Tommy Monaghan cleared the airport. Usually he had a clear goal to head for. Not this time. He should have pressed Baron Winters for more details about the target. After all, he knew what the job was. It was a hit on a guy Winters didn’t like. The problem was that Winters knew a lot of weird people he didn’t like. That made a simple job complicated.
As Monaghan walked along, he decided to get a hotel room and check in. Then he would call Winters and get a rundown. Suddenly, stray thoughts of alarm registered on Monaghan’s face. He paused, looking around for the cause. A shadow fell on him.
Monaghan ducked to the right. A projectile ripped a square from his coat and plowed into a bystander, throwing her to the ground. Monaghan threw himself over the hood of a cab as he heard the sound of ripping metal under him.
$#!^!, thought Monaghan as he reached under his coat and pulled one of his Colts from a waist holster. He spun, psychically contacting everyone as they fled the scene, everyone but the shadow. He knew it wasn’t real as soon as he looked at it. He also knew the regular shells in his pistol wouldn’t do a thing to whatever it was. &#!*@*# lying Winters!
Henry Valdemir would have smiled, but he was too deeply immersed in his virtual gunman. He lined up his prey in the built-in crosshair. The shell would slice through the car like a hot knife through butter.
Something pushed into his field of vision. He realized too late it was the barrel of a pistol. He tried to push the revolver away and bring his other hand around to shoot the man in white who was suddenly in front of him. Valdemir’s reactions were too little too late.
The pistol discharged into his mental extension at point-blank range. The flash swept along his optic nerve, disrupting his system control. He jerked back in his chair, the automatic recall signaling for emergency measures with a klaxon.
Valdemir felt several needles poke into him, feeding him a small tranquilizer to calm his heart and breathing.
“What the hell was that?” Monaghan asked.
“The enemy Winters asked us to come to England to deal with,” said the man in white.
“Wait until I see Winters,” said Monaghan.
“Save that for later. The police will want to know what happened.”
“You tell them,” said Monaghan. “I’m getting out of here.”
“Come with me if you want to live,” said the blind stranger. “My name is Mister E, and I have a car waiting for me.”
“OK, I’m in,” said the hitman. “I should have learned my lesson about Winters after that cow thing.”
Firestorm looked at the data he had uncovered. It wasn’t a pretty picture. First, a boy was shot on the street. No ties with magic, but the assailant was some kind of shadow. Then John Constantine’s escape had made minor news. Then Dubh Magus was shot battling Jack O’Lantern over Dublin. A six-hour break ensued. Then a detective in France was shot while examining a crime scene. And a report just came in from Heathrow about a woman getting caught by a stray round. Witnesses stated that a man was the target of a three-dimensional shadow. The shadow was dispersed by a blind man with a revolver.
Firestorm saw the unlikely chain of coincidence before his other half had a chance to say anything. He had just done a favor for Adam Strange and CINEMA, a British meta-human agency. (*) Perhaps the superintendent could hold the bodies for him until Zatanna got back with some answers.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 1, Chapter 5: The Sons of the Wing.]
Tommy Monaghan sat beside the blind Mister E and wanted to wave his hand in front of the man’s sunglasses to see if he was really blind.
“Will you stop that?” the man in white said.
“Stop what?” Monaghan asked, trying to sound innocent.
“Staring at me,” said Mister E, frowning slightly.
“Er… sorry about that,” said Monaghan. “Why are we going to Baker Street?”
“As soon as Winters called, I had my secretary check around for anything strange or seemingly out of the ordinary. The only thing she could find that stood out was that a boy had been killed on that street. That seems to be the start of things.”
“This thing vanishes into thin air. Why would it be still close to Baker Street?” demanded Monaghan.
“I don’t know if it is on Baker Street,” said Mister E. “But that is our only starting point until we have more information, and that’s where we must apply our talents. It’s really elementary.”
Henry Valdemir gasped as his ravaged body slowly returned to what passed as normal. That bullet in the face had been a shock to his system.
He glanced at his map, narrowing it to London. The glow from the airport was heading toward his lair. How could they know where his sanctuary was? He had thought it shielded from detection by every sort, including magic. Apparently, he had been wrong.
It didn’t matter. He would kill both of those meddlers the next time he sent his extension out.
Tommy Monaghan walked along Baker Street. Using the talent for mind-reading he gained after being struck by a beam from space last fall, he listened to the thoughts of the people that he passed, searching for a clue to his target. He didn’t find much, but he did have a clue from all the sifting he had done. He walked along until he stood in front of the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
“Did you find anything?” asked Mister E, stepping from a shadowed alley beside the building.
“I think so,” said Monaghan, fighting a startled reflex to shoot. “A cashier saw the whole thing. From her POV, the shadow thing came out of the ground in front of the boy. It didn’t simply appear as it did at the airport.”
Mister E led the way to the marked crime scene, tapping his cane against the sidewalk as he went. Only a chalked outline remained of the first victim. The blind man tapped the sidewalk around where the chalk had faded slightly. Something felt out of place to him. There was something wrong with the concrete underfoot.
Monaghan stared at the sidewalk beside his companion. “There’s some kind of machine embedded in the ground,” he said. “Crap. They’re up and down the block.”
“Are you sure?” Mister E asked.
“Yes, I am sure,” said the hitman. “Got a picture of the things as soon as you started prodding at the ground.”
“What do they look like?” the investigator asked.
“Flat disks with weird writing along the top. A fat cable hooks them together, and it runs in the sidewalk at least to the corner.”
“Let’s see if there are more of these disks in the next city block.”
The search showed that the disks were hooked into the museum, and they circled the block. The only other place the mechanisms could be found was at the nearest entrance to the subway. Monaghan could see in his head the exact place where the cable tapped into the building’s own electrical wiring. It was surrounded by a foot of concrete. “What do you think is up?” he asked his silent companion.
“I think we have found the lair of the beast,” said Mister E, “but we still have to beard him and finish this if we can.”
Monaghan leaned against a streetlight. His strange ebony eyes wandered over the layout of the museum, sending him a mental picture of the inside. “I think I know where the front door is located,” he said.
Firestorm had been on monitor duty for his tour and part of the Atom’s when Zatanna arrived from ground side. He was in the med-lab sitting in a chair and listening to John Constantine’s snoring.
“How’s he doing?” Zatanna asked.
“Steady decline,” said the nuclear man. “I think the life-support is the only thing keeping him going.”
Zatanna gently pinched Constantine’s cheek. His eyes opened slightly. They were rheumy and bloodshot. “I think I found out what the problem is,” Zatanna said. “I found some notes among my father’s things and called Nadir and Jason Blood. They say it sounds like something called a soul jar. If we could find the jar you are linked to, we can save you.”
“Winters… is… looking… for… it,” said Constantine. “Night Force.”
“Night Force?” asked Firestorm. “What’s a Night Force?”
“A man named Baron Winters asks agents to look into supernatural problems,” said Zatanna. “I have heard that his agents’ survival rate is not high.”
“How does he get away with it?” Firestorm asked.
“Because he operates in the shadows,” said Zatanna. She headed for the teleporter grimly. “Look after him, ‘Storm,” she said before getting in the booth. “I’ll take care of this and get him out of here as fast as I can.”
“Hold on,” the nuclear man said. He handed her a sheaf of papers. “These are all the news reports that I could find. Ken Hanson, the guy in charge of a British government agency, is holding the bodies in England for us. He said he would talk to the Irish authorities and to the Sûreté in Paris. Luckily, Jack O’Lantern was on the scene in Dublin and has some weight as a Global Guardian.”
“Thanks, ‘Storm,” Zatanna said as she stepped into the booth and vanished.
It only took a moment’s work for Tommy Monaghan to bypass the lock and security system for the Sherlock Holmes Museum. All it took was a paperclip and a piece of gum.
The two men entered the building. The hitman took the lead, heading for the secret door he had found with the mental vision he possessed. The door was concealed behind the wall with a V.R. drawn into it by bullets. The lock was hidden in the baseboard. A small effort revealed the concealed elevator behind the wall.
“Ready?” Monaghan asked Mister E as he drew his Colts from underneath his coat.
“Yes,” said the mysterious investigator, pulling his revolver.
The two got into the elevator and pressed the down button. The doors shut with a small exhalation of air.
Henry Valdemir smiled with his lipless mouth. He pressed the stop button for the elevator on his chair. He had them trapped like rats now. He almost laughed in boyish delight.
He glanced at the virtual map, intending to call on his doppelgänger to dispose of his pests. A new glow was suddenly in London, two birds from which to pluck and wring every drop of mystical potential. He would walk sooner than he had thought.
Valdemir used the city map to target the newcomer. He pressed the lock, then sent himself across the miles to the vicinity of his new target. As soon as he was done there, he would return and deal with the two men in the elevator.
Zatanna walked from the empty building that housed the Justice League teleportation booth. She called on the winds to carry her to the source of the problem and took flight.
Halfway between the magician and Baker Street, a shadow took form and substance. It raised its hand. There was a silent explosion, and a lethal projectile raced to meet its target. Zatanna called on a shield to block the deadly bullet. She was caught by surprise as the thing punched through her solid shield and cut across her side in a neat, bloody furrow. Instantly, Zatanna’s shield and flight disappeared.
Tommy Monaghan and Mister E had different ideas on who was going to do nasty stuff to who. The two men climbed through the elevator’s roof access hatch without a word. It was obvious what was supposed to happen next to both of them. Unfortunately for Henry Valdemir, Baron Winters had not sent the usual lambs to handle this particular job.
Monaghan helped Mister E to a tiny shelf built around the inside of the elevator shaft. He pulled out two warheads and screwed them into the barrels of his Colts. He took careful aim and blew out the brakes holding the cab in place. Then he put ten rounds into the cable and cut it in two. He was careful to make sure that the ricochets would reflect down and away from their vantage point. The cab completed its journey with a crash and a shattering wreck.
Zatanna took a moment to gather her wits as she fell to the street far below. Upon impact, she knew she would split open like a rotten pumpkin. And even if she survived, if she couldn’t deal with the owner of the soul jars quickly, she would be in the same wasting condition as John Constantine.
Calling on the magic inside, Zatanna spoke the only spell that would help her end this while she still had enough power and will to accomplish her task. She vanished in a flash of light and momentary flux of energy.
She reappeared in a large, well-lit room. Machinery covered almost all of the floor space. She saw a rack of yellow bottles under a dispenser of some type.
A crash echoed throughout the room in a roar like the sound of thunder, and the sliding doors of an elevator flew open and into the room. Zatanna ducked behind the bottle rack instinctively to avoid being harmed.
Henry Valdemir frowned as he called up his defensive grid. A small intruder alarm sounded from his control chair as he tried not to panic. Small versions of his agent formed in front of his chair/bed. His computer was already running its hunt/kill program. A fire had broken out from the slicing elevator doors. His automatic system was fighting to get it under control.
A man dropped through the open elevator door. He shoulder-rolled when he hit the floor. The small doppelgängers fired at the man, shredding his green coat as he moved behind the protection of a generator.
Valdemir was so intent on his obvious opponent, though, that he missed a man in white stepping out of the shaft. The blind man raised his revolver as the small doppelgängers tried to reorient their targeting on the unexpected threat. A single gunshot sounded, and the silver bullet smashed into the chair/bed, causing a shower of sparks and the destruction of the shadow agents as Valdemir’s controls crashed. The old man screamed, hitting some type of release on his panel.
Zatanna recognized the man in white as Mister E. She immediately knew the basic trap the two had used to get by the shadow creator’s defenses.
The center of the round structure in the room dropped through the floor. The yellow bottles started to roll toward a chute to be sucked away and used later in another machine. The JLA’s magician called on the last of her powers.
The soul jars split open, releasing a mixed cloud of particles that instantly tried to return to their previous owners. The wound in the mistress of magic’s side slowly closed as her strength returned. She knew the other victims would be receiving their stolen lives back, and she smiled to match the grin on Tommy Monaghan’s face and the slight uplifting of the corners of Mister E’s mouth.