by Dave Barnowski
It was the middle of the month, some two months after April Catrella was made Jim Corrigan’s partner, that they caught their third homicide. In Gotham City, the Homicide squad handled all of the high-profile and multiple homicides not committed by super-villains. It also handled other homicides as they came along, but the unit would soon be swamped by the magnitude of work, given the rather high homicide rate in Gotham City. Therefore, the detectives of the precincts who caught the crime when it was called in were usually assigned the case. In Gotham City, suicides were also initially handled as homicides until ruled differently by a coroner. Such was the case for Corrigan and Catrella.
A tanned, well-muscled body lay face up with its unseeing eyes staring at the night sky — it, for it was now an it. Once it was a he, once it had a name, once it had a life; now it was so much meat. It wore a white tank top to show off its well-groomed dead muscles, denim shorts from which protruded powerful legs, gym socks, and expensive sneakers. In life, it might have been handsome, and it had surely been proud of its physique.
Corrigan and Catrella looked at the dead man, and Corrigan asked for a name. “Louis Marlon,” responded the officer on the scene who led them to the body as it once again became a he. The officer proceeded to tell the detectives that the uniforms were already canvassing the neighborhood to see if anyone heard or saw anything, and that the door to Mr. Marlon’s apartment was being guarded. Crime Scene Unit and the coroner had both been called in, but since they didn’t know if this was a murder or a suicide, and since it was Friday night, it would probably take a while. Jim walked over to the body to examine it, careful not to touch anything that could contaminate the crime scene.
“Murder, murder most foul,” whispered Jim in the Spectre’s voice.
“What did you say, Jim?” asked April.
“He was murdered. Come here, April, and take a look. You can see right away.”
April approached the body. She didn’t want to — this was the one part of police work that still really bothered her — but she didn’t dare let the uniforms know. Jim pointed at the body and told her to look closely. She knew he wanted her to see what he saw for herself. That’s what made him such a good teacher for her; he was hands-on, always showing her how to find clues and what to look for. She looked; a part of her wanted to look away, and he told her that, even after all these years, there was still a part of him that wanted to look away. Then she saw it — a deep bruise on his face, one inch by three inches. There were no other marks on the front of the body, and given the trajectory from his apartment to the ground, he had hit neither a terrace nor anything else.
“You’re right; he was murdered. But you’d think someone as big as him would have put up a struggle before doing a header in his backyard, no?”
Jim just gave her a curious look. “I’ll call it in as a homicide. That will get the coroner and CSU here sooner. In the meantime, one of us has to stay with the body and supervise the uniforms, but the other one can go and check out the apartment. Which one do you want to do first?”
April thought it over for a moment. What she really wanted to do was get away from the dead body. “I’ll stay here,” she said.
When Corrigan reached Marlon’s apartment, the door opened as the superintendent let him in. He made sure not to touch anything, as he wanted the CSU boys to go over the scene with everything they had. He already knew what had happened here. He already knew who the murderer was, but he was a cop, and it was his job to gather evidence for the successful prosecution of the murderer.
The Spectre was screaming in his head, and so he literally went there, to a place outside of time and space where he and the Spectre could have a little tête-à-tête.
“Corrigan!” screamed the Spectre. “Marlon cries out for vengeance. You must give it to him! Let us be off and send his killer to the gates of hell and damnation.”
“Corrigan, you must!”
“Very well, then I shall take command again. Vengeance is mine!”
The Spectre tried to wrest control away from Corrigan; whereas before the Voice had spoken with Corrigan, the Spectre would easily assume control, and Corrigan would fearfully let him, but now his efforts were futile. He then assailed Corrigan with magic, to which Corrigan was immune. The Spectre could not touch Corrigan unless he wished it. So the mighty Spectre was truly powerless before James Corrigan.
“No. Do we have to go through this every time I investigate a homicide?” Corrigan sighed. “I’m in charge now. Listen, Spectre, I’m a cop, and I’m going to do what cops do on this case, or any other case.”
“Jim, please,” sobbed the Spectre as he fell into a huddled mass. He looked up as he wept. “It pains me to see this murderer go unpunished.”
“She’ll be punished, but not by your brand of justice. In the meantime, I suggest you learn the Serenity Prayer, because you’re no longer running the show.”
With that, Corrigan re-entered the earthly plane of reality and began to look for clues.
Detectives Corrigan and Catrella both arrived at the precinct two hours early the next day by mutual agreement, even though they wouldn’t be paid for it, because they knew that the first twenty-four hours of a homicide investigation were the most important. They hoped that the coroner’s report would be on their desks and that the day shift would have followed up on their lead in the investigation, but they caught the case, and it was up to them to follow it through.
After they grabbed a cup of coffee, Catrella began to read the green-flagged coroner’s report, while Corrigan looked over Marlon’s telephone calls. He casually asked Catrella if she knew what the green-flagged coroner’s report meant.
“Oh, yeah,” she exhaled. “We got a meta-human perp.”
“If the lieutenant was here, the case would already be out of our hands. Regulations say Headquarters takes over whenever there is a mask or a meta involved. But it’s the weekend. Weekends and nights are when things don’t always go according to regulations. Are you up for it?”
Catrella thought about it. This was why she moved to Gotham City; she aspired to one day be a detective on the force’s Meta Squad. This could look bad for her if things became ugly; on the other hand, it would be a good experience, and she trusted Jim. “Yeah, let’s do it until we’re pulled off the case.”
Just then, Detectives Kurt Bling and Evan Evans walked in. “That’s exactly what we said,” the Eurasian Bling stated as he went to his desk. The two then proceeded to give them a rundown on the follow-up they had done so far today. Marlon was an amateur weightlifter and a hopeful for this year’s Olympics. No enemies, so far as they could tell. He was something of a ladies’ man, but had no steady girlfriend. “We checked with the doorman; he didn’t see anybody, and the security cameras didn’t show anything, either.”
“CSU found fingerprints other than Marlon, but not on file anywhere,” reported Evans. “Drag mark on the carpet where the perp dragged him from where he died to where he tossed him off the balcony, and a pregnancy test kit with a positive result.” Evans read the following from the coroner’s report: “‘The cause of death was a single blow to the head, just below the left eye. The fatal blow was done by a fist, and so the killer probably has super-strength. The killer was short — five feet, maximum height.’ Based on that, we checked with the JSA to see if the Atom was in town, but they said he’s lost his super-strength.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Atom: Atomic Attraction.]
“Super-strength doesn’t jive with the crime scene,” mused Catrella.
“Yeah, I know. But what else could’ve done a number on that guy’s face in one shot?” asked Bling.
The four of them sat around in silence. Corrigan knew the answer, but he didn’t want to let on unless he had to.
“I think I know,” said Catrella suddenly. “Super-speed. Super-speed, with a force-field to protect the speedster when they interact with non-speeding objects. Otherwise, our speedster would have lost their hand.”
“That’s also why they wouldn’t show up on the security cameras,” interjected Evans.
“Makes sense,” agreed Corrigan. “I guess April and I are going to have to watch the film in slow motion tonight. You two have the lasers signed out?”
By lasers, Corrigan meant the four MKII laser pistols from STAR Labs assigned to the squad for dealing with meta-humans. Protocol stated that they were to either be signed out by the lieutenant or by the two senior detectives present.
After they signed out the lasers, Corrigan and Catrella went to the movies.
While Corrigan and Catrella drove to the scene of the crime to first talk with the doorman, Corrigan wanted to ask him about Marlon’s lady friends. Evans was getting in touch with the Treasury Department to find out where the Whiz Kid was last night, and Bling was contacting Infinity Inc., because none of them knew how tall Jesse Quick was. The other known speedsters, the Flash, Johnny Quick, the Rival, and Bluestreak were all too tall to be the killer. They all admitted that their killer was an unknown speedster, but this was a homicide, and they had to cover all the bases by eliminating the most obvious suspects.
The doorman’s name was Ira Schwartz; he was forty with an average build and a nose that made Jimmy Durante’s look small in comparison. “What’s a’matter with you guys? Don’t you cops talk to one another? I done told that bald cop and his blond chink partner everything I know about Mr. Marlon.”
“You mean Detectives Evans and Bling,” said Catrella.
“Yeah, them. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m busy.”
“I do mind,” said Corrigan in a low angry voice and began to slowly step in closer to Schwartz. “I mind when you use ethnic slurs against good people. I mind when I’m trying to solve a murder, and you act as if taking a few moments out of your not-so-busy schedule and answering a few questions is going to kill you. I mind very much, Mr. Schwartz.” Corrigan and Schwartz were face to face by the time Jim was done talking.
“Well, u-uh, since — since you put it that way, officer. N-no offense meant, honest. Ask away.”
“Were any of the girls that ever went up to Mr. Marlon’s apartment really short?”
“Yeah, there was one. A real cutie.”
“What’s her name?” asked Catrella.
“I don’t know. Some Pollack name. Who can pronounce Pollack names? Let me think. Her first name was Marie, Mary, Maria — something like that.”
They left the doorman and went to the police lab to look at security camera film. Catrella wondered why they just didn’t call for backup and go to Marie Kazinski’s apartment, since her name was on Marlon’s phone records.
“Good question,” he told her when she asked him. But he wanted to gather more evidence when he confronted Kazinski. If they could spot her on the film when it was slowed down, they would have her dead to rights.
Jim began to get anxious about the amount of time the case was taking. His mystical senses told him that the higher-ups in the department were getting word of this case. One simply didn’t call the Justice Society of America or Infinity Inc. and not get a response from a higher authority, even on the weekend. That’s why Corrigan decided that he would cheat a little with the film. He knew exactly when Kazinski went into Marlon’s apartment, and he didn’t have the time to sit and watch the hallway all night. He set the film ahead with a five-minute lead time. As they sat and watched the film, Corrigan and Catrella talked.
“So how’s it feel to be on the trail of your first meta?” Corrigan asked.
“Exciting. This is exactly why I moved to Gotham City in the first place.”
“To chase metas?”
“No. I’m not sure if I can explain it.”
“I come from a big city like Gotham, but we don’t have any super-heroes. The state legislature passed laws way back in the ’40s outlawing them. The only exceptions were the All-Star Squadron during World War II, and then only if the costumed crime-fighter was a duly sworn police officer, too, like the Batman was.”
“How do you deal with metas and super-villains?”
“Harshly. An automatic twenty years’ additional to each sentence if a meta power is used, or if a scientifically advanced device or even a costume is used in a crime.”
Corrigan whistled softly. “That stand up legally?”
“I’m amazed other states haven’t done it, then.”
“Taxes. The cost of keeping all those metas and the like in prison is costing the state a fortune.”
“So why do you like metas?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always been fascinated by them. I majored in them as well as criminology in college.”
“There are college courses in metas now?”
“Not just metas. Meta, mask, mystics, aliens, hero psychology, you name it.”
“All right, miss meta major, tell me something I don’t know about metas.”
“Let’s see, you’re a longtime cop, so there’s a lot you’d know just from experience.” She started rattling off different facts she knew or thought she knew about meta-humans.
“Most metas try to live normal lives. Metas comprise less than one percent of the population, and less than five percent of them become either super-heroes or super-villains. Most metas’ powers are very, very low; as a matter of fact, there is a new theory out by one of the leaders in the field, Simon Epstein, that even the non-powered mystery-men who came out in the ’40s and continue to arrive to this day are, in fact, metas.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“No. Think about it. They face automatic gunfire, often with nothing but their fists. They never pull a hamstring or misjudge a leap. They’re more than merely superbly trained human beings. Look at all the times we know that the fabled Batman was knocked unconscious. If that happens to football players, they get concussions. Not to mention all the times he was shot and stabbed and kept on protecting this city.”
“I don’t know; that theory sounds like the one I heard the other day about birds being descended from dinosaurs.”
“Oh, sure, don’t believe me. Anyway, it’s just the latest theory. It’s like the one that there are some star athletes out there who are metas.”
That perked up Corrigan’s interest. “Who?”
“There’s no real consensus about today’s athletes, with the exception of that basketball player, Jordan Michaels. But everybody — and I do mean everybody — agreed that Babe Ruth was a meta.”
Just then they saw a blur on the film rush by the doorman and enter the front door of Marlon’s building. They freeze-framed the human-shaped blur when it was near the doorman to get a good-size ratio.
“Now we go see Kazinski,” said Corrigan.
While Detectives Corrigan and Catrella were driving across town to see Ms. Kazinski, their superior Lieutenant Peters was receiving a phone call from the deputy chief in charge of the Meta-Human Unit. Deputy Chief O’Malley was not happy when he had to take a phone call from the Atom wanting to know if there was anything he could do to help in the matter of the homicide the police were investigating. Imagine the deputy chief’s embarrassment when he didn’t know what the devil the Atom was talking about. Why, the small man with the giant’s strength, just like the Atom used to have. The deputy chief had to assure the famously short-tempered JSAer that it was a mistake and that the department would handle it without any problems.
Next the department got a call from Sylvester Pemberton. Did Lieutenant Peters know who Sylvester Pemberton was? No. Well, the deputy chief would be happy to tell him. Sylvester Pemberton was the Patriot and the head of Infinity Inc. He wanted to know if Infinity Inc. could be of any help in solving the murder out there in Gotham. No, said the deputy chief, the department could handle the matter on its own.
The deputy chief went on still longer explaining how he went to police headquarters and asked for copies of coroner reports from last night and found only one green-flagged. Would Lieutenant Peters want to guess which precinct that homicide came from? No. The deputy chief didn’t think so. He told Peters to get to the precinct and forward all the information to the Meta-Human Unit personally and get him the names of the detectives who didn’t follow procedure.
Peters was smoking his third cigarette when Deputy Chief O’Malley hung up.