This week's featured character is starling.

"A girl needs a gun these days, on account of the rattlesnakes."

You've seen the magazine photos, the caricatures, the imitators at costume parties.

The look is instantly recognizable. Battered and soiled army coat, disheveled blond hair, dark sunglasses, fatigue pants, a grim expression, and a gun belt around her hips.

The police are withholding starling's real name, if they know it. Psychologists and psychiatrists (and other less-accredited therapists) pontificate about what would cause a woman to murder such a lot of people.

Politicians use her as an explanation of why they want more police, more FBI, more surveillance. They don't like to talk about why, with all the police, FBI and surveillance they do have, they have not been able to capture or kill one apparently crazy woman.

A typical starling sighting starts with her sitting in a bus station, a coffee shop, a diner or some other public place. There is an altercation with the staff or another customer, often about something as trivial as sugar for her coffee, mustard for her hamburger, or customers being asked to leave before the place's posted closing time. Occasionally the issue is that, in addition to looking like a homeless person, she sometimes smells like one, too.

The disagreements start out normally, but they quickly escalate, and then starling draws her guns and starts to fire, usually until she runs out of ammunition.

If there was all there was to it, of course, it seems unlikely she would have survived for so long.

starling's first appearance in Utown is at the small coffee and tea store where Pete works. She is a factor in "The School Mystery," and she is a major character in "The Rock Band Mystery."

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