J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter
John Smith, the Red Tornado
and Zatanna Zatara as herself.
The union representative killed the construction foreman. J’onn already knew this. Humans in close proximity projected their thoughts so violently at times that there simply wasn’t any way for him not to know the murderer by their radiating guilt.
The foreman lay dead in his portable office. A city coroner examined the body for initial evidence. The time of death, established by temperature, matched the memories of the union representative. The murder weapon, the back end of a ball-peen hammer, rested lazily on its side. It left a negative print in the floor where blood collected around it. This, too, matched the union rep’s memories. He remembered the heft of it as he swung out in anger and the roughness of the rag as he wiped his fingerprints off the polished, wooden handle.
The rep stood at the sidewalk with the rest of the union protesters. Knowing his guilt was the easy part for J’onn. The challenge now was providing the city of Denver with the necessary evidence to identify and convict the correct guilty party. No human court would ever accept mind-reading as an admissible form of evidence. J’onn’s own ethics wouldn’t allow him to cheat and create an artificial trail for the rest of the police to follow. Still, technology did him a few favors.
“Officer Martin, is that an ATM across the street?” J’onn asked the nearest uniform.
“You need cash, Detective Jones? You’re better off going to a loan shark than dealing with bank fees these days.”
“I can’t speak to that, but I need you to request a warrant for its video footage.”
It was the perfect first step. The video footage would be enough to prove that the union rep had opportunity. This would warrant a search for his clothes from the previous night. Given the spatters of the foreman’s blood on the walls and the void left where the attacker stood, there would have to be some measure of evidence left in the fibers. That would prove the killer’s means.
All that was left was motive. J’onn knew the motive. What he couldn’t do was understand the motive. Earth and its human populace were so unlike Mars. Batman had an easier time of it, as did the Question and other reputable detectives in their community. They understood human behavior to the point of predictability. Batman could never know the Joker’s thoughts by reading his mind, and yet he could still know the man.
A touch at his shoulder returned his thoughts to the crime scene. “John, do you want to get some coffee while the lab finishes up here?”
It was Kay Powers, his current partner. J’onn didn’t have a permanent partner. Although he was efficient at his job, he radiated a foreignness that pushed most other detectives away. He was sometimes referred to as the vacation partner. Essentially, whichever detective was on vacation was assigned to him so he could work alone. This was not always possible, though. For the past three weeks, Kay stuck by with no signs of giving up on socializing him.
“Very well. We can bring the paperwork up to date on your laptop.”
Once situated in their booth, Kay ordered a coffee with cream while J’onn took a hot chocolate with three extra sugars. Her fingers pecked away at the keys while she continued pressing him about his personal life and his past. J’onn had long since developed a very thorough cover for his alias’s history, as well as several plausible rationales for his absences when he worked with the League. Being asked so directly made him a little uncomfortable, though, particularly when it came to matters about family.
“Tell me about your mom.”
“Tell me about your dad.”
“Tell me about your siblings.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Where did you go to school?”
Oddly, it was his cell phone that made her finally stop asking questions. His cell rarely rang at work, or at all for that matter. Although his phone looked like any other touch-screen smart device, it operated on a direct connection to the Watchtower’s secure network. A quick check of the name calling piqued his curiosity. He hit accept and placed the phone to his shapeshifted ear.
“This is Jones.”
“It’s Smith. Zatanna told me to make a courtesy call to let you know that I’ll be in town for a little while. Denver is your territory, and we wanted to make sure you had an explanation for any weather-related phenomenon in the near future.”
J’onn smiled inwardly. He enjoyed working around Red Tornado. He was one of the few League members who didn’t project his thoughts. As a robot, he also shared J’onn’s confusion when it came to certain human behaviors.
“Thank you for the notice. What matter brings you to town?”
“We’re looking for a magical artifact, one often associated with crime. Her description of the device made little sense to me, but we’ll confer once I arrive. She can provide you with additional details.”
Kay grew annoyed with his inattention and returned her focus to the laptop. J’onn sensed her impatience towards his call, but League business was always more important that personal or even police matters.
“My shift ends at six. You should find me home shortly after.”
Red closed the line. J’onn felt no annoyance at the sudden end of the conversation. The robot was efficient in his mannerisms, which suited the Martian just fine. It was in sharp contrast to Detective Powers, who couldn’t find a graceful way to end any conversation.
“Friend from out of town?” she asked.
“Lady-friend from out of town?”
Being a Minute-Man had to be the worst decision of Wade Allen’s life. Henching for Clock King turned out to be more annoying than having a regular job. King didn’t just complain if you were late; he complained if you were too early. On-time was the only acceptable schedule for that man. But Wade Allen no longer had to care about any of that. Tucked away in the bag hung over his shoulder, he finally had everything he needed and more. All he had to do was evade his employer.
Clock King hadn’t even seen what was in the bag in the first place. As soon as Wade opened it, he knew he needed to keep the contents to himself. He passed it off with two others as just another haul of the loot taken from their last streak of well-timed armored car robberies.
Wade ducked between a pair of dumpsters and listened for footsteps. Hearing none, he curled fetally around the bag and held it like a frightened child. Feeling the temptation, he pulled the zipper open a little to look at the contents once again. He smiled, quite satisfied with what he saw.
“Spare a little somethin’, fellah?”
Wade jumped at the question. He looked up to find some transient, hand outstretched, asking for what wasn't his. The man was older, possibly in his sixties. His jacket and shoes had holes, but his shirt and pants looked more recent. Wade couldn’t believe the nerve of the man.
“I can’t give you any! I need this, all of it.”
Wade looked into the bag again. Suddenly, it felt lighter. There wasn’t as much inside as he remembered when he took it from Clock King’s stacks. He felt around inside, thinking that some of it might have fallen into a hidden expanse. All that was there was there, though. That meant some of it was gone.
“Where is it? How did you take it?” he asked the homeless man.
Wade pulled his 9mm Taurus from his jacket and pointed it. The old man backed away, hands up.
“Hey, I don’t need nothin’ if you’re going to wave one of those around at me.”
“Give it back!” Wade demanded.
There wasn’t anything else to do. Wade fired three times, each too close to miss the homeless man’s chest. He fell, gasping and gurgling at the blood filling his lungs. Wade rifled through the dying man’s pockets, but found little more than bus tokens and a library card.
The howls of heavy dogs filled the alley.