Felicity Smoak knelt next to the body in the alley and raised her eyebrows. Anyone who claimed the modern world discouraged creativity, she decided, had never been a homicide detective. Death might be the great equalizer and all humankind destined to return to dust, but the process of dying - well, the process of murder, anyway - was like snowflakes. No two were the same. Man appeared to have infinite imagination when it came to taking the life of his fellow man.
This morning was a perfect example. The woman lay on her back with her arms spread over the pavement in a decent imitation of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. She was an elegant girl, fine-boned and slender, dressed in a long black sheath that Felicity eyeballed as costing more than three months of her salary. A diamond pendant adorned the victim's neck, matching the diamond tear-drops in her earlobes, and a small beaded purse lay nearby. Her long dark hair was thick and glossy and her doe eyes, staring vacantly at the sky, were chocolate brown.
And sticking out of her chest, precisely where Felicity knew her heart to be, was an arrow.
"That's a new one," she murmured. She stared at the feathered end of the shaft before glancing up at the nearest uniformed cop. "Wanna bet on the cause of death?"
The uniform grinned, but reluctantly, as if he didn't want to admit that she'd said something amusing.
"Seriously," she continued, pressing the point. "An arrow? Why not a battle axe or a spear, or some other medieval weapon?"
The uniform shrugged. "Guns are banned," he replied shortly.
She heard disapproval in his voice and was tempted to remind him that killings had dropped meaningfully after the ban on firearms had been instituted three decades ago. She'd seen the data at the police academy, and Felicity was a big believer in data. Then her own, half-awake yawn reminded her that five-thirty in the morning was too early for a debate on gun control.
Instead, she opened her messenger bag, pulled out the thermal scanner, and ran it over the woman's upper torso. "The ME will confirm," she said into her police recorder, "but I'm looking at the time of death being shortly after midnight. Twelve-oh-eight, to be precise." Resting her gloved hand on the woman's shoulder, she added softly, "Now what on earth brought a fancy girl like you to the Glades so late?"
There was no answer. But then, it was Felicity's job to find the answers.
She rose to her feet and surveyed the crime scene, filing impressions in her memory even though the uniforms were recording everything on video. There was nothing unusual about the alley other than the incongruity of finding a dead woman in an evening dress lying in it. It wasn't a hangout for the Glades homeless population; there were no sleeping bags or cardboard box shelters. Just dumpsters, with their sour smell of organic refuse, and the rats, no doubt, that were doing their best to feast before the trucks came to empty them.
She wrinkled her nose. Rats made poor witnesses.
"Anyone look in the dumpsters?" she asked.
The uniform grimaced. "We looked," he replied defensively. "We didn't sift through all the shit."
She nodded. She couldn't blame them for not wanting to wade in waist-high garbage. "No sign of a bow or, what do they call that thing for holding arrows? A quiver?"
"How about clothing? A hat or gloves, maybe?"
"Didn't see any." His tone had passed defensive and now bordered on surly.
Felicity nodded again, ignoring the man's less-than-helpful attitude. She received this reaction from older (and typically male) colleagues relatively often and had become accustomed to it, even if she didn't like it. They resented her because she'd made detective after less than two years in uniform, leveraging her college degree and passing the exam with ease. Their pride told them that it couldn't be because she was good, so they imagined a list of other reasons for her success that Felicity knew ranged from influential relative to supplying sexual favors to her superiors.
Some days she tried to put them in her place. She might not have their size or skill in hand-to-hand, but she was damn sure she could outthink any of them. Other days it wasn't worth the energy and she let it slide. Today she was leaning toward letting it slide because it was early, and because she thought it unlikely that the murderer had actually left any physical evidence in the dumpsters.
Turning her attention back to the victim, she noted that the pool of blood beneath the woman was small. Felicity wondered if that was because the victim's heart had stopped pumping the instant the arrow had pierced it. If so, then the brunette's death had been mercifully quick.
The uniform made an impatient noise in his throat, as if trying to hurry Felicity along. From the creases at the corners of his eyes and the softness at his middle, she guessed him to have at least thirty years on her, maybe more. Old enough to be her father, certainly. Old enough to have seen his fair share of murder scenes and know that they take time to process.
Suddenly, she didn't feel like letting things slide anymore. Pop-quiz time, she thought.
"What's the first thing that strikes you about this murder, Officer?"
The man frowned, caught on his heels by her question. From his expression, she could guess his thoughts. It's not my job to figure this out, honey. Uniformed cops secure and record the crime scene. They locate witnesses and perform searches. They don't try to make the clues add up. That's the overpaid detective's job. That's your fucking job.
Of course, the uniform had just enough intelligence not to say that. Instead, he gave her a carefully-crafted, blank look. "You mean other than the arrow?"
Felicity smiled, although there was a hint of impatience in her eyes. "Yes, Officer, other than the arrow."
He shrugged. "Dunno."
She pressed her lips together. Definitely no help from this one. There was a reason why he was in uniform after thirty years on the force.
A second uniform stepped in, younger than the first and clearly more motivated. "She's still wearing her jewelry," he offered. "No one's taken anything."
Felicity's smile returned. "Ah, thank you, Officer-".
"Malone. Billy Malone."
She studied him. Malone was about five-ten, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a short, neatly trimmed beard. She guessed him to be around thirty, a world away from his colleague in both age and attitude.
She nodded. "Exactly, Malone. We're in an alley in the Glades. It's..." she glanced at her watch, "not quite six in the morning, which means she's been lying here for almost six hours. And no one has relieved her of three relatively large diamonds or her purse. All in a section of Star City where people would kill your grandmother for a pack of chewing gum."
Malone grinned and ignored the sour look from the older uniform that suggested he was a kiss-ass. He knew Felicity Smoak to be a rising star in the Star City Police Department; the youngest cop ever to make detective and rumored to be a favorite of the commander. If he could impress her even a little - well, it couldn't hurt his career. And the fact that she was single and easy on the eyes, that didn't hurt either.
In fact, he thought she looked pretty damn fine this morning, despite the early hour. Her blond hair was pulled back in a careless ponytail and her ass filled a pair of pants nicely. Her reaction to his older colleague suggested that she had a sense of humor, because the guy was being kind of an asshole and she was letting it ride. She could have called the guy out for insubordination.
"Now why do you suppose that is?" the detective continued, speaking as much to herself as to the uniforms on either side of her. "Why has no one taken the jewelry?"
Malone decided to go for two. "Maybe they recognized her - or, at least, the way she died."
Something in his voice made Felicity turn and stare at him. "Do you recognize her Malone?"
"Yeah. Don't you?"
Felicity returned her gaze to the woman. "No. Should I?"
"It's Isabel Rochev."
Isabel Rochev. Felicity mulled it over and found that the name meant nothing. She lifted her hands. "Who, exactly, is Isabel Rochev?"
Malone looked surprised. "She's the prima ballerina for the Star City Ballet. She came over from Russia five or six years ago and performed with a couple of dance troupes before she settled here. She's pretty famous," he added, when no flicker of recognition crossed the detective's face. "You know, magazine covers, talk shows, stuff like that. She even danced at the White House for Christmas once."
Taking another look at the corpse, Felicity had to admit that ballerina fit. The woman's arms and legs were slender to the point of seeming delicate, but they also held small, well-defined muscles. Felicity could see that she had been some kind of athlete. Kneeling next to her, she touched the woman's fingertips to her scanner. The portable computer confirmed her as Isabel Rochev. Malone knew his ballerinas.
"You a big fan of the ballet?" she asked him.
The older uniform laughed. Real men, the laugh implied, like football.
Malone blushed. "My mother and sisters like the ballet. I take them sometimes."
"That's nice of you."
Suspicious, Malone searched the detective's face for mockery. He didn't find it. In contrast to his fellow uniform, Felicity Smoak appeared earnest and genuinely interested.
In fact, gazing at her now, he found it difficult to believe she was the kick-ass investigator she was reputed to be. To begin with, the youngest cop ever to make detective really did appear young. Anyone meeting her, with her ponytail and soft, clear skin, would guess her to be in college. She had a fresh, vulnerable look, a world away from the harder, more cynical expressions of most detectives. Malone decided it was because she didn't glop all that stuff on her face that most women, including his sisters, used - the lip color and cheek color and eyeshadow. He liked the natural look. The detective had a fair complexion, blue eyes that leaned toward violet, and a lovely, generous mouth. She didn't need to paint over that.
Still, he was astonished to see that she wore glasses. Glasses, for Chrissake. That was a throwback to his grandmother's era. In 2062, people were going to the doctor to change their eye color. Correcting vision was a given. But Smoak unabashedly wore the brown plastic frames as if they were part of her clothing. He wondered if she had a medical condition that precluded vision adjustments. She certainly looked healthy enough.
Those glasses were in her hand now as she knelt once more by the body to examine the shaft of the arrow. After a moment, she shifted her attention to the woman's hands, turning them carefully at the wrists to study the palms. There was not a mark on them; no scrapes, not even a few grains of dirt stuck to the flesh. The nails, beautifully sculpted and painted a vibrant red, were pristine.
"No defensive wounds," she stated. "And she didn't put her hands down to break her fall. She was caught unaware - probably shot from a distance." She studied the buildings on either side of the alley and then returned to the precise placement of the arrow. "Either the shooter got lucky or he's damned good with a bow." She got to her feet and slid the glasses back onto her face. "Well, this one should be easy," she deadpanned. "We're looking for Robinhood."
Malone chuckled but the older uniform did not.
Then Felicity recalled the comments from the younger officer. "I didn't give you a chance to finish what you were saying," she remarked, turning to Malone. "Why would the good citizens of the Glades be reluctant to steal from a ballerina? What's so special about Ms. Rochev?"
Malone looked down, less eager now to voice his theory. He was crossing the line from fact into urban legend and he wasn't sure how the detective would respond. He hated to sound stupid in front of her. When she continued to gaze at him, he shrugged. "It's not so much who she is as the way she died," he explained. "It's the arrow in her heart. It reminds me of the old stories about the Star City Archer."
To his relief, Smoak didn't laugh. "The Star City Archer," she repeated. "I must have missed that one. Tell me about it."
The older uniform snorted and Malone felt his cheeks grow warm. "It's a legend my grandma used to tell me," he replied. "I think a lot of us heard it when we were kids."
"I didn't," Felicity Smoak stated, ignoring the older officer. "So, why don't you tell it to me."
Malone shrugged again. "Gran said that not long after the '96 earthquake, Star City fell into chaos. A lot of the infrastructure had been destroyed, including most of the telecommunications equipment. It was hard to call the cops, and even when you could get through to the SCPD, there weren't enough officers to keep things in order. Gangs sprang up and fought each other for control of the city. They did the usual stuff - shook down store owners for protection money, stole medicines intended for the hospitals, launched a bunch of black markets. There was a lot of cash at stake so they weren't shy about killing anyone who got in their way. People were afraid." He paused. "And that's when the Archer appeared."
He looked at the detective. Felicity Smoak still wasn't laughing. "And?" she prompted.
"And the Archer took out the gangs, one by one. No one saw him do it, but the bodies of gang members started showing up with arrows in their hearts. In the beginning, the citizens were frightened. They wondered if it was just a new gang, worse than the old ones. But over time, when he never attacked a regular citizen or tried to extort money, they began to trust him. People assumed anyone killed with an arrow had been a threat. Even the police left him alone."
Felicity frowned. "Was he ever identified?"
Malone shook his head. "He was always just the Archer." He flushed. "My gran told me people used to say he was a spirit that materialized only when a citizen was in trouble because he was never caught on video. And because the citizens were grateful, no one tried very hard to find out who he was or interfere with what he was doing. They were afraid that if they did, he would stop and the city would return to chaos."
She was silent, her expression unreadable. The older uniform was regarding Malone with a sardonic grin.
"It's just a legend," Malone added sheepishly. "I probably shouldn't have said anything."
The detective pursed her lips. "No - I'm glad you did. Even if it's just a story, the arrow in Isabel's heart could be a symbol or a message. Maybe the killer believes he's punishing her for something evil or immoral, the same way the Archer did. We figure out what that is, we figure out the killer's identity." She glanced once more at the body. "People act on all kinds of beliefs, even if they have no basis in fact." She paused. "Nice work."
Malone took a deep breath. "Thanks."
Felicity smiled. It was refreshing to work with someone who didn't resent her rank.
"Can you do me a favor?" she asked Malone.
He nodded easily. "Sure."
"Can you get me the home address for Ms. Rochev? And then make sure some officers go there and seal the place off before family or friends can tamper with evidence?"
"Already done. I sent the address to your tablet when you were looking at the body."
Felicity pulled the device out of her bag and looked at the data. "So you did, Malone, so you did." She grinned. "Are you trying to suck up?"
The older uniform laughed and Malone shuffled in embarrassment. "Not-"
"'Cause I don't mind sucking up," she continued, "not when it helps me solve a case. In fact, I kind of like it."
The older officer stopped laughing and Malone relaxed. Felicity eyed the crime scene once more.
"Did anyone look in her purse?"
Malone shook his head. "Haven't had the time."
Felicity retrieved the dainty bag and opened it. She was surprised to find that Isabel's mobile phone was still inside, along with a tube of lipstick and a credit card. There were no recent calls logged on the phone, but Isabel could easily have deleted her history. A good electronic forensics exam would ferret that out.
She handed the purse to Malone. "Why don't you take this and the crime scene video back to HQ. Give the phone to the electronics guys and drop the video off at my desk. I'm going to stop by Isabel's apartment and then head back myself. It would be great to have the info waiting for me when I get there. You," she gestured at the older officer, "get a few uniforms together and go through the dumpsters. The killer could have tossed something into one of them. The recycling trucks will be along in an hour and I don't want to miss anything."
The uniform's face darkened. So he was going to have to wade in the garbage after all. "What the hell are we supposed to be looking for?" he asked.
"Anything that doesn't belong in a dumpster in the Glades."
Then she smiled at Malone. "Get moving."