by Martin Maenza
Monday, August 5, 1985, was a very strange and remarkable day. It was on that day that five separate parallel Earths had been merged into one for a period of twenty-four hours, and no one but a handful of super-heroes were even aware that anything had changed. The regular people from five universes had been merged with their counterparts, and people who had never met in the old universes were suddenly longtime friends. The world would be plunged into darkness later on that day when the Anti-Monitor attacked the globe with his shadow demons. But before that happened, life went on as if it had always been this way.
Dark clouds were forming over the Raleigh Inn just on the fringe of Las Vegas, Nevada. And it was more than just the stormy weather that was brewing. The smaller hotel off the main strip was hosting the fourth and final day of the annual Detective Convention, while trouble was brewing inside as well.
“Yaghhhh!” again screamed a white-haired, older black woman dressed in a white uniform.
“What in th’ name o’ Heaven?” Harvey Bullock, a dark-suited, cigar-smoking man helped catch the woman as she fell. “The cleaning dame fainted.” He helped her out to the hallway where the other detectives had gathered after hearing the woman’s screams.
A tall blonde woman in a white suit and a black shirt burst past the others and entered the hotel room. “Take her somewhere safe, Bullock,” instructed Jonni Thunder. She glanced around the room and couldn’t help but notice the disarray. “Hmm. This room was locked from inside when it exploded. There’s no other way in or out.” A cloud of orange smoke billowed from the center of the room. “Obviously someone is lying dead in all that smoke.”
Jonni kneeled down near the wreckage by the unkempt bed, where a man in a green costume lined with yellow strips was lying on the floor in the middle of the smoke, his hand grasping an item. “How was it done? How did the killer escape? And who is the killer?” She rattled off these questions in a matter-of-fact way. Such was the nature of her business — finding answers to those typical queries.
A brown-haired man in a brown suit and blue turtle neck sweater approached her. “Seems t’me, Ms. Thunder,” he said, “this is the beginnin’ of ‘the Murder Game.'” He was referring to one of the activities that the Detective Convention sponsored every year. The convention organizers would set up a mock murder and have the participants search for clues to solve the whodunit. The one who solved the mystery first was rewarded a prize of some value.
Jonni Thunder shook her head. “No, Mr. Double. This isn’t any detective’s game. That’s a real corpse in this smoke.”
“You’re kiddin’?” Jonny Double replied.
“Wish I was, mister,” she replied, taking a handkerchief from her pocket and carefully removing the item that was in the man’s hand. “He was holding this.” She lifted up a triangular-shaped device. “What do you make of it?”
Harvey Bullock pulled the cigar from his mouth. “Hey, I ‘member readin’ ’bout that in the files,” the man with the five o’clock shadow said. “It belongs t’ one of Wonder Woman’s villains.” He looked in closer for a confirmation. “It’s Angle Man’s angle weapon. Then he’s the one that got himself skragged!”
The other detectives let Bullock’s words sink in. The man was a bit rough around the edges and dressed in the rumpled fashion of street detective for the Gotham Police Department, but he seemed pretty knowledgeable about the situation. It came from frequent encounters with the costumed lunatics that terrorized Gotham, such as the Joker, Two-Face, and the Riddler. “We should prob’ly let the local yokels in on this one.”
Bullock brushed his way past the other detectives, including a platinum blonde woman in a pink dress with the name tag Angel O’Day and a good-looking, dark-haired man with graying temples in a red suit and gray shirt with the name tag Christopher Chance.
“I’m with Bullock on this one,” said another man in the hallway. He was kind of short and wore a light brown trench coat. His hair was bushy and his nose long and pointed. “You best leave the evidence alone for the police to handle.” And with that, private eye Michael Mauser headed back to the bar near the lobby.
The remaining three looked at Jonni Thunder, who still held the Angler weapon carefully with her handkerchief. From the looks on their faces, it was obvious each was contemplating the same subject. Jonni broke the silence. “So are you all thinking what I’m thinking?”
Christopher Chance stroked his chin. “I may not have a mystery-sniffing nose like Ralph Dibny,” he said flatly, “but I definitely think there is more to this than meets the eye.”
“I’m with you, Chance,” Jonny Double nodded as he walked over to the dresser area. “Guys like this don’t get snuffed due to faulty equipment. Someone wanted this guy dead and gone.” He noticed a piece of paper that had fallen on the floor and bent down to look at it.
“But who?” asked Jonni Thunder as she put the Angler back where she had found it. “And why? And how?”
Jonny smiled as he stood up. “That will take some investigatin’,” Double replied. He eyed the other three. “And perhaps we might be best off poolin’ our resources.”
“Agreed,” Chance said. “Though I have my own idea on how we might be able to flush out our killer.”
As the group prepared to leave the crime scene, Angel O’Day paused for a moment longer. Jonny Double noticed this and turned to her. “Is somethin’ wrong, Miss O’Day?” he asked.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I was just thinking about my usual partner.” Sam Simeon was half a world away in Gorilla City at the moment. “Kind of wish he was here. He always has a unique way of looking at things.”
Jonny put his arm about Angel’s shoulder to comfort her some. “Don’t you worry about that. Between the four of us, we’re bound to find some interestin’ spins on this case.” He escorted her out of the hotel room.
A few minutes later, Harvey Bullock returned to the scene of the murder with a uniformed police officer. “Here’s where we found th’ body,” he stated plainly. “I can round up the others if you’d like, Officer.” He glanced at the blond woman’s badge and added, “Officer Warner.”
The blue-eyed woman, now in her late thirties but retaining a youthful beauty, shook her head. “No, Mister Bullock, that can wait,” Liza Warner said as she took out a pair of gloves and put them on. “Since we have no witnesses at the time, dealing with the crime scene is top priority. I can get statements from the others afterwards.”
Bullock watched as the woman went to work. Taking out an evidence bag, she carefully picked up the Angler weapon and deposited it inside to preserve any fingerprints. She took in the entire room. “Appears to have been some kind of struggle,” Officer Warner stated.
“You seen stuff like this much?” Bullock asked.
“I was a member of the NYPD for ten years before I transferred out here to Vegas,” she said as she checked the drawers. “During that time, I dealt with my fair share of lunatics, rapists, and armed tough guys. After all that, nothing really surprises me anymore.” She noticed a piece of paper on the floor near the dresser, picked it up, and placed it into another bag.
“Yeah?” said Bullock. “You gotta be one tough lady cop t’ keep goin’ after all that.” He lit up one of his cigars. “So, what brought ya from the Big Apple to the City of Sin?”
Liza Warner looked up from her work. “Believe it or not, a pair of boots,” she said, vividly recalling the day as a young woman starting out on her own, the day her roommates were murdered by someone wearing white western boots with a black skull and crossbones dangling from the laces. The killer targeted women, leaving aces of spades as his calling card. It was the haunting memory of that killer that led her to enroll in the police academy. It was a clue to that never-solved case that lead her to Las Vegas just a few months ago.
“Boots, huh?” Bullock puffed on his cigar. “Guess that’s as good a reason as any.”
Liza straightened up. “This isn’t about me,” she said. “It’s about this man who was murdered in cold blood.” She gathered up the evidence. “Let me get one of my partners to run these things down to the station house and put a call in to the coroners to check the body over. Then we can have a little talk with your friends.”
About fifteen minutes later, Harvey Bullock escorted Officer Warner to the Raleigh Inn’s lounge. There was a good crowd from the convention, all talking about the incident. Bullock frowned as he scanned the crowd. “It don’t look promisin’, miss,” he said. They walked over to the bar where Mike Mauser was polishing off another beer. “Hey, Mauser! You seen Thunder, Double, and the others?”
“They took off a while ago, Bullock,” Mauser replied. “In kind of a hurry, too.”
Bullock cursed. “Damn! Just like them t’ go off on their own.”