SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME
Superman and all related elements © 2008 DC Comics
SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME © 2008 Paul Kupperberg
SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME © 2008 Paul Kupperberg
Chapter 1/ Smallville (Continued)
When the first calls came in, Doug Parker was only wishing he were home in bed.
Chief Parker yawned loudly in the dark silence of the police cruiser and scrubbed vigorously at his face with both hands. It was late, he knew, but he was afraid to check his watch to find exactly how late. Douglas Parker was no night owl, not by any stretch of the imagination, and even if he were, Smallville would not be the place anyone with any common sense would prowl looking for action. Of any sort. The old joke about the town that rolled up its sidewalks at sundown had probably originally been told about Smallville.
Smallville, dead set in the heart of Kansas, was just a small town supporting a larger surrounding farming community, nothing but miles and miles of neatly arranged and carefully tended fields of corn, wheat and soy, worked by farm families who were asleep in bed just behind the sun every night and awake ahead of the following dawn. Parker remembered dragging himself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to do his chores before school, swearing to himself then and there that no matter what else he might do with his life, being a farmer was forever off the list. But he had gone from his parents house to the army – also known for its perverse need to rise at a ridiculously early hour – and then came home to take a swing shift job at the old Electro-Flo battery factory in neighboring Grady before signing up with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department, which in those days still included the Smallville patrol district under its jurisdiction. By then, his body had become locked into its own cycle and Parker was, farmer or not, unable to keep his eyes open for the last half hour of most early evening television programs.
Usually, this wasn’t a problem. His wife would shake him gently awake at the end of the show and he would grumble his good-night, kiss her, and shuffle off to bed, closing his eyes for eight, solid hours of sleep before they popped open again at 5 a.m. ahead of the alarm clock. Being a cop in Smallville, even the chief of police – the sheriff had spun the Smallville department off as a separate entity twenty-some years back, while Parker was still a patrolman – did not require many late nights. In fact, this was the first one he could recall having to pull since that spate of vandalism six years ago last Christmas. The truth was, hardly anything of importance ever happened in Smallville. Police work consisted largely of traffic control, mediating minor squabbles between neighbors, and searching for lost livestock. Any real crimes – that is, actual infractions of the penal code – were few and far between, mostly domestic disputes, problems with a few of the boys a bit too fond of drink, petty thefts and, sometimes, pranks gone out of control by the local kids, too bored by life in Smallville not to get into trouble.
By those standards, Parker thought, yawning again and reflexively peeking at the glowing dial of his watch before remembering he hadn’t wanted to know, he currently had a veritable crime wave on his hands. And it was too late now to pretend any longer. It was 11:07 a.m. Oh, lord, was that all? He should drink some more of the coffee Lizzie had made for him, good and strong brewed in the old percolator and poured boiling hot into a tall thermos. But while it might wake him up, it would just go right to his kidneys and then what was he supposed to do? He was in the middle of a stake-out. He couldn’t leave the car to seek out a bathroom. You were better off sticking to water on a stake-out. It didn’t run through you quite so quick. On the other hand, it didn’t keep you awake either.
Parker grinned. He wondered if cops in big cities went through the same kind of nonsense in their heads at times like this, or did they have actual crimes and investigations to occupy their thoughts?
Strike that, he thought. He had actual crimes of his own this time. Practically a crime wave, by Smallville standards. Over the past two weeks, four local businesses had been robbed, beginning with Hanson’s Hardware Store, followed the next night with a burglary at Doc Swenson’s pharmacy, then Jonathan Kent’s general story, and, a week later, a return visit to Doc’s and, just last night, Bud’s Service Station was hit. The inventory of stolen items read like a list from a scavenger hunt, including electrical wire, PVC pipe. sheets of aluminum, hand tools of various uses, a variety of medicines and chemicals that could not, as far as Doc could ascertain, be mixed to create anything lethal or hallucinogenic, large quantities of baking soda and laundry powder, and all manner of automotive parts and accessories. The locks were all expertly picked, nothing except the stolen goods disturbed and, oddest of all, any cash left overnight in the registers or, in one case, in plain sight on the counter, was untouched.
Sounded to the Chief like someone was collecting the makings of a junkyard, but it all added up to more than a thousand dollars worth of goods and that was a lot of larceny. More than he felt comfortable sharing his home with. As unaccustomed as he was to having to deal with serious crime, he always managed to deal with it when he had to and, for all his bitching about the late hour and having to pee, he actually loved this stuff. Oh, not too much and not too often, at least not anymore, but why else did he wear a badge? To sit behind a desk, to direct traffic around road construction crews? So he’d do a little investigating, flex his creaky policeman’s muscle, identify the thief and break a major crime wave.
“Earn your pay for a change,” he muttered at the windshield.
The radio crackled in answer and the big, tough cop jumped and shouted “Jeez Louise!” in surprise.
“You awake out there, Chief?” Della Cronkite, night operator, insomniac, and volunteer off-duty hours police dispatcher asked.
Parker grabbed the hand-mike from the clip, “I’m awake, Della,” he said quickly, so she wouldn’t think he had, in fact, been asleep. “What’s up?”
“Got a bunch of calls,” she said. “From the MacDoughals, the Birminghams, the Connelleys, the…”
He keyed the mike to cut her off. “Della,” he called, overriding her before she could waste precious moments on a digression. “What did they call about?”
“Something in the sky, Chief. South of town, out by the McClintock place. They all say it’s all glowing and has been hovering in the sky for five, ten minutes now.”
Parker turned the key and fired up the big police cruiser’s engine, slamming it quickly into gear.
“What took them so long to report it?”
“That’s my fault. Every time I went for the radio, the telephone would ring again and I had to answer it.”
He pressed down on the gas and shot from his parking space hidden behind the bushes surrounding the cannon on Smallville Square.
“Now, doggone it, Della, how many time do I have to tell you? The radio comes first, okay? Folks will wait a few more rings, but it’s important you get information to me first thing.”
“Well, now, they all sounded so scared, I couldn’t…”
“It’s okay, Della. I’m going to sign off now. I’ll call in as soon as I reach the scene. Over and out.”
“You be careful out there, Chief.”
The radio went dead and Parker dropped the handset on the seat next to him.
Lights in the sky.
Not exactly the crime in progress he had been hoping for, but at least it was something to break the monotony. He received, on average, eight or ten such reports every year, although they usually proved to be lightning or a reflection on a window or windshield, or too much whiskey and an overactive imagination. Although there had been that one instance, thirteen, fourteen years back, when dozens of people in several states had seen something.