J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter
John Smith, the Red Tornado
and Zatanna Zatara as herself
Kay drove the car. Unlike most senior male detectives, J’onn had no issues with her doing so. For him, there just wasn’t anything to say on the matter. The warrant for their ATM footage was already issued and would soon be in the hands of the day-shift video forensics. Since J’onn didn’t require much in the way of sleep, certainly not the six to eight hours his human counterparts needed, he had the day to see to his League responsibilities. Kay would likely sleep for as much as time allowed before the next evening.
“Car three-niner, dispatch, possible six-eighteen reported at the thirty-three-hundred block alleyway on Twelfth.”
“Animal attack?” Kay asked.
J’onn took the microphone, “dispatch, three-niner, has animal control been notified?”
“Scene is clear,” the dispatcher replied.
“Three-niner copies.” J’onn set the receiver down.
“We can pass this one on, Johnny. Thirty minutes to shift change? We should just report this to days and let them take care of it. We’ll have tomorrow night full with the construction murder.”
“If it were just a pile of physical evidence at the scene, I would agree. But there is a body, and we will need to assess the situation as close to the time of death as possible.”
Kay rolled her eyes, but she lit their lights anyway. They didn’t bother with the siren so early in the morning. The few lights between their position and the victim didn’t warrant waking up regular citizens. The route took them away from the concrete jungle and into the older portions of town where the alleyways were still lined with brick. The car’s suspension shook them about as they rolled closer to the crime scene. Between the coroner’s wagon and the two black-and-whites helping to secure the area, there wasn’t any mistaking that they’d found the correct location.
“Jones, Powers, over here,” the coroner called.
One of the officers lifted the tape for the two. They checked the ground for any impressions or prints before proceeding closer.
“Doctor Whitfield,” Kay said, “what do we- oh jeez.”
She turned to look away. J’onn understood her revulsion. Martian bodies were homogenous. Human anatomy, though, involved a wide range of colored and textured tissues. It was not customary to see quite so many on the wrong side of an individual’s skin.
“Any identification?” J’onn asked.
“None, but do you make anything of this? He had it in one of his jacket pockets.” Whitfield held up a bloody ski mask in one of his rubber gloves. The mask was once white, but retained a distinctive feature. Two arrows pointed outward from where the man’s nose would have gone. One pointed up, the other to the wearer’s lower right. The design marked him as Clock King’s number eight.
J’onn already knew Tockman was in town. A series of armored car and transport robberies, all entirely too well-timed, had taken place in Denver over the past few weeks. J’onn figured this out rather quickly, though, and not a single valuable good in the city was being delivered on time anymore. This simple formula, one he borrowed from Batman, meant Clock King would soon either be caught or move out of town.
“It points to some form of criminal fraternity,” J’onn replied.
“What happened to him?” Kay asked. “This was reported as an animal attack.”
“The officers interviewed a few witnesses, but they only heard the incident. No one saw what happened, but everyone heard the growling and the gunfire.”
Kay eyed the pistol on the ground. “The slide is locked back and there’s no rounds left in the magazine.”
J’onn shifted his vision to look for the spent brass. He spotted four nearby, all thankfully in plain view. The others made a trail down the alleyway that followed the same path as the blood and other remains. “It looks like he made some effort to defend himself.”
“There’s a pair officers tracking the path.”
J’onn knew this. He could see them distantly in his vision. But he felt something else; a life-void that the two would miss as the trail of remains diminished. He stepped down the alley with Kay Powers following on his heels.
“Getting one of your weird feelings again, Johnny?”
She called him that sometimes. He didn’t mind. “There were four brass cartridges at the scene. Would you help me account for the rest?”
She counted aloud as they walked. J’onn discretely used his vision to spot brass that they would have otherwise missed with just visible light as their aid. The blood drops grew smaller as they neared the opposite end of the alley, where the narrow path reached a wider street. They found the two officers exactly where the coroner said they would be.
“Looks like this is where the attack started,” one declared triumphantly. The two taped off the area as J’onn and Kay drew their own conclusions.
“There’s only twelve shots accounted for,” Kay said, “there’s three still missing.”
“Yes. This is where the victim was first injured, but this isn’t where the chase began,” J’onn replied.
“But where? There’s a hundred directions that funnel into this alley.”
They could call for K9 unit. A bloodhound would have no trouble tracking the scent from the gun to the first spent cartridge. J’onn sensed a certain urgency to this crime, though. He shifted his vision and saw the drifting particles of cordite and sulfur in the air. The early morning air kept them from wafting too far from the trail they made between the pistol and the first three shots. He stepped confidently past the tape to his destination.
“Jeez, Jones, wanna fill your partner in on this lead?” Kay rushed to keep up with him, her shorter legs needing to take more steps to follow his longer ones.
“I have this feeling that the first shot had nothing to do with the animal attack at all. If it did, the victim would have used every bullet to defend himself. The first shots, I think, happened somewhere with more privacy, and for an entirely separate purpose.”
It didn’t take enhanced vision to help him reach that conclusion. Less than a hundred paces later, they reached their destination. They found their second body: a homeless man with three bullet wounds and his pockets turned out.
With his shift over and Detective Powers safely back at her own apartment, J’onn returned to his sparse residence to find a new face masking a familiar friend.
“J’onzz,” Red Tornado said with a nod of his human-identity face. His voice betrayed the imperceptible synthesis of his robotic speaker.
“Smith,” J’onn replied. He unlocked the door to his apartment and showed his fellow Leaguer inside. “I’m curious as to why Zatanna would send you in her place on magical business.”
“She can explain the matter better herself. Do you have a video communicator?”
“I do.” The Martian turned the dials of his outdated television to UHF sixty-three, a station that never saw use unless the owner chose to subscribe to cable. He’d modified the appliance to patch into his local League relay on that channel instead.
Once the vertical hold settled, the dark-haired visage of the League mystic, Zatanna, appeared on the screen. “J’onn, I’m glad we’re finally able to talk. Denver keeping you busy at night?”
“Just homicides and a visit from the Clock King. Much as I dislike the violence of human crime, I prefer it to hostile invasion or a temporal crisis.”
She smiled. “As do we all. Listen, J’onn, I’m going to fill you in on Red’s mission in Denver. However, I’m also going to request that you not actively assist him in the matter.”
J’onn rubbed his chin, perplexed. “A curious request, but if it is important to you I’ll respect your wishes.”
“Thank you. About a week ago, a few of my magic sources started seeing indications of a fourteenth century curse seeping its way back into the mortal plane. I conferred with Doctor Fate and Xanadu, and we’ve all come to the same conclusion: the Coen Bag is starting to change hands again.”
“Zatanna tells me that the Coen Bag is hell’s advocate for greed,” Red Tornado added. “I find this difficult to fathom, but that is the nature of all magic to a robot.”
“Please explain,” J’onn said.
“There’s a few different versions to the origin story,” Zatanna continued, “but they all retain similar threads. A mystic living in northern Europe around 1320 AD needed to borrow some money to establish a legitimate, mortal business. He found a wealthy man willing to finance, but shortly after the contract was signed the lender publicly accused his client of witchcraft and seized all his property. Before his capture and eventual death, the mystic channeled his hatred to draw powers from hell into a simple, innocuous object.”
“The Coen Bag.”
“Give that Martian an unlit cigar,” Zatanna replied.
“I have examined what few physical records exist for the Coen Bag,” Red added. “Jason Blood encountered the bag in the sixteenth century, where it took the form of a burlap sack. A Johanna Constantine noted a string of relatively unconnected murders in the eighteenth century, all of which involved a leather suitcase.”
“So the bag takes a common form; one contemporary to the era. What is inside, though?” J’onn asked.
“That’s the problem. Anyone who has ever opened the bag has ended up dead,” Zatanna replied. “That’s why Red Tornado is doing the leg-work for me. I can’t risk opening the bag myself. None of us know what is inside the bag, J’onn. All we know is that everyone who has looked inside is willing to kill for what they see.”