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TSOS - The Supergirl of Smallville - Chapter 16 - 18

Written by Team Acenaut :: [Wednesday, 25 March 2009 19:12] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:58]

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CHAPTER 16

 

APRIL ...

 

The cafeteria of Smallville High School was noisy with the hum of conversation and the clatter of silverware. Ted Harmon set his tray down at the varsity table and slid into a seat.

 

"Hey, guys," he said. "Guess who I saw this morning?"

 

"Who?" grunted Dewey Ericson, dipping a French fry into a pool of catsup on his plate.

 

"Supergirl -- that's who."

 

Six faces looked up. "Get out of here!" said Brian Corliss.

 

"It's true. I missed the school bus, so my dad let me borrow the pick-up. I get to the turn-off to the main road, and cars are backed up as far as I can see. Turns out a semi had jack-knifed and was blocking the road in both directions. I'm thinking, no way am I gonna get to school anytime soon, might as well turn around and go back home ... then the front end of the semi rises into the air -- "

 

"Supergirl?"

 

"Who else? She's floating, oh, about thirty feet up in the air, with this sixteen-wheeler dangling from one arm like it's a Tinker Toy. She sets it down, the semi rolls off, traffic gets going again, and she flies away."

 

"Wow! Did you get to see her up close?"

 

Ted shook his head regretfully. "Nah. I was too far away. Wish I'd had a pair of binoculars. Have any of you guys seen her up close?"

 

"I have," said Pete Ross. "Last month, when the bus with the basketball team went over the Crawford Creek bridge. ' Course, it was pretty dark. Clark was there, too."

 

"Hey, speak of the devil!"

 

"Hi, guys." Clark set his tray on the table and sat down.

 

"Well?" said Pete. "Don't keep us in suspense. What did you get on the math test?"

 

Grinning, Clark took a folded paper from the pocket of his varsity jacket and held it up for his teammates to see. "Seventy-one!" he announced proudly.

 

The other boys burst into applause.

 

"Way to go, big guy!" said Pete.

 

"Yup," said Clark. "I get to stay on the team -- and I owe it all to Lex Luthor. The guy's a square, but he must be some kind of a genius if he can get me to understand this trigonometry stuff." He bit hungrily into his hamburger.

 

"We were just talking about Supergirl," said Brian.

 

Clark grunted. Supergirl was a favorite topic of conversation among the boys at Smallville High, but it was one he'd rather avoid.

 

"I've been thinking," said Ted. "Do you suppose Supergirl is Supergirl all the time?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well, why does she wear that fancy outfit and call herself Supergirl instead of ... I don't know, Jane Smith? Do you see what I'm getting at? Maybe -- " He lowered his voice. "Maybe she's secretly one of the girls right here at Smallville High -- pretending to be an ordinary girl until some emergency comes up and she changes to Supergirl."

 

The other boys nodded, considering. "Oh, wow," said Brian. "So you think one of the girls in the cafeteria right now might be Supergirl?"

 

Ted shrugged. "Like I said -- it's just an idea."

 

"So who do you suppose it could be?"

 

"How about Suzy Prentiss? She's a knockout. And you've seen her cheerleading moves. It's like she can defy gravity."

 

"But she's a blonde."

 

"Well, maybe she changes her hair color somehow when she switches to Supergirl."

 

"She's not Supergirl," said Clark authoritatively. "I should know. Suzy and I were making out on the bus that night it went over the bridge and Supergirl showed up."

 

"Yeah, but in the dark, with everyone panicking, she could've flown out the emergency exit at super-speed -- "

 

"Hey, that would explain how Supergirl happened to show up so quickly -- "

 

"Yeah, Clark, did you actually see the two of them together?"

 

"You guys are nuts," growled Clark. "Suzy isn't Supergirl. Let's just drop the subject, okay?"

 

Clark's face was red and his thoughts were in a whirl. He'd always wondered whether the powers he'd lost had somehow been transferred to -- well, whoever Supergirl was. And Suzy had taken part in that field trip to Gopher Gulch. Could she possibly -- ? No wonder she'd been so annoyed at him that night on the bridge, when he couldn't bring himself to say something nice about Supergirl ... No! he thought. That's crazy! She can't be ...

 

Can she?

 

Ted was casting his eyes speculatively around the crowded cafeteria. "How about Julie Davenport?" he suggested. "Honor roll, editor of the school paper -- and she's a redhead."

 

"Don't be stupid," scoffed Dewey. "She's practically flat-chested. Supergirl is stacked." He cupped his hands in front of his chest for emphasis.

 

"Well, maybe Supergirl stuffs her bra -- "

 

"Or maybe she can make her bazooms grow at will. Now there's a super-power!"

 

Clark stood up abruptly. "Hey, Lex!" he shouted, waving his arm. "Over here!"

 

Lex Luthor was standing at the other end of the cafeteria, tray in hand. He seemed to be looking around for someone, but at the sound of Clark's voice he turned and made his way to the varsity table.

 

Clark clapped him on the shoulder. "Guys," he announced, "let's have a round of applause for the man who helped me keep my eligibility!" As his teammates whistled and pounded the table, Clark patted the vacant seat next to his. "Sit down, Lex," he said. "You have earned a seat of honor at the varsity table!"

 

Smiling awkwardly, Lex craned his neck and scanned the cafeteria one last time, then shrugged and sat down.

 

"Listen, we were just wondering if Supergirl might be one of the girls here at Smallville High," Ted told him. "What does a genius like you think about that?"

 

Lex frowned, considering. "I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "There are only a hundred or so girls at this school. When you eliminate the ones who are too tall or too short, or who couldn't be Supergirl for some other reason, there wouldn't be many left. If Supergirl does have a -- a secret identity, it's probably some girl from a larger town -- Crawfordsville, maybe, or even Topeka -- "

 

"Then why does she show up in Smallville all the time?"

 

Lex shrugged. "Maybe to throw people off the track ... "

 

"Or maybe she's got a boy-friend here in Smallville!"

 

"Okay, I admit it!" Dewey grinned. "I 'm Supergirl's boy-friend!"

 

"Naw," said Pete. He dug an elbow into Lex's ribs. "I bet Lex is Supergirl's boy-friend. You gotta watch out for the quiet ones."

 

Lex was barely listening. He'd just spotted Lana walking toward an empty table in a corner of the cafeteria. He stood up and waved. "Lana!" he shouted. She turned and smiled at him.

 

"Hey," said Clark loudly. "You guys are all wrong. I know who Supergirl is -- she's Lana Lang!"

 

His teammates burst into loud, raucous laughter. Clark's guffaws were the loudest of all. Lex's heart sank as he saw the smile vanish from Lana's face. Red-faced, she turned and strode off to the empty table. She slammed down her tray and sat with her back to the varsity table.

 

"Gee, Clark," said Lex. "That was really out of line."

 

"Huh? Aw, lighten up. I was just kidding."

 

"Yeah, but you really hurt her feelings. Did you see the look on her face?"

 

"So? The hell with her if she can't take a joke."

 

"No," said Lex, quietly but firmly. "The hell with you." He rose from his seat and picked up his tray.

 

"Hey, where are you going?" demanded Clark. "If you walk away from this table, you're not coming back. Are you listening, Luthor -- or should I say Loser?" He chortled. "That's your name from now on -- Lex Loser!"

 

Lex ignored him. He wove among the crowded tables, making his way toward the corner where Lana was sitting. The cafeteria had fallen silent, and Lex was acutely aware that a hundred pairs of eyes were watching him.

 

Lana sat staring at the untouched food on her plate. "Mind if I sit down?" asked Lex.

 

Lana looked up, blinking away tears of humiliation. "Be my guest," she muttered.

 

Lex sat, facing her. "I'm really sorry -- "

 

Lana forced a smile. "It's not your fault. I'm sorry I snapped at you. It was nice of you to -- "

 

She was about to say "stick up for me," but Lex might wonder how she had heard him above the din of the cafeteria.

 

" -- come over and sit with me."

 

Lex waved his hand dismissively. "Those guys are jerks. Believe me, I'd much rather be sitting here with you." He peered at Lana's face. She still looked glum. "Are you okay?"

 

Lana sighed. "Yeah. I'm used to it. I know I'm not as pretty as -- a lot of the other girls. That doesn't bother me, but why does he -- I mean, why do guys have to keep reminding me of it?"

 

"Okay, first -- like I said, they're jerks. Second -- you are pretty, Lana. I -- I think you're the prettiest girl I know."

 

Lana blushed and looked down at her tray, but a smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. "You don't have to say that."

 

"I mean it." Lex took advantage of Lana's averted eyes to look at her face, noting again what beautiful contours it had. If she wore her hair differently, dressed more stylishly, traded her glasses for contact lenses -- why, any one of those jerks who'd laughed at her would be begging to take her out.

 

Not that Lex wanted that ...

 

"I stopped by Mr. Kastler's room after school yesterday," Lana said, evidently wishing to change the subject. "But you weren't there. I thought you never missed a meeting of the Chess Club."

 

"Well," said Lex, smiling mysteriously, "ordinarily I wouldn't. But I've picked up another activity two afternoons a week."

 

"Oh? What's that?"

 

Grinning, Lex lowered his voice and spoke in the staccato cadences of a radio disc jockey. "You're listening to KROW in Smallville and this is Cal L, pumping the wattage into your cottage with all the hot hits -- "

 

Lana's eyes widened. "Omigosh! You're Cal L?"

 

"Yup. But it's just a try-out. I don't want anyone else to know it's me -- in case it doesn't work out. So don't tell anyone, okay?"

 

"I won't. But how did you get a gig like that?" Lana couldn't help smiling at the thought of shy, bookish Lex Luthor spinning Top 40 platters on the local radio station.

 

"Well, you know Mr. Hertz, the manager?" Lana nodded. "He gave me the test when I applied for my ham radio certificate, and then for my commercial license. Turns out he needed someone to baby-sit the transmitter a couple of afternoons a week between his regular DJ's shifts, so he asked me if I'd be interested. I said sure, but I wanted to try doing my own show. And if it works out, he'll hire me as a regular DJ!"

 

"Wow! That's great!" Lana grinned. "So you've got a secret identity, huh? Just like the Scarlet Pimpernel."

 

"That's right."

 

"So why 'Cal L'?"

 

"Well, the L is for Lex, and -- " He lowered his voice. "Don't tell anyone, but my middle name is Calvin."

 

"Really?"

 

"Yeah. Alexander Calvin Luthor -- it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Now I've trusted you with my two biggest secrets. Promise me -- "

 

"Oh, my lips are sealed -- on one condition."

 

Lex rolled his eyes. "Uh-oh. What is it?"

 

"That you'll play 'Lonesome Town' for me on your next show."

 

"Sure. But -- that's kind of a sad song."

 

"I know. But Ricky Nelson is just dreamy."

 

"Okay. Tune in tomorrow afternoon at 3:30."

 

"Hey." Lana and Lex looked up. Clark was standing by their table, holding his tray in one hand. "Just wanted to say -- hasta luego, Loser." With his free hand, he flicked a half-full glass of milk off his tray. "Oops."

 

Lana's super-reflexes had already kicked in. Lex, Clark, and everyone else in the cafeteria seemed to be frozen in place like figures in a tableau; the glass of milk hung in mid-air, its contents just about to spill out and splash all over Lex. Lana's arm, moving too swiftly for any normal eye to see, reached out and nudged the glass away from Lex. A nano-second later, her hand was back on the table ...

 

"What the -- ?" Clark looked down in consternation. The front of his trousers was soaked with milk, and the glass lay in fragments at his feet.

 

"Gosh, Clark," said Lex. "You'd better wipe that off before the stain sets in." He reached into his pocket. "You want to borrow my handkerchief?"

 

Clark glared at him, then turned and strode off scowling amid the snickers and giggles of his classmates.

 

----------

 

THE NEXT AFTERNOON ...

 

Forty-mile-an-hour winds lashed the rain into Supergirl's face and churned the surface of Lake Superior into a rolling, turbulent froth. With a huge chain slung over one shoulder, the Girl of Steel was towing a disabled freighter toward harbor beneath a sky laden with dark, lowering clouds. Forks of lightning split the sky, and thunder mingled with the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves. The freighter sped through the churning water, throwing up an enormous wall of spray along each side, as Supergirl guided it deftly between the breakwaters sheltering the harbor.

 

SLboat

 

Within the harbor, the waves were calmer. Supergirl dropped the chain and flew round to the freighter's stern, nudging it gently toward an open jetty, then pulling it back slightly to prevent it from colliding with the pier.

 

The freighter's crew scrambled across the deck, tossing cables to the dockhands on the jetty below. Satisfied that her work was done, Supergirl flew down to the pier and approached the harbormaster, a red-faced man wrapped in glistening raingear who was shouting hoarsely above the roar of wind and waves.

 

"Can your men take it from here?" asked Supergirl.

 

The harbormaster nodded. "Yes, we're all set. We can't thank you enough. The crew of that freighter probably owe you their lives. I never saw a storm come up so quickly."

 

"Well, I'm glad I could help."

 

"My wife and kids won't believe I actually met you. My six-year-old especially. You're her hero. She went trick-or-treating in a Supergirl costume last Hallowe'en, and now she wants to wear it all the time. Say, can you stick around for a few minutes? You can get a cup of hot chocolate in my office. I'm sure the crew of that freighter would like to thank you in person."

 

Supergirl used her super-vision to read the clock on the wall of the harbor office. It was 3:15. "Sorry," she said. "I've got to be on my way. Some other time. And I'll send an autographed picture for your little girl. What's her name?"

 

"Hannah. She'll be thrilled."

 

"Got it." With a wave and a smile, she flew straight up toward the dark rolling clouds.

 

The harbormaster and the foreman of the dockhands stood in the lashing rain, gazing up after her.

 

"She's really something, isn't she?" said the foreman.

 

"She sure is."

 

"Where do you suppose she's off to in such a hurry?"

 

The harbormaster shrugged. "Who knows? Some other emergency, I guess."

 

----------

 

Lana burst through the storm clouds and into the bright air above. She spun round, flinging drops of water from her hair and costume in a glittering spray, then turned and began flying back toward Smallville. The dense clouds below her gradually thinned out, dwindling to a few ragged tatters before disappearing altogether over Nebraska.

 

It was almost 3:30. Lana put on a short burst of supersonic speed and came to a halt high above the tiny cinderblock building that housed station KROW. Perching cross-legged in mid-air, she cast her super-vision down into the DJ's booth.

 

Lex was putting on his earphones and slipping into the chair behind the console. A 45 of "Lonesome Town" was already on the turntable.

 

Lana smiled. She was just in time. She reached into the pouch of her cape and pulled out the transistor radio she'd gotten for Christmas. She turned the dial carefully, past crackling static, until Lex's voice -- deepened slightly by the transmitter -- emerged from the speaker.

 

" -- KROW in Smallville. It's the bottom of the hour and this is your pal Cal bringing the boom to your room with this week's hot hits, starting with a special request from a very special gal. Turn up the volume, ladies, 'cause here comes Ricky Nelson with 'Lonesome Town.'

 

"There's a place where lovers go,

To cry their troubles away,

And they call it Lonesome Town

Where the broken hearts stay ... "

 

Lana closed her eyes and swayed slightly in time to the music as Ricky Nelson's smooth baritone drifted from the radio ...

 

"In the town of broken dreams,

The streets are filled with regret.

Maybe down in Lonesome Town

I can learn to forget."

 

Lana sighed as the song came to an end. It was a sad song, just as Lex had said, but it expressed the way she'd been feeling lately. In the town of broken dreams, the streets are filled with regret ... Her face burned with mortification as she recalled the heartless joke Clark had made yesterday, in the cafeteria ...

 

Lex was speaking again. "And now a dedication -- from one double-L to another -- the heavenly harmonies of the Everly Brothers, in 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' ...

 

"Dre-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream,

Dre-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream,

When I want you in my arms,

When I want you and all your charms,

Whenever I want you, all I have to do is

Drea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream ... "

 

Lana smiled as she nodded her head to the beat. Now why would Lex dedicate that song to me? she wondered. Maybe he wanted to play something happy to cheer me up after "Lonesome Town" ...

 

Here came the bridge:

 

"I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine,

Anytime night or day.

Only trouble is -- gee whiz --

I'm dreamin' my life away ... "

 

Lana sang along softly until the last "dream, dream, dream" faded into silence. She turned off the radio and put it back in the pouch of her cape. Her super-hearing was picking up the wail of a police siren to the east of Smallville. She'd better investigate -- it might be a job for Supergirl.

 

Flying off, she wondered -- not for the first time -- why Clark couldn't be as nice as Lex ... or Lex as good-looking as Clark.

 

--------------------

   CHAPTER 17

 

JUNE ...

 

Leaning on his crutches, Billy Freeman gazed nervously at the swift, eddying current of Butternut Creek.

 

"I don't know, guys ... "

 

Butternut Creek meandered lazily through Crawford County, broadening into wide pools here and there before emptying into Strawberry Lake. It flowed gently for the most part -- except at one spot, where a vein of bedrock had forced it to carve a deep, turbulent channel about thirty feet wide. Billy Freeman was standing at the edge of the channel, watching the brown water surge past.

 

"Are you sure I'll be okay? I mean ... " He glanced down at his thin, atrophied legs.

 

"Aw, you'll be fine," Clark assured him.

 

"Yeah," Freddy Muldoon chimed in. "You've got good strong arms. You'll be across in no time."

 

Billy nodded, but doubt lingered in his eyes. "I don't know," he repeated. "Maybe I should ... "

 

Clark was getting impatient. "C'mon, Billy," he said. "All the other eighth-graders did this yesterday. Freddy and Jeff and me -- we all did it two years ago. It's kind of an initiation into high school." He pointed to Tom Bradford, who was standing on the other side of the creek. "Once you swim across, Tom will help you up onto the bank. See? Nothing to it."

 

Billy nodded. "All right -- I'll do it." He lowered himself carefully to the ground and laid down his crutches.

 

"Gosh, fellows -- do you think that's a good idea?"

 

Clark turned around, scowling. Lex Luthor was standing on the path that ran along the creek. From the swim trunks he was wearing, and the towel slung over his shoulder, Clark guessed that he was on his way to the swimming hole by the old wooden bridge.

 

"Stay out of this, Loser," Clark growled. "Just go down to the kiddie pool and mind your own business." Glaring, he took a step forward.

 

Involuntarily, Lex stepped back. "Are you sure about this, Billy?" he asked. "The current is awfully strong ... "

 

Billy looked back over his shoulder. "It's okay, Lex," he said. "I'll be fine -- really."

 

"There, you see?" said Clark. "Now why don't you make like a tree and leave?"

 

"Well ... " Lex hesitated. "If you're sure you'll be all right ... " He turned to Clark. "Just watch out for him, okay?"

 

Clark rolled his eyes. "Jeez, what a worry-wart," he sneered. "Just get going, Loser."

 

With a last glance at Billy, Lex turned and walked off down the path. Clark and Freddy and Jeff stood looking after him until he passed out of sight in a grove of birches.

 

Clark turned round. "Ready, Billy?"

 

Billy was sitting at the edge of the creek, his thin legs dangling over the bank, staring anxiously into the current. "I guess so."

 

He slid into the water and pushed off from the bank. "Brr-rr-rr!" He waited a few moments, using his arms to stay afloat as he got accustomed to the cold water; then he struck out for the opposite bank.

 

A dozen strokes brought him half-way across the creek. "Attaboy, Billy!" Clark shouted.

 

But Billy was no match for the strong current. Clark's shout of encouragement died on his lips as he watched Billy spin helplessly in the grip of an eddy, then sink beneath the surface. He reappeared a moment later, his blond hair plastered over his forehead, his eyes wide with terror as the current swept him downstream. A gurgling cry rose from his throat. "Help!"

 

On the opposite bank, Tom was peeling off his sweatshirt, getting ready to dive after Billy. Clark cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted across the river. "We'll never catch up to him that way! We'll try to head him off downstream on our bikes!" He turned and ran for his bicycle, Freddy and Jeff close behind him.

 

"Gosh, Clark, what if something happens to him?" Jeff asked.

 

Clark swore. "Don't even think about it!" He was already straddling his bike. A moment later, he was pedaling furiously down the path to the old wooden bridge.

 

----------

 

Lex was feeling uneasy as he walked along the path to the swimming hole. I should have stood up to those guys, he told himself reproachfully. If anything happens to Billy, I'll never forgive myself. I should go back. Maybe it's not too late to stop him from doing something stupid ...

 

He turned around and began trotting back up the path. But he'd hardly taken a dozen steps before he saw something in the river that made him stop short.

 

Billy Freeman was being swept downstream, coughing and gasping, thrashing frantically against the current. Lex watched, horrified, as Billy sank beneath the surface. His pale blond head emerged a moment later, but it was obvious that he couldn't last much longer ...

 

Lex threw his towel to the ground and raced to the river-bank. Kicking off his sneakers, he ran splashing through the shallow water at the edge of the creek, then flung himself forward in a flat dive. A few practiced strokes brought him abreast of Billy. Billy had stopped struggling; his face was deathly white and Lex could see water dribbling from his open mouth.

 

"Hang on, Billy!" Lex shouted. "I'm almost there!"

 

But Billy went under again before Lex could grab him. Lex took a deep breath and dove. He could see Billy's pale body sinking through the murky water. Swimming up behind him, he wrapped his arms around Billy's chest and kicked his way back up toward the surface.

 

Gasping for breath, Lex trod water as he tried to hold Billy up. He saw that they were closer to the side opposite the footpath. Slinging his left arm around Billy's shoulder, Lex struck out toward the river-bank, using the sidestroke he'd learned in Boy Scouts.

 

Despite Billy's small size, it took nearly all of Lex's strength just to keep him from sinking. Lex's muscles were aching in the cold water, and he seemed to be making little headway. He paused, treading water, hoping his feet might touch bottom, but the river was too deep. Summoning his last reserves of energy, he swam toward the river-bank with grim determination ...

 

A few agonizing moments later, Lex felt his toes graze the bottom of the river. Weak, breathless, he managed to stagger onto dry land and pull Billy up after him.  

 

Trembling from exhaustion, Lex rolled Billy onto his stomach and knelt beside him. Billy's skin was cold to the touch. Lex pressed his hands against Billy's back, between the shoulder blades, and pushed, again, and again, forcing the water out of Billy's lungs. He rolled Billy over on his back and laid two fingers against his neck. Feeling a pulse -- albeit a weak one -- Lex heaved a sigh of relief. But he could see that Billy wasn't breathing ...

 

He bent over Billy and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Seconds dragged into minutes as Lex breathed air into Billy's lungs, over and over, pausing only to see whether Billy was responding. At last, Billy gave a feeble cough. Hurriedly, Lex rolled him on to his side. Billy retched up a final mouthful of muddy water, then lay back, wheezing. His eyelids fluttered ...

 

"L-Lex?" he asked weakly. "What -- what -- ?"

 

Lex grinned. "You swallowed half the river, but it looks like you coughed most of it up."

 

"Did you -- were you -- ?"

 

"Yeah, I had to give you mouth-to-mouth, but don't go blabbing about it, okay?"

 

"Oh, man. Thanks. I thought I was a goner for sure." He tried to sit up, but Lex pushed him back down.

 

"Hey, you're okay now. Just lie back and take it easy."

 

Billy shut his eyes and lay still. A sudden wind rustled the leaves overhead. Out of the corner of his eye Lex was aware that someone was standing nearby. He looked up.

 

"Supergirl!"

 

Supergirl was looking down at him, her arms folded across her chest and her shapely legs silhouetted against the sunlight. Her skirt and cape stirred softly in the summer breeze, but otherwise she stood as motionless -- and as imposing -- as a statue.

 

Then she spoke.    

 

"How could you?" she demanded.

 

"Huh?" Lex scrambled to his feet. He could see that Supergirl was frowning angrily. She strode forward, waving him aside with an impatient sweep of her arm, and knelt by Billy. Lex watched in silence as she felt the boy's pulse, checked his breathing, lifted his eyelids. Billy had begun shivering. Supergirl removed her cape and carefully wrapped it around him; then she narrowed her eyes and ran her gaze back and forth along his swaddled body.

 

Fascinated, Lex looked on. He'd heard that heat vision was one of Supergirl's many incredible powers, and he guessed that she was using it to warm Billy. Sure enough, the boy stopped shivering. His breathing became steady, and the color returned to his face.

 

Lex stepped forward. "Gosh, Supergirl, I sure am glad -- "

 

Supergirl looked up, still frowning. "How could you be so foolish? Letting Billy swim across the river! You know about his polio, don't you? Why do you suppose he has crutches?"

 

"I -- um -- " But Supergirl wasn't finished.

 

"I know all about that initiation you older boys make the eighth-graders go through. I was watching yesterday, with my super-vision, just in case something happened. I never imagined you'd come back today, just to put poor Billy in danger. I'm very disappointed in you, L -- "

 

She stopped just as she was about to say "Lex." She didn't want him wondering how she knew his name. Her eyes were resting on Lex's chest, his shoulders, his arms. Despite her anger, she couldn't help noticing that he had a nice body -- not as muscular as Clark's, of course, but fit and toned ... Snap out of it, Lana, she told herself sternly.  

 

" -- very disappointed in you boys."

 

"But -- I -- you don't -- " Lex was about to tell her what had happened; but he stopped and hung his head. True, he hadn't been the one who dared Billy into swimming across the river; but instead of standing up for Billy, he'd backed down from Clark and those other guys. He was just as much to blame as they were ...

 

Supergirl stood up, lifting Billy in her arms. Wrapped snugly in her cape, Billy lay quietly, eyes closed, breathing gently. Lex could see one frail foot sticking out from the red cloth.

 

"I'm taking Billy to the hospital in Crawfordsville," Supergirl said. "He seems to be okay, but I should get a doctor to look at him. I hope you boys have learned a lesson." And with that, she sprang into the air with Billy cradled in her arms.

 

 SuperLanaC17

 

 

 

Lex let out a long sigh and slumped to his knees. His tired limbs felt as heavy as lead. He knelt motionless for several minutes, then rose wearily to his feet. His towel and sneakers were on the other side of the creek, but he didn't have the strength to swim back across. He turned and started trudging downstream toward the old wooden bridge, picking his way carefully through the brush.

 

Oh, no! Too late, Lex noticed that he was walking through a patch of poison ivy. He shook his head with wry resignation. Could the day get any worse?

 

----------

 

Screened by a thicket, three pairs of eyes watched furtively from the opposite bank.

 

"Gosh," whispered Freddy. "Supergirl is really laying into Lex."

 

"Yeah," said Jeff. "She must think he's the one who made Billy swim across the creek."

 

"Do you think he'll rat on us?"

 

"He'd better not," growled Clark. "If he's a genius like everyone says, he'll know what's good for him."

 

"Aw, don't worry about Lex," said Jeff. "He may be a square, but he's okay. He won't tell on us."

 

Supergirl had flown off, and Lex was starting to trudge off downstream along the opposite bank. The three boys turned and got on their bicycles. There was an awkward silence.

 

"So what do you wanna do now?" said Freddy.

 

"I dunno," shrugged Jeff. "I guess we could see if Pete's home, maybe shoot some hoops."

 

"Coming, Clark?"

 

"Can't," said Clark. “I gotta pick up a few things at the store and get back home. I've got chores to do.”

 

“Okay. Well -- see you later, big guy.”

 

Clark pedaled off toward the main road. Now that school was out for the summer, Pa expected him to work on the farm, all day, every day, until football practice resumed in August. It was a prospect he dreaded -- three long months of back-breaking toil in the hot, humid Kansas summer. To make matters worse, he and Pa seemed to be constantly at odds lately.

 

Ma sent Clark into town just about every day, to run some errand for her. Clark was sure she did it to give him a little break from farm work, and he was grateful. He'd been on his way to the general store that morning to pick up some groceries when he met up with Freddy and Jeff. Of course, he should have been home an hour ago. He'd make up a story about getting a flat tire. Pa would be annoyed, but that couldn't be helped ...

 

Ten minutes later, Clark walked out of the Smallville General Store with a bag of groceries in his arms. He put it in the side basket of his bicycle. Noticing that the rear tire was a little soft, he pushed the bicycle round to the side of the store and unhooked the hose by the hand-lettered "FREE AIR" sign.

 

Squatting by the tire, Clark looked up as a shiny black late-model Chevrolet pulled into the parking area. The driver, a small wiry man with a thin mustache and a snap-brim hat, sat thumbing the pages of a tattered memorandum book. After a few moments, he put the book back in his shirt pocket and glanced out the window. His eyes met Clark's and he nodded in greeting.

 

"Hiya, kid," he said affably.

 

"Hi," said Clark. "That's a nice car you've got."

 

"Thanks. You've got a nice set of wheels yourself. I bet those tassels on the grips add a lot of speed."

 

Clark turned away with a grunt.

 

"Hey, I'm just kidding," the man called. "You're Clark Kent, aren't you? The Boy of Steel?"

 

Clark brightened. It was always flattering when people outside Smallville recognized him. "That's right."

 

The man stuck his arm out of the window of the Chevy. "It's an honor to meet you, Clark. I saw you pitch that shut-out against the Marmots last month. You've got a great arm. I'm Joe Petersen."

 

Clark walked over to the car and shook hands. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Petersen.”

 

"Call me Joe." He squinted up at Clark. "Say, Clark, how'd you like to have a motor bike to ride around on -- and a little pocket money? You see, I own a used car lot in Shelbyville, but I have to spend a lot of time on the road looking after a couple other little business ventures. I don't like to be away from the lot so much, so I could use a smart young fella like yourself to help me run some errands."

 

"What kind of errands?"

 

Joe waved his hand. "Little of this, little of that, you know what I mean? We can discuss the details later. Are you interested? Like I said, I can set you up on a nice little motor scooter."

 

"Well, sure. I mean, that sounds great. I'll have to ask my parents -- "

 

"Whoa. Before you do that, why don't you come talk with me? Here's the address." He handed Clark a business card. "I'll tell you what the job involves, and then you can talk it over with your folks."

 

"Well -- okay ... "

 

"Attaboy. I'll be at the lot all day tomorrow. Drop by anytime. But in the meantime" -- he gave Clark a conspiratorial wink -- "let's keep this on the QT, all right?"

 

"I guess ... "

 

"Listen, Clark, I've got to get going. No rest for the weary, you know what I mean? But I'm glad I ran into you. See you tomorrow, okay?"

 

"Uh -- okay. Thanks, Mr. Petersen."

 

"What did I tell you, Clark? Call me Joe. Mr. Petersen is my father." The Chevy's motor purred as he turned the key in the ignition. Flashing a toothy smile, he waved good-bye as he pulled onto the road and drove off toward Smallville.

 

----------

 

Mrs. Lang was standing at the kitchen sink, peeling potatoes for dinner, when she heard the trapdoor slam shut down in the cellar. A few moments later there came the sound of footsteps on the cellar stairs; then the cellar door swung open and Lana walked into the kitchen, adjusting her brunette wig.

 

"Hello, dear," said Mrs. Lang. "Busy day? I heard about that forest fire on the radio."

 

Lana was taking a carton of chocolate ice cream from the freezer. "Yeah. It's under control now. I just flew back." She filled a bowl with ice cream and took it to the kitchen table.

 

Mrs. Lang raised her eyebrows. She knew that Lana wouldn't put on any weight or spoil her appetite for dinner, but she could tell that something was bothering her.

 

"The man on the radio said that you saved several communities from being destroyed -- and saved a dozen lives." She sat down at the table and gave her daughter's hand a squeeze. "I'm so proud of you."

 

Lana turned up a corner of her mouth. "Thanks, Mom."

 

"So what's wrong?"

 

Lana sighed and put down her spoon. "Billy Freeman almost drowned in Butternut Creek this morning," she said. "Some of the older boys dared him to swim across that dangerous spot. You know that stupid initiation they make the eighth-graders go through every summer? I had to fly him to the hospital."

 

Mrs. Lang nodded. "I heard about that. Mrs. Freeman says he's doing fine."

 

"That's good. But you know who dared him to swim across? Lex! Lex Luthor."

 

"Really? That doesn't sound like him. He seems like such a responsible young man."

 

"Well, he might have been responsible for Billy's death. I guess he swam after Billy when he saw that Billy was in trouble, and he managed to get him onto dry land -- but still, I never in a million years would have dreamed that he'd do something so thoughtless, so -- " Angrily, she ate a spoonful of ice cream.

 

"Well," said Mrs. Lang gently, "maybe he didn't."

 

Lana looked at her mother inquisitively.

 

"Did you see him dare Billy to swim across the creek?"

 

"Well ... no. I mean, I saw the two of them lying there on the river-bank -- "

 

"You see, Mrs. Freeman told me that Billy told her that some other boys made the dare -- and that Lex tried to talk him out of it."

 

Lana blinked. "What other boys?"

 

"Billy wouldn't say. But Tom Bradford came forward and admitted that he was one of them. He wouldn't say who the others were."

 

Lana narrowed her eyes. "I can guess."

 

"Well, dear, so can I. But let's not jump to any more conclusions, shall we?"

 

Lana looked down, red-faced. "So Lex didn't -- and not only that, he saved Billy's life."

 

"It looks that way."

 

"And I accused him -- he risked his life to save Billy, all because I wasn't there. Oh, Mom, I was so angry at him -- "

 

"I don't thnk so, dear," said Mrs. Lang. "I think you were angry at yourself."

 

Lana blinked. "What do you mean?"

 

"You said it yourself, just now -- you think you should have been there to save Billy." She gave Lana's hand another squeeze. "Oh, honey, you do so much good with those gifts of yours, you help so many people. But not even Supergirl can be everywhere and save everyone."

 

"Not everyone in the world. But Billy -- Lex -- they're my friends." She hung her head. "How can I ever face Lex again?"

 

"I'm sure if you talk to him -- as Supergirl, I mean -- tell him you're sorry ... "

 

Lana stood up. "I'll do better than that," she said. She took the empty bowl to the sink, then went down into the cellar.

 

She came back up into the kitchen a few moments later, carrying a dusty cardboard carton. She set it down on the table and began rummaging through it. It was full of medals and plaques and other testimonials that Supergirl had been given in gratitude. Lana always felt awkward about accepting these awards, but she felt that it would be ungracious to refuse them or throw them out. So they had been allowed to accumulate in a carton down in the cellar.

 

She pulled out a silver-plated medal attached to a ribbon. Her "S" emblem was engraved on one side, and the words "FOR BRAVERY" on the other.

 

Lana shook her head ruefully. "There's nothing brave about what I do," she said. "Nothing can harm me, so I'm never in danger. But Lex -- "

 

She ran upstairs to her bedroom and came back down a few moments later with a sheet of plain stationery. She sat down at the table and began printing in neat block letters:

 

TO A REAL HERO:

YOU DESERVE THIS

MORE THAN I DO.

 

She signed the note "Supergirl" -- in the disguised handwriting she used to protect her secret identity -- and folded it neatly.

 

Mrs. Lang nodded in approval. "That's a lovely gesture, dear. I'm sure Lex will be pleased. Listen, why don't you give Suzy a call? I think Supergirl's done enough for one day."

 

Lana shook her head. "She's probably at rehearsal." Suzy had recently won the role of Juliet in the Crawfordsville Community Theater's summer production of Romeo and Juliet.

 

"Well, in that case ... " said Mrs. Lang. She opened the refrigerator and took out a crock-pot covered in aluminum foil. "Maybe you could take this casserole over to the Freemans? I doubt that Mrs. Freeman has had much time to cook today."

 

"Sure," said Lana. Mrs. Freeman could tell her how Lex had saved Billy ...  

 

----------

 

Clark gulped down the last of his orange juice and rose hurriedly from the kitchen table.

 

"I gotta go," he said over his shoulder as he headed for the screen door.

 

"What about your chores?" asked Ma.

 

Clark turned round. "I got a head start on those yesterday, remember? I told you last night I'm going over to Pete's house to help him clean out his dad's storage shed."

 

"Well ... that's nice of you, dear, but don't spend all day there. Your father needs your help, too."

 

"Okay." Clark was already out the door and on his bike.

 

"Let him go, Martha," muttered Pa, frowning into his coffee cup. "It's not as if he's much help even when he is here." He winced as he set the cup down.

 

"Are you all right?" asked Ma.

 

"Just a touch of indigestion," said Pa. "I'm fine."

 

"I really wish you'd see Doc Adams," sighed Ma. "You've been awfully tired lately, and you're always out of breath."

 

"For gosh sakes, Martha, I'm running a farm -- or trying to. When have I ever not been tired? I'll see the doctor soon as the harvest's in. There's nothing wrong with me that a little help from Clark wouldn't fix."

 

----------

 

Clark heaved a rusty fertilizer drum into the bed of the pick-up and wiped his hands on his dungarees. "Is there anything else?"

 

"No, that's it," said Pete. He was already climbing into the driver's seat. "Let's get going. The dump closes at noon."

 

Clark hopped into the passenger's seat, Pete let out the clutch, and the pick-up rattled along the dirt driveway and onto the main road.

 

"Okay," said Pete. "So I'll drop you off at this guy Joe's place, then I'll take this stuff to the dump, then I'll pick you up on my way back."

 

"You don't have to do that," said Clark. "I can ride back on my motor bike."

 

"No, don't do that. I want to check it out. We'll put it in the truck and go back to my place. Remember, I get to use it when you're not."

 

"Okay." Clark grinned. "Man, having our own motor bike is going to be so cool!"

 

"So when are you gonna give Suzy a ride on it?"

 

"I dunno. She spends a lot of time in Crawfordsville these days, rehearsing for Romeo and Juliet. And when she's not a rehearsal, she's got her nose in the book, memorizing her lines. Sometimes I help her practice."

 

"Wow. Clark Kent -- and Shakespeare? I don't believe it."

 

"Oh, I don't understand a word of that stuff. I just help her with the kissing scenes."

 

"You dog," chuckled Pete. "So have you gotten to second base yet?"

 

"Hey, I don't kiss and tell," said Clark virtuously.

 

"In other words, no," grinned Pete. "You know, a lot of guys still think Suzy is Supergirl."

 

"Yeah, well, they can go to hell."

 

"I guess if anyone would know, it would be you," said Pete. "But how can you be so sure?"

 

"I just am, okay? Case closed. Let's drop the subject."

 

"I don't get it -- it's like you don't want Suzy to be Supergirl. Man, if I found out that Tami was Supergirl, I'd flip!"

 

Clark slouched in his seat. Despite his protestations, he wasn't one-hundred percent sure that Suzy wasn't secretly Supergirl. He kept thinking about that night at the bridge, trying to remember if he'd actually seen the two of them at the same time, but he couldn't make up his mind.

 

Soon, the pick-up was cruising along the main drag in Shelbyville -- a four-lane street lined with liquor stores, taverns, nightclubs, pool parlors, and used car lots. The Diamond Bar was back in business: It had closed for renovations about a year ago, and there were rumors that Supergirl had trashed the place. Pete was about to mention it to Clark, but on second thought decided not to say anything. For some reason, Clark had a real bug up his ass when it came to Supergirl.

 

"Hey, there it is," Clark suddenly blurted out. Sure enough, a used car lot was coming up on their left, under a banner that proclaimed "HONEST JOE'S AUTOMOBILES." Pete pulled over across the street, in front of the Blue Lagoon Liquor Store.

 

"Good luck, buddy," said Pete as Clark hopped out. "I should be back in about a hour. I can't wait to see our new set of wheels!"

 

Clark trotted across the street and walked up to the low cinderblock building in the middle of the lot, glancing at the cars on display. Most of them looked to be at least ten years old, and in pretty shabby condition, but there were a few nice late-model cars parked close to the office. A hand-lettered sign -- "E-Z CREDIT" -- was taped to the glass door. A bell jingled as Clark pushed the door open and stepped inside.

 

Cheap wooden chairs lined the walls of the room; rickety tables were strewn with magazines about sports and cars. A strip of flypaper swayed in the breeze from a fan in one corner. A door stood open in the back wall. Clark guessed that it was the door to Mr. Petersen's private office. The room was empty, silent except for the hum of the fan. Clark was about to go back outside when he heard Mr. Petersen's voice coming from the back room.

 

He seemed to be talking on the telephone. "Well, sorry don't get it done, you know what I mean?" He sounded annoyed. "Tell him he's got until five o'clock. After that -- "

 

Clark tapped on the door frame. Mr. Petersen was sitting behind a shabby wooden desk strewn with papers, holding the receiver of a telephone to his ear. He glanced up. His scowl turned into a grin when he saw Clark standing in the doorway. He winked and held up a finger as he continued talking on the phone.

 

"All right. Well, he knows where to find me. Listen, I've got to go. Call me back."

 

He hung up. "Clark!" he beamed. "Thanks for coming. So I guess you've decided to take me up on my offer." He waved toward a chair facing the desk.

 

"Well," said Clark, sitting down, "I'd like to know a little more about it."

 

Mr. Petersen nodded in approval. "Very smart. I had you pegged right. Well, Clark, let me explain it to you." He folded his hands on the desk and leaned forward. His voice became serious, confidential.

 

"I need someone to run errands for me on Saturdays. That's the busiest day here at the lot, and I hate to be away."

 

"What kind of errands?"

 

"I'm going to give it to you straight, Clark. Honest Joe, that's me. Maybe you noticed that liquor store across the street? Well, I own it, and my brother-in-law runs it for me. Now here in Shelbyville, if a man wants to have a beer at the end of a hard day's work, or enjoy a glass of wine with his dinner, no problem. He can buy it at my store, or any other liquor store in Shelby County. But if a man lives in Smallville -- well, there's no place where he can buy so much as a bottle of beer, because Smallville is in a dry county. Am I right?"

 

Clark nodded.

 

"Doesn't make sense, does it, Clark? Something that's perfectly legal in Shelbyville is suddenly against the law just because you've stepped over a county line. Well, that's where you come in. You see, I offer a little service to the hard-working citizens of Smallville. They can order beer, or wine, or liquor, from me and I deliver it -- so they don't have to come all the way into Shelbyville at the end of a long hard day on the farm, you know what I mean?"

 

Clark frowned. "So you want me to deliver liquor?"

 

"No, no, Clark. My brother-in-law takes care of the actual deliveries. No, I just need someone to make the rounds of my customers on Saturdays, pick up orders, collect money, deliver receipts -- that sort of thing. Everything's in sealed envelopes. You won't be doing anything illegal. Even if the cops were to find out what you're doing -- and that's a big if -- well, I'd tell them you didn't know what's in those envelopes. I wouldn't want to get you in any trouble."

 

Clark sat gazing uncertainly at the dirty linoleum floor.

 

"Tell you what, Clark. While you're thinking it over, let's go round to the back and take a look at that motor bike."

 

He stood up and led Clark out of the building and around to the back lot, talking all the while.

 

"Your friend Robbie McMillan used to make the rounds for me. But he graduated last month. He's going to Kansas State on a basketball scholarship, am I right? He always spoke highly of you. I'm sure he'd be glad to know that you're taking over for him. He took really good care of this little beauty, too. Speaking of which -- "

 

Clark stared in admiration at the Vespa scooter. Its smooth contours gleamed like silver in the sunlight. Clark pictured himself roaring down the highway, a warm breeze blowing in his face, with Suzy's arms wrapping him tight from behind, her chin resting on his shoulder, her shiny blonde hair streaming behind her ...

 

Mr. Petersen put an arm around Clark's shoulder. "What did I tell you, Clark? Isn't she a beaut? And you can use her as much as you want as long as you're on my payroll. So what do you say? Do we have a deal?"

 

"Sure," said Clark. "I mean -- it sounds great." He hesitated. He was counting on an athletic scholarship to a Division I school, and he didn't want to put his chances in jeopardy. "But can I, uh, have a little time to think it over?"

 

Mr. Petersen pursed his lips. "Cold feet, huh? Well, I can't really blame you -- you being from Smallville. Supergirl's home town, you know what I mean? I bet the folks in Smallville think twice before they so much as toss a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. Funny, though -- I never figured the Boy of Steel would be scared of a -- "

 

Clark's face reddened. "That's not -- I'm not -- " He took a deep breath. "All right, it's a deal."

 

"Attaboy!" Mr. Petersen shook Clark's hand. "I knew I could count on you. Now let's go back to my office and I'll explain how my operation works ... "

 

Half an hour later, Clark and Pete were loading the motor bike into the back of Pete's truck. Mr. Petersen stood waving as the boys drove off, then went back to his office and picked up his telephone.

 

"Vinny? It's me ... Yeah, Kent's in the bag ... Nah, it was a piece of cake ... I think this guy is even dumber than that McMillan kid!"

 

----------

 

In a secluded clearing in the woods near Strawberry Lake, a camouflaged trapdoor suddenly sprang open. Rocketing from her secret tunnel, Supergirl was high above the treetops by the time the door snapped shut. She hovered for a moment as she got her bearings, then flew off toward the outskirts of Smallville.

 

Seconds later, she was descending toward the modest one-story house where Lex and his mother lived. Mrs. Luthor's old Chevrolet was parked in the driveway, in front of the shed that Lex used as a laboratory and workshop.

 

Lana walked up to the front door, taking a neatly wrapped parcel from the pouch of her cape and mentally rehearsing the speech she'd prepared. She was just about to knock when the door suddenly opened and Lex's mother stood blinking at her in surprise.

 

Mrs. Luthor was pulling a thin cardigan sweater over her nurse's uniform. She had her son's wavy brown hair, his thin nose, his serious blue eyes. Her face was kindly but careworn. Lana knew that things hadn't been easy for her and Lex after her husband's death.

 

"Oh -- hello, Mrs. Luthor," said Lana. "I'm sorry -- I didn't mean to startle you."

 

"Supergirl! I was just leaving for work. Is -- is something wrong?"

 

"No, no," Lana assured her. "It's just -- well, I guess you know what happened at the river yesterday."

 

"I know that Billy Freeman nearly drowned. Lex told me how you showed up and flew Billy to the hospital."

 

Lana was puzzled. "That's all? He didn't mention that he was the one who saved Billy?"

 

"No. I learned that from Billy, before he left the hospital." Mrs. Luthor smiled ruefully. "Lex doesn't talk about himself very much -- not even to his mother."

 

"Oh. So I guess he didn't mention that I -- well, that I kind of jumped to conclusions. The fact is, I -- I misjudged him, and I'm sorry." She held out the parcel. "Could you please give this to him? It's just a little something to say I'm sorry and I hope he'll forgive me."

 

Mrs. Luthor took the parcel from Lana's hands. "Of course. No, Lex didn't say anything about that, but whatever it was, I'm sure he doesn't think any the worse of you. We're only human, right? Even Supergirl."

 

"That's right," grinned Lana.

 

"Listen, would you like to come in and wait for him? He's running a few errands in town, but he should be back soon. And I don't have to leave right away. I'm sure he'd be delighted to see you."

 

"Thank you, Mrs. Luthor, but I have to be going. It was nice meeting you." She paused. "What your son did was very brave," she said. "You should be proud of him."

 

Mrs. Luthor beamed. "Oh, I am." She stood on the doorstep, smiling and waving, as Supergirl leapt into the air and flew out of sight.

 

High above Smallville, Lana let out a sigh of relief. The conversation with Mrs. Luthor had been less awkward than she'd feared. Well, she thought ruefully, Supergirl might be too scared to face Lex -- but Lana isn't.

 

Scanning Smallville with her super-vision, she spotted Lex in the general store, taking a bottle of calomine lotion down from a shelf. She winced as her x-ray vision revealed that underneath his trousers his legs were covered with the blisters of a poison ivy rash. Poor Lex, she thought sympathetically. Maybe I can cheer him up.      

 

----------

 

"Hi, Lex!"

 

Lex was standing at the counter, waiting for Mr. Henkle to ring up his purchase. He turned at the sound of Lana's voice. "Lana! How's your summer?"

 

"Pretty quiet so far. But I understand you had kind of an adventure yesterday."

 

Lex made a wry face. "Misadventure is more like it. I ran into some poison ivy."

 

"My mom says you did more than that. Want to get a soda and tell me about it?"

 

Lex blushed. "I'd like that. But I just spent the last of my allowance on this lotion."

 

"My treat."

 

"Gosh, Lana, I can't let you -- "

 

"Oh, you'll earn it," she grinned. "You'll tell me everything that happened at the river yesterday."

 

"Well -- " He smiled shyly. "All right."

 

Lana laid a quarter on the counter. "Mr. Henkle," she said grandly, "I'd like to buy my friend a soda."

 

Mr. Henkle raised a bushy eyebrow, but he made no comment as he stepped over to the soda fountain at the back of the store. "The usual, Lex?" he asked.

 

Lex nodded. Lana's eyes widened as she watched Mr. Henkle fill a glass with Coca-Cola, then add a shot of chocolate syrup.

 

"There's nothing 'usual' about that," she remarked.

 

Lex grinned. "Don't knock it till you try it." He slid into a booth and took a straw from the dispenser. "Aren't you going to get a soda?"

 

Smiling mysteriously, Lana shook her head as she slid into the seat facing Lex.. Lex stared, open-mouthed, as she unwrapped a straw and stuck it into the glass, then leaned over and took a sip.

 

"What are you staring at?" she giggled. "That was the last of my allowance, too, so we'll just have to share. Now tell me everything that happened yesterday. Don't leave out a single detail."

 

TEN MINUTES LATER ...

 

" ... and then Supergirl showed up and flew Billy to the hospital. That's about it."

 

"Golly," said Lana. Her chin was propped on her hands as she gazed admiringly at Lex. "So you're a hero."

 

Lex squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, let's just say I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

 

"I don't think Billy would put it that way -- or Mrs. Freeman." She leaned forward. "But I heard that when Supergirl showed up, she thought you were to blame for what happened to Billy."

 

"Well -- yes."

 

"Who does she think she is?" Lana cried indignantly. "You saved Billy's life, and then she shows up and scolds you for it."

 

"Well, I can see how it must have looked ... and besides, if I'd only stuck around -- tried harder to talk Billy out of taking that dare -- the whole thing might not have happened."

 

"Still, she had no right to judge you like that. I bet she's made plenty of mistakes. Ooh, if I ever meet her, I'll -- I'll give her a piece of my mind!"

 

"Lana, calm down." Lex was grinning. "It's no big deal. I'm sure she just snapped at me because she was concerned about Billy."

 

"Well, maybe." She took a sip of the soda. "So you met Supergirl. What's she like? Do you think she's -- pretty?" Blushing, she lowered her eyes.

 

Lex shrugged. "I guess. Of course, I'm sitting with the prettiest girl in Smallville right now."

 

"Stop it!" Lana took a chip of ice from the glass and flicked it in Lex's face, giggling as he yelped in surprise.

 

Grinning happily, Lana leaned back against the worn upholstery of the booth. I sure am lucky to have a friend like Lex, she thought. He's smart and brave and kind and he always makes me feel good about myself ... She remembered how he'd stood up for her that day in the cafeteria, how he played her favorite songs on his radio program ...    

 

Her eye fell on the clock behind the soda fountain. "Uh-oh," she said. "It's later than I thought. I'd better get going." Lex stood up politely as she slid out of the booth.

 

"Oh, I almost forgot," said Lana. "Mrs. Freeman asked me to give you something."

 

"What's that?"

 

"This." She threw her arms around Lex and gave him a grateful hug. Standing there with her body pressed against his, her head resting on his shoulder, she felt strangely reluctant to let go ... She stepped back, smiling awkwardly as she pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. Lex was gaping at her, red-faced.

 

"Well ... " said Lana. "I'll ... I'll see you around." She turned abruptly and hurried out of the store.

 

Outside, she could barely refrain from leaping into the sky. Running behind the store, she looked round carefully to make sure nobody was watching; and then, in the blink of an eye, she changed into her Supergirl costume and sprang into the air ...

 

Below her, the Kansas farmland rolled by in a blur. Faster and faster she flew, the wind in her face, light-hearted, carefree. A sonic boom split the air as she hurtled along; farmers looked up from their fields, puzzled to hear thunder rumbling in a cloudless blue sky. Lana lifted her face to the sun and flung out her arms and soared in wide, joyful loops high in the air above Smallville.

 

"Wheeeee!"

 

Five minutes later, Mr. Henkle glanced up from his newspaper. Lex was still sitting in the booth, staring at the empty seat across from him with a wide, happy smile spread across his face.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

NEXT: SUPERGIRL'S SECRET IDENTITY IS FINALLY

EXPOSED -- WHEN CLARK KENT LEARNS THAT THE

MAID OF STEEL IS NONE OTHER THAN HIS GIRL-

FRIEND SUZY PRENTISS! PUZZLED? CONFUSED?

THEN DON'T MISS THE NEXT EXCITING ISSUE OF

ACENAUT COMICS -- AND SEE IF YOU CAN SOLVE ...

 

"The SECRET of the NEW SUPERGIRL!"

 

SuperSuzyC17

CHAPTER 18

 

AUGUST ...

 

Professor Lang's resonant baritone filled the theater:

 

"A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

   Some shall be pardon'd; and some punish-ed ... "

 

Sitting in the audience, Lana brushed a tear from her eye.

 

"For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

 

The curtain fell. Lana jumped up, clapping enthusiastically. The entire audience was on its feet in a standing ovation, their applause echoing from the rafters of the old grange hall.

 

The actors were coming on stage for their curtain call -- extras and walk-ons first, then Professor Lang, resplendent as the Prince of Verona. "Yay, Daddy!" Lana shouted. She stuck her fingers in her mouth and added a loud, piercing whistle to the general applause.

 

Standing beside her daughter, Mrs. Lang frowned. "Really, Lana," she murmured reprovingly. "That's not very lady-like."

 

Lana looked up sheepishly. "Sorry, Mom."

 

The other actors were trotting onto the stage -- Juliet's nurse and Friar Lawrence, Benvolio and Mercutio, Montague and Capulet ... The applause swelled as Romeo strode onstage, then exploded in a wild crescendo as Juliet, exquisitely pretty in a gown of lavender and gold, stepped forward and curtsied, smiling and blushing.

 

"Suzy was great, wasn't she?" said Lana.

 

"She certainly was," said Mrs. Lang. "And I can't imagine a prettier Juliet."

 

At last the applause died down and people began making their way toward the exit and out into the warm August night.

 

Lana turned to her mother. "I want to say hi to Daddy -- and Suzy."

 

Mrs. Lang nodded. "All right. I just saw Mrs. Putnam leaving. I need to talk with her about the rummage sale next week. You know where the car is parked."

 

Nodding, Lana hurried off toward the stairs leading to the basement.

 

Professor Lang was striding along the narrow corridor between the dressing rooms, mopping his forehead with a large handkerchief. He beamed as Lana rushed up and gave him a hug.

 

"You were wonderful, Daddy. You should have been an actor."

 

"Thanks, Pumpkin. It's been fun, but I'm glad this is the last night. It's back to the humdrum life of a college professor for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get out of this costume before I melt!"

 

"Okay, Daddy. I'll see you later." Brushing past actors and stagehands, Lana made her way to the ladies' dressing room. She opened the door and peeked inside. Suzy was standing in front of a tall mirror, removing her eye-shadow with a tissue.

 

"Suzy!"

 

Suzy turned around. "Lana!" she squealed. She ran over and threw her arms around her friend.

 

"Thanks for coming. This is what, your third time?"

 

"I wouldn't have missed it for anything. You were great. I was crying all through the final scene."

 

"Thanks. Wow! I can't believe it's over. I guess it's just as well. School starts in a couple of weeks, and cheerleading practice has already begun. Hey, let's get together sometime this week."

 

"I'd like that. Oh, I saw Clark in the audience tonight." She giggled. "I think he actually stayed awake through the whole play this time."

 

Suzy rolled her eyes. "Shakespeare isn't exactly Clark's cup of tea. It was nice of him to come." She laid a hand on Lana's arm. "I know Clark can be ... thoughtless sometimes, but he's really a sweet guy. I'm glad you're not mad at him."

 

Lana waved a hand dismissively. "Bygones." A few days after the incident in the cafeteria last March, Clark had come up to her in the hallway between classes and mumbled an apology. Lana was sure that Suzy had made him do it, but she had accepted the gesture for her friend's sake.

 

"Listen, I've got to go," said Lana. "I'll give you a call tomorrow."

 

"Okey-doke." Suzy turned back to the mirror and began smearing cold cream on her cheeks.

 

Out in the corridor, Lana nearly bumped into Clark. "Oh -- hi, Lana," he said awkwardly. "Is Suzy in there?"

 

"Yes, she is. Shall I ask her to step outside?"

 

"Would you? Thanks."

 

Lana laid her hand on the doorknob, then paused. "Didn't you bring her anything?"

 

"Um ... no ... "

 

Lana sighed. "Wait right here," she said. "Don't move. I'll be right back." She turned and trotted down the corridor. Rounding the corner, she put on a burst of super-speed as she ran up the deserted stairway and out the side door of the grange hall.

 

The Crawfordsville Community Theater stood in an open field on the outskirts of town. Most of the audience had gone by now, but a few stragglers were getting into their cars and driving off. The Lang’s' Studebaker was parked close to the side of the building. Lana opened the rear door and took out a long, narrow box tied with a red ribbon and a fancy bow.

 

Lana stood gazing at the box for a moment. It contained a rose that she'd bought in a flower shop in Crawfordsville earlier that evening, as she and her mother were driving in to see the play. She'd been planning to give it to her father later, after he got home. Mrs. Lang had baked gingerbread -- Daddy's favorite. But now --

 

Lana sighed. I'm sure Daddy will understand, she thought. After all, this is an emergency ...

 

Moments later, she was back in the corridor outside the dressing room. "Here," she said, handing Clark the box. "Give this to Suzy when she comes out. It's a rose. Wait, here's a card. Do you have a pen? Well, you can use mine. Write this down. To the sweetest flower of all the field."

 

"Huh?" Clark stared at her blankly.

 

"It's from the play. Romeo and Juliet."

 

"Oh. Say it again."

 

Clark wrote down the words as Lana repeated them slowly.

 

"Thanks, Lana," he grinned, handing the pen back to her. "You girls really go for this mushy stuff, don't you?"

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Suzy raised her arms and slid into her red and white cheerleading sweater. She looked at the clock on the bedside table as she ran a brush through her shiny blonde hair. Lizzy Snyder would be picking her up in a few minutes on her way to practice.

 

Glancing out her bedroom window, Suzy saw the mailman pulling up by the mailbox across the road. She hurried down the stairs and out the front door. Carefully looking both ways, she trotted across the road and pulled down the front flap of the mailbox.

 

There wasn't much -- a few bills, a brochure from an appliance store in Crawfordsville, and a postcard for Suzy. It was from her Aunt Millie, who was visiting Metropolis with her husband. On one side of the card was a color photograph of the city's theater district by night. Suzy gazed wistfully at the colorful lights and bright marquees. She turned the card over and began reading the message as she turned back toward the house.

 

Dear Suzy: Your uncle and I are having a wonderful

time in Metropolis. Last night we went to a theater to

see "Our Town." The girl who played Emily reminded

me of you -- very pretty and a very good actress. Who

knows? --Maybe someday you'll be on stage in a big-

city theater!                                 Love, Aunt Millie

 

Absorbed in the postcard, Suzy didn't realize that she'd started to cross the road -- not until the blare of a horn and the squeal of tires suddenly woke her from her reverie ...

 

----------

 

Louie Brenner was pushing the speed limit as he came to the outskirts of Smallville. He was running late for a meeting with Tony and some of the union bosses in Shelbyville, but he didn't dare to drive any faster -- not in Supergirl's home town. He glanced nervously up at the sky. There was no sign of her, but he'd heard plenty of stories about how she could show up out of nowhere at super-speed ...

 

Louie frowned. He wondered why Supergirl hung around a no-count burg like Smallville. A lot of people figured she lived here, incognito, as an ordinary teen-age girl. But how could she keep her identity a secret in a little hick town where everybody knew each other's business? It didn't add up. Still, there must be some connection ...

 

Coming round a curve, Louie suddenly swore. A girl was crossing the road directly in front of him. He pressed his hand against the horn, he slammed on the brake. The girl turned toward him, eyes wide with alarm. Louie winced and braced himself. There was no way the car could stop in time. Involuntarily, he averted his eyes. He jerked forward as the car jolted to a stop ...

 

----------

 

The horn stopped blaring, the tires stopped squealing. Suzy stood blinking in the silence of the summer afternoon. The pieces of mail lay scattered on the road. The car -- a shiny black coupe -- had stopped, just a couple of feet from where she stood. Dazed, Suzy stooped to pick up the mail as a man in a plaid sports jacket and fedora hat scrambled out of the car and strode toward her.

 

"Hey!" he shouted angrily. "Why don't you watch where you're going? You could have been killed!"

 

"I'm sorry," Suzy said meekly.

 

Louie's anger softened as he looked at the pretty teenager who stood blinking up at him. Her lower lip was quivering, and her large blue eyes were glistening with tears.

 

"It's okay, miss," he said. "You just scared me, that's all. Didn't your folks ever tell you to look both ways before you cross a street?"

 

The girl nodded. "Oh, yes. I -- I was reading a postcard from my aunt, and I just wasn't thinking ..."

 

Louie let out a long breath. "Well, thank goodness my car stopped in time. Is that your house? Let's go inside and tell your folks what happened."

 

"They're not home," Suzy said hastily. "My dad's at his office in Crawfordsville, and my mom's out doing some errands. Oh, please don't tell them about this." She blinked away the tears that were welling in her eyes.

 

"Well -- are you sure you're okay?" Once again, Louie glanced up at the sky, half expecting to see Supergirl swooping down. The sooner he was on his way, the better ...

 

"Oh, yes, I'm fine." Suzy nodded vigorously. "I'm really really sorry."

 

Louie nodded. "Okay, miss. If you're sure you're all right. Just be careful from now on, okay?"

 

Suzy smiled. "Oh, I will! Thanks!" Louie stood watching as she hurried across the road and ran up the front steps of her house.

 

Louie turned, anxious to get back in his car and be on his way. But he stopped short as his eyes fell on the grille and fender of his coupe. He pushed his fedora back and stood scratching his head for several moments. Then he walked over to the mailbox. Taking a small notebook from the pocket of his jacket, he copied down the name -- PRENTISS. He shut the book, got back in his car, and drove off toward Shelbyville.

 

He drove at a leisurely speed. He had a lot to think about. Tony might be mad at him for being late for the meeting -- but wait till he heard about this!

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Tony D'Amato folded his hands over his chest and leaned back in his swivel chair, regarding Louie with heavy-lidded eyes.

 

"So, Louie," he said. "You say you have some information that may be of interest to me?"

 

"That's right," said Louie. He placed the palms of his hands on Tony's desk and leaned forward confidentially. "I know who Supergirl is."

 

"Indeed." Tony scowled. He regretted that he'd ever offered a reward for information about Supergirl. If he had a nickel for every joker who'd tried to sell him some worthless piece of dope or some crazy theory ...

 

Tony sighed. Supergirl hadn't bothered him since that day she trashed the Diamond Bar, but he was tired of constantly looking over his shoulder every time he did business. He thought he might be developing an ulcer. If only he could cash in his assets, get out of Shelbyville, relocate somewhere else -- Detroit, maybe, or Gary or even Chicago ...

 

"I'm a busy man," he said sourly. "Don't waste my time, Louie. This information of yours better be good."

 

"Oh, it's good all right. C'mon, Tony. This is me you're talking to."

 

"Just spill it." Tony leaned back and closed his eyes.

 

"Okay. Remember how I was a little late for our meeting the other day? Well, here's what happened. I was driving through Smallville on my way from Crawfordsville. I was in a hurry, so I was kind of pushing the speed limit -- not going over it, on account of ... you know ... "

 

Tony nodded. He gestured impatiently with one hand.

 

"Anyway, about a mile from the center of town, I hit a girl who was crossing the road."

 

Tony opened one eye.

 

"It wasn't my fault," Louie explained hastily. "She stepped into the road without looking. I slammed on my brakes, but it was too late. The car rammed right into her. But get this -- it didn't even knock her down. She just stood there -- "

 

Tony grunted. "Sounds to me like your car stopped just in time. Lucky for her."

 

"That's what I thought, at first. But then I took a look at the front of the car. It was all dented and crumpled, like it hit a telephone pole or something. And I know it wasn't that way when I left Crawfordsville. The car's parked right in front -- I can show you."

 

"Later," said Tony. "Go on." His eyes were open now.

 

"The girl was wearing a red cheerleading uniform with an 'S' in front." Louie tapped his forehead. "So I thought to myself, I bet she's a cheerleader for Smallville High -- "

 

"Very astute of you," Tony murmured.

 

"Thanks. So yesterday I went back to Smallville. The football team was practicing, getting ready for the big scrimmage against Martindale, but I was checking out the cheerleaders -- "

 

"And?"

 

"It's her, all right. She's a blonde, but except for that she's a dead ringer for the girl that busted in here last year. A real doll. Same height, same -- " He held his hands out in front of his chest. "And you should see some of her cheerleading moves. I swear, this girl can defy gravity -- "

 

"Does she have a name?"

 

"Suzy Prentiss. She's a junior at Smallville High. Her father's a dentist. No brothers or sisters. And get this -- her boy-friend is Clark Kent."

 

Tony rubbed his chin. "You don't say. Joe Petersen's new runner, huh?" He chuckled softly. "I wonder if Miss Super Goody-Two-Shoes is aware that her boy-friend is running numbers for Shelbyville's biggest bookmaker."

 

He sat thinking for a few moments. Then he reached across the cluttered desktop and picked up the telephone.

 

"Joe? This is Tony ... Fine, thanks, and you? ... I am glad to hear it. Listen, you know my, ah, getaway on the Old Mill Road? Could you send Clark Kent over with two bottles of your finest Scotch next Friday morning around, say, ten o'clock? ... No, no, I'm, ah, entertaining some out-of-town guests, and they expressed an interest in meeting young Mr. Kent ... Tell him he can expect a substantial tip ... Thank you, Joe. You are most accommodating ... You are too kind. Ciao."

 

Tony put the receiver back in its cradle. "Nice guy, Joe," he said reflectively. "Too bad he'll have to find himself a new errand boy."

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

The Old Mill Road ran south of Smallville, between wide, stubbly cornfields that basked in the warm silence of the August morning -- a silence broken by a low hum as Clark sped along on his Vespa motor scooter.

 

Clark loved riding the Vespa, especially when he had the road all to himself and he could open the throttle. The speed, the freedom, the wind in his face -- it almost reminded him how it felt to fly ...

 

The road ended about a quarter of a mile ahead, at the foot of a low rise of land. A farmhouse and a few outbuildings stood out clearly on the sloping ground. Clark slowed down and shifted gears as he turned off the road and began climbing the long driveway.

 

He was starting to feel nervous. This was the first time Joe had asked him to deliver liquor.

 

"You know I wouldn't ordinarily ask you to do this," Joe had told him. "But Mr. D'Amato wants you to deliver these personally. He's entertaining some out-of-town guests at his place on the Old Mill Road. Big-shot businessmen, you know what I mean? And he says they want to meet Clark Kent, Smallville's Boy of Steel. How do you like that? So deliver the goods, shake hands, say how-do-you-do -- shmooze a bit, you know what I mean? Mr. D'Amato says you can expect a nice big tip."

 

Clark was determined to make a good impression. Maybe one of these businessmen was an alumnus of a Division I school, or a trustee, and could put in a word for him, maybe pull a few strings ...

 

Of course, he couldn't stay long. He had to be at the football field by one o'clock, and he'd promised to give Suzy a lift. It was the day of the big game against Martindale. It was just a pre-season scrimmage, but Smallville and Martindale were strong contenders for the state championship this year, and the game was expected to draw a big crowd.

 

He was looking forward to giving Suzy a ride on the Vespa. He loved it when she sat behind him on the motor scooter, her arms wrapped around his chest, her chin resting on his shoulder, her thighs pressed against his ... Suzy had mentioned that Lana would be dropping by her house during the morning. Clark figured they'd be listening to records and talking about clothes and ... well, girl stuff.

 

Clark had to admit, Lana was okay. She used to be a real pest, but lately she'd stopped hanging around him all the time. She must have finally wised up and realized that someone like Lex Loser was more in her league. And she'd done him a real favor the other night, after the play.  

 

He followed the driveway round to the back of the house, as Joe had instructed him, and parked his scooter in the shade of a chestnut tree. He was surprised to see only two cars in the parking area. Maybe Mr. D'Amato had converted one of the barns into a garage. He took a parcel from the Vespa's side basket -- two bottles of Scotch, wrapped securely in brown paper -- and tucked it under his arm.

 

He could feel his heart beating nervously as he walked up to the back door of the farmhouse. He smoothed his hair and adjusted his necktie; then he took a deep breath and knocked.

 

Almost immediately, the door opened a few inches. Whoever was inside must have seen him coming up the driveway.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Uh -- hi." Clark smiled. "I'm Clark Kent. Mr. D'Amato is expecting me. I have a delivery for him." He nodded at the bundle in the crook of his elbow.

 

"Come on in." The door swung open. Standing in the doorway was a narrow-shouldered man in a grey suit. He had a thin mustache and red-rimmed eyes, and Clark couldn't help noticing that his suit looked worn and threadbare. Clark felt vaguely uneasy. This guy didn't look like a big-shot businessman ...

 

Clark stepped inside and glanced around. The shades were drawn and the room was dim, but it looked comfortably furnished. The house was quiet.

 

"Uh -- Mr. D'Amato said that there were some people who wanted to meet me."

 

"Yeah. He's, uh, showing his guests around the property. They'll be back soon." He opened a door and gestured toward a flight of stairs that led down into a cellar. "Just go on downstairs and make yourself comfortable."

 

Clark hesitated. He had a bad feeling about this. He held out the parcel.

 

"If -- if it's all the same to you, I'll just wait outsi -- "

 

The words died on his lips. Reaching inside his jacket, the man had taken out a revolver and pointed it toward Clark.

 

"Sorry, kid. Mr. D'Amato wants you to wait downstairs. Now get going. And keep your hands up where I can see them."

 

Clark's jaw dropped. He raised his hands and turned toward the cellar door. This must be a dream, he thought as he began descending the stairs, carefully, one step at a time.

 

Another man was waiting at the bottom of the stairs -- a large, strongly-built man with a receding hairline and a nose that looked as if it had been broken more than once. He, too, was holding a revolver.

 

The thin man had followed Clark down the stairs. Now he jerked his head toward a wooden chair in the middle of the room.

 

"Sit down, kid," he said. "Don't do anything stupid and nobody gets hurt, see? And one more thing. We know who your girl-friend is."

 

Clark blinked, uncomprehending. It was no secret that he was going steady with Suzy Prentiss. What did she have to do with this?

 

"Look," he said. "I don't know what this is about, but please -- don't hurt Suzy."

 

The thin man guffawed.

 

"You're good, kid. A regular Marlon Brando. But it's no use. We know your girl-friend is really Supergirl. But we've got everything all worked out, see? So don't expect her to come flying to your rescue -- capeesh?"

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

"Oh, look at that one!" Suzy pointed to a faded snapshot in the photo album lying open on her lap.

 

"Oh, how cute!" exclaimed Lana. Two little girls were standing side by side, grinning up at the camera with identical gaps where their front teeth should have been. "That must have been taken when we were, what -- five years old?"

 

"I guess. People used to think we were twins, remember?"

 

Lana smiled ruefully. "Not any longer."

 

Suzy shut the album and gazed earnestly at her friend. "I wish you wouldn't say things like that, Lana. You have a really pretty face. You just need to let it show, that's all. Listen, why don't the two of us go to a beauty parlor before school starts? Maybe if you got your hair trimmed and curled? That would be a really cute look on you -- especially if you got stylish glasses like the movie stars wear."

 

"I don't know," said Lana. "My hair is so frizzy it won't take a perm."

 

"Well, at least you can upgrade your wardrobe. Seriously, Lana, we're not kids any more -- we're going to be juniors. Let me lend you some of my clothes. How would you like to try on the poodle skirt and the pink cashmere sweater?"

 

"Isn't that sweater kind of -- tight?"

 

"Well, yeah!" Suzy giggled. "That's the whole idea -- show the boys what you've got."

 

"Thanks, Suzy," said Lana. "I appreciate it -- really. It's just that -- well, my mom is kind of strict when it comes to what I wear."

 

"Okay." Suzy decided not to press the subject. "So -- what's the story with you and Lex? Are you two an item or what?"

 

"No!" Lana squirmed, blushing furiously. "We're just ... good friends. That's all!"

 

Suzy grinned. "Uh-huh. Come on, Lana -- give me the scoop." She sat cross-legged on the sofa and leaned toward Lana, eagerly attentive.

 

"Well ... " said Lana. "It's just that -- Lex has been a really good friend for a long time and yeah, I've started to think that he could be something more than that but I don't know if he feels that way about me and the trouble is he's kind of shy so he might not say anything if he does but if I made the first move and he just wants to stay friends that would be really embarrassing and I'm afraid it might ruin our friendship and I wouldn't want that to happen for anything and so I don't know if I should -- "

 

The telephone rang in the hallway.

 

"Hold that thought," said Suzy. "I'd better answer that."

 

She hopped off the sofa and ran to the hallway. Lana heard her pick up the phone.

 

"Dr. Prentiss's residence," said Suzy. There was a pause. "This is Suzy. May I ask who's calling?"

 

She sounded uneasy. Lana decided to listen in with her super-hearing.

 

"I think you know who I am, Miss Prentiss," a man's voice was saying. It was a slow, husky voice, the voice of a man who chose his words with care, and Lana recognized it at once. "After all, we have -- ah -- met before. But my name does not matter. What does matter is this. Number one -- I know that you are Supergirl."

 

"What? No -- that's -- "

 

"Please, Miss Prentiss, do not interrupt. Number two -- your boy-friend Clark Kent is presently my -- ah -- personal guest. I assure you that he is safe, and that no harm will come to him, provided you do exactly as I say."

 

"Clark? What are you saying? Is he all right? Listen -- I'm not -- "

 

"You are a gifted actress, Miss Prentiss, but your -- ah -- histrionics do not fool me. You are merely wasting time. Now listen carefully. There is an abandoned meat-packing plant on Endicott Road, a few miles north of Shelbyville. Perhaps you know of it? In any case, I am sure that a young lady with your -- ah -- talents will have no difficulty finding it. Be there within half an hour. Come alone. Don't tell anyone about this conversation. And remember -- I know who you are."

 

"Wait!" Suzy cried desperately. "This is all a big mistake. I -- "

 

"Good-bye, Miss Prentiss You have thirty minutes." There was a click, followed by the dial tone. Suzy stood gaping at the receiver in her hand.

 

"Suzy?" Lana was standing in the hallway, looking at her friend anxiously. "What was that about?"

 

"I don't know!" Suzy wailed. "This man thinks I'm Supergirl -- and, and he says he's holding Clark hostage -- and I'm supposed to be someplace in half an hour -- and ... oh, Lana, what's going on? What am I going to do?"

 

Suzy seemed on the verge of hysteria. Gently, Lana took the receiver from her hand and put it back on the hook; then she steered her friend back into the living room and set her down on the sofa.

 

"Stay here," she said. "Just take it easy. I'll go find Chief Parker. I can be at his office in a few minutes on my bike. He'll know what to do. Maybe he can get in touch with Supergirl. Will you be all right if I leave you here?"

 

Suzy looked up and nodded tearfully.

 

"Good girl," said Lana, patting her shoulder. She ran for the front door. "Don't worry -- help is on the way!"

 

Sooner than you expect, she thought, shutting the door behind her.

 

Moments later, behind the house, Lana changed swiftly into her Supergirl costume and sprang into the air, faster than any human eye could follow. Hovering above the clouds, she counted slowly to one hundred. One ... two ... three ... She looked anxiously around her, wondering where Tony was holding Clark. Even with her super-vision and super-speed, she couldn't scan the entire county in thirty minutes ... Ninety-eight ... ninety-nine ... one hundred.

 

She flew down and alighted on the doorstep of Suzy's house. Suzy's my best friend, but I've got to pretend I've never met her, she told herself. I hope I'm half as good an actress as she is ...

 

She pushed the door open and stepped into the hallway. "Suzy? Suzy Prentiss?"

 

Suzy came running from the living room. "Supergirl!" she cried. "Am I glad to see you! But -- but how did you get here so fast?"

 

Supergirl smiled. "I was flying overhead on patrol and I saw your friend Lana rushing out of the house. She said you're in some kind of trouble." She took Suzy by the elbow and guided her back into the living room. "Why don't you sit down and tell me what it's about?"

 

Quickly, Suzy told Supergirl about the telephone call.

 

"Hmmm," said Supergirl thoughtfully. "This man who called -- did he have a husky voice? Did he talk slowly -- pronounce his words very distinctly?"

 

Suzy nodded. "Yes -- yes, he did."

 

"I have a pretty good idea who it is," said Supergirl. "But do you have any idea why he thinks you're -- well, why he thinks you're me?"

 

"No -- honestly!" Suzy blushed. "I mean -- well, some of the boys ... at school ... they kind of tease me about being Supergirl. It's just a joke. I never thought anyone would take it seriously."

 

"It looks as if someone did."

 

"What are we going to do?" said Suzy anxiously. "He said I'm supposed to be at this place in twenty minutes -- I mean, Supergirl is ... "

 

Supergirl stood looking down at Suzy for a few moments. Then a corner of her mouth turned up in an enigmatic smile.

 

"Well," she said. "Let's not disappoint him." She laid a hand on Suzy's shoulder.

 

"Suzy," she said, "how would you like to be Supergirl for a day?"

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED ...

 

-----------------------------------------------------------

NEXT ISSUE:

WHEW! IF "FAT TONY" THOUGHT SUPERGIRL WAS

A HANDFUL . . . JUST WAIT TILL HE TANGLES WITH

SUZY PRENTISS? READERS, DON'T MISS THE NEXT

EXCITING ISSUE OF ACENAUT COMICS--IN WHICH

THE CORPULENT CRIME-BOSS FACES THE FURY OF --  

"SUZY PRENTISS--THE CHEERLEADER OF STEEL!"  

-----------------------------------------------------------

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