By Linda Mooney aka (MacWombat@aol.com)
Summary: Lois and Clark face an almost impossible task of helping to solve a series of grisly murders, and Superman faces an enemy from humanity's darkest nightmares! Episode # 6 of The Unaired Fifth Season)
The night was charged with electricity. As thunder rolled like a symphony orchestra gone mad, lightning flashed across the heavens, throwing streaks of bristling energy over the tallest towers in Metropolis. The news that night on LNN would later report that Lex Towers would sustain no less than three dozen strikes, a record.
Over at Metropolis Airport, commercial flights were stranded and left circling high above the clouds shrouding the landing strips, leaving Superman with the task of bringing in each plane one at a time to prevent collisions and crashes.
Before midnight, the heavens finally opened up to pour upon the city. The rain fell hard and fast and cold, and late-night revelers ran for cover from the pounding, stinging drops.
In one dark alleyway, however, a solitary figure stood silent and still. Rain sluiced off his hooded cloak, puddling beneath him. At his feet lay a heavy-set man. Despite the chill, the man on the ground wore a short-sleeved t-shirt; his arms were covered with tattoos, making identification later by the police very easy.
The silent figure, draped in heavy black wool, paused only long enough to make sure his victim would rise no more, before turning and striding out of the alley. In the darkness which followed, the rain continued to beat down upon the victim, and thin, red rivulets of blood were washed away from the torn throat, to float down the alley and end up in the drainage tunnels beneath the city.
THE UNAIRED FIFTH SEASON
"LIGHT OF DEY"
Written by Linda Mooney
"Hey, C.K.! Did your cable go out last night?" Jimmy sauntered over to Clark's desk first thing the following morning.
"Yeah," Clark acknowledged. "I remember Lois mentioning something about the power going out … just as her favorite TV show was about to air."
"You mean 'The Young Doctors'? Hey, I love that show! Don't you watch it?"
Clark smiled. "I was busy last night. Had other things to do."
"Betcha it was hard doing them in the dark, though, huh?" asked Jimmy.
Giving a little shake of his head, Clark answered, "Somewhat, but the lightning brightened things up a bit every now and then." His eye caught the sight of his wife heading straight for him; her heels clicked on the linoleum floor in a staccato rhythm. "What's up?" he intercepted before she had a chance to speak.
"A biggie!" She waved a fax in front of his nose. "Let's go!"
"Police station! There was another murder last night!"
"The Midnight Slasher?" Jimmy inquired, and was disappointed when the couple hurried away without an answer. Sighing, he went back to the errand Perry White had initially sent him on.
"What's this make? Three?" Clark jumped to his feet and followed her to the elevator.
"All males. All scum of the earth. Same M.O.," she reaffirmed.
They emerged from the Daily Planet into bright sunlight. The previous night's storm had precipitated the first real cold front of the season, dropping the daytime temperatures from the low nineties to the mid-seventies. The air was warm but smelled of crispness — a perfect fall day.
Taking a taxi was easier than moving the car from the parking garage, and in less than ten minutes the couple were at the precinct where Inspector Henderson was waiting for them. Clark and the officer shook hands in greeting. "What 'cha got for us?"
"White male, thirty-eight years of age. Name's Ernest Sinclair, but goes by the name of 'Rambo'," Henderson told them.
"How original," Lois remarked dryly.
"You I.D.ed the body pretty quickly this time," Clark noticed.
"Guy was a walking billboard of tattoos. Made it relatively simple."
"Where was our Rambo found?" Lois inquired.
"In the alley behind the Hard Eight Club."
"Hard Eight? Near the wharf? Why do murderers always pick the seediest, roughest part of town to do their dirty work?"
"Maybe it's because it's the seediest, roughest part of town, Lois," her husband half-teased. "People there tend to look the other way, and in most cases they consider their form of justice to be superior to the law."
"Was the throat slashed like the previous two victims?" asked Lois, turning back to Henderson.
The officer nodded. "To all intents and purposes, it looks like we have a serial killer on our hands … but you didn't hear that from me." He handed them a Polaroid of close-ups of all three bodies.
"Gotcha," Clark reassured him, passing the photos over to Lois. "So … is there any pattern as yet to the killings? Any idea who's behind them? Have background checks on the victims given you any clues as to why they were singled out?"
Henderson cocked his head and gave them a serious look. "That was what I was hoping you could help me with. As you know, City Council cut our budget by a third during their last meeting. I had to hatchet overtime to practically nil. I haven't the manpower, nor the hours, nor the money now to do my job as it is. If it weren't for Superman, we'd be in a lot worse shape than we already are."
Lois looked grim. "Yeah. Shame the council would do such a thing. Don't they realize Superman can't do everything? Just because he's instrumental in the fact that the crime rate has dropped by nearly seventy percent doesn't give the council the right to downsize the police department!"
"Exactly," Clark added. "Superman may have made Metropolis his home, but he also helps other cities and countries all over the world."
"Well, we appreciate the series you did on our account. Just wanted to let you know."
"No trouble, Inspector. Now, how exactly how can we help?"
"For one, see what you can find out about the victims. We're gathering all the clues we can at the murder sites, scouting out possible eye-witnesses, and scouring the bars and nightclubs that might have seen them last. Anything you can get from background checks will help."
"No problem," Clark said. "We'll get on it right away."
The reporters left the police station, prepared to head back to the office, when Lois unexpectedly asked, "Can we stop at the Fudge Castle on the way back? I'm hungry."
"Seems like you're always hungry," Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "It's not even nine-thirty. Didn't you have breakfast?"
Pouting prettily, Lois replied, "Yes, but I guess my sweet tooth has kicked into overdrive. Besides, it won't take us five minutes to just run in and run out."
Sighing, Clark acquiesced before asking the taxi driver to make a side-stop.
Back at the Planet, Jimmy was waiting for them. The eager expression on his face told the couple that he already had some news for them. Clark raised his eyebrows in question. "What 'cha got for us?"
"After you called me, I got on the 'net and searched through the police files."
"I thought those files were locked," Clark interrupted.
Jimmy hesitated slightly. "Well … they are. To most people." He grinned and continued. "Anyway, I found out something very strange about the second victim. His name was Billy Overteen, but his stage name was 'Bouncing Billy'."
"The retired pro-wrestler! I remember him," Clark mused. "Used to bounce his opponents off his stomach. He was a big guy; had to have taken either a very strong man to overcome him, or more than one person is in on this."
"Yeah, but you haven't heard the best part. Seems our Bouncing Billy was also Bad Boy Billy. Police had him under suspicion for dealing."
"Drugs?" Lois piped in.
"Not the hard stuff, just prescription meds obtained from crooked doctors and pharmacists."
Clark nodded. "Good job. Anything else?"
"Not yet," Jimmy admitted. "I have a name for numbers one and three, but so far I haven't been able to get any sort of backgrounds on them."
"Who was the first one? We'll keep an eye open during our investigation."
Pulling a folded piece of pink paper from a While You Were Out pad from his shirt pocket, Jimmy glanced at what he'd scribbled. "Richard LaMesa. From Detroit."
"Not even a native," Lois observed, crossing her arms. "Interesting."
"Seems as though our serial killer or killers is choosing his victims at random," added Clark. "That's highly unusual. Jimmy, when you dig up what you can about LaMesa, beep us." He took his wife by the elbow and started toward the elevators.
"Where we going?" she asked.
"To the closest Chinese restaurant."
"Oh, good! I'm still starved."
"Not for you," Clark grinned. "I think it's time we called on Bobby Big Mouth to find out what's the word on the streets. Maybe he can give us more info on Bouncing Billy."
"Bouncing Billy Overteen," Bobby mumbled around a mouthful of Szechuswan shrimp. "Forced into retirement when he was caught handing out amfeds to the pro wrestling federation, their grandmothers, and just about anyone else who could ante up the money." Opening up another carton, he looked up at the couple in the front seat and grimaced. "What's this? Fried noodles? You couldn't get me something with a little more meat in it?"
Clark handed him another carton. "Try the sweet and sour pork. We already know that much about Overteen. What else do you have on him?"
"Rumor says he worked for a guy name of Stu Porter."
"Stuart Porter? Wasn't he the one who was accused of running numbers on the professional sports events?" Lois asked her husband.
"Among other things that weren't brought to trial because he pleaded to a lesser offense and got eight months. Bobby, ever heard of a guy named Richard LaMesa? From Detroit?"
"Nope. Did you bring me any eggrolls? What's Chinese without eggrolls?" He grinned when Lois presented the sack, took a huge bite out of the first one, and rolled his eyes with delight. "Heavenly. Now, about Rambo. Ex-marine. Worked the docks for Bayside Industries, loading and unloading cargo. My little birdie says he played the pits during his off hours."
"Played the pits?" Clark shook his head in confusion.
"Pit bulls. Dog fights. There's a group that meets every third Saturday night of the month over on the east side, but you didn't hear that from me." Bobby scooted over to the door of the Jeep, crates of uneaten food in one arm. "Hey, thanks for the snack. If there's ever anything else you need …"
"If you hear something abut LaMesa, give us a holler," Clark asked.
"I'll see what I can find out. But it'll cost ya dessert. I'm in the mood for torte. Ta-ta!" A minute later, he was gone.
Lois sighed. "Okay, we have an ex-marine and a retired professional wrestler, two very strong, very able-bodied men. Their killer had to be … almost a Superman."
At that moment Clark's beeper went off. He glanced at the readout. "It's Jimmy."
"Want to head back to the Planet?"
"No, there's a pay phone over there. I'll be right back." Clark rushed over to the kiosk. A short while later he was back. "Richard LaMesa worked for Digital Technologies, once a subsidiary of Lex Labs. Was here on business, but that's not what's interesting. It appears our Mr. LaMesa was a womanizer. One of his "ladies" just walked into the police station over on Decker and gave a statement. She said she and LaMesa had had a rendezvous which lasted until one a.m. LaMesa had dropped her off at the Slap Happy Bar and Grill about one-thirty. Coroner's report places the death around two."
"Why is she just now coming forth with the information?"
"I don't know," Clark admitted, "but Henderson passed along her address in case we wanted to talk to her."
"Sounds good to me," Lois said, and started up the vehicle.
The prostitute yielded no clues as to LaMesa's death, but she freely admitted that she had been scared to death to find out her last customer had met such a grisly end, hence her initial reluctance to come forward. However, she did give them one tidbit to pursue. LaMesa had originally met her at the Hard Eight.
"Looks like we're due a visit to the Hard Eight," Lois commented.
"I'd rather I go it alone," Clark began.
"If you think you can stop me …"
"But I know better than to suggest it," he finished.
Late that night, they dressed accordingly, hoping to blend in with the rest of the riffraff that frequented the bar, and spent a useless four hours nursing beers and mingling carefully among the dregs of humanity. They didn't get home until well after midnight, whereupon Lois tossed her red leather bustier upon the couch and plopped down next to it. "I'm going to have a talk with that dry cleaners about what they've done to my clothes," she muttered. "That's the second outfit this week they've shrunk where I can barely get into it."
Clark leaned over the back of the sofa, grinning. "It's still a killer outfit," he whispered.
Lois playfully slapped the hand that had begun to slip off her shoulder and head south. "Well, that was time well-spent tonight, don't you think?" she remarked sarcastically.
"Any one of those men could have been who we were looking for," said Clark, rising and walking over to the fireplace. "One thing's for certain, though … whoever is doing the killing is finding their prey at that club. We just have to stake it out until the murderer tries to play his hand again."
Lois watched as her husband proceeded to speed-spin into his Superman uniform. Clark gave her a warm smile, noticing how exhausted she looked. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked.
"Yeah. Just tired, as usual. Think I'll take a quick shower. Want me to wait up for you?"
"I may be all night," he told her.
"Still, wake me up when you get in so I won't worry about someone spiking your drink with a Kryptonite Fly." She wearily got to her feet and walked over to kiss him. After he had flown out the window, she pickup up her bustier and started up the stairs.
Despite another three-hour vigil watching the Hard Eight, Superman failed to notice anyone suspicious, or anyone looking as though he might be following another with the intent to cause harm. He took another hour flying over Metropolis, alert to anything out of the ordinary, but again he ended up empty-handed.
The next morning when they entered the newsroom, they were met with a summons to report to Henderson ASAP. There had been another murder.
Unlike the first three murders, the latest one took place on the north side of town, far from the dockside area. When they arrived, the meat wagon had just loaded the stiff, and the police had cordoned off the alley where the body had been found by a group of boys taking a shortcut on their way to school.
Henderson met them as they were allowed past the tape. "Thanks for the information you faxed," he began.
"Glad to do it," Clark acknowledged. "Any clues yet?"
"None," the inspector shook his head. "But it's our guy, no doubt about it."
"Mind if we look around?" Lois asked.
"Just remember — "
"Don't touch anything," the couple chorused. Once they had removed themselves some distance from the crowd and the investigating officers, Lois shielded her husband as he ran his x-ray vision over the area.
"Maybe." He walked over to the far wall, several feet from where the body had laid, and squatted, digging under a pile of trash. He pulled an object from the pile, wiped it off, and handed it to her.
"What is this? A button?"
"Not just a button," Clark whispered. "It's twenty-four karat gold."
"Get out!" Lois said surprised. She stared at the button a moment longer. "Think it's connected to the murders?"
"No telling. It could have already been here, for all we know. But at this point, anything's worth checking out."
"What's … what's this on the top? It looks like a crest of some sort."
"I saw that, too." Clark took it from her to examine it further. "We can get Jimmy to run a check on family crests. Then again, it could just be a manufacturer's stamp from the company who made it."
As they left the scene, a dark figure watched from the alley some distance away. He was breathing heavily from his exertions — from the trill of the hunt — and he had to strain his already keen hearing to take in what was said between the two reporters.
He had heard how good they were. He had been warned to stay as far away from them as possible. He'd even heard they were close friends to the one called Superman, and Superman as one person to avoid at all costs.
Pulling his hat down over his face, the figure pulled back further into the shadows. Less than a heartbeat later, a bag lady pushing a loaded shopping cart wheeled her goods into the alley for a brief respite. The narrow passage was empty, but she gasped in alarm to see two bloody footprints on the asphalt near where she stood. Hurriedly, she left for the sanctuary of another, safer alley, never mentioning her find to anyone, afraid to get involved.
"This is getting frustrating," Clark admitted.
Lois looked up from her computer. Her husband was chewing on the end of a pencil, unaware that he was shredding it finer than a feather brush. She pointed to her mouth, then to his, and Clark sheepishly dumped the pencil in the trash. "I don't doubt it. You sure you didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary last night?"
He shook his head, leaning back in his chair with a sigh. "Nothing. I even took in that section of town! I have every sense on full alert. How on earth could I not have heard the attack?"
"Well … maybe the murderer is a ghost," Lois said.
Clark glanced at her and saw the pixie twinkle in her eye. "At this point, I'm willing to entertain any idea," he said soberly. "But I have been wondering if we're looking for someone new to the city. Think about it … all of a sudden we have this wave of gruesome murders."
"It's either someone new in town, or someone just released from prison, you think?"
By way of answering, Clark pulled up a list of recently paroled inmates from Metropolis Penitentiary. That was a dead end, unfortunately.
"Don't worry, Clark. You'll catch him, or them, sooner or later," she tried to reassure him.
"Yeah, but how many more people have to lose their lives before I do?"
After notifying Henderson of the fact that they might have a lead, they took the button to S.T.A.R. Labs for analysis, and continued to investigate the backgrounds of the previous victims.
However, they could find nothing to tie them together. More and more it was looking like a series of unrelated killings. More determined than ever, Superman patrolled the city again that night, determined more than ever to find the murderer.
Late night, as Lois sat at her secretary paying bills, she received a phone call from Jimmy, who apologized for the time. "What are you doing at the Planet this time of night?" she asked, half-jokingly and half-serious.
"Oh, they're fumigating my apartment, so the Chief told me I could bunk out on the couch in his office until the place was habitable again. Sure beats having roaches crawl over you in the middle of the night," he laughed.
Lois shivered as he continued.
"Anyway, the reason I called is because it's too quiet in here, so I thought I'd get some work done … maybe pull in some comp time while I was at it. And a fax came in from S.T.A.R. Labs."
"Yeah. I thought you'd like to hear about it now instead of waiting until morning. Clark was right; it's made of solid gold, and the picture on the top is a crest. I checked this website I know that has a list of old family crests from Europe and England, and guess what? It's of an old family from pre-Revolutionary Russia!"
"Yeah! Ain't that a trip? And you're not going to believe this next thing …"
"The Goodwill Exchange," Lois interrupted before Jimmy could say it.
There was an appreciative pause on the other end of the line. "Anyone ever tell you you're good?"
"Pull up everything you can on this Assistant Secretary, Jimmy. I especially want to know his itinerary, and if the date of his arrival in town preceded the first murder."
"You got it."
"Oh, and one more thing?"
"Thanks," she smiled.
"No problem. See you tomorrow morning."
Hanging up the receiver, Lois stared unseeing at the far wall of the apartment, her mind going a hundred miles an hour as she chewed on this latest development. She couldn't wait until Clark returned from patrol to tell him of her discovery.
The weatherman had predicted an early snow for the area. Already bits of frost hung from the eves of the tallest buildings in town, and Superman could see the homeless drawing in their shelters of cardboard and lumber scraps like a wagon train converging, in an attempt to ward off the coming winter.
Tonight he was determined not to let even the smallest noise go without being inspected. Whoever the killer was, he was strong and silent, leaving virtually no clues. With all his great strength and powers, Superman knew he could defeat this person if he could only catch him in the act. And if it took night after night of endless patrolling, he promised himself he'd bring the murderer to justice.
He was sailing over the north side of town, close to the power and light company, when his super-hearing caught a sound he was not familiar with. It wasn't very loud, but it was suspicious in its difference. Normally he would have ignored such a sound — there were lots of new and unusual things he was discovering every day from living in the big city — but now, because of recent circumstances, he flew down to check out the cause of the noise.
He landed near a building where a pile of old transmitters awaited the recycling plant. A dark-clad figure was struggling with a man Superman recognized as a hired contract killer he had tracked last year, only to give up when the man went underground, virtually disappearing from the face of the earth. He started to rush over and stop them when, with a thick, audible snap, the contract killer's neck was broken, and the dark figure slashed the man's throat with a single swipe of his arm.
Stunned, Superman paused for a heartbeat, then tried to grab the killer. Before he was aware, the killer simply shrugged, and the Man of Steel was thrown a good thirty feet into the air, landing amid the mountain of transmitters.
He shook his head with bewilderment as he got to his feet, and saw the killer hunched over his victim. A split-second later, the killer arose and disappeared around the corner of the building. Superman followed, and stopped dead in his tracks. The killer had vanished — had simply disappeared, almost in thin air.
Using his super senses, Superman could find no trace of the killer, not a scent, nor a footprint. Unable to believe what had just happened, he flew to the nearest precinct to report the crime, then returned home. The Midnight Slasher had claimed his victim for the night, and Metropolis's superhero had been helpless to stop him.
"I had him in my hands! I saw him kill! And he tossed me away like a wadded up newspaper!"
"Maybe he caught you off-guard," Lois suggested.
"No way," Clark snapped, angry at himself and his inability to stop the crime. He whirled into a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, and accepted the can of soda his wife placed in his hands. "This man … his strength was incredible!"
"Maybe he works out. Or maybe it's just hereditary."
Giving her a cautious eye, he wondered what she was implying by that cryptic remark. "What do you mean, hereditary?" Lois told him about the phone call from Jimmy, about the gold button, and the crest stamped on it. Clark froze, mentally recalling every minute detail of that night. "The killer wore a dark wool cloak with a hood. I distinctly remember it fastened with gold buttons, but I didn't pay close enough attention to see if they bore the same crest. I was too busy trying to stop him."
"Is there anything else you remember?"
"Only that between the time he threw me into that pile of metal and I was able to get my hands on him again, all the blood had been drained out of the victim." Clark looked up at her. "We're talking about the space of a second, no more than two."
Lois got to her feet and began to pace across the living room rug. Initially it was her husband's habit, and now she'd taken it to herself. Strangely, she found she was able to concentrate between when she was up and moving. "Okay, let's see what we have so far. One, we have a sold gold button bearing the crest of an old Russian family. Second, we know that the victims' bodies were drained of blood, as there wasn't enough blood around them to support them bleeding to death. Next, we know that the attacks take place only at night …"
Clark immediately saw where this was heading and interrupted. "And we know that this guy is incredibly strong … as strong as Superman. Lois, you don't think our murderer is a vampire, do you?"
His wife gave him a look as if he'd suddenly gone off the deep end. "A vampire?"
"Okay, okay, I know it sound ludicrous …"
"Clark, there are no such things as vampires. They're fairy tales! How on earth could you possibly believe such a thing, much less bring it up?"
Clark shrugged, giving her a weary smile. "Five years ago, Lois, you would have sworn there were no such things as aliens from outer space, either," he pointed out.
As they expected, the next morning as they entered the newsroom, Lois and Clark were met with the report that another victim had been found the night before. They hurried over to the coroner's office to confirm that it, too, matched the M.O. of the previous victims. "He bled to death due to extreme lacerations to the throat and upper chest," Dr. Walden told them.
"Do you think it could be the same killer?" Lois asked, taking notes. Although she knew her husband had no need to write anything down, what with his super memory, she had learned long ago not rely on him being there for her when she needed some pertinent information. Besides, she'd gotten into the habit of jotting everything down — just because she was married to a walking encyclopedia of information didn't give her reason to forego tradition.
Dr. Walden pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "In my opinion, yes, it is."
"Not a copycat?" Clark emphasized, needing to be absolutely certain.
"In my expert opinion," Dr. Walden repeated, "it's the mark of the same man."
They thanked the coroner and left the morgue. "Okay, now what?" Lois asked as they decided to walk the six blocks back to the Daily Planet. "We're at a dead-end except for that stupid button."
She looked over and noticed a very serious expression on Clark's face, an expression she knew well. "What?"
Sighing, he dug his hands into his pants' pockets. "Lois, now may not be the time nor the place to bring it up, but these past few weeks have been so busy, what with Trask and Mxyzptlk, and the other cases. But I've been doing some heavy thinking …"
"Wait, wait." Lois held up a hand, stopping in her tracks. "You're not going to bring up that artificial insemination argument again, are you?"
She reached out and grabbed the lapels of his jacket and jerked him toward her. "Listen up, big guy," she growled, yet Clark could tell she was trying to make light of the situation. "I told you before, and I'll keep telling you until you get it through that thick skull of yours … I don't want another man's child. I want your child. All you."
"But, Lois, I … you know I can't father children. Not with a woman from Earth, at least."
Letting go, she turned and continued down the sidewalk. "Discussion is closed, as far as I'm concerned."
Clark hustled to catch up to her long-legged stride. "Very well. Consider it closed. But we never fully delved into the adoption angle …"
"Clark …" Facing him again, Lois suddenly wrapped her arms about his neck and gave him a warm but brief kiss. Pulling back slightly so she could look him eye-to-eye, she said, "Yes, I want children. So badly I can taste it. No, erase that. Bad choice of words. I want to have your child grow inside me." Her voice dropped an octave, becoming soft with emotion. "We'll get through this. Maybe it's a phase we're going through. After all, we're still basically newlyweds. Maybe we're trying to rush things."
"Do you honestly think we're trying to rush things, Lois?"
She sighed and bowed her head. "I don't know what to think anymore. I'm tired, and I'm cranky … Look, let's just drop it for now and go back to the office."
"The subject isn't over," he reminded her gently.
Lois nodded. "As far as I'm concerned, it is. Now, can we just get back to talking about serial killers?"
Giving a small sigh of resignation, Clark smiled gently at her. "Okay. Deal. No more baby talk while there's murder afoot."
"Thank you, Sherlock Kent."
Returning to the Planet, they found that Jimmy had spent most of the night finding out what Lois had asked for. As he bowed his head, smiling as Lois fussed at him like a foster mother, he explained that Perry's couch in the office was way to uncomfortable, and the empty newsroom had given him the quiet he needed to do some uninterrupted research. "You're going to give me big pat on the back when you hear this. It seems the first three victims did sort of have a connection. You remember Richard LaMesa, our guy from Detroit. Well, telephone records show he placed six calls to an unlisted number here in Metropolis. Get this … phone company released that information. The number belongs to one Stuart Wayne Porter."
Lois's eyes lit up. "And Bouncing Billy was also connected to Porter!"
"What about our Rambo?" Clark asked.
"Ditto on his connection with Porter. My guess is LaMesa was working for Porter and dealing for him in Detroit," Jimmy surmised.
Clark clapped the young man on the shoulder. "Excellent detective work, Jimmy. Any word yet on our latest victim?"
Lois looked at her husband. "Looks like we're due a visit to Mr. Porter."
Jimmy stared at them in confusion. "You mean you guys don't know?"
"Know what?" asked Lois.
"The body they found this morning over by the power plant was Stuart Porter!"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, and a haunted, painful expression crossed Clark's face. Scratch one lead, one definite suspect, and possibly a quick solution to these ghastly murders.
The short, swarthy-faced man looked up from his desk when his associate gently knocked at the door. "Come in."
The young man entered the room, bowed before his desk, and apologized for the interruption. "Forgive the intrusion, Comrade, but two reporters from the Daily Planet are here to speak with you. They do not have appointments, but they say they are here to speak with you about a legal matter."
The older man inclined his head slightly, then dismissed the young man with a wave of his hand. Presently, he followed the associate to the outer room where his entourage met with guests and fellow dignitaries.
Lois stood as the Assistant Secretary entered the room; her keen eye took in the man's short but well-built, muscular stature. Pasting a smile on her face, she held out her hand, which the gentleman took and unexpectedly placed a kiss on the back of it. "Secretary Deyavich?" she began, tongue tripping slightly over the Russian syllables.
"Deyavichnirova," the man correctly good-naturedly. "You can call me 'Dey'. It is a form of, how do you say it? Nickname. And you are …"
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she concluded, finding herself charmed despite herself.
"And you are most lovely," Secretary Dey completed. He turned to the man standing beside and slightly behind her. Lois introduced them.
"My husband and my partner, Clark Kent."
A flash of anger, so brief and intense, darkened the Secretary's eyes, but was gone in less than a heartbeat. For a moment Clark wondered if he'd imagined it as the two of them shook hands.
Showing the couple to a pair of wing-backed chairs beside a sofa, the Secretary invited them to sit, then ordered his associate to bring tea. "I hope you will join me," he said to the two reporters.
"I miss my homeland; this is one of my few connections left, my tea time. Are you familiar with our tea, Mr. Kent?"
Something was very wrong with the entire scenario. It ran in tiny volts of electricity up his spine, flashing warning lights in his brain brighter than downtown Las Vegas. Secretary Dey was someone to avoid, someone to keep an eye on … someone to be afraid of. Steeling himself against the shiver that threatened to crawl up his spine, Clark politely answered, "In fact, I have, Secretary. Several years ago I spent six months in the Ukraine."
"Are you from the Soviet Union, or from one of the provinces?" Lois inquired.
"Actually my family lines can be traced back to thirteenth century Romania."
"Isn't Romania part of Transylvania?" Clark interrupted.
"It borders Transylvania, yes. Near Hungary." Secretary Dey turned his attention back to Lois. "My associate said you were here about a legal matter?"
Putting on her professional face, Lois went to the meat of the matter. "You and your party are visiting the United States on what the White House is calling the Good Will Exchange Tour, is that correct?"
Secretary Dey bowed his head slightly. "Correct. After I am finished here, I will travel on to Chicago, then Washington D.C. before returning to Russia. Your Vice-President is in my country, also touring several of our cities and countries."
"Are you also aware that a series of very brutal murders has taken place in Metropolis, all by the same killer, and all coinciding with the arrival of your entourage?"
A strange smile passed over Dey's face. "Forgive me; I fail to see your point."
Lois stood firm. "Then I'll try to be clearer. We feel that the murders and your presence are related."
"You believe someone in my company is committing these crimes?" Dey paraphrased.
"Can you account for your actions and those of your group every night this past week?" she pursued relentlessly.
As his wife battered the Russian diplomat with her barrage of questions, Clark moved protectively closer to her — more of an instinctive gesture because of his uneasiness about the secretary — and unobtrusively examined the room of the suite where they sat. Sliding down his glasses, he x-rayed the adjacent rooms, concentrating directly on the bedrooms and closets. In the largest bedroom presently occupied by the secretary, he zeroed in on the partially-open closet door where a dark swath of material hung from an inner hook. It was a dark, navy- blue, nearly black wool cloak, with gold buttons — twenty-four karat buttons bearing the exact same crest as the button he'd found in the alley near Stu Porter's body. One more zoom in, and he could see the frayed threads around the bottom hole where the last button was missing.
"… if you're accusing me or one of my people of murder, let me remind you, Miss Lane, that you have, as they say in your country, your work cut out for you. We are guaranteed asylum under the laws of diplomatic immunity," Dey said darkly.
Clark broke in. "That may be true, but foreigners who are found to have committed acts can have their visas revoked, and themselves extradited back to their own countries."
Dey straightened his shoulders, and a wall of invisible power seemed to rise between them. The man was more than formidable, Clark realized, his doubts vanishing with each passing minute. He was pure evil.
"I believe this pleasant chat must end here," the Secretary announced, rising to make his point.
"Petrov, would you be so kind as to escort our guests to the door?" he called out to his associate. The young man half-bowed from where he stood by the door, ready to show them out. Secretary Dey again took Lois's hand, hesitated a moment as he held it, then touched it gently to his forehead. "It has been a pleasure."
"This isn't the end of it," Lois replied firmly, softly.
"Yes, it is," Dey answered. He stood watching them until the door was safely closed behind them. The associate walked back over to where his mentor waited with a ramrod stiff posture.
"Shall I place the call for you?" he asked quietly.
Dey shook his head. "No, not yet. She will call me soon enough with the name of another she wants dispatched. I will tell her then."
"And then?" the associate inquired.
"And then … we shall see."
As they emerged into the late afternoon sunlight, Lois dryly remarked, "So much for your vampire theory, Mr. Kent. Look …" She held out her arms to prove her point. "Sun is shining brightly, it's almost four o'clock … why wasn't Secretary Dey inside his coffin, waiting for nighttime?"
"Lois, didn't that man give you the creeps?"
"He was … different."
"Well, while you were busy, I looked around the hotel room. That cloak I saw our suspect wear last night is hanging in his bedroom closet. And it's missing one of its buttons …"
"An exact match of the one we have," she finished, smiling.
"Then let's call Inspector Henderson."
"No, not yet." Clark held her arm to give her pause. "Look, what do we have? A button, and a coat with missing the same button? I — I can't prove it was Dey at the power plant. I didn't get that good a look at him. And we can't prove Dey was in the alley when he lost the button. He could claim one of his people was wearing the coat that night. Plus the fact that the man has diplomatic immunity is also creating a major road block."
"What do you suggest we do, then, Clark?"
"Let me stick with him tonight. He may break his pattern, now that we've alerted him that we're on to him, or he may just be cocky enough to think he's above impunity, and go ahead and seek another victim. Let's hope it's the latter."
"What about you?" Lois asked softly, concerned.
Clark smiled lovingly, cupping her face in his palm. "I'll be all right. He may be strong, but he's still no Superman."
Lois touched his hand and smiled in return, lost in the in wonder of her love for him, when a sudden lancing pain gripped her. The spasm caught her unaware, and she bent forward, clutching her stomach as she shuddered and nearly fell if Clark hadn't pulled her into his arms.
She tried to tell him what hurt, how badly it hurt, but she was unable to breathe. The pain ripped from her stomach, and tears welled in her eyes. The suddenness frightened her like nothing before — her whole being focused on the knife slowly tearing through her belly, unconscious of her husband as he called out to her, begging her to tell him what was wrong. She tried to say his name, but just a moan escaped her lips, and within seconds Clark whisked her away from the front of the hotel to the nearest hospital.
After a small series of tests, the doctors proclaimed it to be a mild case of food poisoning, especially after Lois gave the nurse a complete listing of what she'd eaten within the past twenty-four hours. After promising to lay off the raspberry and pistachio ice cream ("I thought you loved chocolate," Clark said, more than surprised to find out what she'd been putting away when he wasn't home. "I do," his wife replied, pouting prettily, "but every now and then I get a craving for something … different … know what I mean?") they went home where Clark immediately put her to bed to rest.
"Where are you going?" Lois grabbed his arm as he turned to leave.
"Remember? I need to stake out the hotel if we plan to catch Dey in the act." As he noticed the familiar gleam in her eyes, Clark started to nip that thought in the bud. "Uh-uh! No way! You listen to me, Lois Lane Kent. You're staying tonight in bed. You're not at a hundred percent, and even if you were, I would tell you you have no business going after Dey …"
"What are you going to do? Chain me up? You need someone to watch at street level for you! Besides, I'm feeling much better now that I've taken that, blech!, paregoric."
"We're partners, for crying out loud! You told me yourself that being married wasn't going to affect our partnership," she continued to argue.
"Look, this isn't some petty criminal we're tracking."
"Don't tell me you think he's a vampire again!" she frowned.
"You read the autopsy reports same as I. All the victims' bodies had been practically drained of blood. I saw the man myself bending over Porter's body."
"Clark, how many times do I have to tell you …"
"Well, whatever he is, he's dangerous."
"He's attacking the scum of the earth! I'm your ordinary — all right, I'm not ordinary — but I'm not your average, tatooed, drug- trafficking dock worker cum dog fight manager. I'll be perfectly safe!"
"Okay, okay, okay!" She leaned back against the pillows plumped at the headboard. "But do me a favor? When you catch this guy, call me?"
"Promise," Clark sighed, relieved. He leaned over the bed to give her a kiss, then straightened up to whirl into his Superman outfit. Walking over to the window, he looked back and wagged a finger at her. "Remember, rest up. I have a feeling Dey isn't going to stop when he's batting a thousand."
Lois smiled and waved, and watched her husband speed off into the night. When she was absolutely certain he was gone, she threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, tip-toed over to the closet to pull out a pair of black jeans and a shirt, and began to pull them on over her pajamas.
Lois parked the Jeep across the street from the hotel where Dey was staying, but on a feeder street in case Superman should pay attention to the surrounding area. She hoped he wouldn't spot the vehicle before Dey made his move.
Three hours passed quietly. Bored, Lois peeled the polish from her fingernails, then scolded herself. It took a lot of willpower not to peer up through her windshield to see if Superman was circling overhead, which she knew he would do at intervals.
The evening wore on, monotonous and uneventful. Several times Lois almost dozed off at the wheel, and she was sorely tempted to lie down for a few minutes across the front seat and catch a little shut-eye. But she knew the moment she did, she wouldn't be able to wake up before morning. She sang every song she could think of, then tried to sing some of them backwards. Then she tried to name every employee at the Planet, the entire menu (which she thought she knew like the back of her hand) at her Uncle Mike's restaurant, and when that didn't work, she attempted to recall every item of food she'd ever bought for Bobby Big Mouth. (Oddly enough, she could do this!)
At nearly half-past four a long dark limousine slid to a stop in front of the hotel. Even the rich and prestigious had to go to bed sometime, but Lois felt that this time she was about to hit the jackpot. Sure enough, a hooded figure emerged from the revolving doors and slipped into the back seat, and the limo took off.
She tailed the vehicle, which was child's play to keep in sight due to the diminished traffic on the streets. The car wove its way, sometimes circling a block or two before ending up back on the main thoroughfare it had been on originally and continued in a northerly direction. It looked as though it was heading for the new construction area where an old apartment building had been razed for the development of a new mall — part of the city council's attempts to revitalize that section of Metropolis. Ten minutes later, Lois's assumption was confirmed, and the limo parked behind a row of dumpsters, out of sight of the street.
She continued on for a couple more blocks, coming up behind the construction on the opposite side of the limo. Carefully she climbed out of the car, making sure the door didn't slam behind her and attract attention. Glancing up, Lois peered into the night sky, hoping to spot her husband overhead, but she could neither see nor hear him.
She maneuvered her way closer to the limo, when another car wound its way around the line of dumpsters, nearly catching her in the glare of the headlights. Lois dove for cover behind a pile of discarded lumber, and fought off a series of sneezes from the cloud of sawdust particles stirred up by her presence. She craned her neck to see if she could recognize the man stepping out of the caddy, but couldn't make out anything at that distance in the dark. Biting her lower lip, Lois tried to get closer.
The hooded figure, nearly invisible, got out of the limo, and the man from the Cadillac approached him. They exchanged words — the man obviously irritated, gesturing angrily, the hooded figure calm and barely moving. Then, without warning, the hooded figure reached up and grabbed the man by the neck; the sound of vertebrae snapping was like a gunshot in the still air.
Lois gasped in shock as a red and blue blur streaked down from the sky, knocking the hooded figure off its feet, the lifeless body of the Cadillac man slumping to a pile in the dirt. As the figure stood back up, the cowl slipped to its shoulders, and in the periphery of light the face of Secretary Dey was like the mask of death.
"Give it up, Dey!" Superman's voice boomed. "Your kind is not wanted here."
"My kind?" Dey's face took on a look of intense hatred. "What do you know about my kind? Out of my way, man of strength like steel. By tomorrow I shall be gone from your city, and you will not have me to deal with any longer."
Superman crossed his arms, determined not to fail this time. "I can't do that, Dey. You've murdered too many people for me to just forget all about it."
"They were not worth the air they breathed. Even their blood was tainted. Now, let me finish what I started." Dey started toward the body of the dead man, but Superman again rushed the foreigner. With an almost nonchalant wave of his arm, Dey swung around, catching Superman across the chest, and sending the superhero crashing into the side of the stretch limousine. The car crumpled like tinfoil, glass shattering like ice crystals.
Superman frowned, exasperated. Dey saw the look, nodding slightly in acknowledgment. "I must complete my mission. If you leave me be, I give you my word this will be my last kill," he began.
"You are not to be trusted," Superman spat back, crouching and rushing in again like a linebacker. He caught Dey around the waist, and the two tumbled end-over-end in the refuse of building materials. Instantly they were both back on their feet, nimbly circling each other, studying and evaluating their opponent.
By now Lois had moved close enough to get a good view of the fight and hear what was being said between the two men. She tried to signal to Superman that she was nearby — her plan failed when Dey turned and glared directly at her. Staring into his eyes, mesmerized for some inexplicable reason, she never knew when the man reached over and drew her out from behind her cover, circled her throat with one arm, and poised his other hand out in front of them.
Cold dread froze Superman where he stood at the sudden change of events. "LOIS!"
"Superman! I — I'm sorry!"
"LET HER GO, DEY!"
"Forgive me, but I cannot. I must complete my assignment before I leave your fair city."
"What assignment, Dey? What mission?" Superman demanded. He tried to remain calm and clear-headed. Here was a man who could snap Lois's neck quicker than he could move to save her, and the realization was nearly paralyzing.
"Let me be. Let me go my way, and you can go your way with her. Give me your word; I will trust you," Dey insisted. His grip never changed; his hand never wavered.
"Superman, don't give in to this blackmailer!" Lois cried out, more angry than scared.
Slowly Superman shook his head. "I can't let you go, Dey. I can't let you kill again."
"Even if it means her life?"
Frantically, Superman looked around, searching for anything he could use to help Lois get out of the clutches of the foreigner. Far to the left behind him was a pile of lumber, some of it turned and shaped for some future purpose. Could he use some of it to make a makeshift cross? Or stake? If he had to, could he drive a piece of wood into the man's heart?
"It doesn't matter, Dey, if you leave Metropolis or the United States altogether. Killing is wrong, and I will hunt you until the end of my days until you've been stopped."
Dey glanced at the woman in his arms, his grip never wavering. Overhead, beyond the roofs of the nearby buildings, the first faint rays of dawn painted the sky. Suddenly, without warning, he released her and shoved her toward Superman. Lois stumbled, nearly falling, as she crashed into her husband. Taken by surprise, Superman grabbed her, knocked backwards by the force of the impact.
"I only kill those deserving," Dey voiced darkly, drawing his cloak tighter about him. "Yet I will not touch life-bearers. Even those of my kind are not total monsters as you make us out to be." Then he turned and ran around the side of the building.
Superman turned to Lois, who waved off his question, giving him a little push in the bargain, before he said it. "I'm fine! Go after him! I'll call the police."
He flew off, leaping over the partially constructed walls, but there was no sign of Dey. A quick scan over the area revealed the foreigner running towards the outer limits of the city, away from the downtown area. He was moving incredibly fast, forcing Superman to put on an extra burst of speed to catch up.
He cornered him near the abandoned marketplace, diving in a neat flying tackle, bringing Dey to the ground. They wrestled briefly as Dey struggled to extradict himself from Superman's hold. Growling softly, the foreigner managed to free one arm, and slashed the superhero's upper shoulder, ripping the suit and breaking the skin. Astonished, Superman stared at the thin droplets of blood oozing from the scratches, until his unique healing system closed the wound.
'How in the …'
Dey got to his feet, but Superman launched himself at him again, tagging one leg. All bets were off now; picking up the shorter man, Superman whirled the man like a topsy-turvy, and threw him against the wall. Plaster and brick crumbled, exploding outward with the repercussion. Dey shook his head, pulling himself from the mess. He was moving slower, as though he was weakening or growing tired. For a second Superman wondered if it was because of the fight, the fact that dawn was approaching, or because he hadn't "fed" that evening. In either case, everything would be over soon.
Again the man tried to collect himself and flee, but found his escape blocked by a brightly colored figure. "I can last a lot longer than you can," Superman told him.
Dey glared up at him, and to Superman's horror, the man's face twisted, contorted, until a mask of the blackest evil stared back at him. The blood-rimmed mouth hissed, cursing him in a tongue he could not understand. The hands, more talons than human, raised up to attack him, and Dey charged at his enemy.
Nimbly Superman sidestepped, grabbed the edges of the woolen cloak, and swung the man away from him. Centrifugal force took over, launching the man up and away, hurling him into a concrete pillar. The pillar cracked and tilted, but did not fall. Dey again shook himself like a dog throwing off water, glared at his enemy, and once more charged. This time, however, he feinted at the last possible micro-second, and his shoulder rammed into Superman's stomach full force.
The Man of Steel grunted as the air rushed from his lungs, and he flew backwards, directly into a plate glass door. The double-insulated panes fell in huge chunks around him as a stunned Superman tried to catch his breath. He looked up to see Dey standing, heaving from the exertion, ready to charge again.
A single ray of sunlight peeked over the edge of the roof. The brilliant beam struck Superman across his s-shield and across the sheets of broken plate glass. The light turned golden white, making the glass glow like huge puddles of liquid fire. One of the largest portions, a V- shaped section sitting at an angle near Superman's legs, was tilted upward, catching the light, and the instant the sun's rays hit it, they were reflected back toward Dey, striking him fully across the face and chest.
Dey screamed, throwing his arms up to protect himself. He pivoted around, but the sunlight caught the back of his uncovered head. A puff of smoke erupted from his skull and the neck of his cloak. Blinded, he howled again and tried to run, but he tripped on a rock of plaster and brick, sending him to his knees. The vapor was pouring now from his neck and sleeves, billowing in the early morning breeze like a smokestack. There was a soft pop!, and the cloak suddenly dropped to the ground, flat and motionless.
For several long minutes Superman remained where he was, lying atop the pile of glass and debris, and stared silently at the remains of Secretary Dey. The sunshine across his chest and face felt good — warm and full of vibrant strength. Slowly, finally, he got to his feet, dusting himself off. Without approaching the pile of dark wool, he flew away to let the police discover for themselves what had happened in the nearly demolished construction site.
He found Lois wide awake and nervously pacing the floor of their townhouse. He entered noiselessly, but she saw him from the corner of her eye and rushed into his embrace where they melded, seeking comfort and relief in each other's arms and lips. She never asked if Dey was dead — she had no need to. And Superman was glad not to have to answer questions.
Wordlessly they walked upstairs, hand in hand, and crawled into bed to catch the last hours remaining until it was time to go to work.
"This is just incredible," Perry White noted, tossing the latest edition across Clark's desk. "What I don't understand, though, is why he did it. I mean, what could drive a man of position like Assistant Secretary Deya … Deyav … oh, hell's bells, that Russian diplomat, to kill those men?"
"Superman said that Dey mentioned something about a mission'," Clark explained.
"Unfortunately, Dey got away before Superman could find out what that mission was." He looked across the aisle to see his wife slowly sauntering over to join them. They had spent nearly an hour arguing over the fine points of the story, debating on whether to use Clark's vampire angle, or to let the story sit as a missing person's report as the police were calling it. At his wife's pleading insistence, they went with the latter.
"Well, it's the damndest thing I ever read. Man comes from another country on a diplomatic visit, kills some of the toughest, meanest, ornriest no-goodniks this city had to offer, and then just disappears into thin air. Henderson called a few minutes ago to let me know that Interpol has its men stationed at every airport and road leading back into the country. If this Deyawhatshisface guy shows even a hair on his head, they'll get him."
Lois crossed her arms, smiling softly. "I don't know, Perry. If Superman can't find him …"
Clark broke in. "I think we won't be seeing or hearing any more from Secretary Dey."
"How can you be so sure?" Jimmy spoke up.
"I don't know." Clark shrugged. "Call it … a hunch? Reporter's instincts?" He grinned, and the others smiled back.
"Well, let me say once more this is another fine job you two pulled off. I wouldn't be surprised if you both got a Pulitzer and a Kerth nomination for it." Perry started to walk back to his desk, when he noticed Clark's unusual pallor. "Say, Son, why don't you and the missus take off the rest of the day and go soak up some rays? You deserve a little R and R. You're as pale as a ghost!"
Lois and Clark turned to each other and shared a secretive little smile. "I think I'd like that," Clark replied.
After Perry and Jimmy had walked out of earshot, Clark draped an arm over his wife's shoulders, and they headed up the ramp for the elevators. "Thank you," Lois said simply.
"For not mentioning the V-word."
Clark gently shook his head. "I'm still left with more questions than answers. Like, how else could you explain that guy's incredible strength? He tore right through my suit and dug furrows in my shoulders."
"But he let me go," she reminded him. "He couldn't have been all bad. Maybe he was on a 'mission' of sorts … a mission to rid Metropolis of human vermin."
"Yeah, but how do you explain that strange remark he made. 'Life- bearers'?" Clark turned to face her as they waited for the doors to open.
"I dunno. Maybe men are more chivalrous toward their women over in Batsylvania!"
Laughing, Lois nimbly leapt through the elevator doors, playfully teasing. Clark sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward as he followed her, knowing he would never hear the last of it as long as he lived. Somehow, though, it was not something he particularly dreaded.
It was eleven-fifteen on a brisk, sunny, November morning. And the day wasn't over YET.