by Martin Maenza
The home of famed San Francisco author Alexander Kingsley often attracted the occasional gawker or curious tourist watching from across the way, wondering what was going on inside the house and whether they might catch a glimpse of the man. Today, the onlookers were especially curious.
That could have been due to the various police cars parked out front and the yellow tape wrapped around the trees in the yard. The latter created a simple barrier to keep people out while an investigation was underway. A pair of uniformed police officers stood at both the front and back entrances to the home.
Inside, a number of crime scene investigators went over the place, looking for clues. “A shame,” said an older detective in a tight-fitting gray suit that matched the temples of his hair. The coroners had just finished placing the body on a stretcher and were carrying it out the living room. “Why someone would go and kill a nice guy like this is beyond me. I mean, really, what could he have done to deserve such a gruesome death?”
“Hate crime?” asked a younger blond detective, his suit much more stylish.
“Hate crime, Baker?” the older man repeated. “Why would you say that?”
“The victim was a well-to-do black man,” Baker said. “I mean, what other enemies could the guy have had?”
“There is the uniqueness of the death,” a third plainclothes detective said as he approached the others. “The hideous smile left on the man’s face is a telltale sign of venom used by the Joker.”
The first two men regarded the newcomer with a curious eye. They had never seen the man before. “Who are you?” asked Cooper. “I haven’t seen you around the scenes before.”
“Name’s Kelly,” the brown-haired newcomer said, and pulled a badge out of his pocket, showing it to the two. “Homicide division. Just transferred in from the East Coast. I picked up the traffic on the radio. Thought I’d come and see if I could be of help.”
“I think we’ve got it covered,” Baker said snidely.
His superior threw the younger man a disapproving look. “We appreciate the help, Kelly,” he said. “So, you think it was the Joker?”
“The facial expression at time of death matches that clown’s M.O.,” Kelly replied flatly. “If the coroners come back with traces of venom in the blood stream, then there is a stronger match.”
“Their initial blood work did say there were traces of a foreign substance,” Cooper said. “They hope to learn more after they get the body to their labs.”
Kelly nodded. “Good. Though, I have to admit, this is a bit far from the Joker’s usual stomping grounds.”
“True,” Cooper admitted. “And what would be the connection to the victim?”
“Was there anything stolen?” Kelly asked.
“Kingsley’s ex-wife was here earlier,” Baker said. “We had her go over the place with us, to see if anything obvious jumped out. One thing she noted was gone was a sculpture from the man’s office. Some kind of tree thing with ornate snake figures to it. She said he got it on a trip to Africa a number of years back, when they were still married.”
“Worth a lot?” Kelly inquired.
“Marginal,” Cooper said. “The man surely had more things here of higher worth. If it were a just a robbery, why wasn’t the place cleaned out?”
“Why, indeed?” Kelly pondered, rubbing his chin.
After a bit more looking around, the plainclothes detective left the house, giving a nod to the uniformed men at the door. He headed down the street and around the corner as if going to his own vehicle. When he was clear of the house and any onlookers, he moved behind the passenger side of one of the cars and crouched down.
Facing the side-view mirror and reaching to his belt, he touched something.
The man suddenly shimmered and vanished. Had anyone witnessed what had just happened, they could have said the man was sucked into the mirror.
Across town, in a well-decorated, wood-paneled office, the detective stepped out from a full-length mirror. As the portal became glass once more, the man smiled. Looking-glass express — the only way to travel, he thought. As he touched his wrist, the appearance of his clothing changed.
He now stood in an orange and green costume, complete with mask. There, he thought. Much better. Mirror Master moved back to his desk and sat down in the high-backed leather chair.
Now for the hard part, thought Sam Scudder. Figuring out whodunit!
Over the next week or so, the reflective rogue had a lot of investigative work to do.
Knocking gently on the door to one of the quarters in the Sinister Citadel, he was about to step away when the door opened, and a raven-haired brunette dressed in civilian clothes stepped out. “Oh, Mirror Master,” the woman said softly. “What can I do for you?”
“Just wanted to stop by and see how the baby was doing, Paula,” he said, glancing toward the door. He could see the room beyond her was dimly lit.
Paula Brooks closed the door softly behind her as they stood out in the hallway. “Hunter’s asleep,” she said, still whispering. “Truth is, I’m glad to have the break. Infants can take so much out of you.”
Mirror Master nodded. “I bet. I didn’t want to keep you. I was just checking in.”
“We’ll be out of your hair soon enough,” the woman said. “I really appreciate the space these last few weeks and all…”
“No problem,” the costumed man said. “Stay as long as you need to.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
She smiled. “If there is anything I can do to repay you…”
“Perhaps someday you can do us a favor as the Huntress,” he said.
Paula’s smile started to fade. “Maybe not,” she said, noticing the man was curious as to her response. “It’s… it’s just… I’ve been doing some thinking. I’m a mother now. I have someone who depends on me. I don’t know if I can risk the chance of ending up in jail. Who would take care of my son?”
Mirror Master nodded. “I understand what you are saying,” he said.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t do you a favor,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be something that Paula Brooks can do.”
The man nodded again. “Perhaps,” he said. “Don’t you worry about it. Now, go rest. You’ll need it when he wakes up again.”
Paula nodded in agreement, reached for the knob, and started back into the room. She watched as Mirror Master turned and headed down the hallway.
Mirror Master stopped in the laboratory, where he found two of the Secret Society members. He paused silently in the doorway and watched Gizmo and the Tattooed Lady conversing and laughing. He smiled slightly. Who would have thought those two would have become such good friends, he thought to himself, especially after the rocky introduction they had almost a year ago?
“And then the midget replies, ‘Not from where I’m standing,'” Gizmo said, finishing his joke.
The dark-haired Greek woman chuckled a bit at the racy joke. “Gizmo, you are so bad,” she scolded him. Then she looked at the bearded dwarf in green and pointed a knowing finger at him. “Tell me, is that true?”
“Oh, c’mon, Lydia,” he said with a smile. “Would I do something like that?”
The Tattooed Lady chuckled again. “Yes! Yes, you would.”
Gizmo winked at her. “Got that right, toots.”
The pair turned to see Mirror Master standing at the door. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” the reflective rogue said.
“Nah, Scudder, not at all,” Gizmo said. “Just takin’ a break from tinkerin’, is all.”
The Tattooed Lady rushed over to Mirror Master and gave him a hug. “Sam, how are you? You have been in your office all day.”
“Just working over some things,” he said. “I’ve got a mission to send the group on soon.” Mirror Master moved over to the table where the dwarf was standing on a wooden stool. “Tell me, have you made any progress on the Joker-toxin formula?”
“We are close,” Lydia said, “but not there yet. There is still something elusive in the mixture. I cannot put my finger on it yet.”
“Really,” Gizmo said. “That Joker — either he’s a genius or totally insane — to have come up with that stuff.”
“A bit of both,” Mirror Master said. “I take it the sample is in a safe place.”
“The safest!” Gizmo said. “Locked away in the armaments vault, like you instructed. It would take a crack thief to get in there.”
Not like we don’t have enough of those around here, Mirror Master thought. “OK, good,” he said aloud. “Keep up the good work, you two.” And with that, he left the lab.
Gizmo turned to the woman whose body was covered with tattoos. “Uh, Lydia,” he said.
“Yes?” replied Lydia Anastasios.
“Can I ask your opinion about something?” the dwarf asked.
“Of course,” the Tattooed Lady replied.
“Well…” And Gizmo began to share something that had been on his mind for a while now.
“I’ve told you before, Sammie,” said an attractive woman with blonde hair tied back in a bun. She wore round wire-framed glasses, a dark skirt with matching jacket, and a crimson blouse. “What is discussed between me and the others during session is confidential.”
Mirror Master knew Dr. Harleen Quinzel fairly well, and vice versa. After all, he had seen her as a patient for a while after he was brought back from the dead, when he was conflicted about a lot of things. She was a great listener, and her advice helped him get over a difficult time, allowing him to refocus and re-prioritize things.
“I know, Harleen,” he said, “but this is kind of important. I have reason to believe that someone here at the Sinister Citadel has been going behind my back.”
The psychiatric doctor suppressed a smile. She knew this place was full of its share of secrets. Why, even she had ones of her own. It was the very opportunity to get inside the workings of the minds of notorious super-criminals that she took up Scudder’s offer in the first place to be available to work with the members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. “So much for honor among thieves, eh?” she joked.
“There’s trust, and then there is trust,” Mirror Master said.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” she said. “You know I’m bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. I think you, above all others, would appreciate that.” As she walked from the desk, she used her leather-heeled foot to slide close the bottom drawer where a bunch of files were kept.
Mirror Master saw the action and noted it. “Yes, I guess so,” he said begrudgingly. “I certainly wouldn’t want you to violate anything.”
Harleen wore a sly grin and approached him. “Yeah, I bet you wouldn’t, eh, puddin’?” she said in a slightly flirty manner.
The man ignored her come-on. “Harleen, we’ve been over this before. I’m with Lydia now. You know that.”
Dr. Quinzel smiled. “Yeah, I know, Sammie,” she said. “I was just yankin’ your chain, is all.”
Mirror Master stepped away. “Go yank someone else’s chain, Doc,” he said. And with that, he left her makeshift office that he had set up for her at the Sinister Citadel.
“You want us to do what?” Chronos asked, dressed in his colorful costume of green, red, white, and black with a yellow cape. The assembled group of super-villains were all sitting around the huge conference room table. Also present were the Tattooed Lady, Gizmo, Copperhead, Power Fist, Throttle, Blindside, Trident, and Giganta.
“Nothing too difficult,” Mirror Master said as he stood at the front of the room. Behind him on the wall of the darkened room was a project of a government facility with high-security fences. “I’d like seven of you to break in and steal a spectral analysis device they have finished developing there.”
“I’ve read about that,” Gizmo said. “Sounds like a beauty.”
“But all of us need to go, boss-man?” asked Power Fist, the muscular African-American male in a blue shirt and yellow pants.
“Each of you has some needed skills,” Mirror Master said, “especially Power Fist and Giganta for their strength, and Copperhead for his stealth.”
“Of courssse,” hissed the criminal in the orange scaly bodysuit with a large serpentine head mask.
“Plus, you’ll need the image-makers,” Mirror Master said.
“Why?” Chronos asked, obviously not thrilled with the plan.
“We don’t want this trailed back to us,” their leader explained. “That is why I’ve programmed the units with some special disguises for this mission. You’ll be going as a group called the Rainbow Seven — each with a dominant color of the rainbow. That way the crime won’t ever get traced by to us. Just be careful not to use too obvious abilities or weapons that could be easily traced back to your normal identities.”
“Sounds stupid,” Chronos muttered softly to himself.
Mirror Master raised an eyebrow. “Did you say something, Clinton?”
“No, no,” the time-thief said.
“Good,” Mirror Master said. “The jet is fueled. You leave in twenty minutes. Meeting adjourned.” With that, he pounded his gavel on the table.