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Chapter 7

"Slow down, boy," Jimmy Olsen told himself for the fourth time since he got up this morning.  He said this to himself out loud when he was bored, frustrated or excited.  This time it was the first.  The reason he told himself to slow down when he was bored was that he tended to get worked up over the fact that he had a dull assignment today, and he probably would not get to show off his go-get-'em, let-'em-have-it, boy-wonder reporting on the air.  He had dazzled the world yesterday and the day before; he would probably do it again tomorrow.  At twenty-three Olsen was the youngest on-the-air reporter in Metropolis.  He was also probably the most worried about his career.

Jimmy Olsen found himself orphaned and alone at sixteen, supporting himself as a copy boy for the Daily Planet.  By eighteen a series of freelance news stories written on speculation earned him the position of "cub reporter."  By twenty-one Perry White, the paper's editor, had made him a full member of the Planet staff.  Beside being an electronic journalist, now he wrote a feature column for the Planet Newspaper Syndicate three times a week.  Somewhere along the line Jimmy picked up a high school diploma from the back of a matchbook, led a South American safari to locate his father who had been sitting in the jungle for years with a form of amnesia induced by malaria, learned to operate every newsgathering gadget from the typewriter to the WGBS-TV newsvan, entered the Guinness Book of Records for being thought killed in the line of duty more times than anyone else in any profession, became world famous, and convinced himself his life was headed absolutely nowhere.

A few more days like this one, covering the opening of a vault holding a notebook written by a man dead twenty years, and someone might sympathize with Jimmy's frustration.  Jimmy thought of himself as the last of the Vikings, maybe a direct descendant of Leif the Lucky and Eric the Red.  He certainly had the hair and complexion for it.  So he was only five feet seven, nobody's perfect.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton was a nice place to put a housing development.  It was said that Albert Einstein himself designed the layout of the place.  Some layout.  One brick baronial mansion housing the Institute, surrounded by a parking lot, a lawn the size of six or eight football fields and a hundred or so acres of woods which were punctuated by circuitous walking paths stretching for miles but leading back approximately to where they each started.  The great man used to spend hours, days plodding over these paths trying to figure out exactly what gravity was.  Jimmy could have told him.  It was the stuff that kept the Australians from falling off the Earth.  Jimmy had learned that from the back of a matchbook.

It was a little after eleven in the morning when Jimmy, his cameraman, and his sound technician pulled up in front of the Institute.  The "camera" was actually a videotape recorder and needed no sound man, but try to convince the union of that.  The only people in sight were half a dozen other reporters, two camera crews, and a few college students walking dogs on the big lawn.

"Hey, man." Jimmy motioned to a reporter in a turtleneck shirt and an awfully obvious rug on his head.  "Anybody tell you when this show gets moving?"

"What?" He jumped.

"Seen any eggheads around?  When do they open the safe?"

"Oh.  Noon."  The guy was terse.

"Then why'd I get up so early?"

He shrugged.

"I'm from WGBS.  Who're you with?"

"Philadelphia Enquirer."

"The Enquirer.  You know Evy Wuener?  She's on staff there now, isn't she?"

"I don't know her.  I'm new."

"Should meet her, man.  Girl's got the best pair of typing hands this side of Poughkeepsie.  Tell her Jimmy Olsen says hi."


Jerk, Jimmy thought.  All those middle-aged guys struggling to write a lead paragraph for some backwater rag were jealous, that was it.  Well, so the Enquirer wasn't a rag.  So why didn't this guy want to say more than half a sentence to a colleague who was a legend in his own time?  And who cared, anyhow?

At a quarter to twelve a little man in a tweed suit appeared at the main door of the building.  Jimmy scribbled in his notebook—more teeth than Carter—sleeps in his suit—academic type born at the age of eighteen.

"I wonder if you'd all be so ki—uh, nice as to co—uh, step into the Inst—uh, the building here."

The notebook: Needle scratches on his larynx.

"I'm Mist—uh, Doctor Donald Ackroyd.  Any questions gent—uh, ladies and gentlemen?"

The guy from Newark, of course, wanted to know if there were free drinks for the press.  Jimmy remembered his asking that same question at that Alcoholics Anonymous convention last year.  Creep.

Apparently, no one knew what Einstein had left in this vault.  Everyone figured it might be pretty valuable or the greatest genius of the twentieth century wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of locking it away for twenty-five years.  Geniuses were pretty weird guys, though.  People thought Luthor was a genius, and no one ever knew where he was coming off.  And Superman had to be a genius.  Talk about crazy lifestyles.  A secret fortress carved out of a mountain in the arctic; everybody said he dressed up as a normal guy during the day and went around sniggering at people who couldn't fly.  All the time chasing after gangsters and flash floods and waving at the tourists.  If Jimmy were a super-powered alien, he thought, he wouldn't waste time piddling around on Earth.  There was a Universe out there.

Notebook: Three armed guards—one to open the vault and two to look tough—lotsa spooky guys with dark glasses and bulging lapels—taking no chances.

The guy from Newark ogled the girl from CBS.  The fool from Philly with the wig hung from a corner snarling at the world.  People got out of the way when Jimmy wanted his cameraman to get a closer look.  It's great to be a star.

The guard in the middle pulled open the door of a vault about the size of a refrigerator.  Before anyone could get a close enough look to see if a light went on when the door opened, out flew Lex Luthor, cackling like a bad dream.

Jimmy was the only one who kept his head.  That was the way it always worked.  He elbowed past the reporter with the eyeballs hanging out of their sockets, hopped over Dr.  Ackroyd who was on his way to the floor, grabbed the .38 out of the shoulder holster of the plainclothesman who was screaming, and let loose two shots in the direction of Luthor's cue ball head as the criminal passed through the wall like smoke through a window screen, waving a rolled-up leather folder—the treasure from the vault.

A few composures caught up to Jimmy's as the laughing ghost did a midair pirouette on the other side of the window.  Jimmy led everyone—reporters, cameramen, officials, guards—through the door.  Now some of the spooks had drawn guns and were firing at the jet-powered thief.

How did he get into the vault?

How did he pass through the wall?

How can he be so sure of dodging the bullets?

Why did he want the Einstein document?

Only Jimmy's cameraman was recording this.  Every station in the country would pay a mint to get copies of that tape.  The students on the lawn came running into the melee.  Their dogs all galloped off into the woods.

Luthor waved his prize in the sky.  Jimmy dropped the gun and grabbed his microphone.

"The door of the vault seemed open not even enough for a man to pass through the crack when Luthor scrambled out over the heads of reporters, waving the priceless papers and laughing louder than life.  He went through the wall of the Institute like a ghost, and as you can see, instead of leaving the scene he swings back and forth in the sky like a man on a trapeze—"

Good simile.  Wouldn't need much editing.

"—as if defying Institute guards to pick him out of the air like a clay pigeon.  Ladies and gentlemen, what you are witnessing—"

Jimmy felt more like a ringmaster than a newsman.

"—is the daring theft by the greatest criminal scientist of our time of the last artifact from the life of possibly the greatest scientist of all—uh—oh."

Just as Jimmy felt the words rolling, he choked off.  Luthor faded from the sky, along with his booty, as if he had never been there, and the guards were left seeding the clouds.

At that moment, the toupeed man who said he was from Philadelphia was slipping out a back door of the emptied Institute building carrying a soldered lead case the size of a geography textbook.  Luthor tore off the fake hair as he plopped into his confederate's car, laid the sealed document on his lap, and headed for the New Jersey Turnpike.

The vault door hung wide open with nothing beyond it but a small empty table and the glow of a single 40-watt bulb.  No one would be surprised to find Luthor's fingerprints all over the tiny room.



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