“So that was a blind alley, huh?” Green Arrow asked.
“Sadly, yes,” the Flash said, reaching for his sixth doughnut. The heroes sat around the circular conference table in the JLA Satellite. “Slicer admitted to the Birthright grabbing Dr. Ling, but it was work for hire.”
“Paid in cash, and Dr. Ling was delivered to an unmarked van which drove away quickly,” the Elongated Man added. “They didn’t know who hired them, and they didn’t want to know.”
“Well, at least they’re going to jail,” Green Arrow said. “That’s something, anyway.”
“What do we do next?” Green Lantern asked. “Every minute Dr. Ling is missing puts her in greater jeopardy.”
“I doubt whoever’s got her wants her dead,” Arsenal said. “That could have been accomplished a lot easier than grabbing her.”
“Roy’s right,” Green Arrow said, “but the longer she’s missing, the less likely we are of finding her.”
“I’ve been working on a spreadsheet on the computer,” Hawkman said. “A list of possible suspects, those likely to profit the most from Dr. Ling’s knowledge, their whereabouts at the time of the kidnapping, current status, et cetera.”
“It’s better than nothing,” the Elongated Man said. “Like Danneman told you two, the list is bound to be longer than my neck. But let’s check it out anyway.”
The heroes rose from the table and left to go to the computer lab. Arsenal stopped Green Arrow with a hand on his arm. “Can I have a sec, Ollie?”
“Anytime, Roy,” Green Arrow said. “What’s on your mind?”
“I just wanted to apologize for the other day. The fight I had with Green Lantern.”
“Hey, it’s OK, kid,” Green Arrow said, smiling. “I’m the last one to complain about anyone else blowing a fuse!”
“But still,” Arsenal said. “I had no right to say who should and shouldn’t be your best man. That’s your call. I want you to know, I’ll support any decision you make. I won’t be one iota less happy for you and Dinah, no matter who you pick. OK?”
The bearded archer grinned widely. “OK, son. And thanks. Thanks a whole lot.”
Before the scene could turn misty, a beeping sound from Green Arrow’s quiver interrupted. Green Arrow pulled the phone from his quiver. “Join the others while I take this,” he told Arsenal. The former Speedy nodded, then left.
“Quite a list,” Green Lantern said, reading the spreadsheet Hawkman had put on the large view-screen in the computer lab.
“Reads like a who’s who of the automotive industry,” the Flash commented.
“Katar, can I make a suggestion?” the Elongated Man asked. “I think there’s a name missing. Michael Burgess.”
“Who’s that?” Hawkman asked.
“He was owner and CEO of USA Motors,” the Elongated Man said.
“Didn’t they go out of business years ago?” Arsenal asked.
“Maybe he thinks he could make a comeback with Dr. Ling’s invention,” the Elongated Man offered.
“Excellent idea!” Hawkman said. “Let me get a readout on his current activities, and I’ll add him to — Oh, hello, Ollie. Joining us?”
“Naw,” Green Arrow said, poking his head in the doorway. “I’ve got to run! Got a possible hot lead on the case!”
“What is it?” Green Lantern asked excitedly.
“I’ve had Danneman under surveillance,” Green Arrow explained, “and it may just have borne fruit. Then again, it could be a false lead. I’ll let you know.”
“I’m coming, too,” Hawkman said, moving to join Green Arrow.
“You suggesting I can’t handle this?” Green Arrow asked.
“The suggestion would be ludicrous,” Hawkman returned. “But if Danneman is behind this, I, as the Earth expression goes, want a piece of him, too.”
Green Arrow grinned. “OK, then. Two to beam down, Mr. Scott.”
“Aye, sahr,” the Elongated Man said in his best Scottish accent.
“So what’s the lead?” Hawkman asked as they headed for the teleporter tube.
“Rick hacked Danneman’s appointment schedule,” Green Arrow explained. “Most big corporations have computerized appointment books these days. Danneman all of a sudden cleared his schedule for the rest of the day. He also ordered a company jet to take him to Hartford, Connecticut, and a limo from the airport there to the Royal Crest Hotel in someplace called Willoughby.” The archer paused for effect. “He also withdrew twelve million dollars in cash from his private account.”
“Twelve million!” Hawkman exclaimed. “Sounds suspicious, all right.”
“Uh-huh,” Green Arrow said, stepping into the tube. “Which is why we’ll be at the Royal Crest, too.”
“This is insane!” Dr. Ling exclaimed. She sat in a comfortable leather-upholstered chair, her wrists held to the armrests by strong cords. The room was filled with powerful businessmen, heads of corporations, many American, some British, German, French, Italian, and Japanese. There was even an Arab in a crisp gray business suit and a full Bedouin headdress. They were chatting amicably with one another, sampling the buffet table and bar, before the auction began. They turned their heads to Dr. Ling, the prize they had all come to bid on. “You all think that whoever wins the auction has secured the secret of my invention. Well, you’re wrong! You can do whatever you like to me, but I will never reveal it to you! Never, do you hear?”
“Well, that would be a bargain for you, at least, Qamar,” a Japanese man joked, laying a hand on the Arab’s shoulder. Qamar smiled back at him, then turned to Dr. Ling with a wolfish grin.
“Mr. Sakai is quite correct, Dr. Ling,” Qamar said smoothly. “Unlike the rest of these gentlemen, I do not wish to acquire your invention. Your fuel cell would deal a severe blow to my country’s economic standing, to say nothing of our political bargaining power. I intend to make certain that you never reveal it to anyone.”
Dr. Ling swallowed at the implication of the Arab’s words.
“Mr. Clivingdon,” a British gentleman asked their host, “may we not begin the auction proceedings? I’m certain I speak for everyone when I say that we’re anxious to begin.” Several heads nodded in assent.
“Very shortly, Mr. Rumboldt,” Clivingdon smiled. “We are waiting for one more. It would be bad form to begin the proceedings until everyone invited has arrived.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now, Hawks,” Green Arrow sighed.
“I don’t quite understand your problem, Ollie,” Hawkman said. The two heroes were perched on the roof of a small shop across the street from the hotel, watching for Danneman. “Both Hal and Roy have said that the decision is yours, that they won’t be hurt if you don’t choose them.”
“Sure, they said that,” Green Arrow said. “What else are they gonna say? The fact is, whichever of them I pick, the other one is going to feel slighted. And I see their point, ’cause both of ’em mean a lot to me, and I wish I could give them both the honor.” The archer threw up his hands. “Maybe I should ask Doctor Destiny to be best man! It was on account of him I got the lead out and proposed in the first place!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Arrow: If You’re Me, Who Am I?]
Hawkman turned back to the hotel parking lot to take Green Arrow’s mind off his problem. “For a small, out-of-the-way hotel, there are a lot of limousines parked here,” he commented.
“That’s right,” Green Arrow said, interestedly. “I wonder what’s up with that?” The archer’s brow furrowed in thought, and then, slowly, his eyes grew very wide. “Oh, man, Hawks! I think I’m starting to get it!”
“What is it?” Hawkman asked.
“Why would Danneman get all that money in cash?” Green Arrow asked.
“To pay whomever he hired to kidnap Dr. Ling,” Hawkman suggested.
“Too open,” Green Arrow shook his head. “If that were the case, there are less traceable ways to do it. And all these limos here in Whereami, Connecticut? This may sound crazy, Hawks, but would you believe a human auction?“
Hawkman gasped at the idea. “You mean, selling a human being to the highest bidder? That — that’s inhuman!“
“Is it?” Green Arrow asked. “Or is it just too perfectly human?”
Hawkman hesitated a second, then nodded. “So what now?”
“We wait for Danneman to show up,” Green Arrow said, “then bust the lot of them!”
Hawkman glanced at the hotel parking lot, then grabbed Green Arrow’s arm. “How does the expression go? Speak of the devil?“
“Jack,” one of the other Americans said as Danneman entered the room. “I might have known you’d be here.”
“Hello, Harvey,” Danneman said civilly to the speaker. Clivingdon came up to Danneman, all smiles.
“Mr. Danneman!” he said jovially. “Welcome! I’m Clivingdon; we spoke on the phone.”
“Clivingdon,” Danneman nodded. “Shall we get on with it?”
“Yes, of course, sir,” Danneman said. Then, addressing the room, he said, “If everyone will take a seat at the table, we will begin the auction. And may the best man win.”
As the businessmen moved to the table, Danneman shot a grin at Dr. Ling.
“I mean to own you, Doctor,” he said, smiling. “Lock, stock, and fuel cell.” The powerful automotive executive then took his own seat.
“Six million,” Sakai said.
“Six million, five hundred thousand,” Qamar countered.
“Seven,” Danneman said calmly. Clivingdon watched the three combatants with growing pleasure. In a very short time, the bidding had eliminated all but these three. Some of the dropouts had returned to the bar or the buffet table; most remained at the bidding table, watching with intense interest.
“Seven million, five hundred thousand,” Qamar said.
“Ten,” said Danneman, apparently tired of the game. Qamar’s eyes widened.
“T-ten?” he asked.
“Ten,” Danneman confirmed, casually.
“Well?” Hawkman asked as he hovered outside the window. Green Arrow perched on the ledge. A suction cup attached to the glass trailed two wires, one to an earpiece the archer wore, another to a miniature tape recorder he was holding. The curtains had been drawn, so no one within saw them.
“We’ve got enough,” Green Arrow said, disconnecting the suction cup. “Every fat cat in that room is an accessory to Dr. Ling’s kidnapping, after the fact. I’ve got enough on this tape to have them all making license plates well into the next millennium.” Green Arrow carefully packed up the tape recorder, attached it to an arrow, and shot it across the street onto the roof of the store. “We’ll get that later, after we break up this little coffee klatsch.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Qamar,” Clivingdon said politely, “but I’m afraid you’re out of the auction.”
“I’m telling you,” the Arab snarled angrily, “my consortium is prepared to go higher! If I may be permitted the courtesy of a phone call–” Qamar reached for the phone on the table, but Danneman slammed his hand down on the instrument first. His eyes glittered like chips of obsidian.
“Cash and carry,” he said simply. “That was the arrangement, was it not, Mr. Clivingdon?”
“It was,” Clivingdon confirmed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Qamar.”
“Bah!” Qamar spat, and stood up quickly from his chair. He stalked angrily to the bar to make himself a strong drink.
“Congratulations, Mr. Danneman,” Clivingdon said. “The prize is yours for the sum of ten million dollars.”
The sudden sound of shattering glass startled everyone in the room. The curtains were yanked aside to reveal Hawkman hovering in the ruined window, mace held in both hands. Green Arrow stood there as well, bow gripped in his left hand. “Don’t hand out congratulations just yet,” the archer snarled.
There was a general tremor of fear and anxiety running through the room. “You guaranteed this meeting was safe!” Danneman snapped at Clivingdon.
“So I did,” Clivingdon said. “And so it is. The interest the Justice League has shown in this matter has not escaped my notice. And so I hired special guards to ensure the safety of the bidders. Gentlemen!” Clivingdon barked out the last word. A side door to the room opened, and two costumed men, both African-Americans, charged into the room. Green Arrow and Hawkman recognized them from the Justice League files: Black Mass and Crowbar.
“We have some party-crashers,” Clivingdon said calmly. “Eject them, would you please?”
The two super-villains advanced toward Green Arrow and Hawkman. The archer quickly drew, notched, and fired two arrows. One struck the bottom of the main door of the room, the other the side door through which the villains had entered. Both arrows exploded into a thick, viscous epoxy, sealing the doors shut.
“Get Dr. Ling out of here,” Green Arrow said shortly.
“But–” Hawkman began.
“Do it!” the archer snapped. “Come back and help me when she’s safe. Now!“
Hawkman hesitated no more. He darted into the room and grabbed the back of Dr. Ling’s chair. He lifted her, chair and all, into the air; Crowbar’s weapon whistled through the air where he had been a moment earlier as he soared away out the window.
“Just you and me, boys,” Green Arrow said, firing another arrow. Crowbar snarled and swatted at it with his crowbar; his snarl turned into a shriek of pain as the bar struck the arrowhead, and a massive electric charge shot through the metal bar into his body. He dropped to the floor, twitching and convulsing.
“You’ll pay for that!” the giant Black Mass growled as he charged at Green Arrow.
“Do you take Discover Card?” Green Arrow asked, drawing another arrow. Before he had it out of the quiver, Black Mass’ fist struck him in the chest, sending him flying across the room. He landed on the buffet table with a loud crash; the table split under him, and platters of food were upended onto him.
“Ha-ha-ha!” Black Mass laughed, the huge man’s laughter rumbling like thunder. “One meatball hero to go!”
“Har-de-har-har,” Green Arrow said, every breath drawing fire in his chest. He was sure he had a bruised rib, possibly cracked. “Do you know what it costs to clean these outfits?”
“Send me the bill,” Black Mass said, charging like a rhinoceros.
“I will, care of Pocantico,” Green Arrow said, hurling something. The bowl of caviar struck Black Mass in the forehead, the salmon roe splashing into his eyes and blinding him. Green Arrow rolled out of the way just as the huge villain smashed into the wall.
Green Arrow lay on the floor, trying to catch his breath without sending pain shooting through his chest. He saw a shadow looming over him and rolled out of the way just as the crowbar smashed down, striking the floor.
“Hold still!” Crowbar snarled, raising his weapon high.
“Does that line usually work for you?” Green Arrow asked, lashing out with his leg. He delivered a smashing kick to the villain’s solar plexus, doubling him up with pain. “I find it doesn’t in most cases.” Green Arrow tried to reach for his quiver, but he felt fists like iron grab his wrists, felt himself hauled to his feet, and up off his feet. His legs dangled helplessly above the floor.
“Funny man,” Black Mass growled. “We’ll see how funny you are without arms!“
Green Arrow felt the pressure begin as the villain tried to tear his arms out of their sockets. Then he heard something else — a familiar voice, making an angry demand.
“Let him go!”
Black Mass didn’t take Hawkman’s hint until the hero applied it with his mace. The weapon slammed into the side of Black Mass’ head; his grip relaxed, and Green Arrow yanked himself free. He saw Crowbar slowly coming out of his crouch, stiffly raising his weapon.
“Stay down, dummy!” Green Arrow demanded, throwing a powerful right cross. His ribs ached with the force of the blow, but his fist collided with Crowbar’s jaw, and the villain went down to stay.
Black Mass, his head ringing from Hawkman’s mace blow, dazedly made a grab for the archer. Hawkman swung his mace again. Instinctively, the villain’s arm went up to block the blow; he caught it in the wrist, and there was a sound of crunching metal. The villain stared at his wrist in terror.
“My wristband!” he shrieked. “You’ve broken my wristband! You — I — I–” The villain’s stammering protests ended as his body began to shrink down to its normal ninety-eight pounds. About halfway down it stopped, hesitated, then shot back up to full size, then began shrinking back down again.
“I heard about this guy,” Green Arrow said. “His wristbands let him change from Mr. Weakling to Mr. Atlas plus. Never figured what would happen if he only had one.”
“I guess we know, now,” Hawkman said.
“We should help him,” Green Arrow said.
“Yes, it looks painful,” Hawkman said, watching Black Mass shrink to his knees as his body continued to shrink and expand. “We should help him.”
“Eventually,” Green Arrow said.
“Oh, yes,” Hawkman agreed. “No hurry.”
“Besides–” Green Arrow turned around slowly, giving Clivingdon a withering stare. “–we’ve got other fish to fry. Accent on fry.”
Clivingdon swallowed slowly.