Chapter 5: A Stopped Clock
Lois Lane had been walking down 15th Avenue looking for a place to eatbreakfast when she’d heard the bang from the next block over. She’d startedrunning towards it seconds after she’d heard it, while everyone else on thestreet was looking around like they’d missed something. If they’d read thepaper, they’d know that Superman had predicted that the Clockwork Bomber wouldbe back. Two weeks had passed and whatever leads Superman had been following,they hadn’t led anywhere, since no arrests had been made. Lois looked down ather wristwatch as she ran - it was almost exactly nine in the morning.
Lois hadn’t been close enough to the other bombs to get there in time; whenshe or Clark showed up, the whole thing was already over, and the mad panicand confusion that followed a bombing had given way to shock and grief. Thisone was different, a chance to be close enough that she would be one of thefirst on the scene. As she turned the corner and ran past an appliance store,she could see the debris strewn out over the street and the broken windows.People were still picking themselves up, and a few were bleeding, but itdidn’t look nearly as bad as the other bombs had. She was fishing a pencil andpaper out of her purse when the second bomb went off. It was small andsubdued, much softer than the first, and there were shouts of surprise but fewof pain.
Lois started forward, just as Superman arrived on the scene.
He moved at speed, darting into the damaged storefront so fast he was littlemore than a blur, and leaving minutes later. He was carrying what looked likea box, and trailing yellow-brown smoke behind him. Lois tried to follow hismovements, but after only a few seconds she’d lost him. He was back half aminute later, and landed right in front of Lois.
“Can you smell anything?” he asked.
“Horseradish,” said Lois. The pieces clicked into place. “It’s mustard gas.”
Superman nodded, and was back in the fray in moments. Lois sprang into action,calling out to people to get away from the site of the explosion. If she couldsmell the mustard gas, that meant that she was too close. She tried toremember what the medics used on people who’d been exposed mustard gas. Herfather was a general in the army, and had fought in the Great War, but it wastoo far before Lois’s time. The most she could do was to get people away fromthe gas, so that they wouldn’t suffer from exposure. Mustard gas was aninsidious poison mostly because it took a while to take effect, and if youdidn’t know what the odor meant you wouldn’t think to take action until longafter it was too late. Lois concentrated on getting people to safety, andyelling out instructions. It caused blisters, not just where it touchedexposed skin but in the nose and throat as well. It could damage the eyes sobadly that you’d go blind. If you weren’t killed by the swelling of thethroat, you could still be made mute. She ripped at her blouse and fashioned acrude mask for herself, and helped others to do the same.
After everyone was clear of the gas, or at least in an area where they couldno longer smell it, Superman landed next to her.
“Call the radio stations, tell people to stay inside and keep their windowsclosed. If I’m right, the next one will come in six hours.” She nodded, butdidn’t really need to be told what to do. She could keep a cool head underpressure. Superman was crouched down and ready to launch into the air when aburied thought surfaced.
“Wait!” she called, worried that he would be a mile away by the time the wordsleft her lips. But he stood up and looked at her, puzzlement on his face. Shetook a deep breath. “You said that the bomber was trying to get to you,” shesaid. “Why not let him have you? We could send a message out over the radio,and make a deal. Even if we can’t disarm the bombs it’ll let us evacuatepeople.”
Superman hesitated. She could swear she saw his eyes blur as they moved aroundto take in the crowd in a fraction of a second. “Lois, I don’t know whether ornot these things will kill me. I don’t even know if the mustard gas is goingto have an effect on me. I breathed in more than anyone else before I realizedwhat it was. He wants to kill me, that’s the only kind of deal I think he’dlisten to.”
“But you’d rush in to save people anyway,” said Lois. “We’re just cutting outthe possibility of collateral damage. You’ll be fine.”
Superman stared at her, and she was sure they were both painfully aware thateveryone around them was listening in on their conversation. Some wereoutright staring.
“No,” said Superman. “I don’t negotiate. And if the bomber wants me at thesite of these bombs, I’m not going to play into his hands.”
He hurled himself into the sky and flew away before she could figure out howto respond to that. Had Superman just said that he was handing Metropolis overto the bomber?
“An officer Kennedy for you, sir,” said Mercy.
“Thank you dear, I’ll take it now if you please,” replied Lex. He calmedhimself, and got into character, becoming a man who knew nothing about whatwas happening across town. “Officer Kennedy?” he asked with a pleasant voice.“What is this regarding?”
“Ah, Mr. Luthor we really appreciated your donation to the Policeman’s Ballthis year,” said the policeman, “And the chief was saying how you wantedupdates on anything real important having to do with Superman, so he justthought I should give you a call to keep you up to date.” It wasn’t a bribeper se, just a mutually beneficial friendship.
“Has something happened?” asked Lex. He allowed some genuine-sounding concerncreep into his voice.
“Well sir, it seems like the Clockwork Bomber is back, and he’s working withsome nasty stuff. The boys say that it’s mustard gas, like from the trenchesof the Great War?”
“I’m familiar, yes,” said Lex. “Superman came in to save the day?”
“Well, here’s the thing,” said Kennedy. “He came down and pulled people out ofthe gas, and said it was the Bomber come back, but then that lady reportertold him that he should try to make some kind of deal with the Bomber, becauseshe seemed to think that the Bomber was trying to kill him and that maybeSupes could save everyone a lot of trouble by letting him try, for all thegood it would do because he’s invincible right?”
“I see,” Lex replied. “And his response?”
“He said he wouldn’t negotiate,” said Kennedy. “And then he just flew off likehe didn’t want to hear any more about any bombs. Like he was done helping outwith them.”
“He’s abandoning us?” asked Lex.
“I don’t know sir,” said Kennedy. “But it sort of sounded like it.”
“Thank you for the update, officer,” said Lex. “Tell the captain that thepolice of this city continually reaffirm my faith in them.” Lex set down thephone without waiting to hear a response. He steepled his fingers for a momentbefore remembering that he needed to keep up with the role he was playing.Someone might notice if Lex responded to news of an attack on Metropolis withonly a look of quiet contemplation.
“Mercy, it appears that the Clockwork Bomber is back, and using differenttactics. I believe chemical agents were mentioned,” he said. Radioactive andbiological too, though the person he was pretending to be didn’t know that.“We should be safe in this building, but I want you to start on calling themanagers and telling them to follow the drills and keep tuned to the radio. Ifit’s like last time, the next bomb will be in six hours.”
“Yes sir,” said Mercy, picking up the phone before he was even done speaking.She was invaluable, and likely could have handled the entire crisis on her ownwithout his instruction. She didn’t know the full extent of Lex’s plans, butshe knew enough to implicate him in a vast number of crimes, and that was amark of the extreme faith he placed in her. Lex turned on the radio in hisoffice. It was there more as camouflage than to provide any information.Superman’s movements and actions were the most important thing right now, andhe was skeptical of the radio’s ability to provide that information. Lex’sother channels were slower but more reliable, and there were enough of themthat any unreliability in one could be compensated for in the others.
Lex had a contingency plan in place. There were two couriers waiting by phonesin separate locations within the city. A message could quickly be relayed tothem which would send them to the nearest police station. One courier had anencoded message, while the other had the one-time pad needed to decode it.Both pieces were in envelopes lined with lead. Once decoded, the message wouldgive the locations of all of the bombs, and the buildings could be evacuated,saving lives and likely preventing property damage. The only question waswhether this was the proper time to deploy that plan.
Lex had killed for the first time when he’d been fifteen. Willie Calhoun hadentered him in a bare knuckle boxing fight, and Lex had landed a lucky punchthat burst an artery in his opponent’s neck. He’d been rewarded with a twentydollar bill and a slap on the back. He’d committed his first actual murderlater that year, when a shop owner had gotten wind of the plan for a nighttimerobbery and decided that the best course of action was to lay in wait with arevolver and the lights turned off. That shootout was the closest that Lex hadever come to dying. His hands had been trembling when he shot the shopkeeperin the face. He’d been less hardened then.
Lex took no special pleasure in murder. It stirred no passion in him to seethe life leave a man’s eyes. It gave him no glee to hear about the people whodied or were injured by the bombs, just a certain sense of sadness that heimagined other people might feel more keenly. He certainly didn’t feel anyguilt. Lex sat back and looked at his watch. The next bomb would be going offsoon. He tried to make a careful consideration of the possibilities.
It was possible that Superman had a weakness to biological, chemical, orradiological attacks, as it was one of the only vectors of attack that hadn’tyet been tried. Numerous witnesses had reported seeing Superman breathing, andnone had specifically noted that he wasn’t drawing breath. Though Superman hadnever been seen coughing or sneezing, and had surely endured smoke inhalationon an absurd level while engaging in fire rescue, it was still reasonable toassume that he had a biology of sorts, and that this biology could bedisrupted in some way. He had not yet been observed eating, drinking, orsleeping, but that might have been something done during what Lex thought ofas the quiet periods when Superman was less active.
Superman might be afraid of dying to the bombs. If true, this would beincredibly valuable information, and assuming that Superman didn’t radicallyalter his modus operandi in response to these attempts, it would be fairlysimple (in the scheme of plans that had to work around Superman’s powers) tostage some event to attract his attention and deliver the poison whileSuperman suspected nothing. The reason that Lex hadn’t done it this way in thefirst place was the enormous amount of planning, expense, and exposure thatwould have to go into doing that for each of the thirty candidate attacks thathe had planned. Mustard gas, phosgene, chlorine, contact poisons, pesticides,polonium; it saved an enormous amount of time to simply allow Superman to knowthat someone was trying to kill him and put him in a position where he wouldeither expose himself or expose an unwillingness to intervene.
The second possibility was that Superman was thinking of the future. Supermanhad routinely refused to make deals with criminals who had taken hostages,presumably because he knew that if he did, more criminals would begin takinghostages in order to put themselves in a position to strike a bargain.Similarly, if the bombs were only being placed because the bomb-maker expectedSuperman to show up, then Superman’s best course of action to prevent bombsfrom being placed was to stop showing up. Of course, that would only lead to achange in tactics, and not one that would likely result in better outcomesfrom Superman’s perspective. Lex had dozens of ideas on how to administer thepoisons if Superman refused to touch the bombs. But perhaps Superman was underthe delusion that his unseen enemy would stop trying over a little thing likechanging strategies.
Ultimately, Lex decided against using the contingency plan, at least in theshort term. The message from the police officer had been too vague, and evenif Superman had directly stated his intent to leave the rest of the bombsuntouched, it was possible that the alien was bluffing. Lex didn’tparticularly like the prospect of martial law being declared, nor theunfortunate economic impacts of a sustained series of bombs in the largestcity in America, but the dice were already cast. If Superman had anticipatedthe bombings and outright stated his refusal, perhaps Lex would never havespent the time and money going down that path, but with everything set up themajority of the costs had already been sunk.
“Where the hell have you been?” asked Lois. She’d been seen by a doctor, gonehome to shower, changed clothes, and then gone back to work. It turned outthat there wasn’t all that much you could do about mustard gas, and while thedoctor had wanted her to wait it out to see whether she would develop anysymptoms, she was pretty confident that she’d had a low enough dose, so she’dslipped out the door when he was seeing to someone else. No way was Lois Lanesitting on her ass when there was news being made. From what the doctor hadsaid, people didn’t get worse all at once, so if it got bad she’d go in. She’dcalled Perry to let him know she was alright, and then kept calling Clarkbecause she wanted updates.
Clark sat at his desk, typing up an article. He typed with both his indexfingers, punching the keys down one at a time. As she watched he took a glanceat the keyboard to see which key was which. Lois could type so fast she verynearly hit the mechanical limits on her Underwood. Speed didn’t matter allthat much for a reporter, but it was still grating to watch him do such a poorjob of something so basic.
“Clark?” she asked. “Where have you been?”
“Sorry,” he said. He pointed to the typewriter in front of him. “I got a callin from the Midwest, apparently there was a Superman sighting.” He hadn’tanswered her question, but then again, Clark was hopeless. “You’re takingpoint on the return of the bomber?” He always said “bomber”, not “ClockworkBomber”, which Lois felt was a bit petty. He was sore that he hadn’t been theone to name him.
“I am,” said Lois. “Superman’s flown the coop. He’s said he’s not going tohelp out with the Clockwork Bomber.”
Clark turned to look at her. “Why not?”
Lois shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess Superman wasn’t sure whether it wouldaffect him or not.”
“Makes sense,” said Clark.
Lois raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, let’s say that you walked down a dark alley and got shot, only tofind out that the bullet didn’t do much more than tear up your blouse,” saidClark. “You might try shooting yourself again to see whether you really werebulletproof, but maybe you’d be too scared that you’d just end up with agunshot wound. And you certainly wouldn’t go drink some poison, because maybeit would kill you.”
“I understand that,” said Lois. “Even if I buy that maybe Superman doesn’tknow the full extent of how he’s protected, he’s still supposed to be a hero.It doesn’t take a whole lot of courage to walk up to a guy with a gun when youknow that his gun can’t hurt you. Superman says he wants to be a symbol andthen runs away the first time he might get hurt? That’s what I don’t get.”
“I guess,” said Clark. He frowned. “With Superman’s powers, isn’t it betterfor him to stay alive and saving people instead of risking death? I mean, howmany people does he save in a week?”
Lois shook her head, and pulled a cigarette out. “Clark, you’re not thinkingin the long term. Superman might think that there’s some risk of dying, right?And he’s got a general stance that he doesn’t negotiate with criminals, forthe obvious reasons. But let’s assume that this bomber’s got huge amounts ofmoney, no morals, and an honest desire to kill Superman, all of which I thinkare probably true. If Superman’s going to stay away from the chemical end ofthings out of a sense of self-preservation, then assuming Superman stillintends to operate within Metropolis that means that the bomber is just goingto resort to tricks. He’s going to … I don’t know, cause a train derailmentand vent pesticides over the area. Superman shows up thinking it’s alegitimate threat, and then bam - poison right in his face.”
“Because Superman can’t figure out whether or not there’s going to be a trap,”said Clark slowly.
Clark Kent wasn’t as dumb as he looked. It had taken Lois a long time tofigure him out, but she was pretty sure that she knew what games he played.Clark Kent wanted to be underestimated, because it would make it easier forhim to exceed expectations. People clapped with delight when Clever Hans haddone math, not because the math was impressive, but because it was impressivefor a horse. It was the same way with Clark. You saw this four-eyed Midwesternguy in the middle of Metropolis, looking for all the world like he’d taken awrong turn leaving the farm, and then when he actually put out a competentstory you couldn’t help but feel like he’d done something amazing - like hewas a horse that could do math. But the thing was, if you were actually goodat math you wouldn’t need anyone to think that you were a horse. There wasmore to Clark than met the eye, but once you’d lived and worked with him forlong enough and recalibrated your expectations of him, Clark was simply belowaverage in every way that really mattered to Lois. He typed with two fingersfor Christ’s sake.
“Superman’s got a problem either way,” said Lois. “That problem is thatsomeone with means, motive, and intellect is trying to kill him. If he doesn’tdeal with the bombs, it’s going to be something else, something that he won’tsee coming, I’m pretty sure of that. Making a deal isn’t ideal, but it wouldat least help for him to actually be the symbol he talks about being.”
Clark looked to the ceiling, which was quickly becoming a universal sign thatpowerful ears might be listening. “Are we having this conversation for hisbenefit?” asked Clark.
Lois shrugged, which meant yes. She knew that Superman could hear her. Itwould be better for Metropolis to not have a war between Superman and whoeverwas behind the bombings - and she had a few ideas of who that might be. Shewas about to add to her argument when Perry’s door slammed open.
“There’s been another bombing,” he shouted.
“But it’s too early,” said Lois. “Last time there was six hours betweenbombs.”
“Either the Clockwork Bomber screwed the pooch, or the schedule’s been steppedup,” said Perry.
“Let’s go,” said Lois as she turned towards Clark, but Clark was already gone.
Sal Maroni was a Superman spotter, which really just meant that he sat on arooftop with a notebook and drank beers while looking out over the skyline. Helistened to the radio, usually some kind of music, and smoked like a chimney.Spotting didn’t pay all that well, but there wasn’t an easier job in theentire city. Sal had worked as a security guard once, and this was just likethat except there wasn’t ever the slightest amount of danger. In addition tothe radio, the smokes, and the beer, he had a comfortable chair he’d pulled upfrom his apartment on the fifth floor and a parasol he’d bought at a fleamarket to block out the worst of the sun. On an average day he’d see Supermanhalf a dozen times, and he would faithfully write down his best guess ofSuperman’s location, speed, and direction of travel. On a few occasions Salhad been tempted to just take a nap and then make things up, but he’d beentold that his observations would be checked against what the other spottersput down. He could see a few of them on other rooftops.
He’d heard the sirens earlier, and WGBS has switched from The Adventures ofLolly Lemon to reporting on the return of the Clockwork Bomber. It was abouttwo hours after that when Superman rose up from near The Daily PlanetBuilding, moving so fast that Sal might have missed it if he hadn’t beenpaying attention. In his notebook, Sal wrote down the details, making somebest guesses. There was a man named Lonnie who sat at Grecco’s Cafe. He tookin the notes from the spotters once night fell, and had taught them how tomake the most accurate estimations of speed, distance, and direction.
Sal enjoyed being a spotter. It was boring, most of the time, but boring wasthe same as relaxing if you looked at it the right way. Another perk of thejob was getting to see the news in the making. Sal had seen Superman go in fora slow landing on top of Daily Planet Building, and then the next day he’dread the interview in the paper. It was nice, to be able to see Supermanflying and connect the dots later on. Sal would read the newspaper and be ableto make sense of what his notes actually meant. More often than not, thecrimes he stopped were small or private, but sometimes something big wouldhappen in Metropolis, and Sal would get a glimpse of it.
When the radio started talking about bombs, Sal cracked open another beer andsettled in. Today would be a busy day for spotting.
Superman responded to the second bomb, and Lex felt a sense of relief. Therewas no way to know whether it had been a bluff or simple indecision, or maybeeven poor information, but for whatever reason Superman had decided to stickhis neck out. Lex would have to arrange another interview with Lois Lane inorder to find out what Superman had really said to her, but it would have towait. That Superman hadn’t tried to make a deal with the bomber was not whollysurprising.
The selection of attacks to try had taken careful consideration. Anything thatcaused a death throes had to be avoided, and Lex put a preference towardsthose agents which would cause weakness or paralysis in humans. There was noway of knowing whether Kryptonian biology was similar, of course. Lex hadconsidered the possibility that in attempting to destroy Superman he mightunintentionally cause the disaster he wished to avert, but Lex was certainlynot the only player in this game, and their plots were far more dangerous thanhis. All the more reason to take minor risks to kill Superman, when the otherplayers sometimes seemed to be doing nothing more than trying to piss him off.
There were forty-eight bombs, spread out over four days, one every two hours.
After the third bomb had gone off, he’d sent all his employees besides Mercyhome for the day and sequestered himself in his office. He had adequate foodand water, a set of fresh suits hanging in his closet, and a private bathroom.It was more or less everything that he needed. During this time of crisis, Lexwould play things safely, and do nothing too terribly out of character. Hewould offer a reward for information leading to the bomber, he would offer tohelp the police in any way that he could, and he would listen to the reportsas they came in. The facts could be collected afterwards, when the wholeordeal was over, but Lex didn’t think that the man he was pretending at beingwould apply harsh scrutiny during a time of crisis.
There would be immense scrutiny. If the bombs simply stopped, the police wouldgo on the hunt. Lex made the call that would tie up the loose ends and divertattention away from him. He was extremely skeptical that a path could be drawnback to him, but Lex Luthor was cautious, and so a false trail had been laidinstead.
Officers Milheiser and Kennedy walked up the stairs, sweating in the summerheat. They’d been working back to back shifts ever since the day before whenthe bombings had started up again, as had most of the police and firefightersin the greater Metropolis area. The mayor had briefly talked about institutingmartial law, but no one was keen on that. The compromise was double shifts.The elevator in the building was out, and it was just their luck that theapartment was on the tenth floor. It was more or less how the last few dayshad been going for them.
“Any reason the captain wants us chasing this down?” asked Milheiser.
“He said an anonymous tip is more trustworthy,” said Kennedy.
Milheiser nearly stopped. “How does that figure?”
“Well, there’s a big reward out for information, right?” asked Kennedy. “Moretips have been flooding in than we could ever take a look at, because there’sno penalty for making stuff up and maybe if you get lucky you get a littlepiece of the pie. So we got people sending us all sorts of crap, gossip abouttheir neighbors, reports about people that they just don’t like, paranoidfantasies and all that. Ten thousand dollars is in the pot right now thanks toLuthor, and that’s enough to attract all kinds of crazies.”
“So the captain thinks that an anonymous tip is more trustworthy, because noone stands to gain from it?” asked Milheiser.
“You got it,” said Kennedy with a strained smile. The heat was getting to him.
“And the captain didn’t stop to think maybe someone else would figure that andsend the pair of us to a building with no working elevator so we’d have tosweat our asses off climbing to the top?” asked Milheiser.
Kennedy had no response to that. He might have said that no one would do thatin a time of crisis, but he knew Metropolis well enough to know that wasn’tthe case. He’d seen enough rioting and looting to come to the conclusion thatpeople were bastards.
When they got to the tenth floor, they knocked on the door, and found that itswung in to the touch. Kennedy and Milheiser shared a glance and drew theirrevolvers. It occurred to both of them that perhaps the Clockwork Bomber hadlured them there, just to make a point, but they entered anyway.
In the center of the apartment, a young man was hanging from the rafters byhis belt. He’d been dead for hours, and the smell was utterly offensive.Milheiser rushed to the bathroom to throw up, while Kennedy made sure theplace was cleared. It was a pretty cut and dry suicide, with a kicked outchair beneath the young man, but Kennedy went through the motions anyway. Hestood the chair up and made sure that the hanged man would actually have beenable to stand on it, since he’d heard that sometimes people would stage amurder to look like a suicide but forget the details. He was vaguelydisappointed when the chair was the right height.
Kennedy had moved on to a small workshop area by the time Milheiser walked outof the bathroom, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve.
“Looks like our guy was a tinker, at least,” said Kennedy. He leafed through aset of schematics, pulling some out from the bits of electrical wire andsprings, trying to make heads or tails of it. There were copious notes anddetailed drawings, but it didn’t snap into focus until Milheiser unearthed abook titled “The Manufacture of Explosives”.
“It’s really him,” said Milheiser with a shake of his head as Kennedy beganlaying out the papers. The body was in the other room, and would have to bedealt with, but neither of them relished the thought of going up and down thestairs again, which they’d surely have to do a few times before the day wasout.
“Let’s call it in,” said Kennedy. “Looks like there’s an address here, mightbe the place where the bombs were made.”
Lex Luthor was a people person. People told him their problems, and he foundsolutions. It had been that way ever since his childhood on the streets ofSuicide Slums, the worst neighborhood that Metropolis had to offer. So far asanyone besides Mercy knew, Lex had gone legitimate. The vast majority of hiscriminal enterprises were run through various intermediaries, who knew himonly by codewords over the phone. Since Superman’s arrival, Lex had let muchof that go to rot. It was easy enough to make money in perfectly legitimateways if you had a mind as keen as Lex’s. Instead, he used his network of slushfunds and discreet contacts in order to facilitate his private war againstSuperman.
Harry Kramer had been a piece of serendipity. He’d been an expert inexplosives by the age of sixteen, thanks in part to a father who had donedemolition work at a mine upstate before losing his life to a faultydetonator. Kramer liked to blow things up, and got involved in professionalfireworks before he was discharged after an incident that lost his boss theuse of two fingers. It was when Kramer got hired on to do a bank job that hecame to the attention of Lex. The job had been an abject failure, though itwas through no fault of the explosives, which had worked perfectly. Kramer hadbeen willing to hire himself out again, but he was difficult to work with, andthere wasn’t much call for an explosives expert in the criminal underworld ofMetropolis. Harry had been working as a grocery bagger until Lex needed hisexpertise. Lex could design the bombs easily enough, but wasn’t willing to puthimself in a position where he could be seen making or delivering them. He’dgiven Harry a new apartment and a workshop, along with a large amount offreedom.
A careful examination of the evidence would reveal a hidden hand behind theClockwork Bomber. Harry Kramer had received a large amount of money from anuncle down in Georgia, and if that thread were tracked down the sham would berevealed, and point back to Metropolis. This was part of Lex’s design.
There were forty-eight bombs in total. Thirteen were found by Superman priorto detonation, and he managed the evacuation and the removal or controlleddetonation of the bomb. Any hesitance he’d displayed in front of Lois wascompletely gone, and over the course of the extended bombing, the enactment ofmartial law, and everything else, he’d proven himself to be a complete hero inevery way. When he wasn’t helping with rescue efforts or stopping the bombs,he could regularly be seen watching over the city.
“You look like shit, Clark,” said Lois when they got back to work. Most of thebusinesses had temporarily closed after the second day; The Daily Planet hadclosed on the fourth, when some people were saying that the bombs would keepgoing off forever.
“I didn’t get much sleep,” he replied with a yawn. “I kept worrying that myapartment was going to explode out from under me and I’d die choking.”
Lois had escaped the mustard gas with only a small blister on her left handand a light cough. She considered herself lucky. No one had died from themustard gas, but it was one of the tamest things that had come out of thebombs. She’d spent the days off from work pacing back and forth, sleepingheavily, and using her home phone to try to get a break in the story, thoughthe phones were nearly as useless as the radio.
“Who do you think did it?” asked Lois.
“They caught him Lois,” said Clark.
“One man, working alone, and you believe that?” she asked.
“He came into a lot of money,” said Clark. “He was smart and deranged.Everyone who knew him thought that it made sense after the fact, and some ofthem had even reported him to the police. If he hadn’t switched apartmentsthey’d have got him.”
“Sure,” said Lois. “And if you buy that I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Thepolice are investigating it all. They’ve found a few of the guys that plantedthe bombs, and a couple of places that delivered the materials used forconstruction. I don’t know anything about making bombs, but I can believe thata single person might be able to make as many as he did, if given enough time.But add on all the logistics on top of that, all the scoping out of locationsand arrangements for delivery? No, no way he was acting alone. I’m not sayingthat we can solve it from our desks, but think about it Clark.” She looked athim. “Someone intelligent, resourceful, wealthy, with deep criminalconnections and a strong desire to see Superman dead. There’s one guy head andshoulders above everyone else on that list.”
“William Calhoun,” said Clark.
“The last crime boss of Metropolis,” said Lois with a nod. “If you couldfollow the trails well enough, I have no doubt that they’d lead back to him.”
William Calhoun was fifty-eight years old, which was ancient for a crime boss.When Superman had come along, organized crime had to either toughen up or fleethe city, and Willie seemed to be one of the only ones willing to toughen up.Boss Moxie had continued on like nothing was different, and now he was sittingin Sing-Sing. Johnny Stitches and Toby Whale had left for Gotham City, whileAngelo Baretti simply evaporated like mist. And that left Willie as a big fishin the biggest pond in the world, with the only problem being that the pondwas being shot full of holes by a nut with a tommy gun. Willie had beenworking on the metaphor for a while, and it still wasn’t quite right.
Willie was looking over the books in his lead-lined office, and trying tofigure out a way to get people to pay their bookies when there was a commotiondownstairs in the bar. Not really having any enthusiasm for the drudgery ofwhat he’d been looking at, Calhoun wandered down the stairs. His two guardsfollowed.
Superman stood in the middle of the Elephant Club, with everyone around himgiving him a wide berth. Superman was staring at Willie from the moment hestarted walking down the stairs, and maybe even before that. He could seethrough walls, the prick.
“Hello William,” said Superman. His voice was calm and gentle as a breeze.
Willie put on his most casual demeanor. He kept telling the boys that they hadnothing to be worried about when it came to Superman. Sure, Superman wouldfoil crimes and get them locked up, but he never hurt anyone, not even in theprocess of arresting them. Micky Fingers had stabbed Superman in the eyes andSuperman had just stood there like a statue. But it was hard not to thinkabout what the man could do.
“You’re trespassing,” said Willie. He tried to keep his voice light.
“This establishment is open to the public,” said Superman.
“Well you’re blacklisted then,” said Willie. “I’ll have to put up a sign thatsays ‘No Supermen’.” This brought a round of nervous chuckles from the crowd.
“I’ll be leaving soon,” said Superman. “I just wanted to let you know that I’mwatching you. You’ve been careful, but not careful enough. There’s nowherethat you can hide from me. There’s nothing that I won’t do to bring you tojustice.”
“Oh really?” asked Willie, striding towards the Superman with a confidencethat he almost felt. “Anything? Then I’ve got a deal for you. Tear off one ofmy arms, and I’d be in so much pain I’d give you a full confession forwhatever it is you think I did. Go on, do it.”
Supeman didn’t move. “I’m not a monster,” he said evenly.
“No, you’re a monster alright, you just don’t want people thinking that youare. You don’t want to get your hands dirty,” said Willie. “I’ve heard from abunch of guys that you’re nothing but a big fat pussy, and standing herelooking at you I can see it’s ab-so-lutely true.” Willie could feel his bloodpumping in his ears. Months of frustrations at the hands of Superman werecoming to a head. Willie had tried to stay low, but his organization couldonly stay starved of cashflow for so long. Willie’d been funding lawsuitsagainst Superman, false accusations and red tape, along with whatever else hecould think of. Some of the guys talked about killing Superman, but that was afool’s errand - the bombs had proven that. Willie just wanted him to leave, togo bother Gotham City or Blüdhaven.
“No one likes you,” said Willie. “No one wants you here. Get that through yourthick alien skull. You think the government doesn’t have plans to kill you?Hell, you think that they haven’t tried?” That was Willie’s best guess as towho was behind the bombings after talking it out with Luthor. “You do whateverthe fuck you feel like doing and expect us to praise you. Well I got news foryou, it’s not going to happen. Eventually someone is going to find a way tokill you, and I’ll be first in line to piss on your grave.” Willie spat atSuperman, and watched as the glob of phlegm hit him in the cheek. Supermancould have dodged it, probably could have reached across the room and grabbeda mug to catch it in, but he’d just let it hit him.
“I just wanted to let you know that I know,” said Superman. “In everythingthat you do, be aware that I’m watching you. When you’re arrested, it will becompletely by the books. When you’re convicted to life in prison, I hope thatthey’re able to rehabilitate you.” Superman didn’t touch the spit on hischeek. He just turned and walked out the door. The bar exploded intoconversation, and Willie went back upstairs to think about what it was thatSuperman had actually known.
Forty-eight bombs, and not so much as a cough or a sneeze from Superman.
In his lead-lined study was a large map of Metropolis, five feet to a side,which took up a place of prominence on one wall. Stuck into this map were pinswith small flags on them, each of them a recorded Superman sighting. Theinformation had been collected from various sources, from newspaper reports toeyewitnesses. Lex had dozens of people around the city who worked as Supermanwatchers, and they would sit atop tall buildings and make notes of the lonefigure flying through the sky whenever they could.
Lex was looking for patterns. Which directions did Superman come from? Whichdirections did he go? What crimes did he tend to respond to, and which did heignore? What were his hours of activity? Lex had long hypothesized thatSuperman had a base of operations somewhere, likely the same place that hisspaceship was stashed. Finding it would be a godsend. The arrival of theClockwork Bomber had provided a wealth of data. Lex sat down to do some math.
Each arrival and departure could be defined by a vector, and these wererepresented on the map by small lines drawn moving away from the pins indifferent colors. Lex compared the times and directions, and began by throwingout all of those vectors with known destinations. When he was done, he wasleft with one-thousand eight-hundred sixty-one vectors to manipulate. He beganmapping them in different ways, to see whether Superman favored one side ofthe city over the other, or whether he consistently came into the city fromone direction. He found a slight eastward inclination to arrivals and westwardinclination to departures, though given that the entire United States was tothe west of Metropolis, that might have just been because Superman oftenresponded to large-scale crises outside of the city. Following that middlingsuccess, Lex did some complicated math to make another map that showed wherevectors converged. He eventually circled ten square blocks in the center ofMetropolis. It was there that Superman kept going towards, though that mighthave simply been because Superman spent his time waiting in the center of thecity.
It was close to a futile exercise. The data was bad. It was cobbled togetherfrom too many sources, and too many of those sources were unreliable. Therewere certainly data points that were lies told by people who wished they hadmore interesting lives. Lex couldn’t properly trust the data, and so couldn’tproperly trust the conclusions that he drew from the data. Worse, Superman wasaware that people were watching him. Still, it was better to grasp at strawsthan to simply give up.
Lex began segmenting the vectors into blocks of time. Even with unreliabledata, it was well-established that Superman was less active during workinghours, and so perhaps it might be that paring down the data would help toreveal something more. The big problem there was that there was that the databecame thinner, and even less reliable. Nevertheless, Lex continued on. Therewere other plates spinning that wouldn’t need to be touched for a while, andin the meantime Lex could pretend that he was getting somewhere. The math wassomewhere between difficult and tedious, and not at all pleasant.
When he was done, Lex frowned at the result. He circled four city blocks onthe map, slightly away from the direct center of downtown. He turned to lookat Mercy, who sat in a padded chair drinking tea and reading a book.
“Mercy darling, my brain is failing me,” said Lex.
“Sorry to hear that sir,” replied Mercy, not bothering to look up.
“I’ve been staring too closely at this for far too long,” said Lex. “Eighto’clock in the morning to five o’clock at night. I can feel something refusingto spring to mind there, something that’s not quite clicking.”
“It’s standard working hours for most of downtown,” said Mercy.
Lex turned back to the map. He stared at it. There was something he wasmissing, some piece of the puzzle. Nine to five, but not on weekends. It wasfuzzy, painfully fuzzy, but the data was clear and the correlations were real.Lex was on the verge of a breakthrough, if only he could -
“Son of a bitch,” said Lex softly.
Author’s Note: As always, thanks for the reviews/favorites/follows, which arealways a pleasure to see. Thanks to those people who’ve pointed out typos;you’re making the story better for people who read it after you.
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