Timothy Hunter walked among the pedestrians of Baker Street in London. The bespectacled brown-haired boy of twelve twirled a yo-yo up and down in his right hand as he walked.
A shadow blocked Timothy’s path forward, and he looked up from his yo-yo in time to see a bright flash.
The back of his head came off in a fine spray of pink mist. One of the lenses of his glasses had been shattered into his eye socket by the bullet. The yo-yo hit the ground and bounced as a woman screamed.
His killer vanished into the crowd like a shadow.
Three miles from Baker Street, John Constantine sniffed the air as he lit a cigarette. Something was in the air.
His trademark tan trenchcoat ruffled in the slight wind as he paused in his walk, standing in front of a shop featuring Mad Mod Fashions. The blond man was looking at a pinstriped suit, because its muted green color had caught his eye.
A dark shadow fell upon the glass. Constantine ducked to one side, hearing a sizzling scream in the air calling his name as he leaped clear. The window shattered, spraying the inside of the shop with deadly shrapnel.
Constantine ran, dropping his cigarette on the sidewalk as he went. He ran zigzaggedly, looking for an escape from the killer.
His sharp eyes spotted a car waiting on the curb with the engine running. The driver must have been inside, paying for a small purchase or dropping something off. That didn’t matter to Constantine.
Constantine dived into the waiting car, jerking it into drive and pulling into the passing traffic with numerous horn beeps at his recklessness.
The shadow sighted and fired at the car. The bullet called Constantine’s name as it punched through the car door. The blond mystic jerked from the impact, but kept driving.
The shadow vanished from the street like a fading fog.
Henry Valdemir blinked slightly as the metal skullcap slid back from his head. (*) He was home in the masterpiece of his creation. His one working finger spun his rotating bed/chair to the right. One bottle full of light stood in the first slot on the tray. A second bottle in its slot was just trickling slowly instead of filling up. So he hadn’t killed the blond man outright. No matter; he would die soon, anyway.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Sentinels of Magic: Times Past, 1948: Sacrifices Must Be Made.]
Valdemir rotated back into his launch position, calling a virtual map of Great Britain and Ireland to life. A spot glowed brighter than any other in Ireland. It was just waiting to be snuffed out.
John Constantine pulled his borrowed car over to a curb. He looked down at his chest. Blood sweltered from the hole in his overcoat. He needed help quickly and surely. Reviewing the number of people who would help him, he grimaced at the result.
Still, he did know two people who would do something about the situation. He just didn’t want to involve them for various reasons, the chief one of which was what had happened when he’d last seen them. One was his former love, Zatanna. The other was Baron Winters. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Night Force: The War of Darkness and Light.]
John Constantine wiped the blood from the corner of his lip as he realized he had no choice. As he made a bandage from his shirt sleeve and held it to the hole in his chest, he could already hear Winters gloating — bloating and chortling like a man with too much oxygen in his head. Constantine looked for a phone.
Henry Valdemir lowered the skullcap back on his head. He shifted a cross-hair over the lit spot across the Irish Sea and pressed the roller ball down, locking his position.
He flipped a switch next to the roller ball. A ten-count started on one side of the virtual map. He made sure to keep both eyes as wide open as he could. The world exploded in a burst of light as he sent himself there.
Valdemir looked around as he took stock of his position. He was standing next to a pub facing a courtyard. Small shops were crammed together around the cobbled yard, offering their wares.
Two colorful figures were in battle in the sky above. Valdemir recognized one as the Irish super-hero called Jack O’Lantern. The other, a powerful magician called Dubh Magus, was the possessor of the glow he wanted. He took aim at him.
The magician dropped a cascade of fire on his opponent, knocking him to the street below.
From the ground, Valdemir fired a metallic shell at the floating magician’s exposed face. The shell hit Dubh Magus underneath his jaw in a exploding spray. The corpse crashed to the street out of his sight.
The ornate telephone rang at his elbow as he picked through his Rolodex. He smiled slightly as he picked up the phone.
“Hello,” Baron Winters said. “Constantine. How are you? Oh? That’s too bad.” He hung up the phone. A leopard put its paws on the top of the oak desk and stared at the Baron.
“Three… two… one,” Winters said. The phone rang before he could say zero. “You again? You have to have money to hire me, Constantine. Hold on a minute.” He hung up again.
The big cat grunted at this. “Not my problem, Merlin,” said Winters. The spotted beast rifled the Baron’s index with a swipe of a paw. The two glared at each other for a second. “You win,” the Baron finally said, throwing his hands in the air.
He picked up the phone before it could ring again. “All right, Constantine,” said Winters. “I’ll take the job.”
Winters sorted through his index. He knew two men who were perfect for the job. The problem was that he had used them before, and they were likely to be holding a grudge. He needed some approach that would appeal to the both of them in different ways.
He decided to call the one in Boston first. He would be the easier one to convince. Dialing a number, he waited for an answer. When the call was answered, he said, “I’d like to talk to Mister E, please.” The secretary put him on hold for a moment. Then the chilly voice of the blind investigator came on the line.
“Hello, E,” said Winters, trying to be charming and pleasant. “Something has been brought to my attention, and I felt it was just right for someone of your talents.” Winters listened for a moment. “No, it won’t be like the last time. What do you mean you want to talk to Merlin? Oh, if you insist.”
He held the phone the cat’s ear. The leopard made a mrrowing sound. “Will you take the job?” asked Winters. “Thank you. I knew I could count on you. A ticket to London, England, will be waiting at Logan Airport under the name of Erik Estrada. Good luck.” The Baron hung up the phone.
“Now for Monaghan,” he said, dialing a number in Gotham City. Tommy Monaghan was going to be a harder sale. You could always count on someone like E to try to do the right thing and have a conscience. Not a hitter like Monaghan. He was a gunslinger devoid of sympathy for his fellow man.
“I’d like to speak to Tommy Monaghan,” Winters said. “I’d like to hire him for a job. Ahhh, Tommy. How are you? That’s good. Look, I have a job right up your alley. No, it’s not anything weird or flaky. I’ll triple your usual fee. The client won’t mind paying the overhead. There will be a flight to London from Boston. Tickets will be waiting for you under the name Harvey Oswald. Right. No craziness. I swear on my mother’s grave. Have a good trip.” Winters hung up.
“Good thing I don’t have a mother to swear on,” he said to Merlin, scratching behind the big cat’s ears.
Henry Valdemir shifted his seat. The bottle-full of Irish magician power was full and sparkling.
His three jumps were tiring. He would have to rest and recuperate so that he could continue his quest. Full mobility would soon be his. All he needed were nine more bottles the same size as the first. Then he could manifest his other self as much as he wanted.
He shifted the chair back and rotated it so that he was comfortable. His eyes closed. Faint snores issued forth as the machine took care of him as well as it could.
While Valdemir slept, his enemies acted. First John Constantine found someplace to stay while he looked after his wound. It was a small hotel he had used many times when he was younger. He made his three calls to Winters. He knew the Baron was uncharitable and didn’t like him in any case. He wondered briefly what had changed the man’s mind.
He thought about leaving Zee out of this mess. Finally the pain was so great, he had to take action while the Night Force was still en route. It took four calls before he found her. He explained the situation as tersely as possible. She said she would be there as soon as she could.
Tommy Monaghan made his flight out of Gotham City with seconds to spare. His tools were hidden in his carry-on, and he quietly put the luggage in an overhead compartment before he sat down and buckled up.
The hitman hated to fly. He felt when he was on a plane, the wings would decide to come off for no apparent reason. This is Winters’ way of paying me back for gouging him, he decided as he looked around the crowded passenger section.
He heard different voices as his eyes touched on the other passengers, all but one. Monaghan frowned at the man in the red-lensed sunglasses and white suit a few rows forward. He had never met someone that didn’t at least admit static. The man quietly turned the way a blind man did so that he could face Monaghan’s general direction.
Zatanna arrived at the old hotel minutes after receiving the call. A simple teleport to the JLA Satellite and then back down to a booth in London was all it took. She wondered what John had gotten into this time as she passed through the front door of the hotel. He would have to pick a place from the time years earlier when they’d been a couple. He was like a moth in the flame.
She walked up to their old room and knocked on the door. “Come,” Constantine managed through the door. She opened the door and stepped inside. Constantine sat in front of one of the room’s two windows. A towel was taped to his chest and back. Some blood ran down his visible side.
“What happened, John?” Zatanna said as she stepped forward, frowning.
“Some bloke shot me on the street,” Constantine said. “I was almost clean away, too.”
“Let me take a look,” Zatanna said as she pried his hand away from the towel. She gently tugged at one end of the tape so that she could pull the makeshift bandage back. A livid x-shaped bandage glared at her. Blood seeped from the wound. “That’s pretty nasty, John,” she said.
Zatanna said a backwards spell. Her hand glowed as she placed it on Constantine’s wound. It slowly closed under her touch. “That should do it,” she said, smiling. As soon as she took her hand away, though, the wound burst open again in a spray of blood.
“Maybe not, luv,” said Constantine, grimacing at the renewed pain.
“Someone has to know of a counter-agent,” said Zatanna. “We’ll get you up to the satellite and call around. Jason Blood, Sargon, or someone else may be able to help us.”
“I always wanted to see space,” said Constantine, reaching for his shirt. “Maybe give Swamp Thing a try. He came through splendidly the last time I needed him.”
Tommy Monaghan waited impatiently for the plane to empty before grabbing his bag. He headed for the hatch at the end of a long line. Somehow, the blind man had already left the plane without Monaghan seeing his exit. That was cool with the hitman. The guy had given him the creeps.
Passing through customs easily, Monaghan headed for the front of the airport. He needed to find out who the target was so that he could get started. He was under no illusions that Winters had told him the complete truth.
Zatanna guided John Constantine to the lobby of the hotel. She let him lean on her as they shuffled to the front door. Constantine gave the clerk his room key before they left the building.
Waving down a cab, Zatanna gave the driver an address on the Thames. He looked dubious, but quietly drove the couple across the city without comment.
When they reached their destination, Zatanna paid the fare before taking Constantine into an apparently abandoned building after the cab pulled away. She registered Constantine as a guest. Then they stepped into the plastic teleport booth and were sent to the JLA’s orbital headquarters.
Firestorm was on duty when Zatanna and Constantine arrived at the JLA Satellite. Sparks danced along his fingers in boredom. “Hey, Zee,” he said when he saw the new arrivals. “Back so soon?”
“Could you give us a hand, ‘Storm?” Zatanna said as she helped Constantine out of the booth.
Firestorm jumped to his feet, dispersing the energy rings. He jogged over and lifted the wounded mystic over his shoulder. He was in flight, headed for the med lab a moment later.
The Nuclear Man frowned as he hooked Constantine to the life support under the guidance of his other mind. “What’s going on, Zatanna?” he asked the Mistress of Magic when she came into the room.
“I don’t know yet,” admitted Zatanna.
Zatanna left her charge resting in the sick bay. “I have to get back to San Francisco and look through some of my father’s books, ‘Storm,” Zatanna said. “Could you look through reports from the U.K. for any suspicious shootings? See if you can get the authorities to hold the bodies.”
“Sure thing,” said the Nuclear Man. “How suspicious?”
“Single wounds, definitely magic-users of some type,” she said. “Some type of projectile that cuts the skin as it goes in.”
Henry Valdemir awoke from his sleep. His support system hummed around him. He called for his virtual map. The range had been extended by his recent addition. The continent was within his grasp now. Two blips showed on the map. One was in Paris, while the other was right here in London. Decisions, decisions.
He needed a lot of magical potential to achieve his goal, so he decided to attack the glow in Paris first. Then, when he returned, he would be able to gather the closer one.
He tried to smile at the thought of walking again, but his lips wouldn’t move enough for the gesture. He rolled the cross-hair on top of the city of lights and locked it in place. He placed the skullcap in place and sent his mind to the place. Time to do his bloody work.
Paul LeClerc stood at the scene of a murder. The body had been cleared, and the technicians were gone. Now it was time for him to do what he did best. LeClerc raised his arms, summoning the forces at his command. His colleagues wondered how he always closed his cases so quickly. The answer was simple: magic.
LeClerc gestured to wind back time in the apartment so that he could see the murder taking place and the killer actually present. He didn’t notice the shadow forming behind him, however, until it was too late. He started to turn. A projectile struck him in the side of the face, smashing bone and muscle.