|Cover Art:||Sal Buscema|
As Joe Robertson lies in the hospital, possibly paralyzed for life, Spidey peers in the window from outside and, as usual, feels like it's all his fault. Swinging down to a nearby alley, he shakes himself out of this guilt by accepting that there wasn't anything he could have done differently. "At least I was there to call an ambulance." Now dressed in his civvies, Peter enters the hospital where J. Jonah Jameson, Kate Cushing and Ben Urich pace in the hallway. ("I never saw Jonah Jameson look sad before", Peter thinks.) Martha Robertson and family emerge from Robbie's room. "From the way they look", Peter notes, "things must be worse than I thought!"
Pete turns to Ben Urich to see if there is word on Robbie's condition. Ben knows no more than Peter does but, good reporter that he is, manages to turn the conversation to Robbie's recently changed manner. He reveals that he overheard Joe telephone Peter and ask to meet with him. Ben wants to know what it is all about but Peter puts him off (OK, OK, he lies) and takes his leave.
Back in the hospital, Robbie is awakened by a familiar whisper. "Hiya Robbie", it says, "Long time no see". Joe is helpless in his hospital bed, in traction, paralyzed, locked in place. Hovering right over him is the looming form of Tombstone. The hitman tells Robbie, "you're lucky I like you" and repeats that he thought they had an understanding. But Joe, overcoming his terror, tells Tombstone the understanding is over, that he is no longer afraid. "Not afraid, huh?" says Tombstone, then whispers in Robbie's ear. We don't get to hear what the mobster has said but, whatever it is, it leaves Robbie wide-eyed and sweating long after Tombstone has gone.
Meanwhile, at Aggie's Pub, a lowlife establishment on a rundown street that features a blue parked car, red fire hydrant, and two dogs going through the garbage (and, hey, Aggie's sells Coors and Bud Lite... just the kind of advertising those sponsors are looking for), a bigtime bar fight has broken out. One guy comes flying through the plate glass window, scaring off the dogs. Inside, as the bartender cowers behind his bar, thinking, "Just once I'd like to get through a month without havin' ta buy a new window", seven toughs have piled on top of their opponent, wielding chairs and table legs. But it does them no good. Their opponent is Spider-Man and he knocks them all flying rather easily. For this is the bar from which the hitman at the beginning of issue #139 claimed he received his assignment and Spidey is looking for more information.
After knocking out all the customers, Spidey strikes up a conversation with the bartender. The web-slinger, who assumes Tombstone contracted the hit on Robbie, (but that can't be right, because we've seen that Lonnie is uninterested in killing Robbie) asks the tavern keeper "where I can find Tombstone or somebody who knows him". The bartender, stuttering in fear, tells Spidey that the Arranger, who works for the Kingpin, has hired Tombstone for "some b-b-big scheme". Behind Spidey, a red-haired thug, who looks like he's wearing the Ox's old yellow shirt and black vest, levels a gun at our hero. As the "ktow!" of a shot goes off, Pete's spider-sense warns him of danger, but it is the Ox-clad thug who falls down wounded. Someone has shot him before he had a chance to shoot at Spidey.
Pete catches a glimpse of a fleeing figure and gives chase. However, as he emerges from the back door of the bar, his spider-sense buzzes again. He leaps aside as a gunshot wipes out the light fixture over the door. Peter doesn't dare give chase. There is still a chance he can save the wounded thug's life if he gets him to the hospital. But, at least, he now knows who hired Tombstone. "A slimey bald-headed worm known as... the Arranger."
At the Arranger's office, that slimey worm is on the phone with Mr. Fisk, informing his boss that the Roland Rayburn project is going well. "Mr. Rayburn and I have an appointment in fifteen minutes", he says, "At that time I have every reason to expect he'll sign on to our little team." But the Arranger's conversation with the Kingpin is abruptly cut off. Spider-Man has his finger on the disconnect button.
Spidey confronts the Arranger about Tombstone but the mob assistant feigns ignorance, claiming to be a "respectable businessman". When Spidey threatens violence, the Arranger reveals a video monitor showing the two of them behind the desk. The whole incident is being video-taped and any violence will be recorded for the authorities. (And you thought Norman Osborn's plan was original.) Frustrated, Spidey smashes the monitor, then must run for it when the Arranger's armed goons come in threatening a citizen's arrest for Spidey's breaking and entering.
With Spidey gone, the Arranger presses a hidden button at his bookcase which moves the shelves, revealing a secret room. Inside is Roland Rayburn and Sheila the nurse. Roland is strapped down, drugged. His resistance destroyed by the medication, Roland readily agrees to join the Kingpin's army. The Arranger promises to have his medication reduced but "you'll remember this experience and never again will you refuse what we request."
Tombstone enters the secret room with news. "He's here in town", he says. "One of our people spotted him at Aggie's pub when Spider-Man was there asking questions. He's looking for me. My coming to New York lured him into the light. Just the way you figured." "Of course", the Arranger replies, "All my plans are proceeding exactly as arranged."
Back at Midtown Hospital, Peter and Mary Jane show up to visit Joe Robertson. MJ enters with verve and cheap jokes but neither Robbie nor Martha are quite in the mood for levity. Joe asks to speak to Peter alone. Outside the room, Martha breaks down and tells MJ that the doctors are concerned that Joe's spine may be broken. And "whoever did this did more than break Joe's back... they broke his spirit."
In the room, Joe asks Peter if he has the cassette tape he recorded. When Pete responds in the affirmative, Robbie tells him to burn it. Peter's righteous indignation does not sway Robbie in the slightest. He tells Pete that Tombstone's crimes are on his conscience, "not yours". At first, Peter refuses but then Robbie tells him that Tombstone was in his room in the hospital. "He can go anywhere. Kill anyone... my wife. My family. Anyone.... Burn the tape."
A shaken Peter Parker leaves the room. He meets up with MJ in the hallway and tells her the whole story of the tape. Behind a half-opened door marked "No admittance", a shadowy figure eavesdrops on Peter's story.
At the Daily Bugle, Peter seeks out Ben Urich to see what he would do with the tape in this situation. Ben offers no answers but offers, instead, a phone number. "Some guy called for you couple'a minutes ago." Peter calls the number and the shadowy figure answers, tells him he knows about the Robertson tape and tells him to attend a meeting on Liberty Island in one hour.
Soon after, Spider-Man hitches a ride on a traffic copter. He swings down to the Statue of Liberty's torch, settling down in the flames. He doesn't have long to wait... as a projectile comes flying out of Miss Liberty's crown. The projectile spreads out into a net which Spidey eludes, swinging down on his web, then vaulting back up to the crown. He hasn't bothered to wonder who he may be meeting but the clues start to heap up. No one is in the crown as he arrives but he is greeted with gunfire from below. The gunman is fast... already two stories down. Peter tries to glide down, but the gunfire, which he realizes is the same as that which wounded the thug at Aggie's Pub, prevents him from pursuing. He is forced to an outside route. Leaping out of the crown, he swings down in time to see a figure running from the base of the statue. Springing off his web, Spidey takes the figure with a flying tackle. The two go rolling along the ground, entangled. When they roll to a stop, Spidey leaps up and demands information but his opponent, The Punisher, puts a gun on him and demands the Robertson tape... or else.
Yikes! Does this mean the Punisher knows who Spidey is? Didn't he call Peter Parker about the tape but then asks Spidey to hand it over to him? Well, yeah, but let's not be hasty. We got a few more issues to go.