Faux DC presents “Then Came the Running Girl”
The previous night’s deluge left the usually dusty Main Street of Traveler’s Gulch a sluice of mud and dirty puddles. Countless horseshoe imprints pockmarked the slippery terrain with U-shaped craters. The filthy muck had become a porcine paradise. Most took care to walk on the rickety sidewalks and steer clear of the streets altogether. Except the running girl.
She looked to be a saloon girl, her long blonde curls alternately whipping from her back to her face as she ran. Her heavy bosom bounced in time with her athletic gait as she scrambled from place to place seeking cover. She stopped only long enough to tear away her petticoats and most of her dress, exposing her fishnets and black bloomers to whomever cared to see.
The Caffertys had terrorized Traveler’s Gulch long enough for the people to know to duck inside their businesses and homes when the shooting began. Unfortunately, the shootings were becoming more frequent lately. It had been some time since Sheriff Matt Brody was laid to rest on Miller’s Hill outside the small town. For Traveler’s Gulch, there was no savior to rescue them from the Cafferty’s lawlessness. Then came the running girl.
She made a break for the Traveler’s Rest, the small town’s one lone hotel. A four-story colossus, it was an oddity on the Southeast Missouri frontier. A bullet careened off the clapboard siding on the building’s face, just missing her as she ducked around the corner. She slipped in the mud, falling chin first into the quagmire but quickly bounded to her feet again. Up the perilously wobbly fire escape she ascended.
“There she is! Get her!”
The men followed her up the fire escape. Dinah wished she had time to stop and kick off her awkward granny boots. They were fine for saloon girl shows, but the damned heel was getting caught on the lip of every few step treads, which the rain had left quite slippery. Besides, the evidence Oracle wanted was tucked away inside the right one.
One of the men proved more agile than the others, making his way up the fire escape rather quickly. He would have to be dealt with. At the fourth landing, Dinah crouched low, waiting to hear her pursuer’s footsteps racing underneath. She didn’t wait long. Taking hold of the splintery handrail, she hurled her body into the air and over the railing. Her timing was a model of perfection. She dropped behind her unsuspecting pursuer, kicking him in the back of the head as she descended. He was hurled forward. He screamed as he flipped over the railing and fell three stories to the street below.
“Charlie!” A man yelled from below as his partner hit the muddy street with a muffled thump. “You’re dead, saloon trash! Dead!”
Dinah landed awkwardly on the damp steps, with the heel of her right boot slipping into the empty rise between the wooden steps. She heard her ankle crack. “Ah damn, my foot!” she cried.
“I hear her! She’s hurt!”
The others were just below now. Charlie Cafferty was the fastest man left in the group. She knew she could outrun him and be in the building, down the stairs, and out in the streets again before....
Pain! Dinah looked down at her right foot. It was obviously broken, laying at an angle God never intended for a foot to lay. The outlaws made up the distance between them rather quickly after Dinah pulled up lame. Favoring her injured ankle and relying heavily on the rough, splintery handrail, she hobbled up to the top floor. Her only hope was to leave the fire escape. Peering over the railing, she spotted a wagon full of hay below her. It was too far to fall with one foot already useless, but if she timed it just right.....
She leaped. Dinah loved to soar through the air. After all, she didn’t call herself the Canary for nothing. A “gentleman” critic in Boston added the word “Black” to her stage name, after she rejected his advances. Dinah never liked it. It made her sound so...trashy. Of course, it didn’t matter what name she preferred once the press picked up on it. From that moment on she was billed as the “Black Canary”. Falling through the air, she was reminded of the man she once loved. He called her his “Pretty Bird”. Oliver was a Virginian, fighting for a cause she could never support. Her love for him died when he began scouting for the Johnny Rebs, but none of that mattered anymore. She was in the air and free, able to ignore the pain of her broken ankle and her wounded heart. She enjoyed her pursuer’s startled faces as she plummeted past them.
“There she is!” one of them exclaimed. “She’s as good as dead now! She won’t survive that fall!”
Dinah’s plan worked to perfection. Reaching out at the last instant with her lean, muscular arms, she grabbed the hotel’s awning support and flipped into the wagon full of hay. She scampered on her hands and knees to the driver’s seat and whipped the reins, sending the horse into a panicked frenzy. He whinnied and rushed down the muddy street.
“She’s getting away!” one of the men yelled. A deafening volley of gunfire followed. Several shots hit the wagon, narrowly missing Dinah, but she pressed on. She had to get the information to Oracle. The Union depended on it.
Washington D.C, Department of War, Office of Telegraphy, September, 1863
Barbara Gordon studied the day-old message in her hand. It was from Canary, and was coded in the special gibberish they had developed to send telegraph messages to one another. The news was as bad as she feared. The Caffertys were smuggling arms and ammo to the rebs along the Missouri River. Canary ferreted the truth from a drunken accomplice all to eager to trade his secrets for a few favors from a buxom showgirl. Canary was quick to add the only favor he got from her was a gin bottle busted over his head.
The Rebs posted along the Missouri had been doing poorly until recently. The Union’s blockade of the Mississippi and most of its main feeding tributaries such as the Missouri, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers left the Rebel forces so low on arms and ammo they were forced to choose between using their remaining rounds for protection or for food. Several had deserted their destitute comrades for the relative luxury of a Union prison. Others chose to stay and die a slow death battling lice, dysentery, and mosquitoes for the glory of the Bonnie Blue.
Barbara lowered her head. She ached for the men and women of the South who were forced by geography to take a part in this drama they would never have played otherwise. She had toured the South many times, on both business and pleasure. It was in Virginia she met Lee. He proved to be a true Southern gentleman in every sense of the word. He was charming and considerate, hardly the kind of man one would expect to lead an army into battle. This was war however, and Lee’s charismatic, yet calm, persona was the perfect plectrum to strum the heartstrings of proud men willing to die defending the only way of life they had ever known.
The sounds of a mournful songbird wafted through the open window bringing Barbara’s mind back to Canary’s message. Canary was up against it this time. The Caffertys owned half of Missouri and used their broad influence to cover up a long history of crime. Now, Rafe Cafferty was smuggling arms to the Confederacy and potentially compromising Missouri’s neutrality.
Barbara tapped out her coded reply to Canary.
Canary. You are in over your head. Pull out.
I will take your suspicions to my contact inside the
State Dept. Oracle
Barbara waited at the telegraph, but expected no reply. She had no idea when, or if, Canary would get the message. The waiting was the part she hated. Had Canary been captured? Was she forced to make a hasty retreat? Could she have been killed? Barbara slammed her fist into the arm of her wheelchair. Damn! She hated being cooped up in an office all day. It was quite a change from her days as Bat-Lash. She longed for action again, but knew it would never come. She was paralyzed from the waist-down, a cripple. Now her biggest challenge was keeping her wheelchair well-oiled so it wouldn’t squeak as she rolled through the halls of the State Department.
In Barbara’s dreams, the Clown’s bullet didn’t shatter her backbone. Instead, she used her whip to latch onto a rafter high overhead in the barn and swing out of harm’s way. She then swung her nimble body back around, using the whip for added momentum, and kicked the maniac onto the waiting tongues of a pitchfork. Or a rusty nail. Or onto his own gun, as it misfired and killed him. However, those were just dreams. The truth of the matter was the insane man’s high-pitched cackles and hellish, gleeful laughter haunted every waking moment of her life. One day the Clown would pay for his crimes, not just against her but against society as well. Until then, she could only wait and take comfort in her partnership with the Black Canary. It was almost tolerable knowing the other woman was out there being her eyes and legs, allowing Barbara to roam the countryside once more. Almost.
Outside Traveler’s Gulch, Missouri, The Same Day
Canary grimaced in pain. Her foot needed medical attention. She would have to get a doctor to look at it. She hoped River’s Run wasn’t under Cafferty’s thumb as well, but experience cautioned her to be careful. The lack of pursuit made her uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right.
She stopped long enough to unhitch the wagon from her stolen horse before entering town, just in case one of the Caffertys was smart enough to send a wire ahead to River Run’s sheriff. Canary rode into River’s Run from the south. It was more civilized than Traveler’s Gulch. The Gulch had sprung up a few years ago around what was then a small hotel offering weary travelers a resting station between Kansas City and River’s Run. As a result, its population comprised mostly ladies of the night and drifters passing through. There were a few decent, respectable citizens who lived there year round, but they were the exception rather than the rule. River’s Run was rather picturesque in comparison. A large Methodist church dominated the town square with its Wesleyan architecture and magnificent bell tower. To the east of the church, local merchants sold their wares from a rustic storefront. A bank, the local post office, a doctor’s office, and the jail sat across the street. The northern end of the square housed a mill, a blacksmith, and a glass-blower. The square itself was the centerpiece of several neat blocks of elegant homes dotting the Missouri countryside.
A doctor. That was what Canary needed. She eased the stolen horse up to the sidewalk and dismounted it gingerly, favoring her injured foot. Limping along, she discovered that her foot wasn’t the only thing sore. She would have to visit the livery stable as well. There was only one thing she liked to ride without a saddle and it sure wasn’t a horse.
Canary tied the horse off to the hitching post and limped up the wooden steps leading to the doctor’s office. She knocked.
“Do come in!”a voice called from the other side of the door.
Canary entered the small office. It was pleasant enough, if not as well-equipped as those in St. Louis. An older gentleman nodded at her as she walked in. He wore a brown derby on his head hiding, but not covering, the salt and pepper hair that peeked out from underneath it. He wore wire-rim glasses, but showed a preference for peeking out over them, rather than looking through them. Canary rested her weight on her good foot. “Doc, you’ve got to help me. I’ve broken my foot!”
The doctor motioned for her to sit on an examining table. “You let me be the judge of that, young lady!”
Dinah limped over to the table and hopped up on the edge. The doctor went to work on her right away, removing the granny boot slowly from her right foot. He smiled at her. “So tell me Miss....?”
“Lance. Dinah Lance.” Canary winced.
The doctor nodded. He closed his eyes and repeated her name once more as if trying to store it away in his memory. “Yes, Miss Lance. How did you hurt yourself?”
“I...er...fell from my horse earlier today.” Canary cursed herself silently for being such a poor liar.
The doctor peered over his glasses and offered only a grunt in reply. “Can you wiggle your toes?”
Canary tried, but her toes would not cooperate. She shook her head.
The doctor carefully grasped Canary’s foot, cradling her heel in the palm of one hand and cupped the ball of her foot in the other, and slowly rotated it. “Does it hurt when I do this?”
“Son of a....!” Canary grunted through clenched teeth.
“I take it that’s a yes,” the doctor replied. He carefully tore away the fishnet stockings from around Canary’s foot and examined it closely. “It is badly swollen.”
“I can see that! Is it broken?” Canary barked.
“Do not yell at me, Miss Lance. I am the only doctor in this town that will see women such as yourself! Your line of work is despicable and appeals only to the dregs of society!”
Dinah took a deep breath then exhaled. She supposed she was quite a sight, barging in wearing a torn showgirl outfit, with her bloomers and fishnets exposed for all to see. Still, she had come to know many good women trapped in the showgirl life for whatever reasons. She felt obligated to defend their dignity and honor. She would show the doctor just how low his denominator could be.
She laid back on the table, bringing her booted left foot to the doctor’s face seductively.
“M-M-Miss Lance, what are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing?” she asked. “I have to pay my bill somehow.” She stroked his stubbly chin with the inside of her knee. The wiry stubble poked at her naked flesh through the fishnet. The doctor lightly stroked the swollen foot in his hand, working his way up Canary’s muscular calf.
“We really shouldn’t....” the doctor gasped.
Canary smiled. Now for the kill. “You’re right, doctor. We really shouldn’t! It would be a shame for a respectable man like yourself to succumb to the wiles of a woman like me. Wouldn’t it?”
The flustered doctor eased Canary’s foot to the table. “T-This will require a splint. Drink this. It will help ease the pain.” He handed Canary a shot glass full of clear liquid.
Canary wasn’t sure what was in the glass, although she had a pretty good idea, but was willing to try anything to ease the pain. Especially if the doctor was going to move her foot around to apply the splint. Closing her eyes, Canary downed the liquid fire.
In a few moments, it became clear the contents of the glass were more than just a pain reliever. Canary’s vision started to blur, even as the doctor began to apply the splint. The next few seconds occurred in slow motion. Or were they minutes? Hours? Canary wasn’t sure, but she did see several large men burst in through the door just after the doctor yelled.... “It’s....okay....the....drug....is....takinnnnngggg....effffeeeeeeccccctttttt.”
At last the running girl closed her eyes and ran no more.