By Hazel <Ihazel@yahoo.com>
Submitted October 1999
Summary: Superman gets a mysterious message to meet someone in a dark alley off Suicide Slum, but the results of the meeting are hardly what he expects.
Note: The loiscla fanfic mailing list consensus is that this story takes place in Season 2. Thanks to all those who offered comments and advice!
Clark Kent's fingers flew across the keyboard, filling the screen with words designed to evoke a strong emotional response from the reader. It was about time the authorities did something about the abysmal conditions of the free health clinic located just outside Hobb's Bay. Perhaps this wrenching, brutal description of the appalling situation would do some good.
It felt a little strange to write the article without Lois. While the investigation had required the combined skills of Lane and Kent to get to the bottom of the mysterious lack of state funds, Lois conceded that when it came to writing the story, Clark was better at tugging people's heartstrings.
"I'll do the sidebar with all the information this time," she'd offered generously. "You write the tearjerker." She mock-glared at him. "But you'd better make sure it's good, or you won't find it so easy to get me to agree next time!"
Clark typed the last paragraph of his article, then scrolled back to read the entire story at once. Yes, this would be a good start. Maybe the sluggards at City Hall would sit up and take notice for a change…
The phone on his desk shrilled, interrupting his train of thought. Without removing his gaze from the screen, Clark lifted the receiver. "Clark Kent."
"Kent?" rumbled a flat baritone.
"Yes, Inspector," Clark replied, recognizing Henderson's distinctive voice. He swivelled away from the screen to give his full attention to the phone call. "What can I do for you?"
"Can you get in touch with Superman for me?"
"I might be able to manage that," Clark conceded with a touch of caution. "Why, what's wrong?" His hand automatically crept upwards to fiddle with his tie.
Henderson hesitated for a moment. "I'm not sure I should talk about it over the phone, Kent. Someone asked me to set up a meeting with Superman. I'm not sure I like it."
Clark twiddled the phone cord thoughtfully between his fingers. "Someone you know, Inspector?"
Henderson huffed with exasperation. "Look, Kent, I don't have an S-signal, so just do me a favor and let the big guy know I want to talk to him, okay? One of these days you'll have to explain to me how you manage to get in touch with him whenever you want to."
"Sure, Inspector, some day," Clark said vaguely. 'Say, in fifty years or so. After I dye my hair mauve.' "I'll try and get word to him for you."
Clark hung up the phone and stared at his computer screen without seeing the words he'd typed only minutes before. Someone wanted to meet Superman, and had chosen to go through Henderson to find him. Why? Why not call on the team of Lane and Kent, who had written so many stories about Superman in the past? It had to be someone who thought in terms of the police. A government employee? A snitch? A politician?
Only one way to find out, he decided. He quickly read over the story on his screen one last time, added a few adjectives here and removed a few adverbs there, and LAN'd it to Perry. A glance at his watch showed that it was close to one o'clock. He could easily slip away for "lunch" and make a side trip to see Henderson.
As he rose from his chair, he couldn't help but take a quick, wistful look at the empty desk across from him. What a pity that Lois was out again this morning, meeting a source! He would have appreciated her input… or would that have only made things worse? Knowing Lois, she'd probably insist on coming along, and —
Sighing, he waved at Jimmy in passing as he headed for the stairs. Time to find out exactly what Henderson wanted to discuss.
"I'd like to see Inspector Henderson, please."
"He's busy," mumbled the desk sergeant without looking up from his magazine. "You got an appointment?"
"Actually, yes, I do."
The sergeant reluctantly lifted his eyes from the centerfold. One look at the imposing figure standing on the other side of the desk sent him leaping to his feet, scrabbling to hide the magazine under a stack of papers. Clark politely pretended not to notice.
"Superman!" the sergeant gasped, practically coming to attention. "Superman, if you'll — I mean —" He gulped. "Ah, I'll just check with the inspector and see if he's available."
"I'll wait here," Clark said in his best "noble yet reassuring" Superman voice. "Take your time."
The sergeant disappeared into the back of the station, only to return moments later.
"He's ready for you now, Superman," he announced, beaming at the brightly-clad hero. "I'll escort you there if you —"
"Thank you, but that's quite all right," Clark declined. "I know the way. I wouldn't want to keep you from your… work."
Clark felt a touch of guilt at that comment as the large man's cheeks suddenly matched the color of Superman's boots. Best to withdraw gracefully. With a last reassuring smile, he strode past the desk and went straight to Henderson's office. Superman had only been there once, but Clark Kent definitely knew the way.
"Superman," Henderson grunted as the Man of Steel appeared in his doorway. "C'mon in and take a seat. I want you to listen to a recording."
As Clark adjusted his cape and sat down, Henderson fiddled with a machine on his desk. "Kent did a good, quick job of tracking you down," the man observed. "Exactly how does he do that?"
Clark smiled non-committally. "He just manages to find me, that's all."
Henderson leaned forward. "Well, is there some way we could 'manage' to find you, Superman? There are times when you're needed, and we just don't know how to get hold of you."
Clark shrugged. "Clark Kent seems like a good enough source to me. If you call him, Inspector, you can be sure that I'll get the message right away."
Henderson frowned and sat back. "Hmph. I'd rather have a direct line to you than have to go through your secretary."
Clark barely managed to choke back a laugh. "Secretary, Inspector?"
"Ah, forget it," Henderson sighed, waving it away. "We can talk about it another time. Right now, I want you to listen to this." He pressed a button on the machine, and Clark watched as the tape wheels began to turn.
"You know, of course, that we record every call made to the station," Henderson said as the tape fed itself through the machine. "Once we realized what was happening, we spliced all the calls together and —" He stopped as the recording began to play.
"I wanna talk to the inspector. To Henderson."
"Who is this, please?"
"You don't need to know that. Just gimme Inspector Henderson."
"Sir, could I please have your name?"
"No, you can't. I'm calling back in a couple of minutes. Make sure Henderson is available."
"Yeah, I called a couple of minutes ago. Let me talk to Henderson."
"Sir, Inspector Henderson is aware of your previous phone call. He will talk to you, but I must insist on having your name."
"Well… if it'll *really* make you happy." <silence> "This is George Washington. Now let me talk to Henderson."
"One moment please, Mr… Washington."
"No, I'm not holding on while you trace this call. I'll call back soon. Make sure I get through to Henderson then."
Henderson paused the tape and looked up at the intent super-hero. "What do you think so far?"
"I think this has little to do with me," Clark said slowly, wondering why Henderson had summoned him in the first place. "The background sounds seem to indicate the man is talking from a public phone. I would say he's on a main road — I heard two buses pass by. He seems to want to talk with you rather badly and make sure he can't be traced at the same time. I'd guess that he's walking from one public phone to the next to make sure he remains safely anonymous."
"That's what we think, too," Henderson agreed. "The boys did try to trace it, and they got as far as Hobb's Bay, but the guy just wouldn't stay on the phone long enough to get a definite number. Here's where it gets more interesting. We were expecting the call, and I was already listening in." He released the pause button and sat back.
"This is Washington. Let me talk to Henderson."
"One moment, sir. Please don't hang up."
"Henderson here. Who is this?"
"I already said I'm George Washington."
"Yeah, right. What do you want?"
"I have some information for you. Information I need you to pass onto Superman."
Clark raised his eyebrows, but the recording continued.
"Get a pen and paper ready, Inspector. I'll call back soon."
"This is Washington. Let me talk to Henderson."
"One moment, sir."
"This is Henderson. All right, Washington, what do you have for Superman?"
"Good choice of words, Henderson. I *do* have something for Superman, something I need to give him. But it's going to have to happen my way."
"Tell Superman to meet me tonight in the alley behind Worth and 87th near Hobb's Bay. I'll be there with something for him."
"What is it?"
"Just tell him, Henderson. Make sure he comes alone. No cops. No recorders. And definitely not those reporter pals of his. If I see anything suspicious, I won't show. Got that?"
"Wait a minute —"
"Sorry, fifty seconds. Make sure he's there."
Henderson shut off the recording. For a long moment, silence filled the small office. The two men looked at each other thoughtfully.
"What do you think, Superman?"
"I'm not sure," Clark said, frowning. "It might mean anything, really."
"It might be a trap. I'm not sure it would be smart for you to show up. If you do go, you should take along some backup."
Clark looked at him, amused. "And what exactly is he going to trap me with?"
Henderson gave him a level gaze. "You're not as invulnerable as we all like to think you are," he said pointedly. "This guy is trying to get you to a specific place at a specific time. Sounds like a trap to me."
Clark, somewhat sobered, spread his hands. "If there really is something important involved, it would be foolish to scare this man away. I'm willing to take the risk."
"C'mon, Superman." Henderson leaned forward. "Let me give you some backup. I've got some plainclothes men who could make a better wino than a guy on a four-day bender, and one policewoman who can make herself look like she ought to be hauled in for — well, never mind. But no one has to know the street scum hanging out at the corner are really on your side."
Clark stood up and shook his head. "Thank you, Inspector, but no. Anything suspicious will only leave the matter unresolved. If this involves the citizens of Metropolis in any way, I'll get back to you. I appreciate your giving me the message."
He shook the inspector's hand, then turned to go. With a sudden glint in his eye, Clark glanced back over his shoulder and added, "By the way, Inspector, it looks like I'll have to tell Clark Kent that the position of secretary has already been taken."
He gently closed the door against the sudden explosion of coughs.
The bright moon peeked reassuringly through the clouds as Superman hovered high over the rendezvous point, examining the site for potential traps. Just outside Suicide Slum, the alley looked like alleys the world over — dirty, dark, and dismal. Even the man standing furtively in the shadows behind a dumpster seemed a natural part of the scenery. Yet if Henderson's story was right, this was the man who "had something to give to Superman."
Clark still wasn't sure what to expect. A quick X-ray glance had shown that "George Washington" had a switchblade in his sock and brass knuckles in his pocket, but there was no sign of a weapon that could be dangerous to the Man of Steel. There were no other people nearby who could possibly be part of an ambush. Unless —
Clark's eyes narrowed as he took a closer look at the man's left hand. He was clutching something. Something that Clark couldn't identify…
Because it was in a lead box.
Clark rocketed skywards in panicky reflex as his every sense screamed, "Danger!" Something to give to Superman? Something in a *lead* box? Kryptonite!
He forced himself to calm down as he shot through the wispy clouds and lost sight of "George Washington". Taking a deep breath, he once again focused on the stranger below. Washington was peering upwards anxiously, squinting in first one direction and then another in his efforts to catch a glimpse of the superhero. The box, still in his left hand, was tightly closed.
Clark considered his options. He couldn't just ignore the man and fly off; if it *was* Kryptonite, he needed to do something about it now. But how could he confront Washington, if all the stranger had to do was open the box and —
He stopped short and gazed intently at the dull-colored box that seemed to exude such menace. He blinked with surprise, then focused again. No, he wasn't mistaken.
The box was locked.
Something was really weird here.
Clark made up his mind. Taking a deep breath, bracing himself for the possibility of sudden, searing pain, he flashed downwards in an eyeblink, snatched the man by the arms, and flew upwards in a heartbeat. Washington squeaked in astonishment and almost lost his hold of the box, his legs flailing wildly as he tried to find some purchase.
As they reached cloud-level, Clark slowed to a halt. He held the man out at arm's length and let him get a good look at the distance to the ground. If Washington *did* try to attack him with Kryptonite, they would both suffer a long plummet to the ground, ending with an ugly, squishy *splat*.
"S-superman!" the man gasped as his face turned a pasty white.
"George Washington, I presume?" Clark asked mildly. "You wanted to give me something?"
The man swallowed hard. He glanced downwards, then squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "Could you land somewhere, please?" he said hoarsely. "I can't —"
Clark looked carefully at the small box. Yes, it was still locked. He floated to the nearest rooftop and set Washington down. The man's legs instantly buckled and he collapsed in a trembling heap.
Clark stepped back and waited for the man to regain his composure. After a minute, he said again, "You wanted to give me something?"
Washington slowly got to his feet. "Yes, Superman," he said. "Here. Take this."
Clark stared at the lead box that the man offered him. "What is it?"
"Don't open it," the man said hastily. "Just take it."
"What is it?" Clark repeated.
Clark dropped the box as if it had burned his fingers.
The man stooped, picked up the box, and offered it to him again. Slowly, Clark took the box and held it. He felt nothing — no pain, no weakness, no nausea. If the box really did hold Kryptonite, the lead protected him.
"Why?" he asked.
The man gave a small, crooked smile and shrugged. "Look, Supes, I'll be honest with you. I'm a crook. I haven't made an honest penny since I shoveled sidewalks as a kid. But there are crooks and crooks, ya know. We're not all super-villains."
He pointed at the box. "I'm not gonna tell you how I ended up with that. It's not much, really — maybe the size of a marble. But I know it can hurt you, so it's better that you get rid of it as soon as possible."
"I don't understand," Clark said slowly. "You've admitted that you're a crook…"
"I may steal, but I'm not a *real* bad guy, okay?" Washington interrupted. "Maybe you'd put me in prison if you caught me picking pockets, but that doesn't mean I hate you or want you dead. You're a good man, Supes. You've done a lot for the world and we all appreciate it. So just take the green rock and get rid of it, will ya?"
Clark couldn't help but smile. "I'll do that," he said. He looked at the man carefully. "And thank you. Maybe I could help you look for some honest employment…?"
Washington gave a guttural laugh. "Nice of you to think of it, Supes, but I'm not lookin' for a reward. Just get me down from here, okay?"
"Okay." Clark lifted the man in a more gentle hold this time and drifted down towards street level.
"Great." Washington dusted himself off, then offered Clark a cocky grin. "I'll try to keep out of your way, now. I know better than to ask you to look the other way if we ever meet, uh, professionally, but —"
Clark simply held out his hand and offered him a warm handshake. "Thanks a lot," he smiled. "And try to stay on the right side of the law if you can."
With a heart strangely warmed by the night's events, Superman rose upwards, eager to make a quick sidetrip to the sun to rid himself of this little souvenir from home.