Guardian of Metropolis

By Jon B. Knutson (waffyjon@execpc.com)

Summary: A crimefighter keeps a careful watch on Metropolis -- nope, it's not Superman.

Based on stories originally appearing in Secret Origins (second series) #19 by Roy Thomas, Star Spangled Comics #7 by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Superman (second series) Annual 2 by Roger Stern, Ron Frenz & Brett Breeding, and Jack Kirby's run on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen This story is dedicated to Jack "King" Kirby

***

Perry White walked into Metropolis General Hospital tensely. It had been only a few short weeks ago that he, Lois and Jimmy had been discharged from the hospital (see "Dreams"), and now he was returning... but this time, to visit a friend.

Perry couldn't ask Alice to come with him... she didn't know his friend, and he knew she'd feel awkward visiting someone she didn't know in the hospital. Perry had learned several years into his marriage that there were some things he had to do by himself.

As the sliding glass doors closed behind him, Perry absent-mindedly brushed the rain off his trenchcoat... wishing that he'd listened to Alice that morning and taken an umbrella with him. He knew he'd be due for an "I told you so" speech that evening, but that wasn't important right now.

Perry walked to the information desk and waited impatiently for the candy striper manning it to notice him. After several seconds, Perry cleared his throat, probably much louder than he needed to, but it did the trick. "Can I help you?" she asked in a nasal voice that Perry disliked intensely immediately.

"I'm looking for Jim Harper's room," Perry said, using a tone of voice he hadn't used since his last days as a reporter.

The candy striper (Perry noticed she wasn't wearing her name tag... another thing that biased Perry against her) sat down in front of a computer and typed a few keys. "He's in Room 212... it's down the hall, take the elevator up one floor..." Looking up, she noticed that Perry had already left.

When the elevator doors opened on the second floor, Perry was nearly run over by a group of five men, all dressed in suits, but none of them very well-tailored (Perry had noted it absentmindedly, in the fashion of a reporter who may no longer be reporting, but still had an eye for details). The men, all of whom were about five years older than Perry, at least, looked slightly familiar, but when Perry couldn't match names to the faces, he continued onward to room 212.

Behind him, one of the men, the tallest one, looked over his glasses at Perry, noting, "It appears that gentleman is most anxious to achieve his destination posthaste."

The shortest of the group, as fat as the tallest one was thin, frowned, which was enhanced by the additional worry lines appearing on his nearly bald head. "Whatever happened to being polite? He could've at least said, 'Excuse me,' but no, he just plowed right through us..."

He was interrupted by what was best described as the strongman of the quintet. "Ah, shaddup."

The other two men, an average-looking man with brown hair and an amicable-looking black man said nothing.

Perry, meanwhile, was oblivious to this exchange, having reached the door of Room 212. Since the door was closed, he knocked quietly, then opened it partly. "Jim?" Perry hissed.

He didn't hear an answer. Opening the door further, he noted the room was a private one, with a single bed. In that bed was an old man, much older than Perry remembered him being. "Oh, Jesus, Jim, I wish I'd never seen you like this," Perry whispered.

Jim Harper, whom Perry had kept forever young in his mind, was a shriveled husk of a man, his hair gray, his face wrinkled. Jim was surrounded on both sides of his bed with equipment... Perry recognized the respirator and some other machines, and realized that if it weren't for all the technology present, Jim Harper would already be dead.

"Can I help you?" a female voice said. Perry, startled for an instant, realized the voice had come from the direction of the bathroom. He'd been concentrating so long on the more dead than alive body of his friend that he hadn't heard the door open.

Turning, he saw the voice belonged to a woman, maybe five years younger than Jim. "I'm a friend of Jim's... Perry White."

The woman smiled and extended her hand. "Jim's told me about you several times over. I'm Jim's sister, Mary."

Perry took Mary's hand. "I've heard a thing or two about you from Jim, as well... I'm just damned sorry we had to finally meet under these circumstances."

Mary turned her head to look at her brother. "Me, too," she said, quietly. "I'll leave you two alone for a few minutes."

"Thank you, Mary," Perry said, his voice cracking slightly. As Mary left the room, Perry walked to the bed, getting as close as possible to his old friend.

"So, Jim, this is it," Perry said, simultaneously thinking how inane a statement that was. For a man of words, he was finding it difficult to say what he wanted to say.

Perry took a deep breath. "I know we haven't seen each other in a long time, Jim... Christ, it's been a long time... but you were one of the few people I knew as a kid in Suicide Slum who made the effort to reach out... you made sure everyone knew that it was possible to get out of there and make it in the world. I still remember the day I was named editor of the Planet... your congratulations meant more to me than anyone else's."

Perry blinked back a tear. "I never thought I'd have to see you like this, Jim... you were always the strongest, most vital person I ever knew... for 20 years, it didn't seem to me you'd ever age... I guess I was just sorta kidding myself that you'd be locked in at 40, while I'd continue aging."

Again, Perry knew he was blathering, but he continued talking in hopes of saying how he really felt. "Jim, I don't know if you're hearing me or not... but I love you, and I'm going to miss you terribly." The words sounded hollow.

Mary knocked on the door and re-entered. "Perry? I'm sorry, but it's time. I -- it can't be put off any longer... it was his last wish."

Mary was followed by a doctor whose name tag Perry was unable to read through the tears welling in his eyes. "I know," he said, stepping away. And again, so quietly that neither Mary or the doctor could hear, "I know."

Perry couldn't force himself to look as the doctor walked across the room and began shutting down the equipment that was keeping Jim Harper alive. The only sound in the room was the beeping of the one machine, indicating Jim's heartbeat, as it faltered, and then flatlined, followed by the sobbing of Mary Harper.

Finally, Perry turned back to look at the lifeless body of his friend, and then to offer what support he could to Mary.

***

In the newsroom of the Daily Planet the next day, Clark Kent and Lois Lane were busily scanning through the Planet's newly-computerized morgue, searching for stories in which Jim Harper was named.

Lois, dressed in a smartly-tailored dark grey suit and pants, with a white shirt and string tie, put her hand to her chin as she read the latest story their search uncovered. "I can't believe I'd never heard of this guy before," she said. "Officer Jim Harper should be a legend, not forgotten like yesterday's TV Guide listings."

Clark was somewhat surprised at this, given Lois' usual blasť' attitude towards any request Perry had made in the past that didn't have front page potential. "My pa used to say that policemen and firemen were the only real heroes there were... and it seems that Harper was the biggest hero of all. I've always been surprised that the people of Metropolis consider Superman to be a hero... after all, he's bulletproof, and has all those other super-powers... why is he considered a hero when policemen and firemen risk their lives every day, without the benefit of invulnerability and heat vision?"

"Well, Clark, Superman's a hero, too... he could have used his powers for personal gain, but he unselfishly uses them for the benefit of everyone." Lois continued scanning through the files. "Hmm..." she said.

"What's that?" Clark asked as he printed hard copy of one story.

"This story mentions somebody called 'The Guardian.' I've never heard of him." Lois' brows were furrowed... Clark had learned long ago that look meant she was annoyed with herself for not knowing something.

"The Guardian? Sounds like a newspaper name."

Lois pointed to the computer screen. "No, apparently the Guardian was some kind of costumed vigilante, who operated purely in the Suicide Slum area."

"Metropolis' first super-hero, eh?"

"Super-hero? I don't think so... there's nothing here that says the Guardian was anything other than a normal man. I'm going to run a search on him."

"Better not, Lois... at least until we finish researching Jim Harper... otherwise Perry will blow his stack, and we've got to be extra-careful about everything we say and do around him today."

"I hate it when you're right, Clark," Lois said unconvincingly. "The funeral's scheduled for tomorrow, right?"

"That's what Perry said... and he wants the special story on Jim Harper ready for tomorrow's edition, so we've got to have all the research done by the time he gets back."

Lois frowned again. "I'm still surprised he's not asking us to write the story... instead of doing it himself. He knows he's too close to the story to be objective."

"Maybe the chief's not worrying about objectivity this time... from what we're finding here, it looks like Perry's the only person who could do this right."

"Like I said, I hate it when you're... hel-lo! I'm finding more and more surprises from Suicide Slum all the time!" Lois said, surprised.

Clark was beginning to wonder if they'd ever finish the research with Lois going off on tangents all the time (no matter how used he was to it by now), but couldn't resist asking, "What is it now?"

"Harper was practically the original single parent, it seems... here's an article in which he'd taken on five young boys as wards."

"What?" Clark asked.

"It's all here... there were five orphaned boys who banded together to survive in Suicide Slum, kind of like the Bowery Boys... it says they called themselves 'The Newsboy Legion,' because they were the sole source for getting the Planet in Suicide Slum."

"Really?" Clark asked, turning back to his computer.

"It seems the Newsboys were picked up for petty thefts several times, and the judge finally got tired of their shenanigans, and was going to sentence them to reform school, but Harper interceded to get custody of the boys instead. Eventually, they were named his wards." Lois looked back at Clark again. "It must've been a much simpler time... there's no way a judge today would give a single man custody of five teenage boys... the tabloids would have a field day with it!"

Clark mused to himself that at least this digression had to do with Harper, but still felt he had to say something to get Lois back on track completely. "Why don't you finish searching the morgue for stories about Harper while I call the police records room and find out why they haven't faxed us that copy of his service record yet?"

"Okay, Clark... I'll take the computer over M.P.D. records personnel any day of the week." As Clark picked up the phone, Lois started working at the computer faster than before... as Clark suspected, it was easier for her to keep concentrating on the single task when she didn't have an audience to play to.

***

Perry White didn't return to the Planet until 4:45 that afternoon, which gave Lois and Clark plenty of time to finish preparing the research for him. He exited the elevator into the newsroom and collected the files from Lois and Clark without a word, then retreated to his office, and closed the door.

Jimmy Olsen walked into the newsroom just as Perry had closed the door. Heading directly to Perry's office, Lois stopped him before he could knock. "Don't disturb him now, Jimmy."

Jimmy looked puzzled. "But I've got those photos for the special feature!" he protested, waving a large manila envelope.

"I think the chief just needs to be left alone for a while," Clark offered.

As soon as the words had left Clark's mouth, Perry opened the door to his office and shouted, "Olsen! Where are those photos I wanted?!?"

"Right here, chief," Jimmy answered, handing the envelope to Perry.

Perry withdrew the photos from the envelope, and leafed through them. "Use this one, this one, and this one," he instructed, handing the chosen pictures back to Jimmy. "I want the first one cropped to three columns wide, eight inches tall, and the others, two columns by three inches... and they've got to be ready in 45 minutes."

From the tone of Perry's voice, Jimmy knew better than to argue that he was 15 minutes away from the end of the workday... besides which, Jimmy could use some overtime hours as it was.

Perry went back into his office and closed the door again, taking the remaining photos of Jim Harper with him.

Jimmy started back to the photo lab, but Lois stopped him. "Jimmy, once you've cropped those pictures for the chief, could you do me a favor?"

"I guess so, what?" Jimmy answered.

"See if you can find any pictures of the Guardian... they'd be in the files from the 40's."

"The Guardian?"

"Just do it, Jimmy," Lois said.

"I'd hoped you'd forgotten about the Guardian," Clark said as Jimmy left the newsroom.

"Not on your life, Clark... the Guardian's as much of a forgotten hero as Harper was... maybe even more so, since he was a vigilante."

"And I suppose this means you're going to keep researching this Guardian until you have a story, eh?" Clark asked. "Never mind, I already know the answer. Want some help?"

"I thought you'd never ask, partner."

***

Clark had initially offered his help just for the excuse to stick around late in case Perry needed someone to talk to, but soon found himself fascinated by the little bits and pieces of information he and Lois started gathering together on the Guardian.

By eight o'clock that evening, the two of them had discovered that the Guardian's costume was similar to Superman's in some ways... the primary color was blue, although the secondary color was gold, being the color of the Guardian's boots, trunks and gloves. Another difference was that the Guardian wore a blue mask and golden helmet. The Guardian also carried a distinctive shield that was rumored to be bulletproof, although it had also been used offensively.

The only other information they'd managed to come up with in those three and one-half hours was that the Guardian appeared to be a superb athlete and an excellent fighter. The timeframe the Guardian had appeared was from 1942 until 1949... after which the Guardian disappeared, presumably forever.

Lois and Clark noted that Perry was still in his office, only coming out for coffee occasionally... and he hadn't even acknowledged Lois and Clark's presence. The two had nearly given up on Perry leaving his office when the door opened one final time.

Perry staggered out, emotionally drained. Finally, he noticed Lois and Clark. "What're you two still doing here?" he mumbled.

"Researching another story, chief... are you okay?" Clark asked.

Perry looked up at Clark. "Okay? No, I'm not okay... but I'm better." Without another word, he headed towards the elevator.

"Wait, chief," Lois said. "It doesn't look like you're in any condition to drive... can I give you a lift?"

"That's not necessary, Lois..."

"It's no problem, chief... I have to drive Clark home anyway, and you're not that much further out of my way."

Clark started to say something about Lois not mentioning anything about driving him home, but decided against it... if Lois wanted him along, he wasn't going to protest.

The three of them entered the elevator and headed for the parking garage. None of them said a word on the way down, even after the doors opened and the trio walked to Lois' silver Jeep Cherokee.

As they drove through the streets of Metropolis, both Clark and Lois occasionally started to say something, but stopped before saying a word. In spite of this, Perry felt their support. Perry was dropped off first, since Clark's apartment was closer to Lois' than Perry's house was.

As Lois pulled her Cherokee away from the curb, she said, "I wish I knew what to say."

"Me, too, Lois... but what can you say to someone who's dealing with the death of a friend that really helps?"

"I don't know... everything you think of always sounds so stupid, and you always worry about saying the wrong thing."

"I guess the best thing to say is just, 'I'm sorry.' It doesn't seem like much, but what else is there, really?" Clark asked.

Lois frowned. "I guess so... but it's not really enough."

"I know, Lois... I know." *** That morning, while getting ready for work, Lois decided to call Perry to see if he needed a ride back to the Planet, but there was no answer at the Whites. "I guess Alice is driving him in," Lois mused. On impulse, she decided to give Clark a call.

"Hello?" Clark answered groggily.

"Clark, you sound like you just woke up!" Lois said, surprised.

"Well, actually, I did... I don't really need that much time to get ready for work, you know."

Lois suddenly did one of her patented mood changes. "Are you saying that I need a lot of time to get ready for work?" she said, angrily.

"Lois, I didn't say that... I'm sure you take only as long necessary."

"Oh, gee, Clark... I'm sorry to snap at you... I didn't sleep well last night, thinking of Perry."

Clark decided this was going to be a record-breaking mood swing day for Lois... but he could handle it, now that he'd had some warning. "That's okay, Lois... um, why did you call me?"

"Oh! I almost forgot... I thought I'd offer you a ride to the Planet and save you some cab fare, since you're the only working stiff in Metropolis who refuses to buy a car."

Clark smiled at this. "That would be great, Lois... when will you get here?"

Lois looked at her watch and made some mental calculations. "Will you be ready in 20 minutes?"

"I'll force myself to get ready faster," Clark responded. "I'll see you then?"

"Okay, Clark... bye."

Clark hung up the phone, wondering why Lois had decided today to offer him a ride. He chalked it up to her needing someone to talk to... which was fine by him, even though it seemed the only times she ever opened up to him was when something was really bothering her, such as the current situation with Perry. Clark guessed that Lois hadn't had that much experience with people close to her dying... their conversation from the night before had revealed that much, and truth be told, Clark hadn't had to deal with it himself, not really.

Taking a quick shower, Clark dried off at super-speed, then shaved using his heat vision and a hand mirror, being careful to keep the heat low enough not to crack the mirror... having already broken three mirrors in the past six months due to inattentiveness. This caused him to think that if he was superstitious, he would have 21 years of bad luck coming...

A sudden "crack!" increased that total to 28, but he was close enough to finishing that he didn't worry about it too much. A glance at his wristwatch revealed he had five minutes until Lois' arrival, so he dressed at super-speed, fried some eggs and bacon with his heat vision (in spite of the fact that they never tasted quite right when he did it that way... he was in a hurry, after all) and wolfed them down, and was at the door of his apartment just as Lois knocked.

"Good morning, Clark," Lois said, handing him a paper cup with a plastic top. "I thought you could use a latte... god knows I did."

Clark accepted the cup from Lois. "Thanks," he said before taking a sip. "Um, if you don't mind my asking, why the latte?"

Lois started towards the elevator. "It's your fee for listening to me the rest of the way to work."

Clark smiled and took another sip, following her.

***

Clark and Lois walked out of the elevator into the Planet's newsroom. Clark was vainly trying to mop up spilled latte from his suit, saying, "Well, at least now I know why you seem to wear so much brown."

"I warned you to be careful with your latte," Lois said, rolling her eyes. "Just before I hit that pothole."

"Sure -- 1.5 seconds before we hit the pothole," Clark muttered as he gave up and took his jacket off. "You know, Lois, thanks to you, I must have some of the highest cleaning bills in Metropolis."

Lois glared at Clark, not too seriously. "Oh, really?"

"Well, this particular jacket has had to have concrete and frosting cleaned off it..."

"At least your jacket was salvageable... I had to throw out one of my favorite outfits that day!"

"And was that my fault? As I recall, I wasn't involved with that until after Superman had rescued you and Professor Hamilton. And there you were, covered in wet cement..." which, Clark had to admit, Lois could make look good. "Then you had to hug me, getting cement on my jacket... and then later that night, while you were wearing it, you decided to take a header into a cake."

"Well, excuse me for showing how happy I was that you were still alive!" Lois shouted.

Clark stood there, stunned. In a matter of seconds, they'd gone from light banter to a spitting match... something that had happened several times ago. It seemed that every time he thought he knew for certain exactly where the boundary was between saying something Lois would find amusing and saying something Lois would find insulting, something like this would happen, and he was back at square one.

"Lois, I'm sorry... I didn't mean it that way. Why are we arguing over dry cleaning bills, anyway?"

Lois' expression suddenly softened. "I know, it's stupid. I guess I'm still worried about Perry and took it out on you. I'm sorry."

Jimmy Olsen, having overheard the entire exchange, murmured to himself, "They're still at it after all this time." Like many of the Planet staffers, Jimmy was bewildered that Lois and Clark still hadn't been able to get together. Even Cat Grant, before she left the Planet for another job, had asked when the two were going to just shut up and "jump in the sack." Jimmy smiled at the memory, which almost seemed to belong to someone else.

Jimmy took a peek into Perry's office to find that it was unoccupied. "Anybody know where the chief is?" he asked to everyone in general.

"Maybe he went to the funeral early?" Clark guessed.

"Who goes to a funeral early?" Lois wondered. "If it was me, I'd show up at the last minute."

"Maybe not," Clark agreed, "But we are talking about the chief here."

***

Clark was wrong, however... Perry hadn't gone to the funeral early. Instead, he'd driven to Suicide Slum, got out of the car, and started walking around, revisiting the scenes of his childhood memories.

Perry hadn't visited his old neighborhood since he was 25, when he had helped his parents move out of their old brownstone and into a better neighborhood. Although he'd heard over and over in the intervening years about how much worse Suicide Slum had become, he was still shocked that any part of Metropolis would have fallen on such hard times.

The sidewalks appeared to be more cracks than concrete, and the streets were worse. Walking past his parent's old house, he was not surprised to find the building had been condemned... although that hadn't stopped at least one family from moving in there.

Perry continued walking down the street until he was stopped by two young men, no older than 17. "You're walking through the wrong neighborhood, old man," one of them said.

Perry held his hands up, palms forward. "Now, son, I'm not looking for any trouble here."

"You found it anyway," the second one said as he drew a switchblade and waved it at Perry.

"Look, just tell me what you want, there's no need for violence," Perry said, taking a step back.

"Give us your money, old man, and maybe you'll be able to leave here without help," the first youth said, pulling a large hunting knife from where it was holstered on a worn leather belt.

Perry slowly began to reach for his wallet. "No problem... just relax... I'm not going to start anything." Taking his wallet out, he withdrew all the cash he had in it, several larger bills among them, and handed them over. "See? No tricks... you've got my money."

"Yeah, well, maybe we're not satisfied with that," the second one did, suddenly lunging at Perry.

The next thing Perry knew, he had been pushed away from the teenagers. Stepping back, he misstepped and fell. Looking up, he saw a blur of blue, and then sunlight glinting off the hunting knife as it flew through the air. "Superman?" Perry asked, trying to clear his head.

"I'm afraid not, sir," a calm, commanding voice said. Perry felt an hand take hold of his arm as he got back onto his feet.

Perry looked at his benefactor. "Who in the...?"

"You can call me the Guardian, sir." The blue and gold-clad form of the Guardian suddenly ran off, moving faster than the best Olympic sprinter Perry could recall ever seeing.

In seconds, there was no sign of the Guardian, save for the unconscious forms of the two teenage boys, one still clutching Perry's money in his hand.

Perry looked back in the direction the Guardian had run off to. "Great shades of Elvis."

***

After Perry had left Suicide Slum, he proceeded directly to Jim Harper's funeral. As he walked into the chapel, he was surprised to find that there were very few people there, aside from the honor guard provided by the Metropolis Police Department. Perry immediately spotted Mary Harper, and walked over to her. They embraced without exchanging words and sat down to await the beginning of the service.

There was a slight disturbance from the back of the chapel just before the service began. Perry turned his head to see what the noise was from, and was amazed to see the same group of five men he'd seen the other day, at Metropolis General. "Mary," Perry whispered. "Who are they? They look familiar, but I can't place them."

Mary turned in the direction Perry indicated and smiled. "They're the first hard-cases Jim straightened out... you might remember them as the Newsboy Legion."

Newsboys no longer, Perry decided, although from all indications, they may have grown older, but the five refused to grow up. Perry found their behavior curious, since they were not particularly shaken by the death of a man who had been a father to them.

Now that Perry's memory had been jogged, he remembered their names. The tall, skinny member of the group, who wore glasses and had a penchant for using five-dollar words was born Anthony Rodrigues, but was better known by the nickname Big Words. The strong-man appearing member of the group, whose tie was loosened and had a lock of reddish-gray hair hanging over one eye, would be Patrick MacGuire, nicknamed Scrapper. Thomas Thompkins, nicknamed Tommy, was the apparent leader of the group, having one of those faces that was quintessentially American... if not for his age, he could have been described as the boy next door. John Gabrielli, the most talkative member of the group, had been nicknamed Gabby long ago. Gabby's hairline had been fighting a losing battle with his forehead for several years, apparently. The final member of the group, a handsome black man, was Walter Johnson, nicknamed Flip long before the comedian famous for "Geraldine Jones" had acquired the name.

Perry realized he was staring at them, and turned back. He was 100% certain that the grown-up Newsboy Legion was acting the parts of mourners, rather than actually meaning it. He couldn't figure out why... but his reporter's instincts told him there had to be some reason. He made a mental note to himself to talk to them later.

Now, however, the service was beginning. Perry missed the introduction of the pastor who was conducting the service, but didn't want to bother Mary by asking... it would've been rude.

After some time, the pastor invited the attendees to come up and say a few words about Jim Harper. Perry wasn't surprised when Mary was the first one at the podium.

"As you know, Jim Harper was my only brother. He was also my best friend, through thick and thin. Even as children, there was no sibling rivalry between us, no jealousy at all. Jim was always there for me when I needed him, no matter how trivial the need was.

"I remember when our parents moved us out of Suicide Slum. Jim was 12 and I was eight. As we drove away, Jim told me that he'd come back to Suicide Slum one day to do what he could... our parents didn't believe him, but I knew he was as good as his word.

"As soon as Jim was old enough, he applied to the police academy, and excelled there, as we knew he would. He could have been anything he wanted to, but he knew the only job for him was as a policeman. I only wish that our parents were still alive when Jim graduated.

"At that time, Jim and I were sharing a small apartment on the money our parents had left us. This was supplemented with what Jim was making, as well as what little I could contribute working as a waitress. I remember when he volunteered to be assigned to Suicide Slum. I didn't want him to do it, but knew I couldn't talk him out of it... he was just carrying out his promise from ten years before.

"Looking out from here, I know every one of us benefited from knowing Jim one way or another... and I know that everyone he helped has gone on to success in their chosen fields. This was the greatest tribute anyone could pay to Jim... and was the only reward he ever wanted. Thank you."

Perry offered to speak next... telling the gathering about how Jim Harper had helped him out when he was a boy in Suicide Slum. When he left the podium, the Newsboys came forward.

Gabrielli, or Gabby, stepped up to the podium, the others standing behind him. "I've been asked to speak for all five of us. Jim Harper was the only cop who ever gave a damn about Suicide Slum... pardon my language. If it weren't for him, all five of us would be in jail now, or dead.

"He was the father we never had before, and steered us on the right path whenever we would stray. He taught us more than we could begin to say, and he lives on... in everyone here."

Perry thought that was an odd pause, but he filed it away in the back of his mind.

There were a few other speakers, each telling their own story about Jim Harper, then the honor guard from the Metropolis Police Force lead the mourners out of the chapel to the cemetery behind, carrying Harper's coffin.

Perry would've preferred to be one of the pallbearers, but since it was the only tribute the MPD had offered, he didn't argue the point. He was sure the Newsboys would've wanted it as well.

The remainder of the service went by in a blur to Perry... before he knew it, he was passing by the grave and tossing in a handful of soil, then he was offering his sympathies to Mary once again. The next thing he realized, he was in his car, driving to the Planet.

If Perry had stayed at the cemetery longer, he might have been surprised to see the Newsboys staying at the gravesite until it was filled. When they were alone at Harper's grave, a tall, powerfully-built man wearing a trenchcoat and a hat covering his face in shadow approached them.

"This is... strange... almost like something out of Huck Finn," the man said in a strong, husky voice.

"I can imagine... there are some similarities, aren't there?" Tommy asked.

"This was the best thing to do, though, wasn't it?" the man asked, looking up from the grave and to the Newsboys.

Perry White would have been shocked to find that the face was that of Jim Harper, but the young, vibrant Jim of his childhood. He would have been doubly shocked to find that Jim Harper was the Guardian.

Harper joined the Newsboys as they walked to their vehicle, a large sedan Scrapper had nicknamed "The Whiz Wagon," due to the special features built into it, from the protective armor hidden within it to the bulletproof glass. Despite all the modifications, it was likely the fastest car in Metropolis... as well as the only one that had the capability to travel over water or underwater.

For the time being, though, the Whiz Wagon was being used for more standard traveling, driving from the cemetery towards Suicide Slum, Big Words taking the wheel. At the edge of Suicide Slum, an electronic beam was emitted by the sedan that opened a hidden garage door in the side of one building that looked dilapidated, but was in reality the most stable building in that part of Metropolis. After entering the building, the door closed again and the car stopped. The floor beneath the Whiz Wagon started dropping, lowering the Whiz Wagon deep below the surface.

Tommy flipped a switch on the dashboard, and spoke. "This is Thompkins, Code 13X Bravo. The Whiz Wagon is approaching the Zoomway... disengage all defensive systems."

A voice answered, "Acknowledged, Thompkins... defensive systems disengaged. Welcome back."

Seconds later, the floor stopped moving, and a new set of doors opened, revealing what had at one point been a planned extension of Metropolis' subway system, but which had been abandoned for lack of funds. It had since been completed, but not as a subway... the cavern had been excavated to be the largest tunnel in the state, well-lit and providing a smooth driving surface. To the Newsboys and Harper, this was the Zoomway, the route to their headquarters.

The Whiz Wagon was put on automatic pilot with the flip of a switch, and the car's engine roared to life, achieving within seconds speeds that would not be safe to drive on the streets of Metropolis. Despite the speed, however, the ride was smooth, and the Whiz Wagon was able to handle twists and turns in the Zoomway easily.

At the end of the Zoomway, several miles outside of Metropolis, the automatic system slowed the Whiz Wagon down and brought it to a stop.

The end of the Zoomway had opened up into a large underground garage. Several vehicles were parked in there. The garage had a very high ceiling, and up on one wall was an observation platform. From the floor, the Newsboys could see only the silhouettes of the personnel behind the glass.

Emblazoned on one wall, as well as on the breast of the yellow jumpsuits worn by men and women rushing out to service the Whiz Wagon, was a red stylized DNA emblem.

One of the men approaching the Whiz Wagon stopped and saluted the Guardian and the Newsboys. "Welcome back, sirs," he said. Then looking at the Guardian only, he said, "Your cycle's ready to go when you are."

"Thank you," the Guardian replied, "Boys, I'll see you later."

Tommy smiled... although Jim Harper was now physically younger, he still referred to the grown-up Newsboys as "boys," and individually as "son." "Heading back so soon?" he asked.

"Yes... I just needed to get the cycle."

The Newsboys watched the Guardian mount the motorcycle and speed off down the Zoomway. "It is most advantageous that Jim is unaware of his actual status," Big Words said.

Scrapper frowned. "Like we're gonna tell Jim the real truth? Get real!"

The Newsboys filed out of the garage in silence and proceeded to their individual offices. The complex was vast, and filled with the highest technology available anywhere on earth, all devoted to the development of cloning technology and DNA manipulation. The entire project, whose funding was hidden within the budgets of many other government projects, was code-named Cadmus, after the Greek mythology tale.

The Project had begun last year, after an apparent clone of Superman was sighted in Metropolis. After Luthor's death, information was easier to get out of Lexcorp personnel, and copies of the plans for Luthor's cloning process were obtained, studied, and discarded after it was learned that the clones wouldn't be stable.

The major breakthrough came when Cadmus secretly provided Emil Hamilton with equipment and funding to develop his own cloning process. Hamilton's process was unique from Luthor's, as it created clones complete with the memories and personality of the original. Unfortunately, Hamilton decided that his first subjects would be gangsters of the prohibition era, seeing the point of his experiment as being more psychological than anything else.

Fortunately for Cadmus, Hamilton was not aware where his assistance had come from.

Combining Luthor's and Hamilton's processes gave them the key to breaking the DNA code and creating clones for specific functions and duties. In fact, aside from the Newsboys and other administrators at Cadmus, most of the staff were clones created simply to keep Cadmus running.

The adult Newsboys had been pulled into the Project from the beginning, bring their own unique skills and knowledge to the job. In all but name, the Newsboys ran the project. Several days ago, when they learned that their mentor, Jim Harper, was dying of old age, they saw an opportunity to repay him for what he'd meant to them from their days in Suicide Slum. Jim Harper had decided to adopt the identity of the Guardian after one evening in 1942. Jim came off duty that night to be greeted by the Desk Sergeant. Harper's uniform was dirty and stained from the patrol's activities.

"From the miserable looks o' ye, Harper, ye must've had an interestin' day," Sgt. O'Riley said between sips of coffee.

With a grim smile on his face, Harper answered, "Suicide Slum is an interesting neighborhood, Sarge."

"Well, yer off-duty now, so on home with ye, and get yerself cleaned up," O'Riley advised. "Oh, and play it careful, hear? Word is there's a couple'a hoods on the street layin' for you, 'cause you been comin' down hard on 'em."

Harper disregarded the warning with a gesture. "Don't worry, Sarge... this is one rookie who can take care of himself!"

Jim changed out of his uniform in the locker room, putting on an inexpensive blue suit, and left the precinct house, humming "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire."

Across the street, three men awaited him.

The first, wearing a cap low over his face and a purple jacket with the collar up, tossed his cigarette to the ground and crushed it with his food. "Here comes that rookie now!" he hissed.

The second, with light brown hair and wearing a green jacket, said nothing, while the third. dressed in brown with a fedora, said, "Wait'll he takes his usual shortcut home through the alley."

In those days, Jim Harper was about as careless as he was cocky. As he walked down the alley, he discovered that careless and cocky were not a winning combination, as the three men attacked him with truncheons, boards, fists, and whatever else they could hit him with.

Leaving Jim's limp body in the alley, the leader of the group said, "This cop's tough, but we sure softened 'im up!" as they walked away.

For several long minutes, Jim just laid in the alley, moaning. Finally, he struggled to his feet. "This is the last straw," he said between moans as he struggled out of the alley. "A guy can take... just so much," he thought. Looking across the street from the alley, he saw a closed store with a sign over the window announcing it as "Don's and De's Costumes." It was like a revelation to Jim Harper.

Staggering across the street, he muttered, "I'm going to settle this with those punks... once and for all!"

It didn't take much effort on Harper's part to force the door of the costume shop open. Looking around the store, he thought, "Yeah, looks like I've come to the right place, all right." Not wasting time until he managed to trip over a burger alarm, Jim began to search quickly through the costumes, choosing a set of blue tights for freedom of movement, a full-head blue mask, and a golden crash helmet and gloves. Looking in the mirror, he felt as though he'd just stepped out of the Sunday Flash Gordon comic strip. Seeing a suit of armor, it reminded him that he'd felt a shoulder holster under the jacket of one of the hoods, and that it wouldn't hurt to have more protection than just the crash helmet.

His eyes scanned the store, searching... until they lit on a golden shield hanging on the wall. The shield was a real antique, and very hard. Deciding that was all he needed, Jim placed a wad of bills next to the cash register to cover the cost of the costume, and stepped out of the store.

Jim had recognized the voice of one of the men who attacked him... and recalled that man always hung out at a pool hall not far from the costume shop. Jim started down the deserted street at a trot, heading for the pool hall.

It was Jim's lucky night... all three of the thugs were in the pool hall. One of them saw Jim enter the door, and shouted, "Uh-oh! Trouble!"

"Trouble?" Jim said, striding towards them. "No... I just came into shoot a little pool, guys."

Jim delivered a haymaker to the leader of the group that sent him flying onto the pool table. "This is one for the side pocket!"

As Jim started in on another one, the third swung a pool cue on his head, which broke on hitting the crash helmet. "I thought this helmet would come in handy," Jim said, slamming the thug with his shield.

Before the thugs could revive from his beating, Jim tied them up with some rope he discovered in the back room of the pool hall. Jim had also discovered a satchel in the back room with the rope. Looking over the contents, he found it was full of money. "What's this?" he said to himself. "The serial numbers on these bills are the same as those of the Johnson ransom money... in my line of work, you tend to remember little details like that. Kidnappers, eh?"

One of the thugs had revived by now. Straining against his ropes, he said, "Hey, who are you, anyway? And what's the idea of pullin' this super-hero stuff on us?"

" 'Super-hero?' Now there's a phrase I haven't heard before," Jim responded. "Why, I'm sort of a... er... guardian, I guess."

Jim smiled to himself. "Yes, a guardian of society... against you kind!"

Jim phoned in an anonymous tip to the police, and then left the pool hall.

It was the next day that Jim Harper's life began to intertwine with the Newsboys, first picking them up for petty theft, and then talking the judge out of sending the to reform school, which resulted in his being named their guardian.

Jim hadn't planned on donning the blue-and-gold costume again, but time and again circumstances developed that made it best for the Guardian to act where Patrolman Harper couldn't. The Newsboys had seen right through Jim's disguise, but he still denied that he had a secret identity until the Newsboys had all gone to college, and Jim was promoted to desk sergeant. Eventually, Jim wasn't able to find time to act as the Guardian, and retired his secret identity.

But that was over 50 years ago. The Newsboys had developed a clone of Jim Harper from a cell sample taken when they had visited the hospital just before Perry's own visit. It was just the night before that Jim's new body had emerged from the tank it was grown in, with all of Jim's lifetime memories, but housed in a youthful body.

Jim at first felt like some kind of laboratory freak, but he was assured that the Newsboys had managed to transplant his brain into the new body after his old body had died. The truth of the matter was that, like Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde some weeks ago, this Jim Harper was entirely new, and in reality only days old.

The Newsboys regretted the lie, but didn't see any other way out.

***

At the Planet, Clark and Lois were busily working at their terminals when Perry returned from the funeral. He left the elevator and went straight for Lois and Clark's desks.

"I'd like you two to do some more research for me... on the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion," Perry said in a gruffer tone of voice than he intended.

Lois pulled open a desk drawer and pulled out two bulging file folders. She handed them over to Perry, saying, "Here you go, chief."

Perry looked surprised. "Great shades of Elvis, you two never fail to surprise me." He started paging through the files.

Lois gave Clark a look that Clark interpreted as meaning, "See? I had a good reason for getting those files, even if I didn't know it at the time."

"Chief, if you don't mind my asking, why do you need that information?" Clark asked.

"Hm? Oh, sorry, Clark. What was the question?"

"I was wondering why you wanted information on the Newsboys and the Guardian."

Perry leaned forward, motioning to Lois and Clark to draw closer. "First of all, this morning, I visited Suicide Slum, where I was held up by two boys..."

"Oh, that's awful," Lois commented.

"That's okay, though... the Guardian came out of nowhere and dealt with them."

"The Guardian?" Lois and Clark said, Lois just a half-beat behind Clark this time.

"It couldn't be the same Guardian as the one from the 1940's, could it, Chief?" Clark asked.

"I wouldn't think so... but it he sure looked like the same one... and if he was, he hadn't aged a day."

"So what about the Newsboys?" Lois asked.

"I saw them at Jim Harper's funeral... maybe it's just me, but my reporter's instincts say they didn't act the way they really should have at the funeral."

Clark looked at Lois. "Well, chief, some people have a hard time dealing with death, you know..."

"I know, Clark, I know... but there was something strange about how they were acting... I can't put my finger on it, but there was definitely something."

Perry stood up straight again. "Thanks for having this handy, Lois... I'm going to look through these for a bit."

Perry went to his office and closed the door.

"I wonder what he's got on his mind?" Lois asked.

"I couldn't tell you," Clark answered, getting up from his char.

"Where are you going?"

"I just remembered something I need to do... it can't wait. I'll be back in a while."

As Clark went to the elevator, Lois murmured, "I hate it when he does that," but thought simultaneously that there was something... intriguing about Clark when he started acting like that. Almost like there was something else beneath his farmboy-in-the-big-city exterior.

Clark took the elevator to the top floor, then took the stairwell to the roof. He briefly noticed the exterior framework being started in preparation to putting a larger version of the globe in front of the building on the roof. He changed quickly to Superman, and flew off in the direction of Suicide Slum.

***

Harold and Nancy Jones had lived in Suicide Slum all their lives... and never once wanted to leave, because they'd shared too many memories there. Certainly, there were better parts of Metropolis to live in, but they felt like their lives were too intertwined with Suicide Slum to ever seriously consider leaving.

Their cafe had been a fixture in Suicide Slum since Harold and Nancy married fifty years before. Even though it had very few tables, it had been one of the few businesses that survived in the intervening decades. They didn't have any employees, and kept limited hours in order to stay in business... which was slow on their best days.

Today, Harold and Nancy decided to close their store to observe Jim Harper's funeral. When they returned from the funeral on the bus, they walked slowly to their apartment, which was upstairs from the cafe.

As they approached their apartment, Harold saw them first: A group of eight teenagers, dressed in matching leather jackets, brandishing lengths of chain.

"Is there something we can do for you boys?" Harold asked hesitantly.

One of the boys stepped forward. "Yeah, old man, you can fix us something to eat. Me and the boys are hungry."

"I'm sorry, but the cafe is closed today."

The apparent leader looked over his shoulder at his friends. "Did you hear that, boys? We're gonna have to go hungry because old man Jones decided that today the cafe is closed."

He was answered by shouts of, "That ain't fair," "But we're hungry," and "You don't say," as well as variations thereof.

The leader looked back at the Joneses. "Looks to me like you closed your place on the wrong day." Swinging the chain in his hand around, he walked closer to the Joneses. "So, I'd say you better open up."

"We're closed to honor a great man, greater than you punks will ever be!" Harold said, shaking his fist at the gang.

"Don't antagonize them, please!" Nancy pleaded to her husband.

"It's too late for that, you old bat," the leader said. He swung the chain over his head several times and released it, sending it flying through the front window of the cafe. Glass shards went in all directions.

"Big mistake," a voice called out.

The gang looked around, trying to determine what direction the voice came from. "Who said that?" the leader called out.

"I did." The gang looked up as a group to see the blue-and-gold-clad form of the Guardian dropping down on them from roof of the Jones' building.

The Guardian landed in their midst, rolling with the impact and ending up on his feet. "It looks to me like you boys have some anger to vent on someone... why don't you try me?"

"Who the hell do you think you are, Superman?" the leader of the group challenged.

"That's the Guardian, Nancy!" Harold said.

The Guardian started battling the gang, swinging his shield and fists.

"It can't be... he's too young to be the Guardian..." Nancy replied.

One of the boys went flying away from the melee, having been the recipient of a judo throw, landing against the side of an abandoned car. Stunned for a few moments, he looked back at the fight, and saw that the Guardian's back was turned to him. With an evil smile, the boy reached into his jacket and pulled out a "Saturday Night Special," and took aim...

...and suddenly dropped the gun when it became red-hot, yelling in pain. Superman landed beside him, saying, "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with guns?"

The boy looked up suddenly, hitting his head against the side of the car and knocking himself out. "I guess not," Superman said, turning towards the fight.

Harold shouted over to Superman, "Aren't you going to help the Guardian?"

Superman looked to Harold. "I don't think he needs it."

Indeed, there were only three boys remaining in the fight. One of them was taken out when he was struck by the Guardian's shield. The other two found themselves gripped by the collars of their jackets and slammed together.

Setting the two unconscious boys down on the sidewalk, the Guardian looked over at Superman and said, "You're Superman, right?"

Superman walked towards the Guardian, extending his hand. "That's right... and you're obviously the Guardian. I was hoping to meet you here."

The Guardian took Superman's hand. "The pleasure's all mine... I've heard about the great work you've done in Metropolis."

"Thanks... but it doesn't seem that I've done much for Suicide Slum."

The Guardian looked down the street. "This isn't exactly a place where super-powers are going to help much... in fact, super-powers would be overkill in this part of the city. But then, that's why I'm here."

"I see... but there are times that super-powers can be of use here. Pardon me for a second." Superman darted through the broken window of the cafe and gathered up the glass shards at super-speed. Bringing them out to the sidewalk, he pieced them together in combination after combination, as if the pieces were of a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. Once the pieces fit together precisely, Superman flashed his heat vision on the pieces briefly, melting the edges together, then followed it up with a careful application of his super-breath.

Carefully picking up the newly-reformed pane of glass, Superman set it against the wall, and pulled the window frame out. After putting the glass back into place, Superman replaced the frame, pushing the nails in place as easily as anyone else would put a push-pin into a cork bulletin board.

Superman then stood back to check over his handiwork. "That should do you fine until you can get the window replaced professionally," he said to the Joneses. "But you'll still need to run a vacuum over the floor, tables and seats to be completely safe."

Harold and Nancy just stood there stunned for a few minutes. Finally, Harold said, "Thank you Superman... and you, too, Guardian."

"My pleasure," Superman and the Guardian said simultaneously, which caused them both to grin at each other.

"If you ever need my help again, I'll be here," the Guardian said to Harold and Nancy. "And the same goes for anyone else in Suicide Slum." Turning to Superman, he said, "Now, I get the feeling you wanted to talk to me about something?"

"Yes, that's right. Let me give you a lift." Superman took hold of Guardian's arm and flew up to the top of the tallest building in Suicide Slum. "We should have some privacy here."

Superman walked to the edge of the building, looking over the dilapidated buildings. "It still amazes me that any part of Metropolis can be as bad as this."

"Me, too," the Guardian agreed. "But I don't think that's what you wanted to talk to me about, is it?"

Superman turned back to the Guardian. "No, it isn't. This is kind of difficult to ask... are you the original Guardian?"

"You might find it hard to believe, but I am... at least, in every way that's important."

Superman raised an eyebrow. "And that means...?"

"My body's cloned from the original Guardian... but the brain is the original one. Sounds like a bad science-fiction movie, doesn't it?"

"Compared to what I've encountered since I made my first appearance in Metropolis, not really. I've been cloned myself... once."

"So I've heard."

"Yeah, I suppose you would have."

There was an awkward silence. The Guardian finally broke it. "I think I know what your next question is... it's got to do with the costumes, doesn't it?"

Superman nodded. "Sometimes I feel very conspicuous... almost like I'm a circus performer and the crowd is watching me... amazed at my performance, but subconsciously they want to see me fail because it would be a more exciting show."

"I know the feeling, Superman, believe me. But the costume is more than a disguise, you know... it's a symbol of something to believe in. Sometimes I thought that in the 40's, I was doing more good as the Guardian than as... er... my other identity. Not that I wasn't trying to improve things in my other identity."

"I know. But why did you do it? Put on a costume, I mean. In my case, I've got these powers, and the responsibility to use them, and the costume allows me to use my powers and still have a private life. But you... you don't have any powers... do you?"

The Guardian smiled. "No, I don't have any powers. I originally put on this costume for revenge, originally. But I soon found other reasons to put it on and fight crime. The police couldn't deal with everything themselves... and they are sometimes hindered more than helped by the laws. As the Guardian, I discovered that the residents of Suicide Slum looked at me as something to emulate, I guess... a symbol of hope, much the same as the general populace of Metropolis looks to you, I'd say."

The Guardian paused. "I guess I didn't really answer your question very well, did I?" he said, smiling apologetically.

"No, actually, you did," Superman insisted. "I assume you'll be confining your activities to Suicide Slum, then?"

"You make it sound like you're marking off your turf."

"I didn't quite mean it that way..."

"I'm joking... we super-heroes are allowed a sense of humor, you know."

Superman laughed briefly. "I know. What I meant was that if you'll be concentrating on Suicide Slum, I'll know it's in good hands. But if you ever need my help, you've got it."

"I appreciate that. And if you ever need my help... unlikely as it seems... you've got it, too."

The two shook hands again.

"Can I give you a lift down?" Superman offered.

"No thanks," the Guardian said, walking to the edge of the building and dropping off. As Superman watched, the Guardian made a series of acrobatic movements, swinging off clotheslines and fire escapes, that brought him safely to the ground. The Guardian looked back up at Superman, waved, and ran off.

"I guess you didn't," Superman said, lifting into the air again.

***

"I thought we were partners!"

Lois was not happy with Clark. When he had returned to the Planet, he went straight for his desk and started writing up the story on the Guardian, attributing the information to an interview with Superman.

Clark wasn't entirely certain if Lois was mad because she missed out on interviewing Superman, or if she was mad because they weren't collaborating on the story. Taking a shot, he said, "Well, Lois, you already have the background information on the Guardian... assuming Perry's done with it. You can add the history to the story."

Lois appeared somewhat appeased by this, which made Clark decide it was a little of both.

"I guess I'd better get the Guardian file back from Perry, then," Lois said.

"Please, Lois, allow me." Clark got up from his desk and went to Perry's office. He knocked on the door before opening it. "Chief?"

"Hm? Oh, Clark... what can I do for you?"

"I got some information from Superman on the Guardian's return to Suicide Slum, and Lois was going to write up the background on the story... but she needs the file back."

"Oh, sure, Clark, here it is." Perry started to hand Clark the file, then paused. Opening up the file, he withdrew a few sheets of paper that were covered in writing Clark recognized as Perry's. "You don't need these, I think. I'm looking forward to reading your story."

As Clark returned to his desk, Perry looked over his notes again. He was absolutely positive of his conclusions... there was no doubt in his mind, no matter how strange it might seem. If he followed through, he'd have the story of the century... but it wouldn't be worth it.

Perry tore his notes up, and dropped them into a metal wastebasket. He then opened up the window of his office, and set the wastebasket near it. He then took a book of matches from his desk drawer, lit one, and dropped it into the wastebasket. In seconds, the notes were in flames.

Perry watched the smoke from the small fire drift out his window... a window which coincidentally looked out in the direction of Suicide Slum, on the other side of Hob's Bay. "Jim, whatever your secret is... it's safe with me."

THE END

(guardian.txt)