“Evening, Eric,” Roy Pinto said as one of his regulars dropped onto a bar stool. “How’s everything?”
“Everything’s everything,” Black Spider said, noncommittally. “My usual, Roy.”
“One grasshopper coming up,” Roy said, and turned to make it.
“Eric, how are you?” the Cavalier asked, sliding onto a stool next to Black Spider. “It’s been too long, far too long! Where have you been keeping yourself?”
“I been around, Morty,” Black Spider said a bit uneasily. He didn’t know the Cavalier all that well, but there were rumors about him in the super-villain community that made Spider uncomfortable in his presence. “Hey, you heard from Dave lately?”
“Indeed, I have not,” Cavalier said, shaking his head ruefully. “Not since he joined John Mallory’s grand scheme. I had heard that they were captured, but not a word from any of them since. It’s as though the earth had opened up and swallowed them.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow and Captain Boomerang: Thrown for a Loss.]
Black Spider nodded, then his head snapped around to the doorway. “Speakin’ of swallowin’,” he said, “take a look at that talent! Wee-oo!“
Two very attractive young women had just entered the Bar Sinister. One had bright red hair, the color of flames, which she wore cut short and spiky, giving the appearance that her head was on fire; she wore a black leather bustier and black leather pants, with stiletto-point, high-heeled shoes. The other was of Asian descent, with long straight hair the color of ink. She wore a sleeveless hot pink T-shirt with a Chinese character emblazoned in gold on it, very tight black denim jeans, and high-heeled sandals with very thin straps. Every head in the bar turned to gaze at them as they came in, some lustful, others envious.
“I don’t believe this place!” the redhead whispered to the Asian. “Look at all these criminals! There’s Poison Ivy, and the Prankster, and the Riddler! And isn’t that Black Manta over there at the pool table?”
“Cut the tourist chatter,” the Asian hissed. “I’m just as surprised as you, but we’ve got to play it cool.”
“Hey, hey, ladies,” a swarthy-looking man said, stepping in front of the women. He was not wearing his costume, but the Asian woman recognized him: Jack of Spades, a member of the Royal Flush Gang. “You’re quite a pair. Why don’t we make it three of a kind?”
“Buzz off,” the Asian snapped, and walked around him.
“Hey!” Jack cried, grabbing her upper arm. “What’s the hurry, pretty lady? Why not be friendl-eee!” Jack’s banter turned into a scream as the woman flipped him over her head and across the bar. He came down hard, right where the wall joined the floor. The Asian woman saw a woman she recognized as Bad Penny give her a thumbs-up and a wide grin.
The two women walked up to the bar. “Can’t two ladies get a drink without being accosted by big, dumb jerks?” the redhead asked Roy.
“My apologies, ladies,” Roy said. “I’m afraid he opened up this evening with a pair of Jacks, both of them Daniels. What can I do for you?”
“I’m Crash,” the Asian said, “and this is Burn. We’re looking to have some weapons made. Friend of ours said to come here.”
“Do I know this friend?” Roy asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Her name is Bertha,” Burn said. “She went by the name of Mirror Mistress.”
“OK,” Roy said, smiling. “I’ll let Senor Juguete know you’re here. Anything to drink in the meantime?”
“Naw, it dulls the senses,” Crash said.
Roy glanced at Jack, lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. “Can’t argue with that.”
Roy led Crash and Burn down a dimly lit hallway in the rear of the building to a small door. “Right in there, ladies,” he said. “Senor Juguete is expecting you.”
“Thanks, handsome,” Crash said, winking at Roy. The former super-villain walked back to the bar, grinning from ear to ear. The women glanced at each other, nodded once, and opened the door. They saw a dark-haired man of apparent Latin descent, seated at a table. He was wearing a bright green suit with yellow pinstripes and a green Panama hat with a yellow band. He wore lemon-colored kidskin gloves and shiny green patent leather wingtips. He grinned at the ladies.
“Do come in, ladies, do come in,” he said, beckoning with his hands. “I am Miguel Juguete, business agent for… certain parties. I understand you wish to have some weapons made?”
“That’s right,” Burn said. “I’m looking for something to go with my name, a miniature flamethrower of some kind.”
“And I’d like something I can break down walls with,” Crash said. “But light and portable.”
“But of course,” Juguete said. “My employers have a very reasonable fee arrangement. Ten thousand dollars per weapon, up front, plus ten percent of your criminal profits for the next three calendar years.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Crash said. Burn nodded. “So, when do we arrange pickup? And payment?”
“I will inform my employers of your request,” Juguete said. “Meet me here one week from tonight. Of course, if it becomes necessary for the Bar Sinister to relocate before then, I will meet you at the new location, which you will obtain from the grapevine.”
“Sure,” Burn agreed.
“Very well, then,” Juguete said, rising from his chair. “I bid you good evening, ladies.”
Crash and Burn rose from their seats as well, and each shook Juguete’s hand in turn. They left Juguete’s office and exited the bar through the rear. They walked a block away from the abandoned storefront that hid the Bar Sinister, turned a corner, and stopped.
“I still can’t get over that place!” Burn said. “It was like a who’s who of super-criminals! I even saw a couple we have on our files as being dead!“
“They got better,” Crash said. “We’ll call Hal, have the place raided, after we get what we came for. Did you plant the bug?”
“I did,” Burn said. “One of Katar’s Thanagarian specials, undetectable by any known Earth means.”
“Then we just cool our heels and wait,” the disguised Black Canary said.
Two hours later, Zatanna, in her disguise as Burn, returned to their stakeout area with a small plastic bag from a nearby convenience store. “You’re in luck, Dinah,” she said. “I found a bottle of Snapple at room temperature.”
“Thanks,” Canary said, taking the bottle. “If I know I’m probably going to use my sonic scream, I don’t like to put anything too hot or too cold down my throat.”
“Singers do that, too,” Zatanna commented, fishing her own hot coffee from the bag. “Still nothing from our friend Juguete, eh?”
“Not a peep!” Canary said, disgusted. “He hasn’t even moved! He’s been sitting in that chair since we left!”
“Maybe there’s something wrong with the bug,” Zatanna offered.
“No, I tested it by turning up the reception,” Canary said. “I could pick up snatches of conversation from the bar. But from Juguete’s office, nothing.”
“Well, not much we can do but sit and wait,” Zatanna said, reclining on a discarded crate. “So… want to talk?’
“What about?” Canary asked, not meeting her friend’s eyes.
“You know what about,” Zatanna said. “I’m not going to pressure you, if you don’t want to talk. But don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.”
“I know,” Canary sighed. “It’s so frustrating! I mean, I love the guy. I think I do, anyway.”
“You do,” Zatanna said simply.
Canary stared at her. “How can you be so sure?”
“Remember that time I used my magic on myself, to give myself your judo skills?” Zatanna asked. “Stupidly, I just phrased the spell so that I would become Black Canary. A side effect was–“
“–that you fell in love with Ollie,” Canary finished, remembering. “And you thought you were me, too.”
“Right,” Zatanna said. “If you didn’t really love him, that feeling wouldn’t have been translated to me.”
“I guess so,” Canary said. “So why am I reluctant now? I mean, for years I’ve been joking with Ollie about it, needling him about proposing. And now that he finally has, I freeze up!”
“Maybe you never really wanted him to,” Zatanna offered. “Maybe you like things the way they are.”
Canary gaped at Zatanna. “That’s crazy! Me, afraid of commitment? I was married to Lance for seventeen years!“
“And it ended tragically,” Zatanna said. “He was killed, stolen from you suddenly.”
“Well, yeah,” Canary admitted.
“Like your dad,” Zatanna continued. “You told me about him once. A police officer, wasn’t he? Killed in the line of duty?”
Canary only nodded.
“So that’s twice in your life that a man you’ve loved and cared about has been violently torn out of your life. Nobody could blame you if you’re skittish about letting it happen a third time. Especially with a guy whose favorite method of dealing with trouble is marching into it head-on.”
Canary sat there, digesting this thought. Then, all of a sudden, she stood up quickly, dropping her half-finished bottle of Snapple. “Good Lord!” she exclaimed.
“What? Have an epiphany?” Zatanna asked, concerned.
“Sort of,” Canary said. “We’ve got to get back to the Bar Sinister!”
“Why?” Zatanna asked, getting quickly to her feet.
“Because I just remembered what Juguete means!” The two women took off running.
“Well!” Roy grinned. “Hadn’t expected to see you back here so soon! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Hey there, handsome,” Black Canary, still wearing the form of Crash, purred at the bartender. “I need to speak to Senor Juguete again. He still around?’
“He is,” Roy said. “What’s the matter? Change your mind?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Canary said. “I wanted to add something to our order, that’s all.”
“Ah, more business!” Roy brightened. “He’ll like that. Hang tight, I’ll let him know you’re here.”
“Thanks, sugar,” Canary flirted. She watched Roy turn away from the bar.
“Well, hello!” a voice at her elbow said. She turned to behold the petite frame of the woman known as Bad Penny.
“Hi,” Canary said. “Don’t think I know you.” She had to play it careful; it might be suspicious to recognize this woman.
“The name’s Penny, Bad Penny,” the criminal said. “I caught your act before. That was beautiful, the way you tossed Jack around!”
“Creep got on my nerves,” Canary scoffed.
“I hear you, sister,” Penny said. “Listen, if you’re not otherwise occupied, why don’t you let me buy you a drink? Or something to eat? Anything you’d like.” The woman lowered her dark glasses and peered at Canary over them. “And I do mean, anything.”
Canary was startled; she opened and closed her mouth, searching for a reply.
“Senor Juguete will see you now,” Roy said from behind the bar, thankfully breaking the silence.
“Um, s-some other time,” Canary stammered.
“I hear you,” Penny said, nodding. And she did. She could tell Canary wasn’t interested. She shrugged and went back to the table where Poison Ivy was nursing a mint julep.
“So wonderful to see you again so soon, Miss Crash!” Senor Juguete said, smiling. “What can I do for you?”
“I thought of something else I’d like,” Canary said. “A defensive weapon, maybe some kind of personal force-field. Is that possible?”
“For my employers, Miss Crash, anything is possible!” Juguete said, smiling. “I will add it to your order. It will be an additional ten thousand dollars up front, you understand.”
“And well worth it, from what Bertha told me,” Canary said.
“Most assuredly,” Juguete said, and rose to shake Canary’s hand. The disguised Justice Leaguer left his small office, then left the bar via the back entrance, where the still-disguised Zatanna waited for her.
“Did you get it?” Canary asked.
“I got it,” Zatanna confirmed. “Let’s go!”
Not having taken the time to shed their disguises, Canary and Zatanna still wore the forms of Crash and Burn as they roared down the street on Canary’s motorcycle. Zatanna manipulated the Thanagarian listening device as they traveled.
“You want to take a left up here,” Zatanna said, watching the readout on the device.
“You’re sure you caught the signal?” Canary asked, making the turn.
“I’m sure,” Zatanna assured. “Katar showed me how to jury-rig this bug to track radio waves. When you got Juguete talking again, I caught the signal loud and clear. We’ll follow the beam right back to its source.”
“I still can hardly believe it myself,” Canary said, shaking her head. “He looked so real, so lifelike! When I went back in again, I was sure I was mistaken.”
“But you weren’t,” Zatanna said. “The radio waves confirm that. Plus, I used my magic to scan the office. The only life force in the room was yours. It’s lucky you remembered that juguete is Spanish for toy, or we might never have tumbled to the fact that he’s a robot.”
“Davis and his friends must be real geniuses,” Canary commented.
“Friends?” Zatanna asked.
“I think so,” Canary said. “Contessa Cold said they bought their weapons from ‘a group of criminal scientists.’ Juguete himself — itself — said employers. Davis must be part of a group.”
“A guild of super-weapon-smiths,” Zatanna said. “Sounds bizarre. Like a bad episode of Get Smart, you know, from the last season? When NBC had canceled it, but CBS picked it up?”
“Probably why no one’s found out about it yet,” Canary said. “Too outlandish to be true. Even if we had heard of it before this, we might not have believed it.”
“That’s true,” Zatanna said. “I wonder how long it’s been going on.” Then, more urgently, she said, “Stop the bike! This is it!”
Canary screeched the bike to a halt in front of a small, darkened store. “Here? You’re sure?”
“I’m sure,” Zatanna said.