“Hey there, rust-bucket,” Green Arrow said amiably as he strolled into the Justice League communication center. “Consider yourself relieved.”
“Thank you, Oliver,” said the android called Red Tornado, turning in the console chair to face his teammate. The sentient android had not been a Justice Leaguer long — a little more than a year. Tonight was Christmas Eve, the second Red Tornado had spent as a Leaguer. “Are you certain you do not want me to take your shift? I do not mind.”
“Thanks, Reddy, but I might as well do my shift,” Green Arrow said. “Ordinarily I’d like to be spending Christmas Eve with Dinah, but she got invited to the Floral Cooperative’s Christmas party, and I’d be bored out of my green-capped skull.” He poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffeemaker in the corner. “Gotta admit I’m glad it’s you I’m relievin’, Tobor. You make the best coffee in the League!”
“Thank you, Oliver,” Red Tornado said. “It’s a simple matter of the proper ratio of coffee grounds to water, and the proper brewing time–”
Red Tornado was interrupted by the buzzing of the Justice League communications system. It was an outside call, not one of the other members calling for assistance.
“Justice League, Red Tornado speaking,” the android said into the communications microphone.
“Hello?” a voice came through the speaker, a voice with a touch of fear in it. “Hello, this is Captain Monahan of the Star City Police Department. I’m trying to get in touch with Green Arrow.”
In a heartbeat, Green Arrow was at the console. “Green Arrow here. Go ahead, Captain.”
“Green Arrow? Thank God. We need your help, sir. As fast as you can get here.”
Sheesh, the crumb-bums don’t take Christmas off, do they? Green Arrow mused. “Who is it, Captain? Camouflage King? Red Dart?”
“It’s none of your costumed enemies,” Captain Monahan said. “But a little girl has been kidnapped.”
Red Tornado watched Green Arrow’s face contort into a grimace of controlled rage. “On Christmas Eve,” the archer snarled. “I’ll be down there immediately, Captain.” With a snap, Green Arrow broke the connection. “Looks like I’ll take you up on that offer of working a double, Tin Man, if the offer’s still good.”
“It is, of course,” Red Tornado said. “But, Oliver — may I accompany you?”
Green Arrow stared at the android. “You think I need help on this one?”
“Not need, no,” Red Tornado said. “But I offer it anyway. It would mean a lot to me to assist you in restoring the kidnapped girl to her family.”
“I see,” Green Arrow said, nodding. “Well, I’m glad of the hand, even if it is plastic. But who’ll watch the store?”
“If you mean the monitor duty,” Red Tornado said, “I can do both. I can establish a microwave link between my own android brain and our monitor and communications systems. If any situations arise that require the League, I can be alerted of it and contact any of our members, wherever I am.”
“Yeah? A walking trouble-alert?” Green Arrow said, impressed. “If you can do that, why do you ever do monitor duty in the satellite?”
“The League is my home,” Red Tornado said. “It pleases me to spend my time there. Besides, there are still many past cases I need to peruse in the files, many active criminals I need to acquaint myself with. For example, this Camouflage King you mentioned. I have not come across his name in my studies as yet.”
“I’ll tell you all about him later,” Green Arrow said. “Right now, we have to beam down to Star City and find a kidnapped child!”
“I am setting coordinates for the teleporter tube,” Red Tornado said.
A short time later, Green Arrow and Red Tornado walked into the Star City Police Headquarters. A tall, uniformed man in early middle-age was there to greet them; he grabbed Green Arrow’s hand and wrung it enthusiastically.
“Green Arrow!” he exclaimed. “Oh, thank God! Thank you for coming so quickly! We didn’t know what to do!”
“It’s OK. I’m here now,” Green Arrow said calmly. “I take it you’re Monahan.”
“Yes, I–” Monahan’s enthusiasm died when he saw Red Tornado. “Who’s this?”
“Him? He’s the Red Tornado,” Green Arrow said. “Don’t you follow the news? He’s our newest Leaguer, been on the team over a year now.”
“Sure, I follow the news,” Monahan said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Ain’t he a — you know, a–”
“A Justice Leaguer,” Green Arrow said, evenly. “That’s all that ought to matter. Right?” There was an edge to his voice that indicated there was only one possible correct answer to that question. Monahan, never a slow man on the uptake, nodded quickly.
“Th-the parents are right in here,” Monahan said. “Follow me.”
Green Arrow and Red Tornado followed the captain into a small room where a young couple sat at a long table. Green Arrow could tell the woman had been crying for a long time. The man didn’t look much better.
“Green Arrow!” the man exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “Oh, thank you, thank you for coming! You’re our only hope!”
“I won’t let you down, sir,” Green Arrow said. “Why don’t you give me the skinny?”
Green Arrow sat down across the table from the man; Red Tornado remained standing. The man began his story.
“First of all, my name is Harrison Caldwell.”
Green Arrow’s eyes widened. “Caldwell, the big investment banker?”
“No!” Caldwell cried. “No, that’s just the problem! I’m not that Harrison Caldwell; I just happen to have the same name! I-I’m an elementary school teacher!”
“I see,” Green Arrow said. “Go on.”
“This has caused problems before,” Caldwell said. “The other Mr. Caldwell and I have gotten each other’s mail sometimes. But never anything like this! Our daughter Cindy is eight years old, about the same age as banker Caldwell’s daughter, Marcia.”
“I begin to see,” Green Arrow said. “The kidnapper swiped your daughter, thinking she was banker Caldwell’s kid.”
“Caldwell the banker got a ransom note at his office,” Monahan said. “He immediately checked and learned that his daughter was safe at home. He thought it a cruel practical joke, until he remembered the other Mr. Caldwell and how they sometimes got each other’s mail. He called us then.”
“The note said no police,” Caldwell said. “It said our daughter would be killed if the police were involved! But he’s demanding five million dollars! I-I don’t have anywhere near that kind of money!”
“So you thought I might be able to find your girl without attracting the kidnapper’s attention the way the police would,” Green Arrow said. “Fair enough. I promise you, Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, Cindy will be spending Christmas Eve with you.”
Red Tornado’s head turned to look at Green Arrow then, but he did not speak.
“Was that wise, Oliver?” Red Tornado asked as they left the police station a few minutes later.
“Was what wise?” Green Arrow asked.
“Promising the Caldwells the return of their daughter. We do not know for sure that we can deliver on that promise.”
“We’re going to,” Green Arrow said simply. “End of discussion.”
Red Tornado did not comment on that.
“Monahan said the note was delivered to the banker’s office by a personal carrier. That bank sees maybe ten or twenty different carriers a day; nothing’s going to stand out remarkable about one. No sense even following that lead.”
“Then where do we begin?” Red Tornado asked.
“Well, you heard what they said in there,” Green Arrow reminded. “The kid left school like normal and never got home. The only place she could’ve got snatched was on the six-block walk between home and school.”
“I remember,” Red Tornado said. “It struck you as odd that school would be in session on Christmas Eve, and the parents said there was a special Christmas pageant at the school today. They said Cindy usually walks home with two other children, one of whom was absent today due to illness. And the other–” Red Tornado suddenly stopped speaking and froze in his tracks. Green Arrow stopped, too, and waved a hand in front of the android’s eyes.
“Reddy? Yoo-hoo? Anybody home?”
Abruptly, the android came back to full alertness. “I am sorry, Oliver. The satellite monitors alerted me to a cruise ship four hundred miles off the California coast that had been struck by lightning and lost all power. I was dispatching Aquaman to aid the ship.”
“Um… yeah. I figured it was something like that,” Green Arrow said. “Anyway, the other kid, one Steven Farmer, says he didn’t walk home with Cindy today. But Monahan said he seemed scared when he spoke to the boy.”
“You believe the child is lying,” Red Tornado asked. There was nothing accusatory in his tone.
“I wouldn’t have put it so bluntly,” Green Arrow said, “but let’s go pay him a visit.”
“He hasn’t come out of his room since the police were here,” Mrs. Farmer said, leading Green Arrow to the boy’s bedroom door. Red Tornado remained downstairs in the living room.
Mrs. Farmer knocked on the door. “Stevie? Stevie, there’s someone here to see you.”
“I don’t feel good, Mom,” a tiny voice came from the other side of the door — a voice shaking with fear.
“That’s too bad, champ,” Green Arrow called. “Because this is Green Arrow. I just wanted to say hello.”
“Green Arrow?” Stevie said again, his voice tinged with disbelief.
“Sure, open the door and see.”
A few moments passed, and then the door opened a crack. A tiny, wide-eyed face peered out into the hallway.
“It is you!” Stevie cried. “Green Arrow!”
“In the bearded flesh,” Green Arrow said. “How about I come in and talk, sport?”
Stevie opened the door, and Green Arrow entered. The eight-year-old’s bedroom was adorned with pictures and toys in the image of super-heroes. Green Arrow noticed that for each one representing himself, there were at least three of Superman. It stung a little that the Metropolis marvel was more popular even in Green Arrow’s own town, but he hadn’t time to dwell on that now.
“Do you know why I’m here, son?” Green Arrow asked gently, kneeling to look Stevie in the eye.
Stevie nodded once. “Cindy,” he said simply.
“The police tell me that you told them you didn’t walk home with her today.”
Stevie said nothing.
“I’m wondering if that’s not really the case. Maybe you’re afraid to tell what happened. Maybe you’ve got good reason to be.”
Stevie looked away, unable to meet the archer’s eyes.
“Cindy’s your friend, isn’t she?”
“You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, would you?”
“No! No, never!”
“Then help me find her, Stevie. I need your help. I can’t do it without you.”
Suddenly, the boy broke out in tears. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! He-he said he’d kill me if I told! S-said he’d find me and kill me! A-and he’d kill my mommy and daddy, too!”
Green Arrow reached out and hugged the crying child close. “It’s OK, Stevie, it’s OK. You don’t have to be sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But I did!” Stevie cried. “I didn’t tell the police about the man! I wanted to, b-but I was afraid!”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Green Arrow said. “I’m afraid, a lot of the time.”
“You are?” Stevie asked, amazed.
“Sure,” Green Arrow said. “I’ve had to fight guys like Despero and Gorilla Grodd. You’d have to be pretty dumb not to be afraid of those guys. But I didn’t let it get to me; I did what had to be done. And you’re going to do what has to be done, aren’t you, Stevie?”
Stevie hesitated just a second, then nodded his head.
“Good man,” Green Arrow said, releasing Stevie from his embrace and holding his shoulders at arm’s length. “Now tell me what happened.”
“We… we were walking home from school,” Stevie said. “A man jumped out of the bushes, grabbed Cindy. Covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream. He — he stared at me with a crazy look on his face. He told me to get lost, and he’d kill me and my mommy and daddy if I told anybody.”
“What’d the man look like?” Green Arrow asked.
“Big. Big and scary.”
“I’ll bet he did. What color was his hair? Did he have any hair on his face, like I do?”
“He was bald,” Stevie said. “But he did have a picture, here.” Stevie touched his own forearm.
“A tattoo?” Green Arrow asked. “What did it look like?”
“A spider,” Stevie said. “A green spider, with big red eyes.”
“Stevie, you’ve been a big help. You’re a brave young man, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.” A moment later, after autographing a boxing glove arrow and giving it to Stevie, Green Arrow left his room.
“I think Stevie’s going to be OK now, Mrs. Farmer,” Green Arrow told the boy’s mother. The woman thanked him profusely before he and Red Tornado left.
“What did you learn?” Red Tornado asked.
“The kidnapper had a tattoo,” Green Arrow said. “A green spider with big red eyes. That’s the symbol of the Jade Spiders, a gang that runs in the waterfront section of town.”
“Does this gang have an established headquarters?” Red Tornado asked.
“They generally kick at a bar called Deadman’s Cove,” Green Arrow said.
“Then that should be our next destination,” Red Tornado said.
“My thoughts exactly, Tin Man,” Green Arrow said.