing you, Jimmy… he's claiming that you've been bothering his wife for the last three months, and wanted me to tell him your home address!"
Jimmy slumped in his chair. "I knew I should've have said anything to him in the first place," he mumbled. "The first time he called, he said I'd left a message for him… but I told him I'd only been calling a few friends and the Planet since I got home… I guess I shouldn't have mentioned the Planet."
"You'd better get this added to the police report, Jimmy," Clark suggested.
"Nothing doing, Clark," Perry said. "I'll call the police and tell them about this call… if the Editor of the Daily Planet can't convince the Metropolis P.D. that some wacko's bothering one of our staffers, I don't know who could… except maybe Superman."
"Okay, now to push the green button," the Trickster said. Despite the Prankster's admonishments, James had decided to go out in costume… only disguising himself with a trenchcoat and hat. He'd stopped at the first ATM he found to try out the gadget.
In a moment, a four-digit PIN number appeared on the hand-held unit, which the Trickster entered on the ATM's keypad at the prompt. He then selected withdrawal from checking, and withdrew the maximum amount allowed per day. Looking around to make certain nobody was paying him much attention, he withdrew the card portion of the machine, then re-inserted it, repeating the operation with a different bank account. "Griffin said to only hit each machine five times," the Trickster mumbled, "but what he won't know won't hurt him!"
James continued the process until the ATM's screen informed him that the machine was out of cash.
"Drat! Just when I was beginning to enjoy myself!" he complained as he stuffed another handful of twenty dollar bills into a pocket of the coat. "Oh, well… onward and upward!"
Skipping down the street, the Trickster proceeded to look for another ATM.
"This is all very interesting, but I'm afraid I have to be going," Tina said desperately. Dr. Anthony had been getting on her nerves steadily, and despite her promise to Barry, she wasn't about to put up with Anthony's puppy-dog devotion any longer.
"Oh, that's a terrible shame," Dr. Anthony said. "When can I expect you to return?"
When hell freezes over, Tina thought. "I'm not sure… I won't be in Metropolis much longer."
Tina breathed a sigh of relief when she exited S.T.A.R. Labs. After flagging down a cab, she told the driver, "Take me to the Daily Planet." She hoped that at least Clark and/or Lois were back there already.
Looking at the taxi's meter, and remembering the distance between S.T.A.R. and the Planet, Tina mentally calculated the total fare, as well as an appropriate tip. Opening up her purse, she discovered she only had five dollars in cash on her. "Oh, that's right… I had to pay for the buffet… Driver? Is there an automatic teller machine nearby we could stop at? I seem to be a little short on cash right now."
"Sure, hon," the driver agreed. Heck, this'll help raise the fare some, he thought.
In a few moments, the taxi pulled up near an ATM. Tina got out of the taxi cab, promising, "This shouldn't take more than a minute or two." Approaching the machine, Tina noticed the screen message informing her that the machine was out of money.
Re-entering the cab, she said, "This machine's temporarily out of service… where's the next one?"
"I think there's another machine a couple'a blocks away."
Larry Fredricks was not what one would call a lucky guy. Every time Lady Luck appeared to be smiling on him, it turned out to be Baroness Bad Luck… at least, that's what Larry had been insisting all his life. About 10 years ago, he had an opportunity, thanks to careful saving from his meager paychecks, the chance to make an investment in stocks. His choices were Lexcorp, Microsoft and Farwell Industries. He chose the latter, as it was the least expensive of the three choices at the time, figuring he'd be able to earn more in the short and long runs.
Farwell Industries went under six months later.
Five years later, Larry, with his new bride, Janine, had scraped up enough money for a down payment on a house. It wasn't an impressive house, but it was nicer than the one- bedroom apartment near Suicide Slum he'd lived in since he'd been out of the Army what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Unfortunately, his insurance coverage didn't adequately cover him enough for the electrical fire which burnt the house to the ground.
A year ago, after having worked his way up through the ranks of the company he'd been employed with for 15 years, he discovered that his wife was having an affair with his boss, and that Janine wanted a divorce. Larry was so shattered by the development that his work performance dropped steadily, and he found himself unemployed and on the street, his wife getting the majority of his possessions in the divorce settlement.
And so, at the age of 38 years, dressed in cast-off clothing, his graying brown hair unkempt, his face unshaven, Larry was somewhat leery when he looked into a trash can near the waterfront to find an operational cellular phone and pager.
However, needing the cash, he decided to put both high-tech devices into the pockets of his threadbare Army surplus jacket, and started shambling his way to a part of Metropolis he knew he'd be able to sell both at.
"What, you have something against homosexuals?" Maggie Sawyer asked.
"No, not at all," Barry denied (realizing he sounded like he was protesting too much). "It just took me by surprise, that's all. I figured you were joking, and, well…"
"Chill out, Allen," Maggie said, a smile on her face. "I've had worse reactions, believe me."
Looking for an out from what had become a somewhat uncomfortable position, Barry looked at his watch and said, "Geez, is it that late? I'm sorry, Maggie, but I'm supposed to be meeting my wife and some friends for lunch, and I'd lost complete track of time. Can we continue this perhaps later this afternoon?"
Maggie shrugged. "Assuming I don't get tied up with police business, I don't see why not. Here," she said, handing a business card to Barry, "this has the direct number to my office… no sense wasting time going through the operator."
"Thanks," Barry said, pocketing the card. "I appreciate it."
"No problem," Sawyer said as she escorted Barry out of the station. "And don't let my orientation get to you, okay?"
"I've seen some strange Web pages in my time, but this takes the cake!" Jimmy said.
Clark was amazed at how quickly Jimmy was able to lose his despair at the crank caller once he got back to working on the Planet's computers. "Is this for real?" Clark asked.
The Web page had one immediately identifiable image that drew the eye to it… a graphic of the Superman "S" shield, with a rather nasty-looking Middle Eastern dagger stabbing into the middle of it.
"I was wondering where some of the more high-tech stuff was coming from," Clark said as he read some of the accompanying text.
"High tech is the least of it," Jimmy said. "Check this out!" Jimmy moved the mouse of the computer, clicking the button on the mouse to activate a link on the page.
"Kryptonite for sale?" Clark read with horror. "It can't be… there's not that much around… and S.T.A.R. is supposed to have all known Kryptonite samples…"
"I guess not, huh, C.K.?"
"Jimmy, can you try to find out who runs this Web page? I think the police would be interested in this."
"I'll try… but I don't know what service this person's used to put this page up… they might even have their own personal provider, if they've got the bucks to pay for it."
"Do your best."
"Hey, anything for my favorite soon-to-be newlywed!" Jimmy said with enthusiasm.
"This is absurd," Tina said. "We've gone to twelve different machines, and they all say they're out of money?"
"Hey, Metropolis is a happening town, lady," the cabbie said. "Unless you're superstitious, maybe the thirteenth one will be lucky for ya." Besides, he thought, I'm getting so much mileage outta this fare that even if I get stiffed for a tip, it'll be the biggest fare of the month.
"I am a scientist… superstitions don't bother me in the slightest," Tina insisted.
The cab proceeded to the next ATM. Tina quickly exited the cab, but discovered there was someone else ahead of her using the machine. "At last, one that works," she said aloud.
The man ahead of her, wearing a trenchcoat and hat, turned to face her. "Hey, don't I know that voice?"
"Oh my god…" Tina said, her impatience swiftly turning to panic.
"Yes, I *do* know that voice… you're a long way from Central City, Doctor McGee!" the man said as he pulled off his hat, more prominently displaying the multicolored domino mask he wore on his face. Behind him, sticking out of the ATM's card slot, Tina noted a set of wires leading to a small box with an LED indicator.
Tina turned and ran as fast as she could back to the cab. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of footsteps pursuing her. Thank god the passenger door is still open, she thought as she literally leapt into the cab. "A maniac is after me! Get moving!" she demanded.
Before the driver could shift the cab into gear and step on the gas, a stream of liquid sprayed into the cab, hitting the driver square in the face. "You mustn't run away from me like that… after all, we're old friends, aren't we?" the man, who had taken off his overcoat to reveal his Trickster costume said. "Now just be quiet, and take a nice, long nap, just like Mr. Taxi Cab Driver, okay?"
Squeezing the bulb in his right hand, the Trickster frowned as he realized nothing was happening. "Drat! Out of sleepy-juice. Well, sometimes the old ways are the best after all," he said, climbing in to the cab.
Tina desperately drew back her right leg and delivered as powerful a kick as she was capable of to the Trickster's head. The Trickster dodged the kick, grabbing her foot and pulling her towards him. Surprised by James' sudden maneuver, Tina slipped in the seat, her head hitting the door next to her. She slumped limply in the seat.
"Oh, how considerate… you really shouldn't knock yourself out over me… but then, I do seem to have that effect on women, don't I?" he said as he pulled Tina the rest of the way out of the cab.
Barry made it to the Daily Planet in record time… well, Olympic record time; changing into the Flash for the run between Police Headquarters and the Daily Planet, then changing back to Barry, slowed him down a little bit.
"Hi, Clark," Barry greeted as he entered the newsroom. "I thought Tina and Lois would be back here by now… and that I'd be the late one."
"I haven't heard from either of them," Clark said. "I'll call Lois' cell phone and see what's keeping her… Jimmy, you've got S.T.A.R.'s number memorized, right?"
Jimmy looked up from his work on the computer. "Huh? S.T.A.R.? It's on speed dial… star-six-nine."
"Thanks, Jimmy," Clark said as he picked up the phone at his desk, noting Barry picking up the phone on Lois' desk. Clark quickly dialed Lois' cellular phone number.
Larry Fredricks was surprised when the discarded cellular phone in his pocket rang. Pulling it out, he debated for a few moments whether or not to answer it.
After the fifth ring, curiosity got the better of him. Pressing the "on" button, he held the phone up to his head. "Hello?"
"I'm sorry, I must've misdialed," Clark said, hanging up the phone and redialing. After the third ring, it was answered by a male voice. "I'm sorry, wrong number again," Clark apologized. Looking over at Lois' desk, where Barry was apparently waiting on hold from S.T.A.R., Clark said, "Third time's the charm."
The same male voice answered again. Clark hung up the phone. "Weird… I know I dialed the right number."
"Maybe there's a screw up with the cell phone service provider?" Barry asked. "It's happened to… oh, hang on," he said, obviously having been taken off hold. "Really? Are you positive? Thanks a lot." Putting the phone down, Barry looked at Clark. "They say Tina left there over an hour ago."
"Traffic can be pretty bad during mid-day," Clark suggested as he dialed Lois' pager number. After the recorded message, Clark punched in the number code he and Lois had worked out to mean 'call me at the Planet.'
While Clark waited for the return call, Barry suddenly rolled his eyes heavenward and slapped his forehead. "Of all the stupid—!"
"What?" Clark asked, curious.
"I just remembered… I left my rental car at Metropolis Police Headquarters!"
Clark smiled. There'd been times, shortly after he'd discovered he could fly, that he'd driven somewhere, then flew home, realizing later that he'd left his parents' car behind.
"What the heck is this supposed to mean?" Larry said, looking at the digital pager. Most of the pagers he'd seen would display a phone number… but this one had a number sequence on it that was too short to be a phone number. "Ah, I'll just clear it and keep going," he decided.
Clark was running out of patience at this point. Lois should've called by now, he realized. And, too, it seemed strange that Tina hadn't returned, and he could tell Barry was worried. Clark motioned Barry into the Planet's conference room.
"Something's gone wrong," Clark insisted. "I don't know about Tina, but Lois has this really annoying ability to get herself into trouble sometimes."
"It's happened with Tina a few times, too… usually getting involved with whatever I'm working on as the Flash," Barry admitted.
"Same thing here. And I've got a bad feeling it's happening right now."
"I've got that same feeling," Barry agreed.
Clark and Barry dashed out of the conference room. "Jimmy," Clark requested, "can you do me a favor and keep dialing Lois' cell phone and pager? I'm afraid she may have gotten in trouble. I'm going to try to get in touch with Superman…"
"So he can track her down by listening for the beep or ring, like before? No problem, C.K.," Jimmy said as he left the computer and began dialing.
"I'd better… ah… get that rental car picked up, too," Barry said, realizing after he said it that nobody was paying attention to what he was doing or saying except for Clark. "Force of habit," he said as he and Clark entered the elevator.
"I don't believe you! What are you doing, collecting women from all over Metropolis?" Griffin demanded when he entered the warehouse to see Tina bound and gagged next to Lois. He had his outburst after he'd got over the initial surprise of seeing Tina dressed in yet another Prank costume. *Where is he getting those things?* Griffin wondered.
"It can get boring with only one sidekick," James insisted. "Besides, this one isn't *from* Metropolis… she's from Central City… and she's got some kind of connection with the Flash."
Griffin sat down, hard, on the couch. "Oh, she's got some kind of connection with the Flash. I feel much better now that we've got the only two women who seem to really mean anything to the only two super-powered people in the world tied up in our little warehouse."
"You don't understand, Prankster ol' pal… she made me, man… got a good look at my face and everything… and if she's in Metropolis, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that the Flash hasn't skipped town yet."
"And this is supposed to mean something?"
"Simply this: We've got two of the most valuable hostages in the world here… as long as we've got them in our power, the boy in blue and twinkletoes can't do anything to us!"
Griffin stood up as quickly as he'd sat down. "Are you out of your tiny little mind? Do you know how many times Lois Lane has been taken hostage by someone who thought the exact same thing? Do you realize that the number of times that's actually worked as been zero? Nada? The big goose egg? Why did I ever think that I could be partners with a loony bin escapee who looks like Luke Skywalker?"
"Oh, and I suppose I'm sooooo much better off being partnered with some stuffed shirt loser who looks like Balki on 'Perfect Strangers?'"
Larry was starting to get downright annoyed. Either the cell phone was ringing, or the pager was beeping, and he was having a hard time getting either of them turned off. He was beginning to get some strange looks from passersby who wondered why in the world a homeless person would have a cellular phone and pager.
"Come on, turn off, dammit!" he said as he began to panic.
"Looks like you could use some help," a voice said in front of Larry.
Larry looked up from the cell phone to see red boots… blue tights… red trunks… yellow belt… blue tunic with a red and yellow 's' insignia. "Oooooooooooooooooh spit!" he said, flinging the cellular phone away from him. Seeing Superman dart to catch the phone, Larry turned and ran…
…right into a man clad almost entirely in red, who, faster than Larry could see, grabbed both his wrists.
"Somehow, I don't think that phone and the pager don't belong to you," the Flash said.
Lois and Tina looked at each other from their respective chairs. The Trickster and the Prankster had been arguing steadily for the last ten minutes without respite, and they seemed to have forgotten all about their bound and gagged prisoners.
Lois began shifting her weight back and forth to move her chair closer to Tina's. Tina, seeing this, did the same to bring the two chairs together. Each of them looked at the arguing duo to see if they'd noticed anything… but the argument was still escalating. Improbable ancestry seemed to be the current trend in insults.
The chairs were now right next to each other. Lois and Tina leaned together as close as they could, until they were nearly cheek to cheek, at which point Lois took Tina's gag in her teeth and began to work it loose. Once Tina's mouth was freed, Tina did the same for Lois.
"Does this happen to you often?" Tina asked.
"More than I — or Clark — care to think about," Lois admitted.
"It must come with the territory. How are we going to get out of this?"
There was a sudden clash of metal as the door at the far end of the warehouse was thrown open. The Trickster and the Prankster stopped their argument long enough to ask, simultaneously, "What do you want?"
"I gotta delivery for Mr. Griffin… from the Source," the man who stood silhouetted in the doorway replied. "That's C.O.D. you know."
"Two o'clock already?" the Trickster said. "Gee, it doesn't feel any later than, oh, one fifty-nine."
"Just shut up," Griffin ordered his partner, annoyed, as he paid for the delivery with the recently-stolen cash. "Just set 'em down anywhere," he instructed as the delivery man brought in two boxes on a hand truck.
Larry finally revived to see Superman and the Flash crouching over him.
"Don't worry… we're not going to hurt you," Superman assured. "We just want to know where you got these," he said, displaying the pager and cell phone.
"From a dumpster… near the waterfront… in the alleyway between Siegel and Shuster. You can't miss it… it's got a big Overstreet Collections logo on it," Larry insisted.
"Thanks for your help," the Flash said. "Just for that, we won't worry about pressing charges against you."
As the Flash and Superman sped away towards the waterfront, Larry sat up and said, "Maybe my luck's finally changing."
"Beautiful work, isn't it?" Griffin said as he opened up the first box. "Fast and good…the impossible combination."
James looked inside the box at the phony Kryptonite. Not knowing what the real thing was supposed to look like, he shrugged. "I've seen better… where's *my* boxes?"
"These what you looking for?" the delivery man said as he brought in a second load of boxes.
"Oh, yeah!" James said, tearing open the box.
The delivery man looked around the warehouse. "Ya got a couple'a nice-lookin' dames tied up there… but wouldn't it be safer if they were gagged, too?"
James and Griffin spun to face their hostages.
Lois and Tina looked at each other in panic.
"SUPERMAN!" Lois screamed.
"FLASH!" Tina yelled.
Superman and the Flash had reached the dumpster Larry had told them about and had discussed the search pattern they were going to use when Superman suddenly tilted his head to one side. "Lois!" he shouted. "Tina, too!"
"Huh? Oh, x-ray vision?" Flash asked.
"Super-hearing… they each just yelled out our names… from over… that way!" Superman indicated, flying off in the direction he pointed, the Flash close behind.
"You two are really starting to get on my nerves!" Griffin threatened as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. "I should've done this as soon as James brought in Lois. At least then I could've dumped your body in Hob's Bay and be done with it."
"You're not going to let the Prankster kill your sidekicks, are you?" Tina asked the Trickster, desperately. "You've never had two Pranks before!"
The Trickster looked at Tina and Lois, then to Griffin, and then back to Tina and Lois. "Oh, well, easy come, easy go. You two were my favorites, though," he shrugged.
"I'll let you two deal with your domestic disputes by yourselves," the delivery man said as he pulled the hand truck out of the warehouse. "So long as the boss gets his money, I'm happy."
The delivery man exited the building. From the outside, Griffin, James, Tina and Lois could hear a crash of metal against concrete.
"What the heck was that, the Anvil Chorus?" the Trickster asked.
"More like your last hurrah, James," the Flash threatened as he stepped into the warehouse, Superman close behind him.
Griffin pivoted and fired the automatic pistol he held at Tina and Lois. The Flash was a blur of red and gold as he ran in front of the two women and *caught* the bullets in his hands, instantly matching speeds and slowing each bullet down to a stop.
The Flash opened his crimson-gloved hands to display the eight rounds of fired bullets. "I believe these should be ample evidence for an attempted murder charge." He then turned and at super-speed, untied Lois and Tina. "Looks like you two could use some warmer clothing," Barry suggested, half-jokingly. Tina and Lois gave him a dirty look.
"Are you fast enough to catch eight more?" the Trickster said, pulling a matching revolver from the belt of his tights and taking aim at the Flash.
"He doesn't have to be," Superman said as twin beams of heat vision stabbed out from his eyes, turning the gun red- hot.
"OOOWWW! I bet you're just a ball to have around on the Fourth of July!" the Prankster complained as he dropped the gun. "Prankster! The stuff!"
Superman began to walk towards the villainous pair confidently. The Prankster darted to the boxes of glowing green rocks and dumped them on the floor of the warehouse in front of him. "I wouldn't come much closer, Superdud… unless you want to feel some pain. I take it even a spandex-wearing clod like yourself can recognize Kryptonite when you see it?"
The Trickster, meanwhile, dove for his own boxes, spilling them onto the floor before the Flash could react with surprise. Hundreds of marbles and steel ball bearings rolled around the concrete surfaces, creating a racket. As the Flash ran towards the Trickster, his feet began to slide on the marbles and ball bearings, sending several of them ricocheting against the sides of the warehouse. The Scarlet Speedster fell to the concrete floor. "Drat! The really tricky ones were in the bottom box!" the Trickster complained.
Superman was stymied for a moment… the Flash appeared to be only stunned, but Griffin was already drawing a second automatic pistol from his clothing. *So much Kryptonite… there's no way I can get close enough to it before it kills me,* he thought.
*Or can I?* he realized. "You overplayed your hand, Prankster," Superman stated as he strode forward. "Didn't you stop to think that this much *real* Kryptonite would've affected me at a much further range? I'm calling your bluff."
The Trickster, seeing an opportunity, wrapped his cape around his hand and picked up the pistol he'd dropped, and swung it around to point at the Flash. "If I'm going back to jail, it might as well be for killing the Flash," he sneered.
"I don't think so," the Flash said as from his position on the floor he picked up a handful of marbles and ball bearings, throwing them at super-speed at the gun. The impact from the collision drove the gun out of the Trickster's hand. As the Trickster began to back away, he slipped on some of the ball bearings, hitting his head on the table and knocking himself out.
The Prankster turned his gun back at Superman and began to deliberately fire off the rounds, which bounced off the Man of Steel's chest as Superman walked closer to him. *Next time, it's the real thing for me… and Kryptonite bullets,* he thought as he fired his last shot in vain.
"You know bullets can't harm me," Superman said, more annoyed than anything else.
The Prankster dropped the gun and raised his hands. "You didn't expect me to just give up without putting up *some* kind of fight, did you?" he asked. "It's not my style."
"So, the Prankster's back in prison, and the Trickster's being sent to an insane asylum," Clark announced. "Plus, the first clue to tracking down the 'Source' of high-tech criminal gear has been found."
Clark, Lois, Barry and Tina were enjoying an early dinner at an outdoor cafe near the Planet building. Thanks to the unseasonably warm temperatures Metropolis was having this winter, all four were quite comfortable. Tina and Lois had changed into their street clothing before leaving the warehouse.
"Thanks to Superman… and the Flash, of course," Lois said, raising her glass of wine. "A toast to our two favorite super-heroes!"
"And our two favorite ex-sidekicks," Barry said with a smirk, raising his own glass.
Tina gouged her husband in the ribs. "That'll be enough of *that*!"
"Hear, hear," Lois agreed. "I've spent enough time in tights for a long time to come."
"Me, too," Tina chimed in.
"But honey, you looked so *cute* in them!" Barry teased.
Clark opened his mouth to add to that, but Lois turned to him, threatening, "Clark Jerome Kent, if you say *one* word…"
The four turned towards the street to see Jimmy and Perry heading their way from the Planet building.
"The mystery's been solved," Perry announced.
"You mean about the crank caller?" Clark asked. He was embarrassed to realize that he'd nearly forgotten about the situation.
"That's right… Jimmy did a fine bit of detective work that cleared everything right up," Perry said. "Tell them, Jim."
Jimmy looked somewhat embarrassed. "Well, you know that role-playing game I've been playing? When I was calling up the gang to let them know we were getting together tonight, I misdialed my friend Anthony's number… and by coincidence, the misdial got me connected with that Tony guy."
"And Tony, who's a soldier stationed outside town at the fort, had been out in the field for some time, during which time his wife had received some crank calls," Perry continued.
"So he figured it had been me!" Jimmy announced.
"Jimmy had told me about it already, but he didn't want to talk to Tony any more, and when Tony called the Planet again, I explained what had happened," Perry added.
"And I had Tony call up Anthony to confirm it… and everything's okay now."
"That's a pretty big chain of coincidences," Lois noted. "But then, stranger things have happened. I'm happy everything worked out okay."
"Me, too, Jimmy," Clark chimed in.
"Thanks, guys," Jimmy said. "Well, gotta get going… you still coming, Chief?"
"Sure, I wouldn't miss this for the world!" Perry said as the two of them headed for Perry's car. "Now, what I'm thinking about is a guy who has Elvis-related powers… you know, martial arts training in Karate, Burning Love…"
"What in the world are they talking about *now*?" Barry asked.
"It's a role-playing game… like Dungeons and Dragons, I guess, in which the players are superheroes," Lois explained. "Like Superman and the Flash, for example, or even Batman."
"Jimmy's invited me to join them, but I figured…" Clark started.
"…you get enough of that as it is," Barry finished. "I can relate to that."
"Getting back to our original conversation here," Tina said, "didn't you say that James Jesse's not being sent to an asylum in Central City?"
"That's right… it's more convenient, I guess, to have him committed just north of here, in Gotham," Barry informed.
"At Arkham Asylum," Clark finished.
"I don't belong here, you know!" Jesse's voice echoed through the halls of Arkham Asylum. "I'm not insane! I'm a criminal genius! You'll see… one of these days, I'll be free… then the joke will be on you!"
"Did someone say… joke?" a voice called from the cell next to Jesse's. "I've always been rather fond… of jokes."
Jesse, bound in a straightjacket, got to his feet and to the barred window of his cell. Pushing his face against the bars, he called out, "Who's there?"
"Call me Jack… are you fond of jokes, too?"
"Well… people say I'm the life of the party 'cause I tell a joke or two…"
"Heh, heh, heh… excellent… we should get together and pool our talents… it seems, dear boy, as though we're indeed two of a kind… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
The maniacal laughter echoed throughout the Asylum.
Author's Note: Now that you've finished reading this mega- story <g>, a little more background. The Jimmy crank call plot, while sounding a bit far-fetched, is actually based on something that happened to me not too long ago! Fortunately, it was resolved almost exactly the same way it was resolved in the story. I had already started working on this when it happened, and when I realized that I didn't really have anything for Jimmy and Perry to do in this story, it occurred to me that I could take a piece of my own life and have it happen to Jimmy! And now you know… the rest of the story.
Cast Listing (In Order of Appearance):
Lois Lane…Teri Hatcher Superman/Clark Kent…Dean Cain Flash/Barry Allen…John Wesley Shipp The Trickster…Mark Hamill Prank…Drew Barrymore The Guardian…Peter Weller Desk Sergeant…Stacy Keach Inspector Henderson…Richard Belzer Dr. Andy Anderson…Lorenzo Music Perry White…Lane Smith Jimmy Olsen…Justin Whalen Guard 1…John Goodman Guard 2…Drew Carey The Prankster…Bronson Pinchot Lex Luthor…John Shea Tina McGee-Allen…Amanda Pays Bobby Bigmouth…Sal Viscuso Dr. David Anthony…Anthony Edwards Maggie Sawyer…Susan Powter Taxi Driver…Martin Scorcese Larry Fredricks…McLean Stevenson Delivery Man…Tom Arnold The Voice in Arkham…?
Based on the ABC-Television Program "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and the CBS-Television Program "The Flash." Special thanks to Kathy Brown for editing and to Mark Safranksy for double-checking my "Flash" continuity!