Deadman’s Cove was a rundown shack on Star City’s waterfront. It stood on a crumbling, deserted pier far from the regular shipping area, off by itself like a wooden pariah. Inside the dimly lit bar, unemployed stevedores, assorted gang members, and various outcasts drank themselves blind.
The low susurration of mixed conversation in the bar died down slowly as a zone of silence began at the front door and spread throughout the bar. Mouths closed as two brightly costumed figures strode purposefully up to the bar.
“Well, well,” the bartender said. “Seems we’ve got a couple of super-pansies tonight, boys! All red and green for Christmas, too! Will you both be drinkin’, then?”
A hard case at the bar turned an eye on Red Tornado. “Yeah, how about you, robot? Can I buy you a quart of motor oil?” The drunk laughed robustly at his own joke.
“I do not imbibe motor oil,” Red Tornado answered coolly. “I wouldn’t say no to the use of an electrical outlet, however.”
But Green Arrow grabbed the front of the drunk’s shirt and hauled his suddenly frightened face close to his own scowling countenance.
“This is a friend of mine,” Green Arrow growled. “If you’ve got a problem with him, you’ve got a problem with me. Capeesh?”
“Y-y-yeah,” the drunk stammered. “I-I didn’t mean nothin’!”
Green Arrow held the drunk a moment later, then released his shirt. In his fear, he stumbled backward and tripped over the barstool.
“Listen up, people,” Green Arrow said loudly. “My friend and I have business with the Jade Spiders. No one else has to be involved. Anyone who doesn’t want to mix in it, there’s the door.”
Five or six men hurried out the door.
“What you talking about, Robin Hood?” A young tough in a sleeveless black T-shirt demanded. On his forearm, Red Tornado noticed the tattoo of the Jade Spiders. “You got no business with us!”
“I beg to differ,” Green Arrow said. “We can make this easy or hard, boys. Your call.”
“Man, these super-cats think they can come in here and get all up in our face whenever they want to!” cried another young punk with the Jade Spiders tattoo.
“Freakin’ pigs!” another yelled, and hurled a beer bottle. It shattered on Red Tornado’s chest, with no noticeable effect, other than to start a bar brawl in grand style.
“Pardon me, Green Arrow, but may I ask a question?” Red Tornado said as the two Justice Leaguers stood back to back, trading punches with the oncoming gang members and waterfront toughs.
“If you’re sure it can’t wait,” Green Arrow said, blocking a blow from a burly stevedore and getting in one of his own.
“I know how much you enjoy a fight,” Red Tornado said, letting a rusty box-cutter snap against his stomach. “But we do have to find the missing child as quickly as possible. Would it not be in our best interest to end this fight now?”
“Hell, yeah!” Green Arrow said, landing a punch in a gang member’s bread basket.
“Then please stand back,” Red Tornado said. Turning his back to the bar, the android spread his arms wide. His arms began to spin, churning up the air in the bar. Green Arrow grabbed the bar with both hands and dug in with his heels. In moments, the interior of the bar was a miniature cyclone; chairs, drinking mugs, and human bodies were thrown about like straws in a hurricane.
“Santa H. Claus on a bicycle!” Green Arrow exclaimed, impressed.
Finally, Red Tornado stopped his cyclone. The interior of the bar was a mess; everything was overturned, in disarray. Groaning bodies lined the floor.
“I believe the fight is over,” Red Tornado said.
“I don’t hear any arguments,” Green Arrow said. “Come on, let’s interrogate one of the Spiders, if any of ’em are still conscious.”
Green Arrow and Red Tornado found two conscious Spiders and hauled them to their feet. One of them was the one who had first challenged Green Arrow.
“You ready to answer my questions now, cuddles?” the archer asked. “Or shall the Maytag Repairman here put you on spin-dry again?”
“Man, I’m tellin’ you, you got no beef with us!” the young punk avowed. “We haven’t been anywhere but here all night!”
“You’re saying you know nothing about a kidnapping?”
“Kidnapping?” the punk cried, his eyes wide with genuine surprise.
“Cindy Caldwell,” Green Arrow said. “Little girl, eight years old. Never made it home from school today.”
“Man, the Spiders don’t do that kind of stuff!” the punk swore. “Anyone said we do is lyin’! Kids, man! We don’t touch kids! I’ve got me a little brother, and anyone touches him answers to me!”
“You sound sincere,” Red Tornado said. “And yet an eyewitness described your gang tattoo on the kidnapper’s arm.”
“Hey, Lennie,” the other punk said to the spokesman for the gang, “what about Crispy?”
“Oh, man!” Lennie swore. “I knew that creep would get us into trouble!”
“Crispy?” Green Arrow asked. “Want to elaborate?”
“His name’s Chris Pulaski,” Lennie said. “Chris P, get it? He tried out for our gang, made it in, barely. But he was whack, man! This guy was freakin’ crazy! We kicked him out, told him not to show his face on our turf again!”
“He has the tattoo?” Red Tornado asked.
“Yeah, sure. Got it before we realized what a nut job he really is.”
“Crispy, he’s got bright red hair?” Green Arrow asked.
“Naw, man, he’s as bald as an eight-ball!”
“Right answer,” Green Arrow grinned. “Where can we find this Crispy?”
“Last I heard,” Lennie said, “he was livin’ in a boarded-up grocery on Morton Avenue!”
“Thanks,” Green Arrow said. “And, er, sorry about the shake-up.”
“Hey, it’s cool,” Lennie said. “Honest mistake. But when you find Crispy, you give him one for us, k?”
“K,” Green Arrow promised.
Weisinger’s Grocery had been a focal point of what was once a thriving neighborhood. In recent years, big supermarket chains and a rapidly declining neighborhood had forced the tiny mom-and-pop grocer out of business; the store stood boarded up and empty now, like a monument to a dead era.
Green Arrow and Red Tornado stood across the street from the grocery, keeping to the shadows.
“Two-story building,” Green Arrow said. “Here’s the plan. You can fly, so you go in through a window on top level. I’ll break in the front. We’ll catch Crispy between us, if he’s in there.”
“A good plan,” Red Tornado said. “When shall we execute it?”
“How long you figure it’ll take you to get to the top floor window from here?”
“Approximately six point zero nine seconds, allowing for the wind.”
“Right. Yeah. Well, on the count of three I’m going to fire a smoke-arrow through the front window, then rush the door. When I reach the door, you take off. Got it?”
“I have it.”
“One, two, three!”
With a barely audible twang, the arrow flew from the bow. It crashed through the front window, flying unerringly into a small gap between two boards. Instantly the front of the store was filled with thick, choking smoke. Green Arrow reached the front door and kicked it open with one mighty kick. He nearly ran headlong into a fleeing youth, bald and wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. His forearm showed the Jade Spiders tattoo.
Chris Pulaski took one horrified look at Green Arrow, then spun on his heel and bolted back into the smoke. The archer followed him into the blinding cloud, heard the pound of his feet on stairs. Then he heard a scream of horror and grinned to himself; the fleeing kidnapper had met Red Tornado. More pounding feet above; the young punk trying to run. Suddenly there was a crash, and amid a shower of plaster and splintered wood, Pulaski’s body fell through the ceiling and landed on the floor of the main storefront with a loud thud.
Red Tornado flew down through the hole, his whirling body dissipating the smoke. Green Arrow was kneeling over Pulaski’s body.
“He ran from me,” Red Tornado said, “and he plunged right through the floor upstairs.”
“Must have been rotten from years of disrepair and bad weather,” Green Arrow said grimly. “The punk broke his neck in the fall. He’s gone.”
“That is extremely unfortunate,” Red Tornado said. “If Cindy Caldwell is not here, he cannot tell us where she is.”
“I know,” Green Arrow said grimly.
Green Arrow stood in the middle of the abandoned store, staring grimly down at the body of the kidnapper. Cold, impotent rage was written large on his bearded face.
Red Tornado flew gently down the stairs. “I have searched the entire building for the fourth time,” the android said. “Cindy Caldwell is nowhere to be found.”
“Figures, doesn’t it?” Green Arrow said bitterly. “He’s dumb enough to snatch the wrong Caldwell girl but smart enough not to stash her where he crashes. She could be anywhere in the city. She could starve to death before we find her. And I promised her parents!” The archer shouted the last sentence, as he whirled around and put his fist through the rotting, crumbling wall. He withdrew it and, massaging it with his other hand, turned to see Red Tornado examining Pulaski’s shoes.
“What are you doin’, Tobor?” he asked.
“Do you see these blue spots on Mr. Pulaski’s footwear?” the android asked without turning.
“Yeah, blue paint,” Green Arrow said. “Not much of a lead. There’re probably six dozen places in the city where he could have picked up blue paint stains.”
Red Tornado stared intently at the blue stains. “My computer brain is performing a spectrographic analysis of the paint,” he said. “Unless there is a serious GIGO error in my information, it is the type of paint used for automobile bodies.”
“Auto paint?” Green Arrow asked, snapping to attention. “Hey, there used to be an auto detailing shop about three blocks from here!”
“Indeed?” Red Tornado asked, rising to his feet.
“Yeah, it went out of business about three, four years ago,” Green Arrow said, creasing his brow in thought. “Let me see, the name of it was…” A broad grin spread across the archer’s face. “Pulaski’s Custom Auto Shop!”
“Cindy!” Mrs. Caldwell screamed with delight as her little girl ran into her arms. She hugged her daughter tightly to her, not wanting to ever let her go again.
“Sirs… Mr. Arrow… Mr. Tornado,” Caldwell stammered. “I-I don’t know what to say! There just aren’t words — if you only knew — I don’t–”
“I get it, Mr. Caldwell,” Green Arrow said, smiling warmly. “We’re glad to be of service. I tell you, I get fifty times as much satisfaction from cases like this than I do from punching out jerks in Halloween costumes.”
Caldwell smiled, on the verge of tears. “We’ll never forget you, either of you. You’ll be in our prayers forever.”
“Well, thanks,” Green Arrow said. “I could use all the help I can get.” He held out a green-gloved hand. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Caldwell.” The happy father gripped the hand and wrung it exuberantly. He repeated the gesture with Red Tornado, who returned his smile.
The Caldwells insisted on Green Arrow and Red Tornado staying for coffee and cake, which Red Tornado declined. The android did, however, allow Cindy Caldwell to sit on his knee as she told the story of her kidnapping and rescue to her parents. It was nearly midnight before Mrs. Caldwell finally took Cindy upstairs to bed; the little girl protested, but her father’s assurance that Santa wouldn’t come unless she was in bed persuaded her.
On their way out, Red Tornado turned to his comrade. “May I ask a question, Oliver?”
“Shoot,” Green Arrow said.
“Twice tonight, you defended me. Once to Captain Monahan and once to the inebriated gentleman in the bar.”
“May I ask why?”
Green Arrow stopped dead in his tracks. “Huh? Why? What kind of question is that?”
“You are always making humorous references to my android existence,” Red Tornado pointed out. “Using epithets like rust-bucket, Tin Man, et cetera. I gathered from that, that you found me offensive.”
“Whoa!” Green Arrow snapped. “Why didn’t you ever mention this before?”
“I am acclimated to mistrust and prejudice against me due to my android status,” Red Tornado said. “I don’t let it bother me anymore. But your actions tonight indicate that I may have prejudged you.”
“I’ll say!” Green Arrow said. “Reddy, that’s just the way I am! I call Hawkman buzzard-beak and feather-brain, but we’re still buddies! I just have a big mouth, that’s all. You’re a damned sight more human than some flesh-n’-blood folks I’ve met; Pulaski back there, for example.”
“I take your point,” Red Tornado said. “Oliver, I believe we have reached a new understanding.” The android held out his golden-gloved hand. “Friends?”
Green Arrow took the hand firmly and shook it. “Friends, Reddy.”
“Thank you… beard-face,” Red Tornado said. Green Arrow goggled at him and burst out laughing.