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Detective Daniel McAllister had worked in the Row for years.

Seen a lot of horrible things. Vahzilok butchering people for parts. Skulls blowing off kids’ heads pointblank with shotguns. Circle of Thorns ceremonies leaving folks nothing more than a dessicated husk, dried out like the old skin of a snake or an exoskeleton of a beetle, sloughed off for some newer life form.

But when he saw the butchered body of Janine Harrelson, a regular pick-up in the Garment District for prostitution, drenching the asphalt of the basketball court in blood, he felt his stomach clench. Sergeant Ellis had told him her previous occupation – a would-be hero after the Rikti Invasion, the Hero License voluntarily surrendered. Who knows? Maybe she found out that life as a hero wasn’t as it was cracked up to be, maybe she saw too much? God knew McAllister was familiar with that. He had a lot of friends who couldn’t take the beat in the Row, just burned out with images of horror and slaughter and senseless violence against the bleak tenements and warehouses, forgotten atrocities in a seemingly forgotten land.

He walked around the perimeter of the scene. Her body was sliced open from her pelvis to her throat, her corpse nude and an expression of shock frozen on her face, her eyes bulging out. Her chest cavity was open, as was her abdomen, like a deer being dressed and cleaned by a hunter back in his native Michigan when he was a kid. Lacerations on her forearms and hands, defensive cuts. Edged weapon, maybe a knife, maybe a sword. The cuts were too clean for anything like claws – claws were not clean slicing weapons, natural claws anyway. They tore, not sliced. And this girl was sliced like luncheon meat. No evidence of sexual assault, although he was sure that the coroner would find some evidence of sexual activity, after all, she was a working girl. Her nostrils were caked with dried blood and whitish powder, either crystal meth or cocaine, something the girls liked to keep their weight down.

Around her was a perfect circle, ten feet in diameter, of her blood. The blood was thick, but not enough to pool out, just thick enough to congeal in place. Or perhaps some sort of coagulating was used. Either way, the forensics team would figure it out. They were on their way. Her arms and legs were splayed out deliberately, like in those old Da Vinci pictures you saw on the History Channel. He wished he could remember the name.

Ritual killing.

He shook his head, bringing a battered pack of Winstons out of his jacket. The June heat was oppressive, even at night, but he felt better with the old, thin London Fog trenchcoat covering his shoulder holster and his belt. And the pockets were great for hiding the nervous twitch his hands would sometimes get, an age old reminder of his earlier days on the force, the speed and methamphetamines to keep him alert when the Family ran King’s Row, when the Skulls moved in, and the chalk lines were almost getting to become a kaleidoscope of white and neon colors on the blood stained pavement of his beat. Honestly, if it weren’t for the baleful light of his bathroom shining down over his haggard face when he looked himself in the mirror every afternoon before the 2nd shift, he would be hard pressed to imagine himself not constantly colored by police lights and the arc sodium orange glare coming from the street lamps.

He fished a bent cigarette out of the soft pack, putting it to his lips and took out the old Bic, lighting it up as he mentally surveyed the scene. He shook his head and turned away from the scene as the beat cops were being interviewed by the other members of the King’s Row Homicide squad, kids years his junior. Who, what, where, when, why, how? Who put in the call, all that jazz. He walked past the several cruisers and out onto the street, squinting in the low light of the street. God, he’d love a taco right now.

“Buenos noches, Detective. I see you guys are earning your paycheck tonight.” A Hispanic voice behind him said, the voice coming from above. Those old instincts were still sharp, his hearing still acute after years of gunfights and explosions and screams…

Dan turned around, looking up at the shadowy figure clinging to the street lamp overlooking the street. Deathspider. His new costume, black and grey, melded nicely with the shadows. Bet the Skulls wished it didn’t, he thinks. “Huh. You’re the only Cape who came by. Which is odd, all things considered.”

The hero leapt down to the street, landing nearby with nary a sound. He stood in front of Dan, keeping his distance, which comforted Dan immensely. He had dealings with Deathspider before, last year when the guy was just starting in the City, cracking heads like every other hero, thinking they’d make a difference and ‘Clean Up The Row!” But after the thrill of slumming it in the filth of the Row faded and the reality of the futility of trying to change anything here, they’d move on to Steel Canyon or Skyway City, then they’d get in with their hero friends and the Skulls and Thorns and Vahzilok would creep right back in, and the killings and assaults and rapes would continue. But Deathspider didn’t stray too far. He always came back to the Row.

“How is that, Detective?”

Dan smiled bitterly and drew on the cigarette, exhaling it in the muggy June night. “Girl there used to be a Cape. She was a working girl, yeah, but after the Rikti War, she was in spandex, just like you. Guess she fell through the cracks.”

Deathspider nodded slowly. He knew about the people who didn’t make it – back home, sleeping in their apartment, was Rebecca, who used to be a Cape herself but for some reason she never divulged, she gave it up. “Any reason she gave it up?”

McAllister shook his head. “Who knows? Maybe she just couldn’t hack it anymore, or she got hooked on something, or she just got tired of it. All I know is her handle used to be Star something or other. Blaster. No affiliation with any major super groups, no kids, no family to speak of. I don’t know how she ended up selling herself, but you’d think she would have known better.”

Deathspider glanced back into the alley, the forensics team coming in from the other side into the basket ball court, taping off the area and unloading their equipment. “Well, I won’t give you a sob story, but fighting all the time against zombies, werewolves, psychopaths, and occultists can get to you. I don’t really blame her, hell, I never knew her so I don’t think we can really judge her.”

“Eh, a stupid decision is a stupid decision. Either way, she got gutted and dress like a deer. Someone made a circle around her, maybe some sort of magical thingamabob” Dan made a face, curling his lip before taking another drag. “No writing or note or anything. Reminds me of when the Lurker…” he voice trailed off, cursing his own mouth. He didn’t like remembering the King’s Row Lurker.

“Lurker? You think the Lurker is behind it?”

Dan shook his head. “No. Lurker was a bit more methodical, didn’t go for this mystical ritual stuff. Julio Rodriquez was sorta into the voodoo, blood magic stuff, but he’s in Statesville, Illinois, doing life. Maybe a Thorn would do this, but they drain people, and while Vahzilok carve people up, there’s never this deliberate placing of the body. There’s another thing, too. Made me think Vahz initially, but the Vahz usually take all the healthy organs they can. This guy just took the heart.”

Deathspider grunted and leapt up to the streetlamp again, lightly clinging to it. “You’re right. The Vahz aren’t ritualistic. But I’ll see what I can turn up because they seem like the only ones interested in organ retrieval. Then the Circle of Thorns, see what I can wring out them about anyone performing stuff like this in the Row. I suggest you start beating down the doors of any magicians and wanna-be occultists in the Zone. Maybe someone got ambitious.”

Dan nodded, looking up at the grey and black figure crouching above him. “Yeah. Already got guys out looking. I don’t need word getting out that former Capes are getting whacked, not even the hint of it. Keep it under wraps, man.”

Deathspider looked down, nodding, and sprung away into the night, towards the Gish, leaving Dan alone with his thoughts. The hero had good intentions, but it wouldn’t solve anything. Nothing ever changed, just the names and the serial numbers of the body bags and the case numbers. Just one more corpse for the incinerator.

He threw his cigarette down into the gutter, exhaling the last lungful of smoke. He would have to go back and talk to the forensics team and the coroner, who probably was already trudging down the alley, cranky at getting up at 2 am for a dead hooker. And Dan would have to deal with him and his attitude. His ulcers would start growing again, he was sure of it.

He turned back, walking along the line of cruisers, each step heavy, leadened down with the years and the blood and the constant state of fear that came part and parcel of living and working in the Row.

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