Dan climbed into the tiny cockpit with all the enthusiasm of a man headed to the gallows. While Dan was still trying to get comfortable in the tiny seat, the Spider leaped up into the pilot seat, sliding in with unnatural grace for a man. Above and around Dan were the two bi-plane wings and the engine was already humming. Then Dan realized they were in an underground garage.
“Where’s the hangar door?” Dan shouted, even though the Spider was sitting directly in front of him.
The Spider did not answer him; he seemed to be making adjustments to the plane.
“Spider! How are we going to get this thing up into the air?”
The Spider turned around, the six red eyes of his mask reflected Dan’s pale face back at him.
“Up?” The Spider said. “We’re not going up. We’re going down!”
Suddenly the floor dropped out in front of the plane, sending it hurdling down a ninety degree slope. Dan screamed and it echoed throughout the pitch black tunnel. Even though he couldn’t see anything, after a few seconds Dan closed his eyes and covered his head with his hands. Faster and faster they rolled until suddenly the plane seemed to glide. Dan opened his eyes and looked at the city of New York falling away beneath him. Suddenly all the fear seemed to drain out of him as they coasted on the breeze. How they’d gotten airborne Dan did not know, but now with the clouds above and the city below, he did not care. Even with concrete buildings spread as far as the eye could see, Dan still loved the city and its twinkling lights. He continued to look back at New York until it faded from view and then, even with the cold wind and the darkness of the night, he fell asleep. The hum of the engine lulled him like a mechanical lullaby. The Red Spider remained silent the whole trip.
The sun was up when they landed in the snowy field next to Panther Hollow Lake. Stiff and frozen to the bone, Dan jumped down from the plane gingerly. His winter clothing was inadequate for the weather and spending the night in the plane had made him feel like an old man. As he trudged through the snow toward the nearby trail, the Spider removed a large white blanket from a small trunk located in the tricycle undercarriage. At first it seemed ridiculous, but when he was finished, the white blanket completely blended in with the snow around it. After a couple hours, the drifts would blow snow over it and the plane would be completely camouflaged except for the tracks the wheels had left behind when it landed.
“How did you know you would need this? You just happen to carry a white cover for your black and red plane?” Dan asked.
The Red Spider smiled wryly.
“It’s winter, Dan.”
“Right. Right.” Dan said, blowing on his hands as he frantically rubbed them together. “Shall we leave?”
The two men travelled through deep snow for almost half an hour until they came to a road. It was barely more than two lines sunk into the dirt, but Dan was relieved when he saw and heard an old carriage coming down the path toward them. It stopped a few feet away and a short, wide man jumped out. He wore a bowler cap and thick black coat with a huge fur collar that left only his mouth visible. The driver said nothing, only a nod of respect to the Spider as he opened the passenger side door for him. Dan climbed into the back seat and waited for the driver to walk back around. It took a few tries before the engine started up again and Dan wrapped his arms around himself to keep warm. The driver spoke in a strange language and Dan did his best to listen even though his teeth were chattering. The man was speaking Chinese and Dan was not surprised that the Spider employed a man from the Orient. They were notoriously secretive and from what Dan had heard, incredibly loyal to their employers. Dan tried to catch a glimpse of the driver’s face but he was too bundled up in his winter clothing and he seemed to move his face at just the right angle to keep it hidden.
The trip lasted only a few minutes. The car rolled up to the rear entrance of the Magee-Women’s Hospital. After the crazy plane ride, Dan had thought the surprises were over with.
“Stay with me. Talk to know one.” The Spider said roughly.
“What are we doing here? Jessica’s not here, is she?” Dan asked. He was beginning to think that the Spider was a bit mad. He knew he was eccentric and he operated outside the law, but this struck him as beyond eccentric.
“No. In exchange for a substantial donation the administrators of the hospital give me a private office to work out of. We have an arrangement, of sorts.” The Spider said.
“You come to Pittsburgh a lot then?” Dan asked as they entered through the rear door for the janitorial help.
They headed down a spiral staircase to a dark hallway. Dan was relieved to find the building well heated. As they headed toward a medium-sized office at the rear of the hall Dan continued to blow on his hands.
“So you have a soft spot for the dames, then?” Dan joked as the Red Spider opened the door to the “Janitor’s Office”.
The Spider grimaced at Dan’s ill-mannered humor.
“You’d better hope so, if you wish to find your friend Ms. Kinkaid.” The Spider said gruffly.
“Why don’t you whip us up a cup of coffee and we’ll get work. Unless you have something else to say on the matter?”
Dan wisely chose to say nothing, instead picking up the coffee pot and heading toward an old wood stove in the corner.