THIS IS A REPOST OF THE PAST CHAPTERS OF THE RED SPIDER: THE COLD HANDS OF DEATH. This is for readers who want to get caught up and read it all in one sitting without going back through all the previous posts. Below this post is just the latest chapter if you don’t need to get brought to speed. We now return to the roaring adventures of the Red Spider!
THE RED SPIDER
January 9th, 1920
The Human Fly could hear the crowd of New Yorkers cheering below him, even over the wind that threatened to tear him off the side of the side of the Woolworth Building. Miraculously he had made it twenty-five stories up, the highest he had ever climbed in his career. Not quite half way, but he knew he could make it. The cold wind threatened to blow him off the wall but he clung on tight, pressing his face against the stone to shield himself.
As he pulled himself up to the twenty-seventh floor he caught a glimpse of something moving inside the darkened office. There was a flash of something red, a flutter of movement and the outline of a man inside the room. The Human Fly froze, unsure of what to do next. As time slowly passed and his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see now there were two men in the room; one sitting at a desk with his back to the window, the other standing behind him. The man standing wore a red suit the color of blood and something metallic flashed in his left hand. The hand moved down to the sitting man and moved back up quickly, the shiny silver device reflecting the moonlight. The man sitting in the chair went limp and fell to the floor. Whatever was happening, it made the Fly uneasy. He pulled himself up past the window, but just as he put his feet on the ledge below the man in the room began to turn toward him. He could see the man’s hat now and a long red scarf wrapped tight about his neck, covering the stranger’s mouth. The man wore something on his face, a mask of some kind over his eyes. As the stranger turned his head toward the window, the Fly saw the six small red eyes blazing in the darkness. The Fly screamed, his hand slipping from the ledge, falling backwards toward certain death. The window in front of him flew open but he had no grip, the building seemed to be moving away from him with only his feet left on the ledge. Then his feet slipped off and he began to say his final prayers. He felt himself suddenly being yanked hard and he lost consciousness for a moment. When he opened his eyes again he found himself in the room on the twenty-seventh floor, an unconscious body lay next to him. Even in the darkness he knew the strange man’s shadow had just fallen over him.
“Who are you?” he asked the stranger. He could make out no details of the man who had just saved him, the stranger had opened the door to the hallway and the light silhouetted him in shadow.
“You’re George Polley aren’t you? The man they call the Human Fly?” the stranger said, his voice a deep gravelly sound.
“Yeah, yeah, oh my God thank you for. . . “
The stranger suddenly pressed a cold metal device to George’s neck and there was a sound like air being released quickly from a tire. George felt sleepy all of a sudden and he looked up at the red mask leering in front of him. There were two large glass eyes, surrounded by four smaller ones. They seemed to glow red and George tried to pull away. There was no strength left in his muscles and he could not crawl, instead he fell face down on the floor. The voice left his throat and his eyes began to close.
“Tell them I am the Red Spider.” The stranger said. The world began to fade for George Polley, he fought to keep his eyes open but he found himself drifting away.
“Sleep now,” the Red Spider said, “and dream of safer career choices.”
January 13th, 1920
Cold steel hands gripped the New York Times. The front page article was dedicated to rocket scientist Robert Goddard and his new proposal for sending missiles into space.
“That Professor Goddard, with his “chair” in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action and reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react—to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools. Fools. Stupid, stupid fools.”
The man’s voice was cold, ringing out from mechanical device in his throat. He threw the paper down on the table next to him and motioned to two men standing near the door. His office had the feel of a drawing room, with shelves full of books lining the walls and soft, plush furniture facing the thick oak desk the old man sat behind. The guards wore black outfits with no insignias, with small black berets on their heads. Both men were in perfect physical condition; strong and muscular with healthy British faces.
“If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is stupidity. Ready the plane, we’re going to New York.”
One of the guards tapped his heels together and saluted the old man, while the other helped him to stand. A creaking, grinding sound came from his limbs as the metallic parts of his body raised him to his feet. Standing erect, he stretched out his back and the sound of the machine parts grew louder. The guard backed off as the man took a few steps forward. One of his knees buckled suddenly and the guard caught him, keeping him upright.
“I think you should sit down sir,” said the guard. The old man turned toward him, his eyes narrowing above his large, pointed nose. The old man’s brow furrowed in a scowl of disgust and the guard knew he’d made a mistake. Suddenly the old man’s steel hand reached out and grabbed the guard by the throat. He tried to retreat but the old man was standing on his own and his grip was unbreakable. Soon the guard, who had just been hired the day before, dropped to his knees as the air was crushed from his throat.
“Never, ever, attempt to tell me what to do.”
The first guard returned, saluting once again. He did not even spare a glance for his dead partner.
“Your plane is ready Professor Irons.”
“Thank you,” said the old man, releasing the dead guard. The body fell to the ground as the eyes rolled back. The guard led Professor Irons out of the room and toward the elevator. A minute later two other henchman in black berets entered the room and casually dragged the body away for disposal.
January 20th, 1920
Jessica Kinkaid hated how loud her heels sounded on the cobblestone path of the courtyard outside her townhouse. With only one open gate into the box of houses, the sound had nowhere to go except to bounce back and echo through the yard. She wondered if the people inside the homes could hear her shoes click-clacking and were cursing her at that very moment. As she climbed the steps to her front door, she stopped and removed the keys from her purse. The click-clacking continued and Jessica turned around, holding her keys tight in her hand like a weapon. Someone had followed her, using her own footfalls to mask their own. As she turned she saw a figure, tall and wide and glistening in the dim lights from the apartments. Jessica quickly searched for the key to her apartment, frantically trying each one as the shape came toward her. It appeared to have a body made of metal, a steel gauntlet reached for her just as the lock clicked open. Quickly she fell into her apartment, slamming the door shut behind her. She locked it and slid the chain into place just as a metal fist collided with the door, knocking her back. Again the steel fist hit the door, causing wood shavings to crumble around the bolts holding it to the frame. Jessica began to scream for help and the banging stopped. She leaned against the door, holding it shut and listening for her attacker. There was a clang-clang as the steel boots of the metal man walked away. After a couple minutes Jessica began to breathe again as she lay with her back against the door. Tears rolled down her eyes involuntarily, she told herself she was not going to cry, her eyes simply refused to obey her.
Dan Chase tried frantically to find his cigarettes underneath the piles of old newspapers and magazines piled up on his desk. The typewriter hadn’t been used in so long there was rust on the keys and there were cups of coffee hidden beneath the refuse that contained what could only be described as toxic sludge. The Manhattan Post was a small publisher and Dan took pride in the fact his desk was in fact better organized than those of his peers in the office. Finally he found the Lucky Strikes hidden inside a folded up newspaper and he just got one into his mouth when he noticed the tall blonde walking toward him. Every head in the place, the entire writing staff seemed to turn and focus on Ms. Jessica Kinkaid as she strode across the room. Dan lit a smoke and watched her; unlike the other men who paid attention only to her curves, Dan could see the tears on her cheeks and the trembling bottom lip.
“Mr. Chase? Dan Chase?” Jessica asked. To her credit she kept her voice calm and professional but Dan could see the fear in her eyes.
“That’s me. What can I do for you Miss?”
“My name is Jessica Kinkaid and . .” she stopped and looked around. Danny quickly grabbed a chair from a nearby desk and placed it next to here.
“Sorry, sit. Please.”
Jessica sat down and crossed her legs, placing her hands on her knees. Danny could tell from her stiff back and perfect posture she was a woman of breeding, someone who had grown up with money and expectations.
“I apologize for my overwhelming emotions, Mr. Chase. The truth is someone is trying to kill me.”
Danny lit his cigarette and watched the woman’s face, letting her stew in her own emotions for a moment. Something was troubling her, obviously and Danny had no reason not to believe that she was telling the truth.
“Do you know who it is?” Danny asked.
“No. They never show themselves. They send machines after me.”
Danny sat up straight, his cigarette almost falling out his mouth.
“Machines? What kind of machines?”
“They look like. . .” she stopped for a moment and bit her plump red lower lip. “Like knights in armor.”
“Like some kind of automaton? What do you call them, a robot or something?”
“Yes, yes that’s it! Someone is sending robots after me Mr. Chase and I want to know why.”
Danny took out his notebook and licking the end of his pen, began to furiously scribble down notes.
“Oh no, please Mr. Chase. I don’t want this in the papers.” Danny looked at her for a moment and then sighed. He ran his hand through his short, messy hair and leaned back in his chair.
“Why did you come to me then? I mean no offense Ms. Kincaid, but this is the office of the Manhattan Post. Sounds to me like you need a police officer, not a reporter.”
“I came to you sir,” she replied, her voice taking on a cold tone, “because you know the Red Spider.”
Dan Chase had spent the weekend researching every detail of Jessica Kinkaid’s life. There was nothing unusual in her past; her parents were middle class Irish descendants, immigrants who had done fairly well in Pittsburgh before moving to Manhattan. The woman was well mannered and even tempered and she had answered all of his questions with what he believed to be the truth. Even when he’d tried to push her, to get a rise out of her, she’d maintained her dignity and class. It had frustrated him at first but eventually he had to accept that Jessica was telling the truth. Dan sat in a quiet Manhattan speakeasy in the middle of the afternoon, the Volstead Act was in full effect and finding a good place to grab a pint was getting harder and harder. All Dan had to do to contact the Red Spider was place an ad inside his weekly column in the Post and the Spider would find him the following day. The ad was for a red Fedora and Dan had only used it twice the previous year. As he finished his beer he realized that even if Jessica believed she was telling the truth, it was only her interpretation of the events she believed. It was possible that she was confused by what she’d seen, perhaps there were no robotic assassins at all. They could have been humans in armor or some kind of prank meant to frighten her. Dan wiped the last of his beer from his upper lip with the back of his suit sleeve, popped a Lucky Strike in his mouth and headed for the door. He would spend the week with Jessica and at the first sign of trouble he’d hide her somewhere and contact the Red Spider. The Spider was a strange man and Dan Chase was reluctant to contact him if Ms. Kinkaid proved to be dramatizing or misinterpreting what she’d witnessed. Women may have gotten the right to an equal vote, but Dan was not sure a beautiful woman like Jessica Kinkaid was capable of understanding the complexities of what was going on around her. As stepped out of the Speakeasy he was determined to take care of her, no matter what the truth was, he would protect her. The walk would sober him up, he thought, not realizing that the other side of town was in fact the other side of New York City. It was almost an hour before Dan realized how far he still had to go and he began searching for a cab. Since it was still mid-afternoon on a Monday, it was not difficult to find a free Checker Cab. What surprised Dan was the driver. As the man pulled up Dan saw his skin was dark brown and he wore a red turban around his head. The driver did not look at him as he got in but he gave Dan a kind hello with a thick Indian accent. The driver wore a thick black winter coat that made it difficult to make out any details below the neck.
“Where to, sir?” the driver asked.
“I take it you’re not from around here.” Dan said, taking out a cigarette. He held the pack out to the driver but the man kept his eyes on the road.
Dan gave him the address and lit his smoke. The bumpy ride in the Checker kept jostling the ashes off his cigarette and after a few minutes of brushing himself off repeatedly he decided to toss the cigarette out the window.
The driver gave him a look out of the corner of his eye and Dan just shrugged and said “I’m quitting.”
When Dan stepped out of the cab, he was sober enough to pay the driver and wonder why he’d travelled across town to see Ms. Kinkaid in the first place.
“I wait for you sir?” the driver asked in his broken English. Dan was about to wave him away when he remembered why he was there.
“Yeah, I’ll need a lift back to Manhattan, thanks.”
It was only his intention to let Ms. Kinkaid know that he believed her, nothing more. The night air was cold and he felt refreshed even though he was still quite drunk. Once he told her of his plan, to protect her and wait for any sign of the killers, he wondered if she would invite him to stay. He began to formulate an escape plan in his head, the waiting cab gave him a quick enough exit but he wanted to be sure he could help her without giving her the wrong impression. Dan thought himself a handsome enough man and he worried that if they spent too much time together, Ms. Kinkaid would inevitably fall for him. He almost didn’t hear the metal feet approaching him until it was too late.
Dan ducked as a metal gauntlet struck the wall next to his head. Stumbling off the front steps, Dan scampered back along the rail as they pushed past him. There were two metal men with intricately designed armor, their focus completely on the apartment. There were no faces inside the helmets, just turning gears and two small red lights. The armor was only one color, dark gray, with a design on the front that resembled some form of crocodile. The robot men ignored Dan once he was out of the way, they knocked down the front door instead and he heard Jessica scream from inside her house. The first robot knight entered the house, Dan tried to grab the second one but it shoved him back down the stairs. Hitting the ground hard, he shook his head to clear his vision. Looking up through blurry eyes, Dan was shocked to see the cab driver running toward him. As the Indian man ran, his turban was unravelled into a red scarf and the thick winter coat was tossed aside, revealing a blood red suit. The man slipped on a mask and a black fedora, his skin still painted brown and Dan realized he did not need to find the Red Spider. The Red Spider had found them.
The two machine men stepped out the door, looking as if they’d just stepped out of a museum gallery. They turned their helmeted head from side to side, as if waiting for further instructions. Jessica was thrown over the shoulder of the second mechanical knight and she was not moving. Dan rolled up his sleeve, determined to rescue her but the Red Spider had appeared beside him and he froze.
“We’re not going to get anywhere with our hands,” said the Spider in his gravelly voice, “we’re going to need something bigger.”
Dan followed the Red Spider to the trunk of the cab, keeping his eye on the machines. They seemed to have determined their course, as they both turned in unison and headed back in the direction they’d come. The Spider opened the trunk and handed Dan a sledgehammer. It was a massive tool, an old railroad spike driving hammer. The Spider wielded his like it weighed nothing, holding it over his head as he charged at the two mechanical kidnappers.
“Get the girl!” the Spider shouted, pointing to Jessica. Setting the hammer down, Dan pulled Jessica off the robot’s back. It turned slowly toward him, its metal hands reaching out to reclaim her. Before it could reach them, there was a massive crash as the Red Spider smashed it across the face with the sledgehammer. When it turned toward him its visor was dented and one small red light inside its head had broken. The first metal knight raised its hand and its fingertips suddenly burst into flame. The smell of gasoline was strong and the Red Spider had no choice but to duck back as the machine began to wave its five tiny propane torches at him. Dan saw the second robot heading for him and he placed Jessica gently on the ground and hefted the heavy hammer. The first blow came down hard on the robot’s outstretched hand. The gauntlet of its hand bent and twisted under the blow but Dan was not strong enough to lift the hammer a second time. The other cold steel hand of the metal knight gripped his throat, choking off his air supply. Blood began to rush into his face and he could feel himself blacking out. The sounds of the Red Spider pounding his opponent seemed to fade farther and farther away. Then suddenly the air came rushing back and Dan collapsed. The robot’s arm lay on the ground next to him as he coughed and the air was full of thick black smoke. The Red Spider stood over the smashed body of the first robot, a pool of flaming gasoline leaking out of it. The second robot knight was gone, having left a broken arm behind it fled into the night. Dan could hear the Red Spider panting as he walked toward him. The Spider dropped the sledgehammer and removed his metallic tool, the Spider’s Bite, from his pocket. Dan stood up, holding his throat, trying to catch his breath as well. He realized the Spider was not coming to his aid a second before it was too late. The Red Spider pressed the Bite against his neck. Dan stumbled back, a look of betrayal crossing his face but he could not read the Spider’s intent, not with the mask covering the vigilante’s eyes. The world began to blur and shake as Dan watched the Spider pick Jessica Kinkaid off the sidewalk. Then everything went black and Dan too, was picked up and carried away by the Red Spider.
Dan woke up slowly, feeling safe and secure in the dark, quiet library. It took a few minutes for him to remember where he was and what had happened. He rubbed the spot on his neck where the Spider had injected him with a knockout drug; there was a small pin-sized scab of blood that felt slightly bruised. He waited patiently for his eyes to adjust, there was only enough light to see the dusty book shelves on either side of him. After a few minutes he realized it was not going to get any better and he got to his feet, placing a hand out in either direction. There were shelves of books on both sides of him, running parallel to each other. Dan was unsure of which direction to go so he simply chose one and started walking. Eventually the shelf on the left turned and he followed it, wondering where he was. The shelf turned again and he turned with it, only to find himself entering a large black open space.
“Hello?” Dan shouted. His voice barely echoed back to him, the sound seemed to be gobbled up in the dark. His foot hit something and he picked it up. It was a book, but it was hard to read the spine. He opened the inside cover and could make out the large font. The book was “The SCARLET PIMPERNEL”. He decided to hold onto the book, walking around until he located another shelf and followed it further into the massive library.
The gravelly voice echoed through the dark, all around him. Dan slipped backwards on a pile of books and fell to the floor.
“I APOLOGIZE FOR KEEPING YOU. . IN THE DARK. HOWEVER I NEED TO BE SURE YOU ARE NOT WORKING FOR MY ENEMIES.”
“Spider? Is that you? Come out where I can see you man!” Dan shouted.
“HOW DID YOU KNOW JESSICA KINKAID?” the Spider asked.
“She came to my office, at the Post. She was trying to find you.”
The library was silent for a moment then Dan saw the red lights of the Spider’s mask appear in the dark, coming toward him.
“Where is she? Where’s Jessica?” Dan asked quietly. The eyes stopped twenty feet away from him.
“SHE WAS TAKEN. TWO MORE ROBOTS APPEARED AFTER I PLACED YOU IN THE CAR. I COULD NOT STOP THEM, THEY TOOK HER.”
“Who took her?”
“YOU DON’T KNOW?”
“No, of course not! I was trying to help her!”
“YES. WHY?” The Spider seemed to draw out the word ‘yes’, so it slithered like a snake. Dan knew he was being accused.
“You think I set this up? That I know who took her? I don’t, Spider! I don’t know anything! I just wanted to help!”
Dan swore under his breath and stepped back from the Spider. Stumbling backwards, he bumped into a table and heard the clatter of objects as they rolled onto the floor.
“Why are you keeping me here in the dark?”
“THIS IS MY LIBRARY, MY SANCTUARY. THE DARKNESS IS FOR YOUR OWN PROTECTION. CONTAINED WITHIN THIS WEB OF INFORMATION ARE BOOKS THAT COULD PROVE . . . HARMFUL TO THE UNINITIATED. TO YOUR RIGHT IS A FLASHLIGHT.”
Dan found the flashlight lying on the table next to him. He lifted the heavy lamp and flipped the switch. A bright yellow light cut through the darkness and for a moment the Red Spider was gone, his red eyes disappearing. Then Dan heard footsteps and saw the back of the Spider heading away from him, deeper into the maze of books. He ran to catch up, keeping the flashlight focused on the Spider.
“Some of the books here are susceptible to light.” The Spider’s voice had taken on a more normal tone, although the gritty, deep drawl remained even when he spoke more gently.
“I needed to be sure that we were not followed. I apologize for keeping you here but I needed to see your reaction when I told her she was taken. I needed to be certain you were not part of it.”
“How did you know she was in danger?” Dan asked.
“Two weeks ago there was an attack on the office of the New York Times. One reporter was badly injured. They told the police they were attacked by a mechanical knight. A similar story was given to police last week by a young woman named Jessica Kinkaid.”
The Spider suddenly darted to the left, and Dan followed. The shelves began to curve in the direction that they were headed and Dan thought perhaps they had reached an outer wall.
“Why were you disguised as a cab driver?”
“I was patrolling the streets. A gang of pachuco’s alerted me to the fact that you were walking around in your cups. I figured I’d keep an eye on you.” The Spider’s six red eyes seemed to blink in unison at Dan.
“Don’t worry about Ms. Kinkaid,” the Red Spider said, “I don’t believe she is in any danger.”
He turned right and entered a large mechanical shop. On a table in the center of the cluttered room was a pile of machine pieces from the robot knights. A big magnifying glass on a swinging arm hung over top and there was an entire set of tools underneath the work table, primarily used for soldering metal.
“Are those pieces of the machines?” Dan asked. He picked up the severed robotic arm, feeling the weight in his hands.
“Yes.” The Red Spider swung the magnifying glass over top of a chunk of machinery taken from inside one of the robot knights.
“Made right here in the United States of America.”
“By Alexander Kinkaid. Jessica’s father.”
For a moment Dan couldn’t think of anything to say. The Spider’s strange lair was hauntingly quiet and the maze of books behind him made Dan feel lost in some mad Wonderland. A battle with robots and a hangover had left Dan feeling drained and mentally exhausted. Nervously he waved the flashlight around, refusing to let the light linger too long on the objects he saw hidden in the shadows.
“You mean her father sent these things after her? Why would he do that? Couldn’t he have sent a driver over to pick her up?” Dan finally said, his voice cracking as his confidence waned in the presence of the Red Spider. The Spider did not look up from his work; instead he carefully took apart the robotic arm he’d found.
“I said her father built these automatons. That does not mean he took her.” The Spider pointed to the magnifying glass and Dan leaned forward to peer through. Molded into the metal were the letters AK stylized as a logo inside a circle, the symbol of Alexander Kinkaid’s Steelworks Corporation. The Red Spider suddenly loosened his scarf, tugging at it while looking up at the ceiling.
“How are these two events connected? Why would someone attack the New York Times and Jessica Kinkaid?” The Spider wondered aloud.
After a few seconds of introspection, the Red Spider returned his attention to the mechanical pieces in front of him. Dan began to grow restless and paced back and forth in the shop. His foot bumped a shelf and a series of wrenches clattered to the floor, the noise echoing through the Spider’s lair. The Red Spider turned and focused all six little eyes on him and then in his raspy voice he spoke very calmly.
“Take the flashlight. Back in the library, to the right and right again, you will see a collection of old newspapers. Find me the Times dated January 12th to January 14th.”
The Spider turned back to his work bench, lighting a small torch with one hand. Dan picked up the flashlight and headed back into the library. As a newspaper man, it would be a simple enough task for him. Yet the moment he stepped back in the twisting labyrinth of books, he felt a chill go up his spine. He was annoyed the Spider was sending him off on errands, but he was not brave enough to speak his mind. Instead, Dan Chase pointed the flashlight directly ahead and entered the Spider’s web of books.
The collection of old newspapers was easy enough to find; Dan found them against the wall, piled high on a dresser. Old yellow pages stuck out of the drawers, dating back at least fifty years. Dan picked up a couple more recent papers piled on top; the London Times, a French paper called the Paris Journal, as well as a number of small, cheap pamphlets dedicated to the occult, conspiracies and black magic. As curious as Dan was, he focused only on what he was asked to do. Eventually he found the Times and grabbed the top four, from the tenth of January to the fourteenth. Rushing back down the library hallway, he was relieved when he returned to the shop.
“Hold on to those. We’ll read them in the plane.” The Spider said. Dan’s stomach dropped. As a born and bred New York boy, he’d never set foot on a boat, train or a plane. Somehow he knew that he was not being given a choice in the matter; if the Spider wanted him along, he was in no position to say no. Even if he had the courage, his curiosity always got the better of him, it was the reason he became a journalist in the first place. Dan Chase just didn’t have the common sense to stay home where it was safe and he wasn’t going to start now.
Gathering up a few pieces of the machinery, the Red Spider stuffed them into his suit pocket and then walked around to the back wall of the garage. Grabbing a wrench, he pulled it hard. The wrench was not real, but was in fact a well designed door handle; the entire wall slid open revealing a large hangar bay. Inside was a custom Breguet ‘de Chasse, modified for two with a canopy. Dan suddenly felt sick to his stomach. The Spider turned to him and smiled, which did nothing to relieve his sudden nausea.
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.
The Red Spider sat with his feet up at the desk, contemplating their next move. Dan handed him one of the mugs that he’d found in the office and filled it with hot coffee from the pot that had just finished boiling on the stove. It was gritty but the caffeine and warmth made them both feel better after the flight. The Spider’s China Man had left; apparently his only task was to drive the Spider around, he had disappeared the moment they’d set foot inside the hospital.
“Trying to figure out our next move?” Dan asked.
Dan hated the fact he could not see the Red Spider’s eyes beneath his strange mask. The two large red lights and the smaller ones rarely blinked and showed no emotion. The mask even covered his eyebrows and forehead, making it impossible to read anything from his face with the exception of his mouth. When he grinned, the mouth gave Dan a sense of horror, not humor and he was grinning at Dan in a way that made him nervous.
“I know our next move.” The Spider said calmly.
“What is it then? Are you planning on sharing it with me?” Dan said sarcastically.
“Come on, Spider. Why are you staring me like that?”
“I am trying to figure out what size of dress you wear.” The Red Spider said in his gravelly voice. Dan could not help but swallow nervously.
Alexander Kinkaid worked furiously at his desk, signing documents and shipping manifests that seemed to double in number every year. The toupee he wore itched terribly but he ignored it as best as he could. When the door to his office opened he did not look up, not until he saw the red dress.
“Jessica?” Alexander whispered. He stood up quickly as the blonde woman strode across the room, her face hidden from him.
“Jessica! My god you’re okay!” Alexander jumped from his seat but he froze as another man entered his office. This man wore a blood red suit and a strange mask, the eyes on it large and inhuman with four smaller lights underneath that made him looking like a human insect. The man tilted his hat down as if to greet Alexander, which only infuriated the old man.
“Jessica, who is this man? What is going on here? Are you hurt? Speak to me, honey!”
The woman Alexander believed was his daughter turned around and he realized it was not Jessica. In fact, it was not a woman at all.
“Dan Chase. Reporter for the Manhattan Post. This is my . . . friend The Red Spider.” Dan said, thrusting out his hand. Alexander faces sunk in horror and depression.
“Why have you done this? Where is my Jessica?” Alexander demanded.
“I apologize for the subterfuge, Mr. Kinkaid.” The Red Spider said, walking casually around the steel baron’s office. “I needed to know your involvement in your daughter’s abduction.”
“So it’s true then, she has been taken.” Mr. Kinkaid said, slumping back down in his office chair.
“Yes. And I think you know who took her.”
Fear flickered across Alexander’s face. Dan removed his wig and sat down opposite the old man. Dan tried to sit comfortably but the dress made it difficult for him; he shifted his legs nervously trying to make sure his dress did not reveal too much.
“Can you tell me why I’m dressed as a dame, Spider?” Dan asked.
“I needed to see Mr. Kinkaid’s reaction to seeing his daughter. If a photo had been available, I’d have preferred to use that method, but I had to make due with what is available.”
“But you could have just asked me.” Alexander said.
“Apparently the police already have. You lied to them. Even worse, you’ve paid them off to cover up certain incidences, haven’t you?” The Spider asked, leaning over Mr. Kinkaid’s desk.
“According to the Pittsburgh Police, your daughter has been to see them several times. Every time the case is dropped, every time you cover it up. Isn’t that right, Mr. Kinkaid?” said the Red Spider.
“Yes. Damn it yes, it’s true. My daughter has chosen some . . . bad partners in the past.”
“This isn’t about your little girl turning into a bearcat though is it? This time it’s worse. This time she didn’t just have a fling with a bell bottom, did she? This man is dangerous.”
As the Spider spoke he leaned imposingly over Alexander. The old man began to sweat, his eyes flashing back and forth. There was fear but there was something else too, a cry for help as if he desperately wanted to confess. Dan watched the Spider closely, fascinated with how well he maneuvered Alexander. It was as if the Spider was pushing up whatever secrets the man was holding inside, pushing them up until they broke to the surface.
“I never approved of their relationship, never would have allowed it. But there was nothing I could do. He was our best customer; over sixty percent of our sales last year were because of him. I knew he was far too old for her but I thought ‘at least he’s not a punk’. I never imagined he’d become so obsessed.”
“She’s a fetching dame.” Dan said casually. Alexander gave him a dirty look.
“I know you love her, Mr. Kinkaid. I saw it on your face when you thought this reporter was your daughter. Come clean now. Do the right thing while there is still time to save her. Tell me who it is your daughter is involved with and I promise you I will bring her home to you.” The Spider’s tone was almost kind now and he placed a hand on Alexander’s shoulder.
“Irons. Sir Jeremy Irons.”
A grimace crossed the Red Spider’s face.
“You know him?” Dan asked, checking his dress. He was unable to remember whether or not he’d stashed his cigarettes somewhere inside.
“Yes,” the Spider replied. “He’s also known as The Iron Professor.”
“Irons grew up in the war, he’s a tough old man, as hard as they come.” Kinkaid said.
“Which war?” Dan asked.
“Crimean.” The Red Spider replied.
“Never heard of it.” Dan said, throwing his feet up on the desk. The Spider cocked his head and Dan remembered he was wearing a dress and put his feet back down on the ground. The Spider shook his head as if chastising the reporter.
“Russians call it the Eastern War, the British refer to it as the Russian War, I believe. France and England wanted the scraps left over from the Ottoman Empire, so did Russia. Irons volunteered when he was twelve, killed his first Russian at 15. Seeing the value railroads provided during the war, he put his small savings into construction and metal. Now in his 80’s, he’s one of the most powerful men in the UK.” The Spider laid it all out in his gravelly voice as Alexander Kinkaid merely nodded in agreement.
“Wait a second, you’re telling me Ms. Kinkaid had a relationship with this old Professor?” Dan asked, his voice dripping with disgust.
“I don’t think you are in any position to judge, Chase.” The Spider said gruffly. Dan glanced at him, a barbed retort on the tip of his tongue but he grimaced and kept it to himself. There was a secret between them, even Alexander could pick up on that, but neither man said anything else on the subject.
“She was a grown woman. As I said, I tried to talk her out of it but she is very stubborn. Very much like her Grandmother.”
“So how dangerous can this old guy be?”
“Irons is an old-fashioned man, from the old world. He’s made of sterner stuff than this generation of dandy boys and bearcats. They made them tougher back then.” The Spider said. “He’s been killing men since the war. In fact he’s the only man I’ve ever heard of who got an education by committing murder.”
“How’d he manage that?” Dan asked.
“Government sanctioned execution. Rumor is, in exchange for taking out a threat to the Royal Families good name, they got him into Cambridge.”
“Cambridge? Well ain’t that the bees knees.” Dan said.
“But can you get her back for me? Because if you can’t, I am wasting my time talking to a man in a mask and a man in a dress.” Alexander Kinkaid said angrily.
“We’ll find her.” The Spider said, heading for the door.
“Tell know one we were here. The fact that Irons hasn’t killed you yet means you aren’t a threat to him Mr. Kinkaid. Say nothing, play meek if you must, but do not tell him about me. Otherwise he will kill you.”
Alexander Kinkaid nodded in agreement and Dan followed after the Red Spider, stumbling slightly in the heels he’d squished his feet into.
“I think dressing up was an overly dramatic way of getting information. We could have probably just asked him.” Dan said as he gripped the railing of the stairwell with both hands and tried to keep up with the Spider.
“Yeah. But it would not have been nearly as fun.”
Underneath the stairs stuffed in a duffle bag were Dan Chase’s clothes as well as winter gloves and a scarf he’d picked up at the shop where they’d bought the dress. Changing quickly in the stairwell, Dan felt almost like a superhero himself. The Red Spider kept his back turned to Dan, keeping a lookout in the doorway. As Dan finished putting on his suit jacket, he jumped suddenly as a huge explosion rocked the building. The Spider was already running back up the stairs, back up to Alexander Kinkaid’s office. Dan tried his best to keep up as the Spider glided over two or three stairs at a time. Dan was almost out of breath and ran straight into the Spider’s arm. The Spider had secured the doorway, blocking Dan from entering what had once been Alexander Kinkaid’s office. Now there was nothing but a smoldering hole, the cold wind blew away the charred remains of the old man’s life. The debris rained down on the city, a gaping hole revealed the streets below, a hole in the very spot where they had all just stood. The Spider held Dan by the arm tight and with his other hand he pointed up into the air above. Through the smoke they could see massive dirigible, the size of a football field, flying away from the building.
“Professor Irons.” The Red Spider said, his voice boiling with fury.
“I’m coming for you.”
“As am I.” Dan said, trying to imitate the serious tone of the Spider. “To report, of course.”
The Spider turned and headed back down the stairs, his red scarf trailing behind him. Dan took one last look at the remains of what had once been a very nice office and he sighed. The death toll was climbing and the situation was escalating. Dan knew it was going to get worse before it got any better.
They did not head back to the plane; instead the Spider went back to the hospital and flopped himself in the musty office chair. Scribbling in a small brown leather notebook, the Spider ignored Dan’s attempts at conversation until his China Man brought him a stack of papers. As soon as he took the stack of newsprint from his assistant, the Spider leapt to his feet and began reading furiously.
“Professor Irons tipped his hand, killing Alexander Kinkaid like that.” The Spider growled.
“How so?” Dan asked, trying to peek over his shoulder.
The Spider laid out a newspaper, the New York Times, dated January 13th, 1920. Before Dan had a chance to read any more, the Spider picked up the paper and opened it, quickly flipping through the pages. Dan was not sure if he was reading them or not but if he was he was doing so at an incredible speed.
“Irons is a many of great appetite, great curiosity,” The Spider said. “He is also known for taking great offense at those who mock science.”
The Spider flipped the paper around, folding it so Dan could read it.
“That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools,” Dan read aloud. “That’s a pretty strong statement.”
“Yes. And they are wrong. A rocket can operate in a vacuum.” The Spider said, folding the newspaper back up. “I know. I’ve flew in one.”
Tossing the paper on the desk, the Red Spider began to pace the small office. Dan was forced to sit down to make room for him.
“It was a rocket propelled explosive that destroyed Mr. Kinkaid’s office and took his life. Fired from a dirigible.”
“Okay.” Dan said, unable to think of anything else to say. He could not keep up with the constant leaps from one topic to the other that the Spider seemed to enjoy.
“Why not use his impressive new robots to kill Kinkaid? The metal knights?”
“Too big to put on a balloon?”
“There is that, Dan, but they could have marched up the stairs. No, I think the robots were an old project for Professor Irons. He probably began building them years ago. But the rockets, this is a new avenue of interest for him. This is something else that has gotten his attention.”
The Spider stopped dead in his tracks.
“Irons, a genius inventor in his own right, meets Alexander Kinkaid. Together they hammer out a series of metal automatons, built by Irons with steel supplied by Kinkaid. They have a falling out over Jessica, who uses Irons to get back at her father.”
“How do you know that part?” Dan asked quickly.
“Daughters always have some grudge against their father’s. Some kind of reverse Oedipus syndrome,” the Spider said, waving his hand to dismiss the train of thought.
“Now Irons has something else in mind. Something to do with rockets.”
“But what about Jessica?”
“What about her?”
“Why did he take her?”
“She’s beautiful Dan. Obviously he wanted her.”
“But it can’t be just for his own pleasure, I mean the man is too old to. . . “ Dan did not want to continue with that thought.
“No. This isn’t about teenage lust or perverted passion. He wants Jessica for something else, something he believes is a great honor.”
“What are we talking about here Spider? Some kind of box social for maniacs?”
“What does a man who has everything want? What does a man who thinks he is unstoppable do with himself when he’s conquered all Earthly challenges?”
“You’ve lost me here, Spider.”
“As I said earlier, this wasn’t about the robots. It’s about the rockets.”
“What does he want Jessica for?” Dan pleaded.
“He wants a date, obviously.” The Spider said calmly.
“Where is he planning on taking her?”
“To the other side.”
Suddenly a chill ran up Dan’s back.
“The other side of what, Spider?”
“Why, death of course.”
Professor Irons owned two large smelting factories; one in Pittsburgh and the other in London, England. But what no one knew, no one except the Red Spider, was that these factories had massive underground facilities. Since the robot knights had only been seen in the United States, the Spider surmised that they must have been manufactured deep beneath the Pittsburgh plant. Dan and the Spider had followed the sewers beneath the city until they were deep below the facility owned by the Professor. Dan had brought his flashlight but it barely broke through the darkness.
“Stop.” The Spider hushed as they came to an open walkway. Stepping out slowly, they stood on a metal staircase attached to the side of a deep chasm that went farther down into the dark. There were lanterns spread out sporadically along the stairs but the light was barely suitable for the naked eye. They had yet to encounter any guards but they’d heard their footsteps, the Spider had kept them out of sight but it was getting more crowded in the tunnels. They had waited until nightfall hoping to avoid any of Irons employees. They were mostly likely completely unaware of their employers evil intentions. As one of the largest employers in the world, it was safe to assume most of them would have no clue as to what they were doing; the new style of assembly lines made it impossible for one person to ever see the completed project. Most people toiled away in one section, on one piece of what would be a massive project. Irons had companies building everything from car parts to radios that were set to hit the market at any moment. Rumors of underwater vehicles and flying war machines were always being spread among the other industrialists; no one knew for certain exactly how far Professor Irons had pushed technology. The robot knights were incredibly complex devices and must have been expensive to make. If Irons was willing to let them loose on city streets, if he was willing to reveal the power he’d hidden from the world for so long, it could only mean he no longer cared for secrecy. Irons had sent those machine men out knowing full well it would bewilder the masses. He was revealing his secrets because he no longer feared repercussions. As the Spider had told Dan earlier, Jeremy Irons was preparing to meet his maker and his machine men were his way of daring the world to challenge him. To kill Alexander Kinkaid in the middle of the day, with a rocket fired from an airship, was nothing short of unrestrained bravado. Jeremy Irons believed no one could stop him because no one had ever come close before. Yet Irons had never met a man like the Red Spider before, either.
The underground tunnels were getting hotter the deeper they went. Miles of water pipes pumped in water that hissed inside the hot metal tubes. Dan worried that the pipes carrying hot water back to the surface could explode; they seemed to almost bulge with steam pressure. Since he could see nothing in the mix of shadows and light, Dan stayed as close to the Spider as he could. Deeper and deeper they went, miles below ground. Suddenly the Spider held up a hand and Dan stopped. Just a few levels below them was an armed guard standing outside a metal door. Unlike the rest of the facility that seemed to be a maze of pipes and corridors, their descent had lead to this single door with one lone guard outside it. The man was huge, however, and needed no partner, he wore all black military style clothing with a small black beret. They had been lucky that he had not heard them already, had he looked up the metal grating would have allowed him to see two men coming. The Spider raised his finger to his mouth to remind Dan to be quiet. Dan put up his hands and shook his head; he had no intention of moving or speaking.
With the grace and skill of a cat, the Spider leaped up onto the railing and crouched down. Making sure his scarf was tucked into place, the Spider suddenly dropped down two stories. Instead of landing in front of the guard however the Spider instead grabbed the ledge of the railing directly over the guards head. Taken aback by the man dangling in front of him the guard did not have time to raise his gun and using the momentum of his fall, the Spider swung both feet into the guard’s chest. The force and speed of impact slammed the man back into the door. As the Spider landed in front of him, the guard collapsed. Just to be safe the Spider removed his weapon and Dan heard the familiar hiss of the Spider’s Bite as he injected the guard with his secret blend of chemicals.
“Is it safe?” Dan whispered, silently walking down the stairs to stand behind the Spider.
“This door should lead to the Professor’s underground lair.” The Spider said. “Irons might be dangerous, but his age is his weakness. There would have be a bedroom, somewhere for him to rest down here as well as a bathroom.”
“My guess is he has a whole facility down here; labs, offices. Why else have all these guards?” Dan said confidently. The Spider nodded in agreement as they stepped over the unconscious guard. The door was locked.
“I mean he’s got to have a place for Jessica too. Why kidnap a beautiful lady and keep her in a dirty hole?”
Instead of answering the Spider removed the top off his weapon and screwed on another, larger device. Dan tried to get a good look at it but the Spider kept it concealed inside his hands.
“Won’t he be shocked when he sees us?” Dan said smiling. The Spider ignored him and leaned down to the lock of the door. The weapon he’d used to knock out the guard had been changed to produce a brilliant white hot flame.
“What the hell is that??” Dan said, stepping back nervously.
“I reconfigured the jet injector to serve as a blowlamp. The fuel won’t last long though and it won’t melt through this door.”
Dan watched the Spider cut a circle around the lock of the metal door and when he was finished, he stepped back beside Dan.
“You’ve had this all along?” Dan asked.
“You really are quite well prepared, aren’t you?”
“Preparedness could mean the difference between life and death. Now quiet, I don’t have enough kerosene to do this again.”
With that, the Spider kicked the door, his heavy boot slamming the door frame. The melted lock popped out as the door flew open. The sound of the lock hitting the floor echoed throughout the chasm.
“Hope no one heard that.” Dan said.
As they stepped into the room, the Spider realized he’d been both wrong and right about Irons’ fortress. They had indeed found a back door to his underground lair but they had come in through the personnel door. A dozen guards, some in their underwear, stood inside the dark room, their uniforms hanging in lockers next to them. Although they did not have their guns, the guards had years of combat experience and training. Dressed or not, the men started walking toward them. Defending the property of the Iron Professor was their job, but bursting into their private lounge, that was a personal insult.
“These men look serious, Spider.” Dan said, trying to sound brave.
“Yeah. At least you aren’t dressed as a woman anymore.” The Spider turned and grinned at him and then tightening his gloves, the Red Spider threw the first punch.
The men who worked for Professor Irons were all battle hardened Eastern European men, guys who had lived through brutal war and combat. They looked as if they were chiseled from ivory and stone and the older the guard, the tougher he looked. Dan and the Red Spider fought hard, hitting the men with everything they had. Punches were thrown back and forth and both Dan and the Spider managed to take down three men before they were overwhelmed. The guards were expertly trained and in the close confines of the lounge, the two heroes had no space to maneuver. Dan and the Spider used every dirty trick they knew, using everything around them as a weapon. No one, however, went for a gun. There was a code when involved in a fight of that magnitude; the two heroes were too proud and determined and the villainous henchman had superior numbers and deadly training. For either side to go for one of the guns lying about would have been considered an act of cowardice. It was only through sheer physical strength that the guards managed to overwhelm Dan and the Spider, there were simply too many pairs of hands holding them down that they eventually were restrained and handcuffed.
The Spider was put on the ground on his knees; once Dan was restrained he was held next to him. The Spider’s lip was busted and blood dripped down the middle of his chin, staining his crimson suit. One of Dan Chase’s eyes was badly bruised and swollen, making it difficult for him to see. Once the two men were on their knees, the guards dragged them roughly along a metal grate, out the lounge and into the underground base of Professor Irons. It was a long journey; the Professor’s office was on the opposite side of a secret lair that was much larger than the Spider had suspected. The Spider took in everything he saw as he was taken through the lair; the storage facility of rocket fuel, the training facility, the massive steel assembly lines below them, the Spider saw it all but said nothing. Finally they were thrown onto a soft imported rug from India in a massive living room. The steel girders were visible outside the room, but a square had been made that appeared to have been lifted straight out of an English manor. There was even a fireplace with a mounted deer’s head above it. The Professor got up from his chair, the metal support frame he wore creaked as he stretched out his old body.
“Ah our guests have arrived!” Irons said. There was no pleasure or humanity in his metallic machine voice. The Professor’s hands had lost mobility years ago and had been replaced with cold steel, he rubbed them together gleefully, creating a horrible screeching sound.
“The Red Spider! What a pleasure to meet you sir!” The Professor said, standing over the Spider. Neither man could or intended to shake hands with the other.
“The pleasure is all mine.” The Spider growled. When he finished, he spit out a mouthful of blood on the Professor’s rug. The old man scowled and glanced up at the large guard who stood behind the Spider. The man had lost a front tooth in the fight and was incredibly angry, so when Irons gave him a nod, the guard gleefully backhanded the Spider across the face.
“Blood does not bother me, vigilante.” Irons said casually.
“Where is Jessica?” Dan blurted out. The Professor looked to the same guard who gleefully backhanded Dan across the face, knocking the man to the floor.
“Manners, young man. Miss Kinkaid is no concern of yours. All you need worry about,” Irons said, leaning closer to the two men, “is how much of your dignity you wish to die with.”