TSOS - The Supergirl of Smallville - Chapter 19 - 21
Written by Team Acenaut :: [Monday, 05 October 2009 18:08] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:58]
A shiny black Cadillac was parked in a narrow strip of shade that ran along one side of the old meat-packing plant. Tony D'Amato stood leaning against the cracked cement wall, smoking a cigarette and scowling at the empty dirt parking lot that baked in the early-afternoon sunlight.
He flicked his cigarette aside and glanced at his watch. It had been twenty minutes since he'd phoned the Prentiss girl. Was she going to show up? He pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his pinstripe suit and dabbed his forehead as he squinted up at the sky.
Calm down, he told himself. Everything was set. Louie and Bruno had the Kent kid under wraps at the farmhouse. Jasper and Mitch were on their way to the rendezvous point by the back road that ran between Crawfordsville and Shelbyville. Leo and Manny were waiting inside the plant. They'd all been briefed; they all knew what they were supposed to do.
Now it all depended on Supergirl. The thirty minutes were almost up, but she'd be here -- Tony was sure of that. After all, he knew who she really was. And he was holding her boy-friend hostage. She'd show up, all right, if only to hear what he had to say. After that ... well, Tony prided himself on his powers of persuasion.
"Any sign of her, boss?"
Manny was standing in the open doorway, gazing up at the sky.
"She'll be here," Tony said. "Count on it."
He stepped inside the derelict plant. A faint smell of disinfectant lingered in the empty room. Streaks of sunlight slanted through a high row of dirty, broken windows. The floor was bare, except for a few scattered sheets of packing paper and some old furniture -- a scarred wooden table and a couple of rickety wooden chairs. A sliding steel door, eight feet high and twelve feet wide, hung on a long bracket in the front wall, and a pair of corridors, lined with empty meat lockers, receded into the shadows behind the room.
Leo was standing by the table, shuffling a deck of cards in his hands. "What if she doesn't show?"
"She'll be here," Tony snapped. "Believe me, if she knows what's good for her -- "
A loud boom shook the building and drowned out the rest of his words. Startled, the three men spun round. The steel door was bulging inward. A second boom rang out, then a sharp crack as the door snapped free of its bracket and toppled onto the cement floor with a deafening clatter.
The men jumped back, blinking as sunlight flooded the room, coughing as dust rose from the floor. Dimly through the haze they could see a slender figure stride through the opening, over the fallen slab of steel, and into the middle of the room.
"Hey!" Manny sputtered. "You ain't Supergirl!"
Standing before them was a pretty teenage girl with long blonde hair that gleamed in the sunlight pouring into the room and blue eyes that darted appraisingly from one man to the next. She was wearing a snug red sweater with a varsity "S" across the front, and a short red skirt whose pleats rustled in the warm breeze.
"No?" she said, raising an eyebrow. "How many girls do you know who can knock down a steel door with their bare hands? But if you want more proof -- "
She glanced down at an old sheet of packing paper that lay on the floor near Manny's foot.
"Yikes!" Manny jumped back as the sheet burst into flame. He gaped at the burning paper, watching it curl and blacken and crumble into brittle flakes that drifted off on the breeze.
Leo scowled, holding his gun out at arm's length. "You want me to make sure she's the real deal, boss?"
"Put the gun away, Leo," Tony growled. "The young lady is our guest."
"It's all right, Mr. D'Amato." Tossing her head, the girl turned to face Leo. "Let him shoot."
Tony shrugged. "Knock yourself out, Leo."
Leo licked his lips nervously. There was no sign of fear in the girl's eyes as she stood facing him. As if in a dream, Leo raised his gun, took aim, squeezed the trigger ...
A shot rang out in the cavernous room, its echoes lingering in the musty air.
"Oh, for goodness sake." The girl was looking down at her sweater. Frowning, she pointed at a dime-sized hole, its edges frayed and slightly charred, just below her left shoulder. "Do you realize that if this uniform gets torn, I have to pay for it?"
Sighing, she turned to Tony. "All right, Mr. D'Amato. You asked me to meet you here. What's this all about?"
Tony nodded. "Indeed. Thank you for coming. First of all, I wish to assure you that young Mr. Kent is safe, and that he will come to no harm -- provided we all behave, ah, prudently."
The girl nodded, eyeing Tony steadily. "Go on."
"I have a proposition -- a proposition which should be to our, ah, mutual benefit. You see, I have decided that the time has come for me to pull up stakes, to leave Shelbyville and to settle down ... ah, elsewhere."
Tony's hand fluttered vaguely.
"But that will require money -- more money than I have on hand at the moment. And that, Miss Prentiss, is where you come in."
"If you're asking me to steal for you -- "
"No, no. I will handle that, ah, detail myself. All I want you to do is look the other way while I, ah, conduct a certain monetary transaction. I assure you that nobody will be hurt. Promise me that you won't interfere, that you'll let me leave town unmolested, and in return ... "
Tony held up his hand, palm out.
"In return, I promise that your, ah, secret identity will be safe with me."
Tony shrugged. "Let's call it ... an exchange of courtesies. And of course, your boy-friend will be released unharmed."
The girl narrowed her eyes. "I want to talk with him."
Tony nodded. "As you wish. Come this way."
She followed him out the side door. Tony reached through the open window of the Cadillac and unhooked the microphone of his CB radio. He held it up to his mouth and spoke.
"Louie? Come in, please."
There was a hiss of static, followed by a man's voice. "Hey, boss. This is Louie."
"Louie, there's a young lady here who wishes to speak with our guest. Put him on, please."
The man's voice was faintly audible over the microphone. He seemed to be giving instructions to someone. There was a moment of silence, then ...
"Clark!" She spoke eagerly into the microphone. "Oh, sweetie, are you all right?"
"I'm -- I'm okay. They've got me tied to a chair, but I'm okay. Where are you? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Clark. Oh, I've been so worried about you -- "
"Suzy, what's going on? These guys think you're Supergirl. I told them that was crazy, but they wouldn't listen. You've got to -- "
"Don't worry, sweetie. Everything's going to be fine. Just stay calm and -- "
"That's enough." Tony shut off the microphone and put it back in the car. "And now, Miss Prentiss, if you would kindly follow me ... "
The girl followed him back into the plant and down one of the dark corridors. Manny and Leo brought up the rear. Tony stopped at the door of a meat locker and tugged at the handle. The heavy door swung open with a groan.
"I apologize for the accommodations," Tony remarked. The locker was pitch-dark; the air was stale and musty. "But I must insist that you remain here while I conduct the, ah, transaction I spoke of. My associates will let you out as soon as I give the signal. Give me your word that you won't use your super-powers to leave before then."
The girl nodded curtly. "I promise." She stepped into the locker. Tony pushed against the heavy door, which swung reluctantly on rusty hinges and shut with a clang.
Briskly, Tony strode back up the corridor, followed by Manny and Leo. "All right, boys. You know what to do. Sit tight until I give the signal. If you hear a peep out of her, contact me over the walkie-talkie."
"You got it, boss."
Tony stepped out the side door, back into the afternoon sunlight. He glanced at his watch. It was 1:50. Jasper and Mitch should be waiting for him at the rendezvous point. He slid behind the wheel of the Cadillac. His hand was trembling slightly as he turned the key in the ignition.
The car roared out of the parking lot, trailing a cloud of dust as it turned onto Endicott Road.
* * * * * * * *
An excited murmur rose from the bleachers as the Smallville High School band began assembling on the football field. Scowling, Coach Stevens looked at his watch. The band was about to play the national anthem, the scrimmage was about to begin ... and there was still no sign of his starting quarterback.
"Ross!" he barked.
Pete Ross looked up from the bench. "Yes, Coach?"
"Any idea where Kent might be?"
Pete shook his head. "Sorry, Coach. I stopped at his house on my way here. His mother said he was out running some kind of errand, but she didn't know where he went."
"Well, we can't wait for him any longer. You're our starting quarterback."
Pete nodded. "Right, coach."
The Smallville cheerleaders stood in a line facing the bleachers, waiting for the band to strike up the national anthem. Mrs. Johanssen cast a worried glance around the field. One member of the squad was missing.
"Have any of you girls seen Suzy?"
"She said she was coming with Lana," said Tami Dodge. "But I haven't seen either one of them."
Mrs. Johannsen sighed. "Well, the game's about to begin. We'll just have to go on without her. Are you girls ready?"
Five heads nodded.
Mrs. Johanssen frowned. Suzy's such a reliable girl, she thought. I hope nothing's happened to her.
The loudspeaker crackled. "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the national anthem ... "
* * * * * * * *
Leo laid his cards on the scarred wooden table. "Gin."
Manny grunted. He gathered the cards and began shuffling the deck.
"I don't like this," he muttered, turning round on the rickety chair and peering down the dark corridor.
Leo shrugged. "Hey, we're getting a C-note each just to baby-sit," he said. "What's not to like?"
"That's Supergirl in there, for crying out loud. Look what she did to that door." He jerked his thumb at the crumpled steel slab lying on the concrete floor. "She could bust out of that locker any time she wanted to, and how would we stop her?"
"Just relax and deal the cards. You heard her. She promised she wouldn't use her powers to escape."
Manny shook his head doubtfully as he began dealing the cards. "And we should believe her why?"
"Didn't you hear what Tony said? He knows her secret identity."
"Her what?" Manny looked blank.
"Her secret identity. You know -- who she is when she's not flying around in that fancy blue outfit. So Tony's got her over a barrel. She'll do what he says, or he spills her big secret. Believe me, that doll's staying put till Tony says otherwise."
"Maybe you're right." Manny picked up his cards. "But I still don't -- "
A loud clang echoed along the corridor. Leo and Manny leapt to their feet. There was a sudden gust of wind, a flash of red ...
"Hi, guys!" a girl's voice chirped behind them.
Leo and Manny spun round. The girl was standing in the middle of the room, silhouetted against the open doorway, brushing a strand of shiny blond hair from her forehead..
Leo and Manny fled behind the table, stepping back as the girl advanced, until their shoulders bumped against the peeling whitewashed wall. Leo swallowed nervously. "Listen, miss," he stammered. "We -- we didn't have nothing to do with this. Tony just paid us to sit here till he got back -- that's all. Honest!"
Manny nodded vigorously. "That's right. We -- ulp!"
The girl brought her hand up under the table. Her arm swept up and back; the table flew across the room and crashed against the wall behind her. Stepping forward, she reached out and grabbed Leo's shirtfront in her right hand, Manny's in her left. The two men felt themselves being lifted off the floor, shaken, slammed against the wall ... Dizzy, breathless, they slumped to the floor as the girl bustled about in a blur of super-speed ...
"Well, gentlemen ... "
They looked up. The girl stood smiling down at them. Leo tried to stand up, only to discover that his ankles and wrists were bound with baling wire.
"Thank you for your hospitality," the girl continued. "I'm sorry to be running off like this, but I've got to take care of a few things. Don't worry -- I'll let the police know you're here. I'm sure they'll be happy to keep you company."
She turned and raced off, stirring up eddies of dust in her wake, then sprang through the open doorway into the sky.
* * * * * * * *
The Brinks truck slowed to a stop as it approached the roadblock.
Frowning, the driver glanced to his left, then to his right. The two-lane road was empty in front of him, open farmland lay on both sides. He was reaching for the radio mike on the dashboard when he heard a sharp tap at his window.
Turning, he found himself staring into the muzzle of a machine-gun. A heavy-set man in a pinstripe suit stepped back, keeping the gun pointed straight at the window. Two other men stood behind him with guns drawn.
With a jerk of his head, the heavy-set man ordered the driver out of the truck. Cautiously, the driver opened the door and stepped down, raising his hands. One of the other men came forward and took the gun from the holster on his belt.
"Good afternoon," said the heavy-set man. His voice was slow and husky. "As you can see, this is a stick-up. I have little time for amenities. Kindly walk round and open the back of the truck. My associates will remove the payroll and put it into my car. If you do as I say, you will not be harmed. Otherwise -- "
He raised his gun and fired six shots into the air. Tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat!
"What the -- ?" Tony's jaw dropped.
A streak of red came hurtling from the sky, intercepting the hail of bullets.
"Supergirl!" he snarled.
Four pairs of eyes gazed upward in amazement. A pretty teenager in a red cheerleading uniform was hovering ten feet above the road. Her blonde hair streamed behind her, her short skirt stirred in the summer breeze. Her right hand was clenched in a fist. Slowly she extended her arm and opened her hand ...
Six bullets fell clattering to the asphalt road.
The girl descended to the ground and stepped between the driver and the gunmen. "Shame on you, Mr. D'Amato!" she said. "Don't you know that playing with loaded guns can be dangerous?" She strode forward and snatched the gun from Tony's hands.
She turned to face the other two men. "Throw your guns down, now!" Stunned, the men looked inquiringly at their boss.
"Do as she says, boys," Tony muttered.
"Mr. D'Amato, put your hands up," the girl commanded. "The rest of you -- lie face down, hands behind your necks. Now!" Sullenly, the men obeyed.
The driver picked up his gun and put it back in his holster. "Thanks, uh, Supergirl." He went up to Tony, flashing a badge. "Anthony D'Amato," he said, "I'm Detective Lieutenant Henderson of the Kansas State Police, and you are under arrest on a charge of armed robbery." He took out a pair of handcuffs and slipped them on Tony's wrists.
The wail of approaching police sirens was now audible.
"All right, missy," Tony growled. "Have it your way. Now your secret's out." He raised his voice, even though there was nobody else within earshot. "That's right!" he bellowed. "Pretty soon the whole world is gonna know that Supergirl is Suzy Prentiss of Smallville, Kansas!"
The girl tossed her head. "Go ahead and tell! See if I care! But before I go -- you went to a lot of trouble to rob this truck. I think you deserve to see what's inside."
She strode over to the truck and pulled the rear door open. The inside of the truck was empty, except for a pair of uniformed state troopers who jumped down onto the road, staring in confusion at the blonde girl in the cheerleading outfit who stood smiling up at them.
"Thanks, Miss -- uh, Supergirl," one of them said, pushing his cap back on his head. "I guess we can take it from here."
"My pleasure," the girl replied. "I'm always happy to help the police. But I've got to be on my way now. I've got a boy-friend to rescue!" And with that she sprang into the air and soared off into the clear blue sky.
The officers stood gazing up after her.
"Holy cow," one of them said. "She's really something, isn't she?"
"She sure is. But I thought Supergirl was a redhead."
"Me, too. Maybe this is another one."
"Another Supergirl?" He let out a low whistle. "What do they feed the girls in that town?"
* * * * * * * *
An expectant hush hung over the field as Martindale's quarterback trotted toward the twenty-yard line. His leg swung out, his foot struck the ball ... Cheers rose from the bleachers as the ball sailed smoothly between the goalposts. The Martindale band struck up the school song.
Coach Stevens groaned as he watched the scoreboard. The second quarter was just beginning, and Martindale was now ahead,17-7. Where the hell is Kent? he wondered.
* * * * * * * *
Clark squirmed on the hard wooden chair, straining against the ropes as he tried to shift his weight.
The back of the chair was pressing painfully against his shoulders. His arms were cramped, his buttocks were sore, his nose was itching. Behind him, his two captors were playing pool by the light of a 60-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling of the cellar.
Clark wondered how long he'd been sitting here, tied to the chair. An hour, maybe? It felt like an eternity. His mind was reeling. What was going on? Was he being held hostage because Joe was in some kind of trouble with the mob? Or did the Martindale team hire these guys to keep him from playing in the scrimmage? That sounded crazy -- but this whole situation was crazy.
And what about Suzy? Was she being held captive somewhere, too? And how did these guys ever get the idea that she was Supergirl? Sure, some of the kids at school might think so, but Clark couldn't believe that any grown-up would take the idea seriously. Oh, man, he thought. What'll these guys do when they find out they were wrong?
He shut his eyes and tried to put the thought out of his mind.
If only I still had my super-powers, he thought. I could snap these ropes ... make these guys beg for mercy .. fly off to rescue Suzy ... He squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated, as if he could summon back his lost powers by wishing.
But nothing happened.
He turned his head to look at his captors. "Uh ... excuse me?"
The two men looked up from the pool table, regarding him with bored expressions.
"I, uh, I have to go to the bathroom," said Clark. "Do you suppose --?"
A sharp noise rang out, like the blow of a sledgehammer on stone, and the cellar trembled. Shadows danced crazily across the floor and walls as the light bulb swayed back and forth. Three pairs of eyes turned toward the downhill wall. Chunks of cement were tumbling to the floor; sunlight was pouring into the room from a jagged hole, five or six feet wide and running from floor to ceiling. Clark and his captors blinked in the sudden glare. Silhouetted against the sunlight they could see a slender figure standing outside.
Clark heard a familiar voice.
"Knock, knock! Anybody home?"
Clark's jaw dropped. Framed by the jagged opening, brushing dust from her snug red sweater and her short red skirt, stood ...
She smiled and waved. "Hi, Clark!" she said. "Don't worry -- everything's going to be all right!"
"But -- you -- how --?"
"Just a sec." Clark's captors were exchanging nervous glances. The thin man was reaching inside his jacket ...
Clark stared as Suzy drew a deep breath, leaning back as she inhaled, her chest straining against the fabric of her sweater. Leaning forward at the waist, she puckered her lips and puffed out her cheeks and blew ...
A mighty gust of wind tore through the cellar. It bounced off the walls and swept around the room, stirring up eddies of dust and dry leaves and scraps of paper. Clark squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face away from the blast. Whirling dust stung his cheek and tickled his nose; he leaned into the wind, struggling to keep his chair from toppling over ...
The gust died down as suddenly as it had sprung up. Clark opened his eyes. Suzy was stepping through the jagged opening and into the cellar. The last remnants of wind were tousling her blonde hair and stirring the pleats of her skirt.
Clark's captors had been blown across the cellar. Dazed, breathless, covered in dust from head to foot, they stood slumped against the far wall. With trembling hands they reached inside their jackets ...
"Don't even think about it!" Suzy snapped as they drew out their revolvers. "I'm bullet-proof -- but this uniform isn't." She pointed to a frayed spot on the front of her sweater, just below the shoulder. "One of your friends already put a hole in my sweater today."
"Yeah?" Louie's voice squeaked, but he carried on. "Well, you may be bullet-proof, blondie -- but your boy-friend isn't." His outstretched arm swung slowly toward Clark, but he kept his eyes on Suzy.
Suzy rolled her eyes. "Oh, please," she said. "You do know who I am, don't you? I'm Supergirl. You know -- faster than a speeding bullet ... more powerful than a locomotive?" She pointed to the broken wall. "You see what my fist did to that wall? Just imagine what it could do to your chin." She stepped forward, drawing her arm back, curling her slender fingers into a fist ...
Louie's hand trembled. Beads of perspiration trickled down his grimy forehead.
"You're bluffing!" he said. "You've never hurt anyone with your super-powers."
"True -- but no one's ever threatened my boy-friend, either."
"You got us all wrong!" Bruno blurted. "We wasn't going to hurt your boy-friend -- honest!"
"That's right," Louie chimed in, nodding vigorously. "We were just ... looking after him -- keeping him safe, like. You gotta believe us -- "
"Oh, I believe you," said Suzy. "You seem like intelligent men. In fact, I'll give you a chance to show me how smart you are. Right now, your boss is under arrest for armed robbery, kidnapping, and who knows what else. His partners are going to be all over themselves, offering to testify against him. So I tell you what I'll do. Whoever drops his gun and puts his hands up gets to talk with the District Attorney first -- "
Two revolvers struck the floor simultaneously. Louie and Bruno glared at each other as they raised their arms.
Suzy nodded approvingly. "It looks like we have a tie." She lifted her sweater and took out a pair of handcuffs that was tucked behind her belt. "Now," she said, dangling the handcuffs from the tip of her forefinger, "you can go and handcuff yourselves to that water pipe in the corner over there -- or I can send you into dreamland until the police arrive. Your choice."
Louie reached out and took the handcuffs. He and Bruno shuffled over to the back wall, where a length of pipe ran parallel to the ceiling. Louie snapped one of the cuffs around his wrist, then raised his arm and flipped the chain over the pipe. Bruno grabbed the other cuff and fastened it around his own wrist. The two men stood watching morosely as Suzy walked up to Clark.
"See, Clark?" she said. "I told you everything was going to be all right!"
Clark sat gaping up at his girl-friend, his mind reeling. So it's true! he thought. Suzy really is Supergirl. If he hadn't seen it with his own eyes ... She'd smashed through a concrete wall -- bowled his captors over with a blast of super-breath -- faced two armed thugs without a trace of fear. Whatever caused him to lose his super-powers that day two years ago had somehow transferred them -- to Suzy!
"Suzy!" he stammered. "You -- I mean -- how --?"
Suzy giggled. "You big goof," she said. She leaned down and kissed him.
"I'm sorry, Clark," she said. "I know this must be kind of a shock. I'll explain everything later -- I promise."
She stood looking down at him.
"What's the matter, sweetie?" she said. "Aren't you glad to see me? Aren't you glad I've got super-powers so I could save you from those crooks?"
Clark could feel his face redden as he stared up at her, speechless.
"Now, Clark," she scolded. "There's no reason to be embarrassed. Just because I'm a zillion times stronger than you -- "
"I'm -- that's not -- " Clark stammered. Suzy's face broke into a grin.
"It's okay, sweetie," she said, laying a finger on the tip of his nose. "I'm just teasing. I don't blame you for being surprised. We'll talk later. But first -- "
She stepped behind him. "Let's get you out of that chair. My fingernail will cut through those nasty ropes like a knife through butter. Hold still -- "
Clark felt the ropes around his chest slacken. Gratefully, he stretched out his cramped arms, flexing his sore muscles, as Suzy stepped around to face him again.
"Listen, Clark," she said seriously. "There's something I have to take care of right away. I know you've got a lot of questions, and I promise I'll answer them later, but right now ... Clark Kent, are you listening?"
"Huh?" Clark was busy trying to loosen the ropes that hung about him. He stopped and looked up.
"That's better," said Suzy. "Now listen. It's almost half-time, and without their star quarterback, the Crows are behind by eight points. And that's not all. It seems your two friends here -- "
She glanced back at the corner where Louie and Bruno stood handcuffed to the water pipe.
" -- It seems they bet a bundle on Martindale. So if you'd like to thank them for their hospitality, get down to the field and win the game for Smallville!"
She turned and strode purposefully toward the opening in the wall. Clark finally found his voice. "Wait, Suzy!" he called.
Suzy paused. "Sorry, sweetie -- I have to go now. The police will be here soon, to pick up these two. Just remember -- win one for the Crows!" She stepped through the opening and out into the sunlight ...
"Suzy!" Clark cried. Grabbing the ropes and tossing them to the floor, he jumped to his feet. Oof! His cramped legs nearly folded under him. He hobbled after her, picking his way amid the chunks of concrete that littered the floor, and stepped outside. Bright red spots swam in front of his eyes as he looked around him ...
There she was! Downhill, about fifty yards away, he saw Suzy spring from the grassy slope and soar into the sky.
"Wait!" he shouted, waving his arms and stumbling downhill. Damn! He tripped on a root and fell headlong, sprawling face down on the hillside. Dazed, he lifted his head and watched the flying figure dwindle as it flew off toward Smallville.
He scrambled to his feet and began hurrying back uphill to the spot where he'd parked his motor bike. Passing the shattered wall, he paused and stuck his head inside. His captors regarded him sourly from the corner of the cellar.
"So long, guys," Clark said. "I guess you can read about the game in tomorrow's paper."
"Ah, you ain't so hot," Bruno muttered. "You'd still be tied up in that chair if it wasn't for your girl-friend."
"Yeah," Bruno sneered. "Wait'll people hear about this. Some big tough football player you are. Haw!"
Clark's face burned. "Aw, go ... jump in the lake!" he blurted. He turned and trotted up the hill. His mind was in a whirl. He'd been kidnapped ... his girl-friend had turned out to be Supergirl ... Deal with it later, he told himself as he straddled his motor bike. Moments later, he was roaring down the driveway. At the bottom of the hill, he opened the throttle and leaned forward as he raced along the Old Mill Road, back toward Smallville.
He had a game to win.
The referee's whistle shrilled through the crisp autumn air. The Crows in their red jerseys came trotting across the field and gathered in a huddle on their thirty-yard line.
"Okay, guys," Clark said. "There's a minute left on the clock, and we need a touchdown to tie the game and the point after to win. Freddy, I'll toss the ball back to you. You start running a sweep to the right and I'll go out for the pass. When I get the ball, the rest of you block for me while I make a run for the endzone. Got it?"
His teammates nodded.
"All right -- let's go!"
The huddle broke up, the players ran into position. Clark was adjusting the strap on his helmet when he heard Coach Stevens's voice behind him.
"Not so fast, Kent!"
Clark turned around. "Hey, Coach. What's up? We're going to run a quarterback eligible, just like you said."
"That's right -- but I'm pulling you out of the game."
"Huh? But, Coach -- "
"No buts. I'm bringing in a new quarterback."
"A new quarterback? But Pete's still benched on account of his ankle. Who -- ?"
A familiar voice chirped behind him. "Hi, Clark!"
His heart sank as he turned around. Aw, nuts ...
Suzy was hopping up and down in her cheerleading uniform, clapping her hands excitedly.
"That's right, Kent," beamed Coach Stevens. "Meet the Crows' secret emergency weapon -- Suzy Prentiss!"
"Isn't this exciting, Clark?" Suzy squealed. her blue eyes shining eagerly. "I've always wanted to play in a football game!" She thrust her pom-poms into Clark's hands. "Here -- hold on to these for me, will you? Wish me luck!" She stood on tiptoe and gave Clark a kiss on the cheek.
"Yeah," Clark mumbled. "Good luck." He trudged over to the benches and sat down next to Pete Ross. An excited murmur rose from the bleachers as Suzy ran into position. In her bobby sox and short skirt, the pretty blonde contrasted oddly with the hulking athletes in their padded uniforms who crouched menacingly on the line of scrimmage.
"How can she play, anyway?" Clark muttered. "She's a girl. Don't the state rules -- "
"Coach checked," Pete grinned. "The rules don't actually say a girl can't play. Now shut up. This is gonna be great!"
The referee blew his whistle.
"Nine ... six ... ten ... hike!"
Jeff Mortimer snapped the ball to Suzy. Suzy made a clumsy catch, nearly dropping the ball as she turned toward Freddy Muldoon. Clark rolled his eyes. She may be super, he thought, but she still plays like a girl.
Suzy drew her arm back awkwardly, clutching the ball in her slender fingers, and flung it at Freddy.
"Oof!" Freddy doubled over and staggered backward as the ball struck him in the stomach. Regaining his balance, he began running down the side of the field with two of the Middleton Mustangs close at his heels.
"Jeez, Suzy," he shouted. "Save it for the other team."
Suzy grinned sheepishly. "Sorry," she said, racing down the middle of the field, getting ready to catch Freddy's pass. "Sometimes I forget my own -- "
A 240-pound linebacker went tumbling toward the sideline as she brushed lightly against him.
" -- strength."
Freddy drew his arm back for the pass just as one of his pursuers knocked him to the ground. Clark groaned as he watched the ball soar in a high, wobbling arc across the fifty-yard line and deep into Mustang territory. Eager arms reached up to intercept it ...
The spectators rose to their feet, cheering. Turning around, Suzy had leapt after the ball. Soaring over the other players, she reached down and plucked the ball from the outstretched arms of a Middleton defender, then landed gracefully on Middleton's thirty-five-yard line.
Suzy paused for a moment, cradling the ball in one arm while she smoothed her skirt and brushed her windblown hair from her eyes. Middleton's defensive backs were scrambling into position. Just like a girl, Clark thought disgustedly. The clock's running out, and she stops to primp.
But Suzy was already running forward. The Mustangs' defense closed in on her, hoping to slow her down long enough to stop her from scoring a touchdown before the clock ran out ...
"Ow!" ... "Oof!" ... "Ugh!" Suzy burst through the defensive players, knocking down her opponents like so many bowling pins. Clark was on his feet, adding his shouts to the roar of the spectators as Suzy charged down the field. "Go, Suzy! Go!"
Suzy's legs were a blur, sending clods of turf high in the air behind her as she raced toward the goalpost. There were five seconds left on the clock ... four ... three ... A Middleton safety threw himself at Suzy in a flying tackle, only to land face-down on the ten-yard line as she put on a final burst of speed. Two ... one ...
The buzzer sounded. Suzy was hopping up and down excitedly in Middleton's endzone. Half a dozen athletes in blue jerseys lay scattered on the field. Groaning, they began picking themselves up as the Smallville band struck up the school song. Clark glanced at the scoreboard: HOME 20 VISITORS 20.
A hush fell over the crowd as the referee placed the ball on the two-yard line. Suzy took her position on the ten. The snap was good and the hold was down as she trotted forward. Her leg swung out, her toe struck the ball ...
The ball shot between the goalposts. Ooh'sand aah'srose from the bleachers as the ball rocketed up, up into the clear autumn sky, dwindling to a speck and vanishing from sight. Suzy turned, beaming, as the spectators began pouring across the field, their cheers filling the air. The Crows had won the state championship, 21 to 20.
The other cheerleaders had gathered round Suzy, chattering excitedly.
"Way to go, Suzy!" said Tami. "Too bad we don't all have super-powers. Then we could really show the boys something!"
"I thought that last guy was going to grab you for sure," chimed in Melissa. "But you had him eating your dust. That was amazing!"
"Well," said Suzy. "I've had a lot of practice -- dodging Clark's rushes!"
The girls burst into giggles. Red-faced, Clark looked away. The Mustangs were shuffling off the field, nursing their bruised limbs and battered egos "Hey, Kent," one of them snickered as he passed Clark. "Nice pom-poms."
"Huh?" Clark glanced down. Oh, man ... He was still holding the pom-poms Suzy had handed him before she joined the line of scrimmage.
He turned away. His shoulder bumped against something -- something big and heavy. He glanced up.
Uh-oh. Glaring down at him was "Haystack" Calhoun, Middleton's six-foot-six linebacker.
"Hey!" The behemoth was clearly upset at losing the game and ready for any excuse to take it out on somebody. "Watch where you're going!"
He drew his arm back, clenching his hand into a ham-sized fist. Heart pounding, Clark stepped back, getting ready to duck as the massive fist came swinging toward him. There was a sudden breeze ...
Clark blinked. Suzy was standing beside him, one hand resting on her hip, the other wrapped around Haystack's fist. The linebacker's face was twisted in surprise and pain. Clark winced.
"Shame on you!" Suzy scolded. She bent her wrist forward; Haystack dropped to his knees, howling in pain.
Suzy's blue eyes were flashing with indignation. "Losing your temper like that! Why, anyone could see it was just an accident. Isn't that right, sweetie?"
"Uh ... yeah," Clark mumbled. "Sorry."
"There! Now what do you say?"
Haystack averted his eyes. "Sorry," he muttered between clenched teeth.
"Excuse me?" Suzy's slender fingers tightened around his fist.
"Sorry! I'm sorry!" he said, louder.
"That's better," said Suzy. She released his hand. Haystack stood up, nursing his fingers and glaring sullenly at Clark.
Clark smiled weakly. "No hard feelings, huh?"
The linebacker stomped off. "Just wait'll the next game, Kent," he muttered.
Great, thought Clark. Now that gorilla's got a grudge against me.
Suzy tossed her head as she watched the chastened giant trudge off the field. "Honestly," she giggled. "You boys and your testosterone."
The wail of a siren cut through the noise of the crowd. People stood aside as Smallville's one and only police car came rolling down the field and stopped a few feet away from where Clark and Suzy were standing.
Chief Parker stuck his head out of the open window. "Suzy!" he said. "Thank goodness I found you. The Mammoth Lake dam is about to burst. People are being evacuated, but -- "
"It's all right, Chief," said Suzy. She turned to Clark. "So is our date still on for tonight?"
"Yeah ... sure."
"Great. You can pick me up at 7:30. I should be finished with my evening patrol by then." She stood on tiptoe and gave Clark a hasty kiss on the cheek. "But right now there's a job for -- Supergirl!"
She threw up her arms and sprang into the sky. Clark watched glumly as she flew off, a streak of red against the blue. People craned their necks, gazing after her, pointing and talking excitedly. The murmur of the crowd grew louder and louder in Clark's ears, swelled to a deafening roar ...
Huh? Clark sat up in his bed, blinking, and threw the blanket aside. Sunlight was streaming through the bedroom window. Outside, the noise of the combine stopped abruptly. Pa must have taken it out of the barn. Clark remembered that he and Pa were going to finish the haying today.
He glanced at the alarm clock. It was nearly nine o'clock. Sighing, he got out of bed and put on some work clothes. Then he trudged down the stairs to the kitchen.
Pa was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the Crawford County Courier. Ma was over by the stove, reheating the coffee pot. They must have finished their breakfast hours ago. "Morning," Clark mumbled.
"Well, look who's here," said Pa, hidden behind the open newspaper. "I was starting to wonder if you'd ever be coming down."
"Now, Pa," said Ma. "We agreed that Clark should sleep in, after all those doings yesterday -- the kidnapping and the football game and talking to the police." She took down the skiddle. "Sit down, Clark. I'll fix you some ham and eggs."
Clark sat and put two slices of bread in the toaster. "Thanks, Ma." He looked at the front page of the newspaper Pa was holding open.
A banner headline ran across the top of the page:
SMALLVILLE TEEN REVEALS: "I'M SUPERGIRL!"
In smaller type, at the top of a column on the right side of the page, Clark read:
Union Boss Tony D'Amato
Charged with Kidnapping,
And down in the left-hand corner:
Kent Leads Crows To
over Martindale Rivals
"Well," Clark sighed, buttering a slice of toast, "I guess we know where my powers went."
Ma cracked an egg against the skiddle. "Now, Clark, we don't know that for sure. Suzy might've come to our world on a rocket when she was a baby, same as you."
"Your Ma's got a point," said Pa, putting down the newspaper. "The Prentisses moved to Smallville about a year after we adopted you. And they already had Suzy. Maybe they didn't want to explain to their old neighbors where she'd come from."
Clark chewed a mouthful of toast. Maybe they were right. But if-- if --his powers had somehow gotten transferred to Suzy, that day at Gopher Gulch ... well, maybe now he could find out how that happened -- and figure out a way to get them back ...
Pa gazed quizzically at Clark over the top of his spectacles. "You've been going out with Suzy for two years now, Clark," he said. "And in all that time, you never had an inkling that she might be Supergirl?"
"No! Sure, some of the guys at school used to say that, but they were just blowing smoke." Clark took a large bite of toast as Ma set a plate of ham and eggs in front of him.
Pa shook his head. "Well, that beats all," he grinned. "I never heard tell of any woman that could keep a secret -- "
"Now you hush up, Jonathan Kent," Ma scolded, shaking the spatula at him. "If you ask me, you men-folk are just as -- "
She was interrupted by the honking of a horn out on the driveway.
"Now who do you suppose that could be?" asked Ma.
Pa scowled. "Some newspaper reporter, more'n likely. I saw them parked along both sides of the road outside the Prentiss house when I drove through town this morning."
"Oh, I hope not," sighed Ma. "They started phoning us before you'd even got back from the police station yesterday, Clark. It got so's we had to take the phone off the hook."
Pa stood up. "I'd better put a stop to this right now, or we won't have a minute's peace all day. Maybe if I step outside with my shotgun -- "
"Don't bother, Pa," said Clark. He was standing at the kitchen window. "It's just Pete."
"Pete Ross?" Ma frowned. "Well, why's he making all that racket out on the driveway instead of walking up to the door and knocking? His mother raised him better than that."
Clark opened the kitchen door. The Rosses' pick-up was idling on the driveway. Pete was leaning out of the window. Four or five of Clark's teammates were sitting in the bed of the truck.
"Hurry up, Clark!" Pete yelled. "Suzy's going to be making some kind of announcement at the football field in half an hour."
Clark blinked. "What kind of announcement?"
"Beats me. We thought maybe you'd know. I tried to phone you, but I kept getting a busy signal. You coming?"
"Just a sec." Turning, Clark strode back to the kitchen table. "Did you hear that? I'm going to the football field with Pete."
"Not before you finish your breakfast," Ma said firmly.
But Clark wasn't listening. He forked a slice of ham onto a piece of toast, slapped another piece of toast over it, and shoved the impromptu sandwich into his mouth as he ran out the door.
* * * * * * * *
Pete squinted through the windshield of the pick-up. Traffic had come to a standstill on the two-lane road leading to the high school; cars were lined up bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see. Just ahead of them was a van bearing the logo of a Chicago television station.
“So how does it feel, buddy?” asked Pete, grinning. “You’re gonna be famous. Clark Kent -- Supergirl’s boy-friend.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Clark wasn’t listening. He sat beside Pete, tapping his feet impatiently. He had to get to the football field; he had to hear what Suzy was going to say. Now that she was letting everyone know that she was Supergirl, maybe she’d explain how she got her super-powers -- and that might give Clark some idea how to get them back.
Pete was still talking. "I gotta hand it to you, Clark. All that stuff about Suzy not being Supergirl -- you really had me believing it. 'Course, now you don't have to keep it a secret -- "
Clark couldn’t sit still any longer. He opened the door and hopped out onto the side of the road. “Thanks, Pete,” he said. “I’m gonna hoof it from here. It’s only about a half-mile to the school. See you there.” Without waiting for a reply, he shut the door and strode off.
Walking briskly, occasionally breaking into a run, Clark was soon within sight of the bleachers that lined the football field. His heart sank as he gazed at the throng of people crowding through the gate. An excited buzz of voices filled the air. Clark trotted up to the rear of the crowd and began shouldering his way forward, ignoring the angry glares and indignant protests of the people he shoved aside.
He jostled a heavy-set man in a brown suit. The man turned, scowling, and removed the cigar clenched between his teeth. “Great Caesar’s ghost!” he expostulated. “Watch where you’re -- “
He stopped to regard Clark appraisingly. "Say, you're Clark Kent, aren't you? The Prentiss girl's boy-friend, right? I saw your picture in the photo files over at the Courier."
"That's right," said Clark. "Sorry I bumped into you. I'm in kind of a hurry -- "
The man held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Clark," he said. "I'm Perry White, from the Daily Planet in Metropolis. How about an interview? The Planet will pay top dollar for an exclusive. Supergirl's boy-friend -- it'll be a great human-interest story. What do you say?"
"Maybe later, Mr. White." Clark was already pushing his way through the crowd again. "Supergirl's boy-friend," he thought bitterly. Is that all I'm going to be from now on? Stupid reporters ...
Moments later, he stood staring at the scene on the football field. People sat shoulder to shoulder on the bleachers, filling the air with their excited chatter. Chief Parker and six or eight other police officers -- probably sent from Crawfordsville -- were trying to keep the field clear of spectators. Men, women, and children were scurrying back and forth along the sidelines. On the other side of the field, Clark saw men setting up microphones and newsreel cameras. Was that Lex Luthor, setting up some sort of radio apparatus on a card table? He must be broadcasting this for KROW ...
Clark wandered about on the sidelines for a few minutes, dazed by all the noise and confusion. Faces were gazing upward; binoculars were scanning the sky. Suddenly a shout was heard above the murmur of the crowd --
"Look! Up in the sky!"
A few arms were pointing upward. Clark squinted in the direction they were pointing. Ooh's and aah'srippled through the bleachers. All Clark could make out was a tiny black speck. It might be a bird, or a plane ...
"It's Supergirl!" someone shouted. Cheers and applause thundered in Clark's ears. The speck flew in wide, slow circles above the field, gradually growing larger, more distinct ...
Moments later, a pretty blonde in a red cheerleading uniform swooped between the goal posts at one end of the field and glided slowly toward center field. The crowd began chanting: "Su-ZY! Su-ZY! Su-ZY!" The girl hovered for a few moments over the fifty-yard line, brushing a loose stand of hair from her face, smoothing the pleats of her short red skirt. She decended to the field and stood smiling at the jubilant crowd. Then she held up a hand for silence.
"I guess I know why you're all here," she said. "And I guess I know what you're all wondering. So I won't keep you in suspense."
She paused for a moment, letting her gaze sweep across the crowd.
"I am Supergirl -- "
Instantly, the spectators rose, clapping, cheering, whistling. Laughing, she held up her hand once more, waiting for the crowd to quiet down.
" -- but I'm not Suzy Prentiss!"
She began to spin round, slowly at first, then faster and faster, a red whirlwind in the center of the field. A puzzled murmur ran through the bleachers as the red changed to blue ... and suddenly, standing on the fifty-yard line, running a gloved hand through her red hair, was Supergirl in her familiar costume. Scattered around her on the grass were a red sweater and skirt, two sneakers and a pair of bobby sox -- and a blonde wig.
She gestured toward the far end of the field and called out:
"Now let's hear it for the real Suzy!"
Suzy was running across the field. She ran up to Supergirl and gave her a hug; then the two girls stood, hand in hand, smiling and waving as flashbulbs popped amid the murmur of the crowd.
"Let me explain," said Supergirl, her voice carrying effortlessly across the field.
"A few days ago, Suzy was crossing the road in front of her house when she was nearly hit by a car," she began. "Luckily, I was flying overhead at the time, on my way to answer an emergency call, and I swooped down at super-speed and stopped the car. But I had to fly off immediately, and neither Suzy nor the car's driver saw me.
"The driver was Louie Carlin. He's an associate of Tony D'Amato, and he was arrested yesterday, along with his boss, on a charge of kidnapping. Now when he saw that the front of his car was crumpled, and that Suzy had walked away unhurt, he figured that Suzy must be Supergirl -- and he told Mr. D'Amato that he'd discovered my secret identity.
"Well, Mr. D'Amato came up with the idea of kidnapping Suzy's boy-friend Clark Kent. He figured that by holding Clark hostage, and by threatening to expose my secret identity to the world, he could force me to look the other way while he robbed an armored truck carrying a union payroll."
The crowd was silent, hanging on Supergirl's words.
"So Suzy and I came up with a plan," Supergirl went on. "We fooled Mr. D'Amato and his partners by making it look as if Suzy had super-powers. You'll learn the whole story later, after Suzy and I make our statements to the police. But there's something I want to say here."
She paused, gazing round the bleachers.
"A lot of people have wondered why I go around in a costume and call myself 'Supergirl,' instead of using my real name. Well, I think the events of the past couple of days have shown why I need a secret identity. If people knew who I am, criminals might hurt my loved ones for revenge, or threaten to hurt them to force me to do their bidding. And if you've driven past the Prentisses' house lately -- "
A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd.
"Yes, well, you see my point. Without a secret identity, I could never have a moment's peace and quiet, my family could never enjoy a moment's privacy. So please -- not just for my sake but for the sake of my family, my friends, my loved ones -- please understand that I need a secret identity."
Silence hung over the bleachers for a moment. Then someone rose to his feet and began clapping. Others stood up and joined in, then more and more, until a long, sustained rumble of applause filled the air.
Supergirl turned to Suzy. "Ready?" she asked.
Supergirl wrapped an arm round Suzy's waist and sprang into the air. A thousand pairs of eyes gazed after them as they flew off in the direction of the town hall.
* * * * * * * *
Chief Parker let out a sigh as he settled into the creaky chair behind his desk. Supergirl and Suzy were sitting across from him, sipping Cokes.
"My phone's been ringing all morning," he said. "I've asked Mabel at the switchboard to hold my calls for the next half-hour."
Suzy nodded sympathetically. "It's been the same at my house. My dad's thinking of changing our phone number."
"Maybe we should all have secret identities." Chief Parker rose to fill his chipped coffee mug. He stirred in a spoonful of sugar and sat down again.
"All right," he said. "I know the outline, but I've asked you girls here to fill in the details for me."
"Well," Supergirl began. "It started yesterday, when Suzy got a call from Mr. D'Amato."
"That's right," Suzy chimed in. "He said he knew I was Supergirl, and that he was holding Clark hostage, and he told me to come to that old meat-packing plant. I didn't know what to do."
"Lana Lang was with Suzy when she got the call," said Supergirl. "She went to get help. Luckily, I spotted her, and she told me what had happened."
Chief Parker nodded.
"I didn't know what Mr. D'Amato was planning," Supergirl went on. "And I didn't know where he was holding Clark. So Suzy and I came up with a plan."
"I lent her my spare cheerleading uniform," Suzy explained. "And a blonde wig from the theater. We're the same height and build, and we figured we look enough alike to fool Mr. D'Amato and his gang."
"Yes," said the Chief. "I can see a resemblance."
"So then Supergirl flew me to the old plant. She kocked down the door with a couple of punches, and then she flew around to the side of the building."
"There was a broken window, high up in the wall, where I could watch what was going on," Supergirl explained. "If anything had gone wrong, I would have stepped in at super-speed. So Suzy was never in any danger. But everything went according to plan. Suzy's a great actress, in case you didn't know."
"I know," said the Chief. "My wife and I saw you in Romeo and Juliet. You were wonderful."
Suzy blushed. "Thanks. Anyway, I pretended that I was the one who'd knocked down the door, and then I went in, trying to act just like Supergirl. When I squinted at a piece of paper lying on the floor, Supergirl set in on fire with her heat vision. And when one of the men fired his gun at me, she used her heat vision again, to vaporize the bullet."
"That was amazing," Supergirl said. “You didn’t even flinch.”
Suzy grinned. “My director always said ‘Never let 'em see you sweat.’”
"All rght," said the Chief. "Then what?"
"Well, then Suzy insisted on speaking with Clark, so Mr. D'Amato used the CB radio in his car to contact the men who were holding Clark hostage. I followed the signal with my super-vision -- a lot of people don't realize that I can actually see radio waves -- and I saw that Clark was being held captive in a farmhouse on the Old Mill Road."
Supergirl took a sip of Coca-Cola.
"By this time, I knew that Mr. D'Amato was planning some big robbery, so I flew back to Smallville to talk with you. You figured he must be planning to hold up the Brinks truck carrying the union payroll to Shelbyville, so while you phoned the state police to set up the decoy truck, I flew back to the plant and freed Suzy and tied up the two men who were watching her. Then I disguised myself as Suzy and flew off to stop the robbery -- "
Chief Parker shook his head. "Sounds like you had a busy day."
"You can say that again. Well, after the state troopers arrested Mr. D'Amato and the other men, I picked up Suzy and flew her to the farmhouse. I was the one who punched a hole in the wall and blew a gust of super-breath into the cellar from behind a tree, but Clark and the two men holding him captive thought it was Suzy. Then Suzy went in and bluffed the two men into dropping their guns and surrendering."
"Now that's what I don't understand," said Chief Parker. "Why did the two of you keep up this charade once you learned what Tony's plan was and where he was holding Clark?"
"You heard what I said at the football field," Supergirl replied. "I wanted criminals to see that they can't get away with threatening my friends and family. And I wanted to show people why I need a secret identity."
"Besides," said Suzy, grinning, "I insisted on it. I wanted to see the look on Clark's face when I came smashing through the wall to rescue him."
"I imagine he was rather surprised."
The two girls looked at each other and burst into giggles. "It was priceless!" said Suzy. "I'll never forget it as long as I live. Anyway, he came running out of the cellar just in time to see the real Supergirl fly off. He didn't see me hiding around the corner of the house."
Chief Parker set down his coffee cup. "Well," he said, "I guess I've got the picture. I'll probably need you both to come by later, to answer a few more questions and sign some depositions."
"What do you think will happen to Mr. D'Amato?" asked Supergirl.
"We've got him for kidnapping and armed robbery," Chief Parker said. "And his associates are practically falling over themselves to turn state's evidence. So I think it's safe to say that Tony D'Amato is going to prison for a long, long time."
He chuckled. "I almost feel sorry for him," he said. "To think that the toughest racketeer in the state was taken down by a couple of teen-age girls. The other inmates will never let him live it down!"
A few minutes later, the two girls stepped out onto the front steps of the town hall. Supergirl turned and gave Suzy a hug.
"Thanks again for all your help," she said.
"Are you kidding?" said Suzy. "Yesterday was the most exciting day of my life. Any time you want me to be Supergirl again, let me know!"
"I'll do that!" said Supergirl, laughing, as she sprang into the air.
Suzy gazed wistfully after her. Posing as Supergirl sure was exciting, she thought. But I wonder what it would be like to have super-powers for real?
* * * * * * * * * *
NEXT: LEX LUTHOR FACES A SUPER-DILEMMA--AND
NOT EVEN SUPERGIRL CAN HELP HIM! DON'T MISS
THE NEXT EXCITING ISSUE OF ACENAUT COMICS!
The 9:45 bell rang through the empty corridors, signaling the end of the first perod. Moments later, the hallways were noisy with the bustle of students scurrying toward their second-period classes.
Lana Lang came out of the chemistry lab, clutching a pile of textbooks to her chest. Glancing down the hallway, she saw Lex Luthor about fifty feet ahead of her. If she hurried, maybe she could catch up with him ...
Two seniors in varsity jackets were leaning against the lockers opposite the boys' bathroom. They stepped forward as Lex approached.
"Hey, Luthor," said Chet Caswell. "Where you going?"
Lex looked up. "Hi, Chet," he said guardedly. Football players rarely spoke to him. "I'm on my way to history class."
"Aw, you got plenty of time," said "Moose" Malloy. "What's your hurry?"
"We need to talk to you," said Chet.
Lex shrugged. "Sure. What about?"
"Not here," said Chet. He jerked his thumb toward the door of the boys' bathroom. "In there."
And before Lex could say a word, Chet and Moose had each grabbed him by an arm and hustled him into the bathroom.
Lana frowned. She'd heard the whole conversation with her super-hearing, and she didn't need super-intuition to know that something was wrong. She turned her eyes toward the cinder-block wall, then stopped. Goodness, she thought, blushing. I can't use my super-vision peek into the boys' bathroom! But I can eavesdrop with my super-hearing ...
She stood in the hallway, pretending to study her French textbook as she listened in on the conversation on the other side of the wall ...
"All right, guys," said Lex. "What's this all about?"
"It's about Clark Kent," said Chet. "He's about to flunk math -- and if he flunks math, he loses his eligibility. You know what that means, don't you?"
"Yes," said Lex. "He won't be able to play football."
"And if that happens," said Moose, "we can kiss the state championship good-bye."
"Look, I'll be happy to tutor him," said Lex. "If he thinks I'm still mad at him for what happened in the cafeteria last spring, tell him I'm willing to let bygones -- "
"It's too late for tutoring," said Chet. "He's got that big test coming up this afternoon. He needs to pass that, or he's off the team."
"Well, I can give him a few pointers during lunch," said Lex. "But -- "
"Listen up, genius," growled Moose. "This is what's gonna happen. We've got it all fixed so that Clark will be sitting right behind you during the test -- where he'll have a nice clear view of your paper. Get it?"
Out in the hallway, Lana gasped, her green eyes flashing with indigation behind the lenses of her glasses. Lex is the most decent, honorable guy I know, she thought. He'd never be a party to cheating. But if he refuses ...
She resumed her eavesdropping.
Someone else was speaking. "Guys, let me talk to Lex, okay?" Lana recognized Pete Ross's voice.
"Listen, Lex," Pete was saying. His voice was low but urgent. "Clark really needs your help. Look, you've got it made. You won first prize at that big science fair last summer; you've got a full ride at Metropolis University once you graduate. That's your ticket out of this town. Well, Clark's only chance is an athletic scholarship. He's got a real shot at a Division I school -- but if he doesn't play, there's no way the scouts will look at him. I know you and Clark haven't always seen eye-to-eye, but can't you find it in your heart to help him out? Please?"
Lex was silent.
"Just think it over, okay?" said Pete. "The bell's gonna ring in a minute. We all better get to class."
Lex came out of the bathroom. Head lowered, a worried frown on his face, he turned without seeing Lana and hurried down the hallway. Lana thought about running after him, then decided against it. She wanted to hear what the other boys were saying.
"Do you think he'll do it?" said Chet.
"Yeah," said Moose. "I still say we should've given him a swirlie, just to show him we mean business."
"Trust me, guys," said Pete. "Lex may be a square, but he's a stand-up guy. He'll help Clark out -- count on it."
"He better," growled Moose, "if he knows what's good for him."
The bathroom door swung open, and the three boys ambled off down the hallway.
The corridor was empty now. Lana stared blankly at the open textbook in her hands. What a spot Lex was in!
The door of the teachers' room opened and out stepped a tall thin woman, her iron-grey hair pulled back in a severe bun.
"Let's not dawdle, Lana," she said as she walked briskly past. "You don't want to be late for class."
"Yes, Miss Brundy." Lana shut her book and trotted off to French class.
* * * * * * * * * *
Joanne Kirby's voice rose angrily above the hum of conversation in the cafeteria.
"Hey, I saw him first!"
"So?" retorted Cindy Evans. "I'm the one he spoke to."
"You?" Joanne snorted. "Why would he want to speak with you?"
"Oh, I don't know." Cindy looked down demurely as she tugged her sweater against the ample contours of her chest. "Maybe he'd rather talk with a real girl instead of someone who stuffs her bra with -- "
Joanne was on her feet, eyes flashing indignantly. "Why, you -- "
"Now, now, ladies." Suzy Prentiss set down her tray and slid into her seat at the cheerleraders' table. "Let's pull in our claws, okay? No sense getting into a squabble over some boy we hardly know."
"Easy for you to say," Eileen Sheridan grumbled. "You're going steady with Clark Kent, and the rest of us have to fight for leftovers."
Suzy took a dainty bite of her grilled-cheese sandwich. "But what do we know about the guy? I mean, this is his first day here."
"What's to know?" Cindy leered. "He's a dreamboat with James Dean eyes and a butt to die for. And -- " She lowered her voice confidentially. "I hear he's got a motorcycle."
"Yeah," said Eileen. "A real motorcycle -- not like that little scooter that Clark putts around on."
Jenny Rollins was staring at the cafeteria entrance. "Speak of the devil," she murmured. The other cheerleaders turned their heads surreptitiously, watching as the new boy stepped through the doorway with Pete Ross ...
"This is the cafeteria," said Pete. "I usually sit at that table over there, with the other football players."
"Nice." Jake Ryder, darkly handsome, stood in the doorway, surveying the crowded room. He flashed a gleaming smile as the students turned to stare at him.
Pete led the way to the varsity table. "Guys, this is Jake Ryder," he said. "Jake just moved here from Metropolis. Jake, say hello to Freddy and Ted and Chet. This is Mike Malloy, but everyone calls him Moose. And last but not least, this is our star quarterback, Clark Kent. Clark's got a motorcycle himself."
"Oh yeah? Whaddaya ride?" Jake sat down.
Chet guffawed. "A three-speed, mostly." The other boys burst into raucous laughter.
Clark's face reddened. "I've got a Vespa," he said modestly. "Now that the summer's over I mostly just ride it on weekends. What do you have?"
"A '57 Sportster," Jake said proudly. "It's gonna be a classic one day."
Clark stared. "Wow. Your folks let you ride a Harley?"
Jake winked. "Hey, what they don't know won't hurt 'em. You see, I got kicked out of a couple of private schools back in Metropolis, so my old man sent me out here to live with my Aunt Eunice. He figures I can't get into any trouble out in the middle of nowhere." He grinned. "He also thinks I sold my wheels to a buddy of mine. Little does he know, eh?"
"So what do you think of Smallville so far?" asked Freddy.
Jake shrugged. "It's okay, I guess. What do you guys do for kicks?" He turned, craning his neck as he looked around the cafeteria. "Say, some of these girls are real lookers." He jerked his thumb toward a table by the wall. "Who's the cute number sitting over there with the square?"
"Uh, that's Tami Dodge," said Pete. "She's my girl-friend -- kind of," he added lamely, as his teammates snickered. "I mean, we've gone out a few times -- "
"Yeah? So who's that she's talking to?"
"Oh, that's Lex Luthor. He's our local genius. He's just giving her some pointers for a big math test this afternoon."
A wolfish grin spread slowly across Jake's face. "You don't say." He stood up.
"Where -- where are you going, Jake?" Pete asked nervously.
"I'm gonna show you farm boys how we do things in the big city. Watch and learn, Johnny Appleseed." With a touch of swagger in his stride, he walked toward the table where Tami and Lex were sitting ...
Tami's pretty face was puckered in concentration as she pointed to the textbook that lay open on the table. "What's this t over k?" she asked.
"That tells you how many half-lives have gone by," Lex explained. "Suppose the half-life is five days, and fifteen days have gone by. How many half-lives is that?"
"Right. Fifteen divided by five -- t over k. And every time a half-life goes by, only half of the isotope's atoms remain. So if you started with eighty grams of the isotope, how many grams would remain after one half-life?"
"And after another half-life?"
"And after the third half-life?"
"Right. Eighty times one-half to the power of three. Get it?"
Tami beamed. "I do! Wow, you explain this a lot better than Mr. Fluterman." She stood up. "Thanks, Lex. You're my hero." Picking up her book, she hurried off toward the cheerleaders' table.
"Oh! Sorry!" She'd bumped into someone. Her jaw fell open as she looked up and found herself staring into a pair of gorgeous brown eyes.
Jake grinned. "Believe me, a doll like you can bump into me anytime. I'm Jake Ryder. I'm new around here."
"I know!" Tami said breathlessly. She blushed. "I mean -- we don't see many new students here. I'm -- I'm Tami Dodge. Pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is all mine," Jake declared. "Listen, I was wondering -- gosh, I hope I'm not being too forward -- "
"No, no!" Tami stammered. "Please -- go on!"
"Well, it's just that I don't know many people yet and you seem like a really nice person. I was wondering if you might be willing to show me around after school -- you know, give me the grand tour of Smallville. I've got a motorcycle, so I can provide the transportation. What do you say?"
"You mean it?" Tami squealed. Then she lowered her eyes demurely. "I mean -- that would be lovely. I've got cheerleading practice after school, but that will be over at 4:15 -- "
"4:15, huh? It's a date." With a wink, he turned and strutted back to the varsity table as Tami, wide-eyed and breathless with excitement, hurried off to join the other cheerleaders.
"Guess what!" she gushed. "Jake is taking me for a ride on his motorcycle after practice!"
"Hmpf!" snorted Cindy. "Some girls have all the luck!" ...
"Hey, Lex. I see you were giving Tami some help with math." Lana set down her tray and took a seat facing Lex. "You seem to be pretty popular today."
Lex looked up. “Hi, Lana. Yeah, I guess a lot of the juniors are nervous about the big test this afternoon. Tami just needed some last-minute pointers.”
Lana picked up her sandwich. “I hear Clark’s been having a lot of trouble in that class," she said casually. "Has he been asking you for help?”
“Clark? No.” Lex’s tone was matter-of-fact. but Lana’s super-acute hearing detected the minute quaver in his voice, the subtle increase in his heart rate.
"I just wondered because I saw you talking with some of the other football players this morning. In the hallway, between classes."
"Oh, that." Lex shrugged. "Yeah, they wanted to talk about the test."
Again, Lana's super-senses took note of the slight flush on Lex's face, the imperceptible flicker of his eyes. She sighed. I can't tell Lex I know what they really wanted, she thought. I've got to help him. But how?
"You look kind of worried," she said. "Is everything okay?"
Lex smiled. "I'm fine. Just a little nervous about the test myself." The bell rang. Lex gulped down the last of his milk and stood up. "Sorry, Lana. Gotta run."
Lana sat watching as he joined the crowd of students streaming out the door and into the main hallway. She saw that Chet and Moose and Ted Larsen were still sitting at the varsity table on the other side of the room. She tuned in with her super-hearing.
"There goes Lex," muttered Chet. "Think he's gonna do what we told him?"
Ted ground a fist into the palm of his hand. "If he doesn't," he growled, "he's dead meat."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Excuse me ... Sorry! ... Pardon me ... "
Lana hurried down the hallway, weaving among the other students headed for their final classes. She walked as quickly as she dared, resisting the temptation to use her super-speed. She had to reach Mr. Fluterman's classroom before Clark.
She slowed down as she approached the door of Room 108 and peered inside. Mr. Fluterman -- a thin, balding man whose long nose had earned him the nickname "Flutesnoot" -- was standing at the front of the room, waiting for the students to take their seats. Not far from the door, Lex was sitting with his back to Lana. The desk behind him was vacant. Clark hadn't arrived yet. Lana glanced anxiously at the clock behind Mr. Fluterman. The bell would be ringing any moment ...
Quickly, Lana lowered her glasses. Her eyes glowed red for a moment as she sent a thin, intense beam of her heat vision toward the desk behind Lex, slicing almost -- but not quite -- through the tubular steel of its left rear leg. Pushing her glasses back up, she turned to go ...
"Oh! Excuse me!" She'd nearly bumped into Clark.
"Oh -- hi, Lana," Clark mumbled as he brushed past her into the classroom.
"Good -- good luck on the test!" she blurted, feeling vaguely ashamed of herself. Clark didn't answer.
Lana hurried to the end of the corridor and turned left. A deserted hallway stretched before her. The art classroom was at the other end. Lana scanned the corridor quickly with her super-vision, then put on a burst of super-speed. Smoothing her skirt, she stepped into the art room just as the bell was ringing ...
Clark shuffled morosely toward the desk behind Lex. What a come-down, he thought. Back when I had super-powers, schoolwork was a snap. Now I have to cheat just to pass a lousy math test. He paused beside the empty desk, hesitating. He could walk on, take another seat, out of temptation's way. He thought how disappointed Ma and Pa would be if he got caught ... He shook his head. I've got to keep my eligibility, he told himself. An athletic scholarship is my only ticket out of this town. Besides, my teammates are counting on me. So's the town. I guess you could say that passing this test is my civic duty ...
Sighing, he sat down at the desk.
"Oof!" What the -- ?!
The boys guffawed and the girls giggled as Clark tumbled off the seat and onto the floor. The desk was leaning at an angle and a shiny steel tube, about an inch thick and six inches long, was rolling along the floor. Clark picked it up and stared at it, flabbergasted. Oh, man, he thought. Of all the days for the crummy desk to break ...
Mr. Fluterman glanced at him sharply. "Stop fooling around, Clark."
Red-faced, Clark scrambled to his feet. "I'm not fooling around, sir," he said. "It's the desk. All I did was sit down and it broke!"
Mr. Fluterman sighed. "All right. Don't worry about it." He pointed toward an empty desk in the front row. "There's a desk right here with your name on it."
Clark made his way to the front of the room and sat down, his stomach knotted with anxiety.
"All right, class," said Mr. Fluterman, raising his voice to make himself heard over the sound of the bell. "Time to close your books and put your notes away. Take out a pencil and put on your thinking cap." He began walking up and down the aisles, handing out the mimeographed test.
Clark wrote his name at the top of the first page, then stared at the first problem. If the base-a logarithm of 64 is 3, then a = ?
* * * * * * * * * *
Lana lifted the brush and dabbed gently at the watercolor on her easel. She was putting the finishing touches on a painting of Strawberry Lake at sunset.
"Very good, Lana." Mrs. Weaver stood peering over her shoulder. "I like the way you've captured the reflection of the sunset on the water. You should enter this in the student art show next month."
"Thanks, Mrs. Weaver." Lana rinsed the brush in the glass of water on her work table and turned back to the painting.
Lana liked art class. Painting and drawing and working with clay gave her a chance to slow down, to do something at a normal speed. And she could use her super-vision freely to scan for emergencies. Most of her teachers had scolded her at one time or another for daydreaming in class, when in reality she was looking out the window or peering through the wall to see if there were any jobs for Supergirl.
Now, standing in front her easel, she sent her super-vision westward, across the Great Plains and toward the Rocky Mountains. Mile after mile rolled away beneath her gaze ...
Uh-oh. Lana squinted slightly, focusing on a scene far off on the western plains.
A railway trestle-bridge was collapsing. Lana watched in alarm as timbers snapped, steel struts buckled, and the tracks, sagging under their own weight, broke loose and plunged toward the river that rushed along the bottom of the chasm hundreds of feet below. And just a few miles away, the California Zephyr was speeding toward the chasm, its passengers and crew unaware that they were racing to their doom ...
Lana's hand casually bumped against the glass on her work table, knocking it over. Water splashed all over her skirt and dripped off the table onto the floor.
"Oops!" Lana stooped down, wiping up the water with a paper towel as her classmates snickered. "Gosh, I'm such a klutz!" She stood up, looking at her damp skirt in dismay. "I'll be right back, Mrs. Weaver!" she cried, hurrying toward the door. "I just want to tidy up."
"Of course," said Mrs. Weaver. But Lana was already out the door.
Moments later, a muffled boom rattled the windows of the classroom.
Hundreds of miles to the west, a streak of blue and red came plunging from the sky like a thunderbolt. Lana's super-brain assessed the situation in a fraction of a second. The train was still moving at top speed toward the chasm. The engineer wouldn't be able to see that the bridge was out until it was too late ...
Lana narrowed her eyes, sending down a beam of incandescent heat that sliced through the coupling that joined the passenger cars to the four engines in front. Swooping down, matching her speed to that of the train, Lana pursed her lips and blew a quick blast of her super-breath into the brake line. Wheels screeched and sparks flew as the cars shuddered to a halt.
There, thought Lana, squeezing the brake fitting in her gloved hands to seal in the air pressure. The passengers are safe. Now all I have to do is stop a few hundred tons of runaway steel!
No longer burdened by the weight of a dozen passenger cars, the four-engine lash-up was ratlling swiftly toward the chasm. Lana flew up alongside the lead engine, her cape and her red hair streaming behind her. She could see the startled faces of the engineer and the fireman staring at her through the window. She cupped one hand to her mouth, pointing urgently ahead with the other.
"The bridge is out!" she shouted. "Put on your brakes!"
Nodding, the engineer closed the throttle and applied the brakes There was a loud hiss of air and a deafening squeal as the brake shoes strained against the wheels, but Lana could see that the engines' momentum would carry them over the edge of the cliff. She flew ahead of the lead engine, then circled back with her arms stretched out in front of her. She laid the palms of her gloved hands against the steel plating.
Lana knew that she was far more powerful than a locomotive. Her super-muscles could easily bring the four engines to an abrupt halt -- but the iron behemoths would crumple under the impact and flip off the rails, injuring -- or even killing -- the men inside. This would call for a gentle touch ...
She pushed carefully. Rivets popped and steel plates buckled like tin-foil as her arms plunged through the front of the engine. Too much ... Quickly, she flew in behind the second engine, pressing her back and shoulders against the third. The hissing of the brakes and the shriek of the wheels against the track filled her ears as the engines ratlled closer and closer toward the chasm. The strain was too much for the lash-up; Lana saw that the coupling between the engines was about to snap. Desperately she reached out, digging her fingers into the plating of the second engine, pulling it back ...
To her relief, the lash-up was slowing down. Would it stop in time?
Her super-hearing picked up shouts of alarm from the lead engine. Its front end was tipping forward, over the edge of the cliff. In another moment, it would be falling into the gorge!
Instantly, Lana swooped underneath the teetering engine. Balancing its tremendous weight effortlessly on one shoulder, she raised it level with the track. She looked up. The engineer was leaning out the window, staring at her, his face white with shock.
"Release the brakes!" Lana shouted. "Put it in reverse!"
The engineer seemed to be paralyzed with fear.
"Don't worry," Lana shouted. "I've got the front of the train. Just back up a little so I can set it down."
The engineer vanished back into the cab. There was a moment of silence; then four diesels thundered back to life. Air rushed from the brake lines with a loud hiss as the engines began to creep back from the edge of the cliff ...
Moments later, Lana set ninety tons of steel back on the rails as if it were a toy.
Lana flew round to the side window. The fireman was still clinging for dear life at a strap hanging from the ceiling of the cab. The engineer released his grip on the brake lever and sat back in his chair, trembling. He let out a long breath as he removed his cap and mopped his forehead with a red bandana.
"Are you all right?" Lana asked.
"Supergirl!" the fireman gasped. He took a deep breath. "Just a little ... shaken up ..."
"But we're alive," said the engineer. "Thanks to you. How can we ever -- ?"
Lana smiled. "All in a day's work. I'm glad I could help."
But now she had to get back to Smallville, fast. "You'd better radio the next station to tell them about the bridge, and arrange a pick-up for your passengers. I'm sorry I can't stay and help clean up this mess, but I've got to get back to art -- er, I mean Argentina. There's, um, a big rockslide."
As she rocketed skyward, the crew leaned out of the engines, waving their caps and cheering her on her way.
* * * * * * * * * *
Lex's footsteps echoed through the empty corridor of the school building. The chess club meeting had broken up twenty minutes ago, but he'd stayed to discuss a tricky endgame position with Mr. Kastler. Now, stepping outside, he was reading a mimeographed sheet of paper -- the order of competition for the upcoming tri-county tournament. Lex saw that he would be playing against Wally Schroeder in the first round. Wally was an aggressive player, but sometimes careless -- Lex would have to play a careful defensive game, staying alert for any missteps on his opponent's part.
Rounding the corner of the building, he stuck the paper into his hip pocket as he walked up to the bicycle rack. His battered red three-speed was the only one remaining. He bent over the combination lock, twirling the dial. 28 ...10 ...
He heard footsteps behind him. Three shadows slid up the wall of the school buiding. Lex turned round, full of misgiving ...
Ted Larsen stood scowling at him, grinding his right fist into the palm of his left hand, flanked by Chet and Moose.
"Hi, guys," said Lex, trying to sound nonchalant. "What's up? Football practice over?"
"You wanna know what's up, Loser?" Ted snarled, as Chet and Moose stepped forward. Too late, Lex realized that he shouldn't have remained standing with his back to the wall. Now he was penned in on all sides, like a king in checkmate.
"I'll tell you what's up," Ted went on. "Clark got a 56 on the test -- that's what. Now he's off the team, and we can kiss the state championship good-bye. That's what's up."
"Look, I'm sorry to hear that," said Lex. "Honest. But you know what happened, right? The leg of his desk snapped when he sat down. It was just bad luck."
"Oh, yeah?" said Chet. "Well, maybe we don't believe in luck."
"What do you mean?"
Ted jabbed his thick forefinger against Lex's chest. "We mean a brainy guy like you could have rigged that desk to break."
"Yeah," Moose chimed in. "Like maybe you got a file from the wood shop and went into the classroom during lunch -- "
"Or maybe you did it with acid or something from the science lab," said Chet. "The point is, we don't believe the desk broke by accident. We told you what would happen if Clark flunked that test -- "
Lex's mouth was dry. "Come on, guys," he said. "Be reasonable. I -- "
But Chet and Moose had grabbed his arms and pinned him against the wall. Stepping forward, Ted drove his fist into Lex's stomach ...
"Oof!" Lex doubled over, gasping for breath. "Okay, guys," he wheezed. "You've made your point. I -- "
But he could see that they weren't finished with him. Ted drew back his fist, his eyes gleaming with vengeful fury as he stood poised for another blow. Lex squirmed, trying to free himself from the other boys' grip, but they held him fast to the wall. He gulped, shut his eyes, lowered his head ...
Suddenly the pressure on his arms vanished. He heard startled yelps of protest, the thud of something heavy hitting the ground. He opened his eyes and looked up ...
Silhouetted against the afternoon sun, Supergirl was hovering about ten feet above the ground, her cape billowing behind her. Chet and Moose hung squirming from her outstretched arms while Ted picked himself up, brushing dirt from the seat of his pants.
"Three against one?" Supergirl asked indignantly. She lowered herself to the ground, alighting with her back to Lex as she released Chet and Moose and shoved them toward Ted. Placing her gloved hands on her hips, she glared at the three boys.
"Since you like those odds," she said, "maybe you'd like to try ganging up on me?"
The boys stood in sullen silence. Supergirl saw that they were surreptitiously eyeing her legs and her chest. She sighed. She ought to be used to that by now -- and besides, the less her classmates looked at her face when she was in her Supergirl identity, the better. So far, no one seemed to have noticed any resemblance between the mighty Supergirl and mousy Lana Lang, but there was no sense in pushing her luck.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "Don't tell me three big, strong boys like you -- "
Stooping, she picked up a softball-sized rock from the ground.
" -- are afraid of a girl?" She held out the rock and gave it a squeeze. With a loud crack, the rock split into three or four pieces in her hand. She squeezed harder, grinding the rock to a fine powder that trickled between her gloved fingers and drifted away in the breeze.
"Now," she said, brushing dust off her gloves, "would one of you care to tell me what this is all about?"
She saw out of the corner of her eye that Lex had stepped out from behind her. The three football players stood looking down at the ground. Chet spoke up.
"It's none of your busi -- " Raising his eyes, he found himself staring into Supergirl's stern gaze. "I mean -- it was nothing," he said hastily. "We were just -- having an argument, and things got a little out of hand. That's all -- right, guys?"
"Yeah," Ted mumbled. Moose nodded. "Uh-huh."
Supergirl tossed her head. "Hmpf! Well, in that case, I guess you're ready to apologize, right?"
The boys stood scowling at the ground.
Supergirl folded her arms and arched an eyebrow. "Right?"
Chet stepped forward. "Sorry, Lex," he said, studiously avoiding eye contact. Moose was standing beside him. "Yeah," he said. "No hard feelings, huh?"
Ted hung back for a moment, then shuffled forward. "Bygones, okay?" he muttered between clenched teeth. "You can go back to your science books and your chess club and your mutt of a girl-frien -- "
It happened so fast that even Supergirl was taken by surprise. Ted doubled up, clutching his stomach and staggering backward. It took the others a moment to realize that Lex had punched him in the gut; but by then the two of them were rolling on the ground, grunting as they grappled with each other.
"Fight! Fight!" Chet and Moose rushed forward to help their teammate, but Supergirl stepped between them and pushed them back with a sweep of her arms. She noticed that several other students had gathered round, watching in fascination. What was Lex thinking? she thought. I'd better put a stop to this before he gets hurt ...
But just then a voice rang out.
"What's going on here?"
Mr. Weatherly, the principal, came hurrying round the corner of the building. Lex and Ted stopped fighting; they sat on the ground, catching their breath and glaring at each other. Ted's forehead was bleeding and a livid bruise was darkening around Lex's right eye.
Mr. Weatherly tugged his vest down over his round belly and pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his coat. He began polishing the lenses of his pince-nez spectacles; then, with a loud "Harrumph!" he set the spectacles back on his nose and squinted at the two boys on the ground.
"What's going on?" he repeated. "Who started this?"
Lex was picking himself up off the ground, brushing dirt from the knees of his trousers. "I did, sir."
Mr. Weatherly's eyebrows rose. "You did?"
"Yes." Lex took a deep breath. "Ted said ... something, and I lost my temper. It was my fault."
Mr. Weatherly looked round. "Supergirl!" he exclaimed, noticing her for the first time. "Do you know anything about this? Is what he said true?"
Supergirl hesitated. But Lex had already admitted that he was the one who started the fight. "That's right," she said. "He did throw the first punch."
Mr. Weatherly blinked. "Well! I must say, Lex, I'm surprised at you. Your conduct has always been exemplary. Nevertheless -- " He held up a sententious finger. "Rules are rules. Three days after-school detention, starting tomorrow. But right now, you'd better come with me. We'll put some ice on that eye." He frowned at the students who stood watching. "The rest of you can go now. Shoo -- shoo!"
Chattering excitedly, the students dispersed as Mr. Weatherly led Lex back into the school building. Supergirl rose into the air, her super-hearing listening in on the three football players as they strolled off.
"Man," said Moose. "Ol' Lex really laid into you, Ted."
Ted was dabbing the cut on his forehead with a bandanna. "Yeah. I gotta hand it to him. That took guts. Lex may be a square, but he's no sissy."
"You think he was on the up and up?" asked Chet. "About the desk breaking by accident?"
Ted shrugged. "I say we give him the benny. Hey, he took a bullet for us. That could've been us doing detention. Heck, we could've gotten kicked off the team."
"Yeah," grinned Moose. "Lex is all right."
Supergirl shook her head as she flew off toward Strawberry Lake, toward the secret tunnel that led to her home. I may have a super-intellect, she thought ruefully. But I will never in a million years understand boys!
* * * * * * * *
"Mind if I join you?"
Lex looked up morosely. He was sitting at a table by himself with his back to the cafeteria. "Hi, Lana." He made a half-hearted effort to smile as he gestured toward the chair across from his. "Be my guest."
Lana set down her tray and slid into the chair. "Wow," she said, peering at Lex's face. "That's quite a shiner. How do you feel?"
Lex shrugged. "Not as bad as I look. I guess you heard about the fight?"
"Come on, Lex. How long have you lived in Smallville? Everyone's heard about it."
"So I guess you know I'll be spending the next three afternoons in detention."
"What about your radio show?"
"I've pre-recorded a few programs that Mr. Hertz can play."
"Golly, Lex, what possessed you to throw a punch at Ted Larsen? If you don't mind my asking. The guy's an ox."
"I just ... lost my temper, that's all. I'm sorry, Lana, but I'd rather not talk about it, okay? It's -- kind of embarrassing."
Lana nodded thoughtfully. She couldn't tell Lex that she'd overheard Ted's muttered words with her super-hearing. Poor gallant Lex, she thought. He was standing up for me -- and now he's got a black eye and three days' detention.
Lana leaned forward. "Listen, Lex, I think I know what happened yesterday. I mean, I saw Chet and Moose talking to yu in the hallway yesterday morning -- then Clark's desk broke just before the math test -- which happened to be just behind yours -- and then the fight after school ... well, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to connect the dots. The football players wanted you to help Clark cheat on the test, didn't they? And when you wouldn't go along with it -- "
"Actually," Lex said slowly, "I was going to let him."
Lana's eyebrows rose. "You were?"
"Not because I was afraid of those guys," Lex said hastily. "But -- well, Clark really needs that athletic scholarship. I just didn't have the heart to see him lose his eligibility. So yeah, I was going to let him copy my answers. But just that once. Then I was going to insist that he let me tutor him so that he can pass honestly." He shrugged. "But I guess it doesn't matter. Clark's off the team anyway -- all on account of that desk breaking. Funny how things turn out."
Lana could feel her face reddening. Oh dear, she thought guiltily. This whole mess wouldn't have happened if I hadn't interfered ... She shook her head in self-reproach. Some Supergirl I am. I can stop a ninety-ton locomotive from falling over a cliff -- but when I try to help a friend, I just make things worse.
She stood up. "I'm really sorry about what happened."
Lex smiled ruefully. "Hey, it's not your fault."
"Um -- right. But I wanted to give you this." She reached into the pocket of her baggy cardigan and pulled out a small flat object, about four inches square, wrapped in shiny red paper.
"I was going to give you this for Christmas," she said, handing it to him. "But I figured it might help you pass the time during detention."
Blinking, Lex took the present from Lana's hand and removed the paper. He broke into a broad grin. Underneath the wrapping was a pocket chess set, with a miniature board and thirty-two tiny pieces.
"Thanks, Lana." he said, slipping it into his shirt pocket. "That's really nice of you."
"Now you can stay in practice for the tournament. But I bet a big chess player like you probably has one already."
Lex held up a hand. "No -- honest."
In fact, he did have one, but it didn't matter. From now on, this was the only one he'd ever use.