Secret Origins: What Makes Chronos Tick? Chapter 2: It’s a Dirty Job

by Martin Maenza

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I had been committing some small-time crimes in my new role as Chronos the Time Thief, swiping the payrolls of factories using my specially devised time-tools and the like. All the while I maintained a cover by operating a shop that specialized in the sale and repair of timepieces. When business was slow, I could work on my newest gimmicks.

From one of my customers, ironically a man named Ray Palmer, who I would learn many years later was also leading a double life, I had overheard that Ivy Town University was in possession of an atomic clock. I decided that I would add that to my own special collection. That was when I first crossed paths with someone who would plague me for years, the Atom.

As anyone who has read Norm Brawler’s book that came out a few years back, Ivy Town professor Ray Palmer and the Atom were, in fact, one and the same. But I didn’t know that back then. It certainly made a lot of sense looking back on things.

Employing such weaponry as a specialized pocket watch modeled after great-grandfather’s, I tried to cut the mighty mite’s career short with spear-like clock hands and buzz-saw gears. Despite their accuracy, the hero was able to evade the attacks. Luckily, my special time-telling candle which fired red hot balls for fire were enough to buy me the time needed to escape.

Somehow, the Atom managed to trail me back to my shop. I had planned for that eventuality, and managed to capture the hero. The Atom switched back to Palmer, though, and caught me off-guard. Then he switched back to the Atom again without my seeing and captured me. I still can’t believe I fell for that. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Time Trap,” The Atom #3 (October-November, 1962).]

A few months after that, I escaped from prison and joined up with my first criminal organization, the Crime Champions. I suppose the Secret Society sort of follows in the footsteps of that original criminal super-team. Without going into it too much, we went really in over our heads by taking on not only the entire Justice League of America, but also the JLA’s counterpart from a parallel universe, the Justice Society of America. (*) Don’t ask me to go into any more details. The whole “parallel Earths” thing is complicated enough.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-One,” Justice League of America #21 (August, 1963) and “Crisis on Earth-Two,” Justice League of America #22 (September, 1963).]

Anyways, I should’ve learned from that experience back then that it’s better to stay on your own, but here I am, two teams later. Funny how things work out, huh? After that, I only spent about a half-year more in prison until I was able to figure out a plan to escape using the very watches of the prison guards to aid me.

Right after I got out, I learned that the world-famous clockmaker Anton Teljas had a number of his originals for sale at a public auction. Attending in disguise, I managed to get my hands on one of the pieces, only to discover an emerald hidden inside. I surmised that, if one of the clocks contained such a rare stone, the other five might also yield hidden treasure.

So, donning my costume again, I went on a crime spree to acquire the others. As fate would have it, Ray Palmer knew someone who purchased one of the other ones. So, the Atom and I crossed paths once more, and he eventually put me back in prison. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Weapon Watches of the Time-Wise Guy,” The Atom #13 (June-July, 1964).]

I decided that I needed more than just gimmick weapons if was going to succeed in this business. By the next time I was out of jail again, I had devised a device that would paralyze a human’s sense of time for a brief period. This allowed me to commit robberies without my victims seeing me. And, again, the Atom caught on to my scheme and put me back in jail. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Time-Standstill Thefts,” The Atom #28 (December, 1966-January, 1967).]

***

“The tiny titan and I seemed almost fated to clash time and again over the last decade,” David Clinton explained as the two walked back uptown. While he’d told his stories, they had finished dinner and departed the restaurant. “Either alone or when we each worked with other allies, we still encountered one another.”

“Did you actively pursue him, to engage him in hopes of finally defeating him?” Harleen Quinzel asked.

“What?” David blinked. “No, no.” He shook his head firmly. “Nothing like that. I’m not like those nut-jobs in Gotham or the guys like Scudder in Central City. I don’t get my rocks off trying to take out some guy in a costume.”

Harleen watched him carefully as he spoke. Obviously, the man was lying, given the rapid movement of his eyes. It helped, too, that she had pulled up as much details of his criminal career as possible and reviewed it thoroughly earlier in the day. Yes, at first Chronos was in the business just for robberies, but there came a period of time that he did indeed actively try to kill the Atom. He even publicly challenged the hero once to try to stop him. She decided to push a button or two, just to see where it would lead. “I guess someone like a hero who goes around at six inches high like a doll is not much of a challenge, eh?”

David Clinton turned a bit red in the face. “You’re kidding me, right?” he said. “‘Cause if you think he’s so easy to beat because of his size…”

“It would seem that way,” Harleen said.

“The guy’s got brains,” Clinton defended himself. “Real smarts. He figured out a way to shrink himself down as small as subatomic levels. Given those unique powers and an analytical mind, it can be downright difficult to devise a trap he can’t escape.”

“So he’s not so much a pushover as he would appear to be?”

“Darn right!”

Harleen was pleased. She had managed to get the man to open up to her, to tell her a bit more about his past. She couldn’t wait to get home to start transcribing the information for her files. Still, something nagged at her. She needed to know a bit more.

As they walked, she took his hand.

David was pleased by this move. He held her tapered fingers in his large, rough hands.

“So,” she said. “You decided to take up Sam’s offer and headed out here to California for a change of pace?”

“Something like that,” David said. He saw she was smiling at him, almost as if waiting for him to say more. “You know something, Harleen? You’re full of a lot of questions.”

The doctor didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, I know,” she said with a slight giggle. She found that threw men off a bit. “Just my nature, I guess. I like talking to people, asking questions to get to know them, and to listen. I’m a great listener.”

David nodded. “Uh-huh,” he said. “So, maybe I should start asking about you.”

Harleen tilted her head to the side. “Not a lot to say, really,” she said. “Just a Midwest girl who spent more time in the library reading than hanging out with her friends. Besides…” She glanced up at the front of the building. “Looks like we’re home.”

Indeed, they had arrived at the Loman Building, a tall building in downtown San Francisco. While the lower floors were mostly occupied by legitimate businesses, the upper floors with exclusive access served another purpose. Only a small number of people in the city and beyond knew that the upper floors were dubbed the Sinister Citadel, and housed the living quarters and working operations of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

David frowned as they headed toward the elevator. “A shame,” he said. “I was enjoying myself, and didn’t want the evening to end.”

Harleen pulled a little car out from her purse and slid it into the slot on the elevator. This enabled the access to the upper floors. She turned back to the man and leaned in closer as the lift took off. “Who said anything about the evening ending just yet?”

***

A few hours later, the blonde woman slipped out of bed and retrieved her black dress from the floor. In the darkened room, Harleen Quinzel got herself dressed and ran her fingers through her hair to try to straighten it a bit.

As she picked up her purse, she glanced back at rumpled covers and the large lump of a figure underneath them. David Clinton was snoring loudly. She shook her head silently and thought, No stamina at all. Not like I expected it, though. She slipped the strap of the purse over her shoulder, picked up her shoes, and walked toward the door.

She quietly let herself out, turned left, and moved down the empty hallway toward her own quarters on the far end of the wing.

Harleen gasped when the muscular blonde Giganta turned the corner.

Giganta looked at her curiously but did not speak. The woman who had once been an ape was hardly the type to make small talk or to question the doctor’s slightly disheveled appearance.

Harleen just nodded and said, “Have a good night,” before continuing to her quarters.

Once inside, she locked the door behind her, dropped her shoes, and put her purse on the edge of the desk. She glanced at the locked cabinet where she kept her files and moved toward them, but stopped. No, she thought to herself. The notes can wait. I need a shower first.

She stepped into her bathroom, turning on the lights over the mirror. It wasn’t as stocked as her apartment across town, but it would meet her needs. She looked in the mirror and caught sight of her own reflection.

She shook her head.

“Very professional, Harleen,” she said to herself. Then she shrugged her shoulders. “Sometimes it’s a dirty job.” At least she could comfort herself in knowing that there was a payoff at the end of the road. She only had to string the man along until she gathered the information she needed. After that, she would just discard him like she had so many others before.

The End

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