“That was odd,” Dr. Davis said, turning away from the android control console. “Two visits in one evening.”
“You don’t think they suspected that our agent is a mechanical man, do you?” Horace Kates asked.
“No, no,” Davis said in a dismissive manner. “Mencken knew how to build them, and no mistake. He made the most lifelike androids I’ve ever seen.” The scientist sighed ruefully. “Our organization lost a valuable member when Luthor tricked him into that power pirate scheme. (*) I don’t see why the rest of you can’t content yourselves with getting rich from work for hire. Why do you have to go out every so often and try another grand scheme and get thrown in jail by the super-heroes?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Pawns of the Power Pirate.]
“Don’t you miss the adventure, Albert?” Kates asked. “The thrill of the chase? The frisson of excitement?’
“The repeated blows to the head, the rough denim coveralls, the prison food?” Davis asked. “No, thank you. I’ve had enough of that to last the rest of my life. You should have, too. It’s not that long ago I had to break you out of that Coast Guard detention facility where Aquaman and Green Arrow dumped you.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow and Aquaman: You Can’t Go Home Again.]
“Speaking of that,” Kates said, “shouldn’t we be seeing to Winslow’s escape? He’s been in jail five months now.”
“Let him rot a while longer,” Davis frowned. “I warned him about that ridiculous Christmas caper of his! (*) I warned him! Serves him right if he spends the next couple of holidays in Fiddler’s Hotel.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Deck the Halls ’86.]
Kates looked puzzled. “Fiddler’s Hotel?”
“It’s a joke the Riddler told me once,” Davis explained. “Fiddler’s Hotel is another name for prison.”
“I don’t get it,” Kates said.
“Because it’s such a vile inn,” Davis said.
“Oh,” Kates said, thinking about it. Then he shook his head. “Not very funny. Anyway, I know you want to teach Win a lesson, but remember we’ve got that big order from California to fill. We’ll need every hand for that. And since Larvan and Mencken were killed, it’s just the three of us.”
“Hm, you’re right,” Davis admitted. “I wonder if it’s time to bring someone else into the organization? Maybe that Morrow fellow–“
Just then, a slight-but-insistent buzzing noise interrupted the conversation.
“The alarm!” Kates exclaimed.
“Someone’s in the shop upstairs!” Davis said. “Can’t be a customer; the store is closed for the night.”
“Maybe it’s a conventional burglar.”
“Maybe,” Davis said, eyes narrowing. “Or maybe I was too hasty in my praise of Mencken’s work, God rest his soul. If any.”
“The Days of Knights,” Zatanna read from the store sign. “Sounds chivalrous.”
“It’s a gaming store,” Black Canary said derisively. “They sell dice and lead figurines and other goofy stuff to guys who play Dungeons and Dragons and similar.”
“Dungeons and Dragons? That’s still around?” Zatanna asked.
“It’s like a drug with some people,” Canary said. The two women were still in their Crash and Burn disguises as they approached the door of the darkened shop. “You’re absolutely sure this is where the robot signal came from?”
“If Katar’s technology can be trusted, which we do every time we teleport,” Zatanna said, “yes.”
Canary tried the doorknob. “Locked, predictably,” she said. “Zee?”
Zatanna pointed a long fingernail, lacquered fire-engine red, at the doorknob. “Nepo skcol, reveohw skconk.”
“How Shakespearean,” Canary commented as the lock clicked open. The disguised heroine pushed the door open; a tiny bell tinkled at the top of the doorjamb. The store was dark and deserted. Shelves were full of tiny metal figurines depicting knights in armor; wizards in long, flowing robes; huge, hulking ogres; and other such characters. Taller versions of these beings were represented in carved sandstone statuettes, each about a foot tall. Dice of metal, plastic, wood, and other assorted materials of varying sizes, from the standard cubes to multi-sided geometric shapes Zatanna had never seen before, were also on display.
“Weird,” Zatanna said, taking in the decor. “I never knew places like this existed!” Zee glanced at the cash register behind the counter by the front door and giggled. “Look at that.”
Canary glanced where her friend pointed. On the front of the counter was a small poster in lurid, day-glo letters on a black background. It read, DO NOT MEDDLE IN THE AFFAIRS OF DRAGONS, FOR YOU ARE CRUNCHY AND GOOD WITH KETCHUP.
“Juvenile,” Canary said, frowning.
Somewhere below street level of the shop, two pairs of eyes watched this scene unfold on a closed-circuit television screen.
“Interesting,” Kates said. “Our two customers from this evening!”
“Two shills for the cops, more like,” Dr. Davis scowled. “Or maybe even the Justice League! Well, they won’t live to tell anybody about us!” Davis’ finger moved forward to push a small lever.
“This shop does have strange decor,” Canary commented, observing a fake tree set against one corner. A life-size mannequin arrayed in flowing green robes and laurel leaves, presumably an elemental spirit or wood-nymph, stood under the tree. “But we’re not getting closer to finding Davis and his — oh!“
Black Canary’s admonition turned to a start of surprise as two limbs of the false tree suddenly reached out and grabbed her.
“Canary!” Zatanna cried, watching her friend hauled up into the fake tree. She moved to help, but leaped backward just in time. A foot-high statuette of a wizard in long white robes, conical hat, and flowing white beard suddenly pointed its long, gnarled staff at her, and a jet of flame shot from the staff at her.
“Well, that should erase any doubt we’re in the right place,” Zatanna said. She pointed at the statuette and cried, “Erif emusnoc draziw!” The flame jet turned back upon its wielder, and the statuette melted into a slag of plastic and metal.
“I should say so,” Canary said, delivering a precise karate blow that snapped off the false tree limb holding her ankle. She then delivered a double kick to the tree, freeing her completely.
“No point in maintaining our pretense after that,” Zatanna said. “Sesiugsid enogeb!” In a shimmering of light, the forms of Crash and Burn vanished, to be replaced by those of–
“Black Canary and Zatanna!” Davis cried. “It’s worse than I thought! Those two weren’t shills, they were the Justice League in disguise!”
“That means this base has been compromised, irreparably,” Kates said. “I think we need to cut our losses!”
Davis hesitated a moment, then nodded. His finger moved to a red plastic button marked Destruct.
“That’s better,” Black Canary said, as her Crash disguise faded. “I was beginning to develop a split personality!”
“I’m sure we’re being watched,” Zatanna said. “Now Davis and whatever friends he has with him know they’re up against the JLA!”
“So we’d better find them,” Canary said. “Any thoughts?”
“Usually find rats in the basement,” Zatanna said. She bent down toward the floor and spread her hands wide. “Roolf trap, laever ruo seof!“
At the mistress of magic’s command, the floor opened like the petals of a flower. The super-heroines beheld two men bent over a computer console. One of them turned his head to gape at them.
“Albert!” Kates cried. “They’ve found us!”
“They’ve found us too late!” Kates declared. His finger stabbed forward.
“No!” Black Canary cried. “Don’t–“
Before the blonde-wigged heroine could utter another syllable, the world around her exploded in a fury of noise and flame. On the street outside, thankfully deserted at this hour, the building disintegrated in a loud roar. Windows shattered all up and down the street, and debris rained down three blocks in each direction. In seconds, the Days of Knights was a charred, smoking ruin.
“You OK, Canary?” Zatanna asked.
“Yeah,” Canary said, a little dazed. Her eyes were wide, as with shock. “Just — a little shaken up. Wow!” She stared at the carnage around them. If Zee had been an instant slower…
Black Canary, Zatanna, Davis, and Kates were safe inside a shimmering sphere of transparent energy. Zatanna had uttered the spell that erected the bubble just in time. They had watched the store and the base beneath it explode from complete safety within.
“Erehps fo ytefas etapissid,” Zatanna said. The energy bubble shimmered and vanished, leaving the heroines and their prisoners in open air that stank of burned wood and melted plastic. “That sure was a desperate act, these two blowing up their headquarters while still inside!”
“Guess they’d have rather died than go back to jail,” Canary said, shaking off the last of her daze. “Well, that’s just their tough luck!”
Kates and Davis glanced at each other, then burst out laughing. Zatanna raised her eyebrow.
“Care to let us in on the joke, boys?” she asked.
“You two bimbos!” Davis sneered. Canary moved forward, but Zatanna’s hand on her arm stopped her. “You saw our little toy, Senor Juguete — a completely lifelike android! So what makes you think we’d take the risk of being here ourselves?” And with that, the two villains collapsed like marionettes with clipped strings. Black Canary and Zatanna gaped at them.
“Robots!” Zatanna gasped. “Robots, like Juguete! They ran this headquarters by remote control!”
“We’ll never track them with the signal-finder now,” Canary muttered in disgust. “They’ve cut the signal. They could be anywhere!“
“But we know about them now,” Zatanna said. “We know who they are, and what they’re up to. You can bet there’ll be a next time.”
“True,” Canary said. She stared at the wreckage around her, then looked back at her friend. “Zee, mind calling Hal yourself? About the raid on the bar, I mean.”
“Sure, Dinah,” Zatanna said. “Why? Got something else to do?”
“Yeah,” Canary grinned. “I have to see a man about a question.”
Zatanna returned the grin. “You do that, Dinah. And tell him I said congratulations.”