Snow was falling outside the window of First Avenue Watch Repair. Inside, the shop filled with sudden cacophony. Every clock in the place began to chime, bong, or cuckoo the hour of twelve. Neither of the people in the shop paid the slightest attention to the time.
The man in the dark coat held his hand close to his body. Only the jeweler behind his glass counter could see the pistol in the man's hand, pointed directly at his heart.
"All the money in the register," the man said. "Quietly, no fuss."
The jeweler was an old man, white hair above a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. His hands trembled as he pushed the keys to open the register. The drawer didn't spring open on the first try.
"What's the matter, gramps?" the robber said. "You aren't scared, are you?" He gestured with the pistol, a little side-to-side motion. "Hurry it up, and you won't have a thing to worry about."
With a sudden gesture, he smashed the butt of the pistol down on the glass case. Shards flew. The jeweler jumped to the sound, and his trembling increased.
Without taking his eyes from the older man, the robber reached into the case. "I need a new watch," he said, reaching into the jagged opening and picking up a gold-filled Rolex. "This one will do."
He paused, and twitched the weapon again. "I'm still waiting for my money, gramps. Snap it up. I don't have all day."
In the street high overhead, a figure moved. Neither of the two in the shop was looking out the window. Had they looked, they would have seen a lithe figure dressed in red and blue. It was swinging from a line of webbing attached to the top of a high building.
A subway train rounded a turn with a screech of brakes and a shower of sparks from the third rail. The uptown side of the Rector Street subway platform was empty, except for two figures.
"Your watch and your wallet," said the smaller, more neatly dressed of the two. He had a shiny knife in his hand and he twisted it making the light shimmer along the blade. "I'm not kidding. I'll cut you, man."
The taller man, the one in dirty Levi jacket, pulled off his watch and held it out. His hand was trembling.
"A Timex? You're kidding me. Now your wallet!"
In the pipes high overhead, a shadow moved. Neither of the two below noticed, too intent on each other. Had they looked, they would have seen a large figure dressed all in black. All in black, except for a white spider design on his chest and back, large, white eye-patches, and large teeth. A tongue lashed out and whipped around.
The creature was slavering.
In First Avenue Watch Repair, the robber scooped up the green bills the old man pulled from the cash drawer and laid on the table. "That's all?" he asked. "You're kidding, right? Where's the rest of it?"
"Please," the jeweler said. "It was a slow morning. Not many customers. The weather...."
The robber raised his hand. The one with the pistol. "Good night, gramps." His finger tightened on the trigger.
Before he could fire, a sticky line of white flew from the direction of the door. It wrapped around the pistol and yanked. The blue-steel weapon came away from his grip and flew across the shop to clatter in the front corner.
The robber yelped with pain as the trigger guard ripped away from his forefinger. He turned to the door. There he saw an impossible sight -- a human figure hanging upside down from the doorway, a figure dressed in red and blue, with a black tracing of a spider web over his head and shoulders.
"Hi!" the costumed figure said in a cheery voice. "Mind if I drop in?"
He twisted down from the door frame, rolled, and sprang to his feet all in one fluid movement, then, without pausing, leapt to an upper corner, where he crouched, impossibly, defying gravity, supporting himself with his hands and feet touching the walls and ceiling.
"Spider-Man!" the jeweler said. "Boy, am I glad to see you!"
The robber gave a shout and dashed for the door. Before he'd taken one complete step, a line of webbing shot from Spider-Man's right wrist, curling around the robber's left ankle, tangling and tripping him. The man fell heavily to the floor. A scatter of dollar bills flew from his pocket.
"Don't tell me you were leaving," Spider-Man said, swinging down from his perch. Another line of webbing trussed the robber's hands.
At Rector Street a black shadow plummeted from overhead down to the tracks.
It was no more than a flicker, a blur of motion, that the taller man saw from the corner of his eye.
Yet in that instant, the robber standing before him also vanished, grabbed around the ankles by coiling lines of a white substance and pulled out of sight beneath the platform where the shadow had vanished. The robber was gone, but the knife was still there, spinning on the dirty concrete of the platform.
A moment later, from under the platform, a howling cry of fear and pain echoed through the subway tunnel and then -- suddenly -- ended.
A rapid pounding on the door brought the desk sergeant at the 3rd Precinct to his feet. The police officer walked rapidly to the door and jerked it open.
On the icy steps out front he saw a human-shaped bundle, grayish-white with a ropy substance encasing it. A man's face, eyes wide with fear, was exposed at one end of the bundle.
A voice above the sergeant's head caused him to look up. "Caught him in the act, an armed robbery over at First Avenue Watch Repair," said the costumed character. He was attached to the sheer wall by his palms and soles, looking down from that position into the cop's face. "The proprietor will be along in a moment to make a statement."
"You can make a statement yourself," the sergeant said. He knew who this fellow was: Spider-Man.
"Sorry, got to go. Previous engagement," the wall- crawling super- hero said. With that he flipped up a wrist, shot a line of webbing to a higher wall across the street, and swung rapidly out of sight.
Beneath the streets the air smelled of hot oil and cold iron. The man on the Rector Street platform stood alone, looking at the abandoned knife. A shadow appeared before him. He knew who this was: he'd seen the newspaper photos, heard the stories of blood and death. He fell to his knees.
"Venom," he said, his voice wavering. "Please don't kill me."
"You have nothing to fear from us," the huge figure said. Its tongue waggled and slime dripped from its fangs. "So long as you remain innocent."
The costumed super-villain bent suddenly and placed the man's stolen watch back into his hand.
"We do not harm the innocent. See that you remain so. Else we will be forced to eat your spleen."
The man looked down at the cheap watch in his hand. Was that a tiny drop of blood on the crystal?
When he looked up again, Venom was gone.