J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter
John Smith, the Red Tornado
and Zatanna Zatara as herself.
Before departing, Red Tornado admitted to J’onn that the search for the Coen Bag could potentially tax the limits of his processing capabilities. The only way to find the bag was to pursue someone who’d looked inside. Unfortunately, that individual would seek to kill anyone who tried to take the bag away. Both the Martian and the android felt confident that their vast difference in power from regular humans would help them in their investigation.
After Red left, J’onn reverted to his natural Martian state. The act relaxed him. The closest human sensation, as far as he could tell, would be slipping into a comfortable, deep bath. He poured himself a glass of grape soda and gathered a tall stack of Chocos before turning his television back to a regular channel. He idly dipped the cookies before taking a bite. The cartoons gradually gave way to the morning news and talk shows.
Three homicides in a single day was not a record for his shift, unfortunately. Two would be resolved quickly enough, but the third troubled him. An animal or animals large enough to tear apart a human were still on the loose, but there wasn’t any sign of their passing other than the attack itself. The creatures managed to follow a bleeding man without leaving a single paw-print in his remains. How?
He and Detective Powers would have to start at the coroner’s office in the evening, once their shift began. While the foreman’s death would be accounted for quite quickly, the Minute Man and the homeless man would require more thorough investigation.
Kay pushed through the double-doors ahead of J’onn. They found their three victims, all neatly processed, on slabs of sterile stainless steel. Instead of Doctor Whitfield, though, they only found his assistant.
“Phil, where the Doc?” Kay asked.
“Haven’t seen him.” Phil Anders was Whitfield’s assistant. Although he held a doctorate himself and was even licensed to practice medicine, he looked too young to be addressed as ‘Doc’. “The day shift didn’t report him returning with the bodies, and he’s not answering his phone. One of the CSUs offered to knock on his door before heading home. But, I’ve completed the autopsies if you want the details.”
“Just the animal victim,” J’onn answered. “We’re not expecting too many surprises from the other two. We’ll take the notes on those with us.”
Phil flipped briskly through his notes.
“They tore him apart even after he was dead?” Kay asked. “What are we thinking; dog, maybe?”
The assistant coroner shook his head. “I’ve sent molds from some of the cleaner breaks in the bone for analysis, but whatever did this hardly had to exert itself doing so. These marks bear the biting force of an alligator.”
J’onn immediately considered checking with Batman on the whereabouts of Killer Croc, but the coroner’s next finding changed his mind.
“There’s something else, though. All of the wounds are bite-related. There aren’t any claw marks, and the victim wasn’t anchored in any way.”
“So multiple creatures bit at him and pulled from opposite directions.” J’onn observed. Phil nodded in affirmation.
“Great,” Kay added, “we’ll just put out an APB for Super-alligator-bear-man.”
The telephone interrupted their exchange. Anders removed one of his gloves before picking up the receiver. “Coroner’s office, this is Anders. Oh, hey. He-he is? Look, I can’t do that. You’ll have to call another precinct. I just… I don’t have the heart to see him that way.”
J’onn immediately felt the radiance of Phil’s despair. The coroner nearly missed replacing the receiver before turning back to the detective. “Doc’s dead.”
Although Doctor Whitfield lived outside of their district, the two were among the last few people to see him alive. They drove to his residence, intending to meet and exchange their knowledge with the detectives who would actually handle the investigation. As they drove, J’onn found himself pondering the matter Red Tornado and Zatanna presented to him that morning.
“Kay, what do you imagine of greed?”
She’d been sipping idly from a health smoothie when he asked and sputtered a piece of kiwi that she’d nearly swallowed too soon. “Wow, the mighty Jones actually wants to know something personal about his partner? I’m flattered.”
“I’m quite serious,” he replied.
“Do you find that your dates tend to end with a handshake? Nevermind. I should take this opportunity to actually talk with you about something for a change. Okay, greed: its frowned upon in most cultures and considered a disdainful sin in many.”
J’onn was quite familiar with some degrees of greed. Martian greed was different from human greed, though. While human greed generally involved desiring more from others, Martian greed meant desiring less. Greedy Martians cut themselves off from the thoughts of others, choosing instead a mono-psychic view of society. Human entertainment and materialism was so persistent, though. His time on Earth and exposure to criminal thieves improved his understanding of the problem. As Kay was suggesting, though, there was something supernatural about greed. The bag Zatanna described drew on it as a dark power to ensnare its victims.
“What does your understanding of the afterlife tell you about the greedy?” he asked.
“Nothing too specific. There’s the Inferno, of course, but that’s more Catholicism than my denomination. It’s certainly a popular source with the media crowd, with all the strange imagery and such.”
J’onn had heard of the book, one in a series of three. The very title of the work repelled his interest. Martian theology told of the fires that would one day destroy their world. The notion that the human hell was somehow similar disturbed him.
“I’ve never read it. Do the greedy burn in the Inferno?”
“Oh, no. There’s actually very little fire in the Inferno.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Well, not for the greedy. The greedy are kinda separated into two groups. You’ve got the miserly hoarders on one side and the spendy show-offs on the other. They fight with big bags of money.”
“That’s almost comical.”
“Well, the series is called the Divine Comedy.” Kay took another sip as they approached Doctor Whitfield’s street. She left her shake in the cup holder and stepped out of the car with her partner.
They found Whitfield’s residence taped off from the public. It was late enough that the neighborhood’s daytime workers could gawk at the police activities. Kay and J’onn flashed their credentials at the perimeter and proceeded inside. They both recognized the investigating detective at the scene inside: Carter.
“Powers, Jones,” he said, “I understand you two were the last ones to see Doc Whitfield this morning. Anything you can share?”
“There’s little to tell,” Kay replied. “His mood seemed normal. We spoke at the attack on Twelfth, he collected the relevant remains and departed from the scene in the coroner’s wagon like he always would.”
J’onn was quite content to let Detective Powers give the statement. Instead, he stepped past to make his own cursory examination of the body. Doctor Whitfield lay on his back, with blood staining the points of entry and exit on his sweater from two bullet wounds. The pooling was odd, though; as if something smeared it downward towards his feet.
“Detective Carter, what do you make of this shape?”
“I’ve looked at that already. Judging by the surrounding damage to the furniture, the scuffs on the floor, and other signs, the current theory is that Whitfield was in a struggle with someone. Whatever the fight was about, it got dragged through Doc’s blood in the aftermath.”
“Could I have a look at his shoulder?” J’onn asked.
Carter, who already had gloves on, knelt down and tugged aside the sweater and shirt that covered Whitfield’s right shoulder. A two-inch wide purple contusion stood out underneath.
“What do you make of that?” Kay asked. “A strap of some kind? It would have to be heavy to leave a bruise.”
“Or the subject of the struggle,” Carter added. “Whoever did this was in a hurry. They didn’t clean up or even bother to pick up their casings. Forty Smith and Wesson. We’ll catch this guy. Badge or no, Doc was one of us.”
“Would you two excuse me,” J’onn declared, “I need to make a quick phone call.”
He stepped to the backyard, out of earshot of any other detectives or officers. Taking his smartphone, he slid away from the normal interface to the League’s secure application and selected Red Tornado’s code. After a few clicks to indicate an encrypted link, the recipient answered.