J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter
John Smith, the Red Tornado
and Zatanna Zatara as herself.
Red Tornado stayed in the clouds, out of sight. He diverted the majority of his processing power to interfacing with Denver’s many wirelessly accessible cameras. He cataloged the comings and goings of baggage carrying individuals, but had very little to go on with regards to who they were or what form the Coen Bag may have taken. His facial recognition routines would only come in handy if he could catch someone in the act of killing or being killed for the bag.
His League frequency chirped and the android opened the line. “This is Smith.”
“This is Jones. I have a possible lead. Doctor Whitfield, our coroner, was killed earlier today in an altercation in his home over something strapped to his shoulder.”
“The potential connection is tentative, at best. Your Doctor Whitfield would have had to look in the bag, and allowed another individual to see inside as well.”
“Yes,” the Martian replied, “but Whitfield has had contact with only a limited number of individuals over the past day. I can list six, and exclude myself and Detective Powers immediately. The other four were officers securing a crime scene from this morning.”
“Provide their identities.”
J’onzz read off a list of names. Tornado immediately accessed DPD records on all four. He compared their official info to the vast backlog of data found through Denver’s wireless networks. Schmidt and Elliot had already shown up for work and had made regular checks with their dispatcher. One had passed a bank camera in his patrol car while the other was grabbing fast food at a drive-through with his partner. Penske was taking a personal day; Red spotted him through the camera built into his wife’s smartphone.
Franks hadn’t shown up for work at all, though. Dispatcher records showed that his partner had knocked on his door earlier in the afternoon, but no one answered. Red Tornado began looking for his car instead and spotted it on a traffic cam. He had no way to confirm if the man had the Coen Bag or not, though.
“Franks is headed east out of town on I-70. He is the only one of the four who has not accounted for his location with his employer.”
“We need a way to slow him down. Can you show delay information on the Co-DOT traffic displays?” J’onn suggested.
“I can, but unless the surrounding traffic is willing to believe in the delays, he won’t be deterred. I can estimate that he will need to stop for fuel within the next twenty minutes, though,” Red replied.
“Delay the pumps and put a hold on his credit cards if you can. That should slow him down. Red, Franks is armed. He can’t hurt you, but he may decide to take a hostage if he thinks superpowers are going to try and bring him in.”
“Understood. I’ll see if I can get him off the road somewhere more secluded.”
Red Tornado closed the line and took off east, leaving a swirl of turbulent air behind him.
“There you are. What was that all about?” Kay asked.
“Just checking a lead with an analyst.”
“Funny, Carter and I were doing the exact same thing. Turns out the only person at this morning’s crime scene to go unaccounted for is Officer Franks.”
J’onn mentally cursed himself. Kay Powers may not be a League member, but she was still a capable detective in her own right. She was still missing some of the information that Red Tornado possessed, but she still came to the same conclusion about the first suspect. As a fleeing witness, Franks inferred deep levels of guilt.
“What do you suggest we do?” J’onn asked.
“We flag him as a person of interest. I was planning to contact his bank, but I’ve already put out an alert for his car. Co-DOT cameras spotted his Mustang headed west on I-70. The dispatcher was a little weirded out. As soon as I told her the plates, the cameras started slewing and zooming like they had a mind of their own.”
This was worse. If Franks had the Coen Bag and anyone confronted him about it, he’d kill them under the assumption they were trying to steal from him. If Red Tornado were the only one tailing him, it wouldn’t be such a problem. If any traffic officer pulled him over first, though, the death toll would rise all too soon.
“Let’s go, John. Doc’s family deserves answers.”
J’onn no longer had any choice. There wasn’t a single excuse he could give that wouldn’t amplify Kay’s suspicions about his identity. He wanted to turn invisible and fly off, or phase into the ground, or shape-shift into a pedestrian when her back was turned. If he did that, though, he risked having Kay run off on her own. It would ruin his reputation with his fellow detectives. And what if Franks didn’t have the Coen Bag? If he left, only to have Kay pursue a better lead, she could wind up dead. Worse, she could end up as the next possessor of the bag.
“Very well,” he agreed.
Kay took the nearest on-ramp. She deftly slid between other cars as their marked vehicle headed west to intercept officer Franks. J’onn didn’t want to be there, either alone or with her along. He was doing the one thing that he promised Zatanna he wouldn’t do.
He spotted a pair of traffic patrol cars and an ambulance at an abandoned fueling station just past the nearest off-ramp. J’onn reached out with his mind and could feel the ambient violence that soaked into the surrounding matter. No one was dead, thankfully. He wanted to call Red Tornado and check in. If only Zatanna had sent an organic agent, he could project his inquiry telepathically. But she needed someone who wouldn’t be influenced by the Coen Bag’s seductive power.
“All units,” the radio chirped, “suspect white mustang last seen exiting 262, headed south.”
“Just four more miles,” Kay said.
For J’onn, that only confirmed that Franks participated in the shooting. He’d been delayed and willingly pulled over rather than risk having even more opposition on his tail. By now, others would be converging as well. J’onn looked at his cell phone. He could send Red Tornado a short text, but the only electronic options now would be to jam the local emergency frequencies. That would leave a lot of dispatchers unable to contact other emergency services. Red Tornado had other powers, though; ones they could exploit without putting too many people at risk. J’onn started tapping at his keys.
Police are alerted to Franks. Obfuscate.
“Hellova time for social media, Johnny,” Kay said. She gave him a quick eye as she took exit 262 and barreled down to the intersection. “Whoa, what do you make of all this?”
The fog was a tad conspicuous for the time of day, but it did the job. Kay fired up their lights and made a hard left under the freeway. J’onn had to admire her driving skill. For all the reduced visibility, she still managed to avoid all the curbs and other cars at the complex intersection.
“Keep an eye out for his car,” Kay said.
“I will,” J’onn lied. Of course, if he was the first one to see it he would let it slip right by. Red Tornado could then act without interference.
To his chagrin, though, the white Mustang popped up on Kay’s side. In his panic-stricken greed, Franks had left his fog lights on after abandoning his car to hide on foot. Kay stopped a safe distance away and drew her service weapon. J’onn did the same, but with his array of powers he never felt much need to use it. He even ensured the pistol was chambered with a dum-dum so it couldn’t be fired in his immediate presence.
He took up the mic. “Dispatch, three-niner, have suspect vehicle in sight approximately six miles south of exit 262. Awaiting backup.”
“Dispatch copies,” the speaker replied, “backup is ten mike out.”
Using her door for cover, Kay called out to their suspect. “Franks! Franks! Are you out there? We need to talk about Doc, Franks. Come out and talk.”
The white Mustang remained silent. J’onn reached out with his mind, but didn’t find Franks in the immediate vicinity. He wasn’t far, though, but his thoughts were obscured by a lingering psychoactive presence. Both detectives stepped out and proceeded cautiously to the car. Unsurprisingly, Franks wasn’t inside. J’onn found something on the passenger seat that confirmed their fears.
“Blood,” he declared, “possibly the doctor’s.”
Kay nodded. “Transfer from whatever they were fighting over.”
“Kay, what is this place?”
“Hope your tetanus shots are up to date, Johnny. This is an auto salvage yard.”
J’onn suddenly understood why it was so hard to get a fix on Franks. Humans subconsciously embedded their thoughts and feelings into their possessions; particularly possessions that drove their passions. Here, all the impatience, joy, and road rage of thousands of drives were stacked in walls and columns. A human would spend years of their life in a car. They ate in their cars and sometimes slept in their cars. They cried while listening to sad songs and felt enormous joy at a lucky string of favorite tunes on the radio. They felt the panic and exhilaration of a close call in traffic. There were people who fell in love with their cars.
There were also people who died in their cars. Here among cars that would simply no longer operate safely were a small number of panic-stricken death-traps. Their presence projected the last thoughts of their occupants more than any other.
A familiar and gentle whirl of wind brought him back to the present. J’onn looked up and saw a faint funnel cloud in the fog; a sign of Red Tornado’s passage. He only needed to delay Kay for just a little bit longer.
“We should wait for backup.”
“You’re right,” Kay said. “We’ve got his vehicle secured. He can only get away on foot now. God, these must be his prints.”
J’onn moved to her side. Sure enough, Franks’ size-twelves left an obvious trail in the loose sand headed away from the Mustang for anyone to follow. As he looked out at the prints, the wind began to shift and swirl. The two detectives looked up and watched as a red-clad android descended on a closely controlled cyclone of air. He held a limp body in his left arm as he descended before them.
“I’ve heard of this one,” Kay said. She beamed with interest. “You’re Red Tornado.”
“You are correct, detective. I believe your department has an alert out on this individual. No harm has come to him, though I wish he had surrendered a bit more peacefully.” Red gently fingered a spot on his plating where a bullet chipped his paint.
“Thank you,” J’onn said. He put Franks in handcuffs as a formality. “Tell me, did you spot any evidence he might have brought into the yard?”
“Negative. But let me help secure this individual into your custody.”
“Sure,” Kay replied. “Would you mind if I..?” She held out her fingertips for emphasis.
“Touch me? If you wish. I generate no unsafe eminations.”
She put her fingers against his chest. “There’s something humming inside there. It’s not at all what I expected.” She took out her smart-phone and snapped a picture for emphasis, being sure to keep Franks out of the frame.
While Kay fiddled with her internet connection to post, J’onn joined Red to secure the suspect in their vehicle. He took up the radio once again. “Dispatch, three-niner, suspect secure.”
“Dispatch copies, alerting CSU.”
“Based on the timing of your last radio call, backup officers will arrive to help secure the scene in less than six minutes.”
“I know,” J’onn replied. “We need to find the Coen Bag before they arrive. It may be hard to convict Franks without the evidence of his motive, but better that than anyone else open the bag and start the cycle over again.”
“Agreed. I can perform the necessary search. Will you be able to distract your partner?”
“Not easily. Her innate curiosity is troublesome.” Thinking of her, J’onn turned to check on his partner. She was no longer with the Mustang, though. Immediately, the worst possible scenario flashed in his mind. “Moons of Mars, no!”
Not caring who saw, the Manhunter drew himself off the ground and rushed forward in a burst of telekinetic force. He destroyed every one of Franks’ footprints with the gale of his wake as he snaked along the path. Turning the last corner, he spotted Kay Powers just as she let loose the first link in the Coen Bag’s zipper. He reached out, using the ancient Martian meditations to extend his reach to her. He was already too late, though.
Kay broke the seal and looked inside. His fingertips touched her mind and phased into her skull. There was a chance, however remote, that he could intercept the sight of the contents before it traveled the path of her optic nerve to her visual cortex. The contents of the bag were not a projection of light, though. They were a projection of hateful magic. He saw what her eyes saw: an empty bag. It was not her eyes that drew her to the contents. The sharp pang of her Id combined with the bag’s evil showed her what she wanted to see.
To J’onn’s surprise, she did not see money or valuables inside. She saw faces. None were familiar to J’onn and as he felt her mind he realized that none were familiar to Kay either. They were simply the smiling faces of people she’d never met. He reached back in her memories and found instance after instance when one individual or another turned away at her overtures of friendship. So many had ignored her voice; even family. He saw memories of her parents and siblings as though they stood behind stained glass. She spoke and others interrupted or simply ignored what she had to say. The faces in the bag were not like that: they would listen to her no matter what.
Kay Powers would kill for a friend like that. J’onn stood behind her. He did away with his disguise, but his fingers remained embedded in her mind.
“What does it take to make an alien?” She spoke the words out loud and he spoke them with her. “Is it the tissue of their making? Is it the strange differences in their ways? Is it the world they come from? We know it is none of these things. All it takes to make an alien is for others to say you are not one of us.”
He released her mind. She rewarded his confidence by closing and dropping the bag. Kay turned and looked at him. He was tall, imposing, and so very green.
“Somehow,” she said, “this makes you less strange.”