Superman Through the Ages



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 SUPERMAN: THE LIVING LEGEND: LAST SON OF KRYPTON: CHAPTER 4

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Chapter 4
THE TRACTOR


By noon James Morgan Stone had had three tranquilizers and four cups of coffee.  The first cup of coffee was to wake him up when he came to the bank in the morning.  The first tranquilizer was to calm him down from the effects of the coffee.  The second cup of coffee was to counteract the work of the tranquilizer.  And so forth.  Stone was the president of the Smallville branch of Heartland Bank and Trust Company, and the only bona fide drug addict in town.  If he did not have his curious mixture of caffeine and tranquilizers for a day he would be unaccountably bedridden and would often catch a bad cold.  He had never spent a vacation in entirely good health, and for this reason he had not taken a vacation in over ten years.  This was why, five years earlier when Stone was thirty-eight, he impressed his superiors enough to be appointed the youngest bank president in the state.

Stone's father, Alexander Hamilton Stone, had also been president of this bank.  Everyone remarked on how like his father the younger Mr. Stone was.  The older Mr. Stone died of stomach ulcers at the age of fifty-three.  The younger Stone could now pass for a man in his late fifties.

When Captain Parker walked into the bank, followed by the disheveled old man in the ratty sweater, Stone was doing a fine job of looking dignified as he pretended to go over the previous day's transactions.  Someday Stone hoped to be president of a bank that had a private office for its president so he did not have to appear diligent for the amusement of his employees.  He was considering his next tranquilizer.

"Jimmy, I was wondering if you could do us a favor here."  Parker was standing over Stone's desk.  Policemen and politicians were the only people in Smallville who presumed to call him anything but Mr. Stone or Sir.

"Captain Parker, good morning.  What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Eisner here would like to take out a short-term loan, y'see—"

"I'm sure Miss Brackett over there will see to you.  If you'll excuse me."

"Well, it's not your normal everyday loan, Jimmy, if you know what I mean."

"I have no idea what you mean.  Perhaps you could explain it yourself to Miss Brackett."

"I doubt it.  It's sort of a third party loan.  Mr. Eisner is from out of town and has no collateral and I'd like to back up his security, or whatever you call it."

"Well, have a seat, I suppose."  The old man and the policeman sat down opposite Stone.  "Now, how much did you say you wanted to borrow, Mr. Eisner, and for how long?"

"Two thousand three hundred dollars, for just a few days," the old man answered.

Stone glanced at him over his glasses, hearing the accent for the first time.  He weighed down his prejudice with his crisp manner.  "What sort of identification do you have, Mr. Eisner?"

"I don't have any."

"What is the money for?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Do you have any references in Smallville other than the Captain here?"

"No, I don't."

"What are you smiling about, Parker?"

"I was thinking that your expression is about the same as the one you had in high school when Martin Lang asked for your vote for Student Council president."

The old man's eyes twinkled, and Stone's ears turned red.  The memory of his ignominious defeat for the student government post by Lang didn't bother him so much as the reminder that he had ever been an insecure, gawky, acne-ridden adolescent in Smallville at all.  He wished people would simply accept the exalted position he held today and not remember the fact that he was not born middle-aged.

"This loan is out of the question, Parker.  I'm sorry, Mr. Eisner.  Now, if you'll excuse me."

"That's what I thought he'd say, Eisner.  Sorry I couldn't do much for you."

"No, no, no, Captain.  Don't get up."  The old man put a hand on the policeman's shoulder as Stone surreptitiously popped a tranquilizer.  "I still need you to co-sign my loan.  Mr. Stone, I wonder if I could call a bank in New Jersey to confirm that my account will cover this amount?"

"There is a public phone over there."  Stone pointed without looking up from the records he wasn't reading.  "The word over the phone of an out-of-state bank official is hardly valid collateral."

"I know.  May I have ten dimes for a dollar?"

"Teller's cage."

Parker sat smiling in a way that nearly annoyed the urbanity out of Stone.  The banker tried in vain to think of some way to let Parker know that whatever the secret was, Stone wasn't interested.

The old man stood talking on the pay phone in the corner of the bank for three minutes.  Then he shuffled back to Captain Parker and asked if the policeman would like to be treated to an ice-cream cone down the block.  The two left, and Stone's next trip to the coffee percolator was interrupted by the ringing of his private telephone line.  He sat at attention when he heard the voice at the other end.

Four minutes and seven seconds after Parker and the old man sat down opposite a corpulent pair of sundaes, the bell over the door tinkled, and in walked James Morgan Stone flashing a keyboard of teeth.

"What kept you, Jimmy?"

"Kept me?  Nothing kept me.  I just thought I would join you gentlemen in a snack.  I have good news, Mr. Eisner."

"How delightful.  I love good news."

"The bank has decided to grant your request for a loan immediately, for whatever terms you specify."

"Yes?"

"Well, isn't that good news, Mr. Eisner?"

"Good, yes.  News, no.  May I buy you a sundae, Mr. Stone?"

"Oh, no, much too fattening.  I have to watch my health.  Just coffee for me.  Black."

On the way out of the ice cream parlor Stone dropped behind and tugged at Parker's elbow as the old man stepped out the door.  "George," Stone hadn't called Parker by his first name since high school, "George, who is that man?  Who did he call from the bank before?"

"I 'spose he called his bank back home."

"Like fudge he did.  Do you know who called me the moment you stepped out?"

"No idea."

"The president of Heartland Bank and Trust.  The big man himself.  He said he got a call from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in Washington and that I was to give Calvin Eisner whatever he asked for.  Do you believe that?  The man in charge of printing up American currency and distributing it issued an order to grant the loan.  Who is he?  FBI?  CIA?  The President's secret agent?"

"Couldn't tell you.  Maybe he's the President in disguise.  Wouldn't that be a kick in the head."

"Come on, George, you know who he is.  I can tell from the way you acted in the bank.  What does he do?"

"Let's just say he's a national monument."

At the bank the old man whistled Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number Two as he stuffed two thousand three hundred dollars in hundred-dollar bills into his little airline bag.  Parker kept a hand on his revolver as he accompanied the old man to the police car and drove him to a tractor dealer in a nearby town.  Parker had never seen anyone pay cash before for anything bigger than a Victrola.

"Good gosh, Martha!  Did you see that?"  Jonathan Kent nearly swerved his pre-war Oldsmobile off the dirt road as a ball of fire boomed across the sky.

"That's the biggest shooting star I've ever seen, Jonathan, and it isn't even dark yet.  Do you suppose it could be . . . something else?"

"Like what?  Another one of your communist plots?  Looks like it landed near here."  The middle-aged man's eyes lighted with childlike glee at the prospect of finding a meteorite so close to his farm.

"But shooting stars don't crash like thunder.  Jonathan, don't—"

"How do you know?  You ever been this close to one?  Look, I can see it smoking.  Right beyond that bend where the tractor's supposed to be."  Kent coughed his car into third gear and the ancient machine loped up like a hyper-active moose.

"Oh, Jonathan, what could you possibly want with a rock from the sky?"

"Some rock!"  Jonathan and Martha Kent screeched to a halt ten feet from a smoldering seven-foot missile that had cracked several trees beside the road.  It was now perched with its nose on the ground and its tail resting on a half-felled trunk.

"Be careful, Jonathan.  It could be dangerous."

Jonathan wasn't careful.  He hopped out of the car and easily pulled open the hatch of the craft.  He stared for a moment as if focusing his eyes.

"What is it, Jonathan?  What are you looking at?"  Martha Kent was still in the car.

"I think it's—it's a baby."  And the child immediately began to yelp at the top of his lungs.

"A—"  Martha Kent ran toward her husband, who was jolted by the volume of sound coming from such a tiny creature.

"My land, Jonathan!"  Martha Kent reached to pick up the baby from the craft.  "The thing looks about to explode.  Let me get the poor child out of there."

The craft began to hiss, and Jonathan Kent's eyes widened.  "Get behind the car, Martha!  Quick!" he shoved the woman away after she'd barely had a chance to look at the infant in her arms.

He pushed her behind the car and huddled with her and the baby as the thing he had thought was a rock from the sky screamed like a thousand busy telephone wires, crashed in on itself and vanished in a blinding burst, leaving only fallen trees as evidence of its presence.  A note on the tractor parked a few feet away asked Jonathan Kent to send five hundred dollars to a certain bank in New Jersey whenever he had the chance.

About fifty miles away a long black limousine sped eastward along route 46 carrying two terribly competent young men in pinstriped suits and a grumbling old man in a ratty sweater with a mane of white hair flying in more directions than could be counted.

"Bars all around me," the old man complained.  "I should have stayed to see what Hitler would do with me.  At least a concentration camp has people to keep me company."

"Terribly sorry, sir."

"I can't smoke my pipe because they're afraid I'll lose my breath.  I can't go on a trip because they're afraid someone will hit me over the head with a picket sign.  I can't go for a walk some days because it's too cold or too hot or too nice out.  God forbid I should catch a cold; people with advanced medical degrees specializing in whichever nostril is stuffed come swarming to my home like a horde of mosquitoes.  It's enough to keep me healthy until I'm sick of it."

"Your nurse was very worried, sir."

"I shouldn't have made that telephone call.  You would think three minutes isn't long enough to trace a call."

"Our equipment can do it in under two minutes now, sir.  Why were you in Smallville, anyway, sir?"

"That I'll tell you when the Messiah steps out of a flying saucer onto Times Square doing an Irish jig."

Not long afterward the old man stopped playing the violin.  In the next several years he would become fascinated more and more with his work.  He would never retire.  He would be touched and honored with offers of the presidency of a great university and of a promising new nation, both of which he would decline with regret.  He would always continue to receive letters from children.  In 1955 the old man would pass away in Princeton, the town that gave him a home for his last twenty-two years.  The world would mourn his death.  He would certainly be remembered and revered for centuries to come.

 

 

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