Victoria had seen more then her fair share of dead bodies. It was part of her job—an occupational hazard, if you will. She had come to face the facts: if you put on a mask, go by the name The Raven, and start fighting crime, you’re going to cross the occasional dead body or two. She had come to accept it, but this… this was something else. This was something straight out of a nightmare. There is murder and then there’s sadistic mutilation. The body on the bed was most definitely the latter.
Kneeling by the bed, she tried to block out the sounds of the dozen or so police officers and forensic scientists collecting clues and snapping pictures of the crime scene. The three room apartment had been turned into a three-ring circus. You could hardly take a step without bumping into someone carrying an evidence bag. Still, she tried to focus her mind and search for clues. It didn’t help that she had taken almost a year off for personal reasons, but even at the height of her crime fighting days to concentrate in this mad house would have been a challenge.
The apartment’s air was thick and stale and filled with the putrid aroma of decaying flesh. It took all she had not to vomit as she swatted at the flies that were swarming what used to be the body of Larry Poole. She had known the victim well enough to not be mourning his demise. He was better known by his alias “Dr. Feelgood.” He was a mid-tier drug dealer who fancied himself the next Pablo Escobar. He was the first super criminal Victoria had taken down as The Raven along with her partner Blue Bird. In that way, the three of them would forever be linked.
Seeing the maggots eating away at Feelgood’s rotting flesh made Victoria sick to her stomach. From the look of things, the corpse had been here at least a week. With every breath she felt like she was going to gag. It was like inhaling death itself. Keep it together, girl. Don’t go tossing your cookies in front of the police detectives. This is part of your job. Just deal with it.
Getting lost in her memories, she reminisced about her old partner Blue Bird. Together hey had double teamed criminals in the places the police wouldn’t dare to tread. She quickly fought back tears and tried to get back to the task at hand. It had been almost a year since Blue Bird (Tony) had been killed and she still wasn’t over it. She sincerely doubted she ever would be. He had been more than her partner in fighting crime. He had been her best friend, her lover, and eventually, he became her husband. They were supposed to hang up their capes one day and ride off into the sunset together. Sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Finding nothing under the bed but a pool of blood, she stood up and carefully examined the body—or what was left of it. Feelgood has been completely gutted. Stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines, even the heard had been removed and carefully laid out on the bed in what looked like some kind of strange ritualistic manner.
My God, Feelgood! What did you do to make someone go all Jack the Ripper on you? Sure, you were a piece of shit in life and you probably had it coming, but this… this is fucking overkill.
“Hey, Raven!” Detective Thomas Murray screamed from the other room. “I’ve got something you might want to see.”
Murray was Raven’s connection to the Stone City police department and one of the few people she trusted enough to reveal her true identity to. In 2008, when Mayor Killings had called her and Blue Bird dangerous vigilantes, Murray was the only one to stand up and publicly defend them. If it wasn’t for him, they probably would have wound up in prison or worse… dead. Of course, this was back in the days before putting on a cape and fighting crime had become all the vogue. Now almost every single major city had at least one super hero and some cities have entire super hero teams based in them. Along with Blue Bird, she had helped pave the way for all the others. She never started this journey to be a ground-breaker. All she had wanted to do was clean up her city but somehow she had been chosen to be the poster-girl for capes everywhere. It was a role she still felt uncomfortable accepting.
Weaving her way through the crowd, Raven entered the living room. “What did you find, detective?” she asked in a solemn tone.
Looking up at the stone-faced detective she marveled at how much he had changed over the past decade. His black hair had steadily turned increasingly white. The lines in his forehead had deepened and his eyes, once so full of life, had started fading to dull and listless. Cleaning up the streets of Stone City takes it toll on everyone, even the best of us. Raven wondered how he had made it this long.
Handing over a photo album, Detective Murray remarked, “Take a look at this.”
Flipping through the pages, Raven noticed something quite disturbing. Someone had taken the time to scratch out the eyes of every picture Dr. Feelgood had been in. “What the hell?!” Raven gasped.
Taking a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, Murray casually took one out and lit up. “Yea, that was pretty much my reaction, too. What do you think it means?”
Biting her bottom lip, Raven pondered the question. “I’m not quite sure. Maybe Feelgood saw something he wasn’t supposed to see. Maybe that’s why someone killed him. Maybe it’s a mob hit.”
Taking a long draw from his cigarette, Murray blew out a cloud of smoke and thumped his ashes in the floor. “I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, anything’s possible, but according to my sources Feelgood has been walking the straight and narrow path since he got out of prison. He hasn’t even so much as gotten a jay-walking ticket in two years. Just seems funny someone would take him out now. If I had to guess I’d say someone from his past came back to even up an old score. None of this makes sense. Something stinks about this whole deal—and I’m not talking about that rotting corpse in the other room either.”
Moving towards the bedroom, the detective propped against the door-frame and slowly shook his head. “When I got the call, I almost couldn’t believe it. I haven’t heard the name Dr. Feelgood since you and Blue Bird brought him down to the precinct. Remember how you had him tied up like a pretzel with his mouth duct-taped shut? That has to be on of the funniest things I’ve ever fucking seen.”
Bowing her head, Raven whispered somberly, “Yea, good times…”
Leaning in close, so none of the other people working the scene could hear, the detective whispered in Raven’s ear, “As shit! I’m sorry, Victoria. I didn’t mean to bring up…”
Cutting him off, Raven blurted out, “It’s okay! But please, can we talk about something else? I didn’t come here to talk about Blue Bird. I came here to do my job.”
Nodding his head, Murray said, “Alright, I understand, but I’m here if you ever need to talk. I have to tell you, though—I was really surprised when I saw you show up for this. I thought you were officially retired.”
“I am. I mean… I was. I felt like I needed a distraction. I needed to come back. Sitting around with nothing but time to think was driving me crazy—and you know what they say about idle hands being the devil’s playthings. I thought getting back to work would be good for me. I think it’s what Tony would have wanted.”
Nodding his head, Murray replied, “It probably will be good for you, but seriously, if you ever need to talk to someone, I’m here.”
Taking the detective by the hand, Raven graciously bowed her head. “Thank you, Thomas. You’re a good friend.”
Suddenly something caught Raven’s eye. Walking over to the bed, she gently forced Dr. Feelgood’s jaw open and her eyes lit up. “Detective! I need an evidence bag! And a pair of tweezers!”
“What have you…”
“Get them!” Raven screamed. “Now!”
Running into the other room, Murray shouted, “I need an evidence bag and a pair of tweezers!” Returning with the said items, the detective handed them over to Raven.
Being extremely cautious, Raven forced Feelgood’s jaw open just enough to slide the tweezers into his mouth. It took three attempts but she finally retrieved what she had seen: a bright blue feather. Dropping the feather into the evidence bag, she stared at her discovery with awe.
“What the fuck was that doing there?” Murray asked. “What does this mean?”
Shaking her head, Raven replied, “I have no fucking clue.”
“Do you think this was a message for you?! One of your oldest enemies killed, a blue feather shoved in his mouth. It’s like someone is calling you out.”
“But how could they know tonight was the night I was putting the mask back on?”
“Maybe the didn’t. Everyone knows you and I are connected. Maybe the perp knew I’d find the evidence and reach out to you. The fact you actually showed up tonight might be inconsequential.”
Sighing heavily, Raven felt confused. “But why would someone want to send me a message?”
“Who knows? But looking back at your career you’ve made more than a few enemies. Or maybe it’s some new hotshot in town trying to make a name off a local legend. Who knows? But let me get all this evidence down to the lab for tests. Maybe they’ll give us some answers. I’ll call you as soon as I hear anything.”
“You do that!” Raven said, walking towards the open window.
“And just where are you going?”
Looking over her shoulder, Raven smiled, “I’m leaving.”
“Well, I can see that, but why go down the fire escape when you can just take the elevator?”
Chuckling softly, Raven smirked. “Old habits die hard. Don’t forget to call me, detective.”
Rolling his eyes, Murray replied, “I won’t.”
Disappearing out the window, Raven was scaling the fire escape like a monkey. With a few gracious flips and leaps she was in the alleyway and headed home. Still, something about that feather bothered her. Who is trying to get her attention? And why does that feather seem so damned familiar?